Getting started in farming requires big commitments of time and resources, but you can reap rich rewards on a small scale too. Here are five ways small farmers are making the most out what they’ve got:
Jean-Martin Fortier is the author of The Market Gardener. He and his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches run Les Jardins de la Grelinette, an internationally recognized micro-farm in Quebec, Canada, where they use low-tech, manual farming methods to grow organic vegetables.
With only 1½ acres cultivated in permanent beds, the farm grosses more than $100,000 per acre with operating margins of about 60 percent, enough to financially sustain his family. The focus at la Grelinette has been to grow better, not bigger, in order to optimize the cropping system, making it more lucrative and viable in the process.
The Farm Service Agency’s program is specifically designed to meet the credit needs of new farmers, as well as those looking to diversify their operations.
Since this new loan program launched in January 2013, local FSA offices across the country have been able to provide over $154 million in micro farm loans to help beginning, minority, and small farmers pay for annual operating expenses such as seed and feed, rent and insurance costs, and minor improvements such as hoop houses.
Molly Haviland is the founder of the Living Soil Compost Lab. She says in order to grow healthy food, you need to actively cultivate healthy soil.
Via thermal composting, making soil is what I do; I am a Microherder. A Microherder is a steward to microorganisms. Beneficial organisms are not different from people in that they need oxygen, water, food, and of course, a dwelling. Essentially, Microherders create an environment for the organisms of their choice in which to flourish. Sourdough bakers, beer brewers, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt makers, gardeners and composters are examples of those who microherd.
At Open Door Farms in Cedar Grove, N.C., Jillian and Ross Mickens harvest microgreens year-round.
We use a greenhouse system where we plant microgreen seed into planting trays filled with organic soil. When planting, the seed is densely spread on the soil, covered for a few days until germinated and finally uncovered to grow in the sunny greenhouse. Most microgreen varieties are harvested 10-14 days after planting. We are on a continuous planting and harvesting cycle so we can offer microgreens each week throughout the year.
With four cows and a simple set-up, micro-dairy expert Steve Judge says it’s possible to make milk a a solid source of supplemental income.
Whether your goal is to have a diversified farm that offers a range of products for sale to your local customers, or you want to be totally self-reliant and feed your own family, or even if you have a career or day job but want farm fresh milk for yourself and to make a few extra bucks, a Micro Dairy or small-scale dairy is a real-life-sized endeavor. You don’t need to smell like manure and be chained to your cows and endless chores. With a Micro Dairy you can have a healthy rural lifestyle, treat your cows humanely and make a great delicious product.