Backyard Farming: Homesteading: The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency - Kim Pezza (2015)
Chapter 3. HOMESTEADING: A JOB OR LIFESTYLE?
If you’re considering starting a homestead or backyard/urban farm, you may be wondering—is homesteading more like a job, a hobby, or a lifestyle? In truth, it can be all three, although it takes a lot of work and dedication to make homesteading a full time job, where an entire family can be supported on its income. It’s not impossible; producing the right types of vegetables and creating a good, local market for them has allowed some farmers to make a living off of less than an acre. But like anything, a venture such as this takes some planning; if you have limited growing space, you’ll need to determine whether or not you are ready to use some of that limited space for market sales, instead of your own food.
Although some will say that farming of any kind is not truly a lifestyle, farming, no matter the size of the farm, is a lifestyle by definition. Webster’s defines lifestyle as “a particular way of living; the way in which a person or group lives.” But is all growing, farming? And is everyone who grows something, a farmer?
According to Webster’s, growing is defined as something which “undergoes natural development by increasing in size and changing physically.” In other words, when you plant a garden of any kind, or raise livestock from infancy to maturity, you are “growing” something. But does just planting a garden or keeping a few chickens make your property a farm?
Using the example of tending a garden or keeping a couple of chickens, you could think of yourself as a farmer. But farming and being a farmer takes a little more than that.
In the strictest sense of the word, a farmer is a person growing food, both for themselves and others, on large tracts of land. But today, those growing food on a smaller scale in their backyard, on rooftops or on a few acres, also consider themselves to be farmers. More and more households have gotten away from the cute little tomato vine on the patio and the cucumber plant by the deck, opting instead for a wide variety of food plants (including edible flowers), not only in traditional gardens but in raised beds, vertical gardens and huge containers filled with vegetables and fruits. Some have even branched out further (no pun intended) and have included fruit trees and bushes in their backyard farm. Many choose not to sell their excess produce, growing just enough for their own family and either storing and preserving the extra, or else sharing with family and friends. So, for many homesteaders, the farm isa lifestyle. For those people who embrace the small homestead lifestyle in this way, do look at themselves as farmers—they’re just a different type of farmer. They may even consider themselves to be a slightly more modern version of traditional farmers, and have the same respect for food as their traditional counterparts.
Homesteading as a Job
More and more farmers are beginning to venture into the market place, either with their excess produce or with crops planted in a “market garden,” specifically earmarked for sale at a farmer’s market, front yard vegetable stand or even a local restaurant. Some farmers intend to make their farms and gardens profitable from the start; others split their focus, growing for both their own table and for sale. Depending on the space available for cultivation, farmers may be selling not only things from the garden, but honey, eggs and even cheeses and milk (provided your state allows the sale of raw milk).
Berry picking, especially through some form of U-Pick set-up, lets you sell your excess produce in a way that’s fun for the customer and easy for you. Photo by Seph Swain under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
So, what happens when you decide to turn your little farm into a money making venture? Like any other business, there are things that you need to pay attention to. Let’s take a look at a few of the more important items that everyone needs to consider before monetizing their backyard farm.
Depending on your area, zoning regulations can strictly dictate whether or not you can have livestock, where your vegetable garden can be placed, and where your new barn can sit. These regulations even determine whether or not you can sell from your home. Regulations change from town to town and city to city, so be sure that you are allowed to do what you want and need to do, before you actually do it. (And if there is something you don’t like, petition to change it!)
Prepared Food Sales
What are you hoping to sell? Are you considering selling things from your kitchen, such as pickles, canned vegetables, breads and pies? Many locations have strict regulations on what and where you can sell, even going so far as to require commercial kitchen use. However, some areas are now allowing some home-prepared foods to be sold without government oversight (with certain restrictions, of course). An example of this is the Cottage Food law in Florida: though restrictive in terms of what you can sell (such as breads, dry rubs, herb blends, honey products, pasta, etc.), and it requires direct sales to consumers, it can make it easier and less expensive for you to get your product out. For the small-scale producer, laws such as this are important in the development of one’s business.
The first and often most popular animal that the new homesteader will obtain is a chicken. Relatively independent and easy to care for, chickens provide the farmer with an additional source (or multiple sources) of produce and income. But while many urban areas are beginning to allow chicken keeping, others have sadly not yet seen the light. Those who do allow chickens to be kept in an urban yard may also put restrictions on the number of birds you can have (usually 2-4 birds), a ridiculously low number if your goal is to keep your family in eggs, as well as selling fresh eggs. Many urban locations also do not allow roosters (due to the disruptive nature of their crowing), and while roosters are not strictly necessary for egg production itself, if you want to raise a few replacement birds (or a couple for the freezer), not having roosters makes that impossible, as the eggs will not be fertile. Check the regulations for your town or city, as more and more are allowing chickens in the backyard.
It usually isn’t an issue when someone wants to sell their excess fresh fruits and vegetables out of their home. In urban areas, for example, if you are only going to put out a few things every now and then, chances are you won’t run into any problems. However, if you plan on putting up an actual fruit or vegetable stand, it may be looked at a bit differently, so make sure to check local zoning laws. Rural regulations likely won’t be as strict, especially in cases of on-farm sales in agricultural areas, but it doesn’t hurt to check anyway. If you plan to sell at your local farmer’s market, then you’ll need to check those requirements as well; for example, most markets require vendors carry their own insurances.
Workshops and Other Programs
Are you planning to have classes or workshops on your farm? If so, it might be considered a home business in an urban area, which carries with it the need for certain licenses and/or permits, as well as extra insurance coverage. In some areas, a home business may not be allowed at all; again, it is important to check everything out beforehand (we’ll discuss more on teaching your skills in Chapter 7).
What to Expect
After all is said and done, the biggest thing that you need to think about when considering turning your backyard farm or homestead into a job (be it full-time or part time) is: are you ready for it? Raising and preparing your own food is one thing, but once you take that extra step of turning your backyard farm or homestead into a business, the game entirely changes. Now, the food’s presentation needs to meet customer standards, not just family standards. While a few blemished apples don’t bother your family, your more finicky customers will pass it by as substandard, though there may be absolutely nothing wrong with the fruit. When making canned goods for your family, an imperfect seal during the canning process means you can immediately refrigerate the jar as soon as it cools, and still use it. But you cannot sell that unsealed jar at a farmer’s market.
Your display at the farmer’s market will need to be a bit more refined than when you just throw a few extra vegetables on a table by the driveway. At a farmer’s market, sight sells: a good display that showcases your offerings can make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be expensive, fancy or prize-winning, but it should be attractive and eye-catching. It’s also more important than ever to know what you sell; be prepared to teach customers how to use a product if it is an unusual fruit, vegetable or herb. Have a couple recipes available for it, as well; customers are more likely to try something new if they know what to do with it.
Finally, whether you choose to view your farming as a lifestyle or as a job, think about whether or not a small homestead, backyard farm, or urban farm is right for you. Do you have the time and dedication necessary to make your farm a success? If you’re only doing container gardening in the backyard or on a balcony, you will most likely only be growing enough for your own use, and containers are not as difficult to maintain. However, the soil and its nutrients may need to be replaced each year in a container; larger plants, such as fruit trees, will need occasional transplanting into larger containers, and containers, especially plastic ones, will need to be replaced from time to time. But though this sounds like a lot, those with little time or space to spend on a garden will find that container gardening can be the way to go. It may limit you somewhat in the types of plants you can raise, but you will still have a wide range of fruits and vegetables to choose from (with some now being developed specifically for use in containers). In other words, container gardening provides an attractive, low-impact option for people just looking to see whether they have a green thumb or not.
If a container garden isn’t right for you, a raised bed garden provides another low-stress option. There are now so many types of raised beds to choose from, some of which will be discussed in Chapter 6. You can create an attractive garden which is easy to combine with traditional gardening methods and even container gardens. If you have a medical or physical problem which makes it difficult for you to use a traditional gardening style, raised beds can be built specifically to meet your comfort needs and accommodate almost any physical limitations that you may have.
Container gardening provides an option for those with limited time, space and resources—perfect for those working in an urban or suburban setting. Photo by LollyKnit under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
And then there’s the question of livestock. If you are considering livestock of any kind, will you have the time and money to keep them? Pens need cleaning, animals need grooming, daily and twice-daily feedings, and all of it rain or shine (or snowstorm). If you are keeping a goat or cow for dairy use, add twice-daily milking to your routine. Even when you’re ill, they still need care.
In short, both you and your family need to determine for yourselves whether you’re ready for the commitment. If the extent of your urban farm will be half a dozen containers on your balcony, the time commitment will be relatively low.
However, the larger you decide to go with your homestead, the more time you will need each day. Whether your homestead is a job or a lifestyle, it will be a part of your life, albeit a fulfilling and personally rewarding one. Whatever you decide, make sure you’ve done your homework first!
Even a few plants by the window sill can enhance your table and let you experience the joy of growing something with your own two hands. Photo by Sophie under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.