From Home to Homestead: What You Need to Know to Safely Begin at Home
Do you enjoy spending time outside? How about taking care of animals and growing your produce? If it sounds interesting, you might consider starting a home farm.
There are many benefits to starting a home farm or homesteading. Whether you want to farm as a hobby, a small business, or to become more resource-independent, developing a solid plan is key to a successful operation.
Apart from deciding the purpose of your operation, you also need to find the right location. Sufficient water, electricity, and other resources are crucial to support your farming operation. Finally, devise a plan before buying a property, as purchasing land without a plan is risky.
What is the difference between farming and homesteading?
Although the terms farming and homestead are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.
The USDA defines a farm as any place producing and selling at least $1,000 in agricultural products during a given year. The USDA uses acres of crops and heads of livestock to determine if a business with sales less than $1,000 could typically produce and sell at least that amount.
While farms are supposed to generate income, homesteads work perfectly for someone who wants to produce their food and live off their land. Homesteaders usually live on their property, while farmers don’t necessarily live on a farm.
Homesteads are smaller than farms, as they usually don’t exceed 100 yards, while the average farm in the United States was 445 acres, according to the USDA. Farms grow produce and livestock for commercial purposes.
What are the different types of farming?
From farming to homesteading, you can choose what to grow or what animals to breed. Depending on what type of operation you decide to start, you will have to choose suitable land, tools, and other aspects.
Let’s look at some farming examples:
According to the USDA, aquaculture is the production of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions. Its development can help meet future food needs and ease burdens on natural resources. It’s also an excellent way to help the environment and could be helpful if you have ample water spaces available for breeding and harvesting fish.
Hay farming is one of the most popular types of farming. Hay is dried grasses and other foliage that farmers grow for animal consumption. To start hay farming, you will need to invest money in heavy-duty equipment such as wheel rakes to cut the grass and a baler to organize your hay into a shape ready for storage.
Subsistence farming is conducted mainly for personal use, where farmers raise livestock and grow crops to sustain themselves and their families. If any surplus is left, it’s usually used for sale and trade to generate additional income.
Here are several types of subsistence farming:
Primitive subsistence farming
Primitive farming is the oldest way of farming in many parts of the world. While primitive subsistence farming initially involved gathering fruits and vegetables, it has evolved as most people learned how to domesticate plants and grow them independently.
Intensive subsistence farming
Intensive subsistence agriculture is a type of agriculture characterized by high output and relatively low output. However, the nature of this agriculture has changed over the years, and in many areas, it is no more subsistence. It’s used to describe those agricultural systems that are more sophisticated than the primitive forms of agriculture.
Urban agriculture involves growing food in cities. Crops grow in backyards, roof-top and balcony gardens, and vacant parking lots. According to the USDA, urban agriculture helps to address food insecurity issues in cities and suburban areas.
Urban agriculture provides better access to food and helps to reduce the impact on the land by utilizing available space; it also helps to educate urban communities about the practice of growing food.
The EPA defines organically grown food as food grown and processed without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Organic farming often involves using cover crops, green manures, and animal manures to fertilize the soil; the elimination of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and other synthetic materials, including hormones and antibiotics.
Many organic farms also derive their energy from renewable sources like solar and stick to practices that help to replenish natural resources and maintain and enhance ecological balance.
Livestock farming is managing and breeding domestic animals to obtain their products for human consumption.
How to find the homestead property
There are several essential points to consider when looking for the perfect land for your farm. For most, a homestead will serve as both a home and a source of food or crops. Farming requires extra capital which means you’ll have less to invest in fixing up a house that is in need of repair.
What to consider when choosing a homestead house
When you first start shopping, we recommend beginning with reviewing the dwelling on the property. While land can be irrigated, repurposed, and sold off in parcels if it doesn’t work, a subpar house is a money pit. Keep a close eye on the major components of the house that are normally looked at during an 4-point inspection. Ask your realtor to help you ask questions:
- New or recently inspected roofing
- Fully functional HVAC system
- Structurally sound foundation
- Solid plumbing with no water quality issues
It’s also a good idea to make sure the home will be as energy efficient as possible. As a homesteader, you may have less cash flow when you first start out. This means that energy-efficient appliances, windows, insulation, and even lightbulbs can really have an impact on your wallet.
Given the unique financial position you’ll be in as a homesteader, avoid waiving your inspection contingency at all costs. Waiving this contingency to secure your ideal property can help you win a bidding war, but can cause you to be trapped in a house in desperate need of expensive repairs.
What to consider when buying land for farming
When buying land for farming, consider all aspects of the property. Location, proximity to the nearest town, amenities on the property, and soil type are some of the significant factors you need to consider.
Additionally, you should also set clear goals for your enterprise. Ask yourself how you want to use it, how much income you want to generate, and whether you want your farm to provide food for you and your family.
Answering these questions will help you to identify the correct type of land. Consider your resources and skills and carefully assess what it will take to maintain your business and take care of your land. Running a business requires a combination of resources, skills, and knowledge, and you shouldn’t overlook any of these factors.
Soil testing is essential in finding the perfect farmland
Careful soil testing is paramount if you want to find the perfect land for your type of operation.
According to Noble Research Institute, well-drained soils can support a wide range of specialty crops. Meanwhile, the institute says poorly drained, finer-textured clay soils will not support stone fruit and root crops without extensive modification.
Sites that block airflow are not good candidates for hoop house production because breezes are required for ventilation. Wind-pollinated crops (like tomatoes) and crops susceptible to powdery mildew will not grow poorly without sufficient airflow to facilitate pollination and humid exhaust air.
Research the location and the resources available in the area
Consider its location carefully when looking for a perfect spot for your enterprise. While you want to choose the area with plenty of space and away from the sources of pollution, you don’t want to be too far from populated areas.
If your farm sits too far from the nearest population point, you could be disadvantaged because consumers will be less likely to travel long distances to buy your produce. They might go to a local farmer’s market instead. The further your farm is from where you can sell your product, the more time and money you will spend commuting.
Likewise, pay attention to the road consciousness of the property because if your farm is hard to reach or has poorly maintained roads, fewer people will want to visit it.
How to improve the fertility of your land
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, farmers can improve soil fertility by incorporating cover crops that add organic matter to the soil. Doing so enhances soil structure and promotes healthy, fertile soil.
Another option is to use green manure or growing legumes to fix nitrogen from the air through biological nitrogen fixation; replenish losses through plant uptake and other processes, and minimize losses through leaching below the crop rooting zone by improved water and nutrient application.
How to secure water and electricity for your farm
Different types of farms require different types of infrastructure. A small farm doesn’t need as many resources and equipment as a large-scale commercial operation. To make the right decision and ensure that your business idea is feasible, you should assess what property has.
First, investigate the power supply for the area. Some farms require high electricity usage, and you should ensure that the power supply is strong and without disruptions. If a property has an older electrical system, you should never overload it, as it could create a hazard. If you are unsure about the electrical system, hire a licensed electrician to assess the electrical sources on the property.
You also have to assess the water availability in the area. Some properties don’t have good water resources, so you might have to dig a well or install a rainwater collection tank. While assessing these properties’ water supply, consider possible weather abnormalities like prolonged storms or drought.
If your farm is in an area prone to natural disasters like wildfires, having adequate water resources on the property is critical.
Must-have tools for homesteaders/farmers
A pick-up truck and a tractor
If you run a farm, you will need a truck to conduct many daily activities. A pick-up truck is the best vehicle for hauling equipment, water, and other materials. A car also comes in handy when you must take your produce to the market and carry large quantities. Since farmers spend a lot of time on the road, so a pick-up truck is a no-brainer.
Another piece of equipment that is necessary to operate a farm is a tractor. A good tractor is an excellent tool for clearing rocks, debris, and trees. It’s also essential for crops and pastures, as it helps to do all the heavy lifting with minimal effort. Some tractors can also be multipurpose, as they can help you to do the heavy lifting, pulling, and hauling.
Other tools to make your farm more efficient
Large equipment like a tractor or pick-up truck will be your most significant investment. While you can spend thousands of dollars on them, don’t forget to include other items in your budget. For example, lawn care equipment, blades, rotary tiller, and axes are necessary for taking care of your property.
A good lawn mower can save you hours and help maximize the time you need for your property. Another important tool you cannot forget is a portable generator, which will save you in case of any emergencies. A generator is critical if you run a large-scale operation that requires a reliable power source. If you live away from the nearest town where you can find an electrician, consider purchasing a generator.
Best homestead animals and crops
Depending on your experience level and the goal of your farm (commercial or personal use), you should decide what crops you want to cultivate and what animals you want to raise.
What are the most accessible animals to raise on a farm?
The type of animals you can raise depends on your property’s size and other parameters. While chickens are the easiest to raise and don’t require a lot of space, bigger animals like cows, horses, and even sheep need more room. It would be best to determine how much time you can spend caring for your animals, as bigger animals require more care and attention than small ones.
What are the best crops you can cultivate as a beginner?
When deciding what vegetables or crops to cultivate, think of starting with seeds or transplants. Each option offers its benefits, so carefully weigh both options. When deciding on the easiest vegetables to grow, begin with lettuce, which requires little time and effort.
Another great crop that needs little attention is radishes. They can be harvested within 24 days after planting and inter-planted with other vegetables. You can plant radishes as soon as the soil is ready in spring.
Additionally, some crops like lettuce can grow in many types of soil, so you don’t have to worry about creating unique conditions for them. Green beans and peas are two other vegetables that are easy to grow. If you have a big plot of land available, you can grow mushrooms, micro greens, lavender, or saffron.
Reap what you sow: how to sell your farm produce
There are different ways of selling your farm produce, either online, to wholesale buyers, or directly on a local market.
Advertise your produce online
Selling produce online is the easiest and most modern “contactless” option. Many shoppers prefer going online and not leaving the house, so this is something to capitalize on. As a farmer, you can market your business on social media and use direct advertising to drive customers to your website and other platforms where you showcase your products.
Bring your products to a local farmer’s markets
If your products are organically grown or unique, and nobody offers the same product, consider selling them at farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets are great for mingling with fellow farmers, learning the latest industry news, and chatting with customers.
If you spend a lot of time on a farm, you might not have much time left to interact with your clientele, and farmers’ markets are a perfect place to do it. Going to a farmers market might take more of your time and effort, but it’s well worth the effort.
Sell to wholesale buyers
If your farm has enough produce, consider selling your products to wholesale buyers like supermarkets, that mark up the price. It’s the easiest way to sell large quantities of produce for cheap and “get rid” of all your excess produce without losing money.
If you’re considering establishing a homestead or a backyard farm, don’t forget that farming involves work, especially when you have animals. Even during a blizzard, livestock will still require constant care. The effort involved in properly maintaining your crops can be made easier, but it will still require some work. Perhaps you’ll even need a “crop sitter” to water and control your crops! It is definitely necessary to have someone watch over the livestock while you’re away for a day or a week, so keep that in mind when trying to put your farm together.
Ultimately, if you enjoy growing something with your own two hands, then all the work in the world won’t matter. Enjoy fresh food for your family at the end of the process!