Hobby farms, small farms maintained as recreational land or farmland for supplemental income, have become increasingly popular in the last decade with urban dwellers and retirees. In the US, where older farms are often absorbed by larger farms, owning a small farm is often no longer profitable as a primary source of income. As a result, many are being purchased as hobby farms by those looking for a place to grow crops that can be sold at local farmer’s markets or used for personal consumption.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nearly 40 percent of farms in the US generate annual incomes of less than $2,500. This has not dissuaded many from embracing farming as a pastime or side business. Still, purchasing a hobby farm is no small undertaking. It requires research, investment and time. Buyers need to take into account a host of considerations, including the following:
Does the farm provide the right type of shelter, soil and pasture for raising livestock?
Does the property have the necessary water sources for livestock or food crops?
How much time will be required to ensure the hobby farm is sustainable and worthwhile?
How receptive is the surrounding community to farming activities?
What are the municipal or county restrictions in terms of raising livestock and growing crops?
What are the tax implications of selling the products the hobby farm produces?
Find a Location
After deciding to invest in a hobby farm, it is necessary to find the right property to carry out one’s intended activities. Most hobby farms range from just a few acres to 15 acres; therefore, it is fairly easy to narrow down the selection based on size. In addition, it’s important to consider the commute from one’s permanent residence to their hobby farm as well as the location of farmer’s markets and supply stores.
Many rural farms may have limited access to phone or internet and small towns may not provide road maintenance on certain private roads; therefore, the buyer will be responsible for plowing or re-graveling roads and driveways. It is also important to consider if the farm has a septic system, access to water, an established irrigation system, and existing buildings that include electricity, heating, and plumbing, since these may require an additional investment. If buying is too expensive, there is also the option of leasing farmland.
Initially, it’s important not to become overwhelmed. It’s best to start with two or three projects, such as raising chickens and planting a couple of crops, depending on the amount of time that can be dedicated to care for animals and plants. Starting small is also a good way to gauge the success of a hobby farm in its first year and to plan accordingly for the following year.
It’s imperative to not expect a profit. A hobby farm is great to provide fresh farm products and produce for family and friends and perhaps to generate some extra income by selling goods at the local farmer’s market, running a small farm stand, or providing foodstuffs to restaurants in the area, but if more time is spent selling than farming, owning a hobby farm can seem like more of a chore than a leisure activity.
It’s crucial to keep costs low. Investing in expensive equipment or supplies defeats the purpose of owning a small hobby farm. It’s important to focus on the basics. A hobby farm is intended to be an organic and sustainable operation not a large-scale enterprise. Although an initial investment is to be expected, incurring additional debt is not. There are countless DIY resources online to avoid spending inordinate amounts of money on watering or feeding systems.
Chances are most people have limited experience when it comes to farming. Hobby farms, however, don’t require a vast amount of expertise. Aside from online resources, it is important to seek out advice from others engaged in the same activities. New hobby farm owners should visit their local farmer’s market and see what others are doing. While browsing, new farmers can ask questions and determine what approach might be best when it comes to planting. As for livestock, visit a local veterinarian to ensure the farm animals will be properly cared for and healthy.
Finally, it’s important that a hobby farm is in fact a hobby, not a full-time job. It should be an enjoyable experience that allows part-time farmers to escape the city or simply spend a few hours a week in nature. Losing sight of the initial objective can be problematic and overwhelming. Therefore, it is crucial to remind oneself that owning a hobby farm should enrich one’s life, not complicate it.
By Mark Lugris