Author Topic: Any MMM farmers?  (Read 10386 times)

dantownehall

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Any MMM farmers?
« on: June 24, 2014, 09:32:54 AM »
Hi,

Once I'm semi-FI I intend to have a small farm, to keep me busy and happy and healthy and to make more locally grown stuff available in my area.  My plan is to not really need the farm income to live, but for anything I make to be a nice bonus.  I also think it would be a good place/way to raise a family. Also, because Wendell Berry and stuff.

I live in a great place to do this (Asheville, NC).

I'm considering starting small before leaving work, proabably next year.  As in, buying a small plot of land (1 acre or less) and growing something high margin, just to get my hand in, so to speak.  My best idea so far is salad greens/arugula (super easy to grow, and people pay a ton for a bag of lettuce that costs next to nothing to grow).  I grew all my own lettuce this spring, and it was so easy I started thinking pretty seriously about trying to do it as a side hustle.

Anyone else out there done something like this?  Any other ideas for something to grow?

Thanks,

-Dan

arebelspy

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2014, 10:54:45 AM »
Lots of people who garden and grow their own food (Erica at NWEdible comes to mind immediately), but I'm not sure of many doing it commercially.

Homesteading and gardening is pretty popular among the ER crowd.

The wife and I have looked at getting a small farm in Belize for one potential future plan.
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SomedayStache

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2014, 11:00:31 AM »
I'm not sure I'd classify myself as Mustachian...more of a vicarious Mustachian really, but my husband is doing this.

We live on 2 acres.  He's slowly converting our yard into gardens (that Bermuda grass is a bitch!).  He's the stay-at-home-parent to our 3 young kiddos, so doesn't have the time he wants.  He'll regularly be out with his headlamp till 2am picking weeds or digging holes.  Right now we're in the experimental phase - he's trying out different crops and has gotten a handful of friends to do a pseudo CSA.  (Community Supported Agriculture)-they upfront him money and he delivers them baskets of produce as it is available.  He's only doing friends right now because we've had some abysmal failures, and they haven't always gotten their monies worth.

We're doing everything frugally, but it's still ridiculously expensive in my book.  Like we just spent $500 on irrigation.   And $500 on reparing a riding lawn mower - which we'd bought used for $750 only one month before.  And mulch, and compost, expensive hoses because the cheap ones only last one season...that stuff really adds up.  He dreams of a walk behind tractor, but it's just a pipe dream for now.  He's pursuing an associates in sustainable horticulture which has been a useful field of study if for no other reason then the connections he's making.  Through his courses he's gone on small farm tours around our state and reported back to me that in almost all cases the people doing this are basically supporting their 'hobby' through some other lucrative career or are retired and have money from their earlier working careers.  Nobody is sugar coating the fact that this small farm business is rarely lucrative, takes a lot of work, and you should probably do it because you love it.

You'll want to figure out season extension methods so you can get your crops in earlier and sticking around later than everyone around you.  It doesn't do much good to be swimming in lettuce in April when everyone else is also.  But if you have hoophouses and can grow greens year-round you'll have more success selling in December. 

'because Wendell Berry and stuff' <--love that!

MayDay

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2014, 11:14:48 AM »
I garden extensively for fun, but don't sell anything. 

I am pretty involved in the local foods movement in my area.  The two farmers I know the best are in the following situations:


1.  Farmer one:  she has a full time job that let's her go part time all summer.  She has an intensive 1 acre plot.  That is all she can handle without a tractor.  She is in her third year and still losing money.  And that is with free land!  (Someone lets her farm in their land for free). 

2.  Farmer two:  he farms full time, and has 5-10 summer employees.  He has maybe 100 acres and most of it is sweet corn planted by tractor.  Also has large tractor-planted pumpkin fields.  He has five or ten hoop houses and a couple green houses to extend the season.  He goes to four farmers markets a week and has three CSA drop off locations.  He also sells wholesale to the school district, hospital, university, and some restaurants.  He works from sun up to sun down during the summer.  He makes mayyyyyyybe 30k a year.  That is with a free farm (inherited from parents) and his sister helping him for free with all the business end (advertising, FB/twitter/other marketing, handling banking and pay checks, etc). 

Both of the above are organic farms.  I happily work at farm #2 part time for fun, minimum wage, and free produce, but for the pay, I don't want to be the full time farmer.  And if you have animals it is a huge headache to go out of town.  I think MMM is smoking crack, listing organic specialty farmer as a 50k a year job. 

backyardfeast

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2014, 11:21:00 AM »
+1 on everything SomedayStache said.

We've been doing the attempt at self-sufficient homestead gardening thing for the last 3-4 years.  It is awesome in many ways, but it is not much of a money saver (we do save a ton on groceries, but we spend a ton on homesteading expenses.  We probably do come out ahead a little, but that's because as a hobby, we don't pay ourselves anything).

Long term, after DH retires, we have considered the possibilty of scaling up.  I have a budget for our living expenses (with low grocery bills! :) ), and then the farm activities would need to be revenue-neutral.  I think this is about doable: most people raise 2 pigs, sell one to cover the cost of their own; that sort of thing.  You might be able to do the same thing with greens, although I often wonder if that market is saturated...depends on the area of course.  But for us it will be a conscious decision that we're doing this because it's what we want to do with our time when money is not the issue.  YMMV.

former player

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2014, 11:41:22 AM »
As far as I can tell from round here, the returns are better (ie not negative) if you can add value to your farming products through non-farming activities - sell sausages not pigs, ice cream not milk, green smoothies not salad veg.

mrsggrowsveg

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2014, 01:47:54 PM »
My husband and I are still what I call aspiring farmers.  We had a CSA and sold at the farmer's market for several years before we decided to take some time off to build up our new farm.  We bought a 30 acre farm last year that we are still working on.  Currently, we grow some vegetables that will be sold later this year such as garlic and potatoes.  We also raise heritage pork and chickens.  We raise our livestock on pasture and allow rotational grazing/foraging.  We have planted many fruit trees that will be in production withing 5 years.  I have found that it is very difficult to make money selling vegetables.  Value added products are the best way to make money.  Pork has also been a good way to make a little extra money for us because of the low supply and high demand in our area. 

Milspecstache

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2014, 06:03:09 PM »
I hobby farm with the idea that it is for the quality and maybe experience, not for the money.

I currently am focusing on grapes, apple trees, blackberries, blueberries, as well as vegetables.  Have also done chickens and in the future we want to expand to include several more goats.  If we ever get it established then the money saved will be good.  Too big of an 'if' particularly given the risk involved for me to look at it that way now, though.

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2014, 09:11:45 PM »
I've done an extensive backyard gardening in suburbia and have long considered doing a farm, though it does seem hard to make money doing it. The farms in the US that I've seen be successful are the ones that are large orchards with fruits trees ripening at different times, offer veg CSA and then expand into areas where the rent out the property for parties or have beg weekend shindigs aorund the harvest. Traveling around to farmer's markets seems to be the high cost, time intensive way to get your goods to the customer.

nz

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2014, 01:03:39 AM »
I live on 2 acres too, serious garden, orchard , bees, chickens, pigs, beef calves, chickens,firewood etc.

My advice? Do not under estimate the work involved and infrastructure is key!

Sort out your water and fencing first and then have some fun.

You'll have some success and some failure but you will become increasingly efficient as you go. Don't stress about your failures and you'll probably find people to trade your excess produce with. ( we swap honey for fresh fish )

This is  a huge topic, just get stuck in and start learning.

Good luck and enjoy
Neil

SomedayStache

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #10 on: June 25, 2014, 10:25:18 AM »
The value added products are probably the only way to make decent money.  One big hurdle for us is that our state requires a certified kitchen to do all your processing in.  So if we wanted to make jam and sell it we can't just do it in our kitchen - we have to have a professional kitchen that is inspected and all that jazz.  That totally took the wind out of some of our sails when we learned it. 

Mr. Minsc

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2014, 07:30:26 AM »
I'm a dairy farmer, though I'd only call myself a moustache wannabe. Still on the fence on wether farming is what I want to make my full career in life.  Right now I'm keeping my eye out and researching other options.

Emilyngh

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #12 on: June 28, 2014, 08:56:25 AM »
I had dreams of living a "simple life" of living in the country and growing our own food (just enough for us, not to sell), so we moved the the country and bought a few acres.

Over the past 3 years, we've discovered how very much work, unsimple, and NOT inexpensive the simple life is.    Don't get me wrong, it's doable, and it's not horrible, it's just not what I thought.   It's pretty much constant work and constant expense for payoff that's not that great.   

The good thing about trying it, now we know what parts of it HAVE been worth it.   And for us, maintaining acres of fields is NOT worth it, having chickens is NOT worth it, but having a couple of raised vegetable beds square-foot gardening style where we grow the things we eat is worth it.   This has helped me to realize that we want to move to a smaller house, on less land, or at least wooded land that doesn't require so much upkeep (mowing, keeping brush and horrible weeds back, weed eating).   For the gardening that we do want to continue, all we really need is a small/medium size yard/clearing with some sun.   Basically, I learned that I didn't need to buy some fancy pants "farm" to do what we wanted, but your average American yard for 2-3 gardening beds.

So, I guess my tip is, maybe try growing and selling some greens with the land you have now?   See how it goes before buying any more land or moving (even an acre).  Try to do what you want now, and only when you run into issues that need a fix, change them (eg, when you run out of land and need more, get more then).

SingleMomDebt

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #13 on: June 28, 2014, 09:19:13 AM »
Might consider trying your hand at square foot gardening before hand to make sure its what you want to do in the long run.

http://urbanhomestead.org/




Trudie

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2014, 10:44:15 AM »
I do not farm, but have friends who are pretty serious about raising their own food.  I guess I would echo here what others have said about buying a small farm/acreage being a lot of work and not having the pay-off they expected.  It always seems that it is more expensive, more time-consuming, and much more difficult than some imagine going in.

My friends who are "making it" are those who have inherited farms and so do not have the expensive capital investment that even small scale farming requires.  She supplies restaurants with local produce, so does okay, but does not make a huge amount of money at it.

I understand the inclination, because I have often had it myself.  It's also not all about the money... I understand that if you take pride in raising your own food, find being outside freeing, and have time to do it, why not?  When I have the time to do canning and freezing, it's great.  I think I will feel more inspired when I'm not working full time.

But, I would also encourage anyone to explore options for square foot gardening (with raised beds on urban lots) and in community gardens.  Often, I think folks try to supply too much of their own food -- ie, chickens, eggs, dairy... My advice would be to not try to do it all.  Grow what you're good at.  Go to farmer's markets.  Even barter.  Or buy a share of grass-fed beef from a farmer.

Erica/NWEdible

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #15 on: June 29, 2014, 10:55:28 AM »
My best idea so far is salad greens/arugula (super easy to grow, and people pay a ton for a bag of lettuce that costs next to nothing to grow).  I grew all my own lettuce this spring, and it was so easy I started thinking pretty seriously about trying to do it as a side hustle.

Anyone else out there done something like this?  Any other ideas for something to grow?

The difference between growing for yourself and growing for market should not be underestimated. This is one reason I decline the moniker of "urban farmer" that's so trendy these days. I'm an obsessed gardener. Farmer is like...a whole 'nother level.

If you want to make money, I highly recommend you read everything ever written Eliot Coleman and the Podcast called Permaculture Voices. Many of the PV podcasts that talk about how to make a good living in agriculture in creative ways that also allow you to have a life. You might also look up silvopasture systems. Hogs and oaks or poultry and fruit are a natural combination to diversify your options while keeping total land requirements moderate. Good luck!

Cowtown2011

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #16 on: June 29, 2014, 09:34:53 PM »
You should read the market gardener book. Also, check out the permaculture voices podcast, some really good information. I'd say permaculture is aligned really well with the MMM philosophy.

I plan on doing something similar after I become FI but still trying to figure out which aspect of farming to purse. Good luck.

http://www.themarketgardener.com

dragoncar

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #17 on: June 30, 2014, 01:35:10 PM »
I live on 2 acres too, serious garden, orchard , bees, chickens, pigs, beef calves, chickens,firewood etc.

My advice? Do not under estimate the work involved and infrastructure is key!

Sort out your water and fencing first and then have some fun.

You'll have some success and some failure but you will become increasingly efficient as you go. Don't stress about your failures and you'll probably find people to trade your excess produce with. ( we swap honey for fresh fish )

This is  a huge topic, just get stuck in and start learning.

Good luck and enjoy
Neil

I'm looking at a property with a small but pretty wild yard right now.  Don't want to hijack, but can anyone give me an idea of the time it will take for me to maintain?  I didn't count, but the brochure says it's got something between 10-20 fruit trees, a few raised beds with veggies, a couple composting devices, a water collection tank, empty chicken coop, a small greenhouse, all on a partially terraced slope on maybe half of a .28 acre lot (lot, minus a small house). 

I know nothing about this stuff (would love to learn), but I don't want to deal with a crazy water bill, or entire weekends of yard work after a long workweek (at least before I FIRE).  It would also be a shame to let any of it die, although I'm not sure how sustainable the choices made are (a lot of tropical looking stuff in northern coastal California).  One possibility would be to crowd-source some of the maintenance/collection as I hear there a groups that will harvest the fruit and donate it to a food bank.

If this is too hijack y, I can start a new thread.

arebelspy

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #18 on: June 30, 2014, 02:27:04 PM »


Nah, just kidding, I just like that you said the word "hijack y"
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former player

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #19 on: June 30, 2014, 04:02:11 PM »
I'm looking at a property with a small but pretty wild yard right now.  Don't want to hijack, but can anyone give me an idea of the time it will take for me to maintain?  I didn't count, but the brochure says it's got something between 10-20 fruit trees, a few raised beds with veggies, a couple composting devices, a water collection tank, empty chicken coop, a small greenhouse, all on a partially terraced slope on maybe half of a .28 acre lot (lot, minus a small house). 

I know nothing about this stuff (would love to learn), but I don't want to deal with a crazy water bill, or entire weekends of yard work after a long workweek (at least before I FIRE).  It would also be a shame to let any of it die, although I'm not sure how sustainable the choices made are (a lot of tropical looking stuff in northern coastal California).  One possibility would be to crowd-source some of the maintenance/collection as I hear there a groups that will harvest the fruit and donate it to a food bank.

On the whole, and depending on local conditions, I would say at least half a day a week during growing season to keep it under minimal control, and more if you want it to be productive.  The good news is that somebody has put a lot of work into cultivating this land in the past.  That makes it a lot easier to keep in shape than if you are starting from uncultivated scrub (please don't ask me how I know this).  "Partially terraced" is a potential worry: sloping land is a lot more physical work to cultivate than flat (also don't ask me how I know this, but I did discover that there is a reason estate agents round where I live put "level gardens" high up the list of desirable characteristics).  So ask yourself: is it partially terraced because that is all it needs or because someone gave up on a site which needs full terracing?  Terracing can be hard work and/or expensive.

Fruit trees can be very easy (just keep the grass down around them) or a bit harder, depending on the type of fruit and the quality of crop you want.  Raised beds are a good way to grow veg, so having these is a plus if that is what you want to do.  Composting devices are all-round good things, as is water collection if you are growing veg and a greenhouse if you want to get a bit exotic.  As to exotics outside the greenhouse, if they die, they die, and you can put something more suitable in their place.  There is a lot of plant death involved in gardening, one way or another, and you soon become blasť about it. 

dragoncar

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #20 on: June 30, 2014, 05:29:47 PM »
I'm looking at a property with a small but pretty wild yard right now.  Don't want to hijack, but can anyone give me an idea of the time it will take for me to maintain?  I didn't count, but the brochure says it's got something between 10-20 fruit trees, a few raised beds with veggies, a couple composting devices, a water collection tank, empty chicken coop, a small greenhouse, all on a partially terraced slope on maybe half of a .28 acre lot (lot, minus a small house). 

I know nothing about this stuff (would love to learn), but I don't want to deal with a crazy water bill, or entire weekends of yard work after a long workweek (at least before I FIRE).  It would also be a shame to let any of it die, although I'm not sure how sustainable the choices made are (a lot of tropical looking stuff in northern coastal California).  One possibility would be to crowd-source some of the maintenance/collection as I hear there a groups that will harvest the fruit and donate it to a food bank.

On the whole, and depending on local conditions, I would say at least half a day a week during growing season to keep it under minimal control, and more if you want it to be productive.  The good news is that somebody has put a lot of work into cultivating this land in the past.  That makes it a lot easier to keep in shape than if you are starting from uncultivated scrub (please don't ask me how I know this).  "Partially terraced" is a potential worry: sloping land is a lot more physical work to cultivate than flat (also don't ask me how I know this, but I did discover that there is a reason estate agents round where I live put "level gardens" high up the list of desirable characteristics).  So ask yourself: is it partially terraced because that is all it needs or because someone gave up on a site which needs full terracing?  Terracing can be hard work and/or expensive.

Fruit trees can be very easy (just keep the grass down around them) or a bit harder, depending on the type of fruit and the quality of crop you want.  Raised beds are a good way to grow veg, so having these is a plus if that is what you want to do.  Composting devices are all-round good things, as is water collection if you are growing veg and a greenhouse if you want to get a bit exotic.  As to exotics outside the greenhouse, if they die, they die, and you can put something more suitable in their place.  There is a lot of plant death involved in gardening, one way or another, and you soon become blasť about it.

Cool, thanks for the info.  Half a day a week is doable, but it's hard to balance stuff I'd LOVE to learn in retirement vs. stuff I'd disdain having to do after a full week of work.  No idea why it's only partially terraced... I'm think maybe the root systems are too wide for the required terrace width on the slope?  I don't mind doing a bit of terracing myself (again, gotta learn how), as long as I can take my sweet time over many weekends and quit when it gets too hot out.  Yeah, I have a feeling a bunch of stuff is gonna die under my watch, but I guess I have to decide which items I love and definitely want to keep.  If I end up getting this place (I'm probably overthinking a place I haven't even made an offer on), I'll probably try to rally some mustachian help (I swear I met some guy at a meetup or maybe it was ERE who was like a permaculture consultant as his day job).
« Last Edit: June 30, 2014, 05:31:33 PM by dragoncar »

nz

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #21 on: June 30, 2014, 11:47:05 PM »
I agree with the half day a week(at least)....once things are in place....  But you will need bigger bursts of time periodically eg digging your garden by hand will be a very big day .....watering can be a daily chore in the height of summer if you haven't got an irrigation system.

Hopefully you'll get to the stage where you look forward to doing it and it brings you pleasure. At this point it is no longer work......no matter how many hours you spend doing it.



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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #22 on: July 02, 2014, 05:29:28 PM »
I am a small vegetable and flower farmer ( 2 acres in cultivation) that sells at local farmers markets.  It is not much money but it is a passion of mine.  I have a side business importing that does well and pays the bills.  I work about 30 hours a week on the farm and make $400-500 every weekend.  I only grocery shop once every couple weeks and save lots of money on food through the food I grow and the stuff I trade for at the farmers markets.  I am only able to add to my vanguard fund when I get windfalls from my import business though, farming is not something I can make lots of money at yet.  I would suggest leasing land first and hiring custom tractor work to keep your costs down. 

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #23 on: July 02, 2014, 07:35:35 PM »
I aspire to get to Erica's "obsessed gardener" status. I don't think I'd even want animals when retired, unless I had someone nearby that I trusted/paid, because I'd love to do traveling for longer than a couple days.

We just picked 40 pounds of strawberries from a local farm. It impressed me how much labor was involved just in running a u-pick operation, let alone sitting for hours at various markets.

Also, understand regulations about who can sell crops for money.

If I really wanted to farm, I could talk to my extended family about the farm that's held in trust. My aunt lives on the land, but the acreage has been leased out for a couple decades, ever since my grandpa got too weak to farm it himself. But I'm not doing that unless the apocalypse happens and I somehow survive.

dantownehall

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #24 on: July 03, 2014, 08:14:45 AM »
Thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies, and for sharing your experiences.

I should have made this clearer from the beginning, but I'm already more or less at the "obsessed gardener" stage, and out of room on my current (small, shady) lot.

I've got a lot of good replies to think about.  I'm sure I underestimate the time/labor involved, but even so, I have quite a few co-workers at my manufacturing job that work 40 hours there and then still farm on the side.  My plan would be to do something similar until FI, and then just keep the side farm business going for fun/personal fulfilment.  Also, for a beautiful place to live.

Thanks!

neighbor

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #25 on: July 03, 2014, 09:45:54 AM »
@dragoncar, see what you can find online by or about Jerome Osentowski (Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) - he's done something amazing on a slope, as has Sepp Holzer in Austria. Definitely work involved, but potential payoffs, too...

Mr. Frugalwoods

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #26 on: July 03, 2014, 04:43:33 PM »
How good are you at marketing?  From what I've seen, there is little to no money doing small scale agriculture unless you are selling direct to the consumer.

But if you can brand and market your lifestyle and sell ancillary goods... then you can make a living.  Couple of blogs to check out:

http://sugarmtnfarm.com
http://ebeyfarm.blogspot.com
http://www.thoughtfulfoodfarm.com

Our eventual goals are to have a kitchen garden to produce all of our produce.  If we manage to sell or barter some extra... then that's gravy but I won't count on any farm income in my FIRE projections.

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #27 on: September 17, 2014, 05:57:57 AM »
High value crops are definitely the way to go. Last week I visited a 2 acre market garden that was started this year and, although salad crops represented just 10% of their productive land, it comprised 60% of their income (understandably so as they were delicious). Second to the salad was cut flowers at about 10% of their income from just two raised beds.

The market gardeners are renting from a 60 acre farm which used to be made up of 12 or so 'micro enterprises'. Due to the complexity involved and the strain imparted on the owner's relationship the farm now operates just 4 or 5 businesses; apple juice (15,000 bottles a year), mushroom logs (£25,000 worth in stock when we visited), education and holiday accommodation, and some cattle. As well as renting to the gardeners, they also rent land to someone who grows and sells willow. With all this they were just about breaking even after wages (which, according to the owner, are well above the industry norm in the UK). Diversification is obviously important in any business but the key product - apple juice - is what makes the place viable. Selling raw fruit to the supermarkets just isn't viable due to stringent quality standards. They have 7 acres of 'beyond organic' orchard.

Gone Fishing

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #28 on: September 17, 2014, 10:11:09 AM »
Not to say you can't make money farming, but it is hard work, and returns per hour are usually low.  I heard someone say one, if work is too much fun, people will do it for free. To some extent this is true with farming on a family owned (non-industrial) scale.  Farmers are also notoriously bad for underestimating their true costs. 

We garden, cut firewood, and keep some animals for our own consumption.  One exercise I do when evaluating a "crop" is to scale my little "profit" to myself up to the point where it would cover a meaningful amount of our expenses.  Say for example, home grown eggs go for about $3-$4 a dozen.  After the expenses of the chicken, shelter, feed, losses, packaging, transportation, misc fees, you might be able to clear $1 or so a dozen.  So just for a nice side hustle that clears $500 a month, you would need to sell 500 dozen eggs a month!  Or 6,000 dozen a year! Just think about what a stack of 125 dozen eggs a week to haul to market would look like.     

 I have yet to be able to justify going large scale with any of it.  I enjoy it in doses, but the idea doing any of it for 10-12 hour days in the high season for less than minimum wage does not sound fun to me.  That's why I invested in the stock market instead of buying more land. 

Carla Emory (great book by the way) starts off her book by saying the chickens will never lay as much as they are supposed to, the cow will never give as much milk as it is supposed to, the coons will eat your corn they day before you pick it, etc and she is exactly correct.  Many of our "crops" do not pan out each year, too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot, too many bugs, foxes, coyotes, hawks etc.  But I keep doing it because I enjoy it.   I couldn't imagine taking on risk like this with my livelyhood. 

Asheville is a very large market for locally grown food, but one has to wonder when it will peak out, and when it does, who will survive.  There is a lot of big money in Asheville and those folks can afford to lose a money for quite a while if they think owning a farm is cool and trendy. 

Read some Joel Salatin.  He made it by inheriting a lot of debt free land, stacking functions, marketing extensively, and utilizing/managing LOTS of nearly free intern help.  The model does work, but it is hardwork, plenty of it, and much of it is management and marketing which is too close to corporate work for me to feel retired while doing it.  I have a feeling it will be guys like him that make it when the local food movement levels out.

I may eventually sell a limited amount of farm goods once I reach FIRE as a side hustle.  But I will only do it as long as it remains fun, profitable and doesn't overrun my other goals.  If it doesn't meet this criteria, I'm not going to do it.

Sorry to be a bit of a downer, but just sharing some of my experience with agriculture.

kelly1mm

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #29 on: September 17, 2014, 11:38:37 PM »
Not a farmer but more of a semi-homesteader here.  The things we do here on our 4 acres that give the biggest bang for the buck in terms of time/expenses are (in order of my preference):

1) Firewood.  If you have a woodlot you will want/need to have most of the needed equipment anyway in order to maintain your property - the biggest single must have is a good chainsaw.  You will also need woodstove (obviously) and can make do for personal consumption with a decent splitting maul.  Total initial investment (if you have a woodstove already) should be less than $600.  Ongoing expenses (gas, chains, bar oil, 2 stroke oil, ect) is about $50 per year.  Savings vs. bought wood here is 4 cords @ $200 per cord or $800 per year.  So you can be 'in the black' in one season.  Also it is FANTASTIC exercise!

2) Fruit trees.  Pear, Peach, Apple, and Cherry here.  Cost to buy/plant $250.  Cost per year for pruning, dusting is about $35.  We dehydrate a lot of fruit and eat it all year long.  Have not really kept track but I would say at least $200-300 per year savings.  All the culls also are used to feed chickens/pigs/wildlife (see below).  Also not it will take several years before you get any sizeable crops.

3) Berry bushes.  We put in a bunch of berry bushes and our main problem is keeping the deer away from them.  Spent about $100 on plants and so far are getting about 10-15 pounds of berries per year.  Bought berries are EXPENSIVE so probably save $80-100 per year here.

4) Hunting.  Having lots of 'goodies' around for the critters will bring them in.  Luckily for us, what they eat is not a total loss as we have gotten 1-2 deer a year since we have been here.  Upfront costs for a basic rifle, shells, ect. is about $300.  License is $25 per year.  Each deer will net out about 50 lbs of (organic/free range - lol) meat.  At hamburger prices of $4.00 per lb and 1.5 deer per year (75 net lbs), that is a savings of $300 per year.  If you have to have the meat processed that would cut your savings in 1/2.  However, if you have some basic equipment ($100ish for basic grinder) and can do the processing yourself it is better dollarwise.

5) Raised bed gardens (annuals: lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, herbs.  Perennials = ASPARAGUS!!!!  ).  In a raised bed you want to concentrate on the big dollar items IMO.  Planting potatoes is fine and they taste great, but you can buy those cheap.  The best bed we have is out asparagus bed.  You plant it once, wait a few years for it to spread and then get LOTS of asparagus for 20 years.  During the harvest season we eat primarily from our garden, can salsa, pasta sauce for later use.  Maybe save $300 per year?   Anyway, this is a bit lower on my list as it takes more time and especially more scheduled time than many of the items above.

6) Chickens/Pig.  Chickens are great entertainment and pigs are as smart/smarter than dogs and really have great personalities if you realize that they are basically eating/pooping machines!  We enjoyed the animals but do not have any now.  The reason again is time (feed was not really a big cost as we free ranged the chickens and fed the pigs culls mainly).  When you have animals, I believe, their needs come before yours.  Want to sleep in?  Sorry, chickens need let out!  Eggs are YUM and the best pork I have ever had was from the ones we raised.  But our lifestyle was supposed to be a lot less regimented so we cut out the animals.  Cost can be really big as well if you need to build the shelter and feed store bought feed.  It literally is cheaper to buy chicken/pork from the store than to raise it especially if feeding store bought food.  (It still may be worth your while if you are one who values knowing exactly what went 'into' your meat though!)

7) "Regular" crops.  Corn, mellons, squash, ect.  These are so cheap IMO that for the space/upkeep/time it does not make sense to grow your own.

So, we basically still do 1-5 above.  We share with neighbors (mainly firewood) for 6 and 7.  Our total net savings from doing it ourselves is probably $1500-$2000 per year.  (Since this is MMM at a 4% SWR that is $37,500-$50,000 less stash we need!)  Also, it is GREAT exercise!
« Last Edit: September 18, 2014, 01:11:23 AM by kelly1mm »

Apples

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Re: Any MMM farmers?
« Reply #30 on: September 18, 2014, 07:13:25 AM »
Thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies, and for sharing your experiences.

I should have made this clearer from the beginning, but I'm already more or less at the "obsessed gardener" stage, and out of room on my current (small, shady) lot.

I've got a lot of good replies to think about.  I'm sure I underestimate the time/labor involved, but even so, I have quite a few co-workers at my manufacturing job that work 40 hours there and then still farm on the side.  My plan would be to do something similar until FI, and then just keep the side farm business going for fun/personal fulfilment.  Also, for a beautiful place to live.

Thanks!

I can't really say anything new about small-scale farming, but repeat that it's HARD to make a living with it, and if you've never depended on good weather to make money, then you have no idea what a hail storm the day before you pick fruit can do.  We're a fairly large farm.  The year all of our honeycrisp got hail damage (and thus were unsaleable) we each drank one finger of whiskey at 8 am because the income loss was so bad.  Then we went to go pick them for apple juice, which is basically losing money. It hurts just thinking about it.  So fair warning to keep your day job, and definitely don't depend on it for more than side money.  Also, those coworkers who farm:  what do they farm?  I know plenty of people who have animals and a day job, or plant corn/soy/wheat and have a day job, but produce makes it difficult to have a life and a day job, because you come home from work and almost always have an hour or two of work in the evening.