Organic Farming on One Acre or Less

Organic farming is possible even with a small piece of land.

| May/June 2013

bountiful organic farming harvest

Growing vegetables and raising animals for market on a small acreage is doable ... and profitable.

Photo By Lorain Ebbett-Rideout

Four years ago, I left behind the city life in Los Angeles and later started my own farm in southern Vermont. It turns out that transitioning to the simple life isn’t always that simple, and bootstrapping a farming business is not always a warm and fuzzy experience. It has been a daunting task requiring endless amounts of faith, relentless hard work, creativity, support, and, most importantly, gratitude. Hopefully others will learn a thing or three from my experience.

Raising farm animals

Animals provide so much more than eggs, meat, dairy, fiber and other marketable products. It’s truly fulfilling. After a long day of work, watching the pigs wrestle provides a comforting laugh, and the sound of a rooster crowing as you sip your morning coffee is a comforting resonance that the farmer grows to love.

But, animals also require lots of attention and resources: housing, fencing, heat in the winter, extra water on hot days, plenty of feed, additional predator deterrents, and a multitude of additional needs. Be sure you’re ready to be a responsible animal husband before taking the leap — and don’t take on too much too quickly. My strategy when adding animals to the farm was to be frugal and ensure that each species had a valuable role.

Raising pigs

In the early spring, my main priority was readying the vegetable plot for planting. Pigs do two things very well: plow and fertilize. But I quickly learned that pigs need diligent managing. I used lightweight housing made from 2-by-4s, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe, and a tarp coupled with portable electric fencing to “force” my pigs to work certain sections of the field. I did not follow any specific schedule in terms of rotating them. When the soil looked adequately rooted and the land cleared to my liking, I moved them to a new patch.

In about three weeks’ time, I was able to plow one acre of virgin soil, saving myself countless hours of grunt work and a good chunk of change on fuel needed to run motorized equipment.

Raising laying hens

If I were to raise just one animal on the farmstead, it would be a flock of laying hens. Eggs for breakfast and free fertilizer are just two of the reasons.

april hughes-spann
10/9/2013 8:23:33 AM

Wonderful article. I really enjoyed it. I am just now (at the age of 46) learning to grow my own food. It's the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. I want to have a large garden and possibly livestock to feed myself and my husband. I don't think I want to try to make a "living" at it, at least not yet. I found out 2 yrs ago that I am highly allergic to MSG and preservatives in food and organic food is a must for me. Growing my own is a wonderful experience. I look forward to more articles and advice on how to do this. Thanks!!

nathan winters
4/15/2013 11:32:40 AM

Thanks for the kind words, Diana and it sounds like you are getting closer to your goals. Keep farming and having faith and it will all come out in the wash. As I am sure you know, the goal is not to get rich but to earn a fair wage and steward the land. Be well. - Nathan

diana boeke
4/14/2013 1:56:04 PM

Your experience closely parallels ours, except we didn't take on pigs... Yep, we were down about $20K the first year, what will all the infrastructure investment. Year two, while we managed to generate $26K in revenue off of our acre of vegetables and 700 day-ranged broiler chickens, once we factored in all the expenses (the new freezer, the farm vehicle repair, the gas for attending a market 50 miles away each week, the non-GMO chicken feed, trucked in compost (because our chickens hadn't created enough yet, though we do have great pasture now!), we were down only about $1000... So maybe this year we'll actually make money! I'm still grateful that I walk to work each day, and don't have to figure out what to wear... Blessings to you. And keep up the gratitude. It keeps us sane.

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