Updated: Sep 7, 2019
Follow along as we set up our new homestead. Before the very first post hole is dug, we needed to do some soul searching and make sure we're on the same page. We divided our planning process into steps, from making decision, through defining values, understanding our resources, crops, animals, marketing, long-term goals, and so on. If you’ve ever wanted to start your own farm or homestead, maybe this will help you through the process, too. There is no time-line for the actual work that needs to be done, but the steps will be covered in depth. Please sign up on the homepage of our website so you don’t miss a step!
Resources are abundant! You may be thinking of only financial resources, but there are so many more resources you have to assist you with your farm/homestead/business. Let's examine some in depth: financial, supporters, skills, and infrastructure.
Money makes the world go ‘round, and it doesn’t hurt to have a little cash-flow when planning and building a farm. Of course, you could do everything with scraps and bartering, but a little cash makes things a lot nicer and a lot easier.
Are you going to continue working off the farm while building your infrastructure? No matter how amazing your farm is, there’s always something that needs to be done – fencing, animals, taking down trees, replacing roofs, tilling, planting, etc. (Wow, I just named all the things on my to-do list.) While you have everyone at the table chatting about who is making decisions and what your values are (see parts one and two of this series), write down all the ways money will be coming in, whether it’s from traditional work, handy-man projects on the side, babysitting, teaching piano, or buying and selling antiques. It’s important to know exactly where you are starting from. You can’t do everything at once, and we will work on goal-setting more in a later blog. Some things may need to be temporary for a couple years until they fit in the budget, and that’s okay! We all start somewhere.
This may be the most important resource and can often make the financial category seem less dire.
Where/who is your support team?
Knowledge is everywhere. You can get information from Facebook, the library, the gardening club, your local ag extension office. Help is out there. You can trade/share chores with a neighbor. A brother can help put in fence posts. A tech-savvy friend can help build your website. Make a list of all the people you know who may be willing to support you in some way, whether it be knowledge, farm sitting, physical labor, the loan of money or a tractor or a tiller. This is your social support team.
We mentioned your support team in the last blog in the section about making decisions. The question was, “Will making this decision upset any of your supporters?” This is referring to all the people who support your farm, be it by purchasing your product, loaning you money to fix your barn, or teaching you how to grow garlic. If you’re going to stop selling tomatoes at the farm market, will that upset your customers? If you’re going to put big money into barn remodeling but haven’t paid your father-in-law back the last two payments you promised him, that might hurt that relationship. If the person teaching you to grow garlic is the biggest garlic seller in the booth next to you at the farm market, you might want to only grow enough for yourself and not enough to sell. You don't want to step on his toes.
Supporters are necessary and invaluable. Search them out. Don't be afraid to ask for help or information. Farmers are a generous bunch and most will be happy to pitch in with knowledge or sweat. Be immensely grateful for them, and always look for ways to be of support to others.
What are your skills? Are you handy? If you can’t build a chicken coop, can you write a blog? Can you cull a chicken? Do you know about plants? Animals? Trees? Gardening? How to fix a mower? Can you cook? Keep financial records? Bake pies for the farm market? Have you run a business before?
Make a list of all the skills you, your decision-makers, and your support team possess. All skills transfer into other skills. The really organized girl at work may help you put your garden plan on paper. The builder-friend may be able to tell you which wood posts will last the longest. Many farm tasks can be completed with less headache if you reach out to your supporters.
Knowledge is the best skill you can possess. Imagine where you want your farm or your business to be in the future and start acquiring the skills and information to make that happen. Where are you lacking? Take a class. Read a book. Help a neighbor. Learn!
What does your land have?
Do you have outbuildings? They don’t need to be used for what you initially assumed. Think outside the box. Rabbits and chickens will live just about anywhere. Greenhouses don’t need to be permanent structures. Seedlings just need shelter. There is absolutely nothing on your farm that has to stay where it is or be used for what it was originally intended. And, keep in mind that temporary things don't raise your property tax like permanent structures. Temporary is good.
How much land do you have? Do you have a healthy water source? Is your pasture fertile? Do you have trees for a wood burning stove? Do you have a pond for ducks or fish? What good things do you have? What things do you need to address? Get your soil tested. Repair any fencing you need to, and don’t be afraid to move a fence if it doesn't suit your needs. NOTHING on your farm is permanent. Move whatever you need to to make your farm work-friendly and productive, and use the existing infrastructure as your biggest and best resource. I read that you should carry whatever you need to do a particular job from the initial source to the spot you think it should go, then put whatever that thing is halfway! Hauling feed and water isn't bad once in a while, but when the wind is howling and the storms are brewing, you won't want to drag yourself to the back 40 just to slop a pig.
On our new farm, we need to put up some new fencing. The problem is the barn is perfectly centered between the house and the pond and the back woods. If we put the fence where it is most logical to use the barn, the only way to get to the back of the property to gather wood for the wood-burning stove (and perhaps to someday expand the pasture area) will be to drive directly through the barn or the pond, or driving through gate after gate through the pasture. Either we can move the barn or redesign the fencing. (Secret: I haven’t decided yet, but I have looked at prices of building a new metal barn. They sure are pretty. We will be reviewing the Values section with vigor before making that decision.)
Understanding your resources will help in the long run. Understanding your strengths, and more importantly, your weaknesses, will help you know when you need to spend money and when you can save a little. You'll better be able to calculate the risks associated with each project and with each purchase. And, remember to make all decisions based on your values.
Join us next time for Crops and Animals