Farming in the 21st Century

Researching options for our upcoming change in lifestyle I’ve discovered Niche and Micro Farming.  What is Niche Farming?   A niche farm creates or grows a specific product that few people are producing; for example, lavender, truffles, shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese, and pasture-raised beef and poultry but for which there is a (generally local) market.  Niche farmers, from my reading, tend to have diversified operations, which might complement each other in some way – for instance alternate growing seasons so that you have product year round, or products that benefit each other like lavender and honey bees (bees pollinate the lavender and produce honey and lavender is sold as fresh and dried flowers, plants, and lavender scented products like soap and lotion).

Obviously getting into niche farming requires you to have a good understanding of the local markets – is there a local foodie culture, an ethnic population that is a market for goat and lamb, a thriving arts and crafts culture that creates a market for unusual fibers?  In addition to local markets, there’s always the Internet!  Browsing through Etsy (where I sell my cat beds) to get an idea of the market for angora roving (hair from angora rabbits or goats) I stumbled across an organic farm that sells ‘cruelty-free feathers’ from roosters, chickens, ducks and pheasants!  I assume most of these very flashy feathers go to people who make jewelry.  Clearly farming is more than cows and corn!

Micro Farming is also of interest to me since we will only have a small amount of land to utilize.  So many of the wonderful ‘back to the land’ style memoires that I’ve read are tales of buying 100+ acres of land and beginning a sheep farm, vineyard, or orchard.  That’s not in the cards for us.  And our farming venture isn’t meant to be a real money maker, but rather just to sustain us and perhaps add a small bit of income (and hopefully pay for itself).  We won’t be buying 50 ewe lambs as the author of “Hit by a Farm” did!  We will probably get a couple dairy goats, which bred will contribute offspring for sale in addition to milk.  We’ll raise chickens for eggs and meat (and maybe feathers now that I know there’s a market there :-).  Perhaps we will raise some rabbits or a pig (not sure about the latter after seeing just how big pigs get).

I will look into the local markets – farmer’s markets, ethnic markets and restaurants, CSA (community supported agriculture) groups and consider whether a roadside stand (we will be on the road to a forest campground) would be worth the effort – and try to come up with a plan that is the right mix of labor, capital outlay and income for our family.

At least one of my kids is interested in joining 4-H and raising and showing an animal (or two) – she hopes to raise enough money through the sale of her 4-H animals to purchase a horse!  I told her she will need to keep raising 4-H animals to pay for said horse’s keep as I intend to have a farm, not a zoo!

In general having some land upon which to raise food and additional storage space should help us to decrease our reliance on processed food and the grocery store.  And as much as my youngest daughter mourns the lack of nearby shopping, I suspect the driving distance to stores will also help our budget!

Some internet resources for those interested in Niche or Micro Farming:

Center for the Micro Eco Farming Movement – this is a great website with tons of information! – a resource for local, organic, grass-fed livestock.

Hobby Farms – full of great information for gardeners and farmers, including event calendar, how-to info (build a chicken coop, operate a cheese press, etc) and more.

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9 Responses to Farming in the 21st Century

  1. DeeDee says:

    We live in a city, and have a pretty small yard, but we have a veggie garden along one side of the house. Considering that it is only 3 x 30 feet, we get a LOT of produce out with very little work – beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, peppers, brussels sprouts and eggplant last year. We harvested all the way into February.


  2. SMS says:

    Not sure when you are leaving but unless they are putting in the garden, are you missing the early planting time in that zone?

  3. SMS says:

    You purchase a (castrated) piglet in the spring, feed him all summer, and butcher him in the fall. They grow pretty fast, but don’t get too big. It’s the smoking process for bacon and a few chops that costs a bit.

  4. Maryl says:

    I hope your little miss who wants the horse is also prepared to NEVER go away for more than eight or ten hours. I grew up with a dad who had a mad pash for horses and we never went ANYWHERE that was more than a couple hours away because the hay burners had to be fed. And as you know, they cost A LOT – hay, grain, farriers, vet bills, tack, plus the initial investment, of course. Find a riding stable and let her shovel horse manure in return for riding.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Oh I know! I had a horse when I was growing up – and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t the horse/girl relationship that is portrayed in all the books marketed to the 10-14 year olds! She was an onery cuss and lazy as well, making the getting up at 5:30 to feed her and take her out of her stall and muck said stall out even less fun! My daughter has agreed to start with something smaller (kid goat?) and work her way up to a horse. And she has had riding lessons so at least she knows she likes horses – I was just in love with the idea of them!

      • Maryl says:

        I’m glad to hear you’re well-versed in the reality of equine ownership and not the romantic notions passed forth in works of fiction. Speaking of ornery cusses – goats fall into that category! Maybe they’ll be willing to wait awhile until they adjust to life in Hoosier country before acquiring animals – esp. for teenagers, who are on the go all the time. I think your oldest daughter and mine are the same age, and some nights all I get is a quick glimpse of her.

  5. Lynda says:

    How wonderful. Our farm is several thousand acres (we are large commercial seed, rice and tomato growers) …but I have 4 acres I use for an organic garden, pastured poultry, 15 organic English walnut trees, two pastured pigs (a year), a small organic vineyard, a small fruit orchard, black berries, raspberries, asparagus and rhubarb patch. The grandkids and I have a Produce/Egg Stand in front of the house (honor system) and during the summer (when school’s out and I’m not cooking) I manage our local Farmers Market where we sell eggs, produce and I teach canning classes. You won’t make a ton of money, but you won’t be spending much on groceries. Check to see if there’s a Farmers Market you can do volunteer work. You’ll learn so much and before you spend a nickle you will learn what will work in your area. I’m increasing my bee production because I have learned there are a number of people in my area interested in backyard beekeeping. I think being able to suppy bees and small-sized equipment could be a niche I could fill. I’m getting so excited for you!

    • boxcarkids says:

      Wonderful! Another resource for advice! I’m really looking forward to the change (and hope the relatives don’t regret offering us this opportunity). I wish we could fast forward the next few months but the kids don’t feel quite the same way – they are missing their friends and schools just thinking about the move. I’ve promised they can all get one animal once we settle there so they are looking forward to that!

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