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!
EatWild.com – 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.