top of page

An Introduction to Hobby Farms

June 3, 2022

Farm Life Friday's | The Editors

BUCKHANNON, WV - What is a hobby farm? Well, it's all in the name.

A "hobby farm" is one that isn't necessarily run as an "agribusiness". Hobby farms can, and usually are self-supporting. While some do make a profit, the purpose is to own your own meats, fruits and vegetables to feed your family (and potentially make a little extra money). It's all about self-sustaining and knowing where your food comes from.

Hobby farms are not the commercial farms you think of when imagining a "farm" covering thousands of acres. Most hobby farms are small (between 40 and 100 acres) and are dedicated to sustainable agriculture that is earth and animal friendly.

Hobby farmers are people who quite simply love being close to the land, being self-sufficient and growing their own food. Most of them are more than willing to work long hours and live a simple lifestyle to accomplish their goal. Many home school, and many use agricultural methods that are thousands of years old in one field while utilizing the newest technology a few hundred feet away.

On a well designed hobby farm you might find ditch irrigation systems that date back to the dawn of agriculture, state of the art aquaponics, french intensive farming, square foot gardening and an emphasis on heirloom seed varieties and organic practices; Not only because they are "green", but because they work.

Nature has done a very good job developing the food sources we have now, and there really is no need to try to improve on them.

Hobby farms are rarely dedicated to a single crop or animal, with the exception of alpaca farms. Most hobby farms will include vegetable gardens, chickens and other small livestock, a cow and calf, bees and occasionally mushrooms or maple trees in the mix.

Given a good climate, fertile soil and proper planning, you can have a garden, animals, bees, maple and fruit trees (all on less than 20 acres) with room to spare.

Micro hobby farms (around 10 to 20 acres) often employ square foot gardening, mushroom farming, small livestock, 5-10 bee hives and a few acres of fruit and maple trees. Some even have small aquaponics setup for fish and extra vegetables.

People interested in hobby farming on the micro scale usually look for buildings and land that are multipurpose. A small barn, for instance, can have chickens, rabbits and a few alpacas on the bottom floor and mushrooms in the hayloft.

A small stock tank with modifications can become the center of an aquaponics system to grow tilapia and vegetables. Infertile land can be used to hold bee hives or potato boxes, and a mixed apple orchard and sugar maple orchard will provide fruit and syrup.

Planting a triple line of poplar around the edges of the property will insure good firewood and furniture wood indefinitely--and you still have room for a small house!

Now that you have an idea of what a hobby farm can be, let's look at how to start a hobby farm!

Finding and Choosing Land For Hobby Farms

There's no reason to look for land if you already have the space to achieve your goals. But for those who are a little more ambitious, there are several things you need to do before you go land shopping, so here is the list:

  • Finances - What can you afford to pay while you get started? Land varies wildly in price, and the type of farm you want will dictate where you look for land.

  • Your Farming Plan - What do you want to raise? Do you want to only raise alpacas with a small garden and a few chickens for food? Are you planning on gourmet herbs and mushrooms (saffron crocus, for instance, are highly valuable, as are most restaurant mushrooms)? Are you just looking to be totally off-grid, sustain your family and have enough left over to sell at farmer's markets on the weekend? What you want to do will determine the amount of land you need.

  • Experience Level - Have you ever farmed at all? If not, you might consider buying an already functioning hobby farm and making arrangements to learn from the owners before you move in, then change things later as you get more experience. In farming, mistakes may not only be expensive, but they can result in dead animals and injured or dead people.

  • Time - Farming is a 24 hour/365 day a year job in one way or the other. Do you and your family have the time to be farmers? Can you change your current careers to allow you to transition to full time farming? Can you work at home?

Land For Your Hobby Farm

Again, if you already have workable land, then by all means, plan your farm to fit what you have! But be advised there are a wide variety of zoning laws wherever you are and land doesn't necessarily come with "all rights".

What does that mean? Well, for instance, your land might have mineral rights (you can mine or drill for oil) but not water rights (so the stream going through it can't be harnessed, dammed or used for power).

If you are buying land from a private owner, make sure that you examine the titles and permits carefully so you know what you are getting. Spending the money to have an attorney experienced in land law, or a real estate agent who handles only farm land is well worth the cost. It would be a tragedy to but a piece of land and find you can't get the permits you need to develop it.

Also talk to the local planning and zoning board, the county agricultural extension and all the local farmers you can meet. Once you have narrowed your choices down you'll want to make sure the land you are looking at has a clear title so you don't have any legal hassles to deal with beyond the normal paperwork that accompanies a property purchase.

It may seem a little bit excessive to take all these steps, but not everyone is honest. While farmers are considered the salt of the earth they are just as capable of taking advantage of someone as anyone else. Better to be safe than sorry!

NOTE: Until you are almost ready to move, don't commit to a land purchase! While it can take months for the paperwork to go through, you don't want to suddenly find yourself making payments on a house or apartment AND a farm, or trying to commute for hours to get to work. Get ready to move first, then start shopping. This is sound advice in any situation. You wouldn't go house or apartment hunting until you were half-packed, either.

Essential Links For Farmers

Stocking Your Hobby Farm

This will depend largely on what you bought, what you want, what you already have and how much money you want to spend. I strongly suggest the following:

  • Livestock - Alpacas and one milk cow and calf. A dozen chickens and a rooster; 6 California Giant rabbits; 1 buck, 5 doe.

  • Aquaponics System - Aquaponics can give a family of four fish and veggies all year in less than 150 square feet and do it yourself systems are not very expensive.

  • Heirloom Seeds and Potatoes - Potatoes can be grown in boxes made out of pallets. A potato box can produce up to 150 pounds of potatoes in a 4x4x4 space.

  • Build a Cold Room or Root Cellar - Learn about storing your food!

Those are the absolute basics. I don't recommend sheep as they are hard to lamb and hard on a pasture.

Horses are nice pets, but unless you are using them to work with, they are very expensive.

Goats can be interesting, but not much meat or fiber. Have your dairy cow (Jersey or Guernsey--better milk) bred by a beef cow every year so you can slaughter the calf when it's old enough.

The Difference Between Stock And Pets

If you are a vegetarian, then of course all your animals will be pets. You will love them, name them and spoil them. But this is the reality of STOCK. Stock are animals you love, care for and treat well - that produce fiber, produce food and/or ARE food.

Those California giant bunnies are very cute, but they are FOOD. And fur for craft projects or sale (unusual colors can fetch 3.00 per pelt wholesale, and boiling the bones and grounding them down make good fertilizer.

Typically, if it has a name, it's not food. If it doesn't have a name, it is food (or potential food). Chickens don't have names. Neither do any sheep, goats, rabbits or alpacas raised for meat, or the calf from your milk cow.

Your Cow has a name; Fiber alpacas and breeding stock have names. You need to take this reality to heart and teach your children unless you intend to be vegetarians or buy all your meat at the grocery store... which defeats the purpose of farming in the first place.

One of the biggest reasons we are not responsibly green anymore is because we don't live with our food anymore. When you live with your food from it's birth to it's death, you learn to be very environmentally responsible... to protect and love the earth, as well as the animals and plants in your care.

Basic Aquaponics

In a nutshell, you have a tank with tilapia growing in it, and the water from that tank circulates through hydroponic beds where your vegetables grow. The tilapia eat small shrimp or koi food, their waste fertilizes the water, which in turn, feeds the veggies. We'll delve more into this topic in another edition of Farm Life Friday's.

Where to Begin

You always need to perform due diligence and research, research, research. Be sure to get an idea of what you’d like to grow and what animals you’d like to raise. This way you’ll have a full understanding of what they need and how much it is going to require of you. You’ll also use this time to pick out housing plans for your animals.

For instance, chickens obviously need a chicken coop. You’ll want to research and find the plans that best fit your future setup and then begin building the necessary structures for that adventure.

Plant a Garden

Next, you’ll want to use this research to plant a garden. A garden plays a vital role in becoming self-sustained. You will be able to harvest and preserve your own food. Sure, it's an up-front investment because you’ll need to purchase items like a canner, canning jars and other canning supplies.

Ultimately, this will save you lots of money down the road as you can preserve just about anything you would purchase in a store by yourself. Once you have your garden planted, you are ready to move on.

Hobby farming is practical but hard work, but if you choose to start your own, even if it's just with a garden and some chickens, you'll feel the benefits when you eat that first homegrown tomato or that first farm fresh egg (rooster required).

Don't miss our 'Farm Life Friday's' Edition every Friday morning at Mountaineer News!

bottom of page