As you can tell by the title of this article, I am a fan of starting small, especially if you are a newbie market farmer with little to no experience.
You might be thinking ‘go big or go home’ right? Weelll, I’m going to try to convince you that bigger is not always better.
People Per Acre
What do I mean by this? According to Eliot Coleman, to effectively manage a farm operation, there is a person:land area ratio that cannot be exceeded.
Producing quality food requires an investment of effort on the part of the grower that naturally limits the amount of land farmed.
For diversified vegetable growing, Eliot places that upper limit at around 2.5 acres per person.
Keep in mind that 2.5 acres are more than sufficient land to grow a year’s worth of vegetables for 100 people.
Anyone feeding that many people can consider themselves to be running a highly productive farm.
Honestly, I think that farming 2.5 acres myself is a lot. It’s overwhelming to think about actually. I think that number could be attained as a seasoned grower, but for the newbie, it’s a bit much.
The reason I included this statistic was to illustrate that you don’t have to have a huge farm to feed a lot of people.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that you need to have the work power (people) in place to adequately cultivate the number of acres you plan to grow.
Without proper farm management, you would be in a world of hurt and possibly quit before you even began.
Size DOES Matter as a Newbie Market Farmer
The scale of your farm is not necessarily an indicator of how successful you will be, both practically and economically.
Size is only one component of the economic success of a farm. The growth of your farm is more than just a change in size.
Allow me to explain.
There are countless ways that a market farm can expand: quality, variety, and service are a few examples.
Growth and change in the direction of better will ensure the economic survival of your small farm more than growth and change in the direction of bigger.
Your goal as a market farmer is to produce a quality product for an appreciative customer base.
It is in your best interest as a newbie to learn how to grow a smaller quantity of high-quality vegetables so you can establish a loyal clientele.
When you have achieved amazing tasting vegetables that you are able to sell, then you can think about going bigger (assuming you have the framework in place to do so).
Starting Small is Cheaper
Your starting cost of a market farm is significantly less than a traditional farm. No surprise there, market farms do not require expensive large equipment like tractors or combines.
When you are cultivating 5 acres of vegetables, you would probably need more equipment like a 2-wheeled tractor, greenhouse, cold room, etc.
While these expenses are less than a traditional farm, they are not cheap and are a significant cost, especially when you are just starting out.
Here’s the beauty of starting even smaller than 5 acres, I’m talking like ¼ to ½ an acre.
You don’t need a two-wheel tractor, or greenhouse, or cold room. Would they make life a little easier, sure. BUT, they are not a necessity for your first year or two if you stay small.
Not to mention that if you stay small, you won’t need to employ extra workers.
Meaning you can keep more of your bottom line to reinvest in your farm the next year and maybe buy some of that equipment that will make market farming just a little easier and more profitable.
Mind you, you still will need some tools and equipment, but you can hold off on the more expensive items until you get more established, if need be.
Food For Thought
Let me give you a real-life example of the power of starting small.
J.M. Fortier started his farm on rented land, less than a quarter acre of cultivation, and brought in $20,000 his first year.
The following year, he made $55,000 ON THE SAME AMOUNT OF LAND!
What do small farmers do to increase their income, you ask?
When you are a newbie, concentrate on growing high-quality veg rather than high quantity. J.M. was able to more than double his income by doing this.
You can see the possibility here, right?
A well-established, smoothly running market garden with good sales outlets can bring in $60,000 to $100,000 per acre annually.
You can see how important it is to establish yourself in your community, be known for the farm that grows the best veg. Your customers will keep coming back.
Take the time in the first years to learn to grow high-quality veg with loyal clientele, and establish reliable sales outlets to sell your veg.
Then you can grow in size if necessary.
What are the benefits of a small farm?
In summary, the benefits of keeping your farm small, especially in the early days, are:
- Allows you to learn your craft on a smaller scale
- Minimal staff needed
- Time to establish a customer base
- Establish reliable sales outlets
- Lower start-up costs
- Concentrate on quality
Honestly, there are so many good reasons to start small when you’re a newbie. Let me give you our reasons for cultivating less than a ½ acre our first year.
- We don’t have farming experience
- Going any bigger feels overwhelming
- Want to learn to grow quality vegetables
- Establish a customer base
- Learn what our customers like and want
- Establish good sales outlets
- Keep our costs to a minimum
- Make mistakes on a smaller scale
Those are the reasons we are keeping things small for our first season of growing. That’s just off the top of my head, I am probably missing even more reasons.
Starting a new business is stressful, no matter what type it is. Try to limit that stress by not biting off more than you can chew.
Think about it, you’re going to make mistakes those first few years, probably ones that will cost you money.
Making mistakes on 1/4 acre is cheaper to fix than if you had to redo, let’s say, 5 acres. That little tidbit of information is at the forefront of our decision-making process.
In the end, you have to pick the size of land that feels right and farm it. Ultimately, it’s your farm and your decision.
What size of land did you cultivate when you were just starting? Are you thinking of starting a market farm? If so, what size land are you planning on cultivating? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathy & Jon
Your friendly neighbourhood growers