Tips for Starting Your Hobby Farm

Take It Step By Step

Close up of shovel and harvested carrots in garden
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A hobby farm is a small farm that's run for your own pleasure rather than for profit. Hobby farmers must have another form of income (an outside job, pension, etc.), as they are unlikely to make money by farming (though they may be able to sell some items such as canned vegetables, eggs, or honey). If you're just getting started with your hobby farm, things might seem overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you need to know first? With these guiding principles, you can stay on course.

Start Small

If you jump into hobby farming with both feet, there's a good chance you'll feel overwhelmed with the care of three or four species of animals that are new to you, plus managing a garden and trying to put up food, you can get burned out quickly. If you start with just one or two major projects per year, depending on the amount of time you have to devote to farming, you’ll have a chance to learn as you go with a lower rate of failure, and you’ll feel more relaxed and joyous as you add new species and expand each year.

Don't Try to Be Profitable

A hobby is something that you do for pleasure, not profit. If you’re running a true business that you hope to earn you something beyond the food you eat and a few thousand dollars at the farmers market, you’re not a hobby farmer. Of course, you might make a little extra money by running a small farmstand or selling produce to local restaurants, but avoid spending more time selling than farming. Remember that you got into hobby farming for the fun of it.

Don't Incur Farm Debt

An important rule of thumb for any hobby is: don't spend more money than you have. Since you're not intending to bring in money from your farm, you don't want to incur debt to pay for an expansion. Save up for big equipment purchases and grow slowly and organically.

Read, Research, and Read Some More

There are many books on hobby farming, including some books like "The Joy of Hobby Farming" that is an overview, plus you can read species-specific books to get more in-depth knowledge about the critters you plan to have on your farm. You might also benefit from taking online or 4-H Extension classes.

Talk to Other Farmers

Reading and online research are great tools to gain both basic and in-depth knowledge on many aspects of farming, but talking to other people who have done—and are still doing—what you hope to do, can’t be replicated by reading books. You’ll gain a different and just as important kind of knowledge by beginning to engage in your local farming community. Even if you’re in an urban or suburban area, there are probably other people who share similar goals and plans. Take the time to connect with them. If you're lucky enough to live in an area where lots of hobby farmers are producing organic crops, consider joining a group that shares tips, tools, seeds, and other resources.

Embrace DIY

If you can learn to love to fix things yourself, you will save a lot of money on your farm and be able to do more with your limited resources. It can be so satisfying to figure out how to rig a ​chicken waterer out of a five-gallon bucket instead of paying for one at the feed store—and doing it yourself can really help your bottom line. The less your farm costs you out of pocket, the less you have to work at your day job to pay for farming, so the more time you get to spend farming.

Know When to Get Expert Help

Do-it-yourself options are great when you feel capable and enjoy tackling projects that will take more time and money than you anticipated to finish. When you're simply overwhelmed by them or don't know where to begin, it's not a sign of failure to get help. Sometimes a task is better done by a professional instead of trying to be an expert at everything. Some areas in which expert help is not only appropriate but often necessary include plumbing, electrical work, and veterinary care.

Take Time to Become a Farmer

Farming is a commitment. You can't cram for farming like you would study for a test. It's about embracing the rhythms of the farm, of the season. You are going to have to adjust to a whole new relationship with work. Give yourself time for this, and focus on it so that you can transition more smoothly.

Be Flexible With Your Choices

Feel free to experiment with your farm, and know that it's okay to change your mind. You thought you'd enjoy raising chickens, but find that you're more interested in growing crops. That's okay. This is your farm—do whatever you want with it. Grow only cut flowers. Specialize in bees or meat chickens or heritage turkeys or an alternative crop. You don't have to have an ark out there to be a farmer.

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously

Of course, be responsible; after all, you do have your farm animals to think about. But at the same time, have fun with your farm. After all, you decided to start a hobby farm because you enjoy it. Everything you do on your hobby farm should ultimately enrich your life, not make it feel burdensome or overwhelming. If you aren’t having fun, take a step back and evaluate whether this is truly the right choice for you. Why did you get started in hobby farming to begin with? Try going back to your farming "roots".