What Is a Hobby Farm?

Find out if a hobby farm is the right course for your agrarian dreams.

Hobby farmer holding basket of tomatoes
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A hobby farm can have different definitions. But the basic idea is that a hobby farm is a small-scale farm that is primarily for pleasure instead of being a business venture. The owner or owners of a hobby farm typically have a main source of income, like an off-farm job, or a pension or retirement income. Whatever the source, the point is that the farm does not have to make money—it can be engaged in on a hobby level. So if one season's yield isn't favorable, it is considered more of a disappointment rather than a financial loss.

A hobby farm is categorized as less than 50 acres. Anything between 50 to 100 acres is considered a small-scale farm.

Hobby Farming Versus Homesteading

Hobby farmers may have a lot of money to invest in their farming endeavors, or they may only have a little and be operating on a shoestring budget. But compared to homesteaders, hobby farmers typically aren't driven by the primary goal of self-sufficiency. They may be very content to continue their jobs and farm on the weekends or to use their retirement income to invest lavishly in the farm animals they choose to keep. The farm may add value to their homes, so minimal upkeep is all they need to retain that value.

With hobby farming, there can be some overlap with homesteaders; it's really a spectrum. A hobby farmer may want to be able to maintain the farm with just a part-time job so that she can spend most of her hours farming. She may also want to have a small budget for investing in farm implements, animals, and infrastructure. In this case, it really depends on how the individual farmer identifies. There's a blending of motives and means where a hobby farmer is not very far from a homesteader at times.

Sometimes hobby farms are regarded with a certain amount of derision, seen as well-off people playing with the idea of farming, but they do not deserve this reputation. Hobby farmers are still striving for a closer relationship with nature, the seasons, and the land, and that's a noble aspiration to have. Any efforts that get people closer to the source of their food are worthwhile.

Should You Start a Hobby Farm?

The choice to run a hobby farm is really all about what you feel fits your goals best and describes what you're doing accurately. There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what constitutes a farm, so hobby farmers have a lot of wiggle room. Whether your interests lie in raising animals or growing and preserving your own food or cultivating specific crops of food, your hobby farm will reflect your personal interests and could look utterly unlike anyone else's.

A good piece of advice comes from agricultural consultant Rebecca Thistlethwaite, who says aspiring farmers would do well to apprentice for several years before even thinking about purchasing their own farm. While she's referring to people who hope to make money farming—a different category from hobby farmers—it's a valuable reminder of the amount of work involved in caring for animals and crops, regardless of the scale. It demands a level of responsibility and accountability that ordinary property maintenance can never rival, so make sure you know what you're signing up for. Start small so that you can scale up confidently.

There is something important to know about launching a hobby farm. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service disqualifies hobby farms from receiving tax breaks earmarked for small-farm owners. Some people have claimed hobby farms as tax shelters by looking to avoid paying taxes on pastoral spreads, horse shelters, ​and ranches that they maintain for enjoyment. Section 183 of the U.S. tax code explains the details of tax allowances for hobby farms. Small farms that are in business should be prepared to prove their business operations and income so as not to be designated as a hobby farm and therefore miss out on tax benefits.

View Article Sources
  1. Publication 225 (2020), Farmer's Tax Guide.”  U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

  2.  “IRC § 183: Activities Not Engaged in For Profit (ATG).” U.S. Internal Revenue Service.