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Small Farm Owner  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotSmall farm owners grow crops and raise animals for local markets. They farm independently on relatively small patches of land rather than work for large corporate farms that cover thousands of acres.

Small farm owners grow herbs, fruit and vegetables, or raise animals such as sheep and cattle. They often specialize in organic products sought by health-conscious consumers.

Many people prefer locally grown and raised produce and meat because they believe it's healthier and tastier. They also like having a closer connection to the farmer who provides them with their food.

"If you eat something that was picked today and you eat it tonight, there's a lot more nutrition in that vegetable," says Barbara Moore. She's the executive director of Harvest Mountain Farm Gardens in Lakewood, Colorado. "It hasn't traveled for two weeks to get here."

dotFarming requires a lot of specialized knowledge. For example, farmers who grow crops must know about soil amendments, which are materials added to a soil to improve its physical properties.

Farmers also need to know about seed selection, crop production, and everything else necessary to run a farm. Farmers that raise animals have their own long list of topics they must know about, including dietary requirements, breeding and birthing.

dot Farmers also need to be good business managers. This includes financial management.

"For self-employed farming, you'd certainly need some business skills, especially starting up," says small farm owner Daniel Chappell.

"If somebody's family already owned a farm, it's quite a different thing. But to start a farm, to buy land, to support your family as well as your business, it takes quite a bit of business planning and financial planning, good budgeting, that kind of thing."

dot Small farm owners work long hours. Farming is best suited for people who don't mind long days and lots of physical labor.

"First of all, you have to really like hard work," says Moore. "You have to be self-motivated and like hard work because the vegetables or the animals are kind of like your babies. It can be every day. It can be like no time off. So you have to be sort of sold to it."

"Winter slows down a bit," says Chappell, whose farm produces herbs, vegetables, grains and poultry. "On really, really cold days I'm able to just do my animal chores and then mostly take the rest of the day off if I choose. But especially in the summer, it's not unheard of for me to work a 16-hour day, [though] not too often.

"I'm basically working long days, seven days a week," Chappell adds. "I guess it depends on the kind of farm. Grain and crop farms, and vegetable farms, you can take a day off more easily than you can with livestock. I don't find [crops] as rewarding -- I find the animals much more rewarding. They're worth putting that much effort into, but it certainly ties you down, for sure."

dotBeing tied to the responsibilities of a farm means that long trips away from home are difficult to arrange. The work on a farm never stops.

"We're now set up where I can get enough done that we can leave for 24 to 36 hours, but anything longer than that I have to find somebody competent who can look after the farm," says Chappell.

dotChappell believes there is growing demand for locally grown farm products.

"It does seem like it's an ongoing trend, and I don't really see it going away," says Chappell. "I think part of it is a lot of the North American lifestyle has become pretty unhealthy, like fast food. Eating foods that are not whole has taken a huge toll on our health, and people are starting to notice that.

"And the shift has started to go away from trying to medicate our problems away toward trying to live healthier lifestyles," says Chappell. "Which is I think is the only way, actually, to make ourselves healthy in the long term."

dot"I think that it's more than a trend," says Moore.

"[With small farms] it's much more of a nurturing [relationship] with what you're producing," she says. "You're more in relationship with what you're producing than when it's 1,000 acres of a mono-crop."

dot Craig Rogers is the owner of Border Springs Farm in Virginia. He sells lamb to many of the best chefs on the East Coast. While Rogers sees growing demand for small farm products, he emphasizes that the demand is for high-quality goods.

"Although there's a lot of interest, and although there's a lot of demand, the demand is for the very good," says Rogers. "And with the influx of new people who don't have farming experience or knowledge, we're finding that there's also an awful lot of mediocre product out there."

At a Glance

Grow crops and raise animals on small pieces of land

  • You need good business management skills
  • It can be hard to take time off
  • Volunteering on a farm is a good way to learn