February 15, 2010

Why We're Not A Hobby Farm

"Are we a farm yet?" Dan and I joked as we admired our new chicks. Our becoming farmers has been DH's dream ever since we first read the Little House books 12 years ago. It seemed that we are finally on the way to making that dream come true.

Technically we had been looking for a place of our own for about 14 years. After three long distance moves, we finally settled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and started looking for land again. This go-round I used the internet in our searching. As I looked for land and articles about farming in general, the term "hobby farm" popped up here and there. Ever changing terminology, I thought, I can live with that. I found a lot of useful articles at Hobbyfarms.com, and read them with interest. But the more I read, the more I sensed that the type of farming they talk about, wasn't what we had in mind. That was what got me started on trying to define what we are about these days.

Dictionary.com, says a hobby is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation. Wikipedia defines "hobby farm" as a "small farm that is maintained without expectation of being a primary source of income.... to provide some recreational land ... for sideline income, or are run at an ongoing loss as a lifestyle choice by people with the means to do so."

We don't fall into any of those categories. To me, a hobby is a recreational activity to which one devotes one's time and resources, for the express sense of pleasure and relaxation the activity provides. My spinning, knitting, and weaving fall into that category.

When it comes to the land, our home, and what we are attempting to do here, this isn't a hobby, this is our life. Not that I don't enjoy it, I do, but the more we can raise, grow, and do for ourselves, the freer we'll be from consumerism, the whims of big business and industry, and an economic system which aims solely at ever increasing profits no matter the cost. To not have our lives dictated by these things has been our motivating purpose all along. (See my post, A Simple Life.)

Why do I feel it's important to define this? Is the "why" we do something, as important as the "what" we do? I think if we believe in what we're doing it is.

OK. I've stated what we're not. Now I need to define what we are. More on that, click here.

Text of Why We're Not A Hobby Farm, copyright 15 February 2010
by Leigh at http://www.5acresandadream.com/

Related Posts:
A Simple Life
Farm? Homestead? What Are We About?
A Self-Supporting Homestead
Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading?


maggie said...

Yes! Forever. The kids and I have agreed that when we sell this house, we're moving to a place with land. But we have no idea where to go. Land is waaay too expensive here and the obvious (to us) alternatives have property taxes that would make living on a limited income even tighter than it is now. I'm open to suggestions of places I could afford to buy land AND pay the taxes on it!

Julie said...

I'm a Little House fan! I think a hobby is just something that you enjoy doing and don't plan on selling so you could be a hobby farm!

Michelle said...

I can't wait to hear how you define what you are, because I agree, your goals and efforts portray much more than a hobby. You two have a passion, a mission, and I think it's great!

Alison said...

Have I ever! I cried and cried when my great uncle had to retire and no-one (except me; I was about 10) wanted to keep the family farm.

As to what you are. Well, no, you're not a hobby farmer; you're doing it for product as well as process. If a 'hobby' farmer is all about the process, and a 'subsistence' farmer is (necessarily) all about the product, I would say you are a 'sustenance' farmer. A bit of both. :)

Benita said...

I grew up on a dairy farm and while Mom and Dad and my uncles never made much spare money at it, it was hard work and made my brother and I what we are today - hard workers who know where our food comes from.

Do I want to live on a farm again? No. I want to raise my own food, but farming with animals ties you down too much. I tell people I dream of having sheep, goats and chickens, but I know it is a dream only and I want it to stay that way.

Leigh said...

Maggie, that's the big problem, land prices. Which is also why we bought an old fairly run down house, because it was cheaper! It means having to split our time and resources between fixing the house and developing the homestead, but at least we have it.

Julie, yes, we could be a hobby farm if we wished. But we've got something else in mind! More on that later.

Michelle, I appreciate your interest! Hopefully I can articulate well what's in my heart to say.

Alison, what a shame about your family farm! I wonder if anyone else in your family has ever regretted letting it go. I like that term "substance" farmer too. I will have to contemplate that one.

Benita, interesting comment and very self-insightful on your part. Very true that animals tie you down (even our cat has done that!). DH especially had to prepare himself mentally for that, even though he's always wanted the animals to go along with the farm.

charlotte said...

Yes, I wanted to be a farmer for about 30 years! At one time point I wanted to study agronomy, but it seemed too far away from the "real" farming stuff, so I didn't. I married a farmer's son without a farm, so we're living in a town. And now, I've given up the farming dream. I quite agree with you on the definition of hobby. I try to earn money on machine knitting and weaving, so this isn't a hobby to me anymore. But hiking, skiing, and gathering berries is.

Anonymous said...

Not me - I hate getting up early! It sounds to me as though you are crofting, although on rather more forgiving land and without the trouble of a landlord...

bspinner said...

Depending on farming as your lively hood is so different then being a "hobby farmer" and I enjoyed it when we had a few sheep and goats and large garden but wouldn't want to do it for a living.

The people I admire most are farmers. The hard work and dedication it takes to farm the land and take care of animals is amazing. I was born and raised and a very large farm in North Dakota and it was very hard work for everyone in the family.

Theresa said...

Do I want to be a farmer, NO WAY, but a little garden, a few critters that's fine. I consider this a hobby farm, which in my mind means I do not look to it as our sole means of making a living. If my crops fail, my critters die, I'll still eat and while more cash may go out, it won't affect what our cash flow was as if it is a sole business failure. I "farm" because I like it, for a number of reasons, which could include self reliance but not because I have to to survive.
How are the peeps doing?

Callie Brady said...

My family had a dairy farm and it took the extended family to run it and make a living. It is hard work to live off a farm. And land prices are expensive. Hope you can find a way to make it work.

Leigh said...

Charlotte, it seems to me that most formal studies are far from the real life reality of the thing. On one hand, a knowledge base is important, but on the other, practical experience is a much better teacher.

Cally, I had to love up "crofting"! Interesting that the term is unique to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The fortunate part is that we are indeed not troubled by a landlord. (Having been a renter a good part of my life, I like that part :)

Barb, I have to agree with you that farmers are some of the folks I admire most. And you're right, it all boils down to livelihood, as well as one's goals.

Theresa, a woman who knows what she wants! I like that. You make a very good point, which I think all of us recognize. Still, it's fortunate that some are willing to do it.

Update on the peeps tomorrow!

Callie, I think land prices are a big problem for anyone wanting to get into farming. Having to include a huge mortgage in making a living puts the stakes very high indeed.

mary ann said...

We moved onto 80 acres in Oregon in 1996 so that I could fulfill my dream of being an organic farmer. I farmed with my son for 9 years and it was delightful, frustrating, humbling experience. He moved on and I had to give up farming 5 years ago. We still live on the property and I try to garden 2 acres and care for my sheep and goats, but my body at 63 does not always want to cooperate. I enjoy reading your experiences and vicariously watching your "journey into country". Good Luck Mary Ann

Sharon said...

Nope - don't want to be one. I grew up on one, and man that's a lot of work. I want to grow stuff that tastes good to eat. Our garlic is the first things up this year and we'll start planting in "walls of water" in another six weeks or so. Our climate is garden-challenged.

I have fresh eggs from my neighbor. I'm retired and to keep it comfortable, the consumerism went bye-bye, along with the career. I have never been happier. If I lived in a place where things grew, I'd probably be singing a different song.

maggie said...

It's interesting to see how differently people think of "farming." My own definition is along the lines of providing significantly for my own family with some extra to sell. And while I love to garden, I think I lean towards livestock for "farming." I would not want to farm in the corn and soybeans sense, and I don't think there's enough of me to go around for a full-on market garden. I am pretty new here, but I look forward to learning what you've got planned Leigh.

Janet said...

Yes, I would love to have had the farming experience. If I had been born in the 1800's I might well have been a Westward looking pioneer.
We are watching the Little House on the Prairie series - last Halloween this family dressed as the Ingalls. Very sweet. Baby Ethan had to pose as Carrie - I don't know what he'll think of that in years to come.

Janet said...

I'm still puzzled though Leigh. One needs some sort of basic income to get started and to get along.
Do you read Lesley's blog about their goats and sheep in Devon?


Leigh said...

Mary Ann, I would love to hear your experiences! It's wonderful that you still live on your property, even if you aren't utilizing it all. Two acres of garden, sheep, and goats is a lot to take care of even without all the rest.

Sharon, it sounds like you're exactly where you want to be. Who could ask for anything more? Seems folks who grew up on farms are less likely to want to be farmers as adults. I suppose the rest of us just don't know any better. :)

Maggie, I've found this fascinating as well. It's been very helpful to read what others think about it all. I have to agree with you about livestock. As much as I love to plant and garden, animals just have to fit into the picture somehow.

Janet, when Ethan is a teenager he'll probably be mortified over that! I admit that I sometimes think I was born in the wrong century. I would have loved to lived in the 1800s and as you say, would probably have been a pioneer.

You are very correct about the start up income and in fact, that's one of the big problems for wannabe farmers. I've been mulling that over and will put that into words soon.

Yes, I do ready Lesley's blog, albeit sporadically. It's interesting to read about her sheep and goats.

Woody said...

How about a learning farm. I have to much respect for those who farm to even consider our interests a farm. We garden about a half acre, raise chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat, and feed out a hog for the freezer once a year. By no means do we attempt to farm. To some it is too much for what we receive from our efforts. I think it is worth every bit of the experience.

My two cents

Lyneya said...

I'd say what I'm doing right now is a hobby. Trying to learn how to maintain fruit trees in our area, canning, gardening, ect. Our hope is to eventually grow these hobbies into a lifestyle (after honey retires from the military). We're hoping to get some property several years before we build on it. That way we can plant trees and berry bushes early so they are producing a good crop before we need to rely on them.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one who has this as a long term goal and I really enjoy reading about your progress.

Woolly Bits said...

yes, I wanted to be a farmer (or get married to one:)) - until I was about 18 or so, up to that time I spent all my holidays on a farm, where I eventually took over 6 weeks of real work, so that one of the couple could take some time off. and this was the check, where I realised that with a farm you (or at least half of a couple) would always been tied to it! ok, I have dogs - but I could bring them to a kennel if I needed to - are there kennels, where they take on your cows, sheep or chicken?:)) around here a hobby farmer would be someone, who has some land, keeps some cattle, sheep etc.., but can't make a living out of it, so has to take on some other form of income. they also call them part-time farmers...

Leigh said...

Woody, good comment. Yes, we are definitely learning around here. Seems like all we do, actually!

One thing everyone seems to agree about farming, is that it the return for the work is slim. I suppose in the end, people farm just for the love of farming.

Lyneya, it's interesting you should say that because in Gene Logsdon's book Small-Scale Grain Raising he says he considers raising corn by hand a hobby. He does it that way (I.e. without big equipment) because he enjoys doing it. Either way, (hobby or lifestyle), one has to enjoy it. That' seems to be the bottom line (or one of them anyway.)

Bettina, cute story! And an excellent way to see what farming is really like. Though that wasn't my own experience, living the "back to the land" lifestyle for several years was what sold me on it in the first place. It wasn't easy doing everything by hand and without electricity, but it was me.

Lee said...

If "expectation of primary income" is the defining factor for a hobby farm, then nearly every farm in America is a hobby farm. Small and midsize family farms often have one person working an off-farm job to maintain their way of life. Large and megasize farms are kept afloat by tax subsidies. U.S. farm policy ensures that hardly anyone can make a decent living from growing food.

If we were looking only at money, I might suggest:

A farmer expects to make money.
A homesteader expects to save money.
A hobby farmer expects to lose money.

If you don't like "homesteader", Gene Logsdon suggests garden farmer. I don't mind either label, but I'll admit to bristling at the term "hobby farm". Perhaps it's because Marie Antoinette was a hobby farmer.

The hobby farmer sees growing food or raising animals as a diversion from their careers--perhaps as a cheaper alternative to owning a boat or an RV.

I'll admit that I never really wanted to be a farmer when I was growing up. My mom's vegetable garden was the source of far too many tortured hours bent over picking green beans.

However, after five years in Phoenix, Robin and I were fed up with the suburbs, the consumerism, the flashy cars, and the big careers. When the opportunity arose to move to Oregon, buy some land, grow a garden, raise some chickens, and maybe keep some sheep for meat and fiber, we didn't look back. Well, Robin has looked back a little. She keeps insisting that drywall is not a luxury.

Lee said...

It occurs to me that a lot of the people commenting here are selling themselves short.

The average farm size in Africa and Asia is less than 4 acres, and about 2 billion people world wide live almost entirely off the food and money they make from small scale agriculture. These people are definitely farmers, and it is most definitely not a hobby for them.

By most of the world's definition, someone who grows most of their own food and/or sells food to others is a farmer.

Only in America has the definition changed to emphasize those who plant what Monsanto tells them, when Monsanto tells them, and spray it with what Monsanto tells them ... to emphasize those who grow 1000 acres of monoculture corn--none of it fit to eat.

Michelle said...

I like this Lee guy! :-)

Leigh said...

Lee, excellent point. I like your descriptions of farmer, homesteader, and hobby farmer. I've written my thoughts about homesteading vs. farming in my next post. (Like you, I think the term "hobby farmer" can take a hike.)

"If we were looking only at money ..." I think that's the pitfall! We do tend to look only at money and lose sight of other things. But really, even though money is a reality we all must deal with, it's more about lifestyle, as you point out. That's the bottom line for us too.

I liked your point about farms outside the US too. Part of our problem as Americans is that we can't / won't / don't know how to make the lifestyle transition necessary to farm. The other problem is the market, which has been dominated by Monsanto who is determined to push all us little guys out.

Oh, and I'm with Robin. Drywall is not a luxury :)

Michelle, if you haven't already, do go visit Lee and Robin's blog, Farm Folly. Lot's of interesting things going on there!

Cathy said...

I'm so with Benita after XXXs of farming. I love reading other people's farm lives but for me - I just need a small yard, small house and the relief that comes with no chores.

Tho I say I'd love to have sheep and goats again but still...

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