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I dream of owning an organic farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a produce stand and possibily a bed and breakfast. 

 I currently live in the Piedmont or NC on less than half an acre in a neighborhood.  I've been learning to grow with compost and no pesticide.  Last year a friend and I raised a batch of grass-fed chickens which we prepared from beginning to end.  This is an explanation of my novice status. 

I teach and make less than $35K per year.  I am 45 years old with a wife and two teenage children. 

If you were me, what steps would you take to make the vision I described above a reality?  Would you attempt to make this a reality or is it just a bad dream?  I'd love to hear from all, but especialy those with experience in this area.

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Hi Joel

Great question - and welcome to the group, BTW.  I have been where you are now, minus the two kids.  I had always wanted to farm (grew up in Detroit!) and worked jobs that paid very little, but was able through a series of events, landed a 1/4th acre piece of property near Indianapolis that was very affordable. I started growing fruits and veggies and selling at local farmers markets. I have an established customer base, and now am branching out into other areas, such as preserves, baked goods and handmade soaps that I can sell year-round over the internet as well as during the season at market.  Like you, I want to expand, and have been keeping track of acreage that is in foreclosure, up for auction, etc. - in northern Indiana and Michigan, these places are going for cheap and many are in relatively good condition.  I don't believe that your dream is out of reach, but start where you are and with what you already have at hand. You have two teenagers, and they can certainly be assets if you start selling organically grown produce as they can extend your reach into different markets. You are a teacher, so you can earn a little more $$ teaching other people how to grow organically in an urban / suburban environment. Use your extra income from farming and plow that into acquiring the property for your future B & B - it may take a while, but one step after another eventually moves you forward. 

The challenge to organic produce is selling it. You likely have a better chance of making a living selling produce where you are now with things like aquaponics, raised bed gardens, permaculture, hugelkultur, greenhouse growing, vertical growing, and so on because you are likely close to good markets. Granted, you won't be certified organic, but as long as you don't have toxins like lead in your soil, your friends will still appreciate your stuff.

Renting land is also a possibility. I would highly recommend Joel Salatin's book, You Can Farm and anything else he has written.

As for a Bed and Breakfast, perhaps you can find someone who is getting up in years and needs some help. You might even be able to work one seasonally until your kids are grown.

On the personal side, it can be seriously tough for teenage girls to move away from their friends.

Thanks Luke!  That gives me much to think about.  Is aquaponics cost effective?  I've never really explored the subject. 

I read Salatin's book last year.  In fact, I was obsessed with Salatin's work last year.  I need to re-read the book. 

You are so right about the teenage girl issue. 

I always feel that you can make your dream reality!  It just takes planning, getting the right support group, and in the case of farming, hard work.  As some of the others have suggested, you can start to build your dream now even living in the city or on a small place.  Depending on your city codes, you might be able to raise laying hens and sell eggs.  Definately try teaching some classes on Urban or Small-size gardening since you know how to do it.  I teach classes at my farm every weekend on the things that I've learned in the last 5 years.  My classes are booked in advance and bring a nice additional income to the farm.  With your education background, I am sure you could do some wonderful classes. 

   we moved from our house in a subdivision to a 35 acre farm about 6 years ago.  We started small and have steadily grown each year.  I raise laying hens and sell eggs, raise meat chickens and sell those at Farmer's Market, raise Turkeys for Thanksgiving.  I raise dairy goats and make Goat's milk soap that I sell at markets, craft shows, and online.  I have a market garden and grow a lot for us to eat but also grow and sell herbs, garlic, shallots, onions, etc.  I offer classes on Raising Chickens, Raising Goats, Growing Herbs, Soap-Making, Making Herbal Salves & Lip Balms, and Canning.  This year we added a domestic kitchen so I can sell breads and jams at the Farmer's Market. 

   You can look at my website to see how things have progressed for us.  It's still a work in progress but each year we are growing:  www.hiddenspringsfarms.com

 

I like the teaching idea.  I probably need more experience (maybe a track record with a farm).  Where do you hold your classes? 

Karen, what you're doing sounds like the direction I want to move toward.  If you don't mind me asking, how old were you when you moved to the farm?  At 45 I wonder if I'm too old. 

Hi Joel,

  I hold the class on our farm.  If the weather is pretty, we are outside.  If the weather is poor, I have a big barn that keeps everyone out of the elements.  Most of the classes are pretty hands-on, so being outside is the best.

   45 is NOT too old.  We didn't purchase our farm until we were in our 40's.  (I think I was 42-43 and hubby 44/45)  Granted if I was 20 when we started this, it would be a bit easier on the body, but working a farm, in my opinion, keeps me in shape.  The heavy lifting is good for the body as is doing all of the other chores. 

Joel, its NOT a bad dream, it's a wonderful one! We're in the Arizona desert, and we're working on building a business based on teaching people to create their own home " urban farms." (I have a teaching background, too--higher ed)

With the current state of our food supply (mass produced, foreign grown, altered, etc.) people are seeking alternatives. Organics seems to be growing, and locally grown products are in demand. I sell eggs for $3/doz but could ask as high as $5 here. I also sell tilapia fry to people starting aquaponics systems (which, by the way, is a fantastic way to produce food). I teach classes and have some books in the works as well.

I would recommend, for whatever its worth, to start where you are and get experience. Chickens, gardening and aquaponics are great urban producers, and cost relatively little to start if you're resourceful. If you're not resourceful, they can be very expensive.

Learn about growing, pests, blights, moulting, etc. Research 'sustainability,' too. Google and join Backyard Chickens, Aquaponics Gardening Community (if you're interested in it) and other online communities where experience is shared freely and people are familiar with your region. Then learn how to make these things pay for themselves. (These are all great starter businesses for teenagers, too.)

After you have experience, then research the mountains & see if it's feasible to go there. Your environment determines your success in agriculture. Short growing seasons = low production and low income. Harsh environment require greenhouses, heaters, coolers, etc. so you can control the environment.

Keep the dream, and remember that most overnight success usually takes quite a number of years!  :) 

Excellent ideas!  Thank you.

I've considered opening a store which equips and teaches novices to produce sustainable agriculture at home.  I've got quite a learning curve in business and agriculture. 

I am interested in aquaponics.  Could you point me to some resources?  I bet you have a website...

It's a bit out of date, but here's my site: http://supurbanfarm.com  I'll be updating in this month. 

I also recommend Aquaponic Gardening Community: http://aquaponicscommunity.com/

And Backyard Aquaponics:  http://backyardaquaponic.com/

And Friendly Aquaponics: http://www.friendlyaquaponics.com/

Get into the forums and the resources will never end! :)

First, Joel, you've come to the right place.  Secondly, good for you for having a dream and for taking steps to make it come true.  We're all at various stages of the same journey.  We'll walk it together.

While this seems a bit like shameless self promotion, check out my other blog, OUR EDIBLE SUBURB.  My wife and I started our homesteading journey on a half acre here in metro Atlanta.  You might find some common ground and some idea.  You might also find out how goofy we were and how many mistakes we've made along the way, but we won't mention that. 

Everyone on this forum is about as helpful as a group of people can be.  But <whispering softly>... some of them are a bit odd.  Shh...

I'm finding that I'd rather be odd than in to fit in the big square box. ;)

Odd is good.  Normal is boring. 

I'm going to check out your blog.  Thanks for the link.  I don't consider it shameless self promotion.  It's enthusiasm and shared wisdom. 

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