Often, as visitors come to the farm for the first time, they make a comment about how beautiful things are, and in general, I agree. A dairy cow with her calf, fifty or so chickens scratching in the dirt, a few hives of honeybees, and a bounty of garden produce makes for a pretty compelling image. Certainly that is what I hoped to create when I started the farm five years ago. However, I now feel like it is time to reevaluate my plans for next year and beyond.
When I made the decision to expand our family garden into a small scale farm with approximately one acre of land under cultivation it seemed like a logical and reasonable decision. We loved the food we were producing in our small raised beds, and we had plenty of land, so why not grow more and sell some on the side to family, friends, and neighbors? Clearly this represented a much bigger time commitment and work effort, but I didn’t mind.
The problem came when I started making decisions based on economics, trying to maximize farm revenue versus optimizing the variety of vegetables we consume. For example, in our area there seems to me an almost infinite demand for heirloom and cherry tomatoes, and it is much easier to grow a lot of tomatoes versus growing a huge variety of vegetables and finding a market for them. Therefore, I planted over 200 tomato plants this year (which requires a lot of work to water, weed, and harvest), and ignored many things that our family enjoys eating.
My Plans for Next Year
Ironically, this is what I wrote a few months ago in Towards Truly Local Agriculture: Starting Your Own Garden:
When my wife and I moved into our home nine years ago, we had no plans to become farmers. Our first year, we set up a modest backyard garden, something that many of you may be considering. We built nine 4’x4’ raised beds and three 25’x3’ rows, giving us approximately 400 square feet for planting. If you have space limitations don’t worry – Based on our experience, it is possible to grow significant quantities of food in a small area.
Next year I plan to revisit my original farming objective, growing the best food for my family and building high quality soil. I will absolutely keep the cows, chickens, and bees, but will scale down the vegetable garden dramatically. Instead of trying to farm on one acre, I will reduce the growing area to one-tenth that size. With an improved focus, I should be able to do a much better job of keeping the weeds at bay, improving the quality of my soil, and incorporating a plan for crop rotation.
So, for those of you gardening in small spaces and realizing prolific harvests, I look forward to rejoining you and rekindling my love for growing vegetables.