I have heard from a lot of folks wanting to start their own small farm, and I wanted to share some of this info that others might use as well… Here it goes. -Farmer Brad
HOW TO START A SUSTAINABLE SMALL FARM
I have been approached by a few friends about starting a CSA on my little five acres. I only have about 2 acres that I can produce from, and another 1-1/2 acres that I can transition to production (currently the horse paddock/barn) and where I can put the broilers. They have asked me to put together some numbers for them, I have no idea how to start.
The idea is to grow produce, and eggs and broilers which the CSA members will get as part of their share.
My fixed expenses are probably too high for me to quit corporate work, so I thought that maybe the CSA could pay for a worker to do the day to day under my supervision (or have members do some of the work).
How many members would I be able to have with 2 acres? How much would a farm worker cost me? How much would seedlings cost me?
I know how much broilers and hens and feed and poultry housing is going to cost me. I'd probably have to invest in a little irrigation for the 2 acres.
I know that's alot of questions, but as you're the only one I know who is doing a produce CSA...I'd thought I'd ask you! :-)
FROM FARMER BRAD:
I think you can do it, but not by hiring folks to run it for you. In order for a small farm to be profitable, you need to plan on being the farmer.
If you have 2 acres available, you could sustainably operate a 50 member CSA (more or less after a few years). Start out planting a ½ acre with 25 members. Imagine dividing your 2 acres into 4 parts. One part is being planted for the upcoming season (fall); the others should go into a winter cover crop (clover, peas, vetch and oats). If you are starting right now (July), you have time to get everything ready to plant by September. But keep in mind, we have found that it is better to start new members in the spring not the fall (spring/summer vegetables are more popular, rather than starting people on kale and turnips). I started on a ½ acre while working full-time in town for a few months until I could get it going. It will take more than 25 members to pay someone to run it for you. You need to be able to do it yourself to get started, and you should be able to do that part-time for 25 members.
Plan on $700 a year for seeds and transplants for the 25 member CSA, plus a $1000 to get the irrigation system going. Since you do not have a greenhouse, plan on buying your broccoli, cabbage and other transplants this fall. You can direct seed beets, kale, chard, turnips, radish, baby lettuce, etc.
We found that we lost money with 100 layers and broilers, so we only do those for our own family. We needed to concentrate on what brought us an income, and that was produce. I recommend a minimum of 10 acres with 400 layers plus your broilers to earn anything from that enterprise. It just depends on what your focus will be.
Keep the questions coming!