Why I Want to be a Farmer, Not a Homesteader

There’s lots of hype in my internet circles about homesteaders. And I get it; I respect homesteaders like crazy. They have a huge range of skills and many of them could literally survive with no outside contact for a long time. But that’s not the life I want; I want to be a farmer. Let’s start by defining our terms, shall we?

homesteader is someone (or a family) whose life is characterized by self-sufficiency. Some are even off-grid. Most homesteaders raise their own meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, and more while also making things like soap, cheese, quilts, etc. They typically don’t aim to raise enough of these products to sell, but rather to support themselves. Homesteaders are very independent.

farmer is someone (or a family) who raises food – crops and/or animals – to help support themselves and others. (note that this is my definition for the purpose of this post, not an all-encompassing definition) They often specialize in a number of products which they sell and make an income from. They do not live a self-sufficient lifestyle, but rather an interdependent lifestyle.

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While it is wonderful to have a huge range of skills and to know that you and you could support your family with no outside help…. I believe that people were meant to be in relationships with each other, to work together and compliment each other.

Although to a point farms (and homesteads) can and should have many enterprises going on (for example, it just makes sense that cows follow chickens to eat the luscious grass that springs up after the chickens fertilize it), it can reach a point where the farmer or homesteader is stretched too far. I would rather focus on a few enterprises – hone my skills and be the absolute best at raising those particular products – and be able to sell them for a good profit. Then I can turn around and give someone else that money in exchange for a product I can’t grow or make as efficiently as they can. Both sides benefit, and neither is stretched too thin by trying to do everything ourselves. See?

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Another awesome thing about farming is the community aspect. As a farmer, I will be interacting with people while I sell my products and buy theirs. Relationships can be built and friendships formed. Homesteaders can and do interact with the community and form friends! But there’s something special about providing your friends with quality food and knowing they trust you and really, really like what you’re selling. There’s something special about supporting a friend’s new farming venture by buying their products.

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I’m all for mastering new skills, such as making soap or maple syrup. But I’m also excited about buying those products from someone else who makes them with quality and skill! You see, I want to be a farmer, not a homesteader.

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Field Trips (aka Farm Tours and Other Lessons Learned)

7/24/16 – 8/1/16 | Headlines of the week

  • Heat and chickens don’t play well together. Who would have thought?
  • Farm tours!!

It’s been an amazing week, despite the fact that this crazy heat killed 12 of my broilers last Saturday! That was a disappointment, but I learned about the importance of shade and ventilation and the benefits of processing the birds at 8 weeks instead of 9 (if I’d done that, I would have been able to sell all 74 chickens! Ah well…).

I visited some friends last week and got to see their homestead and go to two other farms close by! I visited Hiland Naturals, who are known for their high-quality certified non-GMO feed, and Hand Hewn Farm which focuses on renewing the land with their farming practices. For some reason I didn’t get any pictures at Hiland, but I did get a bunch at Hand Hewn Farm!

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Isn’t this garden beautiful? They have raised beds and also used interplanting to confuse the bugs. It works because the bugs who like, say, kale don’t see a big section of kale… and so they don’t camp out there and cause a big problem. The kale is all still there, it’s just spread out. This makes it harder to harvest, but the produce is healthier.

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Their pastured poultry shelters were made a lot differently than mine, and this design allows for a lot more airflow. Plus, these shelters can house turkeys (shown here) as well as chickens.

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Three of the four mama pigs are in the first picture (you do see all of them, right? Check the wallow – their happy place), and the 27 young’uns are in a separate pasture, in the second picture. Pigs do a great job of tearing up ground, and these little guys had been in this section of the woods for a week or less. Another neat thing is their fencing. Pigs have a reputation for being able to escape, but the mamas were held in by two strands of electric fence and the little ones by three strands. Isn’t that neat? To train them to understand the electric fence they put the little ones in a pen with actual sides and electric fencing running around the inside. Then if the pigs got into the electric fence and got shocked, they would learn to back up instead of keep moving forward and out of the pen. I guess it works! 😉

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At Hand Hewn Farm they have hog butchering workshops, which would be pretty neat to attend someday! I’ve been learning about the importance of signs and making your product and brand look professional and appealing, so I thought this sign was pretty cool.

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How about pastured rabbits? The branches on top are mulberry branches that have been thoroughly chewed by the rabbits. The leaves have lots of protein in them, and the branches provide something for the rabbits to chew on so their teeth stay short.

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Then I got to visit Local Bounty, which is a year-round indoor farmers market that’s open most of the week. It was basically like a grocery store with all local, quality products! Awesomeness.

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Huh, what’s this? A hint at something awesome to come. 😉 We processed all my broilers on Saturday and Sunday! A post about that will be coming soon. But until then, remember that your friends and family are truly wonderful. And good food tastes lots better when you’ve been working hard all day. So love on your people, work hard, and eat good (real) food!

Hope Farm has a Logo!

6/28/16 – 7/11/16 | Headlines of these past two weeks:

  • I got a logo!
  • Planning for next year
  • Starting to prepare for chicken processing

It’s rather handy when you have a graphic designer for a friend! Lauren made me this awesome logo and now I feel very official. I’ve started handing out my broiler flyers/order forms and business cards to people who are interested in buying chickens! If you don’t know the story behind the name “Hope Farm” you should check this page out!

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Each week I’ve been able to bring a little bit of produce to sell at the market along with all this beautiful produce from Jandy’s. My “top crops” are kale, green onions (which are done now), and cilantro.

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I must admit that my garden is a mess. I neglected it for about a week, and the weeds are finding ways to come through the mulch! I think it would have helped if I’d packed the mulch down tighter instead of just lightly setting it on the ground. Thankfully I’m not depending on being able to sell a bunch of produce right now! This year I’m focusing on learning and trying lots of new things. And when you do that… it’s okay to get messy and fail a time or two. Agreed? 😉

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I’ve been thinking and planning for next year, and I’d like to try selling dried herbs and herb mixes along with produce at the market. So I’ve been getting a head start on drying the herbs I have growing already this year! Here’s parsley (with layers of dill and oregano underneath) in the trusty dehydrator.

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My broilers are doing fabulously. They literally just eat, drink, and rest all day long -and are growing at a great rate. If things go as planned, I’ll be processing them (with the help of family and friends, thank goodness) the last weekend in July. I had lots of fun yesterday with Judah planning for and learning about processing chickens! I still need to locate and buy/borrow some sort of table (stainless steel is best!) and a big sink or tub. There’s actually quite a bit of setup for broiler processing, and some of the things that hadn’t crossed my mind were things like shade, hose shut-offs, and ice. Thankfully I’ve got a great support team to help me remember things like that and to lend me random items like hose fixtures, a canopy, and a makeshift scalder.

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I was looking through pictures of what all I’ve been doing this spring and summer, and am realizing how blessed I am to be able to work outside with all this beauty! I absolutely love working on my little farm and am excited to start sharing more of what I grow with customers – friends, really – in the near future!

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Prepping to Send the Chicks out to Pasture

6/4/16 – 6/11/16 | Headlines of the week:

  • Chicks sure grow up fast
  • Making a Youtube video about assembling a Bell-Matic Poultry Waterer
  • Selling produce at the market (again!)
  • Finishing the chicken shelter!!

It’s been super dry this week, so my garden isn’t growing very fast. But my chicks sure are! They’re two or three times the size they were a week and a half ago when they arrived, and have wing and tail feathers already. They’ve also graduated to throwing bedding and nasty stuff into their water at a great pace, so now I’m checking/changing their water several times a day instead of once.

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I’ve been experimenting with fermenting their feed, and it’s been going alright (I’m still working out the kinks, though). It’s hard to keep on top of how much they eat! Here’s a sneak peak of the feed they go crazy for!

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This week I’ve also completed prepping the shelter and setting up my waterer. I had fun making a Youtube video about that!

I was able to sell some lettuce, kale, and green onions at the market today. Normally Jan and Andy sell out of their lettuce within an hour or two of the market’s start, so I figured I’d be able to sell all this lettuce after they sold out.

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But sometimes things just don’t go as expected! Maybe the 90-degree weather was keeping everyone at home, but in any case I ended up taking home half a cooler of lettuce. Anything I sold was a bonus, so I’m still happy! And the folks at church will be getting some free lettuce tomorrow morning, which is something else to smile about!

And my favorite news of all: we finished up my chicken shelter this evening, attaching the sheet metal and chicken wire on the sides and chicken wire on the top. I kinda got frustrated at the start, fighting with a hammer and big staples trying to attach the chicken wire. But then my family came to the rescue and we got it done much faster than I would have by myself. Families are awesome like that.

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Chicken Shelters and the Chicks to Go Inside

5/21/16 – 6/3/16 | Headlines from the past two weeks:

  • Selling a bit of produce
  • Building a chicken shelter
  • Building a brooder
  • Getting chicks!!!

Jan and Andy have been super kind and have let me bring my extra produce to sell at the market! So far I’ve sold some green onions and spinach. This is a real bonus because I didn’t expect to sell any of my garden produce this year! Currently, though, my garden is very dry. I’ve been watering every few days, but we need some rain! In this picture all my kale and lettuce is wilted from the heat. 20160603_170451.jpgLast Sunday I had an awesome time helping my brother and a friend build a Polyface-style chicken shelter!20160529_201645

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20160529_201257All that’s missing from this picture is a few more braces plus chicken wire and aluminum on the sides and part of the top! (You can see pictures of the finished product here)

And now, a shoutout to my friend Judah, who headed up the project! He’s pretty awesome, and if you like high-quality handcrafted knives you should check out his business/website, Creation Knifeworks!

My Dad and I spent Memorial Day setting up a brooder, and then yesterday I picked up 79 little balls of fluff at the post office! My chickens are here!!20160602_090845(0).jpgBefore I set each one in the brooder, I dipped their beaks in some sugar water. This helps re-hydrate them and gives them a bit of energy until they’re able to find the food and water on their own. Once they were in the brooder they raced around, toppled over, ran into each other, drank lots of water, and fell asleep. It turns out that my homemade waterers don’t work amazingly, because if I keep the lids on tight enough to keep the waterers from overflowing, a vacuum is created in the jug. To get around this I periodically open the top of the jug to let in some air, which then allows the frisbee on the bottom to refill again. And I also bought a waterer from the store…20160602_091417.jpgTo give the chicks a good dose of grit right off the bat, I spread some creek sand on newspaper under their feed for the first day. You can’t see the grit here, but those little chicken nuggets sure are cute! 20160602_091109.jpgI got the chicks yesterday, and here’s what the setup looks like today. The heat lamp is over the right back corner, and as you can see they’re pretty warm without it because it’s in the 80’s outside. I’m not using newspaper to put their feed out anymore, because they’re eating too much to keep up with that! 20160603_170353.jpgThis morning I found one weak chick that was just laying down listlessly. I dunked his beak in the water a few times, then in some milk, and he seemed to appreciate it. Now I can’t find him among all the other active birds! Water is key – if the chicks are dehydrated, they won’t eat.

And that’s all for now! Have a lovely rest of your week, friends! Enjoy the sunshine and eat some good, wholesome food!

Strategic Timing and Spacing Plus a Comfrey Fertilizer Experiment

5/2/16 – 5/20/16 | Headlines of the past 2.5 weeks:

  • First Farmers Markets!
  • Lots of hand hoeing
  • Planting lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and sunflowers
  • Preparing for chicks!!

The first Farmers Market was a resounding success! Jan and Andy sold out super quick of all their gorgeous veggies (and they had a lot, especially for the first weekend in May!).

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Since I didn’t have a medium-sized tiller and since I hadn’t mulched last fall, I ended up doing a lot of hoeing in order to get rid of the weeds and loosen up the soil so I could plant lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and sunflowers. In the past I’ve never bothered about multiple plantings to get a steady supply of one kind of produce (for example, if I wanted to have cilantro every week for the market I would basically have to plant it every week), but I’ve realized how important that is! So instead of planting my entire garden in a few days, I started sooner and will be stretching it out a lot more.

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Besides strategic timing, I’m also experimenting with my spacing. For example, I planted rows of lettuce seeds between some of my transplanted lettuce rows. The idea is that the bigger lettuce will be harvested before the next planting needs that extra space, and as a result I have less unused space.

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In the next picture you can see strategic spacing in action again and the start of my mulching. The white marker in the circle of bare soil is where I planted butternut squash. The lettuce is pretty close, but again, that lettuce will be out of the way by the time the butternut reaches it (in theory). And then the messy mulching job is the result of pulling up a bunch of tall grass and grass clippings. I will cover as much bare ground with mulch like this as I can in the coming weeks, and I figured I might as well start somewhere!

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A few weeks ago I started cayenne peppers inside – a bit late, but we’ll see what comes of it.

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When they seedlings were about an inch tall the leaves started to curl at the ends. Jan had mentioned something similar with her own pepper seedlings, and said it was probably a nutrient deficiency (or something along those lines). A bit of fertilizer made them shape right up, she said. I brainstormed about some kind of fertilizer I could use and remembered that comfrey, one of my favorite herbs, is jam-packed full of  nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium (to name a few). It can be used as fertilizer, either in the form of decomposing leaves or “tea.” Comfrey tea is typically made by letting the leaves decompose in water for a few weeks, but I needed fertilizer right then and was willing to try something new. I heated up some water, let fresh comfrey leaves steep all night, and strained them off in the morning. I used that on the plants for the next few days. The leaves uncurled and are growing at a nice rate! I’ll probably never know if it was the tea that did the trick… but I have my suspicions.

And finally: I’ve been brainstorming and stocking up on supplies for my chicks! I’ve got a shipment of 77 little fluff balls due to arrive May 31st, so I’ll be setting up their brooder soon. Here are a few of my supplies: wood shavings for bedding (I’ve got more than just this), feed scoops, chick feeders, one of my homemade chick waterers, heat lamp bulbs, and buckets.

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Congratulations, my friend! You have reached the end of this update! Feast your eyes on some lovely oregano blossoms (doesn’t it seem strange that if you rubbed the flowers in this picture it would smell like pizza? If the flowers themselves have a smell it’s overpowered by the fragrance of the leaves), and have a fantastic rest of your week!

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