Category Archives: Frugal

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 1

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? To quote one of my mentors, Jack Spirko from TSP, “It depends”. We have been doing the homesteading, and farm for over three years now and can share some insight.  What is your definition of profitable? Making income from your labor, to turn a profit? What money you take in is larger than what you put into your farm, just the farm? If your definition of profitable just applying to the farming activities or to the property, cars, debts etc? Is this your full time job? There is significant different between homesteading, and farming. Someone may just think you sell what you produce; sell the overage, or just double what you did for yourself. This is not the case.

We have to make some assumptions, and parameters. First, let’s assume a 0.2 typical suburban lot, with no home owners association (HOA), no restrictions on land use, you are in a suburban area close to a major city (less than 1 hr), are in USDA zone 4 or higher, and have no solar blockages to your growing area. I know that is a lot of assumptions. But we have to start somewhere.

Next, is this your only source of income? Is this supplemental? If this is your only source of income, you need to look at your monthly and yearly expenditures. Are your vehicles paid off? Do you have a mortgage? Do you have other debts such as student loans, credit cards? How much are your taxes?

Let’s assume you have a $100,000 home, and pay $1,000/mo mortgage, insurance, utilities etc. This means you have to bring in at minimum $1,000 per month in sales just to have a place to grow. Have expenses, not eating off your property, then you have to make that much more. So, in this scenario, it is highly unlikely that you can be profitable, and live off what you make on your property. It is not impossible but, you would have to be VERY creative, like rabbits and quail in your garage, aquaponics in your house, teach classes, consult, butcher your own meats, and that is just the beginning. You would have to work harder to be profitable on your suburban lot than you have ever worked before. But is IS possible. Expect to put in 100+ hour work weeks, and work all 7 days. Do not expect a vacation, because who would manage your farm and all that it entails while you are gone.

Second scenario, you have no mortgage, because either you were smart and paid it off, retired and finally got the monkey off your back, or for whatever reason. Can it be profitable? Most definitely, assuming the home assumptions are what we are basing things on.  Again, look at your monthly expenditures. Sometimes you may look at ways to reduce in order to not work as hard or in lean months. What are your taxes? You can grow produce, have fruit trees, rabbits, ducks, chickens for meat and eggs, ducks and then sell things like canned goods, jams, jellies, medicinal herbs. This may not work for every scenario. Some legal requirements state you have to make any prepared items in a commercial kitchen. Some will allow your own kitchen to be used provided it is inspected. Some don’t even go that far. Some areas will allow you to sell directly on “farm”, some require a farmers market. If butchering on “farm” you may not need inspection, but a farmers market requires the meat to be processed at a commercial facility. This is a definite possibility, and can be profitable.

Third scenario, you have a suburban lot, but no home on it. You are living in an apartment, but lease or rent the lot. Can you make enough on 0.2 acres to pay for everything? It depends; can you effectively cover all your expenses?  Rent community garden space, sell overage, local CSA, or farm market stand. All possibilities.

Getting into the details on how – The key, stacking functions, and making use of every single waste, resource, or product. The Native Americans had the right idea, of use every single part of something, let nothing goes to waste. I am going to cover what we have learned, and the pitfalls.

Rabbits take up very little room, and are heavy producers per square foot. You can have one buck, four does, and in a double stack configuration, have between 8-12 rabbits every week to butcher and sell in a 6’ x 14’ space. Whole rabbits can sell from $5/lb live weight to $40/lb cleaned and all organic/grass fed. Average weight of rabbit is 5lbs. Stack the function, and you can feed them weeds from gardens, grass from your neighbors lawn (providing they do not chemically treat it), and pruning from your vegetable patch.  You can sell the manure as fertilizer, use it yourself, add it to compost (sell the compost), put it in worm bins (sell the worms, compost, or worm tea).  If you tractor the rabbits you reduce any feed costs. You can also sell some of the better kits as potential breed stock to other farmers. Then you can also sell the pelts. You can tan them yourself and increase the price you get per pelt. If you have dogs, and you are butchering the rabbits you can feed them the innards. You can sell rabbits feet. The ears are sold as dog treats. Chickens will also pick the bones clean. You may have the initial investment of cages, feeding trays, shelter etc, but it can be easily recouped, provided you have a viable market for meat rabbits. While it is becoming more popular with the homesteading crowd, it hasn’t found its way into mainstream food sources. Some higher end restaurants, or restaurants specializing in locally grown or chemical free options may be a good place to sell your product.

Rabbit hutch 1 Rabbit hutch

In 0.2 acres you can have 5-10 fruit trees. This is in addition to a house, depending on the home size, providing you get the dwarf varieties. You will also want to prune them to optimize harvests, and maximize space. If you were to espalier the trees you can get even more to grow. This will give you a fruit crop to sell, or raw materials for baked goods, jams, jellies, fruit leathers. You could even sell trimmings or grafting from your trees. Trees could be generic apples, pears, cherries or you could try more exotic fruits pomegranate, fig, or the jujube (it does not produce candy). More people tend to buy what they know, and more chance to make what you need, but the rare varieties fetch a much heavier price. No chemicals or sprays get a higher premium, but more susceptible to disease and pests. Small orchards like a suburban postage size do not get plagued like the larger mono crop farms because of a greater biodiversity. If you have chickens, and ducks on your micro farm they are pest mangers in themselves. We will go into chicken in part 2.

Espalier 2 Espalier 3 Espalier espalier1

Medicinal Herb Class Preview

I wanted people to get a feel for what to expect in the Medicinal Herb Class Preview, with handouts from the class. This is just one page, and is only the text. There are 56 other plants and bonus materials. We will be discussing in more details during the tour. What we have experienced, and touring through all what is growing while on site.  We will also have live plants for sale, fresh you pick cuttings, dried plants,  and more. Touch,  and smell some different preparations, ask questions, get answers. Disclaimer, we are not medical practitioners, and we are only conveying information we have learned, and have been using as a family.  Seek your own information before using any medicinal herbs.

Calendula– We will also have a chart in the handout of actual pictures of plants from out place.

RSVP – please use this link to RSVP so we know how many packets to put together. You can also prepay online.

Money saving tips podcast

We recently put out a podcast over at 2 Midwest Guys of ways Dustin and I are able to save a few bucks here and there with our families. When I say a few I am talking thousands if you implement correctly. There isn’t some $29.99 secret to it all. It is 100% free. From groceries, to entertainment, to home decorating there is a little for anyone. Take a listen.

 

011 Money saving tips

Food shortages and prices may make you rethink homesteading

Many factors in both the US and overseas are beginning to affect food process. Food prices have steadily increased over the years yet there is more “food” being produced. When I say “food” not all of the food being produced is either consumable by humans or eaten here in the US.

Here in the Midwest and other locations the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) has taken its toll on pork farms. It is estimated that 10% of the pork production has been removed due to the illness. Removed defined as being either killed from the virus or killed to prevent further spread of the illness. Once a Confined Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) has been infected it spreads extremely fast. As a result pork and my beloved bacon prices will be increasing. Pork prices were already on the rise due to increased feed costs.

PEDV News

Across the globe droughts in some areas and flooding in others has played havoc with grain prices. The poor crop production is not only here but UK, Russia, Australia, and China.

Wheat Drought

Crops US

I know several larger scale farmers or people working the farms here in the US. Weather plays a big part on when you can plant, when you can harvest. Some days they are in the fields 20 hours a day or on a rotation to keep the equipment running 24 hrs due to the weather window. The fields are too wet to get machinery out, or too much wind, or the ground is ground still frozen. This winter did not help many I know.

The hard winter for many here in the US has also hit the tropical crops such as avocados, oranges, lemons and limes. Florida was hit hard by colder than normal temperatures and as a result the orange crops will be affected. For example the number of dropped fruit has increased due to the colder than normal winter, but another problem is facing Florida. A virus spread by an insect is hitting the citrus production hard.
Citrus Production by State

Citrus Virus

California is in a world all its own. While it once was the breadbasket of America this year it may be the cause of food price increases. The drought, and lack of snowfall in the mountains (supplies much of the water to the growing valley) has caused some municipalities to turn off the water to orchards and farmland. The drought is not only impacting the fruits and vegetables but also beef, and dairy. California once a major exporter of dairy products to the rest of the world, many ranchers are now sending in the herds for slaughter because it is simply too costly to feed them during the drought.

California

The food issues are also affecting alcohol production. Hard cider breweries are having a harder time keeping up with demand. Due to lack of heirloom verities and increased demand Cider production may feel the hit as well.

Cider

When you add in the political tensions between the US and other countries where agriculture is a significant export you are looking at all around food increases not only here in the US but across the world. Then add to that the continual erosion of the US dollar, the mismanagement by our government of our debt, and our problematic monetary system and we are looking at massive price increases over the next couple of years.

What does all this gloom and doom about food prices, poor yields, and droughts have to do with permaculture? EVERYTHING! These problems go to show that our current food production system is unsustainable and this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can reduce your food bills and dependency on what is placed in front of you claiming to be edible. Grow your own. You can do this even if you have only an apartment and now windows. Stop growing lawns and treating with mass amounts of chemicals and fertilizers so that you have a “green carpet”. You are doing more harm than good. What does green carpet do for you? Absolutely nothing. Even if you were growing it to feed to animals, you have contaminated it to the point it is toxic to keep out weeds and make sure it stays green. Permaculture is a method to not only produce for your family but can also be a supplemental income source.

This year our family has made the biggest leap into food production expansion than we ever have before, due mainly to what we see happening here in the US and the world. We are getting dairy goats because we cannot afford to pay $6-8 per gallon of milk that we estimate will be coming in the near future. We have been tracking prices of the food we purchase, and a 5lb bag of cheese went from $8.99 2 years ago to $15.99 recently. If prices like this continue we cannot afford to still eat like we have and cook from scratch. Having dairy goats, eliminates the need to purchase, cheeses (we like many different kinds cheddar, cottage cheese, hard cheese, cheese sticks, ricotta etc), butter, yogurts, milk, sour cream, and ice-cream. Add to that the ability to use the goat milk to make soaps and lotions and that is a huge reduction. We can now control what goes into each of these products and we are independent of the price increases. We are adding amaranth to our crops to reduce grain needs. We have expanded from our own yard, to using two other growing spaces so that we will be able to have an abundance.

Price Basket

USDA food prices over the years

When you look at the prices week to week it may only go up a few pennies. Not enough for many to recognize. But when you start looking over the years there are some massive differences. I am in my mid 30’s and I can remember gas under $1.00/gal, bread under $1.00/loaf and being in amazement when a grocery cart full of food was less than $100.00, and to go over $100 meant that we were having a big party, or cookout. Today the same cart will run $3-400. While we only shop every 2-3 months we still only spend around $250 for a family of 6. Why, because we cook from scratch, grow and make much of our own food. We want to see our grocery bill be less than $100 every 3 months if possible. This is NOT unreasonable if you eat seasonally, cook from scratch, and produce much of your own food? I have heard every excuse you are coming up with, because I have said them myself. “I don’t have time, I don’t know how, it takes too long, etc, etc.”. This is utter BS. Turn the TV off, get off the couch, stop going out to eat so much, and eat real food vs. junk that is pre-made out of a box. I was exactly there a few years ago and can tell you it can be done. It isn’t overnight, it is one step at a time, and it can only lead to good things.

I wanted to say thank you to my friend “Cedar” from Down to the Roots magazine and “Cedar News Service” (inside Joke for the TSP audience) who highlights all the issues relating to food prices and shortages. Without her, I would be unaware of all that is going on outside my small world.

The Anti-Chicken Tractor

Most people who raise chickens are familiar with the chicken tractor. If you are not it is a mobile coop that allows the chickens to get fresh grass and other greens, exposure to other parts of your property, while remaining safe from predators and remaining contained. We have a six foot privacy fence and pretty much let the birds roam free. That is until they destroyed our gardens. So we put up a small poultry netting fence around our gardens. That worked for a while until the birds started eating the grass in the yard. So we seeded with clover, alfalfa, and grasses. But noting ever came up. We seeded again. Same thing, nothing. It wasn’t until I noticed one day the chickens were eating both seeds and new sprouts. So I came up with the Anti-chicken tractor. At the time we didn’t have money for paddock shift fencing to allow one area to be seeded. I did have some leftover chicken wire, and some misc. boards. It is basically a box with chicken wire around it. This is version 2.0. Version 1.0 was just wire with no sides. The Chickens discovered they could land on the top and push it down far though to get to the good stuff. Boom! Now I can seed a small area and allow the plants to take root and establish before the ravenous hoard get to them. It is amusing that there is no foliage around the inner edge where they can get their heads and beaks into it. The anti-chicken tractor also serves as a mobile rabbit tractor. When the rabbits need to be out for one reason or another we can put them on the lawn and mow it down. We USED to be able to put them in the front yard until our neighbors started spraying and the drift went into our space as well.

another anti-chicken tractor
another anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
Anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor
2 weeks using anti-chicken tractor

Our first livestock auction

If you have never heard of an animal auction and are looking into getting animals for homesteading you may want to check them out. The family and I went out last weekend to check things out. None of us have ever been so it was going to be an experience. If nothing else the kids could check out different types of livestock.

It started later in the evening and we went prepared with snacks and eating dinner along the way. Veedersburg Sale Barn The auction was about an hour and a half from our house in the city. It started at 6pm but we arrived at 5 to check things out first and get registered. If you have never been to an auction you must register to get a bidding number. When you bid on an item, your number is recorded. It takes about 20 min or so to get everything registered and you can pay and leave with your item, or stay and pay at the end. Arriving early gave us the opportunity to check out all the livestock and equipment. Not only were animals being auctions but feeders, watering containers, cages and other homesteading and animal equipment as well as hay.

While checking things out we spotted a few things we liked, and might bid on. We went looking for Kaki ducks, and if it was a good deal, maybe get a few. There were a couple of calves, goats, rabbits, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, fertilized eggs, guinea pigs, quail geese, pigeons, and a whole bunch of chickens in all shapes sizes and breeds. Hundreds and hundreds of chickens. Having only chickens as livestock at the homestead (with exception of fish) our only comparison for pricing was as chicks in catalogs or at some of our local farm stores. $1.50-10.00 depending on breed etc. We saw 1 year old laying hens going for as low as $2.00 each. For us this was a deal. You didn’t have to feed for 6 months, no heat lamp, no brooder boxes, and you get almost instant eggs. Now I have checked out Craigslist for layers and 1 year old layers can go from $20-40 each in our area. $2.00 was a steal in comparison to raising them for 6 months. With 22 chickens on hand at the moment we were maxed out on hens.

We did see some ducks later in the evening, or should I say morning (1am) but they were older and we have read that ducks will imprint on you when they are young. We wanted that kind of relationship with our animals and opted to get chicks later (turns out the next day).

We watched a few rabbit lots go by, what was available, and pricing. Because we had checked things out before hand we knew there were better rabbits coming. We ended up picking up 4 rabbits, 3 does and a buck. We are going to use them for our breeders. So, because rabbits weren’t on the agenda, guess who got to come home and get materials for building rabbit hutches.

More details on rabbits, hutches, ducks and duck house in a later post.

Each auctioneer was different. We had 4 over the span of the night. The first one would tell what sex, and breed the animals were and sometimes age. The second one would only tell you the sex. The third said nothing other than how many and type of animals. He seemed to go much faster and didn’t spend much time allowing others to bit. You either got his attention right off or it was gone.

The auction was a learning experience. Some things we picked up for next time, and advice to others going. Research what you are looking for before getting to the auction. Often they are in the middle of nowhere and there is no wifi or cell service. Show up early and inspect the animals. Know the order of the lots. You would hate to miss the animals you were looking for on a bathroom run. Plan on staying late, we left around 1:30 am and there were still plenty of animals left (5pm-1:30 am). If you don’t know what to look for bring someone with you who does. Ours had hard bleacher seating, so next time we are bringing cushions, sitting on those for 7-8 hours makes the backside sore. If bringing kids, bring entertainment, and explain BEFORE that, yes they are all cute animals, you cannot take them ALL home. Also, isolate your new animals for a period before introducing to your existing animals; this is to protect any potential diseases or parasites. If you wear you work boots, mud boots or footwear you normally wear around your animals clean and disinfect them before going around your animals. There are lots of animals moving through the sale barn and lots of potential to bring something home. The auction is a great way to pick up equipment for a much reduced rate, but be sure to inspect it before you bid on it. Make friends with the people around you. Turns out the couple next to me is looking to slim down their herd of milking goats, and we are looking to get some. Save us a trip to the auction barn, for goats and equipment. The couple on the other side sells piglets, and I know two people looking for piglets. Unless the auction lists what is up for sale, you never know what you may see, and for me it is like a treasure hunt. Each new lot brings new potential. Don’t get stuck on one particular animal or lot. Sometimes a bidding wars can erupt because two people let emotions get the price WAY above what it should be. We saw a baby goat go for $260 when the twin only went for $70. Go figure. Listen to the auctioneer carefully for several lots before ever making a bid, you can distinguish between $20/lot for 20 birds and $20/bird in a lot of 20. A difference of $380.

This was our first but most definitely not our last auction. So more on different auction barns, and what we learn along the way.