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Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 2

Can a suburban lot be profitable as a farm? Pt 2

In the last post I wrote about if it is profitable to run a suburban homestead farm. The answer was it depends. There are so many variables to consider. We touched on rabbits, and fruit trees. Today we are going to cover a few more items that in combination with reduction in spending and layering could make a suburban homestead profitable.

We touched on fruit trees and on using the fruit trees for home-made products such as jams and jellies. If you are to expand the fruit tree aspect to also include home based jams, jellies and baked goods you are adding additional function to your income stream without having to add to your space needs. Most if not all of the preserves will be prepared indoors without the need of additional growing area. Each area is different on the regulations required. Some states, cities, and counties will allow an individual to prepare and sell preserves on the farm without any additional requirements. Some areas require that a commercial kitchen be used, while others will allow it to be prepared on farm, sold off farm, if the kitchen is inspected. Do your research, and there are not only the preparation requirements, but also labeling requirements, on a federal, state, and sometimes local level. Do not be discouraged by the regulations, as many are not too over burdensome. If you are going to make preserves, there will always be waste in the forms of peels, seeds, core of the fruit (as with apples or pears), pulp etc. This is not a waste product. This could also be turned into income, in the form of compost, worms, compost tea, or bartered for other useful products. One local farm will barter fresh meat, in exchange for these types of waste, providing that it is chemical free (no pesticides, herbicide, fungicides etc.). The farm will take your waste and feed it to their pigs, and chickens. This can offset meat and egg purchases. If you are raising your own animals, this could offset any feed costs you may have. While you could also include baked goods, pies, cakes etc. in the same operation relatively easy, and would probably need the same level of inspection or regulations, you would be dependent on outside grains for flour, milk, and possible eggs for such an operation. This is not to say it isn’t profitable, especially if you buy flour in bulk, or have a niche market only using organic flour, or gluten-free products.

Composting can take a waste and turn it into a profit center. Composting isn’t hard, and it can be done indoors or outdoors, small-scale or large. It all depends on your climate and location. Some areas will have regulations on compost, but this is usually on a commercial-scale. We have a varied size of compost activities from an indoor box in a recycled cat litter container, to the 3 bin pallet composting, and each one has different purposes, and contents. The indoor system will use some household composting materials and shredded junk mail, cardboard, and fiber board (cereal boxes). There is no smell, and the worms do all the work. We use only non-glossy paper in these systems. These worms do not process large volumes of materials, and is mainly a use for compost tea, keep worms through the winter, and indoor soil amendments. The outdoor system has yard wastes, leaf litter, grass clippings, left over’s from the vegetable gardens, rabbit manure, and bedding from the chicken coup. People who are just getting started are on the lookout for worms to start their own composting system, or maybe something happened and killed off their worms. This is why it is good to have redundant system and only add questionable materials to one system, or rotate what gets the new materials. You always have a back up worm supply. Some people sell them by the pound, some count out the worms. You can also sell the worm casting, or compost tea. The casting can be added to plants indoor and out, gardens, lawns, around fruit and berry bushes. It is a fertilizer that will not burn, there are no chemical additives, and can be applied at any time. The tea is taken from the castings and made into a liquid fertilizer. Some people sell the tea in 1 gal jugs, others sell the dried castings and instructions on how to make your own tea. Like the castings, the compost tea can be put around any plants, indoors or out. The added benefits of the liquid are that it is readily absorbed by the plant during the application, and when sprayed onto the plant leaves acts a bio-barrier against pests and disease. The compost tea promotes a beneficial biological layer that will detour pests, but also aids in preventing many harmful molds, viruses, and bacteria from colonizing on the leaf surface. Will you be profitable from compost tea alone? Not on a suburban lot. But this is a way to take a waste product and turn it into something beneficial, both for your own farm or homestead and possibly turn a profit.  If you want more info on composting with worms check out Castaway Compost.

In part 3 we will talk chickens. We have hit on them a little here and there, but more details to come. So a recap of what we covered thus far in the series, is Fruits, Rabbits, Compost and worms, and preserves and baking. All of these can be managed at the same time on a suburban lot in conjunction with each other.

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

July 26th General “Farm” tour

People have asked to have another general farm tour. We are having another on July 26th 9am. It will again be $20/person.

If weekend tours do not work for you schedule, please contact us and we can try to arrange one that better fits into your schedule.

Signup and register here.

Come out see, ask questions, see what is going on. It is estimated 3 hrs but I like to talk, and if there are more questions we are not on a time constraint. Some areas may have more questions or information if people are interested.

Suburban “farm” tour. Come out and see what is possible on 0.2 acres of suburbia. We have ducks, chickens, 5000 gal outdoor aquaponics, 4000 gal frog pond, a new 50 gallon indoor aquaponic system, fruit trees, berry patches, edible landscaping, rabbits, grapes composting, vermicomposting, vertical gardening, rain harvesting, and medicinal herbs. The goats may be on property, if not we will discuss different aspect of back yard goats as well.

In addition to covering all of the above and lessons learned through “failing”

We will cover how to use an A-Frame level for finding contours on your property as well as how to make an A-frame level.

Anti-chicken tractors

Where to find materials for cheap or free

We will talk and show different aspects of permaculture we are practicing.

Talk about the many ways to use a aquarium air pump to benefit your property.

Making and using compost tea

Possibly have a plant exchange as well (please if attending put what you will bring in the comments so others may benefit/trade)

Seem like a lot? We are only using about 40% of our 0.2 acres.

This is our home, and please respect we do not let the public in our home, so no public restrooms are available. You may also park in the drive as we will have moved our vehicles to accommodate you.

We can/do accept PayPal/credit debit cards. However cannot do both cash and electronic payments on the Meet-up space. Our PayPal ID is wolfbeachfarms@gmail.com and we use both Square and Paypal Credit/debit payments. Space is limited.

Start time is 9am. If you need to make payments or otherwise, please show up a few minutes early.