Sunday, December 29, 2019

Transitioning the Farm for Our Next Stage of Life

tractor with wagon loaded with hay in field
Putting up hay with our '54 Farmall Cub
When we first started Our Tiny Farm in 1999, we were finally living our dream of owning a small farm, raising a lot of our own food using organic methods, having farm animals, and making income "off the land". That was over 20 years ago. My husband and I were in our forties. our children were in elementary school, and the economy was good.
vegetables growing in a small garden
Our early vegetable gardens were diverse
We started out, as most new market gardeners do, growing vegetables. We grew a bit of everything including tomatoes, peppers, onions, peas, broccoli, potatoes, eggplants, beans, and summer squash. It was a new garden site so it took a lot of back breaking work to raise organic vegetables. We added so much organic matter and did so much weeding in those early years. It also didn't take us long to figure out that every other small farm in the region was growing exactly the same things that we were! Because of our small scale and doing everything by hand, we couldn't sell our vegetables at a price that would make us any money.
jar of popcorn
Our Japanese hulless popcorn was a big hit with our customers
So then we started experimenting with crops that we didn't see at the farmers' markets: heirloom popcorn, heirloom winter squash, kohlrabi, garlic, shallots, leeks, and herbs.
four beehives
We started increasing the number of hives
Glen had been keeping bees as a hobby for several years but decided to expand the number of hives and do it as a small commercial operation. 
four chickens in a portable chicken tractor
We had six heirloom breed chickens in a portable chicken tractor
big black horse by a gate and barn
Glen built the barn on the left, we fenced the property, and got a horse and donkey
Glen built a barn, workshop, equipment sheds, and other outbuildings. We got chickens, a donkey, and a horse. We were really living the farm life! It was a ton of work, but it was something my husband and I had always talked about doing together. But we still weren't making much money; certainly not enough to justify the amount of work we were putting into it.

two black cattle and a water tub
Two young Black Angus steers. We just raised two at a time.

garlic bulbs
We shipped garlic all over the country for many years.
black and white horse in the field
Boarding horses was lucrative and taught us a lot about contracts and horse owners.
So we started pasture raising a few Black Angus cattle, selling our garlic online, and boarding horses; and finally, our CPA informed us that we were making money! The winning combination for Our Tiny Farm was beef, honey, garlic, and horse boarding. 
Young woman with a freshly harvested garlic plant
Digging garlic was a family operation
And so that is what we did for a number of years. We sold our farm products at the farmers' market, direct from the farm, and online. I held a fulltime job, but for most of that time my husband was fulltime on the farm and at home. 
man kneeling next to two donkeys
Glen with the first two donkeys we boarded
And then the kids grew up. The old horse died. Digging garlic was really hard on Glen's back. And I was really tired of working 60+ hours a week at my regular job and then getting up at 5 am to go to market on Saturday morning. So we starting simplifying our farm. We now raise and board only donkeys. We've quit raising beef. We still raise bees, but our honey is all sold at our friend's strawberry farm just five miles away or online.  
man and boy roasting hot dogs over a campfire
This past summer we took our grandson on his first camping trip
My husband and I are now in our 60s. We still love our little farm and I can't imagine life without the donkeys. But there are other things we would like to do, like travelling around this big, beautiful country, and now seems like the right time to start. We are fortunate to have our son living on the farm, great neighbors to help and watch over our place, and our daughter and her family nearby. So this coming year, the blog posts will be about what we can do on our small farm in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. How can we generate some income but leave time and energy to travel and enjoy other activities. I hope you will follow along and share some of your experiences!

3 comments:

  1. What a great post!! All the time I was reading I was thinking, "hope I can talk Dan into sitting here long enough to read this". You and your husband are amazing. You have built such a beautiful farm. I'm glad you are keeping the donkeys. My dream has been to work like you have and build what you have. I certainly will follow along. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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  2. Thank you so much for the delightful comments!! I often don't appreciate all I have until someone points it out to me. Happy New Year, Henny Penny!

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  3. Enjoy. Looking forward to seeing your posts.

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