The following is the very basic tale of how I’m starting my own micro-farm in Ballston Spa. It’s called Little Sparrow Farm, and yes, it’s named after Dolly Parton.
Last summer I was telling a friend how I was going to be ordering a lot of garlic. The amount I ordered ended up being over 400 cloves worth. To any larger farm this is no big deal, but for me it meant more than could fit into my home garden. This meant I would be forced to find a place to plant it in the fall. This is how I operate…I push myself into a corner so I have no choice but to find my way out.
I realize this sounds crazy, and it probably is, but it’s the best way I know to just propel myself toward goals that seem really daunting otherwise. I was fortunate enough to know a woman who has some land that’s not being used for anything at the moment. It’s ten minutes from my house and all I had to do was pay to have it brush hogged. Ok, that was doable.
When I started keeping bees last year I did a similar thing, sort of. I decided I would keep bees, and since I can’t have them at my home, I knew I’d need to find a place. I ended up asking a friend of mine with a dairy farm, and he was perfectly fine having my hives on one of his fields. I had simply decided that would be the year I’d start keeping bees and refused to believe otherwise. If you want to see how that went read here, here and here.
Leading up to October (when the garlic would need to be planted) I kept trying to find someone who could turnover my quarter-acre plot with a tractor. I had no luck. I had purchased a used rototiller though, so I spent one afternoon going back and forth over some very overgrown areas. I’m short, and don’t have tons of upper body strength, and was up against some hardcore roots, so I probably looked like a crazy person out in that field, being yanked all over the place.
Numerous times the engine got too hot and quit on me. This made me want to quit too, but after some swearing and waiting, I’d get it going again and keep on moving that dirt.
One day in October I went back with my roller derby knee pads (a true lifesaver) and some gardening tools and fought with those roots again but got all of the garlic in the ground. It seemed like I would never be done, but sure enough, I kept going and eventually that task was behind me. Now I wait, with fingers crossed, hoping this summer I’ll have good garlic and some tasty scapes.
There is a downside to this property that I’m using though. There’s water nearby, but getting it to where crops would be doesn’t seem like much of a possibility, unless I have a lot of money to spend, which I don’t. There are many things that make growing plants possible, and water is obviously at the top of that list. So, where does that leave me and this little farm of mine?
After attending the Winter Conference for NOFA-NY I realized I needed to scale back my original plan, at least for now. I had to really look at the obstacles before me to see what would be reasonable. I’d rather know what I was up against, and plan accordingly, instead of being incredibly foolish from the start.
I learned once that in permaculture growing people often say “the problem is the solution.” I like this, as it forces you to look at obstacles as opportunities. I may not have usable water at my friend’s property, but I do have water at my house. I also have more lawn in scattered places that can be turned into growing areas.
Also, bees can get to the water, unlike those veggies. I wanted to expand my beekeeping anyway, and the field area is perfect for them. So I will get more bees, and build more hives, and (hopefully) have more honey to sell.
I will use the smaller areas at my home for growing greens and herbs for local friends and a few restaurants. I doubt this is how it will always be, but it seems like a decent place to start.
And more often than not, the simple act of starting is the most frightening part. Once you get past that, at least you are making progress.
If you are curious, I am starting this journey mostly on my own. My husband works full-time and I homeschool my son, who is currently eight. I’ve never had a farm internship or any professional training, I just love growing food. I try to read on the subject as much as possible and I’m forever asking questions of my friends who currently farm. I don’t have a lot of equipment or a lot of money. I wanted to include this in case you are in a similar situation and really want to farm, but it seems hopeless.
I encourage you to figure out what you want to do, talk to people who are already doing it, read, and attend conferences or field days. There really is a lot of information out there and the world needs more people who care about feeding others.