What is small-scale farming

Small-scale Farming can be a great choice for you if you always wanted to produce your own food, escape modern life and get back to your basic survival Instincts. I worked on numerous small farms, and out of all the farming experiences I had so far, they were the most enjoyable.

So, what is small-scale farming? Small-scale farming describes a farming method using very little land (usually around 1-10 acres) and often using very little to no expensive technologies. Small-scale farming is closely tied with more sustainable agricultural methods including Hobby, organic, biodynamic and permacultural (etc.) farms. According to the USDA, a small-scale farm produces between 1000$-250000$ each year in agricultural products.

With an ever increasing demand for better food and the rise of health and wellness related topics, going back to buying fresh, locally produced food is getting more popular. The picture we all have in mind thinking about the perfect farm most certainly fits the criteria of a small-scale farm.

Characteristics of small scale farming

  • Land size: Small-scale farming only works on 1-10 acres, sometimes even less considering Backyard farms in cities. Some small farms also do reach more than 10 acres, these are however focusing on animal husbandry and not solely on growing crops for income.
  • Small-scale farming is usually a more sustainable way of farming land, compared to large scale factory farms. Often does small scale farming adopt multiple methods used in sustainable farming, to save money and provide better long term stability, I will go more in depth about this topic later.
  • Income on small farms is only between 1000$-250000$/year according to the USDA, most family-run farms are on a very tight budget, which forces them to optimize in every possible way, for example by abstaining from expensive technology and equipment.
  • Because of this, small-scale farms usually include a lot of manual labor. Tractors and other Machinery is rarely used and most of the work around crops is done by hand.
  • This way of farming can be characterized as a very efficient way of producing crops often surpassing production per land unit when compared to regular factory farming.
  • Animals (especially larger ones) on small-scale farms are quite uncommon, small farms mostly focus on crop production, often chickens and sometimes a pig for composition.
  • Families on small farms often produce their own food and sell excess production, on larger operations crops are only grown for profit.
  • Small farms often use crop rotation systems making them less vulnerable to diseases
  • Small farms often use organic fertilizer and avoid oil-based soil improvment

What are the main differences between small-scale and conventional farming

While there are a lot of differences comparing these two farming methods the biggest one has to be operation size and budget. Most small-scale farms run on a small property with a very tight budget and no to little Machinery. Factory farming turns this completely around. The Property used for the crop production is enormous, the money managed within these farms often surpasses 1000000$ and very little work is done manually.

There are also some less obvious differences, for example, small-scale farms tend to produce for local communities, therefore eliminating transportation and distributions costs. Bigger factory farms produce one crop for many different states, exporting large amounts to a lot of different places.

Also, the way farms are operated is vastly different, factory farms run on a strict business plan, and are only run to improve profit. Small-scale farms, on the other hand, are often run by a family, providing a more personal connection to the farm.

Advantages of small scale farming

  • While small-scale farming is very hard work, it does also provide a lot of benefits in comparison to regular farming practices.
  • Builds up communities: A small farm supplies the local community with fresh food and thus reconnect people with the food they consume. This helps to build up a whole community centered around a small farm, helping out both the farm and the people.
  • Improves Health of communities: Introducing more nutritious and sustainable food, helps to improve the overall health of customers. They will not only get high-quality food but often also a higher quantity of locally produced seasonal crops.
  • Creates jobs: During the stressful harvest months, small farms often require some outside help in exchange for money or accommodation and food. Harvesting, selling and Maintaining a farm is hard work and help is always appreciated.
  • Small farms improve soil quality: In factory farming, very little thought is given to soil health, but on small farms, the soil is the heart and soul of the whole operation and is therefore treated with respect. Small farms often try to not only maintain the quality of the soil but actually improve it over time, so that future generations will profit even more from this farming method.
  • Food security: Small farms grow a more diverse crop selection. Bigger farms often grow only a single crop on a very large scale, in bad years big parts of the harvest can be lost. Small farms help to counteract the food systems instability in those years.
  • Better for the environment: Most of the food produced in large farms will travel more than 1000 miles until it finally reaches the supermarkets’ shelves. Furthermore, to produce these huge quantities of food in the least amount of time a lot of high tech equipment is used. Pesticides and oil-based fertilizers also contribute to the negative effect on the environment.
  • More productive: Against the widespread belief, small farms are actually far more productive when compared to larger operations, when adopting unconventional farming methods. Providing more people not only with more but also better food to enjoy.
  • Can offer high quality at a good price: Most small farms sell their products directly on the farm, this way they do not have to pay for transportation or other fees. You know where your money is going if you choose to buy from a local farm and will be able to see your food being produced.

Some challenges faced by small-scale farmers

Sadly small-scale farming comes with it’s own challenges and problems.

  • Hard physical labor: Working long days of hard manual labor can be very exhausting and damage your body in many different ways. A small-scale farmer is required to be in very good health and be very resistant.
  • High risk: Being a farmer always comes with high risk, what to do if you injure yourself? Insurance can help you avoid some serious consequences but never eliminate the risk.
  • High dependence on unpredictable factors: Wheather is one of the most important, yet most unreliable factors in farming. A bad storm can wipe out your harvest. Preparing for these kinds of situations can be very stressful.
  • Financial uncertainty: Most small farms operate on a very tight budget, leaving the farmer with very little to no luxury. Family vacation is pretty much impossible and the farm will require nearly all of your time.

Related Questions

Does small-scale farming benefit the environment? Yes, small scale farming often adopts sustainable farming methods, and benefits the environment in many ways. Improving soil quality, growing a more diverse array of plants and using less heavy machinery help to promote this protecting effect.

Why is small-scale farming often more efficient? Using a more adapted growing system like Permaculture and improving soil quality over time helps small farms to produce higher yields. Small farms also heavily focus on production optimization, helping to improve efficientcy even more.