Organic farming- can you make a living off a small acreage : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

Has anyone any experience in actually making a living from organic farming? We are working towards the production of organic beef cattle which we will supplement with vegetable production. Living in a relatively low population area means either further processing and/or marketing ourselves without the support of a cooperative. I would love to hear of the good and bad experiences. We are lucky to live in a temperate climate on the south coast of Western Australia with excellent air and water quality, so we have lots going for us to begin with. Love this site which I found by chance, especially the stories from George! Happy farming, happy gardening to you all. Cheers Chris

-- Chris Bellanger (, January 22, 2002


A major factor to "making a living" in organic production is to find and evaluate the market for your product. Organic agronomics is very much a niche market still and if you can charge higher prices for a compliant product. Size of the potential market you have access to will determine the sustainability of your venture.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (, January 22, 2002.

If there are health food stores within a reasonable driving distance can you perhaps sell to them. Another alternative might be what is called community support agriculture or subscription gardening. Here you line up buyers in advance of the growing season and then provide them at least weekly with what is ready to be harvested that week. The following is from my book, "How to Earn Extra Money in the Country". It is available as a free eBook upon request, but users need to find another address to use:

An excellent example of this is John Drury in Columbia, TN. He has a one-acre garden with currently 24 customers who signed on for $400 for 20 weeks of delivery from May until late September. He thinks his current garden size can support around 50 if he continues to be the only labor provided. He harvests on Friday mornings and delivers on Friday afternoon and some on Saturday as he reasons most people home cook more on weekends. Most go to individual customers, but he does have a couple of drop-off points for multiple customers. Deliveries are in three-quarter bushel size plastic laundry baskets.

While he grows a variety of common vegetables, such as 250 tomato plants of several varieties and 2,800 feet of seven types of potatoes, he does also offer some more exotic offerings. Examples are arugula, pitty-pat squash, miniature bell peppers and Asian eggplant. Sometimes he includes cooking methods for various vegetables. He does not sell as ‘organic,’ but rather chemical- free. Even his irrigation water comes from a well. His fertilizer is locally purchased composed chicken litter and a small amount of organic fertilizer obtained from Gardens Alive.

(Note: Should Mr. Drury build up to 50 customers at $400 per year, that is a gross of $20,000. For his customers, $20 per week is probably about what they would spend in a supermarket for produce anyway.)

He said the reasons for his customers purchasing from him seem to range from the no chemical to freshness aspects. He has only been in this business for a couple of years and is still changing his mar- keting and delivery concepts to fit his market. Also, in the future, he would like to get input from his steady customers on what they like, rather than just giving them what he grows. He has tried selling at a farmers’ market, but has found this system better accomplishes his goals and lifestyle. (John Drury can be reached at

-- Ken S. in WC TN (, January 22, 2002.

Chris, to expand further on what Ken said about health food stores, you could also ask them if there is any herbal products that the customers would like to see fresh, or dried in bulk. Many people that frequent these stores are looking for as high quality of a product as they can; many are also looking for local products, because they would rather support people they can relate to in some way. If you can provide the product at a cheaper rate then some distant company, guarantee organic, say you can deliver fresh at this time of the year, and dried at the rest on a monthly basis, you may be able to create a financial windfall from producing, and drying what will essential grow as a perrenial weed. I would think it is harder, for sure, to do so in a relatively low population area, but you could mail the dried herb, and only make one delivery a year for the fresh stuff, to an urban center. I'm sorry I can't offer any real experience that I've had with making a living doing this yet, but I always check out questions like your's as they provide good brainstorming for my future. I hope this helps.

-- roberto pokachinni (, January 22, 2002.

In Italy I know a lot of people are trying but the only ones that can do it are those with some sort of other income - so my answer (and personal experience) would be no, which is sad but seems to be true.

-- kelly (, January 22, 2002.

A woman I used to work with would talk about her cattle in casual conversation at work; which brought her enough customers to sell the few cattle she produced each year. They weren't organic, but they were nearly so as it was so much trouble to mess with ear implants and plain pasture, corn and hay was convenient to feed. She got supermarket prices for her cattle, which was enough to satisfy herself. The first year only a couple of people were interested, but she has repeat customers as well as more people asking about her cattle than she can supply. She was thinking of expanding slightly, but not by much as she works full time and too many cattle would be too much work.

-- Terri (, January 22, 2002.

Thank you all for the great answers! I was really surprised when I came into work to find all these messages. Could you all have "Cabin Fever" and everyone has time on their hands? Hate to do this to you but we are basking in glorious sunshine; the fish are biting; the sunsets are something to behold and I am enjoying the fruits of my garden- the first tomatoes are just ripening; dwarf beans literally coming out of our ears; sweetcorn nearly ready;lovely new potatoes just being dug; spinach, zucchini, carrots, strawberries, herbs, lettuce, white onions, shallots, basil, mulberries and apricots being put to good use- and now just waiting for the crop of cucumbers, rockmelon and watermelon. It's very interesting to hear of the diferent names of fruit and vegetables that you grow in the N. hemisphere. Happy gardening all, Chris

-- Chris Bellanger (, January 22, 2002.

I am starting my first season of the CSA that Ken described. We have a lot of positive response so far. To be successful off your homestead in organic farming you really need to sell directly to the consumer so you get full retail price with no middlemen. It is also easier if you have an outgoing friendly personality and have a convenient place for them to get their food (not too far out of the way). Treat your farm like a business and charge appropriate prices.

We are going to be doing a year round CSA with vegetables, fruit, flowers, eggs and meat (chicken, pork, beef and turkey). In the off season we will be ordering organic produce from a wholesaler to supplement what we grow.

If you charge appropriate prices (and make NO apologies for it) then you will have a product worth buying and customers lined up. If you act like they are doing you a favor by purchasing your eggs for $1/dozen then they won't treat you like a real business.


-- Amy Richards (, January 22, 2002.

PBS had a great documentary this year about CSA's. What I don't understand is: how do you account for, figure, plan for disasters: no rain, insect damage? Just not collect that week that there isn't much to harvest? Do customers just get the whole box of whatever is in or do they customize (i.e. only get the vegetables they are interested in).

What are the downsides? Do you deliver? Where do you get your boxes? What size?

-- Ann Markson (, January 23, 2002.

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