If you’re a small farmer, it can be hard to make a living selling $3 bunches of kale. You likely just don’t operate on the scale that’s needed to profit from this model of simply growing the classic vegetable suspects and hoping your customers buy enough to make it worth your while.
Luckily, there are ways to diversify your small urban farm that can help make it more sustainable in terms of keeping both the earth and your bank account happy and healthy. Let’s take a look at why you should diversify and how you can do it.
Diversifying your small urban farm is a good idea for many reasons. First of all, it’s good for your farm’s soil health and the health of the earth in general. Growing different types of crops helps promote sustainable growing practices. This is a big reason why environmental awareness is worth teaching. The more variety in what you grow and produce, the better off your soil (and therefore what grows in it) will generally be.
When you’re working with a diversified farm, you’re also protecting yourself from risk. If you’re running a monoculture operation and have a crop failure, your entire enterprise is at risk. But if you have your eggs in more than one basket, so to speak, you’re more likely to be able to bounce back from disaster.
Additionally, diversification is important to get consumers to demand more than orange carrots and bell peppers. When customers buy foods they’re unfamiliar with, they in turn introduce their kids to new foods and create a cycle of demand. With so many foods and seed varieties out there, farmers can do their part to educate people on all the different things they could be eating. Again, this way of eating is better for the earth and better for human health.
In a time when we are often very disconnected from our food, understanding the importance of a varied, sustainable diet that’s healthy for our bodies as well as the environment is key.
Finally, not only can diversification help keep farm work interesting and varied so you don’t get burned out, but it can help you increase profit on your farm, too. Here’s how:
You don’t need several hundred acres of farm land to have a profitable farm business. That’s one reason why there’s a link between minimalism and permaculture. A little can go a long way. Creating value-added products is a great way to make your small farm business more profitable.
There’s only so much you can charge for a cucumber, for example, but if you take that cucumber and make pickles from it, suddenly you have a higher-value product to offer your customers. Try making juice or drying fruit, creating a workshop for wine production, creating canned or preserved goods, or drying herbs and making cooking blends to sell.
Integrating animals into your small farm business is another great way to diversify. Consider starting with something like chicken eggs, honey, or dairy products like cheese and milk. Be sure to consult regulations for your area, as safety and quality rules for animal products are usually more strict than regulations for vegetable sales.
Not only can animal products help you earn more money on your farm, the presence of animals can do great things for the health of your farm in general. Chickens can peck weeds and pests out of the garden, while bees are essential pollinators for any healthy land, for example.
Focusing some of your energy on growing specialty, high-value crops is a popular method of diversification. Things like microgreens, seed production, specialty medicinal or culinary herbs, and flowers are great places to start.
Since fewer people are generally growing these crops, and because some require special equipment and tools to grow, you can charge more for them, therefore increasing the profitability of your small urban farm.
Host Educational Events
Opening up your farm to educational events is a great way to both diversify your avenues for income and increase your involvement with your local community. School groups, clubs, and soil scientists, just to name a few, are often looking for sites to visit and learn from.
Diversification is an important aspect of many small farms. By educating yourself on the benefits of diversification and considering value-added products, animal integration, specialty crops, and public education, you’ll be well on your way to running a successful and diverse farm.
Photo by Jazz Marie Photography