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Hobby Farms

hobby farms

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Published date:

September 28, 2015

Last updated date:

April 23, 2024

By Manny Manriquez

According to the Los Angeles Times newspaper, what today’s city dwellers long for most of all is the country. No surprise there. Since 1986, when Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, first got its start, there are now an estimated 6,000 such small, or “hobby” farms in the United States. For most of us, the idea of a hobby farm – a wilderness retreat – is paradise on earth. The actual total is much higher. Every year, roughly 3,281,727 individuals move from the city to the country, on as little as one acre or as much as 100 acres, but not all call themselves small farmers, or even hobby farmers.

The distinction between a hobby farm and a community farm can be murky. The first is generally owned by one or more individuals, related by blood or purpose to raising cleaner, healthier, more abundant food on fewer acres. The second is generally an alliance of individuals with the same interest as above, but on community property. The apparent difference is the profit motive, but in today’s economy what starts as a non-profit hobby farm (by the government’s definition, anyway) can as easily end up being a highly profitable small farm. And vice versa. Perhaps more important for entrepreneurial-type individuals, the transition from a hobby-type farm to a profit situation is made simpler by the IRS’s Hobby Farm Loss Rule (section 183; read more about that here). And – where once upon a time it was pretty certain small farms were never going to get rich – it is now possible, with the enormous interest in “organic” food, to make a tidy profit on good farming habits instead of artificial or chemical approaches to management. In both cases, the shared goal is reconnecting to the land – a paradise lost to 81.6 percent of Americans ever since the advent of megafarming.

Megafarming is where about 89 percent of farmers – often family farms – raise the produce or meat bought by a tiny handful of “producers” like Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson and the like, who basically control everything from the seed or feed to the supplier or slaughterhouse. Hobby farming isn’t just vegetables and fruit, however. Some small farmers keep chickens; others keep dairy cows, or goats. Some farm sheep, llamas, emus and other unusual species for meat. A few keep bees, and it is among these small-time beekeepers that honeybee hives are making their first considerable advances after about a decade of losses due to varroa mites, pesticides, and the like. And now that the court has banned neonicotinoids, you might even find yourself on the winning side. Some even have fish farms, or worm farms, or grape vines for native, homemade wine. The impact on the economy has been remarkable. One farmer who raises and sells chicken feed says his business has “grown hugely” just in the past two to three years.

A supplier who sells hive boxes, frames and honey-harvesting tools, reports he has had to turn his own hives over to someone else just to keep up with the carpentry side of his honey business. If you are thinking of starting a hobby farm, there are a few caveats. Experts recommend educating yourself, avoiding the profit-motive pitfall – at least at first – and avoiding debt. This last should in fact be first. Because the IRS will only allow you to deduct the amount of expense you actually earned via farmer’s market and home sales (assuming you even do that), going seriously into debt to get five acres and a mule will put you just about where it did people during the Great Depression. So don’t. On the other hand, if the cost of the land plus your dwelling doesn’t exceed what you are currently paying – or if you have saved for decades toward your hobby farm goal, by all means forge ahead. Dream about hay and barn kittens, that fresh morning egg and a glass of milk that has not been through the wringer.


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