In my job as a Cornell Cooperative Extension educator, I get to meet a lot of people who are involved in or want to be involved in agriculture. Farmers who are established and have grown up on a farm usually have a network of family, friends and industry in place and available for advice, expertise and assistance.
The extension service still provides these farmers with the research and higher level expertise that is sometimes needed to improve their management, but they usually have the basics down already.
The small and beginning farmer is not always as lucky. Many small farms start out as a hobby and expand as interest grows or as is often the case, animals start to multiply. On a recent farm visit, I met with a small farmer who had a whole menagerie of livestock on his place; cows, goats, chickens and who knows what else. He had accumulated his livestock over time as his family’s interests had evolved, and he enjoyed the variety.
As is often the case with small farms, family members play a large part in determining the mix of agricultural activities. Caring for small livestock is a great way to teach young children responsibility and start educating them about animal science and the facts of life. I also encounter many folks who move to the country to reconnect with nature and live a simpler life. Many often have a family farm that has remained in the family and wish to make it productive once again.
Small farming is by and large an endeavor that is started to improve a family’s quality of life; not necessarily to produce income, but to live a more sustainable and fulfilling lifestyle. Often someone buys a home in a rural area that includes some acreage and raising some livestock and vegetables fulfills an idealistic dream of becoming a farmer.