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How Starting Your Own Farm is Easier Than You Think

Six months ago my girlfriend, Jody and I were in a tight spot. We’d been leasing a farm and doing well for our first season, raising animals and growing what we could by learning along the way. We worked hard, really hard but it was for someone else’s farm and our visions began to divide with the landowner.

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Berkshire pigs help till up future garden bed.

We had dreamt about owning our own farm but of course didn’t feel like we could afford what we wanted. We wanted what every small scale or hobby farmer wants when starting your own farm: 5-10 acres, country-style house, rolling pastures with an area of forest, barns for all our animals, and of course, a nice big workshop with a 200amp service…affordable? Nope!

Looking around it quickly became evident that our perfect farm was not nearly in our price range and most of those desirable features would have to be sacrificed. So we started discussing what we ‘needed’ versus what we ‘wanted’ in a property and what we could make work for now and what we could add or use later. We are young and handy and not afraid of hard work so something that needed some TLC was fine with us. In fact, we were actually looking forward to slapping a few coats of paint on and tidying up the yards. For us it was more about making something of our own and working on projects together for fun while learning as much as we could.

Modern farms nowadays do not fall into stereotypical categories but are a mish mash of size, personal choice, common trends, and creativity from ideas and a passion for what you do. Learning about starting your own farm comes from online videos, blogs, and infinite forums that give you more ideas and answers than you know what to do with. Combined it means that ‘farming’, whether it’s raising a few chickens in your backyard or growing and running a market garden, is more doable than ever and very in reach for those who wish to just try it out.

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New blueberry garden beds built into the eroded hill side with maple leaves used to mulch.

Jody came home one day after a hike with the dogs in the Cowichan Valley to tell me she had found a farm for sale, which looked (from the road) perfect for what we needed. We contacted a realtor, went to check it out and were met with both hope and disbelief. A 2.2 acre property that was hiding under mountains of junk, scattered timber and covered with overgrown brush. The house had faded into a dusty mess of decks and railings and the moss-covered roof made it look like a neglected cabin in the wilderness.

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Family helps cut, paint and redo deck rails from timber found on property.

A quick walk around did reveal some positives that were on our list of must-haves: A number of newly built-out buildings and barns that could house all of our animals; cross fencing throughout the property with new gates that allowed for rotational grazing for our sheep; a pond (or at that stage a swamp) that we could potentially use for irrigation in the summer months; and more timber of various sizes and lengths that would save hundreds of trips to the hardware store and hundreds of dollars in materials for all those building projects we had in mind. The ‘mess’ meant that the property was in our price range and we saw the potential was there. We basically needed two things: hard work and time.

A month later we had somehow moved all of our belongings along with four sheep, two goats, a cranky ram, 30 chickens, four pigs, 50 meat birds, 45 fish and over 250+ seedlings that were in dire need of a new garden bed that didn’t exist yet! But we had our own farm and that feeling was priceless.

We went to work immediately. Our pigs tilled a garden bed in an overgrown spot we picked, as our ‘wanted’ tractor was not in the picture. Raised beds quickly appeared as we nailed together nearby lengths of cedar. The goats ate unwanted weeds while we stripped the house of 70’s wallpaper and added fresh new paint. A new chicken coop emerged from one of the outbuildings with hardware cloth we found in the old shed and the seedlings began to flourish with added alpaca manure that was left in a pile. Friends and family chipped in and worked tirelessly with us, seeming to run off the same energy we had for the vision of our farm.

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Friends help pick vegetables.

We’re now six month in and the work hasn’t slowed down, yet our dream farm is coming together. With proper management, a farm doesn’t have to be large. In fact as we have found out the bigger it is, the more work there is. We have also managed to build things ourselves and use what we found lying around from a somewhat abandoned property. Left behind nails, bolts, old tools, pots, wire, furniture and shelves have all found a use and saved us a bunch of time and money. We have found (me in particular) that perfection can’t always be achieved and that as long as it functions and serves its purpose, a new version is not needed.

As agriculture takes a swing in the times, the young are beginning to take over from the old and add new life to abandoned and degraded farms by applying sustainable practices. Where once 100 acres was needed to grow your corn crop, now 2-5 can grow enough food to feed yourselves and your community.

There are no rules for starting your own farm. New and exciting ideas are shared online throughout farming communities bringing good people and great food together once again.

About The Author

Nathan Harben
Nathan Harben is a marine scientist originally from Australia but who now calls Canada home. For the past 10 years he has been involved in marine mammal training and research, specifically with sea lions. An avid diver and photographer he has traveled and dived in remote locations to fulfill his passion for the marine environment. Now living on Vancouver Island he has found a new niche in sustainable farming and is pushing to educate others throughout this rewarding journey.