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Assess Your Land and Resources

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Finding out what you've got is a great first step toward deciding what to do with it. While this can seem complicated, it's something you can do a little bit at a time. Some pieces of information require that you engage with your land, and perhaps find a professional (for example to test the soil). Other steps are about thinking about what less tangible resources you have, such as time and farming skills.

Take an Inventory

Most landowners have an official survey of their land (usually done when you purchase it). Take a large piece of paper and sketch the general shape of your acreage from the survey. Then, walk the land, making note of the features listed below on your sketch and their location. This can be rough; you’re just trying to get a general sense of what you have available to use.

What to Look For:
  • Soil types (clay, sand, silt, loam)
  • Water sources (ponds, streams)
  • Type of land (sloping, wet, level)
  • Type of vegetation (brush, grasses, deciduous trees, coniferous trees)
  • Any existing structures (shed, outhouse, chicken coop, barn)
  • Any existing cultivation (orchard, vegetable garden, berry bushes, compost pile)

Sit down with your sketch and make a list of the different land features, the structures that exist, and whatever else you have found. Now you have a sketch of your land that is filled in with information and a list of resources already on hand. This is an excellent start for designing your farm.

Time and Energy

Take a moment to assess how much time you have, realistically, for farming. Do you have a full-time job, or will the farm be your main work? Can and will your children help?

Many people who start farming with little experience of it vastly underestimate the amount of time and energy that it requires. Especially in the beginning, and especially if your resources are few (you have poor soil, no barn, sloping or wet land, and so on), farming is an extremely labor-intensive process.

If you've assessed the time and energy available for farming and feel discouraged, take heart! Don't turn away from your dreams just yet. Instead, look at it as a positive thing: you know that your time is limited. You will be sure to take things slowly and develop your farm as you're able, rather than jumping in over your head and drowning in responsibility. Going slow and building up your farming commitments as you have the time and energy is the key to avoiding burnout.

Financial Resources

Decide how much of your financial resources you can commit to the development of your small farm. Some expenses to consider include buying livestock, equipment, and seeds.

This is a process that involves a solid understanding of budgeting and financial planning. Don't get discouraged. Just start somewhere. When in doubt, err on the conservative side. Yes, you have to put money into your business, but many great businesses were started on a shoestring.

Keep It Positive

Remember to have fun with the whole process of assessing what you have! Keep your outlook positive, and don't get overly focused on what you don't have. Every little thing you can put on your list as a resource, from an unused storage shed to a level site for a garden, is an asset to your new farm.

And if you don't even have that farm yet? Make a list of what you need to get started. How many acres? What kind of land? If you're going to be growing flowers, your needs will be very different from someone who is raising livestock, for example.

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