Whether you own your land or are still dreaming of the time when you can move to your small farm or homestead, you can set goals for what you hope to accomplish.
For many people, their vision and ideas are clear-cut. They may know already that they want to grow a small market garden, or that they want to have sheep, but not goats. Some may be clear that they want a smattering of many species of animals, a "barnyard in their backyard," just for enjoyment.
If you aren't sure yet what your overarching goals are for your small farm, ask yourself these questions.
Do I want to make money with my farm, or is this purely for pleasure?
This is truly the most important question to ask. A small farm that is a business is very different from one that is a hobby farm or even for self-sufficiency. All of your decisions and planning will stem from a business perspective, even if your only goal is to sell some lettuce and eggs at the farmer's market.
Is my goal self-sufficiency?
There's a distinction between a hobby farm and a homestead. A hobby farm isn't concerned with producing a quantity of food (vegetables, fruit, dairy and/or meat) for the family. The animals and garden may produce food, but it's more a byproduct of the goal, which is to have animals and a garden for enjoyment. A homestead, or a farm whose goal is ultimately to produce most to all of its own food, looks at this as the primary goal. Enjoyment of the animals and garden is still important, but the focus is shifted to self-sufficiency, and this drives decision-making.
What are my priorities as far as quality of life?
This may help you decide on your overarching goal for your small farm or homestead. For example, do you value "down time"? You might think about starting very small and slowly adding animals and garden space, so that you can adjust the balance of work and play more easily. Do you enjoy farm work as down time? You might jump in more quickly, knowing that you're less likely to get overwhelmed.
How much are you willing to put off or forego other activities and things to expand your small farm? If you could afford to get a dairy cow but that meant giving up your weekly night out, would it be worth it to you? Or would you feel deprived? These are things to think about and analyze as you consider quality of life questions.
What is my overarching life philosophy?
Yep, that one's a doozy. But it's something to consider deeply as you move forward with your small farm venture. If you haven't grown up in a farming tradition, and your attitude is that you are "dabbling" in farming, you are much more likely to give up when things get tough -- as they inevitably will.
Spend some time now to think about the "big picture" things that are driving the decision to farm. Maybe the belief that we need to live more lightly on the earth, and that peak oil and the food crisis are bearing down on us, is driving your decision to homestead. Perhaps it's just reconnecting with a sense of contentment and well-being that you felt as a kid on your grandparents' farm that you're looking to recapture with a hobby farm in your retirement. Or, maybe the driving force is connecting your kids to where their food comes from.
Whatever the philosophy that is underpinning your decision to farm, write it down. It may be more than one thing - that's fine. Having your philosophy written down can help when you get lost in the details. You have something to turn to, a tangible reminder of why you're doing this.