RICHFORD — In 2014, Amelia Wilson’s sister — who works on a dairy farm — brought home a couple of calves and a few chickens. When Amelia moved to Richford, her boyfriend built a small coop and she started with 12 barred rocks in 2018. Last summer, she had 20 meat rabbits and over 50 chickens all born on the property.
American Farmland Trust — an organization in the United States that works to protect and conserve farmland — says that in the next 15 years, one-third of America’s farmland and ranchland will likely change hands, as current landowners age and sell. They say that the future demands that we do all we can to protect farmland, promote sound farming practices, and keep farmers on the land.
Amelia is part of a growing trend in Vermont called “hobby farming.”
What is a hobby farm?
While the USDA, does not have one set of standards specific to hobby farmers, they are widely defined as a smallholding or small farm that is maintained without expectation of being a primary source of income. Some are merely to provide some recreational land, and perhaps a few horses for the family’s children. So that garden in your backyard and your small chicken coop puts you into this category.
The owner or owners of a hobby farm typically have a main source of income and they are farming for pleasure and not necessarily business.
Why are hobby farms becoming more popular in Vermont?In the past, the agriculture industry in the United States consisted mainly of independently-owned farming operations. By the end of the 20th century, many of these small farms had been taken up by large-scale, corporate farming enterprises. However, today a growing number of people are starting to establish their own “hobby farms.”
“I think people are relearning how to fend for themselves and are really enjoying the satisfaction of it. It’s a great feeling to make a meal and know that a good portion you provided for your family. Gardening I think goes along with this. If you drive around Vermont it’s amazing to see all the old farms that have been sold and it’s sad. I hope more people start small farming again and that tradition of sustaining ourselves can come back,” Wilson says.
Is farming even still a viable career for a young person?
While there really are hard no rules for starting a hobby farm, Wilson says be prepared to work. Farmers grind. But the advantage is that you get to breathe fresh air and often see the sunrise and sunset on the same day.
“If anyone wants to try farming I just urge them to remember that it can be just a hobby however it’s still a daily commitment. I’ve seen so many people start with a few chickens and get too large and the animals suffer from it or the people get bored. If someone can commit to the daily chores I say do it! It’s a great feeling working with animals and especially for kids it teaches a lot of life lessons,” says Amelia.
If you’re starting a hobby farm also pay attention to this: The IRS disqualifies hobby farms from receiving tax breaks for small-farm owners but there are still allowances available. Section 183 of the U.S. tax code explains the details of those allowances. Small farms need to be ready to prove their business operations and income. Missing out on being designated a hobby farm means missing out on tax benefits.
The USDA has published this blog to support new customers interested in first steps, such as registering their farm with USDA’s Farm Service Agency, access to capital, and conservation support through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
What are the benefits?
In addition to benefits such as generating additional income and providing your family with a nutritious and diverse diet, Amelia says that hobby farming can actually turn into subsistence farming.
“Towns and people become more self-sufficient. With the recent Covid era, I know more people have time at home and I saw last spring the boom in backyard farms. This is great personally for each family but also for the environment as well.”
But before you start a hobby farm she says to make sure you develop a business plan and know what you’re getting yourself into.
USDA offers a suite of resources targeted to small and mid-sized producers interested in access to capital, land management and conservation practices, managing risk, finding local markets, and other educational resources. You can learn more about those resources by visiting USDA’s Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources page. They also offer a New Farmers page that includes step-by-step guidance for producers just getting started, from thinking through potential operation types to developing a business plan, USDA resources to help, and connecting with support outside of USDA.
Partner groups, such as the University of Vermont’s Extension program, also offer valuable resources for those interested in agriculture.
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