Posted: October 30, 2010
Ben Shute, Hearty Roots Farm. Redhook, NY
Small farm, on a budget
Tillage: Some tillage equipment is only really needed once per season. Have a neighboring farmer do the initial plowing of your field in the spring, and use hand tools or a walk-behind tiller to do your tillage during the season.
Seeding: The Earthway is extremely versatile and very cheap.
Greenhouse: Inquire about purchasing seedlings from other farmers; set up a cold frame or temporary greenhouse; look into nearby greenhouses that might have extra space.
Cultivation: Wheel hoes are cheap and cover a lot of ground. Friends and CSA members are often willing to help out, it’s cheaper than a gym membership.
Irrigation: You can get set up with a small gas pump and drip irrigation on an acre for about $1000, if you have a pond to pump from.
Storage/processing: Consider harvesting in the morning, and distributing (through market, CSA, farmstand) in the afternoon. Cool your produce with cold well water. If a neighboring farmer has extra cooler space, barter for some. If you are processing meat, learn about cold storage in your area, it can be very affordable and doesn’t require investment.
Delivery: Have people come to you. Or, you can fit a lot of produce/meat into a minivan, pickup or station wagon.
Medium scale, adding efficiency
Tillage: A used utility tractor of about 50hp can be bought for under $10,000, if you have the patience to solve the mechanical problems that come up. If you are willing to go into debt, a new tractor will pay for itself over time, and cause you very few problems at first. A chisel plow and a rototiller can be all the tools you need.
Seeding: Earthway still works well! Planet Jr.’s or Seed Spider if you want to branch out.
Greenhouse: A decent sized greenhouse can be built for a few thousand dollars. Heat the plants, not the air, with benchtop hot-water-tube heating.
Cultivation: A working Allis Chalmers G tractor can be bought for $3000 or so, and is very versatile. Farmall Cubs may be even cheaper. Or just buy a few more wheel hoes!
Irrigation: Wobbler sprinklers are a cheap way to expand to using some overhead irrigation, and require only low pressure, so you can continue to use a small pump.
Storage/processing: You can build a small walk-in cooler for under $1000 if you are resourceful. The CoolBot allows a window air conditioner to cool a small space to below 40F.
Delivery: If you are expanding to sell to farther away places, see if other farmers in your area are already travelling there with space on their truck. It can save you both money.
Tillage: Roxbury Farm’s new, 100+ HP 4WD tractors with cabs that don’t have as many mechanical “surprises”. Spaders, flail choppers, raised bed plastic mulch layers, and so on.
Seeding: Roxbury Farm’s MaterMacc vacuum seeders, high density salad greens seeders, Seed Spiders.
Greenhouse: Stone Barns Center’s ½ acre in ground greenhouse with automatic vents.
Cultivation: Markristo Farm’s new utility tractors with front mounted 3 point hitch cultivation tools; Food Bank Farm’s one implement per tractor method.
Irrigation: Roxbury Farm’s retractable traveler reel; in ground main lines and a big electric pump; auto-flushing stainless steel two-stage sand filtering systems.
Storage/processing: Packing lines with brusher washers, bunch washers, coolers big enough to drive a forklift into that stay at 32F. Markristo’s bean picker. Roxbury’s Cornveyor.
Delivery: Refrigerated trucks with lift gates.