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What makes a farm/ranch, and what makes a homestead?
- What you’re looking at in any of these cases is a piece of property that contains your home, your land, and your land’s assets like water, wild animals, natural plants, crops, utilities, pastures, out buildings, and so on.
- A farm or ranch is a (hopefully) profitable way to produce crops or livestock and sell it commercially.
- A homestead is your home, but it’s also where you happen to provide for your basic human needs like clothing, food, and shelter. A farm can provide all that as well, but it also includes that large scale commercial aspect.
- But you can see how there are a lot of overlapping gray areas, but that’s the generalized difference. One mass produces, one produces enough – maybe with some surplus, along with some variety in the types of stuff it outputs.
Have a plan.
- So you’re going to roll your eyes at me a bit here either in a “duh Wendy” moment or an “excel spreadsheets” mentality moment, but in all my research the methods people use to figure out what they want in a homestead or a farm or ranch, all comes down to simply creating a plan. You’re shocked, I know. If you’re going the farm route, the bank is going to want to see your business plan. If you’re going the homestead route, or really any of these, you are gonna want to know ahead of time if you want livestock, for what purpose, and how much of it will meet your needs. Do you want to plant berries? What about fruit trees, lettuce, tomatoes? You’re going to need to know what you want to raise and plant (at least in the most general sense) because you need to know how much level land, mountainous land, wet land, dry land, rocky land you need and how much sunlight and water you’re going to need to be able to do the things you want to do. Those things very much dictate where you are going to be looking. Full stop. They will also set your budget.
- You’re gonna have to consider the types of things you really want to tackle. If you want to grow goats, you’re going to have more flexibility than you would if you needed large pastures for cows. If you’re growing herbs you don’t need 10 acres and can save money buying 1-2 acres and still have a highly productive farm.
- So this is what I’m getting at – yes you need a plan, but you need it not just to make the powers that be happy, but because it will show you where your heart lies. Do you have to move hundreds of miles away to find terrain and a market proximity that will let you run a pumpkin farm? (my personal dream). Maybe your kids are still in school. Maybe you’re looking to do this part time and being that far away from your job just isn’t a commute that you’re willing to do.
- See what I mean about outlining a plan? Knowing that you want to raise alpaca fur or grow purple broccoli changes the landscape. Literally. It brings a whole lot of stuff to the surface that you can either choose to work through, or work around. But it shapes what you decide to do, 100%. I used to want goats, then I did my research, and yeah I probably will still have some someday, but it did not fit into my current goals.
Got your plan? Now go find your land.
- Great! You know what you want, now you gotta go find it. This is where you really want the help of a professional. Yes there are realtors literally everywhere, but try to find one that knows what you’re after and can help you avoid pitfalls because they know what to look for. Preferably someone with experience either in homesteading, farming or ranching. And that may even mean bringing someone along who already does this for a living or a lifestyle in addition to being your new awesome realtor. If you can find a retired rancher who turned realtor because of their bad back, you’ve just found a gold mine my friend. They will be able to tell you if fixing up that old farm house is really a realistic dream or not. Or if you should maybe take this slightly newer fixer upper in the next county because it already has irrigation setup to its fields.
- And just to compound the complexity, you’re not going to find one property that is comparable to another. They will all be different. You’re just going to have to choose (again) what you can live with, what you’re willing to invest in to repair or install, and what you can live without. Oh, and of course what you can afford. 😀
- So pricing. This is where it gets a bit ambiguous. On one hand if you’re going the farm or ranch route, I wholeheartedly say think with your wallet. Buy small and when you outgrow it, go get more land or a whole new place.
- However! If you’re buying a homestead, you’re more likely going to want to invest in a place you’re going to stay put in for a long, long time. The thing about a homestead is that you are investing in sustainability, in things around you and on your land, and frankly in yourself. This is true on a commercial property too, but the difference is on a homestead you’re more likely t with Doug and Stacy” say. You’re going to choose a house that will work for your family now, and quite possibly in 10, 15, 20 years. You’re looking at this purchase with a long term lens. You will build compost bins, sheds, fence lines, herb beds, water purification sources, and comfort and customize your place to your wants, needs, and most importantly, your preferences, because it is YOUR place. It is not a business, it is where you live your self-sufficient dream. It has to work for you and yours on a much more personal level. Not on a maximizing efficiency for consumer demand level. This is yours. And that changes the money ties as well. You are not looking at this for financial profit, but for personal gain. You won’t choose a homestead because of the amount of dairy products it can shell out, you’ll choose it because it will allow you to make long term decisions, so you better darn well like it.
- In either case, and I don’t need to go too deep into this, but of course do not buy what you cannot afford. You don’t want to get in over your head and then be stuck with an off year that haunts you for the next 5 trying to recover. Same goes with a homestead, it may be a magical place with a river nearby and amazing trout fishing, but if you lose the side gig that was supporting that mortgage could you recover? It’s exactly like buying a house. Don’t buy more than you can relatively easily afford, and have that emergency fund in case things go south for a couple of months.
Disclaimer: I’m sharing this info from my own experience and from my research online (see below for sources). This info is meant as a guide, a starting off point. Good luck!
- 10 Steps to Start Homesteading, on the Cheap
- How to Start Homesteading Now
- How to Start a Farm: Your Complete Guide to Success (long but good!)
- New Farmers: USDA – SUPER detailed and is a virtual workbook on how to start a farm. A lot of crossover for homesteading too.
- Off Grid Doug and Stacy
- Dave Ramsey – financial advice