A micro-farm is a small sustainable farm that requires extraordinarily little land to flourish. The minuscule farm is usually under five acres in urban or suburban areas. In many cities, zoning restrictions and strict size limits have forced would-be urban farmers to become creative with the crops they grow on the tiny plots of land, especially if they are trying to farm for profit. Most try to focus on seasonal crops that serve very niche markets along with complete sustainability.
Small Farms – Big Profit: The Micro-Farm
You don’t need extensive acreage to successfully farm. In fact, if we look back 100 years, many farms were maintained on relatively small plots of land. It was not until the industrial era when large swaths of land were farmed using farming equipment. Nowadays, new farming technology is enabling small farms to boost not only productivity but profitability without acreage.
Historically an acre of corn or soybean yields a profit of $400 to $600 per acre but micro-farms focused on specialty crops have been shown to make six figures by simply farming microgreens, baby greens, or tomatoes (especially heirloom). Some micro-farmers have started to focus on slower crops like broccoli and cabbage. Short season crops still reign supreme because they can be re-sown several times throughout a growing season on a small plot of land for maximum, on-going profit. Other specialty crops that require extraordinarily little land include mushrooms, herbs, and garlic.
The Market for Micro-Farm Produce
You might be wondering about the market for micro-farm produce. Clearly, a small urban farmer is not going to be filling silos or selling their crops overseas. Micro-farmers sell their produce to specialty markets such as restaurants, organic produce stores, and farmer’s markets.
Micro Farming Technology
The small plot of land needed to micro-farm means that the initial cost to start is significantly reduced because you aren’t investing in a huge tract of spendy land. There do not need to buy hundreds or thousands of acres. In fact, some micro-farms are on simply suburban lots. Also, the small farms are easily managed by hand with small tools so there is no need for major farm equipment that can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A small micro-farm is labor-intensive but usually only family-ran so there is no need to hire farmhands to plant, care for, or harvest. Most micro farmers abstain from high tech tools and prefer the simple joys such as hand turning the soil themselves to increase profitability.
However, cutting edge farming techniques are entering the field of micro-farming with a great deal of success.
- Aquaponics: Aquaponics is a form of hydroponics that involves raising fish and plants together in the perfect, balanced aquaponics system. The fish waste creates a nitrogen-rich tea that is used to irrigate and fertilize the growing plants. Lettuces, basic, cilantro, and microgreens use nitrogen for growth while filtering the water to create the perfect eco-system for the fish to thrive. LED Lighting: LED bulbs are low wattage and save a substantial amount of energy while providing bright light. Farmers can use LEDs to provide their crops with full-spectrum lighting that helps them grow. Providing blue light helps to mimic daylight and aids the plants in their photosynthesis processes.
- Vertical Growing: Hydroponics and aeroponics allow a micro farmer to grow in truly little space with no soil. In addition, the growing methods allow you to cultivate a wide array of crops in a ridiculously small area with vertical growing. With stackable shelves, you can quickly create triple and quadruple shelving to hold the plants.
- Automated Irrigation: Micro farmers use apps to track soil moisture and monitor water usage. Timers are used to monitor irrigation and reduce water waste. Also, drip irrigation is an ideal way to conserve water.
- Solar Panels: In regions with cold climates, temperature control is beneficial so using solar power has taken center stage to keep greenhouse and indoor growing areas warm during cold days and nights. Also, solar panels can be used to provide energy for cooling. Many delicate crops require prompt refrigeration after harvesting before they go to market. Ideally, solar panels can lower energy costs which increases profit.
Opting to pursue micro-farming is not without challenges.
- Neighbors: Micro-farms are typically located in urban areas so they have to contend with neighbors who might not like the entire plot of land being turned into a garden. Many are concerned with the curb appeal of the micro-farm and how it will impact their own property value which is why many neighborhoods might frown on a farmstead in their midst.
- Zoning: Zoning limitations on a city plot are also something to consider. Many local regulations will not allow you to turn your yard into a farm, especially one used for profit and operated as a business.
- Fertilizer: Urban farmers cannot raise animals so much use vegetable compost or some other fertilizer to feed their plants. Without access to animal manure, they are forced to buy costly products. However, in some areas, small livestock like chickens are rabbits are allowed so you can always use their droppings as fertilizer.
- Pollination and Honey: In an effort to ensure crop fertilization, many micro-farms are also raising bees. Honeybees can quickly become a profitable side business. The bees pollinate the plants and the farmers can harvest the honey and honeycomb for later sale.
- Soil contamination: Soil contamination in an urban setting is quite common. Prior to embarking on a micro-farm endeavor, you’ll need to have your soil tested. If contaminants are detected then you’ll need to farm using raised beds, hydroponics, or aquaponics. Sometimes just the risk of winter road salts contaminated your lot is enough to send you seeking other farming options to protect your crop.
To many, micro-farming might seem like nothing more than a hobby that has gone overboard but the profits that are attainable are sending many families down the road of growing sustainable crops. It has quickly become a viable way to make a comfortable living with truly little land.