I take the words farmer and farming seriously, maybe too seriously. So, it’s taken me some time to accept and adopt the terms micro-farmer and micro-farming. That said, I’ve become an enthusiastic student of micro-farming.
Having grown up with Montana farmers in the 1980s, the words hobby and farming never seemed like a friendly pair. Farming isn’t for dabblers, we were taught. Living and working with these hard-working farming families, I gained a deep respect for the dedication required of them.
Over the years, as more and more of my friends have become involved in growing and harvesting their own food, my thinking has shifted. My respect for farming families remains steadfast. I’ve come to realize, though, that micro-farming is neither a fad nor a disrespect to career and commercial farmers. And, as more stories of food tampering, food tainting and food recalls lit up various news channels, I shifted my thinking and realized my own misunderstandings of the micro-farming culture.
Not only is micro-farming not a fad, it’s not new. It’s a resurgence of a long-standing tradition. It was the 20th century advent of large, commercial farms along with city ordinances restricting the keeping and tending of animals that made small farms an oddity; it stopped families from keeping their own small farms for subsistence, trade and minimal profit. As those ordinances have changed, and folks have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from, this tradition of small farms has re-emerged in the movement known as micro-farming.
Micro-farming is a lifestyle. To think of it as a hobby, as I once did, wasn’t accurate. After all, I wouldn’t ask a mother with a career how the hobby of raising children was going. The comparison isn’t completely apt, but you get the idea. Micro-farming is an integral part of these individuals’ lives.
According to backyardnature.com, 80 percent of American homes have lawns of approximately one-fifth of an acre. This amount of space is more than enough to seed a micro-farm. It’s enough space to keep and tend chickens while also maintaining a garden. Another source, the Benson Institute, states that a single hectare of land (about 2.5 acres), “can provide all of the food for a family, including the fodder for their animals, and a cash crop as well.” Knowing that most micro-farmers use their small farms as supplemental sources of food, complete independence doesn’t need to be your goal. As “micro” implies, start small. Grow things you and your family love to eat.
Remember this: Starting small and taking your time will prevent you from becoming overwhelmed with the process and will keep you centered. Micro-farming should be your sanctuary rather than one more stressful, taxing item on your ever-growing to-do list. Rather than a to-do list, your micro-farm should be a to-enjoy list.There is real poetry in farming and gardening. Being so close to, and directly involved in the process of life is an amazingly satisfying pursuit. In a world that increasingly separates us from the sources of our food while also limiting eye to eye human interaction, gardening reminds us of the joy of direct interaction by removing all the gaps.
“Grubbing in the soil,” as poet Stanley Kunitz described gardening, is a physical endeavor that enriches the soul. And it produces some very beautiful and very tasty results that you and your family can enjoy—eye to eye—around your table.