It’s very difficult to make a living farming as we do. We just raise nutritious delicious food and try to sell it to people in our community. There’s not much money in that.
We talk a lot about “sustainable” farms, but unless a farm is economically sustainable it doesn’t matter how environmentally sustainable it is. If the bills don’t get paid, the farm will fail.
So I’m encouraged by the work being done by Cliff Slade and his team at Virginia State University to develop an economically viable model for small-scale organic vegetable farmers. His goal is to prove that it is possible to gross $1/square foot on an acre of land, farmed intensively. Thus he calls it the 43,560 project (there being 43,560 square feet in an acre).
I’ve heard him speak on this subject a few times and his enthusiasm is contagious. His goal is to encourage small scale farming, capable of enabling a family to make a modest living while growing quality food. He thinks it is doable and I agree with him.
Mr. Slade estimates the cost of production at about $10,000 per acre, so the profit to the farmer, if all goes well, would be about $33,000. That’s not a lot of money, of course, but it should enable a farmer to pay his taxes and have enough left over to live on (even though off-farm income will probably be necessary if the farmer wants things like health insurance or retirement savings). His model does not take into account the initial capital expense of the land/tractor/greenhouse, etc., but at least it suggests the possibility of economic sustainability. Because of the labor involved, this is not something that can be done on a large scale, so it wouldn’t be possible to farm more than a few acres this way (at most). He encourages folks to start small, perhaps with a quarter-acre or half-acre and build up to the full acre if possible.
There are some things about his model that we wouldn’t want to incorporate onto our farm, but I’m a big fan of his project and hope his research will help open doors for all the young people who want to become farmers these days, but are shut out by the high costs and low returns.
To read more about the work being done at Virginia State on this program, go here: http://www.timesdispatch.com/business/economy/vsu-project-explores–acre-farming-model/article_5265765d-6f6d-5ca8-82ab-08b57053b631.html