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    No Plot Too Small | Winter 2013 Out Here Magazine

    Limited-acreage lots still have the opportunity for profit

    Small garden
    Before comitting to backyard farming, research your market thoroughly and realistically to make sure you can make a profit.
    Out Here

    By Hollie Deese

    Photography by iStock

    As more people embrace farm-to-table cooking, backyard farmers are popping up all across the country. And while a homegrown heirloom tomato is a wonderfully delicious result of their efforts, there is money to be made there as well, regardless of how little land you have.

    As agriculture extension educators at Penn State, Greg Strait and Melanie Barkley help budding economic entrepreneurs tackle all of the issues related to starting up a for-profit plot, from basic production principles to marketing.

    “There are certainly all kinds of opportunities, anything from meat, fiber, eggs, milk, and those kinds of products all the way down to fruits and vegetables,” Barkley says.


    Before buying a goat or plotting out your backyard garden, do a little exploration first. A trip to several farmers’ markets will reveal the agricultural products that are in abundant supply in your area. It also will indicate products in which there is a void that needs filling.

    Find out about food trends in local restaurants to determine if you can provide the produce that the chefs are seeking. Check with specialty retailers to see if they’re interested in selling such items as goat’s milk soap or dried herbs.

    “Folks need to research their market and know who they are going to sell these products to,” Barkley says. “And then they need to make sure they … can make a profit.”


    Your research might determine that a specialty product is the way to go, and small spaces can be perfect for that.

    “When we are talking about niche market options, people can be looking for specific types of lambs or goats for ethnic holidays or they are looking for grass-fed animals and things like that,” Barkley says.


    Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about what is possible in your area. Each state has an office and a network of local and regional offices staffed with experts who can direct and guide budding farmers.

    Find your local office by visiting

    Strait agrees, and has been fielding more and more calls lately about specialty food products.

    “There are a lot of people who hit the farmers’ markets looking at those niche products,” he says. “They want something that they think is quality.”

    Whatever you choose, make sure the cost incurred for production can be offset by sales.

    “If we are talking just a small number of livestock, they are going to need a premium to cover some of the basic input costs that are associated with the operation,” Barkley says.

    “They need to consider the land that they have. They need to think about low-cost input. So they really need to focus and consider how they are going to manage pasture production, how they’re going to handle those animals, and consider how they will handle routine healthcare issues.”

    Hollie Deese is a Gallatin, Tenn., writer.

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