Are we really a farm?

Ferrin Brook Farm might not actually be a farm. Aren’t farms supposed to be run like businesses? They’re supposed to be 100% dedicated to raising food to sell, right? Frankly, we’re just a house with some land where it’s OK to raise animals. As for what we actually sell, that’s just chickens, maybe some maple sugar, and the occasional dozen eggs. Everything else we do is for our family to eat. So are we really a bona fide farm?

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When Amy and I were planning this website and wanted to start selling chickens a couple years ago, we spent a lot of time figuring out how we wanted to present ourselves to the world. We thought mostly about the name. Read Amy’s thoughts on this here.

When we finally landed on Ferrin Brook Farm, it just sorta clicked. Even though at the time we had just 6 hens and would better fit the definition of a “homestead”, we went with it.

Well, what exactly is the difference between a homestead and a farm?

At their extreme, you can imagine a farm as a place that is dedicated to growing food and selling it. They’re hundreds of acres, fields in all directions, massive buildings dedicated to livestock.

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And on the other end of the spectrum, you have a completely off-grid, handbuilt home on land that produces a year’s worth of food, the ideal homestead for many.

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Where they overlap is that they both raise food. They differ in that a farm focuses outward, selling to customers, and a homestead focuses inward, supporting the family.

The thing is, we want it both ways.

We want to raise food for ourselves, but we find that we like sharing it as well. To reconcile this, we’ve shifted our philosophy into something that I think a lot of beginning homesteaders/farmers can find appealing:

Make it so your farming can self-sufficient.

I can imagine a future where we sell thousands of chickens a year. I won’t rule it out. We could even make a living in certain scenarios.

But we’re not there yet. We are evolving, and part of that evolution requires trying many things, and sometimes taking it slow. More people could benefit from taking things slowly. In a culture where growth and capitalism are the bottom line, it can be hard to confidently find what makes us happiest.

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Many times I’ve rushed to make choices in life, stood by those choices for far too long, and regretted it in the end. The key to avoiding these mistakes is taking your time.

Raising chickens makes us happy, but would raising 10,000 chickens make us happier? We could find out by taking out a loan, putting up housing, investing in large scale processing equipment.

But we don’t want to go into debt to pay to build up that business because it might not be the answer for us. We can earn it instead by working our way up, making sure everything we do pays off just enough.

So how do we farm like this, with minimal risk?

We sell just enough to cover our expenses and have enough leftover for our family.

Instead of trying to sell enough chicken so I can quit my day job, we aim to sell enough so we can pay for the chickens we want to keep for our freezer. In that way, our chicken farming becomes self sufficient.

That’s right, we don’t aim to raise chickens for profit. We don’t sell broilers to pay for our mortgage or put gas in the cars. We raise chicken to eat chicken.

Grilled Heritage breed Chicken

Instead of driving for business tactics and efficiency, we just want to be involved in making sure our food is as good as it can be.

The only real investment in this philosophy–the only thing we risk–is time. Time spent outside, time spent making sure our birds are treated well. It is time that brings satisfaction and often great joy. Time spent teaching our children about how food is grown. Not time wasted.

So Ferrin Brook… what, then?

So as for whether we’re a farm or a homestead, I guess we’re neither. Maybe we’re “home farmers”? “Farmsteaders”?

Hmm. Ferrin Brook Farmstead just sounds weird, though, doesn’t it? I think we’ll keep the name.

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