Lying flat on my back, looking up at the beautiful blue sky with its fluffy white clouds, I started to dream. The tall grass surrounding me danced in the breeze while bees flew lazily to and fro, drunk on the abundant nectar. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping, the breeze blowing, and the small creek beside me babbling. I felt at home here, like I belonged. I may have only been ten years old, but I knew that this feeling of belonging was something I wanted to feel for the rest of my life.
I spent many hours in my neighbor’s farm fields growing up. It was a place where I felt happy and free. Farmer Floyd was generous in allowing me to enjoy his farmland. He probably sensed a kindred spirit, someone that also saw the value of being close to the land. It also probably helped that I was always respectful because I saw the land for its beauty and wouldn’t dare spoil it. It was in those carefree days of frolicking in his meadows that a seed was planted. A dream of one day owning a piece of farmland. My affinity for animals, nature, and plants seemed a natural fit for farm life. But sometimes dreams don’t always come true on your timeline.
When my husband and I started looking for our first home, fresh out of college and during a booming housing market, we could not afford a farm property. However, we found a perfect starter home on just under half an acre and were thrilled to be homeowners. In addition, I was excited to start a garden and add plants to our landscape. Over the next few years, I became increasingly passionate about growing, testing my (sometimes nonexistent) green thumb with ornamental and edible gardens. They may not have been as large as I’d dreamed, but they were mine, and I was happy to have them. Fast forward to 20 years later, and I have yet to achieve my dream of having acres of land to call my own. Until recently, I had almost given up on ever being able to consider myself a farmer. Then I discovered micro-farming.
Micro-farming is precisely what it sounds like: farming on a small scale. It is technically defined as small-scale farming in urban or suburban areas, usually on less than 5 acres. However, in micro-farming, the size of the plot, from container to five acres, is less important than the methods used to farm the land. A vital piece of micro-farming is managing the land by embracing sustainability, efficiency, and productivity, usually by growing seasonal crops and fulfilling niche markets (such as cut flowers!). On these small-scale, high-yielding, sustainably-minded farms, the labor is typically conducted by hand rather than heavy machinery. In addition, high-intensity growing methods are utilized to get the most productivity out of the small space. Using these methods (such as succession sowing and closer plant spacing), farmers can grow an acre and a half worth of product on only one-third of an acre.
One benefit of micro-farming is relatively low start-up costs without purchasing heavy equipment. Costs are also low for labor since one person can often manage the small farm size without needing paid labor. Small-scale farms are also easier to monitor for pests and diseases than sprawling farms with hundreds of acres. In addition, micro-farms help to reduce the carbon footprint by bringing their products closer to the consumers, and being closer to the community geographically allows for a close connection with community members. Finally, micro-farms also create habitats for pollinators and wildlife in urban or suburban settings, where it is often desperately needed.
However, micro-farming has its drawbacks. High-intensity growing requires special attention to the soil because nutrients are quickly depleted and must be returned to the ground for continued soil health. Also, though this farming method requires less paid labor than traditional farms, the work is more intense for individual farmers. Performing labor by hand and keeping up with the demands of high-intensity growth can take its toll. These farmers may also find it challenging to find the niche markets they are looking for to sell their limited products.
After learning about and researching micro-farming, I was willing to try it. After all, if it allowed me to dip my toe into the world of farming, I was all for it! And so I set about creating Whistling Bee Farm on our half-acre property. Our primary cutting garden is approximately 1400 square feet, yet I grew, harvested, and created bouquets all season long using micro-farming practices. I started thinking about our landscape differently. Every plant that I added needed to have a purpose. It was no longer enough to “look pretty.” They should provide habitat for pollinators, make excellent cut stems, and stand up in bouquets. I started looking at every nook and cranny of our property for spaces to add these plants, and my lawn started shrinking (which is a good thing). I had to start thinking about the seasons and having continual blooms, which challenged me (again, a good thing). In my eyes, my first season on the farm was a success. I learned so much about growing and myself; I couldn’t have done any of it without micro-farming.
Do I still dream of one-day owning acres of land and having a rural farm property to call home? Absolutely! That ten-year-old kid is still inside me, gently reminding me of that dream. But, for now, I’m happy to use micro-farming practices to dabble in the world of farming, even on our small property. And by farming on this smaller scale, I can learn in a much more manageable space. So, just as we are still living in our starter home, I now have my starter farm. Hopefully, someday, it will lead me to my more significant dream. But, for now, I’m happy growing on a micro-scale and following my micro-dream.
2 Replies to “Following the Micro-Dream”
Loved this post! and as always, your photos are beautiful
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Thank you, Carolee!