I regularly read Country Smallholding and Permaculture and my eyes rove to the advertisements selling smallholdings. Many show a lovely house with a few acres of land, but the price is enormous, way beyond my reach.My neighbour on the allotment bought one some time ago, but she was very well off. But you do not have to buy a massively expensive house, for some smallholders simply get hold of a field and make the most of it; and for many it is a very happy experience.
Firstly, though, let us be realistic about land.Agricultural land is divided into prime and marginal. In Britain prime agricultural land is very expensive and the price goes on rising. You will be lucky to snap up a field. But marginal land is cheaper, and it is often land like this that aspiring smallholders purchase. Often such land is in the hillier parts of the country, far from the cities, or on the margins of industrial towns. And note, you do not need a beautiful view for a smallholding to work.There are urban farms in run down inner city areas.
But you must think of the legal side of your endeavour and learn all the laws relevant to your enterprise. In the UK you must register your holding with the government, who will give you a number which you quote on all correspondence. You must also learn the regulations pertinent to the stock that you hold, for there is legislation concerning animal welfare, movements from the farm and slaughtering, too complex for me to go into in this article. Smallholders who offer food products made on their premises must ensure that their production system meets all the hygiene laws,which in the UK are strict.
You need also to arrange the business side of the operation, for the economics must be right.Many smallholders combine a small farm with a job or another business. Some offer courses to other would-be smallholders or growers, and others publish books or offer specialist food products. Sometimes one member of a couple works on the holding during the week while the other works in a conventional job, this spreads the economic risks and brings in a more regular supply of money.Many businesses fail because of cash flow problems, so would-be smallholders need a business plan that prevents these from happening. You can never do without a business plan with proper revenue forecasts.
Smallholders must weigh up their physical capacity, as they must not take on a load that is too much for them. This is especially so as they age. Dealing with heavy weights might be less easy for people in their sixties, and there are times when older people feel tired and need to rest. But also smallholders need to ensure that both members of a couple are not only well, but are enthusiastic for the lifestyle, and there are marriages that have broken down because one went grudgingly along with the other partner's dream, for a while.