Hobby farm or homestead?

My wife and I have been talking about “doing something else” for a couple years (she quit her job, mine seems to be reaching a natural point of exit).  The time seems to be ripe for actually following-through!   I have convinced her we should add hobby farm/homestead to the mix.


1. Want to move north.  Like, New England.  Would consider upstate NY part of the acceptable geography.

2. One of us will continue to work for income, benefits, etc.

3. We have a 6 year old.  No homeschooling. So, proximity to town/schools, etc. is still going to be important.  (i.e. not too remote)

4. I enjoy, but have no allusions about adopting, the mythology displayed on all those Alaska shows (I’m pretty grounded as to the reality of small farm operations)


1. Any tips on finding a property?  Anything specific to look for (or not) up north?

2. We aren’t young… I mean, we’re young enough to have a 6 year old but we’re not 20 or 30 somethings.  Does our age matter in terms of actual labor required? In terms of finding a property that is “turnkey” vs “needs work”?

3. Any key indicators to look for?  Anything you wish you’d known before? Or that you would do differently?

4 How ridiculous an idea is it?  Dick Proenneke is good inspiration, for the challenge he took on as a middle-aged person.  But to be clear, we are definitely not going all remote-cabin-in-the-woods.


  • Best Replies

  • Comments (12)

    • 6

      Author Travis Corocan moved to a homestead in New Hampshire in his early ’40s (I think), and he gardens, raises animals, all that stuff. He’s currently writing a book about homesteading, and he was kind enough to send me a very early draft. I’m not sure when the book will be published, but it’s definitely something you’ll want to read. I’ll keep you posted.

      I personally own five acres in Tennesee. I’ll try to answer your questions as best as I can:

      1. In terms of the land, you want enough to do what you want to do but not so much as to be completely overwhelming. For me, five acres is good, and I might have some opportunities to buy more later. Ideally, you want water on your land (a pond, spring, creek, whatever). You might consider a soil test to see how fertile it is. I’d also want to know what the prior owner sprayed on it. Herbicides can screw up a garden for years.
      2. No, plenty of older people get into this. But you might not want to hand dig 500 square feet of garden bed either, but that’s why they make tillers and tractors. You also need to evaluate your comfort level. Some people are happy living in an RV for years until they build a house. My wife insisted on a nice house while I would have been fine in a shed. However, I do appreciate this house and how little I have to work on it.
      3. If you’re moving to a strange place, you want to learn about the community. Look for Facebook groups and things of that nature. In a property, you want to know about the neighbors. Are the neighbors cooking meth? How protective is the cattle rancher who owns the pasture next door? Is someone in the neighborhood going to blast a machine gun or have a mariachi party in the middle of the night? Things like that.
      4. It’s not at all. But I think you need to prepare yourself as best as you can and have a humble attitude when you arrive in a new place. There’s a guy on YouTube, Mr. Chickadee, who spent years practicing skills in his garage before moving to a homestead in Eastern Kentucky. You’re also going to have to make some adjustments. You’re going to hear weird noises in the night. It’s going to be spooky at first. You might have to get a big dog or be seen/heard practicing your marksmanship to establish yourself in the neighborhood as someone to not screw with. That wasn’t a problem with my direct neighbors, but the meth heads on my road would just wander into my yard looking for things to steal.
    • 9

      After 15 years homesteading in a temperate climate with a small family (a 6 year old child as well and my wife and I in our early forties) I would answer the 4 questions with 1 answer.

      Find a community with a diversity of people to live with. Much better than finding the right soil or climate is to be with a good group of like minded folks. Homesteading is an enormous task and it is much better shared. Get a feel for the place first, do some volunteering (wwoof, workaway,…) to see what you like or not. A school close by and a medical center are more important than anything. Keeping a paid (online) job is vital as living in the country is more expensive then in most smaller cities, at least from our personal experience.

      The benefits of homesteading eventually outweigh living in a city so my advice; go for it!

      • 6

        Good points.  And thanks!

    • 7

      As an exercise, it might be worth doing a estimate of how much food you could expect to grow on the plot you’re willing to work. Then calculate the amount of money that would be required to buy those things wholesale, and convert that to the numbers of hours you would have to work at your current job to pay for it. For me, it works out that about a few days at my “real” job lets me buy more produce than I could grow in a year. Say what you will about factory farming, it’s efficient as hell.

      Now of course, there are lots of other reasons to grow your own food, especially a few items (tomatoes, lettuce, etc) that are just way better that way. And of course, you may enjoy it, especially if you’re just growing some key items as hobby. But still, if you plan to really do it as major part of feeding your family, you have to take a cold-hearted look at the economic realities of the proposition.

      • 9

        Thanks! I’ve tended to overthink a lot of problems, this may not be one of them.  I won’t be shooting for replacement (i.e. never buy food or anything else).  Probably looking at what most would call simply a very robust garden.  But, would be nice to have the option to grow the operation if we needed/wanted to.


    • 4
      1. Be sure you err on the side of doing too much diligence when it comes to checking CCRs, HOAs, local ordinances, water rights, mineral rights, etc. You don’t want to commit and then find out you can’t collect rainwater or have a self-contained solar setup.
      2. fwiw, a lot of folks tend to underestimate the work involved.
      3. See #1. Also, I like land that borders large state/national land or some other indicator it won’t be developed after you move in.
      4. Not ridiculous, many people feel the same “call” you do and a good chunk are doing something about it. eg. the number of young farmers has started going up in recent years for the first time since WW2.
    • 8

      Thoughts from a farmer in the Northeastern US:

      1. In my experience rural schools tend to be underfunded and can struggle to attract high quality educators to their often isolated area, however farms are great places for kids to grow up freedom wise and responsibility wise (speaking as someone who was a farm-kid) and I wouldn’t trade the education I received growing up on a farm for anything.

      2. Be sure to plan for how you’re going to deal with snow if you are making a great leap geography wise by moving up here to the rural north, as the snow belt region comes with its own sets of challenges for preparedness.

      3. Not all rural areas are welcoming to newcomers. I’ve spoken to people trying to move into my own community who have told me they feel very isolated from the rest of the community, so it’s something to be aware of. I’d really think about how to integrate yourself into a community before you move.

      4. If you are going to do anything outside of the garden you mentioned-specifically in the livestock area-please be cautious. Many backyard livestock farmers disregard or aren’t educated about livestock diseases and nutrition or lack animal husbandry training and it can create a lot of issues. If you are looking to diversify a homesteading operation, the cooperative extension system run by the land grant university in whatever state you move to could potentially be an invaluable resource as you start out.

      Best of luck!

    • 8

      I’m actually living the lifestyle you seem to be interested in – rural New England, mini farm, one stay at home parent and one full working parent, three little kids. I can’t offer much advice on New York, but I am a native New Englander and have lived all over the region, so I’m pretty familiar with the area. My advice:

      1.  Pick your preferred state or two, and then identify the bigger cities/population centers and work your way out to find towns that are more rural but still affluent enough to have good school districts. Southern VT around Brattleboro, and southern NH around Manchester and Nashua are promising for “homesteading-near-resources” in particular. In general, towns/areas with higher property values and taxes will have better school systems and be closer to healthcare resources and job prospects. For the rest of this post I’m going to assume you are moving to an area more similar to southern NH/VT than very north country, so the considerations are going to be more specific to these areas.

      2.  Watch out for landfills/superfund sites/nuclear facilities when looking for a town and home. There are a bunch of landfills and superfund sites scattered around new England, particularly around MA. You can find them on the government websites. Always check to make sure the town or property you are considering isn’t close to one of these. The soil and water are usually contaminated, health effects can occur, and the resale value will be poor.

      3.  Familiarize yourself with rural home infrastructure if you currently benefit from more urban infrastructure like natural gas lines, town water/sewer, garbage pick up, etc. Most of us living in rural northern NE states are on private well water and septic systems. Avoid homes that have issues with these at time of sale. These things can cost mega dollars to fix. Be prepared to perform a full water analysis on any purchase and budget or adjust your offer for any filtration systems that may be required (radon and arsenic are most common around here).

      4. If rural feel is important to you, watch out for rapid development. Large tracts of land in these areas are still available for big housing projects and you could end up with 10 new homes right next to your farm. Properties abutting conservation land are a plus, as are communities that have strict zoning requirements to protect rural landscapes.

      5. As far as homesteading goes, the southern parts of the northern NE states usually have longer growing seasons, but overall the soil quality up here tends to be poor and rocky. Be prepared to spend a few seasons really building soil quality in your preferred plots. Also, be leery of taking on poorly maintained or heavily forested properties. These can take years of intensive and expensive work to bring to the point of production.

      6. Finally, this idea is not ridiculous at all, provided you have realistic expectations. It is extremely hard to create a totally self sufficient homestead in a life time – most people need some valuable resources from the outside world and never fully eliminate that. Go slow. Pick activities you enjoy. Don’t worry too much about re-creating pioneer level self sufficiency. Hobby farming is also surprisingly expensive, and there is a good chance you will actually end up spending more money on your homesteading hobby than you save from it. But if you love it like we do, it is worth it. We wouldn’t change a thing!

      • 7

        Appreciate the feedback.  Lived in NE for several years — that was 20+ years ago — so, we are targeting that region.  Good point re: taking over land that’s been worked and, also, managing expectations.   Not trying to be fully self-sufficient, or even approach homesteading “purity”; this is less about survival or prepping, more about a cliched mid-life change : )

      • 6

        Nothing wrong with a mid-life change! It sounds like hobby farming sounds right up your alley. Good luck!