When I first started looking into a self-sufficient lifestyle, I had no idea what homesteading was and how it was different than farming. Honestly, it took a while to finally click. Years later, I wanted to help answer this question for anyone who is wondering about the differences. Here’s what I found.
Both homesteading and farming involve working the land and producing food, but homesteading is typically more focused on self-sufficiency and sustainable living, while farming is more focused on commercial production and profit. A farmstead is a mix of both.
To help break this down further, here’s a table I put together comparing the land size and income of homesteads, farms, and farmsteads.
|Type of Property (Focus)||Typical Land Size||Typical Income|
|Homestead (Self-Sufficiency)||1-10 acres||$0-$50,000 per year|
|Farm (Profit)||50-500 acres||$50,000-$500,000 per year|
|Farmstead (Both)||10-50 acres||$10,000-$100,000 per year|
Let’s take a look at some examples of what these look like, along with the average acreage, income, and cost to get started.
In the middle 1800s, the word homesteading was synonymous with The Homesteading Act of 1862, which provided public land grants of 160 acres to any adult citizen who paid a small registration fee and agreed to live on the land continuously for 5 years, after which they would be granted a deed to the land.Mother Earth News
While The Homesteading Act was a fantastic way of obtaining land, it stayed around until a drop off in the 1930s and ended in 1976.
Today, people have adapted the definition to more or less mean self-sufficiency.
Imagine a family that moves to a remote piece of land in the mountains with the intention of building a self-sufficient lifestyle. They build their own home, dig a well for water, and set up a solar panel system for electricity. They plant a large vegetable garden, keep chickens for eggs, and raise goats for milk and meat. They also forage for wild berries and hunt for game in the surrounding forests.
Personally, homesteading is what I relate to most as I’d like to grow enough food for my family to be self-sufficient (and not go into debt for farm equipment). Although, I’m open to farmsteading. We’ll see where it goes. Read my story.
Average Land Size
The average land size for homesteading is probably somewhere between 1 and 10 acres. This is enough land to grow a large vegetable garden, raise some chickens or other small livestock, and maybe even have a few fruit trees.
Of course, if you want to raise larger animals like cows or horses, or if you want to grow enough food to be completely self-sufficient, you’ll need more land. But if you’re just getting started with homesteading and you’re not sure how much land you need, 1 to 10 acres is a good place to start.
For example, each cow or horse typically needs 1 acre of pasture, and rotating the paddock every week or so (the goal of moving them before the grass gets too short so it can regrow quickly).
Some people can get by with just an acre or two, while others might want 10 acres or more. It all comes down to what you want to grow or raise, how self-sufficient you want to be, and how much work you’re willing to put in.
On average, a homestead might generate anywhere from 0 to $50,000 per year in income. This can come from many sources, including selling produce at local farmers markets, selling eggs or meat from livestock, or even offering workshops or classes on homesteading-related topics.
Keep in mind that the size of the homestead, demand for products/services, and marketing play large roles. Still, living a simpler, more sustainable life can be rewarding enough to some, regardless of the finances.
Cost to Get Started
One of the biggest barriers to homesteading is the cost of land. Depending on where you live, a few acres of land suitable for homesteading can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or more.
On top of that, you’ll need to build a home or other structures, such as a barn, chicken coop, or greenhouse. Depending on the size and complexity of the structures you need, this can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
So, if you’re starting from scratch, you can expect to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 or more just to get set up.
Another barrier to entry is the amount of time and effort required to get started in homesteading.
Homesteading is a labor-intensive lifestyle that requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and skill. You’ll need to learn how to garden, raise livestock, and maintain your property. This can take a significant amount of time, especially if you’re starting from scratch with no prior experience.
For example, building a chicken coop and starting a small flock of chickens can take several weekends or more to complete, and you’ll need to invest time each day to care for the birds (usually about 10 minutes a day).
Similarly, starting a vegetable garden requires a significant amount of time and effort to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, and tend to the plants as they grow.
So, if you’re thinking about getting into homesteading, be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort to get started. But if you’re up for the challenge, the rewards can be well worth it!
Starting a farm can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t necessarily require a huge plot of land. Many successful farmers started on just a few acres. The USDA defines a farm as:
“Any place that produced and sold—or normally would have produced and sold—at least $1,000 of agricultural products during a given year”USDA
Imagine a farmer who owns a large tract of land in the Midwest. He cultivates corn and soybeans on most of his land and also has a herd of cattle that he raises for beef. He uses modern farming equipment such as tractors and combines to plant, harvest, and process his crops. He sells his products to a grain elevator and a meatpacking plant, which distribute them to grocery stores and other markets.
Average Land Size
The average land size for a beginning farmer is around 10 acres. Of course, this can vary depending on what you want to grow, the climate in your area, and other factors.
However, due to large farms, the average acreage in the US is quite high, at 445 acres in 2021.
While that can seem like a huge barrier to entry, most farmers start small and double down on what works. Here are a few tips I found from farmers when using smaller plots of land.
In The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook by Richard Wiswall, the author suggests that aspiring farmers start small and focus on high-value crops that can be grown on a small scale. He writes,
“Growing a wide variety of crops on a small acreage will help you get to know your land and your customers and will give you a better idea of what works and what doesn’t.”
Wiswall also recommends using intensive growing techniques, such as raised beds and hoop houses, to maximize production on a small plot of land.
Another helpful resource for new farmers is The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman. In the book, Hartman emphasizes the importance of efficient land use, writing,
“The key to success in small-scale farming is to maximize the amount of value you can generate from a given piece of land.”
He suggests using techniques like intercropping and cover cropping to make the most of your available space. By planting complementary crops that can be harvested at different times, you can increase your yields and income without needing to expand your land holdings.
According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the average net cash farm income for farm households in 2021 is about $86,900.
Keep in mind, the income generated from farming depends on the type of crops or livestock raised, the size of the farm, the location, and demand.
To help with this, I found data from the USDA that breaks down income and average acreage. Here’s a table I put together from their report:
|Annual Sales||Average Acreage|
|$1 million or more||2920|
Of course, these are just averages, and many farmers make more or less than this depending on their circumstances.
For example, a small-scale organic farmer in Vermont might make $20,000 per year selling their produce at farmers markets and through a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
On the other hand, a large-scale corn farmer in Iowa might make millions of dollars per year selling their crops to food processors and ethanol producers.
Many factors can also impact a farmer’s income, such as weather conditions, pest and disease outbreaks, and government subsidies.
Despite the challenges, many farmers find the work to be deeply fulfilling and rewarding, and take pride in providing healthy, nutritious food for their communities.
Cost to Get Started
One of the biggest challenges for many aspiring farmers is the cost of land and equipment. Depending on where you’re located, land can be prohibitively expensive, with prices ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per acre or more.
And that’s just for the land itself – you’ll also need to invest in equipment like tractors, plows, and other machinery that can cost thousands of dollars each. All in all, it’s not uncommon for a new farmer to spend tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get started.
Another major barrier to entry in farming is the amount of time and labor required. Starting a farm requires a lot of hard work, often with little payoff in the beginning.
You’ll need to spend long hours preparing the soil, planting crops, tending to livestock, and dealing with all sorts of unexpected challenges along the way.
And even if you do everything right, there’s always the risk of crop failures or other setbacks that can wipe out all your hard work in an instant.
For example, in farmer Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil, he mentioned a hailstorm destroyed his wheat fields in a single day. He then goes on to mention what he did to protect his farm from future incidents.
All of this means that starting a farm can be a real challenge for anyone who’s not willing to put in the time and effort required to make it work.
A farmstead usually is a mix of both homesteading and farming. So, it’s growing enough to be self-sufficient, but selling the excess to make a profit.
Average Land Size
A farmstead typically requires anywhere from 10-50 acres of land to get started.
For example, let’s say you’re interested in starting a small-scale farmstead in Vermont. You might be able to get by with just 10 acres of land, which could provide enough space for a small vegetable garden, a few beehives, and maybe a couple of dairy cows or goats.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to start a larger-scale farmstead in the Midwest, you might need closer to 50 acres of land to accommodate a variety of crops, livestock, and maybe even a pond or two for fishing.
Of course, these are just a couple of examples – the exact amount of land you need will depend on your goals and the specific needs of your farmstead.
The size of your property, the type of crops or livestock you’re raising, and your location are just a few of the things that can affect your bottom line. Generally speaking, though, most farmsteaders earn anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 per year.
For example, let’s say you have a 20-acre farmstead in the Pacific Northwest and you’re raising a variety of fruits and vegetables. You might be able to generate $30,000-$40,000 per year by selling your produce at local farmers’ markets and through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Alternatively, if you have a 30-acre farmstead in the Midwest and you’re raising grass-fed beef, you could potentially earn $80,000-$90,000 per year by selling your meat directly to consumers or through a cooperative.
These are just a few examples, and your actual income will depend on many factors specific to your own situation. But if you’re passionate about growing food and are willing to put in the hard work, farmsteading can be a rewarding and financially sustainable way of life.
Cost to Get Started
There are several barriers to entry when it comes to getting started with farmsteading, such as the cost of land, equipment, and supplies, as well as the amount of time and effort required to maintain a successful operation.
For example, purchasing a 20-acre farmstead in the Midwest could cost upwards of $200,000, not including the cost of any necessary repairs or renovations. Additionally, investing in equipment such as tractors, fencing, and irrigation systems can easily add another $50,000 to $100,000 to your initial expenses.
In terms of time, starting a farmstead requires a significant investment of your time and energy. You’ll need to be prepared to spend long hours working on the land, caring for livestock, and managing your crops.
Depending on the size of your operation, you may also need to hire additional help or seek assistance from volunteers.
It’s important to have a realistic understanding of the time commitment involved before diving in, as burnout can quickly set in if you’re not prepared.
On average, a small-scale farmstead operation can take upwards of 40-60 hours per week to manage, with additional time needed during peak seasons like planting and harvest.
However, farmsteads are often the best of both homesteading and farming, and I’ve heard it’s often worth it.
If you’d like to see examples in action, here are some of my favorite videos on homesteading, farming, and the like.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. Check out this list to see your local services.
- Permaculture Consultation: Need help with a bigger project? Send us a message.