As our series of five questions continues, we’ll examine the third one which asks how you will go about what you want to achieve.
How you will achieve your plan often begins with making an assessment of the kind of resources you have now and the resources you feel confident that you will have in the near future. Of course money is a primary factor for most people. This topic alone could fill volumes, so I’ll leave the money issue for a stand-alone article.
Here are some questions to consider when making your initial assessment based on what you want to do:
- What do you have on hand now and what resources will you need to get started?
- What experience or skills do you have now and what you will need to acquire to get started?
- Will you require labor other than your own?
In our enthusiasm and strong desire to start, we often over estimate our abilities and availability while underestimating what it takes to operate your plans once begun. I’ve seen homesteads that are quite run down because the owner underestimated the time requirements of the major components of their plan implementation and subsequent operation.
But, before you go too deeply into answering these questions, you must have full understanding of your philosophical approach, and the ramifications of that approach. For example, do you want to be totally off grid and zero petrochemical? Will you have work animals or will you use traction power? Will you implement a permaculture design or will you produce monoculture row crops? Will you buy HPK in a bag or will you compost? Your philosophical approach, such as eco-agriculture, will impact how you go about things on your place.
Based on your approach you must assess what you will need – besides land – to get started. If you’re moving from a suburban subdivision, you likely won’t have much of what you might need to start an 80-acre goat ranch. Will your plans require fencing or animal containment? Will your plans require animal shelter? Will your plans call for lots of contained water? What about tools? Will you need equipment you don’t have? If you need all these things, it shouldn’t deter you from making and moving forward with plans. These and similar questions serve to help you look at things realistically so you can plan more accurately.
Knowledge resources are often overlooked. What do you already know how to do and what will you have to learn? Do you have experience with the equipment or machinery you will need? Do you have a mentor that can help guide you? Can you tap into professional resources, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Services?
Like resources, you need to honestly assess what you know how to do well and what you’re going to have to learn how to do. If you won’t be alone, assess the experience and skills of those who will be with you on the land.
Do your plans on your new land call for animals that you have experience with or no? If you don’t have that experience, it’s a good idea to have a full picture of what caring for animals in all seasons and conditions requires. Once you bring an animal on your property, your responsibility factor increases significantly. Free range, mob grazing, feed lot: what feed approach will you take? Want dairy cows or goats? You better be prepared for the fact it will be very difficult for you to take a vacation again.
What skills do you have now that will adapt? Do you have a green thumb for a garden? How can you scale that out to three acres of market produce? Maybe your canning and food preservation skills can be multiplied to a larger setting.
If you don’t have experience in an area, can you gain it by volunteering or interning at a similar place? Do you have someone who can show you how to do something, such as putting up fencing? Are you a quick study or do you require hands on experience to learn something? I admit I’m terrible at auto mechanics. So, when it comes to my 1948 Ford 8N tractor, I need someone to teach me how to make repairs. Therefore, I’m making plans for my next tractor to be newer – also more costly – so I experience much less repair work.
Remember, you may not have to be fully operational the first week on your new land. You might be able to work in phases or to acquire resources and experience in phases.
This is the area I think people grossly underestimate. We have ideas in our head and we have hopes and dreams of some future state for our families, but the amount of labor it takes to get to that end state is usually more than we think. Then, there are the unforeseen things that occupy our labor capacity which sets us behind schedule. The cure for this can be found in three things: conservative estimates, starting out small or not letting the tyranny of time (or the list of chores) to cause anxiety.
I recommend starting out with overestimating how much labor you think any project, job or the entire operation will require. If you get a job done faster than expected, awesome. Move on to the next happily. You will hone your estimating skills when it comes to projects, chores and jobs as you gain more experience; but, start out conservatively.
Depending on how big your end state is, you might be able to work in phases and not try to eat the whole apple in one bite. Phasing is a part of any plan implementation. You may want that aquaponics system in a hightunnel, but if you can’t do that until you’ve been on the land for five years, then plan for that accordingly.
Finally, you must realize that you will never complete your chore list. There is always something to do on the farm or homestead. If you’re a list maker, that’s cool. Just remember that you’ll be continually adding to that list. If can’t get critical things done, you have two choices: one, add labor; two, reduce your plan elements for the current phase of plan implementation.
Again, this is not a comprehensive description of how you will go about things. We’re just scratching the surface. But, it should spur you to ask questions of yourself and those who will be participating in this with you. The biggest threat to any homestead or farming operation is not being totally and 100 percent honest with yourself in your expectations and plans.