> Essay by Lion Kuntz, March 22, 2000
> I assert that intelligent designs and management practices can allow one
> farmworker to provides a balanced diet to 30 CSA subscribers meats, eggs,
> fish, vegetables, herbs, and fruits, for a $30K to $35K annual income (after
> farm-related expenses are deducted) to the farmworker, on two acres of land.
> Many farmers are unable to assure themselves that much dependable income,
> and in fact often work at least part time in outside employment because they
> cannot obtain the median income despite many acres of land cultivated.
> I further assert that about 40 hours weekly is sufficient to manage a well
> designed micro-farm, which is another challenge to the credibility of small
> farmers who are expecting to give 80 hour work-weeks for more than half of
Lion, I appreciate the amount of energy you have expended in thinking up
this "micro-farming" idea, as well as the time it took you to phrase it so
well in your essays.
For several years I've been designing a similar model that I term the "Fifty
Family Farm", wherein the farm family and a couple of assistant farmers has
a fifty acre farm and is supported "at par with other professional pay
rates" by a group of 50 families that buys everything the farm can produce.
Like you, I think it is possible to support really small farms using the CSA
marketing concept, combined with immense crop diversity. My model even
I'd like to encourage you to keep going with your design. Here are some
1. Until this has actually been done we won't know if it is possible. Your
thesis reminds me of John Jeavons' claims, where you can grow a total diet
for a family of 4 on just 1,000 square feet of land. Provided of course,
that the family eats potatoes for 3 meals each day for the entire year.
2. The farm plan you lay out requires superb horticulture and livestock and
poultry knowledge, and enormous physical energy. Many of us have been market
farming for 50 years, and still don't have the skills and knowledge required
to pull it off.
3. Your income figures may be a bit overboard. Based on what I see happening
in other CSAs that have vegetables, fruits, poultry and meats, the average
family will spend about $800 per year at the farm. If the farm expenses (not
including farm and home purchase) are $12,000, that leaves the farmer with a
paycheck of $12,000. Divided by 2000 hours per year, that comes to $6 per
hour. From that salary the farmer has to pay the mortgage, food they can't
grow, transportation, utilities, income and real estate taxes, insurance,
etc. Not many farmers can survive on $12,000 per year for a pay check.
4. You are assuming each CSA member family will eat 100 chickens per year.
Not likely. I sell thousands of broilers each year, and only have one
customer that buys more than 25 per year. Also, to raise 3120 broilers per
year requires 9 acres of grain producing land (based on my experience as
well as information from Penn State). I don't have figures for rabbits and
fish, but am thinking they too will require food from several acres more of
5. Attempting to raise 3120 broilers per year on 2 acres would very quickly
lead to a mess. We limit our stocking rate to 500 broilers per acre per year
as the minimum free range space required to keep from over grazing and too
much manure, not to mention parasite and disease loads in the soil.
6. Your climate zone, Santa Rosa, California, lends itself to year round
production. Most parts of the Earth don't have this ideal climate.
7. Public acceptance is another concern. Probably 99-1/2% of the population
will never join a CSA because its too "inconvenient". Ten years ago I helped
start the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont. This is a 40,000
population city, in a county that has a 120,000 population. My dream at the
time, was that within 5 years there would be at least 5 CSA farms serving
that county, all with enough members to support a full-time farmer and
several helpers. The reality is, however, that even after massive
advertising and public promtions, the Intervale CSA just barely has enough
members to remain viable, and no new CSAs have started up in that county.
Lion, I'm not saying your idea can't be done, I'm just encouraging you to
try some of these things so that you can report from the advantage of
experience. You are definitely on the right track, and your essays are very
interesting and thought provoking. I intend to adapt some of your methods to
my own farm.
Good Earth Organic Farm
Buena Vista, Virginia
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