Small is Beautiful: Compact Farms

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Have I mentioned that I think small farms are the best farms? Well, I’m not alone, and I have the perfect book to prove it. According to Josh Volk, author of Compact Farms: 15 Proven Plans for Market Farms on 5 Acres or Less ( “The point is that it doesn’t take a large space to be productive or to make a decent, sustainable living.” This is a beautiful and practical book that focuses on small-scale commercial farms effectively using less than 5 acres of production space. From Slow Hand Farm (the author’s own small space in Oregon); to a tropical oasis growing coffee and bananas in Hawaii; to a green sanctuary growing food on rooftops in New York City; to a less-than-an-acre mini-farm—Volk repeatedly makes his point that small-scale agriculture can be simple as well as successful.

Compact Farms Book CoverFrom the publisher’s website (Storey Publishing): “Small is beautiful, and these 15 real farm plans show that small-scale farmers can have big-time success. Compact Farms is an illustrated guide for anyone dreaming of starting, expanding, or perfecting a profitable farming enterprise on five acres or less. The farm plans explain how to harness an area’s water supply, orientation, and geography in order to maximize efficiency and productivity while minimizing effort. Profiles of well-known farmers such as Eliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier show that farming on a small scale in any region, in both urban and rural settings, can provide enough income to turn the endeavor from hobby to career. These real-life plans and down-and-dirty advice will equip you with everything you need to actually realize your farm dreams.”

Beginning with a brief impassioned plea on the joys and benefits of farming small scale, the crux of the book comes in Part Two: fifteen profiles of small-scale working market farms. Volk includes beautiful full-color birds-eye layouts for every farm, as well as information about each farm’s unique approach to labor, water, fertility, tools, infrastructure, crop care, harvesting, and the all-important question of what happens to the harvest. Dozens of beautiful photographs help to illustrate the farm profiles, and those who enjoy getting out the watercolors and pencils to design their gardens, or looking at landscape architecture books, will absolutely adore the farm layout illustrations.

But it’s not all just pretty pictures. Volk clearly lays out the “nuts and bolts” of how to achieve small farm sustainability yourself – from carefully planning what you want to achieve, to considerations such as water, infrastructure, livestock, and harvest planning. Perhaps the most important consideration gets its own chapter: “Making It Work Financially” gets into the nitty gritty details of numbers, budgets, and bottom lines. Volk’s point throughout is that if planned properly, these small farms not only work, but work better than their larger counterparts, for the farmer, the consumer, and the planet. His passion for these small, productive pieces of land is evident on every page of this beautiful book.

If you are interested in small-scale farming and are considering making a go of it as a market farmer, Compact Farms is an absolute gold mine of information and a helping hand to get you on your way. And even if you’re not going commercial, it’s an enjoyable and edifying read for anyone interested in small-scale farming. I highly recommend it!

One Comment on “Small is Beautiful: Compact Farms

  1. Hi John
    Any chance of me being able to ring you one day?
    I’ve got a serious – replicable neighbourhood horticultural healthcare system prototype idea, I’m chipping away at in New Zealand.

    And your the man that said “we have to learn to dance together”, to save the world.

    I’m teaching the bio intensive method, to the degree that I learnt it at Koanga Institute.
    While I feel I need advice on a neighbourhood scale sustainable/regenerative garden plan.
    So I can present prototype concept, more powerfully to local government, and central government, as part of my overall presentation on what I believe to be a fantastic first stage model to start healing culture, through neighbourhood accessible, regenerative, best practice horticulture.

    I’m promoting a –

    Centrally funded
    food security
    social cohesion generator
    that uses the bio intensive method.

    The bio intensive method is the most neighbourhood accessible, in its easy methodical ways, and is a great relaxed inclusive, efficient method.
    Over my six years of seeking answers for creating a neighbourhood scale practice, I found the answer in the bio intensive method, that creates easier citizen involvement in rescuing local culture, through the peoples hands.

    I’m also seeking advice from Charles Dowding, Wendell Berry and Eliot Coleman.

    I’m seeking the wisest, experienced men in farming, to critique my prototype, because its so audacious and beautiful, in an unbelieving world, that it feels a bit lonely, and scary carrying the vision alone. Though I have great support at a neighbourhood community house, which is a multi purpose facility, that I’m basing the prototype on.

    Bless you John

    Thanks for your vision and work.

    Urban Gardener

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