Ask any experienced hobby farmer and they'll tell you that the secret to financial success on a farm is diversity. You simply cannot rely on one crop or product to produce income for your farm. First, it just doesn't make sense to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. Second, small farms struggle to produce at a competitive level in any one enterprise. As such, spreading your enterprises out across a variety of ideas is the smartest option.
For example, if your farm specializes in raising grass-fed, organic, low-carbon beef you might not have enough space to develop a herd large enough to support the farm. Likewise, if your specialty is CSA crop production, it is more difficult to produce enough and gain enough members to make a full-time living solely from this enterprise. As such, diversity can help round out revenue streams and provide more income.
The catch is, deciding what additional crops, products or other enterprises to include in your farm's repertoire. Here at our farm, we're still focusing on getting the farmhouse renovated, building outbuildings and installing fencing. We simply are not ready to get going on our main income stream – low-carbon beef and raw milk production. However, in the meantime, we are developing income sources to supplement farm expenses, as well as give us additional networks to tap for revenue, once our farm is fully operational.
For example, we're raising chickens. In our local area, we have a member-supported, organic fresh market group. There, we can sell eggs, chicken manure and even a few decorative feather pillows. In the winter time, we use central heat, as in a fireplace centrally located in the house. When my youngest son starts cutting and splitting wood in late fall, he splits extra to sell. Additionally, when I have time, I make a variety of crafty-type projects using things from around the farm. I've made Christmas ornaments, seasonal wreaths, dried flower centerpieces, and similar crafts that I offer through our fresh market group or sell to a vendor at our local flea market.
While our endeavors are more about adding to the farm renovation kitty, fully operational farms benefit from diversity too. Before you place all of your eggs in one basket, take a look at some of the suggestions for diversifying farm enterprises from the USDA. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/altlist.shtml#listing