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.
Recommended:(Video) RANCH vs. FARM vs. HOMESTEAD: 5 Differences You Must Know
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.
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What is the difference between homesteading and farming? ›
Homesteads and farms differ in the fundamental principles of the activities and the intended outcome. Homesteads are a home on land used to provide food and income to a family using simpler sustainable methods. Farming is a business with profits and efficiency being the main focus.What is the difference between a homestead ranch and farm? ›
A farm or ranch is a (hopefully) profitable way to produce crops or livestock and sell it commercially. A homestead is your home, but it's also where you happen to provide for your basic human needs like clothing, food, and shelter.What is the difference between a farm and farmstead? ›
As you can imagine, farmsteads were traditionally part of larger farms with 100 or more acres. The term is still used in this historical context today, but primarily from those who grew up on or were associated with larger family farms.What is the most efficient type of farming? ›
Intensive agriculture is all about efficiency—producing as much food as possible, proportionally. Major intensive farming crops include corn and soybeans, as well as wheat and rice. Intensive farming practices include market gardening, plantation agriculture, and mixed crop/livestock systems.Why is homesteading a good idea? ›
Financial Freedom. Living a simple, self-sufficient life means you need less money to support your lifestyle than you neighbor does. The homestead financial plan means getting rid of debt, spending less than you earn, and investing more inside your home than outside of it.Is homesteading good for the Environment? ›
Homesteading (often) uses less energy and produces fewer carbon emissions. While this isn't necessarily true in every case or for every homesteader, many use less energy and produce less harmful emissions with their lifestyle.What is the difference between farmer and rancher? ›
Farmers grow food crops like grains, vegetables, fruit and nuts. They also raise fiber such as cotton, Texas' number-one crop. Ranchers primarily produce meat. Hides are used to make leather, and sheep and goats can be sheared for their wool and mohair.Why is it called homesteading? ›
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.Is a homestead profitable? ›
Making money on your homestead is very possible! You just might have to get a bit creative when it comes to figuring out what to produce and sell. Focus on whatever most interests you. If you enjoy farming or gardening, focus on growing crops.What makes a home a farm? ›
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 uses acres of crops and head of livestock to determine if a place with sales less than $1,000 could normally produce and sell at least that amount.
What makes a house a farm? ›
Traditionally farmhouses are simply homes built on agricultural lands to house and protect who owned or worked the land. The term Farmhouse isn't necessarily connected to a particular style identified by a fixed set of features, but a setting for a way of life. This is most likely why its appeal seems to be timeless.What is a home farm called? ›
In the British Isles, and sometimes elsewhere, a home farm (sometimes known as a manor farm) is a part of a large country estate that is farmed by the landowner or an employed farm manager (often as a source of food and horse-keeping for the estate household), rather than being rented out to tenant farmers like most of ...Which farming is the best for future? ›
Vertical farming (the practice of growing crops in vertical layers) and hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient-rich water) – are both methods that generally use less water, soil, and space than traditional field farming methods.Which farming is best in home? ›
Benefits of hydroponics system :
It is possible to harvest fresh produce from the hydroponic garden all through the year. The system is excellent for both the environment and the agriculture yield. Hydroponic gardening eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides compared with traditional soil gardening.
- Garlic Farming. The payoff on growing garlic can be enormous for those who prefer to grow “gourmet” garlic. ...
- Lavender Farming. Lavender farming produces above-average gain for small growers, as it is such a varied crop. ...
- Gourmet Mushrooms Farming. ...
- Bamboo Farming. ...
- Willows Farming.
There are restrictions to the homesteading protection:
Homestead does not apply to Medicaid protection or state enabling confiscation acts under Medicaid. Homestead does not avoid probate or estate taxes. Homestead does not deter your bank from foreclosing if one does not pay the mortgage.
As settlers and homesteaders moved westward to improve the land given to them through the Homestead Act, they faced a difficult and often insurmountable challenge. The land was difficult to farm, there were few building materials, and harsh weather, insects, and inexperience led to frequent setbacks.What are the key points of homesteading? ›
Homesteading activities typically include growing and preserving food crops, cooking meals from scratch, raising animals, making homemade medicines, personal care products, perhaps even clothing, and an overall goal to “live off the land”.How do you have a successful homestead? ›
- Start a Homestead: Accept Feedback. ...
- Become a Perpetual Student. ...
- Start a Homestead: Get acquainted with Your Growing Season. ...
- Start Small. ...
- Find a Mentor or a Homestead Buddy. ...
- Make Your Kitchen a Working Kitchen.
Many people are attracted to the idea of taking food production and sourcing into their own hands with gardening, finding ways to live more sustainably, and focusing on reconnecting with the earth around them.
How do you build a successful homestead? ›
- Step 1: Consider What Homesteading Involves. ...
- Step 2: Set Goals For Yourself. ...
- Step 3: Decide Where You Want To Live. ...
- Step 4: Make A Budget. ...
- Step 5: Start Small. ...
- Step 5: Continually Simplify Your Life. ...
- Step 6: Learn To Preserve Food. ...
- Step 7: Make Friends With Other Homesteaders.
The Distinction of Farm and Ranch
Most farms are large in size, and their product is produced by an animal such as cattle. However, ranches are used for a specific farm function such as raising livestock (e.g. sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs to name a few).
Etymology. The word 'farmer' originally meant a person collecting taxes from tenants working a field owned by a landlord. The word changed to refer to the person farming the field. Previous names for a farmer were churl and husbandman.Why do we need farmers and ranchers? ›
Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of America, working from sun-up to sundown, taking care of the land and livestock and providing food for their fellow citizens and the rest of the world.What is an example of homesteading? ›
A homestead is a house and surrounding land owned by a family — often, it includes a farmhouse. Most people have homes, but not everyone has a homestead: that means your family owns more than a house. The homestead often consists of a farmhouse and land devoted to crops or animals.When did homesteading end in the US? ›
The prime land across the country was homesteaded quickly. Successful Homestead claims dropped sharply after the 1930s. The Homestead Act remained in effect until 1976, with provisions for homesteading in Alaska until 1986.What is a modern day homesteader? ›
Modern homesteading refers to a self-sufficient lifestyle—living autonomously, with minimum help from others. In a nutshell, it includes subsistence agriculture, renewable energy sources when possible, home preservation of food, zero-waste living, and, depending on your skills, even homeschooling, and craftwork.Is 1 acre enough for a homestead? ›
You don't need a lot of acreage to have a self-sufficient homestead. Even on a 1-acre farm, you can milk a family cow, raise livestock and reap garden harvests — all while improving your land's soil fertility with manure and proper grazing management.Is 2 acres enough for a homestead? ›
Even small acreages of 2 – 4 acres can sustain a small family if managed well. Larger homesteads in the range of 20 – 40 acres can provide a greater degree of self-sufficiency by setting aside much of the land as a woodlot, and providing room for orchards, ponds, poultry and livestock.What is the best state to build a homestead? ›
- Tennessee. Rural Tennessee is already a popular location for sustainable living enthusiasts, with a fantastic harvesting season of around 9 months of the year, there are low property taxes and costs.
- Idaho. ...
- Oregon. ...
- Maine. ...
- Michigan. ...
- Connecticut. ...
- Montana. ...
- Alaska. ...
How many acres is a small farm? ›
Acreage is another way to assess farm size. According to the USDA , small family farms average 231 acres; large family farms average 1,421 acres and the very large farm average acreage is 2,086. It may be surprising to note that small family farms make up 88 percent of the farms in America.What does the IRS consider a farm? ›
You are in the business of farming if you culti- vate, operate, or manage a farm for profit, either as owner or tenant. A farm includes livestock, dairy, poultry, fish, fruit, and truck farms. It also includes plantations, ranches, ranges, and or- chards and groves.What is a small farm called? ›
Most urban farms are small scale or micro-farms due to the availability of land in urban areas, but occasionally urban farms can constitute several acres within city limits.What are the disadvantages of house farming? ›
Disadvantages of polyhouse farming
Naturally Ventilated Polyhouses have to be unnecessarily taller than those with fan and pad, leading to wastage in metal costs and labor charges during the construction phase. In polyhouse, low-quality films cause easy to wear and tear in heavy rains, making crops vulnerable.
Tax Benefits of Turning Your Hobby Into a Business
With all the supplies and equipment needed to run your small farm, any potential write-offs are appealing. You can deduct many expenses, including: Farm supplies like feed, fertilizer, seed, and poultry. Labor hired to help out with farm tasks.
The law presumes that an activity is not a hobby if profits occur in any three of five consecutive years or two of seven consecutive years for equine activities.What is a farm called? ›
A farm (also called an agricultural holding) is an area of land that is devoted primarily to agricultural processes with the primary objective of producing food and other crops; it is the basic facility in food production.What is a farm wife called? ›
farmwife (plural farmwives) The wife in a married couple engaged in farming; a wife who shares in the duties of farming, such as farm management, homemaking on the farm, fieldwork, sales and marketing, or other work. quotations ▼What is the owner of a farm called? ›
farmer. noun. someone who owns a farm or manages it as their job.What qualifies as a farm for IRS? ›
You are in the business of farming if you culti- vate, operate, or manage a farm for profit, either as owner or tenant. A farm includes livestock, dairy, poultry, fish, fruit, and truck farms. It also includes plantations, ranches, ranges, and or- chards and groves.
What is the modern definition of homesteading? ›
Modern homesteading refers to a self-sufficient lifestyle—living autonomously, with minimum help from others. In a nutshell, it includes subsistence agriculture, renewable energy sources when possible, home preservation of food, zero-waste living, and, depending on your skills, even homeschooling, and craftwork.Does the IRS consider my farm a hobby? ›
In some cases, it may be obvious that a taxpayer engages in an activity for sport or recreation, which would be defined as a hobby. In general, the IRS considers an activity a trade or business, and not a hobby, if it is conducted with a profit motive.Can a hobby farm be a tax write off? ›
Tax Benefits of Turning Your Hobby Into a Business
You can deduct your farm-related expenses, even if they go above your farm income. So if your farm operates at a loss, that loss can be used to offset your tax burden on your overall income.
Deductible farming expenses
You can deduct the costs you incur that are an ordinary and necessary expense of farming on Schedule F to reduce the profit—or increase the loss—on which you'll owe taxes.
Homesteading came to an end in the lower 48 states over a century later in 1976 with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The last claim was issued in 1974 to Ken Deardorff for a homestead in Alaska. However, free land is still available from small towns and cities or farming communities.Is there still homesteading in the United States? ›
Between 1862 and 1934, the federal government granted 1.6 million homesteads and distributed 270,000,000 acres (420,000 sq mi) of federal land for private ownership. This was a total of 10% of all land in the United States. Homesteading was discontinued in 1976, except in Alaska, where it continued until 1986.Can you make money homesteading? ›
Making money on your homestead is very possible! You just might have to get a bit creative when it comes to figuring out what to produce and sell. Focus on whatever most interests you. If you enjoy farming or gardening, focus on growing crops.What do you call someone who owns a homestead? ›
homesteaders. Starting in the late 1860s, someone who settled on Western land was known as a homesteader. After farming it for a certain length of time, homesteaders gained ownership of the land.Who benefited from the Homestead Act? ›
To help develop the American West and spur economic growth, Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862, which provided 160 acres of federal land to anyone who agreed to farm the land. The act distributed millions of acres of western land to individual settlers.What is another word for homesteading? ›
farming. nounproducing crops, raising animals. agriculture. agronomics. agronomy.
What is backyard homesteading? ›
Backyard Homesteading shows homeowners how to turn a yard into a productive and wholesome "homestead" that allows you to grow your own fruits and vegetables and raise farm animals, including chickens and goats.What are the characteristics of homesteading? ›
Whether a property is a homestead depends on three factors: (1) intent to make the property a homestead, or acts of preparation to do so; (2) whether the homesteader is single or married; and (3) whether the property is considered urban or rural.