Earth Haven: A Year on a Small Farm

One year after buying and establishing Earth Haven, his New England-area homestead, Bob Curtis recounts his experiences running a small farm and offers non-essential but handy bits of know-how on firewood, dump pickings, fireplaces, the USDA, wood cookstove, animals management, and veterinarians.

| July/August 1973

  • Curtis - Earth Haven
    A small farm might or might not have has many or as large a collection of buildings as shown here.

  • Curtis - Earth Haven

When did it begin? Four years ago when we moved to an old New England farmhouse with an acre and a half? Or maybe three years back when we got the chickens (after tearing down the chicken coop the year before)? I think myself that the die was truly cast when we planted our first garden two seasons ago. Anyhow—though we may never know exactly how it happened—we now have a farm and are learning to work it. We call our place Earth Haven.

We're fast approaching the end of our first year in the country, and I feel it's time we shared some of our joys, sorrows, and lessons learned with MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers who are doing a similar trip ... or thinking and planning for when they can.

First of all, I should mention that since we've lived in and fixed up several run-down houses and have always made a profit when we've moved—we had the advantage of capital to launch our venture. Thus, the place we bought was a real farm ... complete with some good fruit trees and more equipment than we needed, etc.

Such a heavy investment nevertheless led to what may prove our hardest lesson: the purchase necessitated a stiff mortgage. So far we've been able to handle the payments, but only by sacrificing our leisure and peace of mind. On the other hand, this pressure has at least kept us from putting things off. If there's something we can do for the farm, it gets done ... it has to. Also on the plus side of the situation is the fact that real farms come with lots of land. If things get too bad, I suspect that we could bail ourselves out by selling a couple of 15 or 20 acre plots at the end of the spread and eliminating most if not all of the mortgage.

Our second lesson—for which we're still paying the bill—has to do with animals. It's great fun, of course, to have all kinds of critters running around the farm ... and that's what we've got: two cows; three pigs; three sheep; 50 or 60 chickens; a handful of turkeys, ducks, geese, and rabbits; and, as of last week, one calf. The folks at the feed store love us.

Now, I'm not saying that all these beasts are unprofitable. The cows pay for themselves, and then some. We have all the milk we want (and plenty of butter and whipping cream), and what we don't use we barter with neighbors or make into cheese. Even if we just poured the extra down the drain, we'd still be ahead of the cost of buying milk and cheap oleo at the store. The same with the chickens. We get all our own eggs free, and those we sell—both at the door and through a local co-op—more than pay for the feed and the investment in buying and raising the chicks. And the other creatures? Well, I like them and I doubt that we'll get rid of them ... but in terms of dollars and cents they're not pulling their share of the load.

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