How I Started a Small Suburban Farm

This suburbanite transformed a patch of grass into food and established a lucrative backyard farm.

  • Once grass, this backyard has been made into an oasis that excites the senses.
    Photo by Michael Brown.
  • The author, Michael Brown, stands near plants in his backyard farm.
    Photo by Nurit Brown.
  • Michael Brown grows small fruits and berries, with a focus on vigor, resistance, and taste.
    Photo by Michael Brown.

When my family moved into our suburban home in central New Jersey, our large backyard was dotted with an assortment of trees, and unruly hedges hugged much of our perimeter fence. While it did make for a pretty good soccer field, it wasn’t suitable for much else. Our children would play in the backyard, but it didn’t excite their senses, offer impromptu lessons in nature or botany, or serve as a home for insects or birds. It was a desert of grass that required constant care and gave nothing in return. Something needed to change.

I started the transformation to a small backyard farm with a vegetable garden and a couple of fig trees in a small corner of my yard. Now, after almost 15 years, I’ve transformed my entire 1⁄3-acre backyard into a productive and revenue-producing suburban farm.

I decided to expand past the food garden and create a suburban farm when it seemed clear that we weren’t going to be acquiring more land. We both needed to be able to commute to our jobs, and we needed my income as a school librarian to help with the expenses of raising a family.

The first few steps we took to set up a suburban farm were legal and administrative. I called my township to ask about any potential barriers I may encounter. Their response — “If nobody complains, we won’t bother you!” — helped encourage me to be a quiet and courteous neighbor. Our next step was to set up a legal entity. I chose to incorporate as a limited liability company (LLC). I arranged for insurance and filled out some paperwork, and then I was ready to go.

My yard has gone through a number of transformations. I’ve grown heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms, herbs, pea shoots, kale — whatever seemed to be in demand. Though my suburban farm was profitable over the years, eventually I decided it was too difficult to compete with the diversity and quantity of produce from larger farms. I needed to find something that played to my strengths as a small-acreage grower in close proximity to a large and culturally diverse population.

The model I finally chose incorporates plants for berry production as well as a small nursery. It allows me to consistently earn up to $25,000 on a small acreage while holding down a full-time job as a school librarian. The free summers I enjoy as a school employee are a major help in running my farm. I don’t think I could do it with a demanding corporate position. However, I think this model is suitable for others who have flexible hours, work part-time, or perhaps don’t have a job at all. Along the way, I’ve developed some guidelines to help me focus on the best direction for my farm, keeping in mind my specific circumstances and markets.

8/5/2017 2:56:40 PM

We started gardening and we were gone wrong. We could not figure out why we were not getting the beautiful vegetables we were hoping for. People suggest to spray chemicals for vegetables and fruits but is poison and it is not organic vegetables. My lab professor referred a guide it helps me to grow my gardening as what we like, you can get the guide from here >> ( ) <<. I have recommended this system to all of my friends and family. We got good organic natural vegetables and fruits in the next harvest, one of the beautiful products in the market...*.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters