Alright, let’s just get right at this. Building backyard farms can be expensive; backyard farmers balance cost and aesthetics at every turn. If the farm looks Sunset Magazine worthy, the cost to build it will far outstrip the benefits of the food you can produce. If you farm looks like the Beverly Hillbillies you may still be quite productive, but not great for your property value of the property value of your neighbor’s homes (which leads to poor relationships with neighbors, which works against community building).
So how do we find the balance? We save money every way we can, spend it where it counts, and always focus on production while keeping an eye on how the place looks. Over the years I’ve come up with my 11 favorite ways to save money while building a backyard farm. Here they are, direct from me to you:
- Develop a solid plan for your farm before you start building. This is the number one way to save money when building your backyard farm. If you do just this one thing, you will save hundreds to thousands of dollars in costly mistakes, necessary re-dos, and unnecessary purchases. Plan for months, then start to build.
- Do as much of the work grunt as you can. Good labor costs good money.
- Trade labor. If you have something that you need done around the farm, and it’s over your head, trade your time with someone who can handle the job. Often that someone could use some help with something else, and would welcome your help with their task. This particular strategy also has the added benefit of building community – a big win in my book.
- Pay for labor to make sure the job is done right. When all else fails on the labor front, it can actually save you money to hire a professional to do a particularly tricky bit of work.
- Do not buy every tool you will need on a job. There is an old saying that is oft repeated, and it is utter nonsense – if you borrow a tool twice you need to buy your own. Hogwash. I do not need to buy a honey extractor because I use one every year. I don’t need to buy a sledgehammer because I’ve needed to borrow that tool twice. Share the high-end grain grinder that you bought, and borrow your neighbors pressure canner twice a year. Buying tools to own uses virgin resources, and often these tools just sit around in your garage and collect dust. These tools cost money (sometimes a lot of money), and they require storage space. You do not need to own every tool you need to build you backyard farm – borrowing or renting works just fine.
- Scrounge resources. This means Craigslist, FreeCycle, community bulletin boards, yard sales, demolition sites, construction sites, and government sales. Now, notice I used the word “scrounge” not “steal.” Do not take items without permission, but definitely take what folks are willing to part with. Used resources are much easier on the planet than new (infinitely easier), and they are a fraction of the cost.
- Re-purpose items. Sometimes the best yard sale finds are unusual, and can be put to unusual uses. I once saw an old beat-up, cheap chest of drawers converted to a chicken nesting box system. Or an old hard shell car storage box used as a planter. Use your imagination – there are a thousand ways to use most items. By re-purposing you can either acquire something free-to-cheap, or you can use something you already have. Those are both great ways to save money.
- Develop your own natural resources. Compost, save seeds, raise rabbits, split your bee hive, and graft plants. Nature is abundant and wants to support life. Take the steps you need to take and learn how to generate resources for your farm year-to-year, eliminating the need for you to buy those same resources.
- Use existing structures. An existing structure on your property is a resource. Even and existing dog house is a resource – I’ve seen large dog houses turned into chicken roosting houses. If you have structure on your property (and this includes fences) that isn’t currently serving the backyard farm, rethink how that structure could be used.
- Buy quality. This point is often counter-intuitive – spend more to spend less. The truth has been, and will always be, in most cases you get what you pay for. Buying crap means you will have to replace it more often. If the crappy product is $40, but the high quality product is $75, most folks will buy the $40 product. But what if over the life of the farm you replace the crappy product three times? Now that cheap product just cost you $120. Not to mention the environmental impact of buying the same product three times. Buy once, and buy quality.
- Build with natural building materials. This is not as easy at it sounds, but it is extremely cost effective. Let me give you a for instance. On the back of the hill on our property we have several Chinese Elms. Invasive, suckering, and generally disliked. But wait, perhaps these trash trees can serve a purpose? Weaving low poultry fences with cut branches from these prolific trees is a free and renewable source of fencing material. I’ve seen several of these fences built, and they are stunningly beautiful. They are more like works of art than barnyard enclosures.
Okay, what money saving trick did I miss? Leave a comment below and let us know what clever way you’ve saved money when building your backyard farm.