The Joy of Hobby Farming by Michael and Audrey Levatino is a great beginner book for folks considering starting a hobby farm. Although it definitely gets into detail for some things, I appreciate that the authors didn't try to be a one-stop-shop for information on how to grow food and raise animals on a hobby farm.
Instead, they took an approach that shares their philosophy and views on hobby farming throughout - an approach that emphasizes starting small, building slowly, and enjoying the meditative practice of farming without worrying about the economics.
It's not that they don't consider selling at farmers markets part of hobby farming - they do - but it's not the main focus, and economic viability or making any sort of profit is not on their radar. That's why it's called "hobby farming," they say.
The book reads like a good friend giving you gentle, time-worn advice on starting a hobby farm. You learn what the authors found worked for them, and what cautionary tales they've collected along the way. There is an emphasis on farm safety, which I appreciated, as it's a topic too often overlooked. And they come from a standpoint of not getting into debt for your farm, which is also refreshing.
The authors very deliberately give an overview of each of the topics covered in the book: searching for a farm and buying one; the basics of fencing, outbuildings, equipment, guns, generators, water; growing food and flowers; the basics of animal care; chickens, honeybees, dogs and cats, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, and cows.
There is also a section on running your farm as a business - a larger section than you might imagine given that it is a hobby farming book, but like I said, these authors are not anti-sales, just not focused on making a living farming. They cover establishing your farm brand, selling at farmers markets, retail markets and restaurants, running CSAs, and using websites and social media.
What you'll find here are the broad strokes of how to do each of these things. You wouldn't expect to get grass-fed beef cattle and raise them with the amount of information in this guide. Rather, this is the kind of book to cuddle up with in the winter and get an idea of what you'd like to do with your hobby farm. It's a warmly written, accessible introduction to hobby farming. You'll get a good, but not heavy-handed, dose of the authors' views - they won't shy away from telling you that if you're going to keep chickens, it's probably not reasonable to get veterinary care for them, so you'll need to accept that you may have to put them down when they're sick, and do it humanely and bravely.
You won't find them advising you to get someone else to cut, split and stack your firewood - theirs is a slow approach to farming that embraces all aspects of the physical work involved. They explain that they are vegetarians and why, but don't get preachy about it - they simply share the ethical dilemmas faced by anyone who has raised animals for meat, or chickens for eggs. And they talk about why one might have animals on a farm if not for meat (companionship, protection).
A couple of topics not always covered in other how-to-farm books--berries and mushrooms, as well as cut flowers for arrangements and bouquets-- are covered in detail here.
A nice touch, and if you want to grow any of these items, this book is particularly well-suited to you.
I thought this was a worthwhile read with lots of great information. It's a terrific overview for anyone who's just starting a hobby farm or is thinking about it and wants to mull it over a bit. It tells you what you need to know but doesn't burden you with the details, and its conversational, friendly tone is refreshing.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.