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What is a Small Farm ?

(From the San Francisco Bulletin.)

In some of the older States twenty acres is sometimes called a small farm ; and on such small areas a family might be supported. The question is frequently raised, “What is a small farm in California ?” The answer in a general way is that 160 acres is a small farm, and 80 acres a very small one, if the one point is kept in view of the capacity of such a farm to support a family. Smaller tracts might do it if devoted to some specially, an orchard or a market garden, for instance. Aside from such specialties it will require a larger area of land to support a family in comfort here than in the Atlantic States. The greater number of these small tracts will be cultivated without irrigation, especially where the rainfall is sufficient to produce a crop. There will, therefore, be no succession of crops in a given year. The hay and the grain will be cut in their season. There will be little or no aftermath. The one crop of fruit will be gathered, and so of all other products. The twenty-acre farm, in the hands of an old-fashioned farmer, will turn out to be something of a delusion. Some account must be taken of climate, of the capacity of the land to produce, proximity to markets and the prices which the surplus produce will bring. The ten and twenty acre farms appear very well on paper. As surburban tracts they may be very desirable. But when a man goes into the country with his family to live by agriculture, he needs more room if he is not to devote his energies to a few specialties. He will find the 160 acre tract small enough when ho comes to segregate fields for pasture, forestry, orchards, grain and so on. Relatively, it might be said that the average farm of this size is something like a 40-acre farm in some of the Atlantic States. The ten and twenty-acre farms sketched on paper are very pretty ; devoted to market gardening they are sometimes very profitable, But for the sale of garden truck to any advantage one must live near the city or large town. Now, most of the farms for sale are w-> remote for such purposes. A twenty-acre tract devoted to gardening would supply a small country town. A small farm in California is one with a sufficient area to support a moderate-sized family in comfort, with the possibility of laying up a little money ; and that at present is about as much as can be done in this State on a turn of 160 acres. Still it must bo said that this need not always be true in this State, and the course of events is towards smaller average farms than those of 160 acres. Where water for irrigation can be procured the best of our lands will bear as minute a subdivision as any land in the world, and / will nevertheless support a family in comfort. So long, however, as wheat-growing is our chief occupation and source of revenue, 160 acres will not be called a large farm. But, as our population increases, new industries and products will become naturalized among us, and we may confidently expect that men will live here, as in other places, on very small tracts of land.

It happens, in many cases, that twenty acres of good land near a market is worth, so far as the ease and comfort of living is concerned, more than a whole section further off. An emigrant who has not means enough to purchase the 160 acres which makes a small wheat farm, need not despair, but let him buy what he can afford, cultivate it in corn, vegetables and fruits, raise all the water he can by means of a windmill or horse-power, and so toil upward by degrees. We have seen a success made on ten acres, even when the produce had to be shipped forty miles to a market. It is better, though, that a man should, if possible, struggle through, and, for his children’s sake, win a larger tract, say the typical 160 acres of which we have spoken.

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Bibliographic details

THE FARMER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 19, 8 November 1879

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THE FARMER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 19, 8 November 1879

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