Homesteading and farming may seem very similar at first glance, but as you dig deeper into these two activities, the differences become more apparent. If you are unsure what distinguishes a homestead from a farm, we have some insight to help you with the distinction.
Homesteads and farms differ in the fundamental principles of the activities and the intended outcome. Homesteads are a home on land used to provide food and income to a family using simpler sustainable methods. Farming is a business with profits and efficiency being the main focus.
There are several differences between homesteading and farming that will be determining factors of the size of property you need as well as the equipment necessary for the enterprise. These key aspects will determine whether you need a farm or whether a homestead will be the best agricultural choice for your needs and goals.
The Differences Between A Farm And A Homestead
If you are considering a rural lifestyle or want to enjoy a self-sufficient lifestyle, you may be considering a farm or a homestead.
Understanding the difference between the two is a good place to start because it will let you know what option best suits your plans.
Several differences between a farm and a homestead can also influence your decision due to your available resources to invest in the venture.
The Difference Between The Size Of A Farm And A Homestead
One of the main differences between a homestead and a farm is the size of the property and the amount of land required for the operation.
In some states where federal benefits are offered to homesteaders, a homestead is required to be less than 100 acres, while others consider land less than 200 acres to be a homestead.
In most federal-related definitions, land used for agriculture that is more than 400 acres is considered a farm, while less than this acreage is considered a homestead.
However, the property size needed for homesteading and farming is dictated mainly by the activities on the property and the concept of homesteading as opposed to farming
Typically, farms are larger than homesteads due to the operational and logistical differences between the two.
Some farms, such as hobby farms, can be as small as a homestead but are not considered a homestead because of the differences in land use.
Hobby farms are generally a fun undertaking that the farm owner is not reliant on for survival, not for an income. The hobby farm may produce an income, but that is not the sole purpose of the activity.
In many cases, a hobby farm can be a small parcel of land in an urban or suburban setting used to grow a few vegetables and raise some chickens. This type of farming is generally more recreational rather than a livelihood.
A Farm Is A Business A Homestead is A Lifestyle
One of the major differences between a farm and a homestead is the land’s intended purpose and the landowner’s goals.
Farming is a business undertaking, and the operations, processes, goals, and directives are all based on business principles. Like all other businesses, the key focus of farming is making a profit for the property owner rather than the idealistic intentions of a lifestyle.
Farms are focused on efficiency and profit margins, making all the decisions on the farm having this predominant end goal.
Farming methods are fine-tuned to generate results, and sustainability and self-sufficiency concepts are only considered where it improves the profitability of the business rather than a global-minded, planet-saving ideal.
This is where homesteading differs greatly from farming. Homesteading is as much a mindset as it is an activity.
The principles that drive homesteading are less about profit and more about living a sustainable, healthier lifestyle. This means that the operations on the homestead are more geared toward providing for a single family rather than making a profit.
This does not mean that homesteaders do not make a profit from the goods and products that come from the homestead, but rather that this is not the primary focus.
The primary focus of a homesteader is to provide enough food on the homestead to feed their family, and generating an income from the property is secondary.
As a result of the differences in goals, homesteading methods differ greatly from that of farming. The methods used to grow crops or raise livestock are more sustainable and eco-friendly.
The smaller scale of the homesteading operation allows the luxury of using simpler, sometimes less efficient methods for agriculture, since the methods generate enough return to be viable on a small scale.
Homesteaders generally have a broader worldview on their agricultural operations and strive to improve the land they own to make it more sustainable and productive using natural methods rather than chemicals.
Homesteaders generally have greater care for the environment and the well-being of the livestock they raise than many farming operations.
Homesteaders Live On The Homestead
Homesteaders buy a homesteading property to grow food and raise livestock, and as their home, where they live permanently. This living arrangement is part of the homesteading lifestyle and one of the benefits that many homesteaders seek.
Living away from big cities is often one of the major attractions that entice people to pursue the homesteading life.
The homestead is part of the homesteader’s life, and they generally do as much of the work on the property themselves rather than hire other people to provide labor.
Occasionally community members will help each other out on larger projects, but there is usually no payment for the help. The payment will be in the form of reciprocal assistance on an as-needed basis.
Many farm owners do not live on their farms as their primary residence but have purchased the farm as a business investment. Many farms are run by managers who operate the farm according to business principles and the direction of the farm owner.
The manager and some of the farmhands may live on the property, but they are employees rather than landowners.
Many farms are owned by corporations that employ farm managers and outside labor to run and operate the farm.
Homesteaders Diversify While Farmers Focus
The focus on sustainability by the homesteader means that they need to grow crops and raise livestock to provide for the family’s needs.
This diversification on the homestead offers many advantages for a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to agriculture than does farming.
Homesteaders may grow food crops, such as vegetables and fruit, keep chickens as a source of eggs and meat, keep sheep or goats for milk and meat, and even the raising of a small herd of cows for milk and meat.
The diversification allows certain operations on the homestead to support other operations. For example, the waste produced by growing and processing vegetables can be used to feed goats and chickens.
The manure produced by the chickens and other livestock can, in turn, be recycled into fertilizer to benefit the vegetables and other crops grown on the homestead.
In contrast, farms tend to be distinctly singular in their focus. A beef ranch will generally not get involved in crop farming to any large degree, and a wheat farmer will generally not run dairy cows at the same time.
While some livestock farms will sow some fields with fodder crops to provide winter feed for the livestock, they will not generally sell these crops for profit.
Similarly, maize farmers will generally not grow vegetables for market, but the entire focus of the farm operation will be around maize or corn growing.
Some crop-growing farms will rotate crops and grow different crops in different seasons, but they will not diversify and raise chickens as part of the operation.
The singular focus of commercial farms means that there is not much cross-operational benefit for the activities on the property.
Farming can usually be divided into a specific niche, which is usually one of the following.
- Crop farming
- Fish farming
- Dairy farming
- Poultry Farming
- Meat Farming
While there is usually no cross-niche operations on a farm, a homestead may have all these different farming operations running at some level on the homestead.
A homesteader needs diversity for food security and to provide a different meal on the table each night. The diversity also helps to prevent a single loss from being catastrophic to the homesteader.
Running Cost Differences Between A Farm And A Homestead
The running cost differences between a homestead and a farm is one of the significant differences between the two types of agriculture that influence people’s choices.
There are three main cost areas on the farm and the homestead that have a bearing on the best option for your needs.
The Cost Of Land For Farming Vs. Homesteading
The requirement for profit generation in a farming enterprise requires that the farming is done on a large scale. This requirement generally demands much larger tracts of land to produce the volumes required.
The land must also be of good quality to maximize the profitability of the chosen farming operation and sustained land use.
As a result, farming for profit requires a lot of good quality land, which increases the initial financial investment required for the farm property itself.
In contrast, homesteading can be done successfully on substantially smaller tracts of land, making the finances needed to buy land much more achievable and within the financial reach of a greater number of people.
The Cost Of Machinery For Farming Vs. Homesteading
Due to farming being a commercial enterprise, the efficiency of farming operations is key to keeping costs down and increasing productivity.
In many cases, this is achieved through mechanization on the farm. Processes that were typically done by hand require machinery to get the job done on the scale required to turn a profit.
Farm machinery can be exorbitantly expensive, requiring large loans or a huge amount of readily available cash to purchase. The cost and capacity of these farming machines are usually beyond the needs and budget of homesteaders.
The maintenance of these farming machines often requires specialized knowledge, which adds to the maintenance costs on the farm.
Homesteading generally relies on a smaller, less mechanized farming principle, which is more affordable both from purchase and ongoing maintenance costs.
While machines and tools are used on the homestead, they are usually less expensive to purchase and cheaper to maintain. In many instances, with a little research, the homesteader can often service, maintain, and repair many of the tools themselves.
Labor Costs For Farming Vs. Homesteading
The large sizes of most commercial farms are usually too big for one or two people to manage, requiring a large labor force to operate the farm.
Even with mechanization to increase productivity, more people are required to run a farm than a homestead. This requirement adds a substantial labor bill to the cost of running farms.
Homesteads are usually run by a family and are generally of a size that one or two adults can manage quite easily. Neighbors, friends, and the local community will often lend a hand for labor-intensive projects requiring a little more muscle or manpower.
In most cases, the land area of a homestead and the agricultural operations are easily managed by fewer people, and there is no need to hire additional labor to run the homestead.
Homesteaders Use Simpler, More Sustainable Methods
Since homesteading does not have the machinery or the labor resources for working the land or raising animals, homesteaders usually revert to simpler, more sustainable methods.
The slower pace and less pressure to produce a profit give the homesteader freedom and flexibility to investigate natural, more environmentally friendly methods of growing food, raising livestock, and controlling pests and diseases.
Homesteaders can use the following healthier and more beneficial methods.
- Natural fertilizers. Homesteaders can create their own natural fertilizers.
- Heirloom seeds. Homesteaders can use heirloom seed varieties that may not produce a higher yield but produce more nutrient-dense food.
- Natural pest control methods. The smaller scale of the operations allows homesteaders to effectively control pests using less environmentally toxic measures.
- Controlled watering methods. Rainwater harvesting is a viable water source for homesteaders, reducing the need to tap into other water sources to water vast fields.
Commercial farming does not have the benefit of being able to make use of these better, more sustainable farming methods since the process is driven by yield and the profit margin.
This leads to commercial farming using GMO seeds to reduce losses to pests and diseases, commercial chemical-based fertilizers, and heavy use of local water supplies.
Homesteading and farming are both means of producing food by growing crops and raising livestock, but the goals, methods, philosophy, and operational implementation make them very different activities.
If you want to change to a healthier lifestyle where you are less dependent on the supply chain, then homesteading is your best choice. Farming would be the better option if you are looking for business interests and have a lot of disposable cash or resources.