The popularity of hobby farming has grown as people seek organic alternatives and a return to a simpler way of life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, small farms generating less than $250,000 per year in sales make up 90 percent of all farms. Many of these operations are known as hobby farms. Grant funding and low-interest guaranteed loans for hobby farms are available through several programs offered by the federal government.
If you’re just starting a hobby farm or have been involved with a small farm for 10 years or less, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program may offer grant funding to build or improve your operation. In 2010, funding for $19 million in grants and guaranteed loans was approved by Congress. Awards may be used for assistance for beginning farmers or ranchers in acquiring land, whole farm planning and basic livestock and crop farming practices. Project funding is limited to three years, and proposals must not exceed $250,000 per year.
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education, or SARE, has funded more than 4,200 projects since 1988. SARE is a grant making and outreach program advancing sustainable agriculture across America. Successful SARE grantees are producers, researchers, nonprofit organizations and educators. One example is a Vermont small-operation farmer producing biofuel from his fields of canola.The farmer also sells the byproduct, canola meal, for cattle feed, which helps ensure the profitability of his hobby farm.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsors Value-Added Producer Grants, which may be used for planning activities and for working capital for marketing agricultural products, and for farm-based renewable energy. Eligible applicants are independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. Another USDA program, Farm Labor Grants, provides money to buy, build, improve or repair housing for farm laborers.
The majority of small farms are established for hobby and lifestyle reasons; crop or livestock production is usually a secondary source of income. The field of aquaculture is a growing industry for hobby farmers. Hobby farmers wishing to start a fishery should consider applying for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Finance Program; this program provides grant funds and low-interest long-term financing for the cost of construction of aquacultural facilities.