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More rural acreages are becoming small food farms

People with rural property have a wide variety of uses for it. Some like a large manicured lawn, others grow native fobs and prairie grasses, still others just need a place for their toys.

“It’s great that so many people are able to enjoy their own place in the country nowadays; it’s nice to get back to the land and have the space to spread out a little,” said Andy Larson, a food systems and small farms educator with the University of Illinois Extension. “However, there are quite a few rural residents and acreage owners who have some ground they are not exactly sure what to do with, and they’d like to put that idle or underutilized land to more productive use, especially food production.”

Putting Small Acres to Work is a program designed to help people do that. Many who have long dreamed about getting into farming are starting to consider a small acreage as their springboard into agriculture.

The number of small-acreage farms included in the Census of Agriculture has increased dramatically in the past decade. Although many of the people farming on 5, 10 or 20 acres aren’t necessarily doing so as their primary source of income, they still are serious about having a legitimate farm business, or at least a hobby that can pay for itself.

Larson and his family are no exception.

“When my wife and I moved onto our acreage, we had three acres of unimproved grass pasture with decent fence and a lot of potential,” he said. “After some brainstorming and budget-building, we decided to start a flock of free-range chickens that rotationally graze a pasture resource that might have otherwise gone to waste. Now my wife is in the egg business. We’re glad to see our land being used effectively, and a little supplemental income is nice, too.”

“You don’t have to own hundreds or thousands of acres to start a profitable agricultural enterprise,” Larson added. “We developed these workshops to help people realize the possibilities that a few acres can provide.”

The Putting Small Acres to Work program will be Dec. 3 at the NIU Rockford Meeting and Conference Center at 8500 E. State St., Rockford, just a mile east of Interstate 90. The registration desk will open at 8:30 a.m., and the program will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

There will be general sessions on permaculture and farm-scale energy production, as well as numerous breakout sessions on both plant and animal topics, including tomatoes and peppers, microgreens, shiitake mushrooms, raising livestock for fiber, meat goat production, and controlling weeds in pastures. Outreach professionals from the University of Illinois Extension and a local farmer will provide the expertise.

Registration for Putting Small Acres to Work can be done online at or by calling University of Illinois Extension-Boone County at 815-544-3710.

The program fee is $40 a person, which includes all program materials and lunch. The registration deadline is Monday to guarantee a space and a meal. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in the program, call the Boone County Extension office at 815-544-3710.

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