Restore the family farm – Grit


Pete Larson brought his family back to the farm, where they built a successful country life together.

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courtesy of Pete Larson

Many city dwellers dream of trading their hectic routines for the quiet life of a small farm. Few have actually attempted to make this exchange, and even fewer have managed to earn a living on a modest property.

Pete Larson and his family are among those who have successfully transitioned to earning a living in the countryside. Pete and his wife, Hilarie, have three children under 18: Cora, Grace and Henry. The family sells eggs and raises broilers, turkeys, pigs and Dexter cattle to promote through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and local farmers’ markets. They chose Just A Few Acres Farm for the name of their 45-acre operation in the Finger Lakes region of west-central New York.

“This farm has been in our family since 1804, when it was ceded as a Revolutionary War parcel,” says Pete. “I am the seventh generation of our family to live here.” When Pete was young, the farm belonged to his grandfather. Pete’s parents lived next door and ran a commercial beef operation.

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Picture courtesy of Pete Larson

The Larsons sell eggs, chicken and farm-raised beef.

“I loved Grandpa and spent a lot of time at his house,” Pete says. “Grandpa was born in 1901 and was full of stories about how they did things back then. It really hit me hard when Grandpa died the year I was in third grade. After high school, Pete enrolled at Syracuse University and earned a degree in architectural design. “I was like most typical small town boys. I couldn’t wait to get away from the farm and start living a high-octane, glamorous life in the city,” Pete recalled. After graduating, Pete accepted a position with an architectural firm in Syracuse. He met and married Hilarie, who worked as a nurse.

Pete inherited the farm after his grandfather died, and in 1996 he and Hilarie moved their family onto the property and began restoring his dilapidated old farmhouse.

“Grandpa’s house had stood empty for almost 20 years and was in very poor condition,” says Pete. “The house was built in 1870 and was all original. There was no wiring or indoor plumbing. We did most of the renovations ourselves. It took us 10 years, but we ended up fixing the house.

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Picture courtesy of Pete Larson

Hilarie Larson feeds broiler chickens

Meanwhile, Pete has worked his way up the career ladder and been offered a partnership in his company. “I enjoyed working on green architectural designs,” says Pete. He developed a philosophy and set of values ​​to bring people into harmony with nature. But despite these professional achievements, all was not well. “After 20 years of work, I decided that the field of architecture was simply not for me. I had a great job that gave me a lot of leeway, but I wasn’t happy. In February 2013, I announced to my associates that I was taking a six-month leave from the firm. A few months after my discharge, I raised and sold my first batch of broiler chickens. I was hooked. I never went back to my old job. »

Encouraged by this early success, Pete began to seriously consider living solely on the income the family could derive from their farm. “By Labor Day 2013, I had made up my mind,” says Pete. “I sold my stake in the business, used the money to pay off our mortgage and took up farming full time. My goal was to have a completely self-sufficient small farm. When I was a child, the many small farms in our area were the foundation of our local economy. I wanted to recreate this kind of farm.


The Larsons took over management of the land that had been leased from a local farmer and planted a mixture of pasture grasses and legumes there. “We only have 30 acres of pasture,” says Pete. “Everyone told me that our farm was too small to survive. But I like to go against the grain.

The Larsons knew that cattle would convert their pasture grasses into beef that they could market. The question was, what breed of cattle would be best suited to their operation?

“We have a friend who raises Dexter cattle, so we went to his farm to see them,” says Pete. “Dexters are a heritage breed originating in Ireland. They are small and friendly and finish very well on grass. The steaks are smaller, but our customers like it. the market and helped us develop our niche.And it’s nice to have a story to go along with the food your farm produces.Another plus is that Dexter cattle are a low maintenance breed and Larson cattle had no calving problems with their heifers.

The family created a series of paddocks and initiated rotational grazing with their herd of around 30 Dexter cattle. They control the movement of the herd with a series of inexpensive, easy-to-build electric fences. The Larsons raise broilers in portable coops, or “tractors,” which are regularly moved to patches of fresh grass. Laying hens have free access to pasture during the hot months. Hens can enter a mobile chicken coop whenever they want.
Pete and Hilarie have adopted a pay-as-you-go system for their farm. “It’s extremely important for a small farmer to have little or no debt,” explains Pete. “When we started, we used the money we had saved to pay our farming expenses. When we sold our products, we placed the profits in an agricultural account. Every time we needed to buy something or build infrastructure, we took it out of the farm account. I estimated that it would take five years for our farm to become financially self-sufficient. It took seven.

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Picture courtesy of Pete Larson

Pete recommends buying and maintaining old machinery to reduce farming costs on smallholdings.

Cutting personal expenses is another monetary strategy the Larsons have adopted. “We live on about a third of what we did when we lived in Syracuse,” Pete says. “However, we don’t stop every morning at Starbucks for a latte and a scone. It was scary the first few years, but Hilarie and the kids were totally supportive.

Starting a small farm means cutting costs wherever possible. “We only buy machines that have been fully written off,” explains Pete. “In other words, all our machines are old. But I happen to like working on old machines, so it’s a win-win situation for me. You have to be conservative if you want to succeed on a small farm. You will never make a profit if you run out of it and buy a bunch of new machines. And we fertilize our land with manure that we have been composting for a year. This has allowed us to save the cost of buying chemical fertilizers. It also increased our soil organic matter and overall health.

The Larsons also look to their neighbors for help and advice. “I grew up in this area, so I know all the farmers in our neighborhood,” says Pete. “I network with them whenever I have a difficult question or problem. It is important to cultivate our ties with others in our agricultural community.

Some of the skills Pete learned during his previous career as an architect have come in handy on his farming operation. “I enjoy speaking in public and interacting with people. I understand how to keep a business healthy and how to keep a customer happy. These skills have been invaluable. Pete’s public speaking skills and his passion for sharing knowledge inspired him to create a YouTube channel. “I loved the public speaking aspect of my old job, and the YouTube channel is another way to connect with people,” says Pete. Most videos are viewed tens of thousands of times. “It’s like speaking in front of a full stadium. Hilarie and I are individuals and we do not give tours of our farm. Videos are my way of engaging in agrotourism.

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Picture courtesy of Pete Larson

The Larsons raise Dexter cattle, a breed that requires little maintenance and is small in size to meet market demands.

Running a YouTube channel presents unique challenges and rewards. “It takes me 3-4 hours to edit each video,” says Pete. “It’s almost like having a part-time job. But it was a rewarding project. I received a lot of positive feedback from subscribers. One of my goals for the YouTube channel is to help people who want to get into farming. I hope others can benefit from my experiences.

Pete’s advice for those who would like to follow in his footsteps is: “Start small, then grow your business as you grow your market. Broilers are inexpensive and offer a quick return on your investment. The amount of capital you need to buy land is huge, so limit your overhead costs by renting land or finding marginal land. Be careful and keep strict control over your expenses.

Despite years of struggle, Pete has no regrets. “I look forward to getting out of my house every morning,” he says. “That wasn’t the case when I was working in the city.”

Jerry Nelson is a former dairy farmer who lives with his wife, Julie, on a South Dakota farm settled by Jerry’s great-grandfather in 1887. His book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at www.Workman .com and in bookstores nationwide.

Posted on February 22, 2022


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