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Seminars show how to get the most out of small acreage
Illinois Correspondent

MALTA, Ill. — A series of Illinois seminars offering advice for maximizing small acreage kicked off last Saturday at Kishwaukee College in Malta.

Each session begins with an overview to help analyze the assets a property owner has and things to think about when planning to use their property for profit or hobby. Extension educator for local food systems and small farms Ellen Phillips recommended making a map of one’s property.

“Your property is a whole system of interconnected parts. The parts are interrelated and depend on each other. A map will help you see those interactions,” she pointed out.

She also cautioned that what a property owner does on their own land affects the neighbors. For example, water rights can be a big issue. “You need to know the source of your water,” she said.
Phillips said it’s even more important when raising livestock or growing food for sale to the public.

Another important step is to set both short- and long-term goals: “Ask yourself: Why did you buy your property? What do you want the property to look like? What would you like to accomplish on your property?”

She said goals should include sustainability issues such as environmental concerns, economic factors and social issues.
“You give your property what it needs, and it will give back,” said co-presenter Peggy Doty, extension educator for energy and environmental stewardship. “It does need care and commitment. In the end, you may decide you don’t want to do anything.”

Phillips said property owners need to consider if their goals are realistic and achievable, will their acreage support that what want to do, do they have enough money to achieve their goals, who is going to do the work and how long will it take. To put those goals into action, she recommended researching and identifying feasible niche markets and then writing a business plan.

Doty called the business plan a living document: “Be ready to change your plan. Don’t be afraid to revisit it and change it. Don’t set yourself up to fail and don’t get discouraged when things don’t work out exactly as you hoped. See what the property shows you,” she said.

Yet another area of consideration are regulations that include federal, state, county and municipal, as well as zoning, covenants and restrictions, easements and setbacks. They also urged property owners to monitor their progress. They recommend photo documentation, not only to help visualize how far plans have progressed, but also for permits, grants or loans.

“Stand in the same location each time and take one picture in each direction. Smart phones and digital cameras make this type of documentation so easy,” Doty said.

Additional sessions at the seminar included marketing, vegetable production, fruit production, managing woodlands, maximizing markets with high tunnels, raising livestock, beekeeping, understanding cottage industry law and how knowing the “bottom dollar” keeps the doors open.

Similar seminars are scheduled for Feb. 9 at the extension office in Bourbonnais, Feb. 13 at the Holiday Inn in Mount Vernon, Feb. 16 at John Wood Community College in Quincy, March 2 at the extension office in Springfield, March 9 at Parkland Community College in Champaign and March 16 at Sarah Bush Lincoln Hospital Education Center in Mattoon.

For more information and to register online, visit http://web.extension.illinois .edu/smallfarm/psaw.cfm or call Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant at 217-968-5512. Registration is $30 per person or $40 per couple, and includes lunch and handouts.