An Acre is not an Acre

Someone mentioned that a lot of people would think that 340 acres was big ag. Actually, if we were farming 340 acres, I’d agree we were big ag. Instead I’ll tell you something about New England agriculture.

Old logging road through the woods Virtually all of us own a lot more land than we farm. I once explained the situation to an aunt, a real farmer from Michigan, this way. I own 340 acres. In round numbers, that’s 100 acres that was never cleared, even in the 1840s, 100 acres that should never have been cleared even in the 1840s, 100 acres of decent orchard or pasture and about 20 acres of good farmland.

That’s actually worse than normal. Most farms that have managed to stay in business use more than half their land, and have much of the rest in productive woodlot rather than swamp. Still, farming New England is nothing like farming Iowa. When you see “270 acres, in the family since 1780”, think 120 acres of pasture, 10 flat acres around the house and 140 acres forested. (Note, that doesn’t apply in Southern Mass, the New Hampshire seacoast or the Connecticut River valley . They have actual decent land there, and near the sea, families that have been there since the 17th century, not the 18th.)

Additionally, 320 of our acres are in a conservation easement, for wildlife, not tamelife. About 10 of our good acres are outside the easement with the rest of our 20 acres split between pasture and swamp. Our goal for next year is to get the rest of the 10 good acres fenced with high tensile, which the cows, horses and pigs all respect. Then we’ll actually be using 16 acres.

Browsing on trees We’ll also be able to put both the pigs and the sheep into some forested land, once fenced. Finishing the pigs on acorns is a well-known win, and we have the oak forests to put them in. The sheep do well on the understory brush in the sugarbush. They keep it cleared from the new stuff that pops up, letting the maples thrive alone. It’s good for their parasite problems as well, because sheep parasites are only on the first six inches of growth. Our sheep love to browse. It’s one of the reasons we have Icelandic sheep.

2 thoughts on “An Acre is not an Acre”

  1. Very good post. People hear how much land we have and they assume we farm it all and are big ag. I have so much land because I want to preserve it and because here in the mountains it takes that much to get enough to farm. There’s about 30 acres used by the power company. About 70 acres of marsh. Most of our land is steep, good for timber and wildlife. A small part of our farm right around our house is where we actually farm, primarily livestock.

    You are lucky to have the acorns. We have none. I’m told we’re too high. I’m planting some… Patience is a virtue. 🙂


    -Walter Jeffries
    Sugar Mountain Farm
    in Vermont


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