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Old 02.08.2019, 12:08
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"Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Husband and I are starting the process of looking for a home, which entails also the larger process of deciding whether to settle here or go "back home" (for me) to small-town USA to be near my family.

Because of the (probably obvious) emotional complications on our families' sides, it's hard for us to talk much about this with our respective families. Not a whole lot of neutrality going on there, ha! We're mainly looking at what in the US would be called an acreage; that is, a modest home with some outbuildings and land and the potential to have a large vegetable garden, several dogs and chickens as a bare minimum, with the dream including some goats and a couple of horses (though how attainable that is remains to be seen, via research etc).

As part of the research process I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has experience with this sort of thing—in Switzerland or elsewhere even. We've actually found a property within a good commuting range for my husband that is still in a reasonably good spot for me should my teaching career actually get off the ground here (looking to work part time while starting our family). The property as-is includes an area that is up to current Swiss standards for goats/sheep and enough land to theoretically make having a little hobby farm a reality. My goal would be to ultimately make a small amount of money off whatever "farming" we did, ideally enough so that it paid for itself but having owned horses and worked in several stables, I know just how quickly expenses pile up without income coming in, hence keeping the "hobby" in "hobby farm" Before pursuing looking at buying such a property, we'd really like to have more of an idea of what is possible for us, ie. do we need permits to keep goats/sheep/chickens/etc (my understanding is no, is that right?), where to go to get more information about Swiss standards for farm animal care, etc.

I guess at the moment I don't even have specific questions, would just love to hear from anyone who keeps animals or who manages to sell a little (produce, products, whatever) at local markets etc.
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Old 02.08.2019, 13:05
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

On growing vegetables, contact EastEnders, she is an expert
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Old 02.08.2019, 14:49
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

I'm in the process of doing smething similar, albeit on a longer timescale.

But not in Switzerland, in Eastern Europe. Land is way cheaper there, and regulations are also laxer. My OH is already spending some time there now but we intend to employ somebody to keep things running for the first years and then gradually take over ourselves.

Basically we were told by the mayor that if we want to make changes, including adding barns and outbuildings, that we should just talk to the neighbours and if they don't object, neither will he. It also helps that the builder doing the work is the mayor's cousin and godfather to the neighbour's kids, and basically everybody is happy to see that somebody has bought and is investing in land that the previous owner had allowed to go to the dogs for way too long.

Also such issues as drilling wells is much easier to get permits for, and much cheaper too.

Just to put this into perspective, we payed 18 KCHF for about 3000 sqm of land plus a farmhouse in fair condition plus various outbuildings whose conditions range from fair to better look the other way. The land includes mature orchards, vegetable plots, paddocks for grazing animals and ploughed land. Railway station, post office, doctor's surgery and a village shop all within walking distance (less that 10 minutes walking). Locals willing to work for about 2 to 3CHF per hour.

Many people pay more for their car than we did for a wonderful farm. If ever the land gets too small for us, we could easily add some more as there is plenty on the market. Plenty of Swiss, Austrians and Germans in the area, but also the occasional Dutch or English family, and even one South African family with young kids.
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Old 02.08.2019, 15:03
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Thanks, roegner!

Good to know, amogles. We know that land is expensive here in CH, hence part of the attraction to the US. We also know that permits etc can get tricky in CH, another attraction to the US. We're trying to balance out all the pros and cons to decide where is best for us and our family.

You do touch on one thing that I'm hoping we can use to our advantage either in CH or USA:
Quote:
basically everybody is happy to see that somebody has bought and is investing in land that the previous owner had allowed to go to the dogs for way too long.
I've heard more than one story in CH about families getting properties for a much more reasonable price, even after being outbid by other potential buyers, simple because the owners don't want to see their land and family home turned into an investor's project of four apartments etc. Hopefully we can use that to our advantage in our property search, be it CH or USA.
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Old 02.08.2019, 17:02
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

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. . .
Just to put this into perspective, we payed 18 KCHF for about 3000 sqm of land plus a farmhouse in fair condition plus various outbuildings . . .
That might just about get you an open car parking space in a more rural area of Switzerland.
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Old 02.08.2019, 17:07
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

This thread might be of interest:

https://www.englishforum.ch/property...ural-land.html

(Wonder what happened to that poster? There is a suitable property on the market now... at a cool 4.5 million.)

Also, use the search term 'BGBB' - there are a couple dozen EF threads that reference this piece of legislation that you will soon need to delve into.

The text of the Bundesgesetz über das bäuerliche Bodenrecht is here:
https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classifi...253/index.html

In short, the sale of farmland is heavily restricted, as is it's use. If a property is held under the BGBB, unless you are Swiss from a farming family going back to 1291 there are significant, if not insurmountable, barriers.

Are you CH/ EU as well as American? Do you come from farming families or have you owned or worked farms yourself?

As Americans we at a minimum would need a special permit granted by the Farming Gods, and in practice in the cantons we have investigated (SZ, LU, SG, UR, ZG) no way, no how.

This despite OH having grown up on a farm, with the knowledge and hands-on experience needed. He's a Hoosier farm boy at heart, he'd be running a working hobby-scale farm, he wouldn't be a weekend gentleman-farmer merely playing at the welly-wearing lifestyle. (The latter is part of what the BGBB is in place to prevent.) Despite having the resources to do it right, we would not need nor want the usual subsidies, despite the fact that we love country life, would have truly poured our hearts into the farming community - a big fat 'nope'.

We have been told point blank that as non-EU people we have no chance to buy BGBB land. (And frankly, our age was an issue.) Is that really the case? Who knows. You might have a different experience than we did - I certainly hope so.

(Also, I have no idea how other cantons put the legislation into practice. Could be a radically different approach... Anyone from the Romandie or Tessin care to comment?)

Another option is Landwirtschaftsland that has been taken out of the BGBB. This, too, might require permits to purchase - much depends on the individual property. Certainly development of Landwirtschaftsland is strictly regulated - my rule, from experience, is only buy if we would love the property exactly as it is with no changes - because when the whole alphabet soup of governing agencies gets involved you might not have many options.


The expert in the sale of farm properties in the greater ZH area is Juckerberatung. Be aware, though, that their clients are the farmers selling.
https://www.juckerberatung.ch

When a farm property not under the BGBB came up in SZ about 10 years ago we went to the open house... along with what seemed like hundred other people! seriously - they had to hire security to direct traffic.

Another firm you might try is Immoleader:
https://www.immoleader.ch/UNSERE-ERFAHRUNG_RSI.htm

The specialize in horse properties, but over the years I've seen some non-horse hobby farms as well.

Like Amogles says, if you are really looking for a hobby farm, Switzerland probably isn't the place given dearth of available properties and the barriers that are in place.

---

I spent over a decade chasing my farming dream. Didn't happen, and now it's too late. Hope you have better luck than we did...

Have fun browsing the BGBB.

All the best.

Last edited by meloncollie; 02.08.2019 at 18:43.
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Old 02.08.2019, 19:05
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Thanks for the doses of reality!

The property we’ve looked at is not listed under BGBB though zoned rural not village, my husband is Swiss and I’m American, I’m the one with more of a farming background, though nothing terribly exciting. We do have a few connections in the fribourg farming community But overall trying to be realistic and see whether or not we could keep (these are the maximum dreamed of numbers) a dozen or so chickens, a dozen goats, a couple of pigs and a couple of ponies without having to jump through too many hoops... The property we’ve seen is in “no-mans land” so to speak, a four km drive from the nearest village with terrible public transport options on a dead end road with only one other property (the true farm that owns much of the land around). And it’s squarely on the röstigraben. Somehow I’m holding my breath that it could work for us but really trying to be realistic here. Finances, logistics, permits...there’s a lot to navigate.
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Old 02.08.2019, 20:35
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

One way rumored to speed along permit issues would be to get the seller to put a word in on your behalf - even introduce you to the Powers That Be if appropriate in this community.

If the property is one that the seller might have difficulty selling he/she would likely be quite willing to do so for you.

My biggest hurdle is that there is so much competition for every property I have seen; there is always some one with more Vitamin B or deeper pockets than I have. (Vitamin B being the most important ingredient in most farming communities.) Sellers have their pick of buyers, folks with baggage (i.e., lack of red passport) like me simply are not worth the trouble.

That your husband is Swiss is a game changer. Just make sure to play up your farming background as well.

As to the keeping of livestock, see the BLV's website. This is a treasure trove of info, but you do have to browse around a bit, some info seems to get buried now and again as they tweak the interface.

https://www.blv.admin.ch/blv/de/home...erhaltung.html

Good luck!
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Old 04.08.2019, 12:04
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Something else to figure into your calculations is whether or not the property can be mortgaged.

We have twice seen properties where the fields could not be mortgaged. The small bit the house was sitting on was essentially a separate parcel and could be mortgaged but one needed to have the cash to buy the fields outright. I have no idea if this is a local or cantonal thing, or if it is restricted to certain kinds of land zoned Landwirtschaft, or not. These two properties were not under the BGBB, by the way.

The good news is that production-zoned agricultural land is usually price controlled, so you are likely not looking at a large amount if the land you are interested in is not mortgageable.

(Price controls are another reason why it's so hard for non-Swiss non-farmers to buy farming land. It's another form of subsidy.)


And another thought, having spent the morning chatting with the farmer behind me:

Would you consider a Pachtvertrag? If you run into barriers to buying the land, do you think the current owner might agree to verpacht the land to you, with the right to buy/first refusal at a later date? Then, after some years (of successful farming) have passed, you might be in a better place to put in a favorable application to purchase - that is, if permission to purchase is indeed needed in your case.

Obviously buying outright would be the best thing (IMO), but a Pachtvertrag is something to keep in mind, just in case.

The farmer behind me does not own the farm, he works the farm under a Pachtvertrag, has been doing so for at least the 15 years I have lived here. The farmer wants to buy it, but the owner - who I think is sipping Margaritas somewhere in the sun - does not want to sell. But the farmer has first refusal if/when the owner decided to sell.
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Old 04.08.2019, 13:24
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Thanks so much meloncollie, your experience is so helpful!

The property we’ve been looking at is “ideal” I think in many ways—just under 3,000m2, not listed as cultural heritage, zoned agricultural but not under BGBB, too far from public transport and villages for an investor to be too interested, surrounded by fields that as far as we know belong to the only other farm on the road, a true professional dairy farm. When we’re back from vacation we’re going to pursue speaking with the owners and also discovering how likely it could be to eventually rent fields from the other farmer should we take on horses some day. The property as is would easily be suitable for a sufficient garden, a small milking herd of goats and fowl, with a possibility to add a pair of alpaca or of ponies if we worked to bring the stables up to code. The storage area is there for hay, which of course would be a sizeable expense to keep in mind since there wouldn’t be enough land for making our own.

It’s a tempting idea, could be a good way to get our feet wet so to speak especially since the living quarters don’t need much work, our time and efforts (and budget) could be spent elsewhere.

As for first right of buying, that’s an excellent idea should we find a suitable property through that route. There’s a lot of reading we need to do and hopefully after holiday we can have some conversations with key people to help us understand more the logistics.
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Old 04.08.2019, 18:47
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

I'm not sure what you consider a big garden, but if you are intending to grow fruit/vegetables profitably, you will want to closely examine your growing options and crop selection. Depending on the techniques you are used to in the USA, you will likely find that the costs and yields are going to be much different in Switzerland. This will be true for both organic and chemically aided operations. You may also have difficulty finding English speaking agricultural service and suppliers willing to deal in small volumes.

For any chance at success, you should allow yourself plenty of time for planning and ensure your planning includes every detail. Sudden, unexpected expenses can quickly derail an entire growing season. Veterinary expenses, mechanical parts and supplies, irrigation equipment. It ALL should be considered in advance. Everything will come with a cost that matters.

Make sure you know what you are getting into and have disposable income ready to support your hobby. You will enjoy it much more in the long run I think.
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Old 05.08.2019, 09:07
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

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Make sure you know what you are getting into and have disposable income ready to support your hobby. You will enjoy it much more in the long run I think.
You make a very good point. Thankfully language isn’t a problem for us, and from my observation of friends’ gardening efforts, my expectations coming from drought-plagued gardening growing up are much lower than what they’re getting out of their gardens. My main interest would be in providing food for our own use, then slowly building up to a point of being able to sell some as time goes on.

But the unexpected costs is a big issue, especially for my husband who hasn’t really owned animals before. Having owned and worked with horses and dogs I recognize that accidents and illness happen—our dog just had to have teeth removed after a stupid accident that I’m still kicking myself for, but that’s how life goes. I want to be sure that he understands that, and that he’s really willing to get into this lifestyle, before we get too far down the rabbit hole.
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Old 05.08.2019, 09:22
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

I really like adventurers. But I think if I was considering doing something new as having my own farm, I would either test it at home 1st or pick a place that is not the most expensive place on earth.

Community support counts for so much here in any retail, and that takes a few years to build.

I watched newcomers to do this where we are, they needed 10 years to prove themselves and they already owned a farm in Swiss German part before and had a family here.

Then I knew somebody who moved from the US (editors) to buy an olive farm in Portugal, they folded it a few years after due to series of bad seasons. I think even if they were local it could have been super tough.

I love your idea, farming is important and as we do in here, we would be the 1st to buy from you. EF loves their suppliers.

But I think maybe you should befriend the local community and integrate 1st, study your chances and possible setbacks, and then do this.

Or do a co-op, it seems to work in GE for a group of organic gardeners.
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Old 05.08.2019, 10:19
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

If finances are unlimited, you probably are ok, but if you are counting on income from this, it would be good to prepare a business plan, even if only for your own experience. From the sounds of the property, being so remote, I'm not sure how you would sell anything. The small farms around me, do ok as I understand as they have no overhead and put out their stand in the village or near, with a lot of through traffic, and word gets around. I send the kids on their bikes to get the apples up the road, about 250m. If the same situation was 4km, I wouldn't be doing the same. I know another farmer, full time, that sells via the farmer's markets, but he's more standing around his van day in-day-out full time trying to sell stuff, than working on the farm.
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Old 05.08.2019, 12:19
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

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I want to be sure that he understands that, and that he’s really willing to get into this lifestyle, before we get too far down the rabbit hole.
Do you have allotment gardens in your area of Switzerland?
https://www.google.com/search?q=schr..._MzkQE-ga9h8M:

Of course, I realise that's a far cry from your vision, and much smaller, and no animals allowed there, but perhaps this could be a way to show your husband what growing vegetables involves.
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Old 05.08.2019, 12:24
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

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If finances are unlimited, you probably are ok, but if you are counting on income from this, it would be good to prepare a business plan, even if only for your own experience. From the sounds of the property, being so remote, I'm not sure how you would sell anything. The small farms around me, do ok as I understand as they have no overhead and put out their stand in the village or near, with a lot of through traffic, and word gets around. I send the kids on their bikes to get the apples up the road, about 250m. If the same situation was 4km, I wouldn't be doing the same. I know another farmer, full time, that sells via the farmer's markets, but he's more standing around his van day in-day-out full time trying to sell stuff, than working on the farm.
Many / most commercial smallholders I know don't sell the produce outright but process it to add value and thus obtain a higher price. Thus they process their produce into jams, chutneys, preserves, syrups, schnapps, herbal teas, etc, etc or whatever, which both makes them easier to ship and makes them storeable so you are not so much at risk of vagaries of the market, and of course you get much more money for the product, even taking into account the extra work you put in. It also means you can sell them in an internet shop rather than having to trek from farmers market to farmers market.
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Old 05.08.2019, 13:00
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Doropfiz: great idea! I haven’t been able to find one yet but hopefully will for next year. Between that and our dog it would help get an idea. We have a few friends with chickens but that doesn’t really help us get an idea of goats/horses. I’ve dragged him out once to watch me work/ride with my friends, hopefully I can get him out there a few more times so he can see the reality of the work a bit more.

Amogles: thanks for the tip. There are a lot lot lot of people in our immediate area growing and selling produce straight up, often home delivery style or setting up a self service stand at local businesses/outside their homes. However I love making jam and syrup, and i have a little experience growing and drying herbal teas so those could be good entrance points. I think that would suit me better than selling veg, especially as it combines well with homemade soaps and lotions of which I am somewhat of an amateur producer already.

...

The more I reflect the more I don’t know how realistic this is, despite being a longtime dream of mine. We will continue to research and experience what we can, though quietly I’m trying to set aside that mental picture so that I can be more realistic as we look to settle down.

Though someone in our village has a small two horse enclosure and an adjoining turnout field that has me drooling every time I walk past, the reality is that my husband has little interest in horses other than recognizing how important they are to me, and buying a home with the intention of keeping horses at home might not ultimately be the most fair to him when I could just continue helping my friend with hers and keep away from the huge commitment and sacrifice that is owning horses (and all the other lovely little animals I’d love to see running around).

...

In any case I’m very grateful to all of you for your continued insights and feedback.
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Old 05.08.2019, 17:03
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Having said that, you may possibly need some form of health or hygiene certification to process foods if your intent is commercial sale.

In addition, all the caveats of being self employed would apply (think consequences on your tax and pension situation etc). It would be advisable to get knowlegeable advice on all these issues before jumping in.
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Old 05.08.2019, 17:10
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

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...I’ve dragged him out once to watch me work/ride ....
.... the reality is that my husband has little interest in horses other than recognizing how important they are to me...
Both of these parts of your post set alarms going for me. That's sad for you, if you don't share the same basic interest in this project. I commend you on trying to be very realistic about your dream.
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Old 05.08.2019, 17:27
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Re: "Hobby farming" or "smallholding" - anyone have experience?

Perhaps a different angle would be to search for people who are already doing this (besides the friend you already know) and see whether you and they can work collectively.

This is just a thought... I know of an eco-village in the South of Germany, which has quite a number of friends, and these are people who have moved to be near the community and participate in some of its activities, but who don't wish to become members of the whole organisation. Perhaps there is some project that is eco/green/alternative or about grow-your-own or sustainability or permaculture, etc., which is already up and running more or less near you, which you could befriend.

Here, for example, an article about people who seem to know about some alternative networks.
https://www.freiburger-nachrichten.c...ive-kraft-sein

Or ask here:
https://www.permakultur.ch/index.php/regiogruppe-biel

or and of these:
https://www.lasmala.org/ecovillage-en-gruyere/

http://www.the-green-wave.ch/

https://www.toitpourtous.org/actions...s-switzerland/

https://www.christianekolly.ch/ecolieux.html

https://movingmountainsforum.com/en/home-2/

Even if this kind of project doesn't happen to suit your mind-set, I could imagine that they may be able to teach you a lot about the procedures they've had to go through to be allowed to work the land, and their experiences, in general. Perhaps you'd be able to get a different perspective from those people who are already trying to live self-sufficiently.

And you know how it goes: ask someone, and they'll point you in a different direction, or introduce you to someone, and so on. Eco-villages and communities often have potentially interested people lurking and arriving to ask questions and learn, and some even run a workshop or course to explain their set-up and what kind of work it involves, so that they can deter potential dreamy wannabes, and get real with those who might want to join. Even without an intention to join, such workshops can be informative.
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