Jerry Nelson: Just a few acres
Even though I’ve never met Pete Larson, it feels as if I know him.
Pete and his wife, Hilarie, and their three children live on a 45-acre farm located near Ithaca, New York. More than 1,300 miles separate the Larson farm and ours.
I became acquainted with Pete and his family during a beastly cold snap last winter. It was too chilly to exercise outdoors, so I took a spin on our elliptical machine. Walking on the elliptical is boring, so I surfed YouTube.
At one point I stumbled across some guy who was overhauling a Farmall “M” diesel. I can recall when such tractors were still being used, so I was instantly fascinated. There were numerous cliffhanger moments. Would Pete successfully extract that frozen bolt? Would he be able to locate obsolete replacement parts? How long would Pete’s local machine shop hold the engine block hostage?
Pete’s “Just a Few Acres Farm” YouTube channel has garnered an astonishing 13.8 million views. I learned a lot about the Larson operation via the videos, but I decided to phone Pete and get the inside scoop.
“This farm has been in our family since 1804,” Pete said. “I’m the 7th generation of our family to farm here. I inherited this place from my grandpa, who passed away in 1977. I spent a lot of time with Grandpa. It was tough on me when he died.”
Pete grew up on his father’s cattle farm. But as a youngster, Pete didn’t think that the farm life was for him.
“Like most teenagers, I couldn’t wait to leave our small town,” Pete said. “I went to college in Syracuse and earned a degree in architecture. I got a job at an architectural firm, met and married Hilarie and started a family.”
It appeared that Pete and Hilarie were living the dream. But all was not well.
“I missed the farm,” Pete said. “In 1996 Hilarie and I moved into Grandpa’s old farmhouse, which had sat empty for several years. Over the next ten years, we renovated the house and constructed new outbuildings. The house, which was built in 1870, was completely original. It didn’t have any wiring or indoor plumbing.”
By 2000, Pete had become a partner in his architectural firm. But more professional success didn’t equate to more happiness.
“In 2013, I took a six month leave from the firm,” Pete said. “After two months, I began to raise and sell broilers. I really enjoyed that, so I sold my interest in the firm and started farming fulltime.”
The Larsons have expanded their retinue of livestock. They currently raise chickens, turkeys, hogs, and Dexter cattle. Their farm’s production is sold at their local farmers market and through their CSA.
I asked Pete about the financial aspects of making a living on 45 acres.
“We figured that it would take five years for the farm to get going,” he replied. “It was six to seven years before it became self-supporting. We are conservative with all of our expenditures and don’t carry any long-term debt.”
Why did you choose Dexter cattle?
“Dexters have a calm disposition and marble up well on grass. They are small breed. This makes for smaller steaks, which people seem to like. And raising Irish heritage cattle sets us apart in the marketplace.”
Tell me about your lineup of farm equipment. None of it is very new.
“You can’t make it on a small farm if you insist on having new equipment,” Pete replied. “You need to hold your costs down. One way to do this is to buy old equipment and fix it up. I enjoy doing that sort of thing, so it’s a win-win.”
Why did you decide to launch a YouTube channel?
“I enjoyed the public speaking aspect of my former job. I started the YouTube channel in 2019 as a way to show folks how we raise the food that they eat. Many people have lost their connection to the land. My goals included showing people that we treat our animals humanely and how we’re constantly striving to improve our soil through the application of manure and with pasture management. The videos are my way of doing agritourism.”
Tell me about your global audience.
“I have viewers in places like Australia, Europe and South Africa. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Each video is watched about 60,000 times, so it’s like giving a speech to a packed stadium.”
Do you regret leaving the city life behind?
“I look forward to walking out my door every morning,” Pete said. “That wasn’t the case when I was living and working in the city.”
You can view Pete’s videos at: www.youtube.com/c/JustaFewAcresFarm/featured.