The idea of homesteading is not a new one. As a species, we humans have mastered the art of living off the land better than any other species, learning along the way to capture fire, clothe ourselves and even preserve food that we grew to later nourish us. We weren’t content to stop there though. Mankind “evolved” to reassemble natural materials into unnatural materials such as plastic and combine countless ingredients produced or grown by man into processed foods such as Twinkies, which we figured we might as well wrap in plastic. Although the modern age has brought many possibilities, many fear that we have gone too far.
We now find ourselves, as a species, barley able to live on our own in the natural world, as we’ve accumulated too many allergies, too many dependencies on modern conveniences, too much dependence on government assistance and, let’s not forget, too many pounds to make it on our own. Now, Mother Nature is calling many of her children home.
Modern homesteading is alluring to many but let’s face it, even (especially!) in a TEOTWAWKI world taxes still have to be paid, fuel needs to be bought and most of us want health care. And so we find that the living off the land begins with considering how we will generate personal income. As a new and modern homesteader, you will get to (have to) create your own job description and set your own priorities with the goal of earning sufficient income to afford you the lifestyle you want off the land. In other words, your first step as a homesteader is, ironically, to think like an entrepreneur.
This essay is designed to help you to develop your own plan to do just that so that you can make the transition from traffic to tractor. While it was tempting to write a quick, one-page article about “how to make money as a homesteader”, it requires much more effort to do the concept justice. Therefore, this essay will be organized as follows:
- Part One includes this introduction and the steps you’ll need to take before you being homesteading to give yourself the best chance for success.
- Part Two will provide ideas for Generating Income With Your Land
- Part Three will focus on Using Your Skills to Make Money
- Part Four will discuss ways to Generate Income With your Farmstead Products
Of course, while this essay is detailed and specific in many ways, it must be viewed as a starting point for each individual reader. With so many specifics unique to each reader such as level of debt, skills, cash, health, knowledge and countless other factors, no article can inform a reader of exactly how to go about homesteading. Rather, the intent of this essay is to get each reader thinking about what they want, what they’re capable of and showing just some of what is possible so that they can develop their own plan.
The good news is this. There are tons of ways to generate dependable, steady income from homesteading! This essay will list dozens of them but that represents just the tip of the iceberg. Viewed all at once, it may seem overwhelming, dangerous and best to just stay put in the safety of your cubicle. However, as Winston Churchill said, “The optimist sees opportunity in every danger; the pessimist sees danger in every opportunity.” And you, my prepared friend, are an optimist!
So, are you ready? Let’s get back to the land!
Part One – You’re Not Ready to Farmstead…Yet!
The ideal situation is that you’re thinking of becoming a homesteader but haven’t transitioned yet. You may make the leap down the road…say, in a year or two, unless TEOTWAWKI forces your hand sooner!
Here are the priorities and actions as I see them to help you to get ready to homestead.
- Get Some Land. I realize that sounds obvious. I mean, after all, it’s hard to really homestead without at least a little land. You don’t need too much but you do need some. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has inherited land, fantastic and congratulations! But most of us have to find and buy our own land. For a couple of reasons I believe the time to do that is now. First, I believe that rural/farm land prices will only escalate over time as more and more food will need to be produced to feed a rapidly expanding global population. Second, if you need to finance the land as many people do, interest rates are at absurdly (and artificially) low levels. Getting land is an undertaking in and of itself though. Consideration must be given to the region and climate since so much of homesteading depends on what Mother Nature decides to do. There is also that tiny problem of how to pay for land. Consider making a trade. You may be able to find cheaper land in a more remote area that is equal to what you could sell your suburban home for. If you are not already a homeowner, then your main focus will have to be how to save for land. No matter what your situation, the next priority on the list is probably the most important.
- Get Out of Debt. If you’re an American, you’re almost certainly in debt. Almost all of us are…the entire country is. We use credit for mortgages, furniture, automobiles, appliances, school, health care, home improvement and, of course, for consolidating other debts we owe! Our society seems to collectively embrace using debt to enjoy today what virtually none of us saved for yesterday. Whereas we once left college with degrees in hand and went straight to a waiting job, today we leave laden with tons of debt and, with no jobs waiting, leave to occupy city parks instead. Debt becomes part of our life and few of us are ever able to jump off the treadmill that propels us to chase always more income to pay it off. Of course if you’ve amassed a lot of debt it is easier said than done to get out of debt. It begins with a change in mindset. Rather than dreaming of what we want in the moment and seeking immediate gratification, we must keep our focus on the ultimate goal of homesteading. The best way to get there is to pay down the debt. Make your homesteading dream so real that you can almost taste it and it will become easier to forgo the taste of that morning cafe latte because it means you are one dollar closer to your dream. The purpose of this article is not to give debt management advice, but rather to underscore the importance of doing everything you can to eliminate the debt you have. Society has conditioned us to believe we’re entitled to conveniences and luxuries, whereas the mentality of homesteading is about living on what we can produce and do ourselves and not borrowing. Get into the homestead mentality, now. For every dollar that goes out ask yourself, do I need to spend this now or should this be saved? The less debt you have as a homesteader then the less income you’ll need to realize.
- What Do You Really Need? In the homesteader mentality you will likely find that you don’t have a lot of time or interest in those things that occupy so much of your mind-share (and wallet) as an urbanite. This makes the transition easier once you’ve made it. Urban life seems to require many non-essential expenses and distractions such as cable/satellite television, lattes, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, dining out, gym memberships, furniture, clothes, tobacco, alcohol, movies/sports/concerts, HOA fees, lodging/vacations, pet care, shiny appliances, repairs to shiny appliances, pest control, lawn services, water bills, and so on. You’ll find as a homesteader that you’ll incur very few of these expenses. Take whatever steps you can to start practicing this now. Instead of missing television, homesteaders will become distracted by nature and the pleasures of growing their own food. You can too! While the Internet may be seen as a very real necessity for homesteaders, particularly given their isolation and need to connect with customers, that one expense can consolidate to give you access to most news, information and even free video programs on Hulu, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere. All of these expenses seem “necessary” to us as urbanites, but viewed through the lens of a homesteader they are quite unnecessary indeed. If you can’t cut the cord and do without them where you are now, TEOTWAWKI homesteading may be very trying for you.
- Learn to Garden. Now! Regardless of which income producing paths you choose one thing is constant among all homesteaders; they ALL garden and grow at least some of their own food. No matter where you are currently living you should be able to practice some gardening skills. Learn to plan your garden, plant and germinate your own seeds indoors, transplant into small raised beds or container gardens, learn how to improve soil, how to identify and manage pests, study companion planting and square foot gardening if you are keen on a small parcel or raised beds if room allows and so on. And you don’t just have to focus on your veggies. Practice with small fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and even blueberries. By the time you get to your ideal homestead you’ll be comforted by the hands-on gardening skills you have practiced and the knowledge you have gained through reading.
- Get in Shape. I don’t mean do more push ups, squats and more crunches. Sure, those are great if you’re trying to look good on club night but the cows and sows on the homestead won’t give you a second glance. Farmsteading takes a toll on the body. Your tasks could include bending and kneeling to weed and plant, hoisting 50 pound or more bags of feed and balancing them over a feeder, carrying crates of chickens, shoveling compost or wet snow, bending over cheese vats, lifting heavy wet trays of veggies out of the sink to prepare for the market and so on. To make matters worse, if you get injured while on the job you’ll have no one to call to inform you can’t make it in that day, so you better get your body ready. How? Focus on flexibility and tone. To my way of thinking, this means yoga and pilates more than dumbbells and pull up bars. It also means getting your weight down to the right target level for your age and height, so walking, hiking, swimming or climbing may help. Whatever it takes, get your body in farmstead shape!
- Read – For millennia knowledge was passed from elders to juniors in social circles so that succeeding generations understood important food production, preservation and survival skills. Unfortunately, most of us missed out on that transfer of knowledge as our parents and grandparents instead were part of the convenience generation that food marketers cultivated. So how do we regain those lost skills? Start by reading as much as you can. The problem is sifting through all the sources of information available such as books, blogs, articles and magazines. Your study assignments go even beyond reading to watching movies, videos and listening to podcasts. The choices are many and it can be hard to find exactly what you want, so I suggest finding topics that intrigue you and then learning everything you can. Once you find something, get involved with a forum or group and start talking with your virtual buddies.
- Find Like Minded Souls – Get off of Facebook and get onto sites such as SurvivalBlog.com or Farm-dreams.com that can give you practical knowledge and encouragement. Seriously. Find people who share your ideals and who are searching for the same answers. Networking will get you there much faster and you eyes will be opened to new possibilities. Talk to people who have taken a similar journey and ask them to share their story. Find people who have learned the skills you are seeking and reach out to them. Ask them for resources or see if they would be willing to let you watch a homestead activity the next time they do one, like making soap or collecting honey for instance! And seek out and attend all of the free farm tours and events you can find.
- Focus on Lasting Investments – There are many things you may want to acquire before becoming a homesteader that will help you once you’re on the land. There may also be items you want to trade in for something more practical. For example, how about trading your shiny compact car for a good, solid used diesel truck that you can ultimately drive into the ground. In addition to saving money when buying and insuring this truck, it will be useful for hauling animals, seed, feed, fertilizer, tools…you name it, and being an older model it will be easy for your rural friends to repair and keep running. If there are any new items you are considering buying between the time you read this sentence and the time you move to the land, ask yourself this question: is this item essential to my homesteading dream? If not, then you don’t need it. If you can afford it then the choice is yours, but make sure it will be a lasting investment well worth the expense. After all, homesteading is not about deprivation. But if you’re not sure how to afford living off the land then perhaps you should consider postponing any discretionary expenses until you figure it out.
- How Much Do You Need? – Finally, you should calculate how much money you really need to make. And, while your first thought as you contemplate becoming a homesteader may be “how will I make money” remember this: Saving Money = Making Money! By lowering your expenses and producing much of what you’ll consume when you homestead, you’ll find that you don’t need to make nearly as much as you think you do. After all, how much of your current paycheck goes to food that you’ll produce on your own? How much goes to nice clothes, dining out, fuel and simple luxuries that you’ll want to do without?
So there you have it, a few things to get you thinking before you put the shovel in the ground and start digging the homestead garden. Let’s move on to Part Two.
Part Two – Making Money With Your Land
Let’s not think of living off the land, but rather “thriving” off the land. You’ll probably be able to figure out how to produce your own food so that your health and nutrition thrives, but what about income?
Homesteading is all about multiple streams of income…the old “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” concept. There are almost countless opportunities for income generation but of course there is no one “right” answer given the differences in personal situations, markets, climates, inherent skills and so on. What I will attempt to do for you is to categorize the three main income areas, and then break those categories down into specific ways you can sell something to earn money.
The three categories of earning money off the land are, 1) using your land to make money, 2) using your skills to make money and 3) selling products that come from your land and/or skills. This section will focus on using your land to generate income.
Thinking Like a Homesteader
Before we get to the actual ways to make money it’s appropriate to spend a moment discussing mindset. As you contemplate each of the income generators in this and later sections, attempt to evaluate them from multiple perspectives. For instance:
- Is the income opportunity one-time, seasonal or continuous? Raising heritage turkeys can be fun but you’ll likely only get paid at Thanksgiving, whereas consumers buy pork year round.
- Can the income opportunity be scaled (if there is a lot of demand can you expand to meet it) if you want to?
- Can you overlap operational/income producing areas to increase efficiency? For example, If you raise a hog then you need either a large garden (scraps) or local cheese operation (whey) or brewery (spent grain) to make raising the hogs essentially free.
- Does the income opportunity allow you to differentiate yourself or are there lots of people who can offer the same thing?
- What are you good at now and can that be transferred to income opportunities on the homestead (accounting, writing, woodworking, etc.)?
Play the Big Stock Market
No, not the NYSE big board but the big time live(stock) market. For most homesteaders this means cows, but could mean bison, water buffalo, large flocks of sheep and I’ll put pigs in there as well. It goes without saying that you’ll need an adequate amount of pasture land to accommodate these voracious grazers and there are many benefits to raising them. For example, if you were to purchase a young bull for $1,000 or so and five ready to breed heifers for the same price, you’d likely end up with 5 calves produced and fed for free (by their mothers and your pastures) each year for 12-15 years.
What will you do with those calves? Maybe sell them as stockers when they’re weaned, maybe raise grass fed beef, which we’ll discuss in part four. However, to give you a sneak preview, if you did raise them as grass fed beef it’s quite likely that each calf would become worth about $1,500 each for you (net) in about 2 years if you can get them to urban markets. Clearly there’s a ramp-up period of a couple of years before this produces income for you, but starting in year 3 those 5 heifers will be throwing off about $7,500 per year in profit ($1,500 per calf x 5 per year). If they do this for 10 years then your initial investment of $6,000 for the bull and heifers will return $75,000.
Of course you’ll have to consider any expenses you may have, such as hay when grass isn’t growing, vet bills if you plan to use vets and of course taxes on the land they graze, but the income will drastically exceed the expenses…IF…you can market the product successfully.
I would caution you to avoid exotic animals unless economic times are very good or are likely to be. In poor economic times people want basic foodstuffs and materials, and your attempt to market grass fed zebra may turn out harder than you anticipated.
You can do similar calculations with other species such as pigs, bison and so on, but the point is this; putting the animals to work allows you to generate a stream of future income, improve your soil and create wealth. The wealth is held not necessarily in fiat currency but in the value of your fertile soil and livestock.
Play the Penny Stock Market
I’m not talking about you becoming the Gordon Gekko of the pink sheets but rather raising rabbits, goats, chickens, turkeys, eggs, bees, and the like on a limited scale. These species are much more common on the homestead than water buffalo and herds of grass fed cattle, and for good reason. They’re smaller, easier to handle in small areas, diversified and in many cases you can even process (slaughter) them right on your farm or homestead and sell to consumers, which you cannot legally do with red meat (lamb, pork, beef).
No doubt that many if not most of these small livestock belong on every homestead, but keep in mind there’s a difference between you raising rabbits for your own table and you raising meat rabbits to generate income. Unlike the example with the cows, you’ll likely need to continually purchase feed for your rabbits (and especially chickens) and feed costs seem to perpetually escalate. The amount of income you can generate may be rather limited for a farmer, but may easily help to sustain a homesteader. For instance, if a doe produces 4 litters per year of 8 kits each, we’ll assume you may have 30 fryers to sell (losing two to mortality) each year at a weight of 3 pounds each. If you could charge $6 per pound then each doe would generate $540 in sales of rabbit meat before backing out feed costs. Alas, you’d better be prepared to butcher them yourself as your beef processor might be a bit perplexed if you hauled in a load of rabbits for slaughter.
Small stock could also include honeybees, which may be particularly attractive with all the concern about colony collapse disorder. With bees you can sell nucs, full hives, 2 or 3 pound bags of bees or just queens. For many commercial beekeepers, this is quite a lucrative endeavor!
Bottom line? Small is beautiful, but smaller the livestock, the smaller the absolute income potential.
Farm Stays & Events
Agritourism is a growth area and I expect this to continue even if economic conditions remain soft. It’s not just you who is being called to the land. We are all becoming more aware of how disconnected we are from our natural world. Can you not imagine a soon to be married couple wanting to have their wedding overlooking your beautiful pastures, ponds and happy animals? I can, and they’ll pay well for it because competitive alternatives also charge good money for the service. But ask yourself if this is a one-time, seasonal or continuous opportunity? Likely seasonal at best depending on how well you market it, but getting back to re-purposing all your investments and efforts, you could use the same facilities for corporate retreats and other events.
What about a farmstay bed and breakfast in your home or in a refurbished barn? Sounds quaint, romantic and what a lot of people would be in the mood for. And it doesn’t have to be a normal house. It could be a yurt, tipi or the wall tents that they do at MaryJane’s Farm bed and breakfast, for $240 per night.
If you don’t want guests staying over night then you could consider farm dinners. These outings normally feature local chefs and offer the advantage of introducing paying customers to other products or services you have available.
Variations – A hunting preserve, guided hunting/fishing excursions, RV/tent farm camping, summer youth farm camps, pond fishing, corn mazes, haunted woods…
This is a variation of the above but the emphasis is on teaching skills to consumers. What kind of skills? How about cheese making, butchering classes, hide tanning and earth skills, foraging, soap making…you name it. Butchering classes can run the gamut from this $50 hog butchering class on a Wisconsin farm all the way to Fleisher’s $10,000 Level 3 butchering class that takes 6-8 weeks!
This seems to be an area that many homesteaders and farms ignore. Perhaps they don’t feel they have the patience or demeanor to meet the consumer expectations. If you’re comfortable with students or people in general then I encourage you to consider offering skills classes. It will do far more than generate seasonal or continual income for you; it will forge a bond with many of your visitors that will motivate them to become loyal supporters of your farmstead.
Become a Grower
This is one reason why you want to become a homesteader, right? To put your hands in fluffy soil, tug gorgeous carrots right out of the ground, cut fresh flowers that you planted, snip asparagus in early April… If these iconic images of homesteading inspire you then it’s reasonable to expect consumers will want the same. Retreating to our earlier discussion of one-time, seasonal or continual income opportunities, “growing” is one income area that can absolutely be as year-round as you want it to be. And, unlike farm stays or classes, eating is not normally viewed as a discretionary expense. After all, people gotta eat. In a TEOTWAWKI world, focus on the essential organic foodstuffs!
There are lots of great books on growing including several by Elliot Coleman that I’d recommend. Just remember that if you’re new to gardening and if you’re garden plot is new, you should expect it to take at least 3-5 years before your soil tilth and fertility catches up with your expectations of light and fluffy soil.
Variations – Mushroom cultivation, live plants, greenhouse transplants, heirloom seeds…
Hays Sales and Grazing
If you find yourself with some decent pasture acreage you can use it in many ways to create a “cash crop”: grazing or selling organic hay.
Custom grazing is a contractual arrangement where you provide the pastures, fencing, water and grazing management for others who place their animals on your land. You can charge either by the day, by the pounds gained or both. If you’re short on cash but long on time and enthusiasm this may be a good option for you.
Let’s say you had 40 acres and you wanted to improve the fertility anyway. You may strike a deal to graze 40 cows, stockers or cow/calf pairs and someone else would provide the animals that you wouldn’t have to pay for. Be careful if you take in bulls as they’ll eat 50% more, on average, than cows so you’re stocking rates (and prices you charge) need to reflect this.
In a stocking scenario you may have 40 weaned calves that are dropped off in April that you graze until October. Let’s assume they arrive weighing 550 pounds each and your pastures could allow them to gain 2 pounds per day on average for 180 days. By the end of October each stocker would weigh 910 pounds, having gained 360 pounds (180 days x 2/lb/day). In total you would have added 14,400 pounds of beef (180 days X 2/lb/day X 40 head). If you charged a rate of $.60 per pound of gain then your income for the six month grazing contract would be $8,640. Rates vary of course and you could charge much more in drought/dry areas than you could in lush areas, but then again you’d achieve more weight gain in lush areas than you would in dry. Then again, you don’t even need to own land to custom graze for others. You can lease it as Greg Judy explains here if you have a smaller homestead and don’t have the room yourself.
Another alternative for some income is to simply produce organic hay, either for the grass-fed beef or horse quality market. Organic doesn’t just mean letting your pastures go…it means having quality forages that are non-GMO and are managed organically with no chemicals at all. You’ll get more per ton for square bales than round, but those in the cattle market will very likely not want to fool with square bales, so you should choose your market first. If you don’t own hay equipment then you can hire out the job, but this is often challenging since all hay tends to come in around the same time and those with hay equipment are in pretty good demand during those times.
Variations: Blending tree plantings into grazing areas for a silvopasture, thereby generating both current and long-term income from timber
Breed and Board
Do you love animals and want to become a breeder? There are many ways you can do this on your homestead. Of course you can use the large or small livestock mentioned above and become a breeder of rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs, cows or any combination. There’s always ads in Craigslist and in local ag publications for these and many people looking to buy weaned piglets, 4H rabbits and calves, and so on.
Another idea is to breed and train livestock handling or guardian dogs, such as shepherds or collies to herd sheep and cows or great Pyrenees to protect livestock. I expect both of these to be in constant demand as more and more preppers and homesteaders emerge and need proven genetics to help with their animals.
If you love horses and your new homestead has a barn of sorts, offering boarding and grazing for horses may be just the thing for you. You may be able to charge $150-250 per month or trade in value for full 24/7 pasture turn out…the more you can offer the more you can charge but of course rates vary from region to region. It’s yet another way you can generate income from a homestead parcel that you couldn’t from a city apartment.
Finally, you’re sitting on a gold mine of sorts with your new piece of land. You’ll likely have some woods that could offer rough timber, firewood and pine straw among other things. If you’re handy with a chain saw or if you want to invest a few thousand dollars in a portable saw mill, you could be producing lots of custom cut lumber in no time.
Understandably, many people look upon all the rocks on their land disapprovingly, but perhaps those rocks and boulders could become landscape rocks for someone else? Although this falls more into the category of one-time income streams than continual income, it could be a good way to clean up your land while beautifying another person’s property at the same time!
While some of these ideas touch on product offerings, the above represents just some of the ways you can use your land to generate income. Some techniques are quite passive and very long term (silvopasture) while others are very labor intensive and offer immediate income gratification (transplants). Of course there are more ideas and perhaps you’ll share some below, but this is enough to get you thinking.
If you know how much money you need to make, how much capital you’re comfortable risking and, most importantly, what you are passionate about, then I’m sure you’ll find some ideas that sound right to you. But I’ll repeat something I said in the first post to be sure it sinks in: Saving Money = Making Money!
To a homesteader’s way of thinking you not only save money and therefore need to earn less (and therefore pay less in taxes) by producing so much yourself, you also lock in prices and create a personal buffer from inflation. Milk prices may go through the roof for everyone else, but yours will always be the same.
Part Three – Making Money With Your Skills
Regardless of who you are, I’m confident in assuming one thing about you; you have at least one or more skills. Everyone does. And your roster of skills and capabilities will only expand when you move to the homestead as you learn all sorts of new gardening, farming, mechanical, crafting and other talents that others need, and are willing to pay for. The trick for you will be to market those skills into income generating assignments that will allow you to comfortably live your dream life off the land.
Hopefully part two of this four-part series gave you ideas to think about how your land could work to generate income for you, and tomorrow’s part four will give you numerous ideas for products you can sell. This third portion of the series will be a rapid fire listing of money making ideas that bridge the gap between your current/future skills and market opportunities.
In this section we’ll focus on skills and services that you can sell from your homestead and I’ll divide the list into two macro categories. The first will be physical skills that you can perform for your local community. You need to be in close proximity to make money with the ideas on this list. The second will be virtual/online skills you can easily sell to anyone around the world and collect money via PayPal, check or wire-transfer. As always, these ideas just scratch the surface so please share your ideas and comments. If you’re interested in some of these ideas but don’t have the skills yet, just remember that it’s not too late. You’ll be learning lots of new skills as a homesteader. Get the knowledge and training you need and start earning income with it.
Ready? Let’s begin!
Physical/Local Services to Make Money as a Homesteader
General Services– There are lots of “general” needs that many folks in rural areas need. By the way, just because you’re moving “out there” to become more self-sufficient doesn’t mean that the people already there think that way. You may be surprised to learn that they value the convenience of grocery stores and having hired help to do things for them. What kind of things? Fence installation and repair, automatic gate installation and repair, painting, household repair and so on. If you’re interested in or handy with any of these then put the word out by printing a business card and pinning it at the local feed store and elsewhere where people congregate.
Tractor Work– One way to really justify (or rationalize) the purchase of a tractor and implements is to use it not only for your property, but to hire it out for local projects. The jobs you can hire it for depend on the features of the tractor (does it have a front-end loader, for example) and the attachments you have. Depending on what you have you could earn good money by cutting/baling hay, mowing large fields, disking, tilling, seeding/planting, maintaining long gravel driveways, bush hogging, moving piles of dirt/gravel/debris, snow plowing, and more. Advertise yourself.
Gardening Work– You’ll become expert at organic gardening and growing food in no time, and you’ll likely become the best in your area as others are happy to let the grocery chains feed them or, if they have their own garden, rely on chemical controls. I expect that more and more people will become interested in organic methods of growing food and you can avail from this trend by “marketing” your expertise to others. What can you do? Teach them how to install raised beds or drip irrigation lines, how to build soil with manure/leaves/grass clippings, how to garden without tilling, how to schedule successive plantings and winter gardens, protecting plants from frost, how to set up compost bins, how to capture rain water for the garden, how to companion plant or how to trap plant for pests, etc. Get the idea? There’s lots you’ll be learning that others won’t know but will want to know. Yes my dear reader, you can become THE Plant Whisperer!
RV Repair– Repairing recreational vehicles isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is specialized. Given the concerns about the economy, jobs and so on, it’s reasonable that there will be more and more people taking economical RV getaways or simply living in their RV’s. This means more and more will need repairs and, let’s face it, how many RV repair people do you see on the side of the road? It’s an opportunity to specialize and become “the” RV repair person for your area.
Mechanic– If you are good at mechanical repair then you’ll be in need. It’s always hard to find a good mechanic. If you are also good at small engine repair and farm equipment repair (tractors, RVs) then you’ll be even more in demand.
Welding– Many people in rural areas know how to weld but most do it for themselves or their farm. The opportunity is there to offer welding and small fabrication for hire, if you have the skill.
Sheep Shearing– If you have sheep on your homestead you could shear them yourself and then hire this service out to others. Most sheep owners don’t shear themselves and it’s always hard to find someone local who does.
AI– Artificial insemination (AI). With more and more homesteaders and small farmers starting up with smaller herds of animals, many don’t want the danger or cost of having bulls, boars and rams on their property. Or perhaps they simply want to add genetic diversity to their herd by using AI. Either way, if you learn this skill and make the modest investments in equipment, then you will be in demand for sure.
Boarding– I mentioned how boarding could be an offering that your land could enable, but you could expand this if you’re skilled with horses by offering riding lessons and horse training. There are horse people in every neck of the woods, so you’d likely find a waiting clientele.
Get Sharp!– Perhaps you could become expert as sharpening knives, chainsaws and tools. You’ll likely need this for yourself anyway so why not make some extra bucks by offering it to others?
Equipment Operator– Perhaps you don’t have the equipment to hire out but you know how to operate a tractor, bobcat, bulldozer, track loader, excavator, ditch witch, backhoe or the like. There’s always a need for this in the country.
Carpentry– If you like to build then you’re in luck as this is a skill that most people either don’t have, or don’t have time for. From repairing buildings to constructing sheds, additions, barns and so on, you’ll probably find more work than you can handle as fewer new homes are built and more repairs/add-ons are in demand. And, to broaden your offering even more money, learn and then teach cob building techniques!
Electrician, Plumber– Not much I can add to this. If you can do these, people will need them, especially if you develop skills with alternative energy and plumbing techniques!
Hauling Animals– You may have a truck and purchased a livestock trailer when you moved to the country. Guess what, not everyone has one. Let locals know that you can haul livestock for them or post your skill on Craigslist.
Photography – With fancy new phones anyone can take a picture. However, only skilled photographers can compose and create an emotive work of art worthy of celebration…and compensation. If this is a talent of yours then you’ll have a unique income stream.
Workshops– I’ll probably include workshops and classes both as a skill and a product, but with your new skills why not offer mobile city/suburban workshops on creating raised bed gardens, chicken and rabbit tractors, etc. If the money is back in suburbia, go get it and bring it home!
Computer Repair– Are you good with computers and Internet issues? Many people, if not most, are not. If people know you’re around and that you’re good with eradicating viruses, freeing up memory, recovering files, providing Internet access alternatives and the like, then you’re in luck…and in demand!
House Cleaning– Yea, you know what this means. Just clean your own house first! 🙂
Meat Processing– Now, you can’t do this as an inspected processor unless you want to go through the red tape process, but since you’ll likely learn how to skin rabbits, eviscerate chickens and maybe even slaughter sheep and goats, you could offer this as a service for others who want to butcher their own animals. Just be very careful how you position this; you are selling only your knowledge and service and in no way are you selling meat, since the animals already belong to the customer.
Bridge the Gap – Some farmers struggle with marketing and distribution but perhaps that’s an area you’re good at. Consider becoming a distributor for local farmers and getting their products to retailers, restaurants, resorts and other stores. It will be good for the producer, good for the buyer, good for the local community and you won’t have to produce anything yourself!
Online/Virtual Services to Make Money as a Homesteader
Broker Deals – Basically buy something for $.25 and sell for $5. How? Farm auctions have lots of valuable and often new items that can go for very little money. If you can create a market for it via Craigslist, eBay, Facebook or your own community contacts, here’s your chance. My advice is to consider useful items that are harder to find and are easy to ship. A wood stove may be cheap but you’ll need to sell it locally which will limit your market reach. [JWR Adds: I recommend gathering references on collectibles. See our Bookshelf page for some coin, gun and antique book links. Study and then bring those reference books with you when you go on farm auction trips. If you become a subject matter expert, then you can turn that into a money-making venture. Many people make a good living as “pickers”. (See the television shows “American Pickers” and “Antiques Roadshow“, for some examples of collectible items that are sought after.] I concur about only buying only small and lightweight collectibles that can be mailed.]
Consulting – What do you do today? Is it something in business, academia, law, medicine, technology, etc. that you could offer as a distant consulting service? Can you package it into an online or remote training offering? Perhaps you’re an accountant and setting up and managing Quickbooks is easy for you, but challenging for folks around you. Or maybe you’re a business hot shot with expertise in logistics, marketing, human resources or strategic planning. With all those skills I bet you can figure out how to offer business coaching, life coaching or consulting online.
Making Money Online– As I said, I don’t know you or what specific skills you have. That said, there are lots of ways to make money online using skills you probably already have. I don’t want to define each of these here, so let me just list a few ideas for you to think about or research:
- Copy editing
- Free-lance and content writing of e-books, articles, blog post, press releases, product reviews, proof reading, forum posts…
- Illustrating for authors, web designers, etc.
- Become a Virtual Assistant (VA)
- Offer research assistance to authors, editors and writers
- Web or graphic design
- Web security consulting
- Voice-overs or record your own ad-supported podcast
- Language translation
Note: Not sure how to find these opportunities or how to market yourself? Try eLance, Guru, Sideskills, Freelance Jobs or iFreelance. You’ll probably be surprised how many opportunities there are. Just be sure to specialize and differentiate yourself, otherwise you’ll likely get lost among the other freelancers.
Authoring – Authors such as James Rawles, Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon and Joel Salatin have been able to make a living off the land with publishing being a primary source of income. Could you be the next one? Why not! If you have good writing skills and can identify the right topic for right audience, it’s easier than ever to get published and, more importantly, distributed with print on demand (POD) offerings from Createspace by Amazon, Lightning Source, Dog Ear and others. Just take a page out of Salatin’s and Rawles’ book and remember the importance of “branding” yourself and your expertise. If you create a following as they have, followers will eagerly await your next book and you’ll be on your way to a passive income stream.
There you have it, just a sampling of ways that you can use your skills to get money from the farm fairy, often very good money, while living your dream life off the land. For modern homesteaders the Internet creates a global market and, unlike with physical products, it doesn’t matter where you are geographically located if you’re offering virtual/online/writing services.
Part Four – Making Money Selling Farm and Homestead Products
Farmstead Meats– Organic, grass fed, sustainably raised, pastured, heritage…what have you, there is a growing market of consumers looking to connect with and support farmers who are tending the earth ethically. These consumers are just as anxious to support the local community as they are to tell Monsanto and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to take a flying leap.
When selling meats directly from the farm you’ll have lots of choices to navigate. The first choice may be if you want to sell bulk (whole/half/quarter) animal or small retail packages. If you sell bulk then you can avoid the hassles of becoming licensed to store packaged meats in your farm freezers by technically selling a “live” animal to the consumer. You then deliver the animal to the processor and the consumer determines how they want the animal butchered, pays the processor directly and picks up their cuts. The consumer saves money or a per pound basis and you save headaches.
Alternatively, you can sell individual packaged cuts such as roasts, ground beef, pork chops, rack of lamb and so on to consumers. This requires you to have meats processed by a state or USDA inspected facility and you’ll have to follow regulations for storing and transporting your labeled products. The regulations aren’t that burdensome in most places, but the costs for freezers, utilities and transportation must be considered. Of course, when you sell this way you offer products to a much larger market. After all, there’s more people able to buy a pack of ground beef than there are those interested in half a cow!
Other options for selling meats are wholesale, retail and restaurants. The above options that sell directly to customers constitute direct marketing. You’ll get the highest price selling that way for sure, but you’ll also expend the most effort and need the most marketing savvy…for sure. Selling to wholesalers or distributors could put your products on retail shelves and it takes time and effort to set up these relationships (you can also sell your other farm products ((below)) this way). Many farmsteaders want to sell to restaurants and for good reason. If you’re near the right markets there are many fine chefs who value delicious and local ingredients, and you want to sell to people who value what you produce. Some chefs want smaller portions and packaged cuts that you are selling directly to customers. If that’s the case you probably won’t have much room to discount prices unless the chefs commit to larger bulk quantities or weekly deliveries since your costs won’t be any lower.
Of course a lot more could be said on this topic but the point of this essay is to give you ideas and to get you thinking of what works for you. For many farmsteaders, selling farm raised meats will be the heart of their income generating engine.
Variations – In many states you may be able to process poultry (which includes rabbit) on your farm and not use an inspected processor by using a P.L. 90-492 exemption. Read carefully and check with your state regulators before proceeding.
Farm Fresh Milk– Admit it…the phrase kind of conjures the image of the old milk truck, glass bottles being dropped on your doorstep and old fashioned wholesomeness. Consumers today have become so disconnected with their food that many don’t even realize that they’re drinking ultra-pasteurized “formerly” milk until they read an article about it or hear mentioned on the news. When many do they go looking for real milk, usually raw, from a local farmer. And they’re willing to pay anywhere from $6 – $12 per gallon for it depending on where they are in the country and if the cow was fed grain (least expensive) or if it was purely grass fed (most expensive). Be sure to operate within the implicit and explicit laws of your state. Also check out the Weston A. Price campaign for real milk and if you decide to sell milk, list yourself there.
Variation – butter, buttermilk, yogurt, etc. if you want to pasteurize. [JWR Adds: Be sure to check all the legalities first, particularly at the State level.]
Farmstead or Artisanal Cheese– If you’re milking cows, sheep or goats anyway, why not turn the milk into delicious farmstead cheese? Farmstead cheese is cheese that you produce from the milk of YOUR animals, where as artisanal cheese is cheese that you produce from milk that you buy from another dairy. Either way, you’ll need a state approved and inspected cheese operation and anywhere from a modest investment (several thousand dollars) to a major investment (over $100,000) to set up your make room, ripening room, cheese cave, equipment and so on. There’s no denying that it takes an investment to become a cheese maker, particularly a farmstead cheese maker where you have to invest in animals and milking facilities, but for many the lifestyle and payoff is undeniably alluring.
Farm Fresh Eggs– If you raise your hens on pasture then you’ll be producing the most beautiful and nutritious eggs available anywhere. Just check out the chart to the right. And keep in mind that not all egg varieties are the same. Many consumers will pay much more for duck eggs than chicken eggs, and you can also sell hatching eggs (turkey, geese, ducks, chicken, guinea, etc.) instead of eating eggs.
Vegetables and Herbs– There’s not much limit to what you can grow for consumers and restaurants. Warm and cool season vegetables, fresh flowers, herbs, you name it. You’ll have the same choices to make regarding selling (direct, restaurants, retail, wholesale) as you do with meats but there’s one big difference. Whereas meats can be stored frozen for months the value in vegetables is to be sold fresh, often the day they’re harvested. So you’ll want to line up your customers first either by having a solid relationship with restaurants or by operating a CSA for individual customers.
Fruits– Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, peaches, apples, figs, melons…get the idea? Almost everyone has a sweet tooth and these can be harvested, sold and delivered directly to farmers markets, restaurants or consumers, or you can offer pick-your-own options.
Sweeteners– Maple syrup, honey and sorghum syrup all come to mind. With concerns about allergies I would expect a continued rise in the demand for local honey. All you need is to make or buy some bee boxes, get a bag of bees and a queen or a nuc and let them pollinate your garden. Then you’re on your way to the sweet life!
Craft Supplies– You’ll likely find countless supplies on your farmstead that can be marketed and sold to crafters, such as rabbit pelts, turkey and peacock feathers, wood cuttings, wool and more. Take a look on eBay to see what’s selling and then see what you have.
Jewelry– Rather than selling craft supplies from the farm why not make your own jewelry! Think of using feathers from peacocks, turkeys, guineas or geese. Or, perhaps you have a large deer population and you’ll find lots of shed antlers in late winter. These and more can be used to make unique (one-of-a-kind) pieces of jewelry. [JWR Adds: The Etsy web site is a good place to retail your wares online.]
Variation – Instead of jewelry, make rustic woodworking gifts from your downed trees. Think of tables, willow furniture, log furniture, kitchen utensils…whatever you can dream up..
Wine and Beer– Due to stringent regulations you may not want to produce wine and beer, but what about becoming an accomplice? Could you grow local hops for the beer market or grapes for local wineries using your land? I bet you could and that few people are!
Value-Added Products – I won’t attempt to count all the ways you could add value to products that you could produce on the farm, and most would require some regulatory approval. But imagine farm fresh baby food, dog treats, lard, jams, salsa, grains, cured meats, pickles, sauerkraut…the list goes on. Don’t be afraid of seeking regulatory approval as it’s not as hard as you think. Just call the health department or your state department of agriculture and find out what you need to do to comply. Others do it and so can you.
Mushrooms– Cultivate mushrooms for consumers or restaurants and if you live among chanterelles, morels, etc., learn to hunt and sell these delicacies at farmers markets and to restaurants!
Photography – I mentioned photography yesterday as a skill and it certainly is that, but your rare breed animals and quaint rural landscape offer you unique resources to create poetic imagery. You could add value by printing and creating frames from your woodlot and selling through various resorts and stores in your state, or license use of your high-resolution images through various providers.
Make Custom Knives, Tools – Necessity is the mother of all invention, they say, and farmers are an inventive group. Perhaps you’ll come up with tools you need to tend your garden such as the wheel hoe to the right. Or you could offer plans on how to build them yourself like the the folks at WhizBang.
Perhaps you know how or want to learn to make knives from rustic materials such as spent saw blades, antlers, wood, etc. It’s not too late and it would be unique and functional.
Building Chicken/Rabbit Tractors– When folks, particularly urban folks, see your fancy chicken coops and tractors they’ll likely want one of their own. They won’t have the time or skill to make it, but they’ll have the money to buy it. Market directly to them through local organics associations, conferences, publications and online groups.
Manure– Put your marketing hat on now. You’re not selling a load of smelly waste, you’re selling organic fertility! Better yet, nutrients! From worm castings to rabbit pellets and, yes, horse manure, you’re selling what everyone needs for healthy plants and topsoil. Variation: Compost
Artisan Meat Products – You don’t see many people doing this because, as with cheese making, there is skill, investment and regulatory compliance required. And therein lies the opportunity! Imagine making pancetta, pepperoni, saucisson sec, salami or Iberico style long-aged cured ham from your rare-breed pigs that consumed acorns and whey. Know anyone else in your state doing this? In your entire region? Is that sausage I smell or is it opportunity?
Tractor Dealer, Feed Dealer– Perhaps you’d like to sell a small amount of farm equipment or feed in your area. If it’s under-serviced then you’ll find opportunities to do so. This will be especially true with feed as you’ll likely find organic feeds, fertilizers and nutritional stuffs hard to come by unless you have them shipped in. Is it possible that others can’t find these as well and you could become the supplier?
Homemade Lotions, Soaps, Candles – You’ll no doubt learn to make all of these things anyway for your homestead. If you have the raw materials, such as lard, goat milk, etc., then you may want to make artisan soaps for customers. You can sell to local markets or sell online. There may even be more of an opportunity with making lotions, shampoos and creams that are all natural and free of chemicals.
Sewing/Knitting – You could sell supplies such as wool or yarn, or you could add value by sewing bags, aprons, cloth diapers and more.
Hopefully some of these ideas got you thinking about how you can sell products and make a good living off your farm or homestead, but I bet you know of even more ways! Many of the products and skills I’ve discussed are small scale and tug more at the homesteader’s heart. Some, such as retail meats, cured meats and commercial cheese making speak more to those interested in farming as a business. What’s right for you? It depends greatly on how you answer the questions in part one of this essay, namely how much money do you need to make. But also how ambitious you are and how much energy you have. Those are issues for you to ponder.
One thing is certain; there are lots of ways to earn income from your farm or homestead. I don’t know about you, but I take a lot of comfort in that.
People who are new to farmsteading or entrepreneurial life in general are often nervous, if not downright scared, about the prospects of not having a comfortable and secure paycheck coming in each week. What I will say is that when you do make that transition and learn how to generate income for yourself that you will never again worry about whether you may get laid off, how your employer is doing or if you’ll have money in retirement. You’ll make the life that you want for yourself and no one will be there to deny you the pay raise, if you want it, or more time off, if you want that, although getting both would be the ultimate triumph!
TEOTWAWKI will be present a scary new reality for most people. But you can begin to position yourself now to not only thrive financially in a TEOTWAWKI world but to help others to adapt and enjoy their new world.