Making Ends Meet on the Farm: Many of our readers have expressed a real concern that finances are a major hurdle to their hope and dream of moving to the country. In our first post of this series, we focused on the fact that in most locations, the cost of living in the country is much less than that of living in a city or suburb. Most often that cost differential is substantial. We’ll take this into consideration as we consider a plan of action for moving to and living in the country.
Making Ends Meet on the Farm
Despite lower costs, it’s clear that most of us will still need to have some money coming in. But it certainly is encouraging to know that perhaps the obstacle of HOW MUCH we need isn’t as large as we had imagined! There are many, many different ways to make ends meet on the farm. In coming posts we will be detailing some that we know of and that we and others are putting into practice. But before we start, some thoughts about what used to be considered normal and an introduction to what we call the “new normal.”
The old normal: one full-time job
During our lifetime, it has been very typical for a person to hold a 40-hour job. It’s a job that can be called “full time” and that hopefully pays well and provides a huge benefit package. Granted, many have worked additional jobs as well, but a typical goal was one job that paid the bills. There are some global reasons why this system has been our “normal” one for as long as we have been alive, but now, right before our eyes we are seeing a massive change to what is normal. The change may not have affected you yet, but it has affected our economy significantly. We have all heard that putting all of our eggs in one basket isn’t a smart thing to do from a financial viewpoint. Yet consider that we do just that when we work full time for one company.
Why would we do that?
In the past, this might have been a “no risk” problem, but our current economy is finding corporations and companies laying off millions and millions of people. Many of you may be in this crowd. Structurally, these jobs are just not coming back, as our economy, totally based on debt and consumption, will never come back to the old days. Those who are employed are working harder and harder, doing the work of more than one person. They know their jobs depend on hard work, as there are many other people standing in line waiting for them to fail and for their positions to become available. Essentially we become “corporate slaves.” Before I was laid off in 2009 I had no job worries. It was only after this layoff event occurred that I realized how all my eggs were cracking. At first I thought I’d just get another job–no problem, right? I had never been out of a job for more than a month. But that had been before the 2008 economic collapse. Instead of quickly finding a job, I searched for two full years for anything reasonable. Even with two engineering degrees and over thirty-five years of work experience, I was unsuccessful in finding a job. If you are unemployed today, you too realize how difficult it is to get a full time job at the level you are accustomed to.
So I decided to pursue a “multiple income stream” approach. And now, that makes so much sense that I would never go back to being a corporate slave.
The new normal: multiple income streams
What does this mean?
Simply this: instead of having one full time job that you are practically married to, you have multiple sources of income and ways to cover the cost of living. You are no longer owned by a job; you are now effectively CEO of your own family income. You can work toward gaining income in a variety of ways that work for you and your family. You are able to pursue your passions and interests and learn how to monetize them. You might work a part-time job and supplement with other sources of income.
This is not really a new idea; a few generations ago it was common for a family to have multiple small incomes rather than one large one. Even in recent years, the cost of living has required more than one income for many families. What is new about it is that it’s becoming the norm in many communities. Today the mindset of having a single income that covers all expenses is receding as the concept of multiple income streams gains momentum. We are seeing this more and more among people we know. I have talked with friend of mine about this very thing. He and I both came from the construction industry, but for the past 12 years he has worked a farm with his family. He told me about his struggles and successes. And he emphasized two keys to making a living on the farm.
The first is to get out of debt and not buy anything you can’t pay for. The second is to create multiple income streams. My friend’s farm provides most of the family income, but the income comes from several streams.
- In the spring, the family starts seeds in a greenhouse. They plant many of the seedlings in their four-acre market garden. But they also raise 1500 extra plant starts to sell along with their earliest produce at three local farmers markets.
- Their niche is that with the greenhouse, they get some very early vegetables, including the first tomatoes in the region. They are busy selling produce all spring, summer, and fall at the farmers markets.
- They also have a small retail store on the busy highway alongside their farm. Community members and travelers passing by will stop in for fresh produce, local handcrafts, and antiques.
- During the growing season they operate a CSA (community supported agriculture) program providing prepaid boxes of products to folks on a weekly basis.
- In the fall, this family sells some cattle and has beef packaged for resale.
- During the winter months, they refinish antiques (a special interest) to sell in their store.
- Last year they added some grain production, as they had some fields that could grow it and there’s a need in the community.
My friend encourages people not to despise even the smallest income streams, because they grow! Another example is what Marie and I are doing and planning for the upcoming year. First off, I have to admit that my brain cells had to do some adjusting to this “new normal.” But we are getting the hang of it now, and I must say it is working. So, not having any full time job, this is our situation and plan for the coming year.
- Do freelance editing work for a major book publisher. This comes and goes in spurts according to the publishing seasons. When Marie has a freelance project, she devotes full days to it. When she has no jobs, she is free to pursue other interests.
- I am involved in the local high school baseball/softball program as a coach and available to umpire. This is projected to bring in minimal income this year, but most likely will grow next year. I really enjoy coaching and umpiring.
- We will raise pigs again this year, doubling our efforts of last year. This could possibly bring in a fourth of our projected income needs. As we did last year, we’ll sell most of it by the carcass, but some meat might be sold by the cut at the local farmers market.
- We’ll expand our chicken operation. Right now, we have layers providing seven dozen eggs a week. This is far more than we need and we sell some and share with family and friends. But we are now considering raising that tenfold and selling eggs at the farmers market. Like the pigs, chickens are a real interest of ours, so it makes sense.
- We are starting our feed making business. Looking for the best and most economical pig feed last year, we learned how to make our own pig and chicken feed. We have invested in a small grinder and are negotiating a cash purchase of a larger used machine that will grind and mix up to 1000 pounds per hour. Already we have people asking for feed; it looks like this will be a year-round business.
- We anticipate receiving a grant for a new hoop house that will allow us to grow much more of the food we need and have some produce to sell. We are hoping to sell a significant number of peppers and tomatoes at our local farmers markets.
- Last year we started an online business with Bethany selling fun gift items for farmers and homesteaders. The income has far exceeded our expectations. We won’t get rich on it, but this is a fun thing for us and we get paid to do it. Profits have allowed us to invest in equipment and supplies to expand our product line as well.
- We are starting a small cattle operation. The model is to raise what we need and sell the rest. In our case, after this is going well we could receive another fourth of our income from it. As our kids get involved it potentially could become much larger and support more than one family.
We continue to look and consider new income streams. We’ve talked about raising livestock guardian dogs, as there is a market for well-bred dogs. With our family we’ve discussed starting a small chicken hatchery, locally selling chicks and pullets ready to lay. Our kids and grandkids are thinking similarly for their own families. All four husbands are employed full time but each family has at least one other income stream. Sell home décor and personalized items. Another family will be marketing seeds and plant starts this spring. Sometimes Marie and I will be talking about an idea or project and then look at each other and remark, “another income stream!” We enjoy working together.
And the rest of normal
Rounding out the new normal are some other creative ways to cover expenses and reduce the cost of life on the farm. In addition to generating income from work, small farmers can consider grants and cost-share programs. And while living in the country will probably cost less in general, there are still other ways of reducing expenses.