The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to make a living homesteading

"My wife and I have been dreaming about a simpler unplugged lifestyle for a long time. We are currently saving to buy 20-40 acres in the woods and to build a simple cabin so we can start on our journey. Our plans are to transition into it slowly and then sell our house and cut the ties to daily grind.

"Nevertheless, I have a lot of questions and concerns about paying the bills without a full time job. We have 5 kids ranging from 13 to 2 years old so stability and being able to provide is important. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty and we plan on raising goats, chickens, rabbits and bees. Plus gardening and canning as much as possible.

"I just assume that you guys are full time and if so, how do you do it? The feed for animals, property taxes, utilities, gas for the car? Any insight is greatly appreciated."

--- Matt

EZ MiserThat's a good question, and one we touch on here from time to time. First of all, I don't recommend that anyone try to make a living with farm products on the modern American homestead. My mother and father did that back in the seventies and eighties and the stress of raising three kids while grasping at an unattainable dream eventually drove them apart. If you want some more data points, check out this book by Eliot Coleman's daughter or this analysis of why the previous round of back-to-the-landers fled their supposedly bucolic lives within a handful of years.

(Although, to be fair, Joel Salatin makes a good living selling pastured poultry and beef, especially now that he's become so popular. Still, I suspect his hourly wage from farming is right around minimum wage.)

Luckily, times have changed since then. If you select an inexpensive property in a low-income area then leverage the internet to sell your skills to a world audience, you can do well on a modern homestead. Our book Microbusiness Independence outlines our original method of achieving independence --- making and selling chicken waterers online. I'll admit that the SEO section of that text is now out of date, but the other strategies I recommend remain the same.

Bloodling Serial: FREE with Kindle UnlimitedSince then, we've expanded our income stream to focus more heavily on writing and becoming our own publishing company. Although geared toward fiction, I highly recommend this forum for learning about self-publishing the smart way. Using strategies gleaned there, writing has begun bringing home just as much income as chicken-waterer sales in recent years. (I do publish a bit through a traditional publisher, but the vast majority of our sales are from self-published ebooks.)

Next, if you're more extraverted than we are, you might consider offering courses like Milkwood does in Australia or perhaps bringing vacationers to your homestead as a source of income.
Finally, if you're having trouble brainstorming an online business model that fits your aspirations, How to Make Money Homesteading is a good place to start since the book offers dozens of ideas (although it paints with a very broad brush).

I hope that helps get you started. Figuring out how to manage a homestead and a modern life style can be tricky, but the juice is very much worth the squeeze. Good luck with your cabin in the woods!

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

I would have to say Salatin is definitely not a homesteader, he is in the living wage farmer camp. His rule of thumb for a enterprise used to be $20.00 per hour or they move on to a different idea, this was before his books made much money. His son now runs the farm under the same guidelines, and Joel makes "his" money writing, and speaking. To get the real skinny on Polyface you have to read alternative publications, which many in the homesteading world aren't really interested in, rather going for fluff like Mother Earth News and Countryside Small Stock Journal, and now even Acres. Polyface does pay their apprentices, interns and managers, and they pay themselves well. And they write extensively about marketing etc. But most reporters aren't really interested in the real nitty gritty so most of this information never really reaches the general public.
Comment by Nita Sat Dec 5 09:58:28 2015
Nita --- Interesting! I've read several of his books, but based my financial guestimates on friends of mine who sell pastured meat in a Salatin style. Whenever I try to calculate up how much they're making per hour, I'm always disappointed on their behalf. Sounds like Salatin is working smarter, not harder!
Comment by anna Sat Dec 5 10:32:41 2015

Young parents need to be free to create their own family lifestyle. That is, they need family, but also want to rely on peers, in getting help with childcare. But once kids get to school age, parents need to decide--public, or homes-schooling? And if home-schooling, what is the support-group for that?

The schools and the local consumer culture forces will be very strong influences, some positive some, of course, confusing. For ex. Will the homestead have internet??!

So, in looking to homestead, probably it is important to know the region you want to settle in, that is, the real people out there, the doctors, the librarians, potential farmers' markets, the whole sustainable-ag network.

Sounds like the family's older kids need to have an equal say in what happens, esp. if much commuting is to be involved! Will the girls as well as the boys be able to learn some car repair and maintenance skills at home? Maybe the older kids have yearnings to study the stars, or to learn about archeology! Or love music...Do they want to go to public schools to have other experiences?

What about after-school events? Do they care about sports? would they want to in a debate club, or to enter a project in a science fair? Children need other role models than their parents, too.

What about being able to take time off to visit grandparents or other family members?!

There is more than figuring out about what a certain crop or farm-product can bring per hour as a justification of,say, raising chickens or goats, or in becoming more self-sufficient. The learned experiences last forever--such as, how to garden, how to understand our connection to the Earth, but also to our communities.

Having an established intentional community nearby is a great help, to answer the long-range questions, like knowing the extreme weather possibilities, knowing the types of health care offered.

What responsibilities other than to family do you want to encourage your kids to have?

Comment by adrianne Sat Dec 5 11:52:41 2015

Definitely working smarter not harder, most folks don't follow his methods close enough and that's where wasted minutes add up to hours and less money. Very streamlined. The Toyota Way on steroids for sure.

You need a like button :) Your mom's comment is very good.

Comment by Nita Sat Dec 5 13:57:51 2015

Good advice all around here. Yes, as others have stated, thinking you will be totally self sustaining on the income derived from this property is not going to be attainable.

Especially if you buy raw land, and have to start from scratch.

Yes, Mark and Anna of this blog don't have off the homestead jobs, but they don't have kids to support either.

My folks homesteaded as a way to lower their cost of the grocery bill, and teach the kids such as me responsibility. Life skills. which I am greatful for to this day. They knew there was no crop or product they could grow that would pay 100 percent of the bills. But it helped pay the property taxes.

My dad taught at a state collage, and had a 100 mile per day commute for this. It provided us medical benefits and him a small pension that helps support them now.

Ask yourselves what you are willing to live without, what the minimum you need to live on is, and compare it to what you have now.

Comment by Eric Sat Dec 5 23:21:17 2015

Such good comments from everyone! A few short thoughts....

I suspect one of the reasons my friends struggle so much making a go of it with Salatin-style farming here is because we live in such an economically depressed area. There are people who can afford to pay good prices for pastured meat, but they're so accustomed to food from farmers being cheap that they won't pay the true cost. So, I guess the moral of that story is --- if you really want to make a living selling farm products locally, it's actually better to be in a high-income area, especially close to a big city.

Mom and Eric have excellent points about kids. Not only are they expensive, they have a harder time understanding voluntary simplicity. But, as Eric noted, they also get a tremendous amount out of even moderate homesteading activities --- I know I wouldn't be the person I am today if my parents had just raised me in town with no garden.

Keep those good comments coming!

Comment by anna Sun Dec 6 09:23:11 2015

Great conversation. I would add, based on our own experience, that it might be worth considering starting with a property that has some infrastructure, such as sheds, barn, fencing, already in place. You cant really be self sufficient without animal inputs and you have to have a place to keep animals before you bring them home. Fencing is expensive and labor intensive. Barns are expensive. It might be worthwhile to look for an old fixer upper that has at least some components already in place, or it could be years before you could really set up any husbandry operations. Other comments regarding the difficulty of making a living doing this are spot on. Id say it is next to impossible without off-farm inputs, to make it on a small homestead, especially with kids.

Comment by Deb Sun Dec 6 14:47:24 2015
I realized too late my comments really seem discouraging. Sorry about that. Realistically, its true that actually making a living homesteading is going to be very hard, but I dont want to say a person should not follow the dream, because the move out of urban or suburban living to a simpler more rural life has many many benefits, even if it doesnt turn out to be the soul source of income. Especially for kids. So, go into it with eyes wide open, but go for it and give it all you have.
Comment by Deb Sun Dec 6 18:21:02 2015

I think in Salatin's "You Can Farm" book, he specifically recommends being close to a reasonably-sized population center to make good money with his style of agriculture. If I recall correctly, that meant being within 20 miles of a town with population at least 25,000. feeling is that if one's homesteading ideal is to not be that close to so many people, one would be better off to not rely on agriculture for income. Fortunately, as Anna and Mark so aptly demonstrate, it's possible for folks with writing skills to make a pretty good living in a very rural area thanks to the internet's ability to connect the writers with the readers. (Probably even enough to support kids--the simplicity may not be voluntary for them, but as Eric said, they'll probably appreciate it later on!)

The same could be said about inventor skills and a mail-order business, although the income is less passive.

But in any case, I never want to pass up an opportunity to say thanks to Anna and Mark for all the inspiration!

Comment by Jake Mon Dec 7 01:43:18 2015

Lots of great comments. Thanks for the feed back. Obviously there is a lot to consider especially with having children. We have homeschooled for several years and the kids are well adapted to doing things around home and I feel they would adjust just fine. We as a family have never been the ones to have the next new thing so going without isn't an issue it's just a matter of learning to adjust. In the meantime we are starting to live a simpler life here in suburban America so when the time is right the move isn't so hard. Small steps! I just purchased Microbuisness Independence and plan on reading through it over the next couple nights. Additionally I really enjoyed your book Growing Into a Farm! Being able to have a window into the lives of others and to learn from them is in and of itself a wonderful tool. And for that I thank you.

Comment by Matt Mon Dec 7 21:01:13 2015

Hi Anna and Mark,

Very impressive what you are doing :).

One subject that doesn't seem to have been mentioned in this thread so far is your MAJOR partners are the various governments who expect you to pay their taxes.

So if I grow all my own food and heat with wood and maybe even have solar for electricity, I still HAVE to figure out how to pay 'Uncle Sam' who does not want to be paid with what my land produces.

I gather that selling chicken waterers and books has so far pretty much filled that bill?

But I am MOST curious what both your thoughts on easily getting the dollars to satisfy those varous parasites might be. Selling at 'local' farmer's markets?

It would be nice if someone just sent those 'necessary' dollars to me :).


Comment by John Tue Dec 8 13:59:50 2015

Matt --- I'm glad so many folks chimed in with their diverse thoughts, and hopefully you're able to take the parts that are relevant to you and leave the rest. It sounds like you're in for a great adventure!

John --- Well, in terms of income tax, it's a simple matter of making whatever percentage more than you really need. Property taxes are the tricky part. But if you take my advice and buy an ugly duckling property in an impoverished part of the world, they don't have to be much. We pay less than $27 per month in property taxes because almost no one else would dream of living here other than us. :-)

Comment by anna Tue Dec 8 15:40:54 2015

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.