Homesteading and Livestock
Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Feeding the Fire in December

As the daylight wanes and the nights grow longer, colder and darker, we draw our energy in. Instead of the labor of summer, we begin to curl inward, focusing on our internal landscape, on reading, writing, journaling, on feeding the fire, stacking and chopping wood, while cultivating our vision for the seasons to come.

December is a time to slow down, to gather with family and friends, to reflect and nurture the body and soul with warmth from the fire, with simmered stews, hot herbal teas and early nights. 

"Winter brings introspection and observation," says Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance, a primitive skills and permaculture school in Barnardsville, North Carolina. "It’s a time of receptivity, a time for planning the year to come, for walking the land an envisioning.”

Wild Abundance Eco-Homestead Winter

On the medicine wheel, the seasons each have their own direction, describes Frank Salzano, a partner at Wild Abundance. Winter is the North, representing the evening and our elderhood, a time for deep reflection and hibernation. “It’s a time for deep psychic recharge and peace,” says Salzano, “when we’re reworking everything so our vision for spring is more honed. It forces us to slow down, and there is a mystical space that happens when you enter into that darkness.”

In the winter, and in the north on the seasonal wheel, there is less work to do on the homestead, and the quiet time of rest should be welcomed, for the work of the summer is not possible without this season of introspection. 

In honor of the energy of the season, here is a December to-do list for the homestead, written and created by Natalie Bogwlaker, with contributions from Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman. This guide to permaculture through the seasons was recreated with the southeastern bio-region in mind.

Wild and Woodland Harvest

Cut and stack wood for next year.

Make wreaths and baskets out of invasive vines like honeysuckle, bittersweet, and kudzu.

Split and gather kindling.

>Coppice autumn olive and willow for basket-making materials.

Annual Garden

Take a break!

Eat winter peas, chickweed, and kale out of hoops.

Don’t forget to keep feeding any crops that are still green with urine and ashes or liquid seaweed fertilizer.

Winter Pea blossoming (1)

Food Preservation

Periodically look through stored food. Be sure to remove and eat anything that is beginning to spoil.

Feast with Family

Go out of your way to enjoy the company of friends, family, and neighbors! For this is a time to feast with those we love!

For more information on Wild Abundance and to learn more about upcoming classes including Wild Food Foraging & Cooking, Permaculture Design, Primitive Skills, Ladies Carpentry and Natural Building, check out

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a student with Wild Abundance, a writer, gardener and beekeeper in Asheville, North Carolina. Check out her other articles written for Mother Earth News here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Bringing Home a Maremma Sheepdog Livestock Guardian Dog

We recently brought home our first Livestock Guardian Dog: a Maremma Sheepdog we have named Stanley. Stanley is not a house pet, but an important part of all of our farm animal’s protection. Livestock Guardian Dogs are alternatives to hunting and patrolling for every predator on the farm, and they can save a farmer many headaches as long as they are properly trained.


We chose a Livestock Guardian Dog for a variety of reasons, knowing that we would have to add extra protection for our animals when we moved to our new, rural farm.  We have always had dogs, and recently lost our last pet, so an LGD sounded desirable right away.

Our geese help to deter smaller predators from approaching our chicken flock, but geese can still be victims to larger aggressors. For this reason, and to help protect our goat herd and property, we knew we needed a serious guardian animal. Other options included a llama or donkey, but the bonds that LGDs form with their flock and people was very appealing to us.

Bringing Stanley home starts a long process of teaching him about the goats and other animals, obedience training, and general puppy care. While the training process is not the same as it would be for a house pet, it is equally if not more rigorous.


Livestock Guardian Dogs require firm and consistent training, as any new puppy would. They need to be taught that the animals around are for them to protect, not playthings or prey. This begins with giving them a safe space in the barn that is within view of the goats but doesn’t allow them to do more than touch noses.

Puppies naturally want to chase pretty much anything that will run away, so training an LGD pup requires a lot of patience and constant vigilance when they are out with their herd. We are keeping Stanley on a leash with the goats most of the time, allowing them to touch noses and mingle but quickly correcting him to sit if he starts to chase them. The goats, who started out wanting nothing to do with the puppy, have warmed up to being almost completely comfortable around him.


The Maremma Sheepdog will take two years to reach maturity, during which time they’ll require careful training and grow to be over a hundred pounds. Thus far, our little bundle of joy has been nothing but perfect, interested in the goats.

Every day, Stanley goes on numerous walks with us around our fields, getting to know the perimeters of his property. He will still master the basics of dog training like “sit” and “come” and learn how to walk well on a leash and not jump up, but he will always sleep in the barn with the goats. This might seem cruel, but Maremma’s thick coats mean they are rarely cold, especially when snuggled up with goats, and sleeping together helps him and his herd for their important bond.

We are looking forward to Stanley being a good friend and important part of our farm. Adding a Livestock Guardian Dog is sure to be a new adventure for our farm.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Grappling with the Morality of Livestock Slaughter


I remember when we first got chickens; a relative of mine had been given more than she could handle, and was happy to gift us our own starter flock. We had a beautiful mix of Barred Plymouth Rocks, but a few Cornish crosses as well. Not fully understanding how rapidly the latter variety grew, we let them mature well beyond pullets, and as they grew, we noticed they became more and more unwieldy.

We had an aging flock of meat birds that weren’t really designed to live past their butcher date, and far too many roosters to our hens — it was time to cull. I remember how nervous I was — it was intimidating enough to care for something and work so hard to keep it alive, and it went against a lot of my instincts to do the opposite and methodically kill them.

I knew it was a necessary part of running a homestead, and I knew these animals were living a far better life than those in the factory farms that wound up on so many grocery store shelves, but it was still a heavy concept for me to get my head around.

After a lot of research, watching YouTube videos, and listening to podcasts, we finally set a plan in place and began. We weren’t very good at it at first, and we’re still learning faster, more effective ways to dispatch animals with as little pain and fear as possible, but we had to start somewhere.

If Slaughter Makes Us Sad, Is it Wrong?

A lot of people think that the unpleasantness of killing an animal is an indication of its immorality, that because it feels bad, it’s wrong, and it’s as simple as that. I can’t argue something as deep as the ethics of killing another living thing for survival, but I can say that that thought has certainly occurred to me before. If it’s this emotional, if it makes me this sad, is it wrong?

I told my husband about my concerns one day, pondering the morality of slaughter, and with wisdom beyond his years, he told me this:

“When you kill an animal, you should feel something. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.”

In that simple statement, I realized he was perfectly right, and that I was (once again) referring to emotions as a form of weakness, when in fact, it was just a human part of me - a normal part — and nothing to be ashamed of.

The fact is, killing an animal is a highly emotional experience — especially when you raise it. You’re taking a creature that you’ve walked out every morning in the bitter cold to check their heat lamps, sourced the best food you can for, and then you’re turning around and killing it, and that’s a hard thing to get your head around.

I look at it this way, though: By whatever powers that be, I was given (supposedly) higher consciousness and self-awareness. I have this intellect that allows me to empathize with and understand what creatures go through in the sacrificial process of feeding me.

In some ways, I’m just like a bear — omnivorous and opportunistic in my approach to eating. But unlike the bear, I have this brain that knows it probably isn’t pleasant to be violently eviscerated, so I can choose to be kinder to my prey. Maybe most of us just aren’t seasoned enough to death, like the skilled bears are. Most of us don’t slaughter nearly as often as a bear does, and so maybe for that reason, our brains still have a hard time processing it.

Lucky for us though, and the animals we choose to dispatch, we’re able to think through the process, and make informed, conscious decisions about how we go about this harvest.

Showing Respect to Livestock and Prey


I’ve read a lot recently about hunting rituals, and ways in which various cultures honor the sacrifice made by their kill. In some European countries, a small ritual known as letzebissen, or last bite is performed, in which a sprig from a preferred species of tree is pulled through the animal’s mouth from one side to the other, as payment of respect in the form of a sort of “last meal”.

Many other cultures have their own hunting rituals, the Native Americans putting a pinch of tobacco onto an animal’s body as a sign of respect, the plant having been believed to connect beings to the spirit world.

Though much of modern homesteading and hunting has forgotten these rituals — not as chest-beating signs of superiority, but as tributes to the sacrifice made by the animal so that we may thrive — it’s my belief that there is nothing more human than using our gift of intelligence to understand and respect what is given for us when we cull.

So no, I don’t feel bad for slaughtering my chickens — if our positions were reversed, I would be understandably upset, but appreciative of the fact nonetheless, that my predator had the decency to give me a peaceful and almost painless dispatch.

In our time raising chickens for meat and eggs, I’ve learned that in this moment, the greatest thing you can do for the animal is to send them off without fear, and as quickly as possible - but never rushed.

As we cull, I often sit with the chicken that’s next up in my lap, gently but firmly hugging its body, which helps to slow their heart rate and calm them, and talking to it in a soothing manner. I don’t care how crazy it makes me look — the chicken’s muscles inevitably relax, they’re no longer looking for a means of escape, and by the time they’re ready for what happens next, they’re entirely calm.

Paul Wheaton did a really great video with a woman named Alexia Allen, who showed him that there was a gentle approach to culling chickens, and that it could in fact be, quite an emotional experience. I remember watching this remarkable video, and though it was sad (and even Alexia herself was a bit emotional), it was sort of beautiful how much care she put into this process. Paul talks about the video quite a bit in this podcast, so if you’re not sure if you’re ready for the video, you get a feel for it in this episode.

The Farmstead Meatsmith and Other On-Farm Slaughtering Resources

The Farmstead Meatsmith is another great resource for information on respectful animal harvest. Their videos are highly inspirational, detailing their processes from start to finish on ‘the art of thrift’, and in using every single part of the animal. Most notably though, I find their respect in the way of killing their livestock the most profound - there is no padding to this content, nothing to diminish what is being done — only respect for the animal that is at the other end of the gun.

Paul Wheaton also interviewed Brandon Sheard of the Farmstead Meatsmith in this podcast on his butchering methods, and did a bit of a Q&A with folks down at the forums of — there’s lots of great information there if you’re a bit squeamish about just diving right into the videos (though I highly recommend you check them out - they are beautifully done, and so informative).

 Preparing to cull a particularly unruly rooster

If you’re reading this as a person who has never butchered an animal before, and are nervous about it, I’m here to tell you — I get it, we all do. It’s an intimidating thing, as it should be, and taking responsibility for the peaceful death of an animal is almost as great of a burden as it is to keep them healthy and comfortable while they’re alive.

Take your time with getting to know the animal’s anatomy and creating as stress-free a method as you can — something that works well for you both. Get as familiar and comfortable with the process and you can, and take the burden of that responsibility seriously.

Destiny Hagest is personal assistant to Paul Wheaton, founder of and, as well as a content curator and freelance writer. You can catch Destiny hanging out in the forums at quite regularly, and visit her LinkedIn profile, and follow her on Twitter. Read all of Destiny's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Choosing a Milking Goat


Goat coming out to be milked.

Many assume that a “good milker” means an animal with high milk yields. In fact, the milk yield forms only one part of the milker quality equation, the other two parts being the state of the goat’s udder and teats, and the animal’s temperament.

A Tale of Two Does

To illustrate this, there was a time when I was milking two does, one of whom was the most sweet-tempered, patient goat imaginable - and she gave plenty of milk, too. However, she had a pair of teeny tiny teats which were extremely uncomfortable to handle, and my thumb muscle would be completely seized up by the time I’ve finished milking her. Milking took a long, long time, too, and if this goat hadn’t been obliging enough to stand calmly and patiently for me until I was finished with her, there’s no way it would have worked out.

The other doe had a very nicely shaped udder and comfortable-sized teats with large orifices. I could finish milking her in a couple of minutes – if she stood still, which she never seemed to be ready to do, even with a bucket of grain in front of her. She was skittish, nervous, and jumpy, and a kicker into the bargain. Eventually, with lots of petting and treats, her personality evened out a bit, but she was still a lot of work, and if it weren’t for her wonderful udder, I wouldn’t bother milking her at all.

Ideally, of course, a good family milking goat should combine all these benefits: an easy temper, a nicely shaped udder and teats, and a high milk yield. But personally, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather have a goat that isn’t a super-high-yield milker but is friendly and easy to milk and handle, than a goat that produces a lot of milk but has a faulty-shaped udder and a nasty temper.

How to Choose a Milking Goat

So practically, when buying a milking goat, how do you know if you’re getting a good bargain?

In a goat that has already kidded, look at the shape of the udder. A good udder has a firm, round, symmetrical shape and is positioned close to the body. An udder that is hanging low indicates faulty connective ligaments and is a problem. It is prone to injury and makes milking, or even suckling for the kids, inconvenient.

The teats should be long enough for convenient hand-grasp. The size of the orifice matters too – it determines milk flow and, therefore, how fast milking will go.

If possible and if the goat you are looking at is "in milk", request to milk her and see how it goes. Keep in mind that if a goat is skittish around you, it may be because she doesn’t know you and this can be overcome in time.

If this is a doe that hasn’t kidded yet, ask to take a look at her mother and sisters and evaluate their udders. A good breeder will always be upfront and open and willing to provide any information you request. If you encounter a goat breeder who is evasive and defensive when you ask questions, run for the hills, even if the price is tempting. The quality of your livestock is everything – animals with problems are worse than no animals, and it makes sense to wait until you can purchase the best quality available.

The post above was an excerpt from my book, Your Own Hands: Self-Reliant Projects for Independent Living.

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Using a Smart Splitter for Splitting Firewood Logs


Leave it to the Swedes to help take the backache out of splitting wood.

With great success, we’ve been testing out the Smart-Splitter designed and manufactured by the Swedish company, Logosol Smart Products, and distributed in the US by Lucky Supply America. We found it simple to use, effective on most logs we tried, zero-energy, zero emission and definitely safe.

We first came across these handy units at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, and had to know how well they worked on our elm and knotty logs. Sure, the Smart-Splitter handles 13-inch long, 10-inch in diameter, well-seasoned logs of maple, oak, locust and black cherry. But how about stringy elm, or logs with multiple limbs or those that are unevenly cut? This is our first hand experience.

Wood Splitting Made Safe

As homesteaders at our wind and solar-powered Inn Serendipity Farm and B&B, we’re always exploring efficient ways to meet our energy needs without using much — or any — fossil fuels. We heat our farmhouse with wood from downed trees, readily available and free for the taking in neighboring woodlots, on our farmstead or in our community. To the extent we can — in how we heat our home, generate electricity or grow our food (organically) — we strive to turn back the clock on climate change and build resilience.

For evenly cut, seasoned 13-inch-long and 10-inch-in-diameter logs without limbs, the Smart-Splitter worked like a breeze. Lining up the splitting wedge with existing radial cracks in the log usually allowed us to split the wood in less than six thrusts downward with the roughly seven-and-a-half-pound striking weight.


Unless you have lots of practice with a maul, or “splitter axe,” and the strength to heave the maul over your head for hours, the Smart-Splitter does the work quicker, safer and with less effort. It’s a tool that the whole family can use. Both my wife and teenager son, neither of whom would normally be found splitting wood, embraced the Smart-Splitter thanks to its safety and relative ease of use.

Generally speaking, the number of downward thrusts of the splitter’s striking weight increased in proportion to the type of wood logs we were splitting, their length and/or their diameter. While we followed the directions to use only well-seasoned and dry logs with lots of radial cracks, elm required the most effort — upwards of eighteen slams for a couple pieces. Others logs, like maple, oak and hickory, were split within six to ten thrusts. Impressive, for the little amount of physical energy we actually expended. We did encounter a few logs with limbs or knots so twisted that we were forced to set these aside to cut in half with a chainsaw later. The shorter the logs and straighter the grain, the less likely any issues.

No Wood Log Balancing Act

Like many homesteaders, we don’t get every log cut perfectly straight. This leads to an uneven log, logs with a slight angle to a cut side. If you perch these uneven logs on a splitting log to split with a maul, it can be a very frustrating balancing act. With the Smart-Splitter, however, this is less of an issue, since the splitter holds the wood upright. Just line the splitter edge up with the radial cracks in the dried log and you can safely split away. And you’re guaranteed to hit the wood in exactly the same spot until it’s split. That’s not to say you want to split uneven logs; it’s just a bit easier and safer to do so with the Smart-Splitter.

Once you get this tool set up, there’s no learning curve or eye-hand coordination. With the Smart-Splitter, it’s just a matter of lifting up the weight with both hands and thrusting it downward. No more deflections or bouncing the maul head off the side of the log.

Knots can be a challenge, though. If you get the splitting wedge lodged into the log, as we did on more than one occasion, there’s a stop nut on the bar to reverse thrust the striking weight to easily remove the wedge from the log. We’d then reposition the splitting wedge on a different radial crack and try again. The bigger the log, the more the effort, regardless of the type of wood. For those who like to get a little exercise while stacking up cordwood, you’ll get that too, just in a much safer way.

Making Kindling

You should never try making kindling with a gas-powered hydraulic splitter, lest you want to tempt fate with your fingers. Swinging a hatchet can also take a bit of practice. But the Smart-Splitter also has a kindling blade so that small pieces of firewood can be cut safely and quickly. We’re going to keep our splitter set up inside our shed for when we start running out of kindling near the end of the winter (which we usually do).

To set up the Smart-Splitter, you’ll need hardwood log base at least 12-inches in diameter and about 10 to 20-inches high. A steel supporting rod is inserted about 5-inches into the hardwood base; a drill bit is provided for this initial setup. Once done with the base, we could set-up our splitter in less than thirty seconds.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Salethe award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographerIvanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient LivingThey live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How One Farm is Reinventing Agriculture with ‘Carbon Farming’ and a ‘Full-Diet’ CSA


Old McDonald of E-I-E-I-O fame would feel right at home on Essex Farm, a 600-acre spread in upstate New York where the future of American agriculture is being radically reconceived. 

For the past 60 years, farmers have been encouraged, seduced and coerced by agribusiness and federal policies to become ever more specialized. So it’s surprising to walk through a modern farmyard and hear a moo-moo here and an oink-oink there, and see 50 different kinds of vegetables growing in the fields.

And that’s just the beginning of what farmer and writer Kristin Kimball — working with her husband, Mark, and eight other full-time farmers — provide for 222 members in the Adirondacks and New York City.

Running a ‘Full-Diet’ CSA Farm

Members of their “full-diet” CSA (community-supported agriculture) receive a weekly year-round Cornucopia, which can include beef, pork, chicken, lamb, eggs, lard and dairy products. Plus fresh veggies — greens, lettuce, tomatoes, tomatillos, carrots, several varieties of peppers, cabbage, squash, eggplant, beets, onions, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi and more.

Then there’s fresh fruit — strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, rhubarb. Grains too — four kinds of flour, cornmeal, steel cut and rolled oats, wheatberries, pancake mix, frozen bread dough. Don’t forget herbs — sage, mint, chives, fennel, meatloaf mix. And to round out meals—sauerkraut, popcorn and maple syrup. On top of all this, farm-made soap.

‘There’s something about the idea of most of your food coming from one farm that touches people,” Kimball says, noting that Essex Farms’ membership has increased every year since the start in in 2003.

But how can 10 people provide that much food for just $3,700 a year (with a sliding scale for families)? “It’s a constant juggle,” acknowledges Kimball, author of the acclaimed The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love. “It takes a lot of time and energy to come up with the systems to do it.”

It also takes a transformative vision of farming as a way to provide people local, wholesome food at a reasonable cost using methods that restore the earth, reinvigorate rural communities and fight climate change. Essex Farms is mounting a challenge to the very foundation of industrialized agriculture: mass-scale production of highly uniform and specialized crops for people in distant places.

Love and the ‘Dirty Life’

Showing that another kind of farming is possible remains the animating mission of Kimball and Mark, who first met when she interviewed him for a magazine article. Mark had formulated plans for this new face of agriculture while working on farms across the country on a coast-to-coast bicycle trip.

Kristin shared his vision, and 13 years ago they settled on a dairy farm near Essex, New York (which had sat empty for 20 years), and worked together to assemble the intricate systems necessary to provide a sizable share of people’s weekly meals from a single place. Even some sympathetic observers wondered if their plans were quixotic.

“There’s beauty and synergy in farming this way,” answers Kimball. “Vegetable skins and skim milk go to the pigs, broken eggs and manure make compost for the vegetables.”

Today, Essex Farms boasts barnyards filled with cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and horses; pastures and paddocks where the animals are rotated for grazing; 50 acres of vegetables; 15 solar panels; four old truck trailers converted into food processing facilities; two daughters; two ponies; a farmhouse where all the farmers sit down to a feast on Friday nights; and Kristin’s writing cabin tucked away in a woodlot near where sugar maple trees are tapped for syrup.

‘Carbon Farming’

Two years ago, Kristin and Mark launched the Essex Farm Institute to share what they are learning, and to draw attention to regenerative farming as one answer to climate change.

This means more than reducing fossil-fuel use in the production and long-distance transportation of food — regularly moving grazing livestock from one parcel of land to another allow the soil to sequester carbon out of the atmosphere. Practiced on a wide scale, “carbon farming” could help bring down carbon levels below the climate change threshold of 350 parts per million.

“Farming can go from being part of the problem to being a big part of the solution,” she says.

Farm Demonstration School and Agritourism

This Institute operates as a boots-on-the-ground ag school with demonstration projects, public events, an internship program and classes covering topics like welding, economics, and the “mob grazing” techniques central to carbon farming.

“It truly is a training ground,” Kimball explains. “Mark likes to say we give people practical experience but also the courage to try new things.”

As Kimball walked me around the farm, trailed by her 5-year -old daughter on a bicycle, a young couple and their three kids arrived. They were moving here from Rhode Island to study farming as soon as the husband was out of the Navy.

Many of those who come to work or study at Essex Farm stay in the area. “We all share equipment and help each other. That’s characteristic of the region. We all know this place is too small for us to be in competition.”

Jay Walljasper is a consultant, writer and speaker focusing on how to create stronger, better communities. He is also editor of the Commons website of the Blue Mountain Center arts community in upstate New York. Read all of Jay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The ABCs of Homesteading: I is for 'Income'

This is the seventh post in the ABCs of Homesteading series. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Market Stand

People who do incredibly important things like grow wholesome food, educate children, care for the elderly or differently abled, make beautiful art, protect parks and wildlife, compassionately serve their communities, and otherwise contribute meaningfully to a better world always seem to make barely enough income to survive.

Meanwhile, people who provide financial “services”, of the kind that caused the 2008 (and beyond) global recession, earn exorbitant sums of it and spend it on luxuries that are detrimental to the health and happiness of the rest of us and our planet.

This kind of extreme income injustice is just one reason, in a very long list of reasons, why reducing my dependence on outside income has been a top priority for me as a homesteader. There are hundreds more, but I don't want to take up your time telling you things you already know. If you do want more reasons to aim for less dependence on outside money sources, please check out a few of my other articles:

Are you Prepared for Peak Chicken?

Homesteading - A Radical Re-Evolution

Extreme Weather and Food Resilience

But if you are already on board, read on for ideas you can use to increase your income independence!

Create an Income Inventory

Whether we like it or not, unless you plan to go money-free like Mark Boyle, author of the Moneyless Manifesto (a free, must-read eBook), you will need some income. But it is normally less than you think and there are often ways to change or reduce your current needs. Start by taking an inventory of where your current income goes. Divide your current spending habits into categories of fixed, sticky, and up for grabs.

Fixed expenses. Some income needs are “fixed” like student loans and taxes. You can negotiate payment schedules but these are tough to get out of. The best strategy for these is to pay down balances and reduce taxable overhead such property or income.

Sticky expenditures. Some stuff is “sticky” like mortgages and credit card debt. People often think of these as fixed, but you can opt for less expensive housing or negotiate credit card debt. You can even consider options like bankruptcy and debt-reduction planning. You may have to take a hit to your credit report to break free from indentured debt servitude quickly, but swapping credit ratings for self-sufficient living is worth considering.

Discretionary budget. Finally, there is your discretionary budget or what I like to call “up for grabs”. This is your take-out lunches or frou frou coffee habit, clothing expenses, grocery bill, internet and cable costs, and other things that you can immediately control.

Don't just guess at your expenditures. Track what you spend and categorize appropriately. Many people are surprised to find out how much they spend on spontaneous purchases, groceries, and other non-necessities.

Take These Income Interventions

Cable. Now that you know where your income goes, start with your “up for grabs” list and brainstorm about ways to reduce or modify your needs. For example, do you really need internet and cable? If you aren't ready to give up TV entirely, then consider cheaper video-streaming accounts to a separate cable bill.

Clothing. And do you honestly need more clothes or chochkies? If yes, shop yard sales. Better yet, start a clothes and trinkets swap group or check out DIY ideas online and make up-cycled stuff from “trash."

Grocery Store Replacement

Food. Grocery bills are an easy place for homesteaders to start cutting costs. After your initial investments in plants, seeds, and soil are out of the way, focus on growing high-calorie and high-cost foods to make the biggest dent in your food budget. Bulk buying also cuts cost and ensures you are better prepared for emergencies.

Cleaning. Baking soda and vinegar can replace many expensive cleaning products.

Gas. You can also cut gas (and increase time for making income) by limiting trips to the store.

Addiction. Try to avoid the “analog trap”. The point of this exercise isn't substitution — it's intervention. The goal is to mindfully break free from unsustainable, income-dependent addictions. If you currently spend $5 a day on coffee and a scone, then baking scones and drinking coffee at home will save money. But, as a homesteader with a flock of laying ducks or chickens, eggs and a garden-grown salad are better than buying flour and sugar to bake scones at home.

Coffee. I'll spare you the sustainability-lecture on coffee. But if you must have it, consider reusable filters, save your grounds to grow oyster mushrooms, and give your myceliated, spent grounds to your worms to get great compost. It's not exactly a net-zero on the sustainability front, but it does turn a bad habit into a food production system and keeps k-cups from overloading our landfills.

Once you've had some success at the simpler stuff, move up your list to the “sticky stuff”. If you aren't in a position to buy your homestead outright, then how about renting out a room to a tenant, your garage as a storage space, or some of your garden area to apartment-bound budding homesteaders so you can pay off your mortgage faster? Can you convert your garage or part of your house to a home-based business? This not only makes for a new income stream, but it may also mean a tax deduction on your housing and utility costs for the square footage used as a workshop or office. You may even be able to deduct some of your car expenses.

Imagine Being Income-less

When you think you've done all you can using your income inventory and intervention, then imagine that you suddenly lost your income. Maybe the economy tanks again, industry leaves your town, and social programs like unemployment fail. You have nothing coming in and no potential to earn money the way you have in the past. Imagine it in gory detail because the more real it feels, the more useful the exercise. Then look at your income inventory again from your income-less perspective. What else could you cut if you had to?

If you have a steady stream of income now, you may not want to make these deep cuts yet. But by doing this exercise you know exactly how much income you really need to get by. And you can make a plan to create redundancies for that income on your homestead, if necessary.

Income Ideas for Homesteaders

Self service. You will probably not get rich as a homesteader. This is why most of us choose a path simplicity based on needing less, but enjoying more. We live below the poverty line, without safety nets like investments or health insurance. We fix our own cars, repair leaky roofs, chop our own firewood, and build or borrow what we need. Instead of spending money to buy happiness, we spend time to create it on our own terms. What we lack in income, we make up for with ingenuity. And that ingenuity can lead to untapped income makers.

CSAs and market gardens. Many homesteaders lean toward becoming market gardeners because they are already growing food. This can be a good income stream, but managing a CSA, prepping for and spending hours selling at a market stall are time-consuming and laborious. If you go this route, think about growing specialty products that people are willing to pay extra for and also consider direct marketing to neighbors, church, social or office groups, rather than just relying on income from farmer's markets sales which can vary dramatically from week to week.  Also don't limit yourself to vegetables.  Becoming a homestead poultry processor is a fairly simple process in many areas. And growing fruit to sell at market or setting up a pick your own orchard are good ideas. 

Pet care. Crazy as it seems, some people who  want dollar specials on food for their family will happily spend a fortune on pet care. This means pet sitting, dog walking, pet food sales, animal training, and other related activities can sometimes be a better income generator for homesteaders with strong aptitudes toward animal husbandry than human food. With backyard chickens making a comeback, temporary chicken care is another option.

Lawn and landscaping. Services related to plants and landscaping are also good choices for homesteaders. Lawn mowing and leaf and debris removal can provide a steady source of free organic material for your homestead and help earn you a little extra income. You can use your plant propagation skills to grow and sell potted plants or seeds. Exotic and perennial edibles are particularly in demand right as a result of the growing permaculture and edible landscaping movements. Developing and selling related products like finished compost, raised bed frames, and self-watering systems are also good possibilities. Consulting services for landscape design and implementation can also be part of your offerings with the right skill set.

Buyers clubs. Bulk buying is a good cost saving strategy, but it could also be an income stream. You could start a buyers co-op with your friends and neighbors, so that you can increase your bulk discounts. In exchange for organizing that buying power and doing the ordering, you could charge your members a small fee for your service. You not only get the savings from bigger buying power, but also a bonus for doing a little extra legwork over what you would already be doing for yourself.

What's in season? Seasonal work such as grape harvesting, building beehives, renting out your equipment, offering handy-person services, teaching courses, holding homestead tours, making crafts, selling cut flowers, up-cycling trash, and so many more income makers exists for the homesteader with lots of skills and a little ingenuity.

Homemade Top Bar Bee Hive

Keep in mind that any time you start a business there are legal hurdles — tax codes, regulations, inspections...blah, blah, blah. So make sure you find out what requirements apply and cover your rear on the legal front to avoid unnecessary headaches.

Also, know that the more skills you have the more income potential you have. So your best investment in working towards income independence is skill building. Which is why our next entry in the ABCs of Homesteading is “J is for Jack of All Trades Journeyman”. Stay tuned for ideas on how to skill-up and homestead like a professional!

Tasha Greer spent several years “practicing” homesteading in a suburban home in Maryland before moving to a nearly 10-acre rural paradise in North Carolina where she currently raises pigs, goats, poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, herbs, trees, shrubs, and mushrooms. She is a master gardener volunteer with a focus on helping people grow their own food. She also raises and processes poultry, herbs, and other edibles at the reLuxe Ranch. Find Tasha at The Way Back and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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