Homestead Business Success Stories

Learn how Susan Landfield started a lemonade stand, Sue Gregg developed a rototilling business and Terry Crist cut firewood to make extra cash.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1977
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Sue Gregg from Burlington, Vt., found a way to make extra money by starting her own rototilling business.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/RA3RN


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Sue Landfield from Neward, Mo.:  

Back in early 1971, some would-be back-to-the-landers in Quincy, Illinois who were looking for a moneymaking scheme happened upon an article in THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® about selling lemonade.

The write-up, "An Ideal Way for a Commune to Make Heavy Bread" motivated one of these folks — Kent Kattelman — to build a portable 8-by-8 foot stand of plywood and 2-by-4's. (See, too, MOTHER's article "The Lemon Tree.") 

The lower four feet of the walls in Kent's movable booth are plywood, and screening runs from the wood on up to the stand's roof. There's a counter in the front for transactions, and one in the rear to hold all necessary paraphernalia. Such a stand, put together wholly with screws and bolts, can be knocked down by two people in half an hour ... and fits piecemeal into an eight-foot pickup bed.

During the summer of 1971, Kent — with his wife Michelle and friends Rod Pool and Jeff Walz — sold lemonade at the local county fair and at several smaller festivals, and found the enterprise quite profitable indeed.

I entered the scene that fall, when we all talked of buying a farm and establishing a tiny community (we were five adults and one child at that time). And how did we figure on financing our dream? With lemonade!

Our initial expenses were minimal: The stand had cost about $150 to construct, and the additional equipment we bought came to only $100.

The business has now flourished for six seasons, and each year of added "seniority" has enhanced our standing with both fair officials and thirsty patrons.

We follow a kind of assembly line procedure for washing, quartering, and squeezing the lemons, measuring the sugar and water, etc., which culminates when one of us hands a buyer his or her iced beverage in a 16-ounce disposable tumbler.

While we need six workers during rush hours, three can handle the operation for an average flow of people. The entire process is entertaining to watch, and we add to our customers' fun (and our own) by maintaining a steady stream of friendly chatter.

In our first two years, we made sufficient profits to pay for a 40-acre farm here in Missouri, and we've since used our lemonade income to finance the buildings on our land.

Need I say how grateful we are for the idea that started it all?

Sue Gregg from Burlington, Vt.:  

Two years ago I bought a Troy-Bilt tiller, and last spring — being short on cash — I decided to follow up on your article about the rototilling business ("Have Rototiller Will Travel.")

Since I already owned the tiller and a pickup, my seed money amounted to $20 for a month of newspaper ads and a few dollars for gas. I scrounged the lumber to make a loading ramp, and after things got rolling I invested $5 to have 100 posters printed ... and maybe another dollar for the gas I used in posting them.

My advertisements drew an amazing response, and I soon learned to make sure I had someone at home to answer all the phone calls that came in while I was out working.

In my first season, I made more than enough to pay for the tiller, and to cover expenses on my truck (which were considerable, since it almost gave up the ghost on several occasions).

The work was enjoyable, even though I was frequently hassled by people who felt women aren't suited for such labor. I just laughed these remarks off in a friendly way ... and never failed to pick up even more jobs in that neighborhood from onlookers who approved of my attitude.

This season I expect to bring in more business, since I plan — in addition to my ads — to send all last year's customers a note requesting early reservations.

Rototilling might not support you year round, but a single month's work can sure make a dent in your bills (one operator of a tilling service in this area made over $1,500 last spring) ... and can expose you to some great people in the process!

Terry Crist from Catheys Valley, Calif.: 

It seems like I've always wanted to start a business of my own, but there were always two problems: My wife and I barely made enough money to pay our bills, let alone invest in an independent business venture, and though I'd worked at many different occupations, I'd never stayed long enough with any one of them to become a professional.

Then — a couple weeks ago, after the cattle rancher for whom I was working laid me off — I happened to read Glen R. Smith's article about the firewood business, "How to Set Up and Run a Firewood Business."

Glen's line of work sounded mighty good to me, since I already owned a good professional type chain saw and had lots of experience laying down and bucking up trees for firewood. Unfortunately, though, I couldn't afford to buy the other necessary equipment Glen talked about: namely, a truck or trailer for hauling wood, and a powered log splitter.

After talking the whole thing over, my wife and I became so excited at the prospect of being our own bosses that I came up with a way to go into business despite our lack of capital. "Why not cut people's firewood for them," I asked my mate, "right on their own land? We won't make as much per cord as we would if we were selling the logs AND the labor, but it will be a way to get started in the business!"

After investing $20 in a splitting maul (the only "necessary item" I didn't already have), I began to advertise my services ... and quickly discovered that there are plenty of people here-abouts who won't pay $60 per cord for someone else's wood, but who'll gladly pay us to come and cut fuel on their lots.

My whole family gets in the act: We drive to our customers' place, our "employers" show us which trees to cut, I lay the trees down, and my wife and I take turns cutting them into stove-length pieces. While one of us is handling the chain saw, the other one piles the logs, and our children (under our close guidance) pull the brush out of the way as it's shaved off the tree.

Then, depending on the terrain and weather, I either split the wood on the spot or take it to where it's to be stored and cleave it there. Since I have no pickup truck, my clients often let me use theirs if they have one. Otherwise, my station wagon does the job.

The payment for this work is always negotiable. (I like to settle on a price that makes both parties happy.)

It's good, honest, outdoor work, and — while it'll never make us rich — it's a living. I figure that by summer I'll be able to buy both a truck and a splitter. Then — with these essentials — I can start selling wood as well as work!


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