What Are Some of the Best Ways Homesteaders Earn Off-farm Income in the Winter?

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt

What are some of the best or most common ways that homesteaders earn off-farm income in the winter? I’d like a steady, off-farm job, but an employer who is willing to let me work only 5-6 months a year and have the rest off (to grow food, etc.)

Dan Taylor

Ellsworth, Maine

This is a question commonly asked by folks who are beginning their new farm life. Making a living while trying to provide a sustainable life for your family is not as easy as it seemed on Little House on the Prairie.

Let’s break this down into pieces. Unless you are trying to do it all — farm with horses, milk cows and make cheese, cut your own firewood, make lumber and sell your crops at a local farmer’s market — there will be large chunks of time during the growing season when you are not busy with farm work full time. So the question might be, what kind of jobs are available that will give you the flexibility to be a farmer as well as provide some cash to pay the necessary bills.

In rural areas, part time jobs are frequently easier to come by than fulltime professional work. So, polish up your resume/skill database and head off to town and visit some of the businesses that fit your skill base. Let them know that you are available fulltime in the winter and part time the rest of the year. One great possibility is the school district, which is mostly closed during the summer. They need janitors, mechanics and bus drivers. Or you might have the education to be a substitute teacher, which would allow you to say yes or no to work that fit your schedule. Being a snowplow driver might be a good winter job in Maine, where you live.

If you are good with machinery and have a tractor with attachments, you can hire yourself and your machine out to grade driveways, dig drainage ditches, scoop out dirt for backyard ponds or plow up land for neighborhood garden plots.

Your question leads me to believe that you have not made the move to the farm yet, and are checking out your options — good for you! Your success or failure with this new venture will be based on good advanced planning.

— Heidi Hunt, assistant editor