Unplugging to Reconnect: A Journey Toward Full-Time Homesteading – Finances, Part 2

Reader Contribution by John Atwell
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Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

Building on the last post, being unburdened by consumer debt and a mortgage was a liberating feeling, albeit dampened by the realization that we were now living off of savings to include some retirement funds. Nearly two decades below the age at which we could tap our federal pensions or Social Security, it was time to consider what course to chart to ensure solvency while we labored to establish a sustainable food producing home.

Homestead Income Streams

The second theme that we tripped across in many authors’ writings and speakers’ notes was the need to establish alternative income streams as soon as possible after ending regular employment (if not before) and while in transition to greater self sustainability. In other words, until you can produce most — if not all — of your own food to eat and sell-able homestead products to generate a little cash for other incidental expenses, you will need something to help offset the cost of meals, gas, taxes, feed and seed, and miscellaneous tools and supplies to staunch the bleed-out of all your accumulated wealth.

This component is only limited by imagination and energy, but personal resources can open up a wider set of options. Cutting trees from one’s property to process and sell as firewood was a common money maker that we read about; hiring oneself out as paid unskilled labor, from yard work to house cleaning, was another. Some people rent out personal assets (cars, boats, tools) or hire out the skills they acquired in their former life (accounting, tax return prep, security consulting). Selling excess personally produced food as the farm or homestead takes shape is another common tactic with eggs apparently being the most hassle free and easy to sell on a regular basis.

In our case, we had begun to develop some very small, ad hoc, “hobby” streams before we even decided to cut the cord to our government careers. Originally produced only for our own consumption, but too voluminous in the end for us to nosh or gift, organic cut comb honey from our suburban beehives commanded a premium at a local farmer’s roadside stand. (We were asked by the same stand if we could part with some eggs from our three suburban backyard hens for sale, but we had to pass given that we were just supplying our own egg requirements and did not have room to expand.)

Unexpectedly, acquaintances began asking to buy our handcrafted tallow balm (made from organic, grass fed cow suet and organic essential oils), initially crafted to combat the eczema suffered by a few members of our family. On a lark, at a one-off neighborhood Fall fair, we sold excess garlic from our garden, homemade countertop sprouting kits, hand woven bookmarks, and crochet and knitted accessories. In all cases, a deep sense of satisfaction set in as people handed us coin for products that came from our personal efforts, and as we began to realize the joyful freedom of boss-less entrepreneurship. We were hooked.

When we made the big decision to redirect our lives, we immediately began to build a list of potential streams based on capabilities, assets, and interests. One year into our new life voyage, we continue to draw from that idea stash. Meanwhile, as we worked to cash out our lives in Virginia in preparation for the move West, we scoured the Internet for income opportunities. Before arriving in Hawaii, for example, I began locking into highly flexible work moving vehicles for a car rental agency. I also indulged my scribe’s calling and began seeking paid opportunities as a freelance writer. Once we arrived on island, and as we waited for our new property to be cleared, we used the outdoor space of our rental house to start a nursery for food-producing plants to sell and daily scans of the classifieds landed us a newspaper route right in the neck of the woods where our future home (a yurt complex that we will discuss in future posts) is being built.

Now that we have occupied our property, though in a temporary campsite as we wait on builders, we have locked into a weekly farmers’ market stall from which on one side we sell organically reared saplings and seedlings (from ginger and turmeric to cacao trees and passion fruit vines) and heirloom seeds (as the island’s only authorized seller of Seed Savers Exchange product). On the other side, we peddle bookmarks handcrafted from natural Hawaiian components (raffia grass, kukui nuts, beads of lava rock, etc.) and needlework. Cut comb honey, tallow balm, and produce will follow once we settle into our finished dwelling and our planting efforts begin to pay more dividends.

In our experience, there is great merit in focusing on streams that are highly flexible and, in our case, eat up no more than twenty hours per week, to accommodate the time needed to build the property into a food producing lot and to homeschool the kids. So called “flex jobs,” remote online gigs, and some regular part-time opportunities fit the bill for us, given our particular skill sets and experience. Also beneficial is a deliberate focus on jobs that we call “dual use.” Work at an organic food store pays salary and comes with the benefit of employee discounts on groceries while work at a farmers’ co-op earns you money and a percentage off of animal feed. Downtime between sales at the farmers’ market provides us much needed personal “admin” time–crafting lesson planning, paying bills, writing blog posts.

Click here to read Part 3andPart 4of this series.

To follow a more detailed account of our family’s ongoing transition, stop by our online journal at our blog, Sojourn Chronicle.

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