Remember when your friends all thought your garden and backyard chickens were just your elaborate hobby? As the landscape continues to shift in the wake of the current pandemic more and more, I find this homestead is not and has never been a “just a hobby”. This homestead has been my classroom, my laboratory, and my research site, where I learned how to do what is now absolutely necessary for the food security and financial stability of my family.
With the stay-at-home orders in my area, I have had to press pause on my learning lab to keep my students and my farm safe. But with pausing comes a loss of income for my family. “Homestead Engineer” remains an a job description that is considered essential where I live (especially being a farm equipment machinist), but my income has gone from a few hundred dollars a week to — zero! Yet, over the years I have read, toiled, and researched the “how to” for days such as this when I would need to find a way to use my skills to provide for my family in innovative ways.
Supplemental Income Streams for the Homestead
Selling home-canned goods. As an avid home canner, I reached out to the local cooperative extension and Health Department to learn the guidelines for selling home-canned goods. Under cottage law in Maryland, I am able to sell jams, preserves, breads, and cakes at my family’s existing farm store by following through with some simple guidelines and USDA standards of best practice without any additional licensing. Given the recent explosion of the Buy Local movement as more people try to avoid the commercial grocer, I am processing and selling at least a case of homemade preserves each week!
Understanding cottage food laws. With what I’ve learned in these years about thrifty shopping and food preservation, I am able to turn a profit with just three jars from each case covering my cost and the other nine jars being pure profit. A great place to learn more about cottage law and how you can get started can be found at the National Agricultural Law Center.
Selling useful plants. Last fall, I decided to try my hand at making some elderberry cuttings off of my favorite bush. They overwintered beautifully in my small greenhouse and, not needing all 20 of the cuttings, I reached out to a neighboring farm I saw putting in a berry patch and offered them up for sale. The money I made selling those bushes started on a whim in recycled coffee cups provided the quick cash I needed to buy a feeder hog off my sister that we will be able to raise and harvest this fall to fill our freezer.
Bartering. Let us not forget that although the exchange of cash has its place in certain transactions, in this lifestyle, cash is not always king. Last week, I exchanged hauling a load of compost for a family member in exchange for a week’s worth of fresh bread. We loaned the farm truck out for a few hours to someone to haul a mower and it arrived home with a FULL tank; of gas a feat that farm truck rarely obtains!
It would be easy to lament about the state of the world, but as my sisters and I have mused in these past few weeks, this is our Super Bowl. Friends, let this be your Peyton Manning moment and use your homesteading skills to score (my husband is going to be so proud of this football reference from his non-sporty wife!). This is the time we have been given to shine in our abilities to be charismatic and self-reliant and to provide for our communities. We will rise to the occasion and flex our muscles of creativity, connectivity, and engagement with our neighbors.
Amy Vaughan-Roland is a Maryland homesteader who sells farmstead cheese and butter at Daily Crisis Farm. She is an educator with The Annetta G. Wright Learning Lab, a learning space for diverse learners promoting courses in the lost arts and hands-on learning. She is an avid canner, gardener, thrifting expert, and monarch butterfly enthusiast. Connect with Amy on The Annetta G. Wright Learning Lab on Facebook and on Instagram @agwlearninglab, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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