It’s not easy to make a living off of a small diversified farm like ours. In fact, a couple of highly-publicized articles in the past year (one in the New York Times and one on Salon.com) argued that it is nearly impossible.
I choose to believe that it is possible to make ends meet, by living modestly and working hard. But one thing seems sure to me–in order to make it work it is necessary to generate multiple streams of income.
We’ve been able to add a few more this year and our hope is that in combination they will keep us economically sustainable. For anyone thinking of taking up this lifestyle, I highly recommend that you try to develop as many streams of income as possible, even if individually they seem small.
On our farm now we generate income from:
- Herbs (fresh and dried)
- Cut flowers
- Homemade granola
- Handmade aprons and other crafts
- Baked goods
- Farm stay rentals through Air-BnB
- Book sales (both Cherie and I published books this year)
- “Worm tea” plant food
- Bug bite salve
- Decorative plants
- And probably some other things I’ve forgotten
We’ll likely be adding jams, jellies, pickles, and hot sauce next year.
We sell our products at two farmers markets, by pre-order at drop points in nearby towns and on farm. Cherie also attends several craft shows each year.
We stay busy. We are the farm’s entire labor force.
Some of the “income streams” don’t produce much income (in fact, looking at it in comparison to more typical jobs, none of them do), but all help the bottom line.
By combining careful attention to expenses, a minimalist personal philosophy, and multiple streams of farm income, we’ve been able to make it work so far. And we’re trying to stay creative and remain receptive to new streams of income.
Yesterday was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps history’s best known animal lover.
It was also Cherie’s birthday. She’s White Flint Farm’s version of St. Francis.
Some days here fit the image that often comes to mind when folks think of farm life–serene, beautiful, peaceful days. And some don’t.
Yesterday morning we were up at 4:30 to prepare for market. We had a couple of young does we needed to cull due to foot problems, and yesterday was the day of the goat auction at our local livestock market. So after Cherie and I loaded one of our farm vehicles (a 12 year old Honda Pilot) with the farmer’s market items and she set off for the market in the dark, I went out into the mud and cold rain to wrestle goats. After loading our cage into the bed of our truck, I caught, tagged and loaded the goats. Just before leaving for the stock market I noticed that we had failed to load one of the crates of produce into the Pilot. So I put it in the cab of the truck and sent a Cherie a text message, saying I’d bring it after dropping off the goats.
I was first in line to unload at the stock market. As we were unloading the goats one of the workers said, “That one has the sh-ts.” Sigh. An inopportune time to contract diarrhea. But I couldn’t take them back home at that point. So I left her, knowing that it would appear she was sick and drive down the price she would bring at the sale.
After unloading the goats I changed clothes in the bathroom at the stock market and joined Cherie at the farmer’s market. Thanks to a cold hard rain, there weren’t many customers. Nevertheless, our local followers came through as they have all year and we very nearly sold out.
Once the farmer’s market was over, I went back to the livestock market, just in time for the sale of our goats. They sold for about 1/2 of what I had expected, but under the circumstances I couldn’t complain.
Finally back home around 2 for a late lunch and a nap before more garden and goat work in the rain.
As I reflected on the day, I realized it wasn’t the kind of day likely to attract a person to farming.
Nevertheless I call it a good day. As I was tromping around in the mud and muck I thought, “Better is one day in these courts, than a thousand elsewhere.”
We like having spider-friendly gardens.
We’re finishing off the last of the watermelons. The tomatoes are all gone. As much as I love the way summer tastes, it’s time to say goodbye to summer and hello to fall.
Now the greens that can’t survive in the heat of summer are thriving. And we replace one set of delicious food with another.
So it’s goodbye to September, to tomatoes, watermelon and okra; and hello to October, to kale, collards, spinach, chard and Asian greens.
See you next year summer. Welcome back fall.
“It is highly probable that the infinitely wise Author of our nature has provided proper remedies and reliefs in every climate for all the distempers and diseases incident to their respective inhabitants, if in his Providence he has necessarily placed them there: and certainly the food and physic proper and peculiar to the middling sort of each country and climate is the best of any possible for the support of the creatures he has unavoidably placed there, provided only that they follow the simplicity of nature, the dictates of reason and experience, do not lust after foreign delicacies: as we see by the health and cheerfulness of the middling sort of almost all nations….”
George Cheyne, from The English Malady (1733)
Dr. George Cheyne was something of a celebrity in his day. A physician, he had ruined his health with overeating and heavy drinking. But with dietary discipline he was able to restore it. John Wesley became an admirer of Cheyne’s books on health and diet. I tell the story of Cheyne’s influence on Wesley in Organic Wesley.
I still don’t know how to make wine. One of my goals for this year was to begin making our own, but it never happened.
I have friends who are skilled winemakers, and they offered to help. We had a bumper crop of watermelons (the fruit I intended to use), so there was no shortage of material. I just never got around to it. I certainly didn’t spend any of the summer lounging around, but I’m a little frustrated that I didn’t prioritize better.
Wine is one of the few grocery items we’re still having to purchase.
So again I resolve that this is the last year we will buy our wine from a store.