I'm still musing about farming and homesteading. Not from a need to put a label on what we're doing, define, or defend it, but because we're trying to find the way to fulfill our dream.
My husband's desire is, and always has been, to stay on the homestead and support ourselves from our land. I'm not talking about making a profitable business out of it. I'm talking about making enough to comfortably meet whatever needs we can't meet for ourselves. He talks about self-sufficiency and getting off the grid. This is why we will never be a hobby farm. It is why we seriously consider whether or not we could make a living at farming (see Farm? Homestead? What Are We? ). And it also means that the question continually before us is, how?
Perhaps a better goal than farming, would be to work toward becoming a self-supporting homestead. Yes, I use the term "self-sufficient" a lot, but really, that's not what we're looking for in the strictest sense.
Complete self-sufficiency would mean being able to meet all of one's needs from the land and by the work of one's own hands. Well, some things I just can't do for myself. For example, I can't produce salt. Being an experienced handspinner and weaver, I can tell you that there's no way I can grow, harvest, process, spin, and weave enough cotton to make my own bedsheets. Because of that, I should probably use the term "self-sustaining," rather than thinking "self-sufficient." For example, if our food production is self-sustaining, then we can decrease our financial dependence on others and use our limited resources elsewhere, toward meeting needs we can't meet for ourselves. And that brings us closer to the dream of a self-supporting homestead.
There are two obstacles to fulfilling this dream I think - debt and lifestyle.
Of debt, we only have the mortgage. If it wasn't for that, Dan reasons, he wouldn't have to have a job away from the homestead and could devote all of his time and energy here. Not that we could eliminate the need for money altogether. Even if the mortgage was paid off and we could provide for most of our own food and energy needs, there would still be property taxes to pay at the very least. But think about it. How much is your mortgage or rent? What could you do with that money if you didn't need it to pay for housing? How would it change your life if all your debt was paid off?
Two obvious things come to mind: use the money for other things, for example, we could invest it back into the homestead; or, it would mean that many less hours at a job away from home. It would be that much less money we'd need to make.
Paying off the mortgage seems a near impossible task on our income. It took a long time to find something we could afford with both a little acreage and a livable structure. We were fortunate to have a small inheritance for a good down payment to keep our monthly payments low. We do pay down on the principle, yet at the rate we're going, we're looking at more years to get it paid off than Dan has until retirement.
Lifestyle changes to decrease our expenses are more do-able. Because of this, Dan and I often ask, what can we do ourselves? Even though we can grow much of our own food, to be truly food self-sufficient requires more than that, it requires changing how we think about our diet.
Case in point. Americans shop at grocery stores, where we can buy anything we want, whenever we want. We can buy tomatoes, grapefruit, and eggs all year long. Or chocolate, brown rice, and bananas. If my goal is to produce most of my own food, then I am faced with the choice of either trying to reproduce my customary diet, or learn to eat what I have available, either from the garden or from my food storage. I think about this as I prepare meals. More and more I try to work mostly with foods that we have the potential to provide for ourselves. The more I can do that, the more I can reduce the actual monetary income we need to make a living.
Other considerations, can we provide for any or all of our own energy needs? Heating, cooling, running the computer, the vacuum, and the deep freezer? This is more complicated to figure out. To be successfully implemented, this too requires a change in thinking. Decreasing our energy consumption is the first step. Learning to ration energy is another. After all, do I really need to run the dishwasher, the dryer, the mixer, the computer, and blare the stereo all at the same time?
One question that we've had to answer is, what are our expectations in terms of income? "Making a living" means different things to different people. Does it mean supporting a family of five persons, three pets, two vehicles, a $200,000 mortgage, and cable TV? Does it include an annual vacation, college savings, and retirement investments? Does it mean simply paying the bills, shopping at thrift stores, and eating out at (insert name of favorite cheap restaurant) once a month? Or something in between? How would you define it?
Is a self-supporting homestead possible? I don't know. Basically it all boils down to either increasing our income, or decreasing our expenses. We consider both. Do we have all the answers yet? No, but we're working on it. What I do know is that the goal is a valuable tool for setting priorities, making life choices, and keeping in touch with the natural world around us. And that's much of what this blog records, our journey toward our goal.
Why We're Not A Hobby Farm
Farm? Homestead? What Are We About?
A Simple Life