Thursday, September 21, 2006

Making "Cents" Of It All

When I was a boy my Grandma Jessie and I used to spend long hours talking about the old days. I loved to hear about how life was before all the modern trappings of life. She grew up on a subsistence farm in the hills near Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Seeing my interest she would ask me if I thought I’d be a farmer some day. My reaction was, “absolutely not“.

At that time the only farming model I was aware of (besides the more primitive living off the land survival type stuff) was that of the modern industrial type. Though I tended to romanticize the old time subsistence farming in my grandma’s time, I never considered that to be a financial option during the “modern’ times of the early 1970’s. “Farming” to me at that time in my life was defined by the examples I saw around us in the rural area’s of Illinois of seeing men perched high inside large green machines driving up and down vast fields doing incomprehensible things. I really had no idea what they were doing exactly. It seemed to me that it was something that was completely beyond me. It was a club I’d never portend to join.

So it really never entered my mind that a person could “farm” and actually make money. After all everyone knows farmers only get by with government subsidies. And there has been for many years now the ever growing trend of farms going under. All I ever pictured was lots of debt and having to have some kind of PHD or something. Not even in my wildest dreams did I ever want that kind of life. And still don’t for that matter.

When we moved to this place I never seriously considered a plan which would include making much money from the land. My idea was to live as cheaply as possible by living simply and growing as much of our own food as possible. Every time I would sit down with figures and try to see a way to cash in on livestock or crops the bottom line always seemed too dismal to ever take it seriously. Making money and homesteading seemed almost two separate things entirely. If you could live cheap then you didn’t need much cash.

Well that all seemed well enough that first year or so but, soon we started getting to know folks, making friends, attending 4-H meetings and going to church. All that coming and going cost money. But, we’d just swallow hard and go, figuring we’d just do it in faith and somehow the Lord would provide. Plus with three growing children there were lots of excuses to have to spend money. And to add to the growing list of reasons to go to town Kelli and the kids got involved with a nice home school group which always had something going, yet more reasons to spend that hard earned cash. During that time I worked for a short while at an auto parts store making just over $5 an hour. At that pay even a .50 cent soda is a lot of money. Makes a guy think twice about popping those quarters into the machine.

Everyone with a family knows all the pressures that there are to spend. A person could probably come up with a thousand and one reason’s to have to go to town and to go do stuff. It’s a cultural thing I guess. That whole soccer mom mentality that says kids and families have to be out doing all kinds of activities. Honestly I don’t know how we ever did it. Now, there are many things that we’ve abstained from over the years. Considering all of it we have lived very cheap. We probably will never know this side of eternity all the times that the Lord has intervened and has kept us going financially.

I always liked the idea of living off the land but, how a person could actually do that and support a family was beyond me. Right from the start however we figured that we’d provide lodging for folks who wanted to get away to a quiet retreat. At the time we never even heard of “agri-tourism”, but, basically that was the idea. We’d homestead, just providing for ourselves and maybe having a little left over to sell and that would be the agricultural part of the “farm vacation”.

While we were building our rental cabin we were running pretty short of money so that is when we thought of having the petting farm. Since we were buying most of the food for our animals that would be one way to have them pay their way besides just feeding us. Yet all the while I had to admit that what we were doing was little more than hobby farming. That being another way of farming that I just didn’t care for. Next to modern industrial agriculture I would guess hobby farming would be the second most common way that folks in this Country keep a foot in the soil. Not my idea of a good time. A full time job away from home plus full time work at home. Sounds like an early grave to me.

The petting farm could have been good for us here but, we’ve always had this tendency to give everything away. We only charged $1.50 admission. We did sell a few other things like lemonade and soda’s and corn filled ice cream cones to feed to the animals. Basically we were just getting by, but at least it paid for the animal feed.

Putting too low of a value on the things we are doing has been one of our down falls since living here. For example when we see eggs in the grocery store for .60 cents a dozen or less we feel like we’re robbing people at $1.25. Yet we could easily get twice that if we just admitted to ourselves how much more valuable they really are. But we feel guilty if we charge what we could and probably should get. It has been the same with the trash business. In fact over the past couple months Kelli and I have been agonizing over whether or not to raise our rates. Tonight we did it though. We swallowed hard and raised the rate for this next quarterly billing. As long as we don’t lose too many customers it will help tremendously. I’m trying to keep that in mind as I head off to bed here real soon. Hopefully I won’t toss and turn in my sleep with my conscience giving me fits.

I haven’t had a chance to blog much recently because I’ve been busy chewing on those Joel Salatin books I got a couple weeks ago. I wish I would have read his stuff years ago. I really like how he thinks. Yet even as comprehensive as he makes it sound I think there is always the temptation to get over committed. Salatin seems to focus in on the relationships that the farmer forms with the customers and I whole heartily agree with that. After all, when it’s all said and done, it’s the relationships that really matter anyway. Even living as wholesome as you can get we have to keep the eternal things in perspective.

But, it’s nice to learn finally that it is possible to earn a half decent living from the land by living an agrarian life. I’ve been catching on to that this past year by reading some of the other blogs, the full time farmers, like Northern Farmer, Homesteader Life and Sugar Mountain Farm. And to see that there are many good folks out there who have the calling as well. They’re not there yet but they’re on their way. With discipline, determination and above all faith in the Lord they’ll soon get there.

Until Next Time


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Russ!

Great post! I can sure understand the struggles between living a life centered within God's great Creation and also interconnected to the society around us.

When you figure out how to do that, let me know! I haven't figured that one out either. When I was raising my family, I worked in the 'system' to earn Cesear's Coin. After my nest was empty, I found it much easier to live a much simplier life.

Awesome gardens this year! We had a strong frost 2 nights ago. I love the fall season except for the knowledge that winter is hanging over my head.

I even enjoy winter once it's here and I've grown conditioned to it. It's just the transition that's difficult!

Thanks for the compliment on my post about raising apple trees!

Best wishes my friend!

11:43 PM  
Blogger ploughman said...

Decide first on how much or rather how little you need.We can get by on so little nowadays and believe me the true quality of life goes up not down the less you have.
Fasting operates on a similar principle. By noon a piece of bread and cheese has all the allure of a steak dinner!!
Our lives can [without abject poverty] be lived along a similar principle.
Because we do without, my family has to do with me. The battle then is no longer how to gain sacred family time but how to use that time for the glory of God.
A landed peasant, living a simple life , as a preparation for the afterlife.
God Bless

1:19 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hey Steven,
Thanks for the comment!

Our gardens are just about done but we are keeping some tomatoes, zucchini and squashes going with plastic row covers.

I kind of know what you mean about winter. Though, I don't think we have to gear up for it quite like you all up there.

Apple trees. I'm sentimental about apple trees. One of the things I do appreciate about where I grew up is that we had a small orchard. That was always a neat and delicious treat for a boy plus I spent countless hours climbing them and playing in the branches. There was one that even had a tire swing in it. They were pretty good sized trees.

8:51 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hello Ploughman,
I certainly appreciate the wisdom. It seems we live in an age where there is great temptation to want much more than we really need. Even with food, as you mention fasting. In America obesity has become an epidemic.
After we moved to this place and before we had a T.V. and computers we had much higher quality family times. We found that it was true that less was better.

Thanks again,

9:05 PM  
Blogger Walter Jeffries said...

In addition to figuring out how little you really need there is another important issue and that is avoiding the temptation to spend. Going in town means spending money. If nothing else there is petrol and wear on the vehicle.

On top of that there may be the temptation to buy more or something you see that you don't really need. With that in mind it is important to teach yourself, and your kids, to learn how advertisers work and how to resist their messages.

Two tricks to lessen the cost of going in town:

- Combine errands and lay them out in a logical order that makes the best use of your time and miles. We never go in town for just one thing.

- Pack food and drink. If you've got food in the car you'll be less tempted to buy it. Bought, especially impulse items, is high cost and lower value.

What other tricks do people have?

7:03 AM  
Blogger HomesteadHerbs said...

To keep from going into town, I found that if I buy most of my staples in bulk from a coop, I save on those one item errands. A cow keeps me from having to run into town for milk and butter (even if its a borrowed cow!)

The one that gets me is the internet buys...most especially the cheap books! Since I've cut the credit cards, it's been easier to curb it...but then PayPal came along!!!

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have any helpful suggestions unfortunately, being a "city girl", at least in the eyes of my country cousins. I came across your blog doing a google search on Red Boiling Springs. Have more cousins than I can count there, and both parents are from there (and nearby Goosehorn). Not that it sounds like you have any spare time at the moment that you are at a loss to fill, lol, but should it ever happen, and if you haven't been there already, a visit to Red Boilin' and the surrounding area is like stepping back in time. I have always lived in Ohio, but visits to Tennessee will always be a part of my fondest memories. And I have often played the scene in my mind of trying what you are doing down there. I think it's a great thing for your family, one that sadly not enough young people will ever get to experience. Rock on!

1:21 PM  

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