RURAL LIVING: Thoughts on Making Ends Meet Financially

Q: How can my wife and I earn a living in the country so we can move out of the city? We’re over-educated urban dwellers with a dream of becoming homesteaders and permaculture farmers. Should we get certified in some trade before making the leap? Do we need to move to a semi-urban place, then commute for a pay cheque? Are we missing some other options?
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A: I was asking myself the same questions in the mid-1980s when I decided to move from the city where I grew up to some place in the country. I made the leap to full-time country life in 1989 when I was 26 years old, and since then I’ve met more and more people who feel the urge to move away from high-priced, high-pressure lifestyles in and around cities. There seems to be a trend here, and that’s a good thing. Many small, rural places could use more creative, hard-working, self-starter people. There’s satisfying lives to be enjoyed here, too. The trick, as you’ve noticed, is how to solve the money problem.

Agriculture?

One option that’s more difficult than most is the same option many city people think about right away when contemplating a move to the country: agriculture. While it is possible to make a living as a small scale producer of fruits, vegetables and other farm products, it takes an ideal piece of land, some pretty good equipment, a lot of skill,  great marketing abilities and the ability to work hard over the long haul. All this is difficult to pull together when the whole farming thing is new to you and you’re adjusting to rural life at the same time. Then there’s the economics of agriculture. Where I live I know of dozens of people who farm in various ways. With almost no exceptions, every one of these farming households includes some sort of substantial off-farm income. And this when most farmers I know didn’t even have to buy their own land and equipment, but rather merely inherited it. Farming can work, but it’s the longest of long shots when it comes to funding the kind of rural lifestyle urban dwellers envision.

Trades?

Developing skills as a carpenter, roofer, mason, plumber or other tradesperson is extremely useful for do-it-yourself projects on your land, but it’s not ideal as the economic engine of a homestead in my experience. That’s because it breaks the cardinal rule I have for modern homestead life – earn all the money you need without ever leaving the property. Why does this matter? The moment you have to leave your land during the best part of the day to earn money, that’s when a huge distraction from homestead work and life kicks in. Also, being a tradesperson in a rural area involves lots of expensive driving over long distances to get to the job site. I like trade work, we need more tradespeople, I’m just saying that it’s not the ideal economic engine to fund a homestead life.

Online Work?

One thing that makes homesteading economics much more possible than ever before is the internet. I love farming and do as much of it as I can, I’m also a cabinetmaker and carpenter by trade, but I rely on neither of these activities for the bulk of our family income. That’s because digital, online work is more lucrative, more flexible and brings more variety to my day.

The chance to work digitally allows people from across the world to collaborate on all kinds of work that used to require travel and physical meetings. My recommendation to you and your wife is to develop some kind of digital, internet-based business where you’re living now, then move to a rural place when you’ve grown it to the point of profitability. Developing your digital skills to the point where companies hire you as a remote, freelance contractor holds similar promise.

While you’re making all this happen, do everything you can to develop hands-on skills. It’s a huge advantage being able to keep your own water system flowing, reshingle a roof, prepare soil for a kitchen garden, build sheds and complete basic maintenance on your vehicles. One of the joys and benefits of homestead life is that it’s so varied. When you get tired of digital work on your laptop as you sit under a tree, there are always eggs to collect, a garden to till or the oil to be changed in your truck.

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