As you all can tell, I absolutely love living on my small farm. We have just a few blades of Bermuda over 60 acres, with at least 20 of them in trees – not counting one large and three small ponds. We are located in NW Louisiana, where the winters are mostly mild and summers are blazing hot. We purchased an ‘instant’ farm – meaning the instant we arrived, there was more work to be done than we could do in a 20 year period. Instant clean up. Instant repairs. Instant improvements. Instant expenses. All just sitting there waiting for us to get busy.
One of the first ‘farm meetings’ we had was how we were going to pay for all of this. We had some savings, but could see where, if not managed correctly, it would be gone by 11:30 am the next day (probably sooner, as most of the farm supply places usually opened around 7:00 am). What then, could we do, produce, offer, that could provide a farm income?
During my research, I learned something very valuable about farming. Don’t Compare. In many instances, the magazine articles I read, the books I studied, the online posts I poured over – were centered around farmers who live in the North, Northeast, Northwest, or flat out in another country. What sells well for them just will not work here. For instance, I am a weaver. I could sit at my loom all day long, and just weave to my heart’s content. My first foray into selling some of my projects was an eye-opener. I wove sturdy, lovely dishtowels and beautiful table runners. On line, the towels were selling around $15 to $22 each, with the runners between $45 and $75. Here? I sold two dishtowels at $5 each (one each at two different festivals), and ended up giving everything else away for Christmas gifts. Yes, the recipients loved them, and actually wanted more. Until they figured out how much it would cost me to make them – no profit included.
In order to actually sell what you produce, your first lesson should be to produce what you can sell. Most farms can sell every fresh egg their chickens can produce. Prices may vary – around here we sell ours for $3 a dozen, but I have literally seen transactions for $7 a dozen. Butter, fresh milk and cheeses would sell, but in order to do that, our laws dictate that I follow certain rules and guidelines, all of which are cost-prohibitive for us to put into practice.
So more research was in order. It took a trip to the local hairdresser’s, and a little old lady – Mrs. Dot – to help me realize that all the book learning, magazine reading and internet surfing wasn’t going to help in the least if I didn’t understand the buying trends of my area. “Honey,” she said. “I grew up so poor, we were thrilled to get Dirt Soup. I made, wore and wore out more handmade stuff than I could stomach. Now that I am older, wiser and richer, I wouldn’t buy anything handmade if my life depended on it. That’s why God gave us Wal Mart. But you can bring me a dozen of those eggs. My cakes just don’t taste the same without fresh ones.” (Mrs. Dot almost had heart failure right in the shop when I told her they were $3 a dozen, but she sucked it up and paid. Said her cakes were well worth the highway robbery…)
No matter how hard we try we have found that, in this area, we are going to be hard put to make a full living off of our small farm. We aren’t close enough to restaurants to sell fresh produce to them. Handmade isn’t going to make us monetarily rich – if it sells at all. We depend on the variety in our garden to feed ourselves, so a single market item won’t do us any good either. We have considered internet sales, but shipping fresh tomatoes to Montana kind of defeats our mantra of eating locally – as well as could end up being a stinky mess once they got to their destination. And our ground and weather will not support a niche crop – like lavender – on a large enough scale, without pouring more money into it.
What we can do, and actively pursue, is sell the things that can bring in enough income to help offset the expenses we incur. Our eggs sell well – we are always running out of them. Jams, jellies, Creole Sauce and other ‘approved’ items baked or in jars (anything that is covered under Louisiana’s Cottage Industry Laws) are a big hit. Our greens, when we grew them, went fast. We have started raising bees, and feel sure honey sales will help, and I am considering making breads and pizzas (on a first come, first served basis) when our outdoor bread and pizza oven is built. None of it will make us rich, but it all supplements our ‘habit’ of loving to farm. All of these things, though, are things we do for ourselves. We keep what we need and sell the excess.
This week’s Simply Living Monday tip is to just love what you do. Don’t compare yourself to any other farmer. Find out what does well in your area, and what you love to produce, and sell that – but don’t sell yourself just to gain the almighty dollar. Life is just too short to do anything less than what makes your heart sing. There just isn’t enough money in it to make selling your soul worth your while.