3 tomatoes in a little girl's hand

The One Reason Why We Aren’t Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

Any success that happens at the expense of your
health, your family, or your character is not real success. ~Dave Willis

About a year ago we decided to try turning our homestead into a business. This isn’t the first time that we thought we’d try to make money off the extra land we have since moving here. A few years ago we started a raw milk herdshare that we quit for a number of reasons I won’t get into here. We never intended for that little enterprise to be anything more than supplemental income which is what made it different from this time around.

As I announced back in June, we were transitioning our large family gardens into a Market Garden where we would sell our produce to local folks in the city. We had the open, tillable land, we had the high tunnel, we have a good location, we had an opportunity, and we took it.

There are numerous resources available about how you can make an incredibly decent living on an acre or two of vegetable production and I spent last winter devouring as much as I possibly could on both the growing side and the business side of the enterprise. I listened to the entire season of the Urban Farmer on Permaculture Voices, and every other podcast I could come across, taking notes all the while. I’m naturally well-organized and had a binder full of plans and charts. I started the season with a Command Center, numerous spreadsheets, and Trello. I was as ready as I could be for whatever the summer threw at me.

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

Or so I thought.

What happened in the weeks that followed was exactly as much work (non-stop, all-day) and exactly as much stress (I lost 20 pounds) as I anticipated. But it was harder on my family than I ever imagined it would have been. So we quit. And I am NOT a quitter, so I won’t lie, for me, quitting has been harder than the workload. It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions but I’m without-a-doubt certain that we did the right thing.

The aftermath still continues. It continues to be hard on our marriage, the failure continues to take an emotional toll on me. I thought it would be over when we buried the gardens in hay mulch last month. Every time I would go outdoors I would have a panic attack and break down. It was just so overwhelming. Sure we weren’t selling and I didn’t need to plant so much for fall, but something had to be done with the 800 pounds of tomatoes I grew! I couldn’t let the weeds pull nutrients from the soil and go to seed making my garden work that much more difficult next year. Earlier this week, when I sat down with the first seed catalog of 2017 that arrived in the mail, there it all was again. All the anxiety, frustration, and weight of failure. I pushed through it and felt the emotion (just like I am to write this now… it’s been sitting in my drafts for weeks, and I can’t bring myself to finish). I made sure to circle a few fun things that would never sell at the market but might be interesting to try.

I’m not going to get into what led us to begin this work. I’m not going to play the blame game, though I really, really want to justify it and feel like less of a quitter. Instead, I’m going to simply tell you the reasons why we aren’t turning our homestead into a business again. Sure, there may be ways that we can earn a few extra dollars here and there. I’m talking about quit-your-day-job, leave-the-rat-race, make-a-full-time-living-off-the-land kind of business here. Much ado is made of becoming part of the ground swell, join the movement, and becoming a local farmer. Much ado is made about leaving your day job behind and I know many, many of you have this goal in mind. It is my hope in doing so that you might be able to glean from our experiences and be prepared for what lies ahead of you should you choose to go forward with plans to start a family farm.

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

The One Reason Why We Aren’t Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm: Quality of Life

I’ve heard it said that “Family farming is hard on the farmer’s families.” Seems opposite of what the goals might be setting out, but it turned out to be true in our lives.

The number one reason we quit is because life immediately sucked.

You hear so much from these new farmers talking about their “quality of life”  being the catalyst for their new career. They’re stuck at high-stress or dead-end jobs, they spend little time doing the things that matter the most, they are looking for meaningful purpose in their employment, and they desire the freedom that comes with entrepreneurship.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?! These farmers are working awful jobs that suck the soul out of them and they want something different. I totally get it!

We want that too! But early in the season we realized we already had all that!

My “profession” allows me unlimited liberty, creativity, and full control of my time. I’m with the people I love the most and do as I please each day. My work is not only meaningful but has the ultimate generational impact. I’m also able to work sharing my passion about homesteading while my little ones are napping while we get to live and play in the country even if we “only” feed ourselves.

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

But what about Bill? Did we need to do this for him so that he could have a more fulfilling life? That was the sole reason I was willing to do this. But Bill already works from home. He can take it with him wherever he goes. (Blessings of modern technology.) We’re always together. He has an excellent job, it supports us well, and promotes a family economy since he works for my father as does one member from each of my sibling’s households as well my son. The only thing missing was the complete (perceived) liberty found in entrepreneurship. Answering to no man, but yourself. Unless that is, you count your customers…

We were decreasing the quality of our lives to participate in our local food community in a different way than we already were. And while face-to-face interactions with people are always more valuable, we found that the ones we were having with each other were charged and unpleasant. We weren’t spending time with each other.  I only saw my children, and don’t forget I have EIGHT of them, over breakfast and to kiss them goodnight.  My 2-year-old regressed and never made it to the potty to do her business.

Recommended Resources

If you want to hear more about this issue, I recommend this podcast: Homesteading vs. Small Scale Farming

I think I’ve made it out to milk Holly 2 or 3 times this year. We have fallen out of the habit of doing chores together as a family. Our pastures are trashed from overgrazing because we didn’t have time to move paddocks. I’ve been a slave to the garden since March. In the end, Bill couldn’t juggle the market garden with his day job (which is more like an anytime from 4:30am to 10pm job, just depends on when a call needs dispatched or a tech needs help troubleshooting). We felt that since he was collecting a salary we were stealing, despite the fact his boss knew what we were doing and that the job came with the assurance of some freedom to tend to farm matters when they arise. But that left all work that didn’t involve a tractor or loading/going to market on me.

We certainly didn’t have time to do the things we enjoyed doing together as a family over the summer months such as hiking. We couldn’t even go to town together anymore (which we pretty much always do) because it would mean unloading all of the market display items from the van and reloading them later.

We were eating less quality/hardy meals, on an irregular schedule, and my 13-year-old daughter was making the majority of them. I don’t know how we could have made it as long as we did without her help in the kitchen. Now while I’m all for kids helping out, learning skills, and becoming proficient at them, I do not believe that it is my children’s job’s to bear such a responsibility as feeding 10 people 2-3 times a day (and then having to do her part of the dishes as well) because I had 6 other babies after she was born and made a bad business decision.

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

How about the house? I would say the mess, the smells, and the bad habits that were being established all worked to decrease the quality of our life. It’s not like the kids were going to voluntarily pick up after themselves and clean the place. And of course, as I’m sure you already picked up on, the new business was an extreme source of marital discord.

So each morning I’d wake up in a panic and feel my spirits slowly sink with an exhale as I remembered what my new life looked like. Out to the battle of bugs and weeds and watering I’d go. It wasn’t the work that I had added to my life that I was opposed to, it was what I had taken away from my life that I was missing.

I listened to so many podcasts (hoping for motivation, encouragement, and wisdom) through those hours in the garden this summer and farmer after farmer repeated the same story: It took them years to get their farm up and running and before it felt like it wasn’t ruling their lives. Years. I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. That is the rest of the time I’d have with Hannah! With Jacob not far after. My baby would be 7!  With my oldest, Jared moving away this summer and nothing but mindless weed-pulling to do this summer, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to invest those years I have left. What is my duty and responsibility towards my husband and children? What is my calling? As opposed to what is Bill’s and can his calling interfere with mine and to what extent? God has used this whole experience to help me recover from un-biblical teachings about womanhood and what my calling is before Him,  and what my responsibility to my husband as his helpmeet actually requires of me. I think with those 8 kids my calling is pretty clear.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a line between helping my husband and doing his calling for him, to the exclusion of my own. If he can’t make his happen because there isn’t enough time or money, then perhaps it’s not a calling after all. All I know is that I’m not going to sacrifice my children’s future or my future relationship with them so I can follow his dream.

Quality (and quantity) time with the children aside, we committed 15 years ago to home educate and disciple our children. We believe that this is what God has commanded us to do and though we have worked out an awesome Agrarian School Year that works so well for us, and allows us to get gardens done, we missed 8 weeks of (formal/bookwork) schooling because we were busy working on the farm and on our day jobs that pay the bills. With all of that work, there was very little time left to deeply engage our children. They were hesitant to even be around us because it didn’t take long for them to realize that every conversation ended with, “Hey, could you give me a hand with this?” It’s not their job to make our dreams a reality, but it is our job to give them the fullest education possible so they can one day make their dreams a reality.

It’s been interesting watching the Amish since we’ve moved here. No doubt you’ve heard stories about how their kids are forced to turn over the majority of their income to help dad support the family. I’m seeing a culture where the children are the labor force for their father’s business, the son’s expected to pick up the trade, and the daughters spoken ill of throughout the community if they try to pursue lives outside of the home. (Because poor mom needs help with all her other children, don’t you know?)

I don’t want to be that kind of mom. Rather than placing my expectations on my children, I want to give them skills and opportunities that will serve them and their family’s in the future. Not me, today. I want them to grow up to love this lifestyle and have fond memories of it, not remember the drudgery of the chores.

The One Reason Why We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

I don’t want to lose the joy. If I lose the joy that can be part of this lifestyle, how can I pass it on to my children? I am coming to believe that those fond memories, my contagious joy will be what causes them to still want a connection to the land when they are grown.  How can my 2 year old daughter learn the satisfaction that comes from eating the food that her little hands first buried in the soil when I’m flipping out because she walking in the beds, wasting precious seed when she spills it, and making inefficient crooked rows that take WAY too long to plant to ever be considered “lean.”

I heard one particular farmer tell a story about how romantic his first year was on the farm. He was mindful of his surroundings, soaked in the pleasures of the natural world, enjoyed the views, and the sunsets, and the wildlife. And before long it dawned on him that every time he did that he was losing money. Profitable small farming quickly must become about efficient time management. He learned to work hard with a single-minded focus while on the farm and then get away and leave the farm when he needed a break and wanted to deeply experience the wonders of nature.

We weren’t but weeks into the summer when I realized the truth of what he had said.

I had to remind myself not to chase Green Lacewings around the garden and try to find their beautiful eggs, I wasn’t letting the clumsy little ones into the garden, I can’t remember stopping to soak in the beauty of the sky, I have missed the time I used to spend with my cows. It wasn’t productive, so I didn’t allow myself to do it. And I was beginning to find gardening, something that has always been so peaceful, relaxing, meditative, and enjoyable… a job. They say do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life and I’m not sure that’s true. We were created to need rest and play and while we should find joy and purpose in our work, why isn’t good enough that we can allow the satisfying, yet hard work of homesteading be our rest and play? Though it’s not technically either, the break from our real work makes it so. If we love our homestead’s so much that we want to do it full-time, we’re going to find we need something to fill the place that homesteading once had in providing us with a break from our day jobs.

The One Reason We Aren't Turning Our Homestead into a Small Farm

I’ve learned so much this year, not the least of which is that healthy living is more, so much more, than just eating well. Quality of life really does matter to our health and happiness and well being as a family. I’m determined to make more choices in the future that factor it into the decision making process and if that means I need to pass by opportunities when they arise, then so be it. If that means that my sphere of influence and change in this world is limited to just 9 other people then so be it. I believe with every fiber of my being when (and if) I make to a ripe old age, I will never look back and have regrets that I threw everything I had into my children.

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  1. I feel this so deeply right now. Last year at this time, I was taking our brand-new-to-us homestead (moved in Dec of 2021) and turning it into a money maker. I grew a market garden. I started a small business with the goal of selling produce, meat, and handmade products on-farm. I can do business. God has provided greatly for our family through our other businesses. But, the market garden and on-site farm store combined with our personal lives made this beautiful gift of a homestead something so overwhelming. I’m really great at taking a gift God has given me and demanding myself to turn it into something I feel is “better” or “more productive”. “Just accept the gift girl,” that’s what this voice whispers to me. It’s really hard to hear when I surround myself with an online community that makes a living off homesteading. Thank you for being vulnerable with the world about your experiences.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing, Anna. Providing for your family and growing good food is enough in itself. Turning something into a business isn’t wrong, but I feel it does change things. Someone just needs to consider if those changes are what they really want. Just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should or must. I’m glad you resonated with the post. God bless.

  2. I loved this piece! Just came across it on my Pinterest feed. I too have felt the calling to turn the land and what we have into more. Should we make MORE money? I make a full-time income blogging but it was similar, my husband doesn’t hate his job but it doesn’t fulfill his passion. Would staying home and making a living off the land do that? I have gotten glimpses as well of the busyness what it would cost our family. This post was a great reminder and peek into what it could really look like. The same even happens with blogging, all the work and time involved sometimes it just looks so much easier. I’m proud of you and your family and sharing the post as well! Hope to see you around the blogosphere!

  3. Hi, Quinn.
    I have spent quite a bit of time reading through your blog, and it’s been very helpful. We are buying two acres to start a homestead. With guidance from your blog, I’ve had the soil tested (it’s terrible), met with with a forester to see if there was anything of value out there (there is!), and researched possible livestock options. The choices I’ve finally settled on are a raised bed garden to grow our own vegetables, chickens to start with, and maybe pigs later in the wooded area. We do want an income source, but not one that is labor-intensive like a market garden or raising and selling livestock. So we have settled on a native plants nursery. We can essentially start for free, by thinning out much of what is already there. As a hobby/possible secondary income, I want to grow herbs and plants for cooking and medicinal purposes. Although you & I are in very different places (we’re empty nesters in Oklahoma), your blog is relevant, honest, & helpful. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderfully kind and encouraging words Cori! I think it sounds like you have solid vision and a great plan for your place. It’s very wise to make these decisions ahead of time, noting why you’re making them, not just what you see yourself doing so years down the road you’re not letting decisions happen to you, but can make wise ones within the framework of your plan. Blessings to you as you steward your land!!

  4. Quinn,

    Do you have a camera planted somewhere in our house??? This very same situation has been playing out on our Ohio homestead. THE VERY SAME, I tell you. Wow. This whole “back-to-the-land, sustainable” package can be wonderful, but the slippery slope into making it a business can do more damage than good, as you and I have come to realize. For years, my husband has asked me why we couldn’t just grow enough for US, and maybe a little extra to friends and neighbors. Being a recovering entrepreneur, that didn’t seem possible! Are you kidding?! We could do so much good for our community, teach the kids how to grow their own food, etc.

    I think many good things get caught up in the same type of thinking that drove us back to the land in the first place. We find ourselves sacrificing the same precious hours with our families, just doing something else.

    Still looking for the right balance here, but well on my way. Downsizing quite a bit this year, but I still have a lot of thinking to do. Praying for wisdom to live on this land HIS way, not mine.

    Wish we could have coffee! Seems we have a lot in common with the big fam and all. I’m in SW Ohio if you’re ever this way.

    1. I can tell you a year later to be on your guard. It’s something that is ever so tempting to slip back into again! We’ve caught ourselves a couple of times playing with the idea of doing a little more to sell. Well then you run the risk of taking it to another level of commitment both with time and money and back into the hamster wheel you go. Thankfully, we’ve quickly put on the brakes right from the get-go and hopefully we’ll break ourselves of the mentality! Nice to “meet” you Kelly! Praying you find balance in serving your family and stewarding your land!

  5. Hi Quinn: I just read your blog and I admire you for changing your priorities. I am near 70 and started an organic farm six years ago on our 40 acres. I was semi-retired and wanted to raise my own food and teach my grandchildren the ways of life in farming. I come from a farming family and spent many summers on my grandparents farm learning to plow a mule, milk a cow, dry fruit, wring chicken necks, etc. I started right off raising cows, sheep, hogs and chickens. Add a large orchard and large garden and you begin to see a train wreck coming. I expanded fast in hopes of making the farm pay for itself and even though I hired a full time helper three years ago, the workload has made me realize I am too old to to pursue another career. So, I have given up the money making plan and will just try to enjoy the farm and not obsess over all the details.

    Another family who gave up the money making side of farming is Tim Young has been well known on the internet for giving up the high paying city life. I bought my first cow and pair of pigs from him. Recently he sold his ever expanding farming operation in southeast Georgia and has bought a very isolated 40 acres in either Tennessee or North Carolina and they are just homesteading and home schooling their daughter. They realized the farming dream sometimes becomes overwhelming!

    Anyway, I felt compelled to email you with support for your decision and I wish you and your family all the best. FYI I am located 20 miles south of Huntsville, Al and am still involved in the newspaper and radio business. If I can ever help or you and your family would like to visit, please let me know. All the best, Ed

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us Edwin! Hopefully, it will make you feel better knowing a couple in their mid-thirties couldn’t make it work either. I really admire you for wanting to pass your wisdom on to future generations. That void needs to be filled and there are so many folks (like us) learning the hard way. I remember the Young’s from when they were podcasting years ago. I’ve lost touch over time and didn’t realize though that they left farming to start homesteading. It’s really interesting (and validating) to hear of others who have come to similar conclusions that we have. Take care!!

  6. Your experience is so interesting to me, as we’re currently considering some sort of shift from my husband’s full time corporate job to focusing more on our homestead. This line in particular really jumped out at me: “If we love our homesteads so much that we want to do it full-time, we’re going to find we need something to fill the place that homesteading once had in providing us with a break from our day jobs.” Thanks for your transparency! PS–Have you read ‘Radical Homemakers’ by Shannon Hayes? It’s a secular book, but has got all kinds of wheels turning in my head…

    1. I’m hoping that by sharing this it will at least help others go in with eyes wide open. The temptation to do something to make money off the land is real and persistent. Would you believe (’cause I don’t) I heard Bill saying to me just this week about a new idea he had for a farm venture?! The need for it in our area is real, but I think we should leave it to younger blood (with fewer kids) to fill that void- lol! Thank you for the book recommendation! It is actually on my Amazon wish list- and you’re the second person I’ve heard mention it in the last few weeks- so now you’ve got me thinking about moving it further up to the top!

  7. All power to you for making a hard decision . You were attempting to manage two full time careers. Because as anybody with kids can affirm ,Wife and Mother is a full time job. I can see no flavour of failure , because it’s not even in the recipe. Just carry on doing what makes you happy, and all the best wishes for the future.

  8. I found that it was much easier, and far less time intensive to sell plants. We made the same mistake as trying to sell produce. Instead, we sprout our seeds, let everything grow a few weeks and sell out our stock. Rinse, repeat.

  9. We came to this same decision, Quinn, but it took us longer than it took you. We never could make farming and selling our produce profitable. We blamed our zone 3 with summer frost, garden. But we never had a day off, never got enough sleep, and instead of losing weight, I gained. We did Farmer’s markets for 7 years before it dawned on us that we could do something different to earn enough money to live like we wanted to live.

    And at the farmer’s market people stole from us. It was such an unhappy lifestyle. It’s one of the reasons I don’t talk about how to make money farming on my blog. I think you shouldn’t feel like a quitter or even sad that you gave up the market garden. You do have to try it on for size. It’s a rite of passage for homesteaders. But since it didn’t fit, it good to let it go sooner than later. I’m glad you are beginning the healing process.

  10. Thanks for sharing. I think I could easily make this mistake and would have the same outcome. I will definitely be keeping this as a reference in making decisions on our Homestead moving forward.

    1. Well, I hope it will be helpful to you one day! There certainly is the push out there to take it to the next level and turn a homestead into a farm, especially if you have more land than meets your needs, but it’s not for everyone, even if it might be something you really, really love. Let’s face it *most* of us didn’t start out with this passion and just because we picked it up along the way doesn’t mean we ought to pretend like the choices we made earlier in our adulthood (like having 8 kids in my case) weren’t made because this new world opened up to our consciences. I hear from many folks who realize they will never make it to a bit of land to even homestead because of earlier life choices. I’ve heard it so often in fact that’s why I picked up my tagline of living your homestead dream today. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. And for our family that’s going to have it’s limits not because of location, opportunity, or drive, it’s responsibility and love. Blessings to you!

  11. YES! We have had this discussion many times, with many (well-intentioned but pushy) people.

    And while we have other incredibly valid reasons for not wanting our homestead to be a business, a HUGE reason is exactly what you described. We are not part of the “rat race.” My husband and I have fulfilling careers that allow us to do waht we are passionate about (and serve others which is important to us) at both “work” and home. On top of that, our schedules allow us to be with our children and home educate them.

    Solidarity, sister.

    1. Thanking God that he’s given you that fulfillment and satisfaction AND wisdom to know when enough is enough. Good for you!

  12. Hi Quinn
    Thank you for being so transparent in your sharing. This market gardening wasn’t a failure, but rather a learning experience & one your children can learn from as well – to not be afraid to stop doing something if its not working for the family. I hope you get the chance to rest & relax this winter season & have fun planning your garden for next year! I’ve just put in our summer garden & am thoroughly enjoying watching the seedlings start to come up! I planted a ‘sunflower garden’ with our 2 & 5 year olds & it is an absolute mess, but they had so much fun doing it! I’m hoping something comes up otherwise I’m going to have to buy some seedlings & sneak them in as they have never been allowed to garden at their previous homes.

    I had a shock when I read that Jared had moved away (if you mentioned it before, I must have missed it). That must be hard on your mama heart too! (And where did the years go??).
    ((hugs)) Making the choice to focus on your family is something you will never regret (but you already knew that). And you never know, maybe down the track when the children are older you may end up doing the market garden again!
    Have a lovely weekend

    1. What a tremendous gift you are giving those children Renata! Praying the Lord blesses your work with abundant fruit (and flowers) and that those little ones cherish these precious memories in the garden. Such a wonderful age to expose them to it, seems to me that toddlers to 6 year old’s are the most passionate in the garden. I love their joy and enthusiasm. 🙂

      I think Jared moving out was harder on me than I realized at the time, but it was probably the right thing to do. We are both 2 stubborn people… rather he learned to be stubborn from his mother, and when he was home there was a lot of conflict. Our relationship is much improved over the last few months and the whole thing has made me realize how fleeting the time is with the children and not to squander it, or take it for granted. He was commuting 90 minutes to work each day, on top of all of the driving he had to do for work and he moved closer to the city to redeem that time and take the online college courses he wasn’t able to work through when he was home.

      It was good hearing from you Renata- blessing to you!! <3