5 Reasons Homesteaders Fail
Having spent my life in the rural areas, making a living farming and homesteading, I have seen many people come to the country with big dreams of living the homesteader’s life. Some people make a go of it and some don’t. I’ve watched enough people fail at it that I thought it might be helpful to share some observations I’ve made. Here is an opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes. These observations are in no particular order.
Unrealistic Expectations for Direct to Consumer Sales
There seems to be no end to the number of books, articles, and blog posts that tout the selling of high end organic meats and produce as a way to make money. What most people fail to take into consideration is that you need a wealthy, urban market to make any money doing this. Most homesteaders can’t afford land near such a market and most took up homesteading, in part, to escape such areas. If you try to do what people like Joel Salatin do without a wealthy market to sell it to, you will fail. No matter how much you talk up your product, no matter what great a case you make for the superiority of your product, no matter how well you explain that when “true costs” are factored that your product isn’t really expensive, as long as your potential customer can’t afford to keep fuel oil in his furnace and is worried about buying shoes for his children…the argument is purely academic to him. Those who are not too poor to buy your food can grow it themselves. Trying to make a living selling high cost food in rural areas is a dead end game.
Biting Off More Than You Can Chew
When people make the decision to leave the rat race and take up an agrarian lifestyle they are, understandably, excited. Often they don’t appreciate the sharp learning curve they are about to encounter and dive in head first. People who have never grown a garden all of the sudden try to grow 90% of their produce the first year. People who have never raised livestock buy several species and begin to run into problems. It is easy to get discouraged and go broke when you bite off more than you can chew. Start with some chickens and a couple varieties of vegetables. Next year you’ll be ready for more.
Already Know It All
Books are great. The internet is great. With that said, if you move to the country and don’t observe what the neighbors are doing and take advantage of the knowledge and wisdom of the local “old timers”, you will fail. If you grew up in the suburbs and read a book about gardening, don’t assume that because the old guy up the road does it differently that he’s wrong. If he’s done it that way for 50 years there might be a reason he’s done it that way. Remember, paper never refused ink.
They Never Really Left
If you move to the country and want be a homesteader, you have to live differently than you did before. You can’t just move to the country, buy a dozen laying hens and a couple of dairy goats, and go on your merry way living like you still take up residence in a townhouse 5 minutes from everything. You can’t run to the store ever other day, you’ll go broke. You can’t call a repair man every time something breaks. You can’t drive a new car. You can’t buy new clothes. You can’t take a vacation. If you can do all these things, you are not an agrarian homesteader but a hobby farmer. Remember, you left Egypt for a reason. Stop looking back, longingly, at the days of slavery. If you try to live the homesteader’s life and continue to spend like a city dweller, you won’t last a season.
Forgetting Why They Started
This is directly tied with direct marketing. I have seen countless people start raising meat chickens because they loved the taste or because they wanted healthy food for their children and end up not eating them but selling them. It starts out as a noble attempt to generate some income. But it ends up with people who used to like raising and processing chickens, burned out, discouraged, and just as broke as they were when they didn’t sell any and just liked raising and eating them. When the things you used to grow because you loved to grow and eat them become commodities to be sold, things change. The small homesteader is seldom scaled up enough to make any money at it in the end but he tries anyway. When the emphasis of the homestead changes to growing things for sale, the first thing to get neglected is the family garden. Anything that takes the family away from the garden should be suspect. Next thing you know, you can’t eat your own chickens because you can sell them for $X per pound and all of the sudden you can’t afford your own food! Never lose sight of why you started down this path to begin with. Grow your own food and enjoy the life. Spend meaningful time with your children.
20 thoughts on “5 Reasons Homesteaders Fail”
You are so right about the “forgetting why you started” concept. I have been an entrepreneur for a lot of years, and when people ask me what the key to success is….I always state that it is having a big enough WHY. Once you lose sight of your why, you are setting yourself up for failure. I am so glad I found you through the Homestead Bloggers Network. And I just love how you ended the post reminding us of what is truly important in life. Blessings!
I know it’s been a few years since all this was posted, but just wanted to throw myself into the mix. I’m 19 years old. My dad is a farmer (retired Navy vet.) and I hope to rent to buy some land with a home on it, expand my dad’s farm, and as he ages and retires from farming (my parents want to travel in their old age) I’ll take completely over. My fiancé is about to hop to college to be an engineer, so we’ll have a moderate outside income. We currently keep highland cattle, red waddle cross pigs (I don’t know what the other part is), a variety of laying hens, rabbits, and Cornish cross chickens. I’m looking to add to my animals something that eats potatoes and oranges, my pigs won’t! I’m also looking to start a garden, and this year is my first attempt! I have written and laminated my ‘why list’ as a reminder for when I am discouraged. Thanks for all the tips!
Thanks for the feedback, Katie! Glad you found it helpful, and I love that you have a “why list”. Great idea!
I am still in the looking stage for land. Kind of behind the curve.
This is good and true advice. We left Egypt a long time ago and learned all of these things the hard way. You are so right about remembering why you do it. This will keep you going while you’re learning all of this the hard way!
You seem correct, but I hope you address co-ops at some point. They address some of the factors that you identify, such as isolation. learning from others, etc.
thank you for this article! I am one of those that likes to jump in feet first without thinking things through. Thankfully I have a husband with a good head on his shoulders. We are starting slow. Raised our first garden last year. So glad we didn’t jump in feet first! We learned a lot in just one summer.
Great article! We’re not homesteaders on a rural acreage, but we try to be on our 1/3 + acre in the country. Every winter we come up with all kinds of ideas of things we want to do this year, and we’ve finally gotten down the lesson of setting priorities. Last fall we started with our meat rabbits and this spring we will get in some new fruit trees to replace those that we have lost over the last few years. One big task at a time. It has taken us a long time to learn to pace ourselves. There are just not enough hours in the day for us to do all the projects that we would like to do. We’ve also learned that once we’re in full harvest mode, we don’t have time for anything else:-)
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Scott, that article was well written, informative and on target. I am going to share it with my youngest son as I feel the facts you presented are basically true in any business venture.
i grew up in Alabama my father and mother were share croppers we always had chickens and a garden sometimes we had a cow made our own butter canned vegetables made our own clothes but when I grew up I mostly lived in the city and got away from all the things I was taught I live in the country now and would love to have a garden and some chickens but you are right it is hard work and you can’t take on to much at a time or you won’t succeed
Our family just purchased some land and are hopeful and know it will be a huge adjustment. So this kind of info is great! THANKS!!
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As a transplanted suburban gal who has been living the rural life for 35+ years, I have to say, this is absolutely the most honest article I have read. No romance, no whitewashing. A VERY realistic take on rural homesteading. Yes it takes adjusting to, but sooo worth doing!
When you are ready to add a fruitful garden (both figuratively and literally) to your homestead, I hope you’ll stop by and visit http://www.stellaotto.com.
the Backyard Fruit Gardener
Thanks for the kind words. I have two of your books and love them both 🙂
Great article.. We have a small farm, moved from the city a few years ago with our 6 kids. It has been amazing and worth it, yet you need to devote every bit of energy you possess and then some, but keeps everyone in shape! My favorite part of this article is to learn from everyone around you.. Absorb as much wisdom as you can from your neighbors and those who have been doing it well for years. We have a blog on our website too. Rustyhillfarm.com
Thank you for your article!
Another great article! Wilson & I are really digging your blog. You nailed it. In fact, even though we are still homesteading, we fell into a few of those traps on a certain level. It isn’t always a glamorous or romantic life, and you learn what you are made of.
Thank you! Feeling discouraged today and really needed to read this. Especially remembering why.
Thanks for sharing. Its good to read.
So . . . my kids are the biggest reason why I’m taking a break from the garden this year. I’m tired of fighting them to try to get them to leave it alone (and it doesn’t help that last year I had chicks that got out well into the fall, even after they were adults, and wreaked havoc constantly). I’m hoping another year or 2 of growth on my children’s parts will help them gain the maturity they need to leave my garden alone. In the meantime, my children are suspect . . . ?? 😀