There are tons and tons (really, a lot) of articles about ways to make money when you live off the grid, or when you’re a homesteader. Many of them seem to have been written by people who aren’t actually making money by living off the grid… but that’s a tale for another day.
From my experience (and from what I’ve been reading and seeing around me), it doesn’t matter much whether you live off the grid or not - there are just as many ways to make money. So, dear homesteader, there are thousands and thousands of possibility when it comes to choosing a moneymaker for your farm. I could list each and every one of them separately, but I won’t.
Before we start...
I believe it’s important to choose a general direction first; do you want to work with people or do you work alone? Do you have (hidden) talents and skills, or do you want to learn as you go? Do you have money to spend in setting up your business, or are you starting out with a tight budget?
A second important thing is to know how much money you will need. If you’re no longer commuting, you’ll save a lot on gas - you probably don’t need that second car anymore either. If you’re growing your own food, down goes the grocery bill. Also living further away from the “real world” lowers your need to buy stuff; you might wear the same sturdy working clothes every day anyway (although I do keep that one pretty little dress on the ready for those rare evenings out with the girlfriends!). Last but not least, living off the grid most probably means you’ll adopt a healthier lifestyle. Eating what you grow (and what comes out of the chicken’s bum), being out and about all day - not only could it lower your medical bills, it also saves a fortune on a gym membership.
Ways to earn money from the comfort of your own farm
1. Working online
So many jobs can be done online these days. You can work remotely at a conventional job, blog or set up online courses, or finish that book you always wanted to write. Another option is to help out people with their (online) business from the comfort of your own home. I’m a personal (virtual) assistant myself, which means I manage people’s schedules, plan and book their travels, do their (online) shopping and research, keep their basic administration or do whatever odd job they need done (or find somebody who does it for them). I love my job as no two days are the same, and it allows me to choose my working hours - and the location I work from. Other online assistants specialise in social media marketing, event management or planning your travels. If you’re skilled at DTP, building websites or coding, there are so many ways to earn your living that way.
Pro: you usually choose your working hours, and you can usually take it with you when you travel.
Con: it’s a sitting job… not as good for your health as the rest of the jobs described here. If you’re on a deadline, it might require you to sit behind a desk for days on end, while life on the farm goes on without you.
Required skills: you have to be good at time management; make sure you don’t have a series of deadline during harvest season (or worse, planting season) or you might have to resort to hiring help to keep the farm going.
Starting capital: you can start an online business with very little money - a good computer with the right software will get you far. Depending on your experience in the specific field, you might have to invest in some additional education as well.
2. Market gardening
If you’re going to garden anyway, you might want to think about taking it up a notch and garden for other people as well. Look into selling your home grown fruit and vegetables at a local farmers’ market or alternative market. If you’re further away from the local market, you could start a CSA box delivery - this allows you to meet private customers directly at a convenient drop-off place (weekly, usually) and hand them a choice of whatever is fresh and seasonal right now. And if you’ve got the gardens but not the energy (or the time) to sell your vegetables, think about a pick and pay system. People could come to your farm to pick their own produce (after you’ve given them guidelines on what and how much to pick at this time). Your visitors pay for what they picked only; the price is lower than what they’d pay in the shop, but it saves you the trouble of harvesting, sorting and selling your produce.
If people aren’t buying all of your vegetables, you can still resort to canning your produce and building a fantastic pantry to withstand the harshest winter.
As an extra byproduct, you can also sell seedlings, seeds or even (baby) trees.
Pro: you get to work outside and on the land
Con: driving to farmer’s markets might be a bit of a hassle if they’re not close by
Required skills: you’ll need a green thumb, garden planning skills and the ability to manage and market a business.
Starting capital: you will need a decent piece of land. In some cases, land can be borrowed or leased. It’s possible to start a market garden on a smaller plot; the story of JM Fortier and his extremely profitable 5000m2 market garden is very inspirational when it comes to micro-gardening. You also need to make sure you’ve got the right soil (if not, you might need to build it up first) and have good quality seeds or seedlings to start with.
If you want to start selling fruits and nuts, you’ll need to either buy an existing orchard (= more expensive than your average bare land) or buy lots of trees and then wait for them to mature and start producing.
3. Farming with animals
By farming, I’m thinking of anything that can be done on a farm and require a bit more investment (in time, money or otherwise) than just vegetable gardening. I’m thinking of chicken farming (EAT has an excellent series on starting a free range chicken farm from scratch - the first episode is available for free here); keeping animals for wool (most kinds of sheep, and some goat breeds as well - or think outside the box and go for alpacas like we’re doing); maybe you’d prefer to keep animals for milk and cheese (cows, goats or sheep - or I hear horse milking is a trend as well); or if you have sufficient land of good quality, you could even have your own herd of grass-fed cattle.
Pro: you get to work outside on the land
Con: keeping animals on a farm requires you to be there 365 days a year. Unless you find a miracle farm sitter, there are no days off in farming… especially if you have to milk them as well.
Con: keeping farm animals is hard work; making sure they have cool water in summer and unfrozen water in winter, feed them, relocate them if you’re rotating pastures,… Automatisation is possible, but costly.
Required skills: if you’re going to work with animals, you need to know them inside out; if you haven’t got much experience, courses and additional workshops can be found all over the globe.
Starting capital: buying good stock animals to start a herd with is more costly than buying a bunch of animals to keep as a hobby (you often get those for free). Don’t underestimate the costs of housing and fencing; although the internet might say you can build a stable “for free”, reality is often that it either requires patience and frequent trips to the dump to collect the materials - or money to buy what you need with.
4. Home made products
Whether you’ve got talent for crafting, carpentry, spinning or making pottery - you might be able to make artisanal goods to sell on Etsy, through a local shop or in a web shop your own.
Pro: Making your own products and selling them to others is just awesome!
Con: Depending on what it is you make, it might require you to invest in equipment, materials or maybe even a safe and clean environment to make it in.
Important: know the regulations - you might be required by law to adhere to certain rules (like a sterile room to prepared food).
Required skills: if you can’t think of any talent that could generate you some income, you could also learn new skills; soap making, canning or knitting goat sweaters can be learned and with some experience, experimentation and hard work, you can become an expert. You'll also need the ability to market your products (or you could find somebody to do that for you...)
Starting capital: that all depends on what you’re planning to do, and how much of the necessary tools and materials you already own. Sorry, no advice here.
If you’re living in a beautiful part of the world, maybe you can share that experience with others as well. You could rent out a cabin, tents (ever heard of glamping?) or turn the extra bedrooms in your house into a bed & breakfast (like we do at Mas del Encanto! Except we built those extra bedrooms on purpose).
We know a few people who move out of their house during tourist season, so they can rent out the house as a whole - they live in a cabin during the summer, or spend the time traveling.
If the location allows it, you can hold retreats or workshops; turn that barn into a yoga loft or learning center, get in touch with teachers and travel agents, and the world is your oyster.
If that’s all a bit much for you, you can also stay small - work as a trail guide, offer 4x4 rides or farm tours.
Pro: if you like people, it's a lot of fun. You meet new people at every go, and if you've done your marketing right, they'll be really interested in what you're doing, and happy to pay for all the information you share.
Con: if you don't like working with people or don't see yourself in a serviceable role, you might want to consider other options.
Required skills: hospitality can be learn-as-you-go - but do visit or even help out at another similar place before you start your own, to avoid making big mistakes in your setup.
Starting capital: depends on what you already have... If you've got a house with extra rooms, you can earn the investment costs from your guest rooms back in just one season. If you're building a brand new retreat center from scratch... it will take a lot more time. Doing 4x4 tours just requires the 4x4 (and a license, more than probably). If your farm is worth showing people around on, it doesn't cost anything other than your time.
Read more: about what we learned from starting a bed & breakfast.
6. Work away from home on a consulting basis
If you like the job you’re doing now (or the job you were doing before you moved off the grid), in many cases you could keep doing it on a consulting or interim basis. Many people around here do this; they live in the middle of nowhere for most of the year, but fly out every now and then to work on a project. They are usually able to stay at a friends’ house or a hotel paid by the company that hires them; often the income from a few weeks’ work will allow them to live well for months off the grid.
Pro: in just a few weeks, you can earn enough to live on the farm for months
Con: it requires you to be away from home
Required skills: of course, this option is only available if you're already good at what you do.
Starting capital: it might depend on what it is you do exactly. You might need to buy software for yourself if you've been using the company's software all that time; for a physical job, you might need to buy your own tools or machines. Again, I can't be very helpful here.
The main idea...
If you want to earn money while living your desired lifestyle in your off-grid homestead, I hope this helped to inspire you. Think long and hard about what it is you'd really like to do - and any hidden talents you might have in that direction. You might need to compromise at first by doing something that is not your dream job, but if you give yourself the time to take the right (online) classes, do some (online) networking and prepare well for the rest of your life... I sincerely hope things will work out for you.
Are you currently living on your farm and working from home? If so, what are you doing? If you were able to work from home, what would be your dream job? Or maybe you don’t want to work from home… why not?