We’ve all seen them. Those huge listicles with ideas for making money on your homestead. A laundry list of things that could potentially bring in income, but mostly just a few dollars here or there. But what about real income?
I’m talking income that actually pays the bills and helps you live the life you want without taking up a lot of time.
How can you meaningfully contribute to your home economy while still living the life you love?
Selling Baked Goods at Farmers Markets
I’m not talking church bake sale cupcakes with canned frosting. I’m talking about crafting stunning home cooked baked goods and selling them at a premium to customers who value the fact that you’re using real butter and local raspberries.
The trick to making money with baked goods is planning. You need to know your input costs, how long it takes to produce and the top retail price.
Here’s a good example.
Baking a homemade raspberry pie with local raspberries and real butter may be tasty, but it’s not particularly profitable. Raspberries are expensive, and even if they’re home picked they’re time-consuming to pick. A pie crust takes time to make properly and uses a lot of expensive butter. A pie that can sell for $12 to $15 dollars cost $8 to $20 to make, plus literally hours of your time.
The same amount of ingredients can make a full dozen personal pan pies, each sold at $5 a piece! We sold personal pan pies made in these pans for a premium, and always sold out because market patrons are looking for food they can out of hand while walking around. Mini quiche are even better since they’re savory and an actual portable meal.
Brownies are also really profitable, even if sold at a low price. There are quick to make and use up eggs from your backyard hens. A full sheet pan of brownies takes minutes to prepare for the oven, and can bring in as much as $40 in net profit. Play up the fact that you’re using real butter and home harvested eggs, and try making them unique by adding local flavor like lavender from your backyard herb garden.
Other highly profitable goods include handmade truffles, specialty cupcakes, mulled cider, lemonade and coffee.
With proper planning and a strong local farmers market, you should be able to bring in around $500 a week in gross sales. Take out expenses, and after 4 markets a month you’ve netted around $1000.
The downside…the best time for sales is in the summer when most people would rather be in the garden than in the kitchen. Winter markets are only available in some areas and are much less frequent. Even though this side hustle was profitable, I gave it up because of I didn’t want to spend a full day a week in the kitchen.
Start a Blog
If you’re homesteading, you’re out there living a life many people only dream of. Within 6 months of starting this blog, I started making an extra $1000 a month.
You don’t have to sell your soul or push products, you just have to write compelling content that readers find useful. More often than not, after I research something to satisfy my own curiosity, I just write it up knowing that others have wondered the same thing.
I was inspired to take the leap into blogging when I read the book Make Money Blogging at Any Level by my blogger friend, Victoria at A Modern Homestead. She outlines in detail how to earn a substantial income, even from a very small blog. She was able to retire her husband and supports her family exclusively with her blog. If you’re considering blogging as a source of income it’s worth the investment. It’s $20 for the book, and I made that back in my first week with my blog following her tips.
Selling Hatching Eggs
Many homesteaders try to make an extra buck selling eggs from their backyard hens. We sold duck eggs to the local food coop, and even at $6 a dozen wholesale, we still lost money. Feed is expensive, and ducks eat twice as much as chickens to produce an egg. Even with backyard chickens, most small operations can only just barely break even and don’t pay the homesteader for their time spent tending the flock.
Hatching eggs, on the other hand, are different. They command a much higher price and all it takes is good genetics, and ideally a rare and desirable breed. If you’d like the details, this is a great article on making money with hatching eggs. They manage to make an extra $1000 a month from their small backyard flock of 15 chickens.
Backyard Plant Nursery
While it may seem like magic to propagate your own plants, it’s actually remarkably easy. Propagating grapes takes just a bit of potting soil and rooting hormone, and makes use of plant material that you should prune off anyway. Other perennial plants, like bee balm, grow easily from seed and then can be divided each year. A few strategically established perennial garden beds can keep your home looking beautiful and provide income from divisions.
On our local town email list, there’s a constant stream of free plants. People dividing their perennials or removing plantings altogether. The difference between free divisions given away on a town email list or freecycle type site is just planning and packaging. Taking the time to attractively package up plant divisions, label them appropriately and tend them for a month or two so that they come back into prime form will mean the difference between a free clump of plants on the side of the road and potted perennials sold for $10+ dollars each.
Fruit trees, like apples, must be grafted so that they stay true to their variety. Rootstocks are generally available for $1 or $2 each, and scion wood or trimmings from established trees can be collected for free, or purchased in bulk from dealers for pennies per piece.
After grafting your fruit, it’s true, you’ll need to tend it for a few years to grow a full-sized tree for transplant. A single pot doesn’t take up much space, and the payback is huge. Fruit trees sell for $35 to $100 each depending on age and variety. That’s a pretty good rental rate for a pot taking up space in your yard.
Learning to graft takes a bit of practice, but once you’ve got it down it’s easy to graft a few hundred trees in a day. For an even easier method, try using a grafting tool.
Try reading So You Want to Start a Nursery or Practical Woody Plant Propagation for Nursery Growers to get you started.
Sell Homemade Soaps and Salves
Let’s face it, soapmaking can be intimidating.
Many people would love to make their own homemade soap, but they’re not ready to take the leap. With a bit of courage, you can start making your own soaps and sell to those very people who are still soap dreaming.
The ingredients for homemade soap are relatively inexpensive. It only takes a very small amount of lye per batch, and you can buy enough to make hundreds of bars of soap for about $12 (I buy mine here). Add in some natural oils and a bit of home-harvested herbal fragrance and you’re good to go.
Our local coop sells handmade soaps for $6 per bar, and prices on etsy are pretty similar. Once you have a bit of practice, it’s easy enough to churn out enough handmade soap to bring in a tidy sum.
I have a few beginner soapmaking articles to get you started:
If you’re really committed to learning to make your own soap, try taking this Successful Soapmaking Course from Jan at the Nerdy Farm Wife. It’s inexpensive, and you can make back the cost of the course by selling your very first batch of soap. She also has an e-book: Natural Soap Making.
I know some people really love to learn from “real” books that you can hold in your hand, and I also strongly recommend The Natural Soapmaking Book for Beginners by Kelly Cable. I have one of the recipes from her book posted to my blog, and you can check out my full review of Kelly’s book along with a recipe for Honey and Goats Milk Soap.
High demand mushroom varieties like shiitake, portabella and oyster are easy to grow and high yielding. Once inoculated, logs can produce for years with only minimal tending. It’s easy enough to turn a garage into an oyster mushroom farm, or you can try outdoor mushroom species like shiitake on hardwood logs.
Shiitake mushrooms sell for $8 to $12 per pound at our local coop, and you can force fruit them by soaking the logs in water to ensure you have a constant supply so long as the weather is favorable.
Indoor mushrooms like oysters are even easier because you can produce them year round regardless of the weather, and they grow on just about anything. Wood chips, coffee grounds, straw…you name it. There’s nothing like turning free coffee grounds from a local starbucks into a home mushroom business.
Oyster mushrooms are a bit delicate…and that’s part of their appeal. A local Vermont farm packages them in plastic clamshell containers, one large fruiting body to a pint clamshell. Those clamshells sell for $5 each. They’re labeled at 3.5 ounces, so that’s over $20 per pound.
There is a good market for dried mushrooms or mushroom tinctures online, and once preserved they’ll last in your inventory a whole lot better than fresh products. For medicinals, reishi mushrooms are a good place to start.
For our own mushroom farming, we found the book Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation to be our best resource. It’s a great how-to for all things mushroom farming and includes a lot of information on making your operation profitable.
Sell Foraged or Wildcrafted Edibles & Medicinals
You don’t need a lot of land to forage for profit. All you need is knowledge and a keen eye. Imagine actually getting paid for taking a walk in the woods and observing your surroundings. Wild mushrooms always sell out in the first hour at the farmer’s markets around here, even at $20 to $40 per pound. Learning to identify some of the mushrooms can take a bit of dedication, but start with easy to identify types, like morels or reishi mushrooms.
While it takes a long time to learn to identify some types of plants or mushrooms, other foraged foods are pretty foolproof and no less profitable. Have you ever seen bundles of dandelion greens at the supermarket and thought to yourself, my lawn’s worth millions…?
Foraged food doesn’t have to be hard to find to be in demand. All it takes is a little time, education and confidence along with ready access to a wild area. I can think of no more pleasant way to spend my summer than on a walk in the woods.
Once you’re an accomplished forager, teaching foraging classes or running customized backyard plant walks can help you empower others toward self-sufficiency while putting a bit of extra money in your own pocket.
Start small, with your own backyard homestead. I’d highly recommend reading Backyard Foraging as a first resource.
If you learn well from courses, the herbal academy has a wildcrafting course to get you started.
Grow Medicinal Herbs
While veggie CSA’s are all the rage these days, the profit margin on lettuce is pretty minimal. Besides that, the market’s completely saturated in most areas of the country. Locally grown herbs, on the other hand, are still hard to find.
Most herbs have the benefit of being vigorous growers, and the compounds in them that make them tasty or medicinal are actually the plant’s natural defenses against pests. While pests and deer destroyed our lettuce crop, nothing touches our sage, bee balm or valerian. Every year they re-sow and take over more land, no matter how much we harvest. Herbs are good like that. For the most part they’re perennial, persistent and more importantly…profitable.
There’s a high demand for medicinal tinctures since they’re ready to use, and our local coop has half an aisle dedicated to them. Tinctures sell for $8 to $12 an ounce, but they only cost about $1 to $2 an ounce, even if you’re buying in the herbs. Add in another $1 for the tincture bottle, and you’re still making a pretty sizable profit per bottle.
Start with something simple and in demand, like echinacea tincture.
As you’re just getting started, I’d recommend Backyard Medicine as a way to dip your toe into harvesting and making your own herbal remedies, especially from wild crops.
If you’re considering growing herbs for profit I’d highly recommend The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer: The Ultimate Guide to Producing High-Quality Herbs on a Market Scale. It’s written by farmers that grow just a few towns over from us, and they’ve inspired a lot of people to take up growing medicine for the market.
The Herbal Academy of New England also has a course designed specifically for herbal entrepreneurs. The course walks you through the basics of creating your own brand identity, marketing, sourcing herbal ingredients, manufacturing herbal remedies and creating a business plan around herbs and herbal remedies.
If you’re just getting started with herbs, and want to bolster your own education well before you commit to anything as ambitious as starting your own herbal business, they also have a number of other courses including:
- Herbal Materia Medica Course: Designed to spark your excitement for herbal studies and help you develop your own materia medica.
- Introductory Herbalist Course: A self-study course for students with little or no herbal experience.