Trying to Earn a Living While Living in the Country
By Cam Mather
Sometimes I write articles for the local paper that’s published every second month. It’s a great little newspaper/magazine but my most recent article elicited a tactful “please stop promoting your business(es) in your articles” from the editor and publisher. And herein lies the great, eternal country living/homesteading dilemma… how do you earn an income in the country?
Rule #1 of this challenge is this: “It’s much harder to earn an income in the country.” There simply aren’t as many job opportunities and country jobs tend to pay less than city jobs.
Rule #2 – If you move to the country but have to commute to the city for work, does it detract from your overall country experience?
Rule #3 – If you want to make money in the country growing food, borrow a lot of money, buy a big piece of land and buy a really, really big tractor with lots of fancy attachments. Growing food on a small scale in a world of industrial agriculture is just not an easy way to earn a living.
Rule #4 – To reduce your need for an income in the country, work like a dog while you are living in the city and save every penny. If this takes you until you retire and you drop dead shortly after moving to the country, well, you kind of missed the whole point of wanting to move to the country in the first place.
Rule #5 – If you move to the country before retirement age and you haven’t won a lottery or received a big inheritance, your biggest challenge is going to be changing your relationship with money. This means you have to get used to having less. Sounds easy. It’s not.
This final rule is really, really hard and after 15 years of living in paradise, it’s still the one I struggle with the most. I experience ups and downs in this area. Sometimes I’m very “Zen-like” and I can rise above the money obsession. I can even watch those commercials that show retired people sitting on a dock after working and saving their whole life and I think about how many people I’ve known or heard of who have died shortly after retiring. When I hear those stories I am glad that I got out of the rat race at the age of 38, rather than 65. Odds are now I’ll have a heart attack within the next few weeks after writing that line.
But then reality will creep back in and I’ll stress out over it. In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, it’s always something. That car of ours is going to need replacing one of these days. It would be nice to contribute more to our daughter’s wedding. I’m really going to need a tractor if I’m going to keep attempting to earn a living growing food.
Michelle and I have had to resort to the “Anything for a Buck” motto for many years trying to find the right balance of work/income and trying to eek out a living here in our little piece of paradise. We have been experimenting and fine tuning it for years and with the economic collapse of 2008 and the on-going jarring changes in technology, especially in the publishing world, we have had to keep trying to tweak the income generating process.
It is difficult, but when we finally hit something that actually works it is incredibly gratifying. Getting there, though, can be quite a struggle.
Sometimes people who have read my books or attended one of my workshops ask me, “When is the right time to make the move?” I cannot give them a definitive answer. My inclination is always to say “right now.” But if you don’t have a source of income, or if you don’t want a 2-hour commute every day, you need to realize the tradeoff you’ll be making for that country experience. When I drive through suburbia I often think of the bliss that many suburbanites must feel, earning an income, spending it at the big box stores, taking a vacation to a warm place every winter and saving for retirement. And that’s all well and good, for them. Living in suburbia felt like a slow death for me so I got out while I was young. And now, slowly, little by little, I’m getting used to the fact that the government retirement plan that will be my only source of income, you know, that one that everyone says is going to be bankrupt, or is too small for anyone to live on… well, that’s going to be my retirement. And right now, it’s looking pretty darn great.
So to the editor of my local paper, you are correct. I write these articles to promote my various sources of income. I’d like to write shiny happy “Isn’t life in the country grand?” sorts of articles, but until I win the lottery, or you start paying me to write them, they are going to somehow be related to how I earn an income. Because you know, trying to earn an income is the focus for many of us living in the country and to avoid publishing articles such as this you ignore “THE” biggest issue facing country folk, or at least most country folk who haven’t won a lottery.
So I will be submitting this as an article to them for the next issue. They probably won’t publish it, which I fully understand. They may just want to cover the shiny happy country experience. If they do publish it, I want every one who reads it, especially those of you who don’t have the income worry because of city jobs, inheritances and lottery wins, to know that local business people really do appreciate your patronage. When you spend your money locally it makes a big deal to the local economy and the lives of local people. When you buy stuff from big box stores in the city it helps shareholders in far away places but not your neighbors. So please, when you’re making a buying decision, think of the local option, even if it costs a little more. Remember, some day the guy you rent videos from may be at your house extinguishing a fire on your porch in his role as a volunteer firefighter.
And to ensure that this article never gets published in my local paper, here are a few of the things that I do to earn a living. I sell absolutely amazing kindling to start your woodstove! It’s all sourced from a local sawmill and it’s fantastic! Michelle and I publish books about sustainable living which you can learn more about at our website www.aztext.com. We also run a CSA, which supplies local families with produce for 16 weeks each summer from our garden. It’s local. It’s organic and our members this past summer raved about it. http://sunflowerfarm.ca/ We also do websites. If you’re thinking about a website for a business or organization you’re involved with, we can help. I do talks and workshops on energy efficiency, renewable energy and other topics related to sustainability. And in the fall and spring we offer a one-day workshop at our farm that covers renewable energy, sustainable food production and changing your relationship with money. http://www.cammather.com/
So there you have it, my sad and pathetic covert attempt at self-promotion to try and earn a living while living in the country. Actually, it wasn’t so covert after all …
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We are having a SALE of all of our books and DVDs. If you’ve been wanting one of our books or DVDs, or would like to give one as a gift, NOW is the time to get it! Go to http://www.aztext.com/ to see our books and DVDs and to take advantage of these sale prices.