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Growing up, my family didn’t always have much money. My parents had decided my mother should stay at home with my brother and me, and so our family of four learned to live on one income. The desire to save money has stayed with me as an adult, and whenever I can save money, I do.
In the last few years, my family has become more self-sufficient in our groceries: We grow a garden; hunt; raise and butcher our own chickens; and forage for food. I can and dry our harvests. We have become so passionate about this lifestyle that I try to encourage others to do the same, at least in part. However, many scoff that we aren’t saving any money, and spend even more on things like seed and fertilizer than they do on groceries.
Certainly, aspects of homesteading can be expensive, and there are plenty of opportunities to spend as much money as your piggy bank holds, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are many ways to save around the old homestead, making those organic veggies and homegrown foods even more cost-effective. Here are some of my favorites.
Sowing and Growing
Planting and fertilizing the garden doesn’t have to cost a lot of green. With a little extra planning and effort, you can grow nutritious meals that save you money compared to grocery store prices.
- Spend a little more your first year of gardening on seeds, and make sure the seeds you grow are heirloom varieties. This means they are open pollinated, and the seeds from last year will produce this year. When you harvest the food, save the seeds. Keep them in a cool, dry place, and they will be ready for next year. You will only have to buy seeds once, and can save the seed each year as long as you garden.
- At the end of summer, go buy seeds on clearance. When stored properly, seeds will easily last another year, but they will be marked down to a fraction of the price.
- Fertilizer can be expensive, but if you already have animals, you have your own fertilizer production company. It’s best if you let the manure sit and compost a bit, especially if you have chicken or rabbit manure, which is nitrogen-rich. They’re considered “hot” and can burn plants if used fresh.
Don’t Scrap the Scraps
On a farm, leftovers have all sorts of uses. Rarely do we let a piece of food go to waste—we either repurpose kitchen scraps into value-added items, feed our animals or compost.
- When chopping vegetables, save the ends of potatoes, carrots, celery, et cetera. Keep the scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer until the bag is full, and use it to make vegetable stock, or add it to chicken stock for more flavor.
- When cooking a chicken, ham or beef roast, save the bones, neck and extra pieces. You can use the carcasses to make stock, turning trash into a delicious pantry staple. To make the stock, fill a large pot with water, add the meat and bones to the water, and boil for several hours. Remove the pieces, and then can or freeze the stock. Stock makes delicious soups and other meals, and can be expensive to buy.
- If you choose to compost for another good soil enhancer, add food scraps to the compost pile.
- Chickens can eat most food scraps. They love vegetables. When we harvested our broccoli, we gave the chickens the broccoli leaves. They chattered happily, and we didn’t waste the leaves.
- Working with fruit? You can make vinegar with apple scraps, jelly from corncobs, and peach jelly from the skins and pits of the peaches.
Cut Down on the Feed Bill
We feed our farm critters without breaking the bank by growing our own feed and repurposing edible kitchen scraps.
- No matter how quickly we harvest our vegetables, there always seems to be vegetables that have been chewed by bugs, have bad spots or are overripe. Don’t toss these! Give them to the chickens. It will cut down on waste, and the chickens will be very happy. We also had a hound dog who loved tomatoes.
- If you have a few acres, grow your own hay. It is much cheaper to get someone to cut your hay, than to pay for someone else’s. Your horses and cows will eat all winter at a big saving.
- When possible and safe, let the animals out to forage for themselves part of the day. Chickens love to hunt for bugs and grass, and this will also cut down on the amount of feed you have to purchase.
Wheeling and Dealing
No one person can grow everything, but when you grow something, you have the leverage to acquire the things that you cannot grow or raise. If you look hard enough, you’ll find what you need without paying full price.
- Trade and barter for other seeds, equipment, vegetables or other animals you do not have.
- Check out thrift stores, yard sales, auctions and estate sales. Many of these places will have farm equipment or tools that still have a lot of life in them for a fraction of the cost.
- Plan ahead for the next year, and buy equipment at the end of the season. A new garden hose for next summer will cost much less in October.
- If you do buy produce from farmers’ markets or orchards, ask for seconds. These are items have blemishes or imperfections, and cost much less. Apple seconds make delicious apple butter, and cost half what the pretty apples cost.
It’s true, farm life isn’t cheap, but thankfully many of your farm enterprises can pay for themselves if you adopt an entrepreneurial spirit.
- Have surplus produce? Load up the truck and go to the farmers’ market. You can use the money you make to buy necessities around the farm, or to purchase produce that you do not grow.
- If you have extra eggs, sell these at the farmers’ market or to neighbors, friends and family. Productive hens can generate enough income to pay for their feed.
- Canned goods make excellent homemade Christmas gifts, saving you money during the holidays.
- If you are an avid canner, check your state’s cottage industry laws. You may be able to sell your homemade jams, jellies and pickles without using a commercial kitchen. Specialty pickles, such as asparagus pickles, are often considered gourmet foods and can boast a higher price tag.
- Contact your local extension office for any grants available for small farmers. For example, as of this writing, government grants are available in Virginia for those who raise bees. The grant will cover the costs incurred in setting up the hives.
There are often many opportunities to save a little money and get a deal, especially if one is willing to put in a little work. Tearing down a building may result in being gifted the lumber. Helping someone move could mean you get that old box of mason jars that were in the attic. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to save money and stretch a dollar.
One thing to remember is that the food grown and raised on the farm has an additional money-saving benefit: less sodium, fewer chemicals and fewer preservatives. The food we eat is healthier, and this can prevent health problems and possibly even expensive doctor visits later on.Those of us who live on a farm know this way of life is worth every penny.
About the Author: Traci Wilmoth and her family live on a 13-acre farm where they raise and butcher their own chickens, hunt for meat, garden and forage for food. She holds a graduate degree in English from Virginia Tech and teaches college writing courses.