In this age of the popular “DIY on-the-cheap”, I felt I necessary to make a point (as I so often do…ahem… sorry about that).
But I can't let this slide.
Fine. I'll just say it.
On the homestead, it's not all about the money.
Yes, some of it is about the money – after all, most of us live on strict budgets. We can't always afford to go out and buy the latest farm equipment, the newest garden gadgets, the most expensive food, or the fanciest farm rigs. And as I see the next “how to homestead on the cheap” or “how to jimmy-rig-this-or-that” make it's viral rounds in our communities, part of me wants to say “YES! GREAT! I needed that information because I can't afford to do it any other way.”
And then the other part of my brain (or heart, I'm not sure which) bellows out from the deep: It's more than that.
One of the many valuable lessons I've learned on the farm is to do it once and do it right. Part of that involves learning when it's not a good idea to pinch pennies. Part of that involves knowing when it's better to do a great job than to half-heartedly throw something together. Part of that involves knowing when it's a good idea to invest in quality breeding livestock or high quality hay. Part of that involves knowing when it's better to feed your animals a better grain product or investing in organic vegetable seeds. Part of that involves building a community with local farmers and supporting them by purchasing their products.
You see, it's not ALL about the money.
It's also about the principle of the matter – the quality of the product – the skills we learn – the future of the food system – and the purpose behind it all.
Here on Beatha Fonn Farms, we farm because we believe in producing a higher quality product than is available at the grocery store. Now, obviously, this is not every farm's objective or priority. But for us, it is. Because of this, we've had to let go of our frugal mentality in some areas and realize that pinching pennies was not in the best interest of the farm.
Does it mean our milk, eggs, meat, and products ends up costing more? You bet. But doing it all as cheaply as possible is not our priority. The quality of the product is.
This means that our chickens and pigs get organic, soy-free, locally sourced grain to supplement their free range diet.
It means our meat birds ended up costing $22 each last year.
It means breeding livestock is an investment and is carefully sourced from reputable farmers we hold relationships with.
It means our produce is produced from organic, heirloom vegetable seeds and grown in organic gardens free of pesticides and chemicals.
It means our Thanksgiving turkey is currently eating fly larvae out of our dairy cow's poo piles.
It means our dairy products are homemade from milk that is hand squeezed twice per day.
None of these are cheap or easy decisions – particularly for a small farm that is trying to not spend their life savings on building up the homestead. But the fact of the matter is that priorities dictate actions for the small holder on the farm and setting a priority of quality over cost will manifest itself in a variety of monetary ways.
It's Also About The Skills
People ask us all the time why we don't purchase a milk machine for Sal instead of opting to use the two hands and bucket the good Lord provided us with. Sure, it would save us a bit of time and energy. But early on in our homesteading journey, Stuart and I both decided that learning to milk an animal by hand was a skill that we wanted to learn.
The same goes for culturing our own sour cream, making our own cheese, churning our own butter, brewing our own kombucha, or the millions of other small kitchen tasks that evolve from having a farm. These are all items that are readily available at the store, just a few miles away, 365 days a year. And while purchasing them is convenient and easy, learning how to make them ourselves provides us with a skill that we can utilize for the rest of our lives. It wasn't always so easy for people to have 24/7 access to anything and everything – and in our age of consumerism and instant gratification, this can be a difficult concept to understand. So many of us are willing to bet our entire ability to eat (and survive) on the existence of a grocery store.
What if that grocery store failed to exist? Or for one reason or another wasn't able to stock their shelves? Then what?
I'm not an alarmist, but I do believe it's important to have skills in important areas of life – including knowing how to produce food. For us, learning these skills has been deemed more important than saving a dime.
The Future of Our Food System
Perhaps it's part of my controlling nature (Lord knows, I'm guilty of that) but I find assurance in knowing that a piece of the food system, albeight a small one, is secure here on our land. No one is genetically modifying my beets. Or adding yellow #5 to my ears of corn. My chicken eggs remain unbleached and my milk is free of added hormones and chemical processing.
I don't have to care as much what big chemical companies or the FDA is doing to food when I can produce that food on my land. There's a small peace of mind that one experiences when the future of the food system is daily manifesting itself in their garden beds, chicken coops, and pasture land.
This peace of mind is worth more to me than extra money in the bank.
Investing In The Farm
We are building fences now on our farm that will stand for years and years and years to come. While a cheap-o fence may carry us through a season or two, a high quality fence built with purpose can stand for generations.
Fruit trees that are planted today won't bare fruit for 3…4….or 5 years. But a fruit tree, once established, will bare fruit for decades.
My point is this: even though some of these homesteading tasks require initial investment, doing it once (and doing it right!) are a wonderful way to invest in the future of the farm. For us, it's not just about doing everything as inexpensively as possible. It's about balancing budget with purpose – which sometimes involves investing in planting flowers for the sake of our bees. Or planting trees for the sake of shelter and shade.
Good farming involves thinking past this fleeting moment to future years and generations.
Please hear me, now.
I'm not anti-DIY. I'm not anti-budget. I'm not telling you to go all crazy and spend money on the fanciest of things in order to establish your homestead “properly”. I simply find it important to think past penny pinching.
I often ask myself:
1. Will this decision help me to produce a high quality product?
2. Will we learn a new skill from this?
3. Will this decision benefit the farm in the future?
4. Will this decision benefit our health?
5. Is there a unique way we can do this for less money without sacrificing quality?
Is there a way that you've found to balance budget and quality on the homestead? Do tell!
(Shaye now steps down from soap box.)