Many people today have a dream of starting a homestead farm. Some feel it is too distant a reality to even imagine. Others are close and making plans. A few have actually taken that leap of faith by diving into homesteading, on a whim, a prayer and a bunch of grit.
Teresa and Lee McCullar, are well on their way to living their dream. They fall into that last category. They’ve taken that leap and are living the homesteading life. While they’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy, and they’re barely getting by, they wouldn’t trade their hardest day homesteading for their best day working for someone else and living in town.
That’s the essence of life… learning and growing as we go. It’s important to have a plan and a goal to work toward, but we don’t have to have it all figured out to get started.
The main purpose of sharing this story is to show that there’s more than one way to start homesteading and market gardening, even if you don’t have the money or land at first. Hopefully, the McCullar’s story will help generate ideas for you to consider, if you have a homesteading dream.
Even if you have the land and money to start, there are ideas here that might kickstart some ideas that might work for you.
Teresa, 36, and Lee, 38, set out on their dream a couple years ago, along with Lee’s teenage son. A friend had property he wasn’t using with back taxes due. He paid half and they paid the other half, and ended up with one acre for just $1,400 in back taxes in Dalton, Minnesota.
Creative Homesteading Tip #1: you may be able to buy land cheap for just the back taxes.
Not Easy, but Possible
The McCullars are working hard in a number of ways to make ends meet. It’s definitely not easy, but what they’re proving is that it’s possible with some creative trading and bartering. They help an 87 year old farmer plant, harvest and sell his onions. It’s a win-win for all of them. For 12 years now, Teresa has helped Ellard with his crops.
When it’s time to harvest the onions, Teresa helps distribute the onions ordered from Ellard for 50 cents per pound wholesale to local grocery stores, which earns her a winter supply of onions and other produce Ellard’s land provides. Then she helps sell some at the Farmer’s Markets for $1 per pound, depending on the timing, harvest and going rate, and then splits the Farmers Market money with Ellard.
Ellard, with the McCullar’s help is also growing about 100 tomatoes on half an acre, plus beets and white and red potatoes. Teresa’s family gets their fill of these, plus buy them wholesale from Ellard to sell at retail at the Farmer’s Market.
Teresa grew up farming, and missed it, so long before she and Lee staked their homestead claim, they were drawn back to helping farm when and where they could. They have two grandmothers, parents, aunts and uncles, all living in the area and now they’re following in the family legacy. Farming runs in their blood.
So… if you have a dream to homestead, one of the best ways to gain experience and earn money before taking the leap is to help other farmers now. If you wanted to start a restaurant, the best way to get into that would be to work at a restaurant first. That strategy would apply to any business you might want to own, and works for homesteading too.
Creative Homesteading Tip #2: you can help other farmers with their crops and selling to market.
Here’s 18,000 hand planted Texas candy onions.
Whatever it Takes
The McCullars are versatile and creative in the many ways they work to earn a living homesteading. In addition to helping Ellard with his onions, they help “Grandpa Gary” with his tree farm. They help other farmers, grow and sell some of their own produce, and are gradually increasing this each year, and they’ll also be selling baby chicks, eggs, and more over time.
The thing about all these different pieces and ventures is that it keeps it interesting for them. They enjoy the variety of all that they do, while steadily working on growing their own homestead farm.
They’re raising a baby calf now which they rescued from a local dairy farm. It was injured and the farmer didn’t have time to baby it, but the McCullars do, so they’re healing its injury and nurturing (babying it actually ) back to health. So now they have a cow… for free.
And remember, some of what they’re selling at the Farmer’s Market and curbside, they didn’t even grow on their own land yet.
Homesteading Tip #3: Look for opportunities to trade or barter.
Garden Bounty from the McCullar Garden
Teresa said, “My little at-home garden is enough to eat on for the summer plus seed bank to continuously get larger every year. I have 30 plus tomato plants this year.”
More Than Money Can Buy
Now you may be wondering how much money can be made homesteading on a small farm. There is no one answer, because of course every situation is different. We’ve written about other small farms that are doing quite well, some even earning six figures on their farm, and they’ve written a book about it, which we’ll link at the end of this article.1)Profitable Micro Farming
Lee is also a skilled wood worker with his own business,2)http://www.mccullarcarpentry.com3)https://www.facebook.com/Reptileden doing odd repair jobs as well as customer furniture, rustic shelving, headboards, cabinets, planters… you name it, Lee can build it. His shop is on their property on highway 58, so if you need some woodwork done, give him a call.
Lee built this trellis Teresa’s parents:
And Lee built this Raised Garden Bed planter for Grandma in the left background of this image.
Teresa, does art and airbrushing and also paints, stains and resins Lee’s wood work. But money is tight. Earning only around $10k per year over the last couple years, they McCullars don’t have luxuries, and medical care… well that’s a pain point and a joke, where it’s cheaper for them to pay the penalty not to have insurance than it is to buy into Obamacare.
That said, there are many money intangible benefits from the homesteading way of life. Since the McCullars can grow and raise most of their own food, their food bill is less per month than most families of three spend in a few days.
“Lee was spending close to $100 a week going back and forth to work… not counting lunches, and he’d come home exhausted.” Teresa said. “Last summer we barely spent $50 a month on food.” Not bad for a family of three, right?! So… do the math on that one: saving over $400 / month while only spending around $50 / month on food. Their main expenses are phones, car insurance and electricity. Living on land they own free and clear, so no mortgage and well, you can see how with homesteading you can get buy with a lot less money than you might think.
And then there are things that money can’t buy.
“Even in hard times, this is better than any city living I’ve done.” Teresa McCullar
Currently, Teresa’s cousin is living with them, and has been amazed at how much better she feels living out in the farm in the fresh air. She feels healthier, happier and less stressed.
So while the McCullars are making a lot less money now than when they were working for others full time, they wouldn’t trade the freedom and peace of their homesteading life for anything.
“If people are going to homestead… just remember it doesn’t happen overnight.” Teresa McCullar
There are also other ways to generate revenue, such as taking good care of farm animals and pets, breeding and selling or trading them. You have the animals anyway, and breeding is free if you have the male and female. So investing in livestock is something to consider as another way to help afford farm equipment and tools.
Below is the audio interview with Teresa, if you want the fuller story.
Tribute to Thor, Hero, Best Friend and Hard Working Helper
But first… a tribute to Teresa’s old best friend, her best friend of 14 years and service dog, Thor. Teresa says:
“Thor was my life for 14 yrs from hunting, pulling work cart, backpacking supplies and keeping us going… he was nearly human. We were happy we got this place before he died. He got to be himself his last year of life. He helped garden, keep the sheep, control the pigs and live in the sun happily.”
And… Thor was also a local hero, along with Teresa, serving to protect an abuse victim and separate her from her estranged husband assailant at Teresa’s command. Protecting both women while scaring away the abusive man.
“A good dog is extremely valuable whether helping homestead, self homesteading, or even daily life. Ol’ boy hauled countless cords of wood, tons of produce (sleds & carts) and pulled trees and limbs… anything I asked. Thor protected myself and our livestock, and he saved people’s lives (warning them of seizures, diabetic attacks, heart attacks, or danger). He was at my side thru living in the woods, living in big cities, traveling, hunting, at work (including night security). He carried backpacks, kids rode him, he killed skunks, raccoons, woodchucks yet was a lamb to everyone moments later.”
Thor was a hero.
Thor and Teresa… Friends forever and death do not part.
We love this quote by Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist:
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
And this one, attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.”
So if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If “hard” stops you, then homesteading probably isn’t for you, because homesteading is definitely hard. Rewarding, but hard.
If you’d like to tune into the conversation with Teresa and LeAura, here’s that link.
I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always been interested in medicinal herbs and getting nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. As a family we’re eager to dig more deeply into gardening and edible landscape for the love of fresh organic foods and self sustainability. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community.
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