Olin and I had a realization the other day.
This year marks 16 years since we moved to Stoney Creek Farm.
I grew up on a farm, but vowed I would never return. But God had different plans for me, and 2005 brought me back to my roots here at Stoney Creek Farm. It’s one of the best decisions I have ever made!
Sixteen years packs in a lot of lessons—and we’re sharing with you some of the top lessons that our homesteading journey has taught us.
Being debt-free leads to a life of freedom.
I spent more than 30 years of my life in the corporate world, and Olin owned his own construction company for more than a decade. We knew that with downsizing, the cushiness of corporate paychecks wouldn’t last forever; plus, my high-stress job was weighing on me. But we knew we wouldn’t have the freedom to make the choices we wanted to make with debt keeping us in its snares.
So at the outset, we pursued paying off all our debt.
We had a farm loan on the land, but purchased the house and barn with cash, no credit. We bought all used farm equipment. We saved where we could, and only invested profits into new business endeavors, never relying on debt lines to fund our business. We stayed at our full-time jobs as we began building income streams from our farm.
Envisioning the life we could have once we were debt-free allowed us to stay laser-focused on paying off the farm loan—our final debt. Dave Ramsey and Money Wise were two financial resources that we followed. By applying the principles we learned, we were able to become debt free much sooner than expected.
In 2013, I was able to leave my corporate job to focus my full efforts on sharing Stoney Creek Farm with the community through our U-Pick Garden, educational resources, and more. Olin was able to leave his full-time job a few years later, and now we both get to spend our time enjoying a slower life on the farm.
We highly encourage anyone who is dreaming of a life of more joy, and less stress to get serious about becoming debt free. The freedom waiting for you on the other side is absolutely worth the work of paying off your standing debts.
Develop your business around your passion.
When your business is built around what you love to do, it won’t feel like you are going to a job every day. But in that same vein, you don’t quit your day job just because you have a passion. At the end of the day, there are bills to pay. You can support yourself with your day job while building a side business surrounding your passion until, eventually, that side business is able to substitute for your full-time job.
We found Dan Miller’s book 48 Days to the Work You Love to be pivotal in guiding us!
Don’t expand your homestead too fast.
This advice applies to any business, whether you are looking to make money from your farm or pursuing another business idea.
It’s easy to get excited about new ideas and want to immediately jump into making them all happen at once. But it’s important to expand only a little bit at a time.
When you expand too fast, you risk greater income losses from putting your profits into projects that might not end up making any money.
By pacing your expansions, you’ll set yourself up for long-term growth.
Research, research, research.
Learn from our mistake!
Stoney Creek Farm is on an agricultural green belt. In the state of Tennessee, as long as you have 15 acres and can earn $1500 annually in gross income from agricultural products, you can maintain greenbelt status, which offers significant tax benefits.
So when we started Stoney Creek Farm, we were looking for income streams to help us meet this gross income requirement.
We looked at cutting hay, raising meat goats, and other options. We finally landed on an orchard. People could come pick produce, or we could sell the fruit ourselves. What could go wrong?
We bought a bunch of trees and put ‘em out in the middle of winter. We planted granny smith, red delicious, crabapple, pears, peaches… all kinds of fruit trees. Boy, we were READY!
Of course, fruit trees take a while to bear fruit. Fruit production can take up to 5 years for some trees. We were really tickled and couldn’t wait to enjoy the fruits of our orchard efforts.
Only, we hadn’t done our research.
You see, our whole property is covered in cedar trees.
Little did we know that fungal spores from cedar trees could infect fruit trees with what’s called cedar rust. This infects apple trees, ruining the fruit and spreading to the leaves and bark.
Our excitement was dashed—most of our trees didn’t produce fruit at all, and the ones that did produce fruit weren’t exactly profit-worthy. To treat the rust, we would’ve had to spray them with all types of fungicides and pesticides, and we didn’t want that. On top of that, we had a hungry family of squirrels on our property that would steal the new-growth fruit in the night. I’m sure that squirrel family had themselves a banquet feast that winter.
We learned our lesson the hard way: always do your research first.
Let the wisdom of others guide you.
As our orchard met its cedar rust and squirrel end, we were still looking for viable income stream options for our farm.
We went to my Uncle Jerry Parker, a former Ag-Extension agent, for advice.
“Uncle Jerry, what should we do to make our greenbelt?” I asked.
He suggested a fruit and veggie stand—growing our own produce and selling the product to the public.
Olin’s Uncle Dennis Mitchell, a farmer in Mississippi, had a huge hundred-acre U-Pick Garden of his own. He suggested to Olin that we do a U-Pick Garden.
Here were two uncles, experts in the farm world, giving us almost the same advice.
We listened to their wisdom and started our own U-Pick Garden. That very first year we made our goal of $1500—even WITH with me accidentally killing two-thirds of the tomato plants!
Our U-Pick Garden remains one of our most profitable income streams.
Don’t try to build your homestead or other business without the guiding wisdom of those who have done it before you.
Don’t let fear have the final say.
It can be scary to try something new. But if we let fear keep us from pursuing new opportunities, we’ll miss out on the potential growth and benefits that come from it.
For instance, I tried an art class after I left my corporate job. At the start, I was totally inept as an artist. I could barely draw a stick figure!
I took a drawing class, then a painting class, and slowly my skills were sharpened as I continued to practice and learn. Now, I sell my artwork at the farm! In fact, we sold so many of the farm notecards featuring my art that we had to reprint them four times last Christmas season. This would’ve never happened had I not moved past my fear and taken that first art class!
Of course, being debt free has given us the freedom to try new things—even the scary ones. We will always say to start with achieving debt-free status so that you’ll have the freedom to try new things without stress and fear!
The past sixteen years have shaped our mission to guide you to a life of more joy and less stress by teaching you to grow your own healthy & pesticide-free food, use natural resources wisely, and save money through simple, sustainable practices. We look forward to the many, many years to come!
You can find more of our sustainable living story in our book, Dirt Rich: How to Experience More Joy & Less Stress through Sustainable Farm Living.