A blog follower emailed me and asked, "How much income does a homestead farm have to make in order to support a family?" I see this sort of a question being asked on many of the homesteading, family farm, and permaculture style websites/blogs. I find it difficult to answer because of so many variables and definitions. I think this is an individualistic thing.
What do you consider income? Would you count things that the farm produces for you that you would otherwise have to buy, such as food, firewood, manures, etc? Or do you mean the cash you brought in from sales? Or perhaps net profit? On my homestead farm, when I talk about needing a certain income, I'm referring to net profit. And I don't count the fact that the farm, in one way or another, produces 90% of our food. Or that the farming effort supplies other material goods for us. Our farm is pretty well self supporting at this stage, meaning that it brings in enough cash to pay for its cash expenses. But in order to support hubby and I, it needs to generate a net profit. This is something that I'm still working on.
Family, what's your definition? A young couple just starting out who hasn't yet accumulated a supply of material goods (tools, household items, clothes, vehicles, etc)? A family consisting of young children? A retired, childless couple? Depending upon who the family is, the amount of income they need can greatly vary, wouldn't you agree? We have already accumulated our necessary material goods. So we now think in terms of maintenance, repairs, and replacements. We have no children to support, no future education expenses to be concerned about. We've already done our world traveling and vacations requiring expense. So our family consists of two homebodies who aren't very need oriented.
And how about lifestyle? How much cash would the family need to maintain their desired lifestyle. Gosh, 20 years ago hubby and I needed $75,000-$85,000 a year to live. Yikes! Now we could do fine on $15,000-$20,000, not including medical (which is an outrageous $12,000 a year for basic). You can see, our lifestyle has really changed. By the way, back in the days of $80,000 per year income, we didn't have to pay our own medical insurance premiums. It was a job perk. Now we have no choice but to pay through the nose if we want medical insurance.
Some people need to make more money than they need to get by. They have a set idea of saving certain amount each month or year. Thus their farm would need to make more money than the non-fiscally oriented family. Some people can't bear the thought of living a life where they are just getting by. Society pressures us to have savings, IRAs, stock portfolios, pensions. I know people who have extreme anxiety over their savings, fearful that they don't have enough. For these type people, maybe escaping to the countryside and farm life may not be a good idea. Small farming is seldom that profitable.
Location of your farm would have a big bearing on your expense needs. Some regions are far cheaper to live in than others. Surprisingly, I find my area of Hawaii to be rather affordable, except for that dang medical insurance. But buying a farm here is not affordable a compared with other regions of the country.
Outside income is another consideration. In our case, we will be drawing social security benefits eventually. Some people I've talked with have pensions, alimony, royalties,interest, etc bringing money in. Yet others have non-farm income via part time jobs, sales of crafts or services. Any outside income takes the pressure off what the farm must produce.
I'm sure there are other angles to consider. As I've said, this is a highly individual thing.
It may surprise you, but hubby and I have different ideas about "getting by". I'm more of a pioneer type, willing to improvise, make do, or do without. Hubby is an urban type who likes his creature comforts and his toys. Therefore our family homestead farm has to produce enough to make hubby satisfied, far more than it would have to produce to please me alone.