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Harsh Realities of Homesteading – What Urban Dreamers Should Know Before Taking the Plunge Part 1

13 March 2024 | Veronique |

Wake up to the sounds of nature, grow your own food, be surrounded by animals, preserve food, make cool things, build your own home, be offgrid, live a simpler life.

It’s a dream of many.

We followed that dream almost 3 years ago. We moved from Johannesburg to our farm here in Dinokeng and have been living offgrid with the aim of self-sustainability and a food forest.

The reality has been very different to the dream. Here’s some things we didn’t foresee.

1) It’s Expensive, Very Very Expensive

Money seems to be such a taboo subject in the self-sufficiency circles. It’s kind of brushed over. But let me tell you, it costs a fortune to go offgrid and become self-sufficient. We have 21ha, a one-bedroom tiny house, 4 wendy houses, and my mom’s small 2-bedroom house. We put in all the infrastructure ourselves from scratch, buildings, roads, water, solar, sewage, grey water, fencing, gardens. It has cost us in the region of R2,5million so far – yet we cannot feed ourselves fulltime from our garden.

Apart from the initial cost of buying land, the maintenance is never ending. Equipment needs to be bought, serviced and fixed. The environment is harsh and brutal on all equipment, things break all the time. There are borehole pumps, booster pumps, inverters, batteries, water pipes, electrical cables, tractor engines, vehicle tires, fences, gates, brush cutters, lawnmowers, farm vehicles – all these things break at the most inconvenient times. Plus, you need fuel for all the farm equipment and vehicles, food and salaries for farm staff, animal feed, vet bills, animal medication and vaccinations, stuff insurance, internet access, vehicle licensing, cellphone costs, medical insurance, life insurance, groceries, support family members. It all adds up. We are debt free, which helps enormously, but if you are not, you need to add your bond and vehicle payments too.

You can’t buy cheap equipment because it doesn’t last. You have to buy the best quality possible with a good warranty on it. That means you could be paying 2 to 3 times more than a lower quality item. Brush cutters are a great example. Stihl and Husqvarna are top range items. Our Stihl brush cutter cost R13000. You can buy a cheapie for about R2000 in a Game / Makro type shop, which we did. We broke 3 of them in a year before we sucked it up and bought a Stihl. So in fact, the Stihl cost us R19000 because we were too cheap to buy good quality in the first place. You buy cheap, you buy twice.

If you’re thinking about quitting your job to go live on a farm and live off the land, you are in for a very expensive awakening.  You need 2 incomes to live comfortably on your homestead / farm.

But that brings us to the next problem.

2) Balancing your 9-5 with your Farm Job

Farms demand attention. A lot of attention. You hear people say, “it’s a lot of work”, but it doesn’t really compute when you live in the city. You can’t actually visualise what that looks like.

Farms need grass cutting, weeding, soil amending, planting, harvesting, cutting fire breaks, looking after animals, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, servicing vehicles and equipment, entertaining people, watering the garden, clearing veld, planting trees, putting in irrigation. It never stops, ever. You leave your farm unattended for a week and you’ll spend 2 weeks sorting it out afterwards.

A typical day on Little Big Tree Farm looks like this for me (in the spring and summer months) :

Up at 5am when my husband’s alarm goes off.  Watch some videos on something I am busy learning until my husband is ready to leave at 5:45am. Get up, make the bed, open all the windows (23 of them), sweep the house, fold all the dog and couch blankets, pack / unpack the dishwasher, feed the cats, change the water in 13 water bowls, feed the birds, put the sprinkler on, take the dogs for a walk, do some weeding, plant seeds, harvest whatever is available, put a load of laundry in, get the gardeners on their jobs for the day, take food out for the evening. Now it’s around 9:30am. Finally get a chance to shower and have breakfast. It’s 10am.

Home office on the farm

Sit at my laptop for the next 4 to 5 hours working on my city job. Move the sprinkler during the day. Hang up next load of laundry, bring in dry laundry, fold and pack away. Supervise staff during the day. Rescue at least one bird or butterfly that has flown into the house. Try and work between all this.

Around 4pm, the animals wake up again and it’s time to play and get fed. Feed the dogs, feed the cats. Get stuff on the stove, get the gardeners settled for the evening, back into the garden for more weeding. Husband home between 5 and 6. He immediately gets to work on the farm for another 2 hours on the tractor or whatever needs to be fixed. Dinner around 7. Bit of TV. Fall into bed around 9pm, few more learning videos, then sleep. Start it all over again the next day.

That’s just an average day.

Then you get days like yesterday when the dogs attack a mongoose, and you must drop everything to secure the dogs and get the mongoose to a vet 40 minutes away (who had to be put down). Then stop to get groceries on the way back because you are out anyway and want to make most of the trip off the farm. Only get home at 2pm, carry on hanging up the laundry, packing away dry laundry. So by the time I sat down to work on my day job, it was 3pm! I was utterly physically and emotionally exhausted by then. How much work do you think I got done?

My husband is a fulltime management employee, I run my own business. I never dreamt how hard it would be to run my own business and run a farm at the same time. It is extremely challenging to do both well. And now, as I work towards a new business goal, I also need to dedicate the first 90 minutes of every day to my new goal. But the farm demands that 90 minutes first. So what to do? Get up at 4am, work on my goal till 5:30am then get on with the farm job till 9:30am? And get to my day job at 10am. I get tired just thinking about it.

The point being, that by the time city folk get settled in work, farm owners have already done about 4 hours of physical labour.

You need your city jobs to pay for your farm. But balancing your city job with your farm job is a tough gig. You’re money rich but time poor.

Quitting your job to live a farm life puts you in sever financial stress. Staying in your day job gives you little time to enjoy your farm.

This is why I am working on a new business goal to free up my time in my city job. I simply do not have the capacity to live the farm lifestyle I thought I would have whilst working fulltime in my city job. The only way around that is to design an income stream that works when I am sleeping, takes the pressure of my day job and frees up my time to do more on the farm.

It’s a 3-to-5-year plan that I am documenting as I achieve this goal. Stay tuned if you’d like to learn how I achieve it.

In Part 2 next week – physical limitations, the emotional journey and is it worth it.

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