Making a tree change into self-sufficiency is it "living the dream" or buying into a nightmare or both?
It's interesting how people can have different perceptions about the same thing or situation. These perceptions (or how a person sees a given thing/situation) are mostly formulated by one's life experience, education, age, belief systems, and many other variables but one common saying that most people understand is "Nothing is for free in life."
My wife uses this saying a lot… Particularly when describing the sacrifices she has made being a working mother to earn a decent enough living to support her family. Being in the full-time workforce and following her desire to further her professional career has its monetary and personal rewards but it often means significant time spent away from family, which isn't easy for any mother.
We went on a cruise holiday (as a family) a few years ago – I wrote an article about our experience here. Our youngest son, who was 6 years old at the time, gave us one of our fondest memories from that trip when he exclaimed with wide open eyes his amazement at the large dining restaurant onboard by stating, "WOW look at all this food and it's all for FREE!"
See, because he was young and he never saw money exchange hands or a payment counter to pay for the food we ate, his perception was that all the food and drink we were consuming on the ship was free. I guess you had to be there, but to this day whenever we reminisce about our cruise holiday we inevitably mention "that moment" when our naive son gave us all a good belly laugh and we still laugh about it today.
Anyway, the reason I wanted to share that story and rather long obscure intro with you was to lead into the main theme of this article about how making a tree change and being self-sufficient isn't "free" either… even though it's sometimes "perceived" to be that way.
I know most people appreciate the work behind producing your own food as a "backyard farmer," but others don't and their perception of what it takes to produce your own food can be potentially damaging. I'm not talking about people making poor assumptions about others who are into self-sufficiency like, "Mark, you're so lucky to have a property that gives you fruit and veg for free," this does happen, although it does no harm to anyone (except annoy me a little I suppose). However, what does have the potential to harm is people diving feet first into self-sufficiency or hobby farming on a misguided romance that they can live the tree change with little risk or downside.
The truth is, trying to become as self-sufficient as possible (or within reason) on an acreage property is a lot of hard work and to imagine once your food garden is established the produce gathered is practically free is fanciful. Having said that, I'm not saying growing your own food is hard to do because I personally think it's pretty easy (and it is) but unless you fully commit to the project your gains will be limited. Even then, you could find your self-sufficient property or hobby farm might not reach your expectations regardless of the commitment.
Most certainly, moving to a tree change expecting your cost of living will automatically reduce with a little gardening, after which, you spend the rest of your day sipping green tea out on the deck is not going to happen. And, although I'm an advocate for growing your own food and the acreage lifestyle, I strongly suggest people do their research and honestly assess their own ability to run a property before taking the plunge into acreage living.
Commitment to anything costs something… Commitment to self-sufficiency or hobby farming is definitely not a matter of just buying the land and then everything after that is free because it will recoup its costs in many ways including:
- Money – in buying materials, paying expenses;
- Time – invested in working, monitoring, and maintaining; and
- Effort – Physical and mental energy spent.
For those reasons above, the majority of people aren't into growing their own food on a scale big enough to live off (if necessary) because they'd rather invest their money, time, and effort into other things. Most people see paying directly for all their food from the supermarket as being a totally logical thing to do – with good reason. Nevertheless, my view is that we should at least try to grow something or be self-sufficient in "something," which is totally different to going self-sufficient on a larger scale. Even though that's precisely what we did on our small acreage (go all out) I'm cautious to suggest to anyone to do the same.
In this article, we're not even including the extra complications of keeping domestic livestock either, which pushes the scale of difficulty as a backyard hobby farmer come serious tree-changer even further up the notch. Mind you, not that I'm much of an expert in keeping larger animals anyway so my opinion in this subject area would be based off other people's experience and my own research instead of first hand. Yet, I have kept a lot of poultry over the past decade so I do have some qualifications in keeping animals for food at least. But, let's not go there in this post – I'll write another article about keeping domestic livestock in the future.
Making a tree change like this also depends on what your expectations, needs, and wants are because the less you expect, need, and want the easier it is to welcome a self-sufficient lifestyle. Some people don't need much at all and relish living off-grid totally self-sufficient like Grizzly Adams (maybe that's a poor example) and this extreme lifestyle by modern standards is fine if that's what you want. Not for me though… I like my "self-sufficiency" plus I also like modern living and everything that comes with it like technology. Yes, I want my cake and eat it I suppose.
I'm also not interested in discussing tree changing without self-sufficiency either. If, for argument's sake, the "tree change" was nothing more than a desire to live out on acreage and enjoy the serenity then fill your boots! I don't begrudge those who have the money and means to move out into the country or on the fringes of suburbia via small acreage for the purpose of escaping the madness of the city. Good on them if they can afford to DIY or hire help to maintain their lifestyle property with manicured lawns and ornamental gardens.
However, those who are considering quitting their office job, re-mortgaging their inner city home or selling up and borrowing more just shy of retirement at 50-70 years of age to pursue a working self-sufficiency lifestyle/hobby farm venture should think long and hard about it. I'm not saying, buying an acreage for the purpose of using that land to grow food and supplement their income can't be done because this is exactly what I did do. I quit my 90k job (back in 2008) became a home-dad and substituted some of that "lost income" by growing our own food or essentially working for myself to put food on the table literally. What I'm saying is, no person's situation is the same and what worked for me might not work for someone else.
I was 38 at the time of leaving my job with a flourishing career in the military, however, my wife and I were struggling to give our two young boys the stable life we wanted for them. The demands of our daily work and pressures of career meant long stints in daycare and instability of location for our children, which we felt was harming them and would damage them permanently if it were to continue (this was and still is our personal view). Add to that, the toll such a lifestyle was taking on our own relationship so after much deliberation and mathematics we decided one of us should drop out of the workforce temporarily until the boys were old enough to not require a full-time homemaker. That person ended up being me because, A – I could "retire" from the Army after 21 years service on the (now redundant) pension scheme ( and still earn some income whilst at home); B – my wife's ambition to further her professional career was stronger than mine; and C – I was the most capable person to run our acreage and "work the land" both physically (being a man) and mentally due to my interest/obsession in self-sufficiency.
Now, I should state for the record my wife loves food gardening also and shares my interest in self-sufficiency (which is important for a couple living this type of lifestyle) but overall I'm the one who runs the property with input from Nina… naturally. Nearly 9 years later, and we're still "living the dream" with me running the acreage and Nina working full-time, although it hasn't all been smooth sailing, in fact, it has been a lot of hard work for us both. Still, we don't regret me leaving my job and consequently the significant drop in income as this sacrifice has brought the stability we wanted to our family unit. Not to sugar coat it, this "stability" and "one foot on the ground" policy with one parent staying at home came at the expense of, well, the extra money we could have earned if we both worked. See the trade off?
Our self-sufficient backyard farm (or whatever you want to label it) has matured over the past decade into a thriving food producing machine to the point that if we wanted to we could practically survive totally from our own produce. That's pretty cool. However, going backwards to move forwards like we did was only possible due to my wife working and earning a decent income, myself being able to work on our property as hard as possible between home duties – plus starting a new career as a writer/blogger, us being in a relatively good financial position to begin with, and having a bit of luck along the way – good health etc.
So, quitting your job to run your own property can be done but I wouldn't say it's easy and it's absolutely not for free – actually, working for yourself can be MUCH harder. But it is also extremely satisfying. Getting into self-sufficiency is something I still recommend it's just that people must ensure all the ducks line up financially, physically, and emotionally before following their heart into a serious self-sufficient type lifestyle.
My advice to someone who is considering moving from suburbia for a tree change into self-sufficiency with the mindset of growing most of their own food and keeping domestic livestock is to have a serious go at growing fruit and veg where you are first. Start small and see how much you can grow on a suburban block first – perhaps keep a few chickens. Then if you find you really do have a passion for growing your own produce take further steps at investigating the feasibility of moving to acreage. Do the sums! The last thing a person should want to happen is moving to acreage under the romance of GYO/DIY and then find out, in reality, their heart isn't into it because the financial and emotional losses can be devastating.
If anything, I hope to encourage people to become more self-sufficient in their current location whether it is a standard urban block or inner city apartment. Of course, I believe in the acreage dream I love this lifestyle and promote it but it would be irresponsible of me to paint this lifestyle as perfect or easy to obtain/maintain.
I've had many people say to me I want to be like you move to acreage live off the land and be self-sufficient and I love that I have inspired them; however, the practicalities of doing such a thing is different to the romance so people need to separate the two and consider the pros/cons before taking the plunge into tree change self-sufficiency.
Most of all, remember… nothing is for free in life no matter how it's perceived to be.