Jobs Created Within Homesteading Communities
Homesteading Today, From Small Scale to Large, Supports Local Economies
Homesteading communities make a difference. From hobby farmers cherishing idyllic lifestyles to families who have ranched hundreds of acres for generations, each piece of actively managed homesteading land benefits the local economy.
Imagine a world without farming. It sounds a little trite, doesn’t it? A simple phrase for a bumper sticker. But for many, it’s a battle.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says more than 50 percent of rural communities have declined in population. “Unless we respond and react,” he says, “the capacity of rural America and its power and its reach will continue to decline.” More than 80 percent of lawmakers are not representing rural areas as the counties experience a “natural decrease:” where more people die than are born. Younger people relocate to cities for work. They need to pay bills.
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While urbanites dream of escaping to idyllic settings, rural dwellers want to stay within their beautiful communities, but they need jobs to keep them there.
Now imagine what you can do to aid homesteading communities in danger of diminishing. If you are homesteading today on any scale, urban or rural, you’re probably already helping.
Homesteading: Communities Farm by Farm
Fewer taxpayers means less money for schools. Older residents require more health care, but doctors and nurses need more patients to treat. Rural communities need people farming, ranching, or working in trades which support agriculture.
The USDA reports that the average farming household stays afloat because of off-farm employment. Very little income is generated on family farms and many of the original homesteading communities have become incorporated. A key to turning the economy around is higher demand for products produced on those farms. The growing farmers’ market industry and community supported agriculture programs give them a boost.
One study created by the State of Illinois reported that most farms produce larger commodity crops for export out of state while most residents purchase food that has to be transported into the state. A 20 percent increase in local fruit and vegetable production would keep $20-30 billion in new income within the state in addition to thousands more Illinois jobs. Another report, published in 2011 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, claims that if farmers within Michigan alone grew fresh fruits and vegetables instead of what they currently sold, 1,889 more jobs would be created plus $187 million in after-tax income. The physical and financial output of these crops is higher, per acre, than corn and soybeans. The homesteading communities would again be profitable ventures rather than places where farmers struggle to stay out of debt.
The studies account for jobs created directly within the farming system, from the workers in the fields to cashiers running WIC and SNAP vouchers at markets. But the fresh vegetable industry is just one limb of a thriving agricultural economy.
While discussing how modern times swiftly crumble the homestead heritage within the Salmon River Valley, former rancher Edward Tolman told how, without support systems such as farmer’s markets and dairies, agriculture dwindles. Ranchers shipping meat and milk over hundreds of miles must meet rising transportation costs. When fuel prices rise, farms fail.
Farmers need other local businesses. Trucks and tractors break down. Winter slams in hard, leaving rangeland unnavigable without snowmobiles. Livestock need health checkups and emergency intervention. Ranches may require butchering and processing before meat hits the market. Farmers must purchase sturdy work clothing, tools, animal feed, seeds and plants. Modern times have made some products available via the Internet but the services must come from nearby.
By keeping products available locally, both farmers and local businesses flourish.
Edward Tolman explains, “One farmer or rancher could produce five jobs. Ranchers also support the parts houses, implements dealers, etc., creating a sustainable economy because you have to be improving and evolving. Natural resources produce jobs.”
Homesteading Communities House by House
Rural jobs rarely exist without farms. Careers within the countryside include teachers, contractors and construction workers, accountants, and both medical and emergency personnel. Each job created when farmers send children to school or purchase supplies supports another family or home. A strong community helps everyone.
According to the Farm Aid website, every time money exchanges hands within a community it boosts income and economic activity, fueling job creation. Locally owned businesses often recirculate the money locally. The site claims that every dollar spent within a homesteading community circulates two to four times more within that community than if it was spent on a non-local business.
Mike Dodd of G&M Game Processing and Custom Meats doesn’t cater to large farms or restaurants. Within his community, farmers must take their meat to the university for USDA certification if they want to offer it commercially. Mike serves hunters and hobby farmers within a radius of several hundred miles. Per year he processes between 600 and 1,000 wild animals and 160 to 200 domesticated animals. He allows game hunters and small-scale farmers to focus on what they do best while Mike gives them prime cuts. Then Mike circulates the money back into the community, focusing on “mom and pop” operations.
Farming along with animal husbandry supports economic growth at ground level. Jo Webb of Idle Spur Ranch depends on local horse enthusiasts to provide extra income while her husband is out of work. Jo breeds her stallion, Peppy’s Top Spark, and markets services within a few hundred miles. Some customers are ranchers; some compete in rodeos. Others are hobbyists living within their own homesteading communities. She anticipates the coming springtime with hopes that breeding can pay a few more bills and offers a discount for people who book and pay ahead of time. Jo purchases firewood, pays a farrier, buys chicks for her children’s 4-H projects, and hires other talented homesteaders for jobs she cannot complete. It’s only one household among thousands within her community but it contributes to the entire economy.
Within the veterinary clinic, greenhouse or garden center, community businesses care for and depend on each other. Even a modest backyard chicken owner helps the feed store survive.
To support your community, populate your farmers’ market or food co-op. Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Purchase work clothing locally rather than via the Internet. Buy meat raised by small-scale farmers. Keeping the money local feeds homesteading communities and preserves them for the future.