“No One With Land Should Be Without A Job”

From Gene Logsdon

The sentence nearly leaped off the page and knocked me down: “No one with land should be without a job.” Jennifer McMullen, writing in Farming magazine in the current Fall, 2009 issue (“Good Food Depends On Local Roots”) was quoting Jessica Barkheimer, who, like Jennifer, is deeply involved in developing farmer’s markets in Ohio. I was at the time wrestling with a closely related concept but had not thought to put it in those words. I might have said it a bit differently— “no one with land is without a job” but the meaning would be the same. If you have some land, even an acre, you have the means for making at least part of your income and in the process gain a more secure life. Surely that is what it means to “have a job.” Our society hasn’t endorsed that notion yet, but I think that we are evolving toward that kind of economy.

We are only beginning to recognize how many income possibilities that a little piece of land can provide. We know about market gardening but most of us do not yet appreciate its reach. It’s not just sweet corn and tomatoes. It’s about all the fruits and vegetables on earth. Tasted any pancakes made with cattail pollen lately? Neither have I but it is treasured in some gourmet circles, I understand.

Market gardening goes beyond the plants themselves. A whole new world of marketing can open up from inspired ways to package the products. At a market in Bellefontaine, Ohio, a couple of weeks ago, shelled lima beans were going fast at five bucks for a half pint!

There are far more products you can grow than just fruit and vegetables. Meat is beginning to show up at farmers’ markets, as well as dairy products and grains. Flowers, fresh and dried, too. Uncommon seeds are a possibility, especially of heirloom varieties or uncommon wildflowers and trees. Medicinal herbs. Mushrooms. Nuts. Baked goods. Plants for holiday decorations. We are all familiar with the success of pumpkins, but have you ever seen corn husks that in the autumn develop streaks of red and green and purple in them, fashioned into wreathes and bouquets? Magnificent. If you get into cattail pollen pancakes, you can use the dried cattail leaves to weave handsome, durable baskets. There’s a market for uncommon native tree species coveted by people who want to use only native plants in their ornamental landscapes. Local nurseries sometimes sell wahoo trees with their bright reddish pink berries. This small tree grows wild all over the eastern U.S.

Forest products are not just the purview of the commercial timber industry. Some small woodlot owners saw out blanks and boards from logs not profitable for the larger timber market. They sell the wood to woodworkers or turn it into products they sell themselves. Have you ever seen a bowl fashioned from a blank of boxelder which has the highly-desirable reddish grain in the heartwood? Awesome. Some farmers make good sideline money selling cedar, black locust, and other long-lasting woods for fence posts. There’s always a market for firewood and as energy prices soar, its value will continue to increase.

Think also of insect and animal products that the small acreage homeowner might explore for sideline cash. Think out of the box. Earthworms. Honey bees. Pigeons for squab. Aquaculture products in ponds or backyard tanks.

In more traditional livestock ventures, the Nigerian Dwarf goat is being touted as the best dairy animal for small acreages. (There’s an article on these goats in the same issue of Farming as the article cited above.) A mother Nigerian weighs only about 50 lbs. but can supply enough milk for a family at least part of the year. The cream, like that of cows, makes great ice cream. Ice cream always sells.

I could go on for pages, but you get the picture. We all accept the fact that most of us must invest in a car to keep our jobs. I think the day will come when most of us will also invest in a few acres of land to keep our jobs.


What a great inspirational article. What is amazing to me is how the farmers at farmer’s markets keep growing but yet my sales do not slow. The more farmers that show up, the more buyers show up. I really think people are starting to get it.


Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 21, 2009 at 7:57 am

Kerrie, I do understand what you are trying to say. My husband also has the argument that HOAs protect other propery owners from negligent neighbors who don’t take care of their propery and therefore bring down your properties value. I understand and respect those points of view. But, I guess I’m just a dreamer who thinks people should cowboy up and do the right thing and be responsible.

Thanks Gene, I couldn’t agree with you more about the paid scientist! They could go a long way for sustainable agriculture…if they weren’t working indiectly for Monsanto and those like them!

Dennis P The vareity I am using is from Oregon and called Wassie. I did a search on the internet and found them. Check out my website at Ricelandmeadows.com, you can e-mail me from there and I will send you a link. They offer 3 types. I chose the Wassie based on the short day growing season. I live in a sort of micro climate due to Lake Erie. I couldn’t always get Reids yellow dent to ripen and dry down for me. So far I am very impressed with the Wassie. Now the selection process starts, hopefully making it better every year!

Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 19, 2009 at 5:03 pm

Yes, HOA’s are home owners associations. I can’t imagine not being able to hang out my clothes, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. But, then I would never buy in any area where there was a HOA. Like I said before, I think they are down right un-American.

I’d like to point out something that was brought up by a local Cooperative Extension agent at the Bioneer’s conference here in Anchorage about zoning (and could relate to HOAs) and animals. He said there’s a reason for regulations limiting animals within city limits and a lot of it has to do with protecting water quality.

On the east side of Anchorage, up in the foothills of the Chugach mountain, zoning allows people to own horses. Unfortunately, open piles of fresh manure when rained upon can contaminate local streams and groundwater from runoff. The city sometimes has fits over the lack of good stewardship on the part of horseowners even though zoning allows for horses. The agent’s comments were similar with regard to backyard animals, particularly animals that are penned (which, by the way, is the only legal way to have backyard animals currently).

If the animal owner is not diligent with managing manure, not only will it effect the quality of life for nearby neighbors, it can contaminate the water. Where I live near downtown, there’s a whole lot of impervious surfaces and with heavy rains, a lot of water goes into storm sewers and then dumps out into Cook Inlet untreated.

What this tells me is that the system is set up to expect the least common denominator – people who are too lazy to care for animals properly hence the heavy restrictions. I’d rather see an incentive program where people who care for their animals and manage manure responsibly get tax credits or something. For the insensitive and oafish, fine the heck out of them and confiscate the animals if necessary (something already in place).

I know this is seriously drifting from the topic of the essay but felt it necessary to provide some explanation about restrictions to livestock in more urbanized areas.

Kerri in AK who would be a guerilla chicken owner if it weren’t for a particular property owner nearby who contacts the city for the least infraction by the neighbors.

Ralph in N.E. Ohio – What kind of open-pollinated corn are you growing? What’s the name of the variety? Thanks.

Ralph, thanks for sharing your experiences with o-p corn, especially about how your livestock prefer it. I wish one or our tax paid scientists would look into this.
Susan and Teresa, I am not sure what HOA stands for but I guess Home Owners Association??? Where our daughter lives, people are not even allowed to hang their wash outdoors to dry. And this is the Land of the Free?????

Retitled: “No one with a Nation Should be Without Land”.

Redistribute the world’s land from wealthy elites to the People of each nation! Give the land back or have it taken back by the People for their own food and housing!

Soon the people will rise up against their oppressors and take back by force all the lands stolen from them.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 18, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I just can’t help but think HOA are un-American.

I sure agree with you Gene about the open pollenated corn. I am having great success with mine.

I ran out of home raised corn in late July. So I have been forced to buy from my local feed mill. I buy their “rolled” shelled corn.I soak it in water before giving it to the pigs. My sows eat it, but I don’t think they like it too well. I didn’t realize it until I started feeding my OP corn in these last few weeks. They squeal at the fence for it. They eat cobs and all like they were eating cake! The cows get the corn stalks from around the edge of the field where I have been opening it up to make ready to machine pick the rest of it. They eat every bit that I throw over to them…not because they are hungry, but because they like it! Usually there are stalks all stomped down into the mud and manure, but not this stuff…. they eat it all!

I only bought seed enough last year for 2 acres, but hope to save a good bit for next years seed and at least double that. The ears are yellow and plenty of red ones too. They are all over 10 inch ears with lots of foot long ones, where sun and soil was best. I am reaching up to pick a lot of it too cause the plants are over 10 fet tall. Not bad for open pollenated corn, planted in a declining clover pasture with just composted manure for added fertilizer!

Keep up the good work my friend. You are an inspriation to many, a hero for some and an idol to me. Ralph

DennisP That article about Jeff Ford is really great. Yes, I agree with him about grains. They are bred now to resist machines, drought, cold weather, bugs, molds, even weed sprays. Just seems to me common sense that they are starting to resist human beings too. I believe that wild animals prefer my open pollenated corn to my neighbors’ super duper hybrids but it is hard to prove. I know my pigs preferred it over hybrids. If you’ve ever read Dr. William Albrecht, his books are full of examples. (See an excerpt in the current (October) issue of Acres USA.
Thanks to other commentators on this blog for such good examples of making income from small acreages and for your kind words. Gene

It’s a great idea. The problem lies in the fact that all too many people who DO have land also have onerous HOA rules preventing them from being more self sufficient.

I have just under a quarter acre. I have rabbits, chickens, lots of raised beds (small and intensive are needed here), and that’s just in my back yard. I haven’t even started farming the front yard yet. Luckily I don’t have any restrictions on plants or landscaping in the front like many of my friends do; some of them even have restrictions on the color of paint they can use!

What is needed now is a massive change in the power of HOA’s. Personally I have enough room to raise a suckling pig to slaughter weight but am forbidden by the HOA; I would LOVE to have a goat but am forbidden them as well. It makes it hard when I know I COULD provide better quality food to my family but am forbidden from doing so.

I agree with an above poster; most people don’t want to have to think about their food. They don’t want any work associated with producing it and the lack of ability to have a vacation any time they want. Of course, if you’re not working or not working enough, you can’t take a vacation anyway.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 17, 2009 at 7:16 am

Great ideas guys. I think the problems is tho, so many people just don’t care about being independent or knowing where or what their food comes from. They would rather someone else worry about those annoying little details. I can just see the outraged soccer mom, throwing a fit about her child having to work in a school garden. Especially when that child could be doing something important with his/her time, like practicing for soccer, lol. I know, because I’m always getting the “look” when people find out about one of my “homesteading activities”. They think I’m crazy and they always ask, “why would you want to do that?”. Welll, maybe I am crazy, but I’m doing it my own way.

How about vegetable seedlings? The Bonnie’s Best company seems to have the market cornered on seedlings at the big box stores – they sell out every year but their inventory and product quality is crap. A difficult product to ship, but the profit margin must be pretty good.

I often wonder what will happen to small organic farms if more people get into backyard gardening. There have been some interesting small enterprises where people treat vegetable gardening like lawn care – going from house to house in a neighborhood preparing planting beds, take care of all the planning and planting, and let their clients do the harvesting. Seems like there will be more opportunities for that kind of “expert consultation” work, at least in urban and suburban areas.

I’ve often thought of proposing to a local elementary school to become their “school farmer” – and use a half acre of an unused ballfield to grow food for the cafeteria in exchange for some extra land and cash. Something like that could probably be worked into classroom and community education projects – a town might be willing to unload some land as an “educational project” so they don’t have to pay to maintain it.

Perhaps this should be moved to “job ideas for people without much land.”

Waaah! Teresa, I was joking, I was joking! I love Gene’s writing. Consider the first sentence in my previous post to be “inoperative” as some White House press secretary said several decades ago.

Gene – Did you see the article in the NYTimes published Oct. 7 about Jeff Ford, a baker in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin? It was about his use of nonconventional kinds of grains. In particular, I was struck by his comments:

“The varieties of wheat … are down to about five, so it’s all monoculture, chemicalized, no nutritional value. The breeds are bred to stand up to abuse from the machines. We feed people this stuff that their bodies are not designed or adapted to eat. Of course they’re sensitive to it…”

I don’t recall if you discussed this idea in your recent small-grains book. You might want to read the article. I’d like to know your thoughts on it. Click on http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11food-t.html

Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 16, 2009 at 9:03 am

DennisP what are you thinking!!!Don’t even think about firing Gene!!!! He’s my go-to guy. Besides, new books are good, 🙂

Gene, I think you should be fired! Your little essay raises so many points for discussion, it would take several books to explore them all.

One point – my observation over the years is that so many people would rather have a paid job where they point in a set number of hours, get a regular pay check, and then clock out to go do whatever they really enjoy – softball, tennis, ATV’g, party time, etc. Let somebody else bear the burden and responsibility of keeping the business going and profitable.

My older son runs his own veterinary clinic. He’s remarked to me several times about the difficulty of finding associate vets who will be responsible and good time-managers and have good people skills. And most of the people coming out of Vet schools nowadays seem more interested in getting a job than in running their own clinics.

Of course a lot of people are interested in being entrepreneurs, until they see what that really involves and the many hours they have to put in. Granted, there ARE many good entrepreneurs in this country, including many small farmers, but they too often run up against insurmountable odds from gov’t regulators and gov’t policies (think ag subsidy policies).

Now I’m all in favor of regulation in principle. But far too often the regulators are mediocre people with their own agendas. And most often it seems the legislators are bought off by vested economic interests so that regulatory policy is aimed more at protecting the existing large interests, rather than providing a level playing field that would allow newcomers (entrepreneurs) a fighting chance.

Ah well, I’m just interested in becoming largely food-self-sufficient with a large garden and a flock of chickens.

We’re doing great with our 1.25 acre lot in a rural area. We downsized from 35 acres is a less fertile part of our state, and it’s been great. We both work full time off-site, so having a tiny place means we can concentrate our efforts. One of our goals is to be able to support ourselves on just one job, and with all the food we produce ourselves, it’s feasible.

We are raising 2 steers (an end result of our milk cow experience) though that’s pushing it. We have a laying flock that is self-supporting since I sell a lot of eggs to my coworkers. Just got the 1st beehive up & running. We have a small orchard, large berry patches, huge garden, plus wild-ish edible hedgerows.

Coworkers regularly approach me about buying anything from salad greens to honey to beef or pork (next years’ project).

I’m actually going to start digging in to local regulations so I can legally sell more stuff, including beer and distilled liquor (not too onerous in WA state). ANother winter project is to look into how to teach other people how to make the most of tiny ‘acreage’. I get asked quite often if I take interns/apprentices, and I really want to share what I’ve learned with others.

Not everyone can work with ’40 acres and a mule’, but almost everyone could get a lot out of 1 acre and a laying flock….


Teresa Sue Hoke-House October 15, 2009 at 6:49 am

I was just telling my husband the same thing. If a person has a few acres it could easily be a full time job. I always equate security with land.

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