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Family Farm: Live Where You Choose

Nov 2, 2007

by motleymutton

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods


Is setting up a family farm in the US possible today? According to Nancy Bevins aka motleymutton, living off the land has its challenges, but in the end her family found a balance in a hybrid lifestyle: selling handmade crafts online, along with selling farm products locally.  Read on for her family farm story.


[on the left, the abandoned farmhouse on motleymutton‘s property; on the right, the new house they built from scratch.]

Driving through my husband’s hometown and surrounding areas in suburban and rural Ohio, I am floored by the view.   Where I used to see acres of cornfields I now see gated communities and shopping centers.  I grew up in Los Angeles County, so these sites are not unfamiliar to my eyes. There, before urban sprawl took over, family owned dairy farms were a bicycle trip away.  And in nearby Garden Grove we were permitted to glean the local strawberry fields at the end of harvest.

The story is the same there as it is in many other place: the younger generations can’t make a living farming the property.  The land is worth much more as houses and stores.  I wonder if more people would stay on their ancestors land if they could generate a fair income.

We soon found out about the toil and hardships of owning a family farm.  We bought property in West Virginia where my husband’s parents were originally from. We’d wanted to relocate to a rural area for years, and thought by reading a lot of books on farming, we could easily survive.

The first few years, we scraped by.  I’d left a good paying job in California, and now I found myself waiting tables for about a third of my former pay.  This took me away from my children, which is something I had wanted to avoid with our move.  My husband did even worse, working at a donut shop for just above minimum wage.  Simultaneously, we struggled to build our farm, but were left discouraged because we could not find an avenue to make a profit.  Our land wasn’t vast enough for cattle, and without a tractor we had to buy hay.  During this time we also became foster parents, so although that brought a small amount of money into the home, it was designated for the children we took in. We sold the cows, and through our kid’s 4H group, bought 6 mixed sheep.

The first year of raising the sheep cost more than our earnings.  Wool was selling at the “wool pool” for a disgraceful price of 40 cents a pound!  It would cost more in gas to drive to the collection site than I’d make selling it!

Our kids’ 4H leader invited me to the local Fiber Guild: a group of folks dedicated to working with fiber and passing along that knowledge.  I was AMAZED at the equipment they had to share:  looms, carders, spinning wheels, videos, books.  Most were ladies who were thrilled to have younger people interested in their hobby.  I also took a class in Needle Felting, but never pursued it because we were not yet efficiently shearing our sheep.

We began buying more sheep, and was blessed by another friend who sold me all her castoffs from their flock of mostly Purebreds.  They were a motley, befuddled group of ewes, some with the personalities of matronly queens.  I also picked up a couple of rams, both mutts.  Our flock was growing.

At the same time I ran across the book, Introduction to Permaculture, which theorized that most successful farms in the world were small, diverse, and sold directly to local people.  We began looking at ways to diversify.  We changed our garden, planting on smaller patches (square foot gardening) and began feeding the soil a steady diet of organic matter.  We made plans to sell at the local farmers market in a year or two.  We bought chickens and goats.  We contacted the local USDA conservation office and signed up for programs, which partially pay for farm improvements that are ecologically helpful to the land.

We began the backbreaking job of shearing our own sheep. We processed the wool ourselves, and for the first time I had a huge amount of it stockpiled.  My wool wasn’t nice and probably couldn’t be spun easily so I thought again about felting.  It was right before holiday time and we were in need of money, so I thought, I’ll just try making something and see if it sells.  I was shocked when my first attempt netted me $172.00!

We also began selling lambs in the fall, which paid for all the yearly feed, breaking us even.  We finally saw a profit when we counted the freezer full of meat we butchered, eliminating the need to buy meat for our large family.  I looked at things from a different perspective.  Whatever we DIDN’T have to buy, was INCOME.  Eggs, milk, meat, veggies, fertilizer (manure), bug killer (chickens ate them).  Even gas for the lawnmower was saved, as a rotation schedule for the animals grazing was implemented.

I had some family friends help me set up a website, Motleymutton.com.  I had only been selling on eBay, when a good online friend told me about Etsy, so I branched out to having a store here, motleymutton.etsy.com.  Many of my customers followed me, setting up buyer accounts.  Special orders from the website added to the mix along with a specialized primitive group I joined.  Last year we were able to participate in the local farmer’s market.  What an awesome lesson for the kids to exchange their hard work for cash in hand!  Through my website a local co-op discovered my stuff, and placed orders for necklaces.  With some of the money I’ve earned, my sons are going to build a greenhouse.

Here in the United States, the Amish have had a few things right for a long time.  Smaller farms, less expensive machinery, and the family working together.  They take what they grow and turn it into a finished product.  A tree becomes a piece of furniture, a simple wooden box, or a woodcarving.  Through organizations like Etsy, personal websites, and co-ops, living in a small rural town will become a possibility for more and more people.  And I believe as more folks discover venues like Etsy, those in rural places may finally be able to stay there.

Nancy Bevins, Buckhannon, West Virginia

Feel free to leave motleymutton comments and questions below!

Tiny kitten needle felted necklace shipping included
Tiny kitten needle felted necklace shipping included
Sold
Tiny Possum needle felted necklace
Tiny Possum needle felted necklace
Sold

43 comments

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar said 9 years ago

    What a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it with us~

  • BlackStar

    BlackStar said 9 years ago

    and your work is wonderful! we were talking about possums in the etc forum last week and someone posted the link to your possum necklace. :)

  • DinnerTimeChimes

    DinnerTimeChimes said 9 years ago

    I grew up on a farm and now live on one with my husband. My parents raise a lot sheep, but luckily they're not the the type that have to be sheared! Farming is a hard life, but I wouldn't trade it for anything! Thanks for sharing your story and your beautiful work. Hopefully, you've been working hard since the necklaces are selling like crazy now :)

  • noterietypress

    noterietypress said 9 years ago

    i've been thinking about moving to the country, getting a few goats and leaving the rat race of Seattle and suburbia behind. maybe my dream can come true...with much hard work and perseverance! thanks for sharing your story. what an encouragment!

  • stephaniegibson

    stephaniegibson said 9 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this story. My Dad's family has a farm and I am worried about how we will manage to keep it in the family - this article made me think if we plan correctly, it will be possible.

  • artlife

    artlife said 9 years ago

    what a great story~!

  • OneHoney

    OneHoney said 9 years ago

    Thank you so much Molly. Permaculture is the future. Smaller Farms, a greater diversity of crops and the joy of buying local.

  • SapphireChild

    SapphireChild said 9 years ago

    I too have thought of moving to where I could start a small farm, but have to admit this is the first time I've read that diversity is the key so that you can supply more facets of the local markets. Thanks for telling us all about your adventure!

  • tartx

    tartx said 9 years ago

    Adorable goat up top and fabulous sheep! So sweet and just a very cool story!

  • LazerBeanz

    LazerBeanz said 9 years ago

    Great Job!

  • TheSingingBird

    TheSingingBird said 9 years ago

    Nancy your work is so incredible! I am inspired every time I look at your pieces. You are living my dream of having our own land someday, somewhere. But I am so glad you shared your story because every dream takes hard work and perseverance and it takes real guts to achieve it. Blessings and best wishes to you and your family!

  • bigsister

    bigsister said 9 years ago

    Thanks for telling your story Nancy. I'm so glad you found a way to make a great lifestyle for yourself and your family and to inspire the rest of us with such original works of art. May you thrive!

  • jellybeans

    jellybeans said 9 years ago

    I grew up on a farm, and i know it was really tough for my parent's to start out. We even had to move up to northern ontario (orig. from southern ontario); because they just couldn't afford it down there - meaning we left all out family and friends. 15 years later now, they're comfortably farming - hard work definitly pays off!

  • mistyhills

    mistyhills said 9 years ago

    Your story is so inspiring! Good luck! And, by the way, I love your work!

  • twolefthands

    twolefthands said 9 years ago

    Beautiful place to live, inspiring story! Thanks for sharing!

  • Hclark

    Hclark said 9 years ago

    Beautiful farm! I use to live on one when I was younger. The goat you have posted actually reminds me of the one we use to have called "Chilly Willy." He was born in winter and frozen to the ice at birth, we fed him milk by hand for his first two weeks inside the house in front of the furnest. It's hard living on any farm and being successful. Long as you know where your trades for stocks is, you can live pretty decent without actually ever going anywhere.

  • dennisanderson

    dennisanderson said 9 years ago

    This is a great inspirational story. Im hoping that one day I can focus on my shop fulltime and leave my other fulltime job.... then I could move just about anywhere... hopefully either massachusetts or the Oregon Coast.

  • SweetPollyRose

    SweetPollyRose said 9 years ago

    I found this article really interesting and inspiring as one of my main ambitions is to be living a mainly self-sufficient lifestyle by the time I'm 30 (I'm 19 at the moment). I'm glad your hard work paid off in the end, and I love the baby swan! Well done for keeping on going and making a success out of your dream.

  • DeNatura

    DeNatura said 9 years ago

    Lovely Nancy. Your story, the way to tell about it, and success after strugggling. Congrats. I wish you best. Ana

  • aktie9

    aktie9 said 9 years ago

    Wishing you all the best. Your lifestyle is a dream of my own, along with my husband. We have been looking into it for a long long time.. Thanks for the positive story, and also mentioning the struggles.. Heather aktie9.etsy.com

  • alternatebliss

    alternatebliss said 9 years ago

    So inspiring to read. I'm sure the stuggle made the outcome all the more sweet.

  • mountainvintage

    mountainvintage said 9 years ago

    The best article I've read in a long time. This belongs as an inspiring story in Oprah. Thank you for sharing!

  • kartini

    kartini said 9 years ago

    I love reading your story; very inspirational. Your works are so amazing too. I'm glad that you're being featured on Etsy; otherwise I never find out about you and your work!

  • harpolum

    harpolum said 9 years ago

    What a wonderful inspiration you are for so many who yearn to live a self-sufficient & harmonious lifestyle. The farm will teach us many lessons if we are open to learning them, as you & your family have done. If we care for our land & animals, they will give back to us a hundred-fold. Most of us discover strengths & talents we did not know we had until we face hardships. What awesome lessons you are teaching your children! When I have the money, I'll purchase some of your delightful critters (right now there are too many medical bills to pay). Thanks for sharing!!

  • maiasauramade

    maiasauramade said 9 years ago

    Your story is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • pasubio9

    pasubio9 said 9 years ago

    Nancy, what a wonderful story, and finally a picture to add to a name!

  • whimsywendy

    whimsywendy said 9 years ago

    What a beautiful story and testament to hard work and dedication. Your children are blessed to be brought up in that invironment.

  • crostini

    crostini said 9 years ago

    This is incredibly inspiring - I just forwarded the story link on to my young friends who are starting a farm on Martha's Vineyard - I know from them how difficult it is, but also how important and inspiring!

  • SleepingForest

    SleepingForest said 9 years ago

    I am so glad that I saw this story. My husband and I recently left our city lives behind to move to rural Nova Scotia. We're still at the struggling stage, so it was really inspiring to read about how you pulled yourselves out of it. Thank you so much for sharing your story! And I love your felting - just hearted your shop.

  • motleymutton

    motleymutton said 9 years ago

    I just wanted to send an enormous THANK YOU to all the wonderful comments and emails and orders I've gotten since the story was added to THE STORQUE. Etsy has been so fun, I hope to continue with them forever. :o) There is so much more I'd like to say, especially about building a homestead, I've gotten so many emails from people wanting to do the same, it's hard to even touch on the surface using 1000 words or less. I love where we live, I don't think I've ever been anyplace I consider more beautiful. I love working at home on my schedule. It's awesome. I love my sheep and goats and pets...and my kids...and husband... Doing what you love is like being a kid and playing every day, just plain fun. So everyone...BUY HANDMADE, BUY FROM LOCAL FARMERS, CONSIDER FOSTER CARE (another whole article...) and be PROUD TO BE AN ARTIST!! hOO-yAH!

  • malinb

    malinb said 9 years ago

    Inspirational! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights in such a well composed article. In the instant gratification oriented society we are in it is so important to be reminded that patience and hardwork are virtues...and that the struggles and successes are often equally valuable. Also, as a long-time felter myself, two thumbs up on your work!!! I've always loved the creativity and resourcefulness of fiber artists.

  • 4thGenFiberArt

    4thGenFiberArt said 9 years ago

    Wonderful article. My husband and I moved our family from the city to the acre plus remains of a 60 acre 1850's farm last year. We were lucky to get the original farmhouse. We love living here and buying produce and eggs from the local farms. It's one of the wonderful things about living in the country. Sadly the local dairy is gone as are the farms that raised any animals other than horses. I don't have sheep of my own but buy fleeces locally and process them myself. It's alot of work but it's worth it. Your felt creations are incredible and so lifelike. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • lish06

    lish06 said 9 years ago

    Thanks for the story. I was born and raised in West Virginia. Beautiful state with lots of friendly people.

  • LiveFromPlanetB

    LiveFromPlanetB said 9 years ago

    My grandma is from a small farm and coal town in W. Virginia, and my dad's side has always been in farming. In fact, my parents now have their own small farm - it is a dream of mine to live a semi-self-sustaining lifestyle anywhere I choose (somewhere beautiful and rural). Thank you and best of luck with everything!

  • blondechicken

    blondechicken said 9 years ago

    Thank you so much for this! My husband and I live in TN and dream about moving to our own farm. I plan on investigating the resources you mention. Thanks again!

  • punkinhead

    punkinhead said 9 years ago

    My mom lives on a part of my grandparents' farm in NW Arkansas, and we're in the process of setting up grandpa's old workshop for our business of repurposing furniture and things we pick up on the side of the road. I love our local farmer's market and am inspired by your story. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • UnePetiteEtoile

    UnePetiteEtoile said 9 years ago

    What a beautiful article.

  • woolpets

    woolpets said 9 years ago

    Thank you, Nancy, for giving us this wonderful story. Your children are so lucky to have such a caring, talented Mom! I've been a long time admirer of your artwork and its fun to hear more about you and your family.

  • Kachinaherbs

    Kachinaherbs said 9 years ago

    nancy, this is an exciting story for me. In June of 2008 I will be embarking on my own journey into a similar lifestyle...your article is of tremendous value to me.

  • GirliePieCreations

    GirliePieCreations said 9 years ago

    Great work! Love your felted stuff. We live on a ranch in Texas after moving from the "Big City" of San Diego, CA. This was quite a change. Enjoyed your story.

  • InfiniteCosmosGirl

    InfiniteCosmosGirl said 9 years ago

    Awesome article! I too have a very small scale "farm" (we have chickens from which we gather eggs, sheep and alpacas who will be sheared for their fleece come spring and goats, one of which we will impregnate in the spring as well). We're just starting out the whole country living thing and it is PERFECT for our lifestyle, seeing as our only income is from our crafts. This gives us lots of time to tend to and love all our animal friends! It's great to see other etsians living a similar lifestyle!

  • annettemusick

    annettemusick said 8 years ago

    testing testing

  • JackieHandunge

    JackieHandunge said 7 years ago

    Beautiful article, spending quality time with your children and teaching them family values is very important, check out this site - http://www.bizymoms.com/familylife/index.html Useful Information and Advice to help you improve your Family Life and information on Parenting, Family Budgeting and a whole lot of resources to help you balance work and family.

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