Category Archives: Frugal Choices

Side Hustle to Dream Job

Whereas Mike Rowe encourages people to explore the trades as a permanent position or a jumping point to starting your own business, Joel Salatin regards that a backup job is necessary to transition into farming full time. Both are right, of course. If you have the interest and natural ability to be an electrician or other, you can make a lot of money! However, if your dream is to be a farmer or, for that matter, any startup self employed career, a good supply of cash on hand and steady income before starting makes the idea a dream rather than a nightmare.

Consider Joel’s latest musing on the subject – food for thought.


The Lunatic Farmer



            My post last week about whether or not farm aspirants should attend college stimulated some extremely thoughtful and heartfelt responses; thank you all for chiming in.  I was going to leave the discussion there but one young fellow asked if trade school would be beneficial to have a skill as a back up plan to the farm.

             I always loved Gene Logsdon’s books and writings and am disappointed I never met him personally.  His Contrary Farmer is iconic in sustainable ag writings.  About the only thing that stuck in my craw about him, though, was his adamant position that a small farm was not economically viable on its own.  He declared that you really needed an off-farm income to support the farm.  His writing filled that bill.

             I don’t disagree with Gene lightly, but when this question came out of the comments, I couldn’t help but think of Gene’s position.  While I do NOT agree that an off-farm income is necessary for success, I DO agree that it’s wise and can smooth some rough edges. 

             Almost no entrepreneurial venture starts pure.  Either it taps into an existing nest egg or it transitions using income from other sources to finance it until it scales to stand-alone viability.  I’ve always told folks who want to go from zero to full-time farming to have at least one year of living expenses before making the leap.  Scratch starting takes time to get things up and running.

             That nest egg would include being able to buy a property launch pad for cash.  Teresa and I were blessed with second-generation mortgage-free land, but didn’t jump until we had 1 year of living expenses in the bank.  I fully expected to go back to off farm income when that ran out; it never did.  But, during those first few years, I picked up some side jobs:  built a fence for a friend, helped another friend plant trees in the spring. 

             Teresa and I lived on $300 a month in the farmhouse attic, so these little side jobs of $1,000-$2,000 a year were huge in keeping us afloat as we struggled to get our production and sales income high enough to cover all our living expenses.  Fortunately, firewood sales were good at the time and I sold enough of that in the winter to keep gas in the car and utilities paid.

             Although I had not been to trade school, I had acquired skills just growing up on the farm:  building fence, planting trees, running a chain saw.  I’d say these were equivalent to saleable skills you might acquire at vocational school learning a trade like plumbing, electrical, small engine repair, welding, construction.

             While I wouldn’t say my bottom line disagreement with Gene Logsdon has changed, I would agree that at least starting out, a fall back option with a marketable trade is certainly wise, even if you never have to use it.  Chances are, if you have a marketable skill, opportunities will knock on your door to enable you to leverage that skill.  If you can synergize your willingness to help with some mastery, it makes your worth go way up.

             So yes, if you want to farm I would encourage knowing a trade, whether you do an apprenticeship or go to a vocational school.  In what I call the triumvirate of practical income strategies–building, growing, repairing–possessing a skill that complements growing (farming) offers another leg to your income stool.

             I appreciated the probing question and this chance to examine a bit more of the college/farm nuance.  It’s certainly not black and white.  Income redundancy never hurt anyone.  One more reminder:  achievability is easier the lower your living expenses .  Eliminating the mortgage, driving a $5,000 car, living in a camper, becoming a master of personal doctoring–these are all ingredients in the secret sauce of farming launch success.

             What are your favorite farm-complementary vocational skills?JOEL SALATIN

MARCH 3, 2021

Comments (10)

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Kevin Pennell 9 hours ago · 4 Likes  

Finally, something I can comment on.
I am a small farmer in Mississippi. I raise sheep and pastured poultry.
Before I pursued my farming dream, I was an electrician. I completed a five-year apprenticeship, and worked as a Journeyman for a few years before farming; and though it may seem like an unrelated trade, the skills, know-how, and work ethic I picked up during my apprenticeship was INVALUABLE in my farming venture.
Besides having practical knowledge of electrical theory, installation practices, and building codes, I also learned to calculate concrete, read blueprints and manufacturers schematics (which came in handy when I read Polyface Designs), and how to plan a project through. I learned the value of having a plan, and working hard to see it accomplished. I toughened my hands up. I learned that electrical tape makes a good bandage. Always lift with your legs. Do it right the first time. Have a positive attitude.
Watching the change in my attitude and work ethic during my apprenticeship really gave me a huge confidence boost. It was the greatest period of personal growth in my life, and I didn’t start until I was 22.
Also great to know that if farming doesn’t work, I have something to fall back on.
My apologies if this is hard to read, my written English skills need some work.

WILL 3 hours ago · 0 Likes  

It reads just fine. I’m a pipefitter making the transition soon. I agree 100 percent the skills you learn will never be wasted. Just the problem solving you are required to have being in the trades has helped me exponentially when it comes to thinking outside of the box with small scale farming.

Alex Sanderson 9 hours ago · 2 Likes  

A trade for income is valuable, yes. Any trade on a farm is absolutely invaluable. Whether it keeps purchase or repair costs down or helps with invention and innovation.

George 9 hours ago · 1 Like  

Tinkering still makes a lot of sense.

Sam 3 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

Thank you for answering my question and for the good advice. Also thanks to the people in the comments for sharing their stories. I do a lot of odd jobs already, cutting grass, landscape work, tilling gardens, etc. It might not be skilled work, but I’m building a reputation as someone who works hard. It seems like if your willing to work hard, jobs find you rather than you finding the jobs.

I thought about selling firewood, but it probably would not be worth it without a dump truck and front end loader. There’s so much good wood where I live that goes to waste.

I’ll think more about an apprenticeship or trade, and see where I am at the end of this season. What I would really like is a dependable winter job, during my off season.
Thank you again so much for the advice!

Permaculture Pimp Daddy 38 minutes ago · 0 Likes  

I’ve been an IBEW journeyman electrician for the last 24 years. While every tradesperson I know was out buying new trucks and houses my wife and I were saving, learning and doing. We were following your example.

I retired from the trade two years ago and now spend every single day joyfully working my farm.

Teresa Seed 4 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Just to say, Kevin Pennell, your English skills are well-nigh impeccable, you might have been self-deluding on that score!

Bonnie 7 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Absolutely agree that an apprenticeship of some sort would be an excellent “Plan B”, in the event that your farming endeavor hits an unexpected roadblock.
Another similar idea is to gain skills needed by a farmer, by using Paul Wheaton’s skill-building program ( This link shows the details:

Plumby’s grandkid 7 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Not sure it complies as a trade school vocation – but my cousin married into a Northern Illinois big farm family. They are big farmers but are also known in their county for being the go to people for professional tax preparation. Their son even went from school to working for the IRS – before returning to the farm when the dad had health issues (and grain price reached 8 dollar corn) That always seemed to me to be a particularly smart play.

BJ 8 hours ago · 0 Likes  

Your advice to know a marketable trade is spot-on, and I don’t think it is at all in conflict with your disagreement with Logsdon about needing an outside income to support the farm. Having a back-up plan (along with the ability to implement it) is wise in just about any endeavor, whether it’s your life’s work or anything else. Not that one would pursue the trade to support the thing he or she really wants to do, but simply as a fall-back or temporary solution if and when it’s necessary. In a perfect world, we would all be able to simply pursue our passions and not worry about anything else. But in the real world, and especially in uncertain economic times, a backup plan not only is wise, it seems almost essential, even if the new farmer takes your wise advice and starts with at least a year’s worth of “nest egg” funds. The back-up skill will provide peace of mind, if nothing else, and I believe that having peace of mind will help facilitate the success of the farm.



Shopping Responsibly

A photo and comment showed up on Facebook recently that misleadingly and irresponsibly tries to justify laziness and poor eating habits as an excuse for being overweight. Well, that’s quite a hard thing to put together, i know, so i’ll copy the article here. Clearly, the author has selected items which are likely imported and out of season as well as being convenience and snack type foods. These types of selections are nearly always the most expensive choices. Anyone on a budget needs to shop smarter. If you can’t afford organic, don’t buy organic – buy the best you can afford. Historically, food is cheaper than it’s ever been!

Item# lbsprice/lbtotal price
Carrots2 $     0.80 $     1.60
Onions1 $     0.90 $     0.90
Potatoes3 $     1.00 $     3.00
ground beef2 $     3.00 $     6.00
chicken4 $     1.00 $     4.00
sugar1 $     1.60 $     1.60
zucchini2 $     1.00 $     2.00
oats3 $     1.15 $     3.45
milk4.3 $     0.50 $     2.15
apples3 $     1.60 $     4.80
butter1 $     1.99 $     1.99
eggs (doz)1 $     1.50 $     1.50
Flour2 $     0.90 $     1.80
Total $   34.79
For fun, i quickly put together a sample shopping list of items not on sale which adds up to a bit more than $32. Now, i’m going to be very clear – this list is commodity, cheap, and not environmentally friendly food stuffs and i would not buy these items where i am in my life. I can afford more costly, more humanely raised, healthier choices, including that which i raise of it in my own garden.

Real food is not expensive to buy – don’t be fooled – do your homework.

Shop responsibly and wisely.

Mineral Tub

Many people can really problem solve – oftentimes, problem solving happens using tools at hand and at the moment.  May not be perfect, but the creativity involved in taking mental inventory of what tools you have with you and laying them in such an order no where close to what they are designed for illustrates the amazing thought processes of the human mind.  Truly, that is not an accident but a purposeful design of our Creator.

Well, with that lead in, you’d think i would share something just truly amazing and complex, yet it’s not.  Simply using junk we have around the barn fashioned in such manner to solve a problem i personally have.  Our 3 compartment mineral pans are somewhat heavy and certainly cumbersome, so i choose to never pick it up to move it.  Obviously, if there is kelp, salt, and phosphorus inside totally negates that proposition.  I had made a previous drag design, but it would only last about 16 months.  Hoping this new design will last much longer.

For years, we’ve been using a 3 compartment mineral tub.  In mine, i use YPS free salt, Thorvin Kelp, and Agri-Dynamic‘s Grazier’s Essential in the 1:2 ratio (Ca-Ph).*  All free choice.

Although the mineral tubs empty are not super heavy, they are bulky and awkward to lift and load and if there is any product still inside, it’s virtually impossible for me to load it.  So, years ago, i came up with a way to move it without lifting it instead by dragging.  After about 3 years, i’ve given up with the first method i invented because it kept failing about once a year and i’d need to rebuild it, so, i came up with a new plan.  Simpler and easier to replace or repair should the need arise.

  • i purchase the salt from ……, the kelp from Welter Seed & Honey, and the Calcium-Phosphorus mix from Agri-Dynamics north Missouri representative Shan Christopher

    Rafter C. Ranch, Distributor

    Shan Christopher1441 SE Hwy 116

    Polo, MO 64671


I cut a flat piece of old plastic  from a trashed calf feeding trough.  the flat piece is slightly larger in diameter than the mineral tub so that i can bolt it through the sidewall of the tub onto the plastic.  i cut old baling belts for the straps and use carriage head bolts so it will pull smoothly.

I still use a short chain with a large ring at one end and a heavy duty carabiner clip on the other for quick hookup.

Bolt old pieces of baler belts from the mineral tub to the plastic drag.

Mineral tub kelp

Mineral tub with salt

Mineral tub with Phosphorus

Divvy Up A Chicken

How do you parcel out a whole chicken for making several meals?  Or is your family large enough to require one or more whole birds at a meal?  Or do you make up one recipe for the whole thing and enjoy leftovers?

Since there are only three of us at home now, I don’t mind divvying up parts and pieces into several different meals.  For the past couple days, we enjoyed a 4.25 lb broiler from Pigeon Creek Farms in five different entrees.  Now, i must admit that they were small meals, so these may not be enough individually if you are outside working hard.

After cutting up the thawed chicken,

  1. Fried chicken – used the 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings dredged in flour and until crispy and golden.  Saved the cooking oil and flour….
  2. Chicken gravy – used the saved cooking oil and flour stirred in, added milk and heated through to make thick country gravy.  Use on the chicken, smashed potatoes, or over torn pieces of bread.
  3. Chicken broth – placed the back and bones from the breast meat into 3 cups of water, brought to a boil and simmered for a couple hours.  Tear bits of meat off the bone to add to broth or….
  4. Salad – use those bits of chicken meat and top off a chef salad
  5. Chicken Kiev – had never made it before and likely won’t again.  It’s tasty, but not worth the extra work.  Not even as tasty as fried chicken or spatchcocked chicken, both of which are much easier to prepare.


Fried Chicke
Fried Chicken. Parts of chicken dredged in flour and fried in olive oil

Boiled chicken parts and bones
The back and the bone that i removed from the breast are boiled and simmered in about 3 cups of water.

Flour and oil for gravy
Use any leftover fried chicken flour and add to hot frying oil.


Chicken Kiev
Chicken Kiev

Chicken Kiev Recipe
Chicken Kiev Recipe


Soap, Soap, & More Soap!

All the deodorant soaps were left after i made that big batch of facial soaps.  So it’s been super cold, windy, and rainy – time to finish up that project.  I found plenty more soaps around at my father-in-law’s house – hopefully, these are the last of the old, old hotel soaps.

I found some more suitably sized pots and managed to guess the right amount that would fit in each of the blocks. This amount was MUCH easier for me to stir.  You can adjust the amounts, but these are the percentages.

  • 4 cups ground soap
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 cups of oils (i used olive oil, coconut oil, bits of glycerin and castor oils, & shea butter)

the deodorant soaps melted nicely

Bottles of old glycerin – might as well – not any good sitting in a bottle

First batch was that bit of glycerin, 1/2 cup shea butter, and about 1 1/4 cup coconut oil


Facial Soap Upcycling
Oddly, the facial soaps were really hard to break down to melting – lots of stirring. I started with my big spatula, then finally able to whisk it slowly.

Facial Soap finally smooth
Patience finally paid off on that lumpy facial soap batch.  To this facial soap batch, i added 1 cup coconut oil and 1 cup shea butter.  Just using up extra supplies.

Wrapped up to slowly cool for 24 hours.

Soap block
Soap molds from Essential Depot.

Three batches cut and laid out to cure.  Basically just to dry out.  No lye is involved in upcycling since the soap is already saponified.

Soap from Hotel Soap

It’s still cold, so thought i’d take some time to turn old hotel soap bars into something luscious.  Allen’s Aunt June has taken people on tours all over the world and apparently collected soap along the way.  When i’m talking old soaps – theses babies are from the 70s and 80s! and there are hundreds and hundreds of them.  Needless to say, hotel soaps are seldom of the highest quality to begin with, but by now, their scents and oils were history.

However, the saponification was done, so, not wanting them to go to waste, i proceeded to get to work.

The Steps:

Unwrap each bar and break in half or fourths best you can.  Some will be too hard.

Place them in a food processor, maybe 1/3 full.  These will really be a challenge for your processor, so don’t overload it!  You can also grate them by hand.

Process them until flaky  – just takes a few seconds generally.

Then start the soap making process.

The beauty of using soap for the base, is that you do not have to have rubber gloves, goggles, and be careful to protect your skin from the intensely caustic effects of lye and lye water.  Also, none of the bringing the lye water to the right temperature and precisely the right time that you’ve brought the oils to the right temperature, then taking both items outside to carefully and slowly pour in the lye water whilst stirring.  Outside because of the extremely dangerous fumes put out by the lye water.  Lye water can easily melt holes in your clothes, and burn your skin and eyes.

I found this blog 

Make Your Own Monday: Upcycling Hotel and Leftover Soap

that is absolutely well written for you to follow.  I highly recommend that you start with the 2 cups of soap flakes she recommends.  Stupid me, forgetting that it’s been 3 years (which makes me 3 years older) thought i could jump right in and did 10 cups.  That made for horrendous amount of mass to stir down.  My shoulder is sore the next evening from the stirring.

Nevertheless, i did get it done, then added 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cups coconut oil, 2 cups shea butter, and several drops of sweet orange essential oil.  Just a complete guess as to whether or not the logs would cure enough to cut.  But 24 hours later, i popped them out of the logs and they sliced nicely, though indeed, they are soft.  Now laid out to cure at about 4 weeks.


Ground Soap
Just takes a few seconds to whir the bars into powder

Soap making coconut oil shea butter
This project was spur of the moment, so first i had to thaw out my shea butter and warm the coconut oil to 76 degrees so it would be a liquid

This was my double boiler method.  Inside the top pot is the 10 cups of soap flakes.

Soap making log
One of three silicon soap molds from Essential Depot. These are SO handy, but you can use whatever you have on hand to dedicate to soapmaking.


soap making bars
All the bars are carefully cut and laid out to cure and harden.  Right now they are very soft.

Make Your Own Monday: Upcycling Hotel and Leftover Soap

Great instructions for upcycling hotel soap bars!


Make Your Own Monday: Upcycling Hotel and Leftover Soap

Greetings and salutations, followers! I hope you had a great weekend. I did the LoziLu 5k Mud Run in Milwaukee on Saturday and had a dirty, muddy, good time!

And what better way to get clean from all that muddy fun than by making some soap? Actually, easier and faster than making soap – upcycling it!

I discovered the process of upcycling soap about a year ago, when I realized I was taking after my mother and ALWAYS taking the free soaps from every hotel stay and saving all the little blobs from bars of soap I used at home. I could have used them as they were, but let’s be real – only the best hotels give you really good soap (in Las Vegas, we got Bulgari soap at the Tropicana!). So let’s take this stuff and make it better!

I spent some time scouring Pinterest, and comparing a few methods of melting soap. I’ve tweaked the process to one that works for me, but you’re more than welcome to explore and find what works for you.


  • Bars of soap, scraps, blobs, soap flakes, whatever you have!
  • A large metal or glass bowl and pot, OR a double boiler.
  • Molds
  • Strainer
  • Wooden spoon for stirring (you don’t want to use plastic, the hot soap will easily melt it)
  • Olive oil, glycerin, coconut oil – you need to choose a “binder” hold the melted soap together and replace the water.
  • Non stick spray for the molds.
  • Fragrance and coloring (optional I suppose, but  it really makes your soap look fancy! You can find it at any craft store)
  • Grate

Gather up all of your soap . I would wait to upcycle your soap until you have at least two cups worth of soap to work with. Image

Take your grater and pick one or two bars of soap and grate them down. I know, it’s a pain for your hands, but soap is fairly soft and you will be surprised how quickly it goes. You need to have the flakes to start a melting base so the rest will melt easily. Place them in the bottom of your glass or metal bowl/double boiler. You can chop up the rest of your soap with a knife, or grate it all if you feel like it.


Fill your pot or double boiler 3/4 of the way full with salt water – it will reach boiling point much faster. And place it on the stove,


Bring the water to a boil and continuously scrape the bottom of the bowl. The flakes will soften almost immediately, and you want to make sure they don’t clump up on you.

Now, take a pot holder and remove the bowl. Very carefully, take 1 cup of boiling water for every cup of soap you have in the bowl – I had two cups (or thereabouts, it’s okay if it isn’t exact), so I slowly added one cup of boiling water to the soap. Stir vigorously, and place it back on the boiler. Stir and it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then, repeat the process for however many cups of soap you have. The melting water will help break down the soap and eventually evaporate.


It should start looking like a bubbly, kinda slimy mess. At this point, measure out one cup of your ‘binder’ – I used  Olive OIl here – for every two cups of soap. Slowly add it to the soap and stir.

Step back and let it simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Then, add coloring and fragrance to your soap. I added a mix of red and blue and yellow, which turned into this smoky Lavender color – and added a few drops of Sweet Pea fragrance oil. Stir and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Next, take the soap off the heat, and empty the hot water out of the pot. Dump the hot soap into the pot, and get out your strainer. Place the strainer over the soap melting bowl and slowly pour it through, using your wooden spoon to stir and press it through. This should leave you with a strainer full of lumpy soap remains – and a bowl of smooth, hot, colored soap. This removes all the icky stuff that might be in there. Set the lumpy leftovers aside for now, and get out your molds. Spray them lightly with non-stick spray, or wipe them down with your binder. Fill them and set them in the fridge – I’ve found that cooling them helps the soap set faster and smoother.


Cool them overnight. Now, you may ask – Melissa, what do I do with the leftover lumpy stuff? Easy! That’s your ready-to-go base for next time! Put it in a tupperware container or plastic ziploc bag and start saving all your soap shards for next time! Trust me, you’ll want to do this again!

ImageTa da!!! Smooth, shiny, sweet scented soap! Looks like something you would be from a specialty store!

Come back tomorrow for The Happy Idiot’s very first giveaway!



This is seriously one of my favorite craft projects. It’s easy and it costs you nothing if you already have the soap, a muffin tin, and some olive oil. Most of us have food coloring and scented extracts in the cabinet already.

Here’s another great benefit – put your soapy supplies in the dishwasher, and you will have a sparkling clean and sweet smelling appliance when you are done!

The happy idiot

Greetings and salutations, followers! I hope you had a great weekend. I did the LoziLu 5k Mud Run in Milwaukee on Saturday and had a dirty, muddy, good time!

And what better way to get clean from all that muddy fun than by making some soap? Actually, easier and faster than making soap – upcycling it!

I discovered the process of upcycling soap about a year ago, when I realized I was taking after my mother and ALWAYS taking the free soaps from every hotel stay and saving all the little blobs from bars of soap I used at home. I could have used them as they were, but let’s be real – only the best hotels give you really good soap (in Las Vegas, we got Bulgari soap at the Tropicana!). So let’s take this stuff and make it better!

I spent some time scouring Pinterest, and comparing a…

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