The Work House

Reader Contribution by Suzanne Cox
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In the summer of 2011 when Andrew and I first found the property we now call home our biggest concern was how to make the payment. The land was beautiful; the ponds clean and full, with a nice big barn on the back and even a little office. On the front of the property on the road were two small singlewide trailers. We had originally been looking for five acres where we could build a home. Our house plans were already picked out, our down payment secure in the bank, all that was missing was the land. This property however was 24 acres and significantly more than we had designated for our land budget. After much thought and prayer, and many late nights spent bent over a notepad and calculator we decided the best decision for our family was to purchase this property and move a doublewide onto it for our family until we could afford to build that house. The land was much more important to us than the living arrangements, and this way we could use the rental income from the trailers to pay the land payment. Works in theory, but seldom does real life adhere to the rules set forth by my pen and paper!

The first few months after we moved things went smoothly. Just as we had planned, the rental income covered our farm payment. Then things began to go south. One of our renters had stopped paying the rent, and the other was causing us weekly grief with the police for their domestic arguments. So round #1 of renters didn’t work out so well, they were all evicted and the homes were made ready for new tenants. Round #2 of renters didn’t go much better, and after $2000 in repairs and $3200 in un-paid rent they were also evicted. By this time we were pretty discouraged! In fact, we were so aggravated by the whole thing that we simply sold off one of the trailers.Porches, poles and all it was sold and gone in two weeks. The sale of the trailer helped us recover much of our loss, and we once again started making improvements on the remaining trailer. Our next tenant went a little more smoothly, but after seven months they were gone as well. Our initial plan of being landlords was NOT going as planned!

Andrew and I love farming. We really enjoy being together with the kids as a family and spending our time outdoors working. This experience showed us that one thing we did NOT enjoy was being a landlord! So, the last few weeks we have taken a serious look at our goals, finances, and the direction in which we wanted to proceed with this empty trailer.

When we first relocated, our family of four fit tightly but comfortably into our 1150 sq ft home. Now however, we have three young children in two small bedrooms with very little work space and non-existent storage. With home schooling, quilting, canning, and freezers full of homegrown meats we are busting at the seams! So a new idea struck us. Instead of spending our time, trouble, and efforts on renters why not use the space ourselves?

For the first time since moving, I am now excited and smile when I look at that trailer! What had become a money pit and area of concern is now going to be transformed into an income opportunity!

The most pressing use for space right now is for poultry. Yes, poultry. We usually hatch and raise small batches of chicks when the weather gets warm as both replacements for our egg layers as well as to sell for income. We have been limited in quantity raised and when we could do so in the past by the seasons. Without a dry, warm place to keep the chicks those first few weeks it was impossible to raise them before May or after August. Not now! Andrew has already transformed the smallest bedroom in what we now call “the Work House” into a brooding room.

He started by installing a new GFC outlet in case we have any water spills. On that outlet, he hooked up a thermostat wired to a water based radiant heater. Using this thermostat, we can set the room temperature for that particular room anywhere between 50-90 degrees while maintaining a comfortable temperature elsewhere in the home. This is also safer than stringing up heat lamps and easier on the electric bill! He sealed the doorway leading into the hallway with weather stripping. This keeps the hot air in, as well as the poultry dust and dander. Luckily, there is no air vent in this room. So our little birdies are tucked safely away without disturbing the rest of the space. Using this new brooding room, we can comfortably house 75 chicks up to about 3 weeks old.

One thing I really enjoy doing is quilting. It started as just a hobby and a way for me to make the kids something special. William wanted a Cars quilt with Lightening McQueen, so that was my first assignment. Then Macey decided she needed a bed quilt with My Little Pony’s on it. Once that was finished, I decided to make a coffee quilt for my Mother who was about to have a birthday. Of coarse, since I made her one I had to do one for Andrew’s Mom so her gift was a Christmas quilt. Once others began seeing these quilts, they started asking if I made them for sale. I had not considered this before, since it was something I really just did for fun as a hobby. Several said if I did decide to do so they would love to place an order. So, now that we have this new space I figure why not?

A few modifications will have to be made before I can start sewing and quilting. The best space for this would be the living room. Unfortunately, there is no overhead light at all in this room. So Andrew’s next job is to install an overhead light. The kitchen and dining area will actually be used as a home school space and probably be where we spend our early morning hours and lunchtime. We looked around and found a dining table set at a friends yard sale for $40!Now we are searching for storage containers and cabinets to house the kids school supplies and books in. The painting in the kitchen is nearly complete, and the cabinets are being re-done for the first time in their 32 year history!

All of our birds will be outside and out of the house during the hottest months of the year. During that time, we will be using the kitchen as a processing center for our garden produce. It will be so nice to be able to get all of that mess out in a less cluttered, child free space in the evenings and come home leaving the counters up there covered in cooling jars instead of trying to work around them in our home kitchen! Each summer, we put up several hundred jars of assorted fruits, veggies, jams, butters, and soups. This past year we also purchased a commercial food dehydrator and have been using it to dry all of our excess fruits and veggies that do no get canned.

The master bedroom area will be converted into a playroom for the kids. We have already begun cleaning, sanding, and prepping for new paint. The kids have picked out all sorts of wild color ideas for decorating! Andrew is going to outfit the closet space with shelves and drawers to store their toys, games, and supplies. This will get so much clutter out of our own home, and also give the kids a safe space just to themselves where they can play while I sew.

In our “free” time, we hope to start an online farm store. Items up for sale in this store will be stored, sorted, and shipped from our workhouse. We will offer handmade items, jams and jellies, dried products, and occasional farm supplies, as they are available. Right now we are working on all the legal requirements for selling food items and business licensing. There is a lot more to this then we thought!

Right now, everything is very much a work in progress! But with time, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck our money pit will hopefully be another source of income and a much needed expansion for our growing family.

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