When Jason and Jennifer Remillard moved to Maine this past summer to start their small homestead they had a plan, a budget and the finances to make their longtime dream a reality.
Five months later, the dream has come face to face with economic reality.
For those who turn to the homesteading life, there is the allure of a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. But some are finding out that simple does not mean cheap, and rising costs, supply chain issues and even the weather are forcing many homesteaders in Maine to rethink their plans and priorities.
“My wife and I came out here in June, we are retired and on a fixed income,” Jason Remillard said. “We spent 11 years planning this move and we had certain expectations on what we would find when we got here. We knew we would need ‘X’ amount of dollars and we put away another 30 percent on top of that but we did not anticipate everything we needed would skyrocket in price.”
Production expenses are expected to increase 7.3 percent from the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2021 Farm Sector Income Forecast. This would put farm and homestead related expenses at their highest since 2016.
The cost of animal feed is up 11 percent, fertilizer is up 4 percent, tractors cost 20 percent more this year and fuel prices have seen a 50 percent spike in both gasoline and diesel in the last year.
Before moving on to their 60 acres outside of Houlton, the Remillards had contracted for two manufactured houses built by members of a Maine Amish community. In October, just as the couple was getting ready to make their move from Illinois to Maine, Jason Remillard was informed the prices had jumped $10,000 based on increases in the cost of materials.
“We ended up negotiating and settled for an additional $4,000 in payment,” Jason Remillard said. “But that was a big kick in the butt.”
Sherri Talbot at Saffron and Honey Homestead in Windsor ran into the same problem this summer when she wanted to build a new shed for her sheep.
“The price of lumber was so high we ended up buying an old camper and gutted it out to use as a sheep shed,” said Talbot, who spent $500 on the old camper, about half of what building a wooden shed from scratch would have cost.
On an 80-acre homestead outside of Madawaska, Kristin Henry and her husband and son started with a camper on their property this past summer with the idea to build a structure around it that would then form their home.
Lumber prices have put that dream on hold as the cost of fuel for their generator eats away at much of their income, which otherwise would have gone to building materials.
Henry’s family supplements the generator with a propane heater and a pellet stove. She estimates they are paying around $700 a month for gas, propane and pellets.
“It’s definitely slowing down what we wanted to do,” Henry said.
The Remillards were previously running off a generator, using seven to eight gallons of gas a day, but recently switched to solar. Those solar panels and related technology also took a jump in price by 15 percent in just a year.
On Saffron and Honey Homestead, Talbot raises heritage and endangered livestock, which are hardier than some of the more popular and common livestock breeds. To mitigate the increasing cost of feed, the animals have been left out to pasture forage longer this year.
“These animals are designed to live on rougher stuff and we could not be doing that if we did not raise the breeds we do,” Talbot said.
Talbot’s sheep, goats and rabbits will eventually need hay, and that price has more than doubled over last year due to periods of heavy rain. Drought conditions in the western states also damaged crops used for livestock feed.
Those costs factored heavily in Talbot’s goat breeding plans for this coming year.
“I had to really look if the hay is going to hold out until spring,” she said. “The problem is, if I don’t breed, there are no kids, and if there are no kids to sell, I can’t buy hay.”
Livestock is definitely on hold at this point for Henry, but she has no regrets. She has plans for gardens and a greenhouse next spring.
“We are not going anywhere,” she said. “For us it’s full steam ahead with no stopping.”
The Remillards, too, are in it for the long haul.
“Jennifer and I realized 11 years ago we did not want to keep doing what we were doing — we had made good money, raised beautiful children and now we have thrown into this homesteading,” Jason Remillard said.
Next summer the couple plans to add meat chickens and dairy goats to their homestead. They are also talking to a local logging contractor to have 5 acres cut to turn into a hay field.
Adjusting homesteading plans with the cost of living is all part of that lifestyle, Talbot said, who had planned to work full time on her farm this year — until prices started going up.
“We really were working to a spot where our household could live on one [outside] income and that seemed like it would be a good balance,” Talbot said. “Now everything costs more and I am not sure it’s a balance we can manage.”