There are lots of ways to make money while living off the land. They range from relatively passive, to highly intensive. Some involve bringing people to your land, while others involve bringing the fruits of your land to where people are who want them. As you consider these options, think about what you enjoy spending your time doing, not just about how much money you could make. And, keep in mind that working the land is still work! For many folks the ideal scenario involves some creative combination of various endeavors, and possibly some outside work too.
Relatively passive ways to make money off the land
Lease of rangeland or cropland
This means renting out your land as it is, with little or no responsibility for upkeep on your part. Of course, the specifics of such an agreement are up to you, but generally leasing land for agriculture puts the land management role into the hands of the leaser/renter.
Sale of timber rights (someone else does the logging)
Logging companies will survey forested land and make a bid on the value of timber there. Typically a landowner will get a small percentage of the total amount. If you choose this route, be sure to work with a logging company and forester who consider sustainable timber harvest practices and conservation of habitats and waterways.
Moderately passive ways to make money off the land
Rental of land for events (sporadic rentals)
Some examples of such events are: photo shoots, weddings, retreats, summer camps, family reunions, etc. If you have some basic infrastructure (a bathroom and some covered areas), you’ll be able to get more from event rentals. More infrastructure will usually fetch a better fee (i.e. kitchen, sound equipment, table and chairs, etc.) You’ll also need parking space for a large number of people.
Rental of housing or buildings (either short or long term)
Lots of folks think of renting houses as passive income. It’s not, exactly. As a landlord, you’re responsible for upkeep of buildings, plus you’ll be managing rental/lease agreements, etc. In order to make this option more passive, you can hire a rental agency or individual to deal with management, but then you end up earning less money. Short term rentals (i.e. AirBnB, etc.) have the potential to generate more income, but require a lot more legwork and coordination. Plus, you’ll need to provide furnishings for short term rentals.
More Intensive ways to make money off the land
Farming commercially (vegetables, animals, tree crops, mushrooms, etc.)
Most people think of farming first when they imagine making a living off the land. It can be a great way to earn a living while living your dream. Keep in mind that farming is usually not a high-paying job, especially if you break it down to an hourly wage. However, if you’re doing what you love to do and you’re producing lots of food for yourself and your family, farming can feel very rewarding and is the right choice for some. Key considerations when you’re contemplating starting a farm business are: What will you produce for sale? Who will you sell to? Is this product (or products) already available locally? Will you need any special equipment, including refrigerated storage, for your operation? Do you have experience producing this/these crops, and if not, where will you gain the skills?
The idea of a commercial forager might seem strange at first, but it’s actually becoming a realistic way of making a living in many areas. The key is not just abundance of plants, mushrooms, etc. to forage, but access to markets. It’s easier to make money foraging when you’re close to an urban center of some size. Many commercial foragers sell their harvest to restaurants, some sell at farmer’s markets, others sell to commercial herbal medicine companies, or make and sell their own herbal products.
Running events and/or retreats
This means doing all the organizational work, along with providing the space and facilities. In most cases, this option isn’t something for one person to take on by themselves. In order to run successful events, you’ll need to spread the word and get folks to come. As with commercial foraging, it can help to be relatively close to an urban center to make this work. On the other hand, if you’re location is extremely remote, specific types of events like meditation and wilderness retreats might be well suited to your situation. Variations on this idea include running a school, a homeschool enrichment program, or a child care program.
More and more people are wanting to combine their vacations with an enriching experience. Also, folks are beginning to take an interest in where their food comes from and how the natural world works. Providing tours and excursions as a part of your operation can help bring in extra money. Agro/eco tourism can be combined with commercial farming and foraging, events and retreats, and short-term rentals. Here, too, it’s important to ask yourself who will be coming and how you’ll get the word out.
To learn more about living off the land using permaculture principles, check out our extensive resource: How to Live off the Land: A Permaculture Guide