Many, many good points and questions were brought up in the comments section of my last post on the cottage industry law that recently took effect in Michigan. The legality of home-baked, home-produced goods was but one facet of the conversation, with bartering, taxes, and general farm-based living issues wrapped up in it too.
So again, the obvious. I wouldn’t mind being taxed on my egg money, not at all, which is why my CPA knows about the contents of my farm earnings jar. My point in the last post is that the farm’s output has repeatedly exceeded the consumption pattern of its residents. What to do with this excess? I could bank it against a cold and rainy day, and do. I could give it away to the food shelves, but I have been discouraged from doing so: the ones in town don’t want anything that’s not already in a tin can or box, thanks. I grow and can things for my daughter’s school. I could give it away to friends and relatives and generally, this has been my operational model. But my friends think they’re taking advantage of the bounty, especially now that there’s a high-value, rare item involved (goat’s milk products). Thus, the filling jar.
Let me first make a personal state-of-the-homestead/farmer statement. I am avowedly on the left side of the political spectrum, and I surely do not think I am taxed enough. In my particular worldview, I am taxed little and get little in return. Locally, our property taxes are a pittance, and I suppose that grants us the pittance we receive: our roads are plowed and paved, and we have 911 service if we can afford to have a telephone. One example: Despite the hefty share they receive from local and state funding, the public schools in my area are awful. Every referendum on an increase in millage (basically a percentage increase to pay for school “improvements” based upon property taxes) has gone down in flames. I consider this short-sighted, crass, and anti-community, and really a part of a larger social problem that is frankly beyond the scope of this blog post. (And no, my daughter is not in public school, and won’t be: this in no way affects my opinion on paying for those children who are.) But the (non)value of schools is an illustration of my larger point. If we don’t care for school-aged non-tax-paying children, we’re probably not caring much for many others in my community. But hey! What about them low property taxes?
Bringing this one-sided conversation from this particular person to the general readership. The bigger picture is how do you, dear reader, take the next step in your own little homemade-food world? If you live in Michigan, the steps for putting up a tent in a farmer’s market are now a lot clearer. Those cookies everyone raves about? Wrap them up, list the potential allergens, the ingredients in descending order, your home phone and address and you can legally sell them, if you’re so inclined! Likewise your home-decanted vinegars, dried herbal teas, killer pickles, jewel-toned fruit jams and more can be legally sold. Grow enough vegetables, you can start a CSA along with your Saturday stall. The world is your oyster, or at least your zebra mussel.
If, however, someone were to ask me the course I would chart to, say, move from city to country and make a livable wage off the products of one’s labors, I would snarkily ask to see their trust fund disbursements. It’s more than a gamble, frankly, and there’s a lot of work and head-banging ahead of you. For the foreseeable future, one needs off-farm income to make a go at this kind of life. I feel I am in good company (Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver) when I say this. You can raise as many heirloom vegetables, meat animals, and make as many artisan cheeses and wool products as you would like to sell but it will in all likelihood be a losing venture, economically.
I am still trying to ride the razor of the livelihood/lifestyle that is what it is that I do. I like producing food because I like CONSUMING food. I like to share; so do others, which is why barter is fun. I like the idea that I could be a bigger part of something should the lights go out and my neighborhood worries about its food supply. I like to teach. Money is in no way a motivation for me mainly because I am as yet secure in my off-farm income. This cottage food industry bill that has become law is a boon to me, should I really fire up the Loven more than once a week, or if I should decide to can more veg than we consume.
My point to all of this: For me, it is not about the money, and so far has not been. It’s about the life, and about sharing that life with others. We moved here knowing we’d make a third of our city income. That income still stands, but the quality of our life has vastly improved, of which diet is the first obvious part. Am I saying “follow me”? No, not unless you’re already so inclined.
But hey: those taxes are sure low.