Principles of Successful Country Freeloading
The Warped Wood Turner
Let’s not get off on the wrong foot. This piece is not about leeching off your neighbors in the country. It’s about creatively benefitting from the city people who come to visit. When you deal with your country neighbors it is strictly quid pro quo.
Successful country freeloading is not really about being a parasite. It is about finding, and cultivating donors who are glad to support your cause and exploiting opportunities for them to do so. Think of it this way. Public radio and TV give you premiums when you send them money. The ‘profit’ they make over and above the cost of the premium is what the stations use for expenses. Country freeloading is the same. We live in a world where people are used to parting with their money for causes making them feel good or at least less guilty. Why not cash in on this fact in the country.
If you are already a successful homesteader and can grow all of your own food then you don’t need this approach. We do. We are amongst the people who have escaped the city for the country but for whatever reason will never join the Scott and Helen Nearing in the Homesteaders Hall of Fame.
Our story began when seven (that’s right 7) members of my wife’s farm family built a lake cabin. Several years later my wife and I bought 30 acres near the family cabin and eventually moved to the country.
Over the years we often got stuck cleaning out the refrigerators at the family cabin at the end of summer. This gave us the leftover food items. After we moved to the country we found ourselves being invited to supper when the different families came up to stay at the lake cabin. They always brought more food than they needed and never let us contribute to the meals. It finally dawned on me there was a harvestable surplus just waiting for us to exploit like the hunters and trappers do. After researching this opportunity I have come up with some principles to follow. But again I want to make clear while it is entirely ethical to exploit an opportunity if you live in the country it is not ethical to freeload off your neighbors.
To take advantage of this you need to cultivate and sustain a source of donors who willingly will share their surplus with you. It also helps to have some premiums for them to take back home to the city.
To get started compile a list of all of city people you know. Then you do some research to weed out any people who may be freeloaders themselves. You only want generous people to come up and stay. After analyzing your list based on giving potential invite the best possibilities to visit you in the country. City people often long to be in the country so the chance to stay in the country will appeal to them. They are also making city salaries so have more money than you do.
Once you have people coming up to visit you need a good marketing strategy. Start with curb appeal even though there may not be curb in miles from your place. When people visit us the first thing they see is 8 cords of 8 foot logs in need of cutting and splitting for heat. Next they see the privy now only used about twice per year (but visitors don’t need to know that). As people walk to the house they see the stack of split firewood. We created our new house so you enter from the narrow side so as little of the house as possible is visible. You don’t want people to think your house is too nice. As people walk up the steps they see the collection box for Shirley’s Food Shelf. We have to give credit for this idea to our brother-in-law Rich. We keep a couple of cans of fruit in the box so people know what it is for (us). The principle here is similar to going into a coffee shop and seeing the jar on the counter with change and dollar bills in it to show you people have been leaving tips.
Countryside magazines can also help with your marketing. We use pens to highlight any tales of woe we find in Countryside and leave the magazines lying on the table in front of the couch. Again the idea here is to convince people how bad off you are so they feel good about helping out. Keep in mind if you plan on following this strategy you should either rip the current article from the magazine or not put this edition on the table for people to see. You don’t want them to know what you are up to. Also, if any of the local food stores have fliers be sure to leave them out. City people always have to visit the local town so when they go they will know where to get the best deals when they shop for donations.
We keep a guest book in the guest bedroom and tell guests they should sign it. This book is filled with fake entries saying people have left food and alcohol as a way of thanking us for our hospitality. Don’t miss any opportunity to market your needs or allow people to contribute. You need to modify your approach for your given circumstances but I think you get the point.
There are also some things you definitely want to avoid. A few old cars on your land may help your cause but at all costs avoid anything that may make your guests uncomfortable. I have heard of people in the country who have mountains of unwashed dishes or laundry lying around. Avoid this. Also, animals may be cute but they leave waste products so be sure animals are out in the barn not in your house.
Sometimes all of this advice backfires. In spite of your best donor analysis someone from the city comes up with the idea they can freeload off of you rather then the other way around. The best solution we have found has been to locate the plug- in for an emergency generator right outside the window of the guest bedroom. When we find we have a freeloader on our hands we fake a power outage by tripping the main circuit breaker right before people go to bed and then light up a few lanterns. We tell the guest how the power up here fails every once in a while. After the guests go to bed in the dark we hook up the generator outside their bedroom window and start it. We run it every few hours to keep the food in the refrigerator cold. The next morning we are tired from getting up every few hours but have enough energy to help the guests pack up and leave.
As with public radio and TV it helps to have premiums for contributions. Look for items of little value to you but potential value to city people. Some premiums don’t cost you anything. You may live by a lake or have some land people can hunt on. Just being in the fresh air can attract people. Having stories to tell back in the city is also valuable to city people. That skunk that comes to visit may make a good story even though he is a nuisance to you.
If you are learning a hobby your mistakes can become somebody else’s prizes. I have been learning how to make wooden bowls on a wood lathe and have a stack of ‘learning experience’ bowls made from the leftover ends of firewood logs. To me these seconds belong in the fireplace but it is amazing how many people want one of the bowls. The wood is free so what you get in return is all profit.
If you have a garden that is producing more than you can eat you can give your guests something before they leave. Most people like fresh food so if you are not canning or freezing food you have premiums to give to donors rather than letting the food go to compost. But a word of caution here. You don’t want people to think you are overfed.
By this time you may have been wondering if this article was for real. Well, I guess I’d better ‘fess up. While there is quite a bit of truth in the stories about us getting more from our guests than we give back, the principles are purely tongue-in-cheek. On the other hand some in-laws are coming up to visit next week so maybe it is time to begin testing these ideas :)