How I Started Paying Off My Homestead With the Gig-Economy

Colter, co-founder Moochdocker
To be clear, I haven’t paid it off yet…

My husband and I purchased our 10 acre homestead in Western Colorado in 2007. You can say our timing could have been better.

Yes, at peak-real estate values before the economic-recession and housing-bubble crash that sent us under water in our mortgage; we just had to have this small orchard and dilapidated house!

My husband had a job in the oil & gas fields as a truck-driver, so we thought we would still be able to make it work with me at home taking care of the farm and kiddos. Like any era of resilient homesteader, we were not wanting to give up on our hopes and dreams just yet.

When we started, we had used a “Rural Development Loan” through the USDA for the purchase as we did not have enough equity or down-payment to do a conventional loan… Mind you, interest rates on 30-yr mortgages were over 6% at this time.

We had a small orchard below the canal as well that needed renovation and our initial plans were to have a peach-stand next to the road or join a marketing co-op to make additional revenues as the kids and I took care of the orchard.

You may be thinking, “peach orchard at 5,000ft elevation in Western Colorado???” but it’s true, this area is renowned for having some of the world’s best Redhaven and hybrid varieties.

Once we settled in, we were able to renovate our shed, update our tools, and peach-packaging equipment, but as you guessed, the expenses were more than the income on a less-than 10-acre orchard. To do the renovations and buy the necessary equipment we had to again go to the USDA for an operating loan called a Farm Service Agency “Beginning Farmer Loan,” because we were definitely beginning farmers at this point…

To operate the small homestead, and make our principal and interest payments, we were looking at over $4,000/mo in repayment just to break even. That was just to simply stay afloat. It became very evident that my husband’s income alone and my fruits of the harvest were not going to keep our dream alive.

Of course the conversation went that I needed to get a town job and we needed to treat the farm as a part-time hobby, but that was not good enough for me. I wanted to make it work by sheer force if necessary.

Having two kids in day-care didn’t really offset or justify the cost of me finding a “town job” anyhow. Then the two other kids in school who needed to still have their extracurriculars, clothes washed, and mouths fed; logistically I just didn’t see “town job” being the answer.

I was going to find a way! My jams, jarred peaches, fresh peaches, farmer’s markets, and roadside stands were helping, but by no means were they going to make this self-sustaining or pay for itself.

By 2010 we were using the upstairs loft of our shed to host Airbnb guests. I could manage that myself, so it was an easy step forward.

It took several months to build reviews and develop a reputation as a good host, but I had to work at it. With any customer-service business, it isn’t turn-key or fully-automated success. It isn’t a money-printing machine; I had to learn how to improve my “studio-like” apartment and give people more of a reason to visit and stay.

By 2014 we were still “house broke.” Everything we had made went back into the P&I payment on our house and operating line of credit. We were doing it, but barely scraping by. The kids were older which meant more activities such as shooting-sports and soccer.

We had leveraged some help with the neighbors to the point I was able to sell our harvest and packaging equipment, renovate more rooms in the house and shed, and host more Airbnb guests. We just had to host more and work less in the field, there was no other option, but fortunately we learned that working with neighbors in the fields is a very rewarding and communal experience.

This couldn’t have come at a better time because in 2014 my husband’s pay and hours had been cut due to a drastic drop in oil prices; essentially the commodities industry dropped some 40%. The bottom had fallen-out…

We had to do more!

So here we go again, naturally I started selling my peach jams and syrups online but was met with strange and difficult-to-navigate food and ag regulations. That effort didn’t last long because it was so rife with red-tape and unclear rules; to this day I haven’t even made the effort to try it again online. Not worth it now.

Without the harvest equipment, with a huge P&I payment, kids in school deserving a normal childhood, we discovered Moochdocker as yet another way to host guests.

My initial thought was “yeah, this could be easy. We just have RVers show up, dry camp near the canal and orchard, then go about their journey to Yellowstone or wherever…”

Well I was sorta right, but not definitively 🙂

People were not “just passing through” on their way to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. They were coming from Denver and Salt Lake City as a road trip and farm-stay all to its own. I went from just offering tent-sites and dry camps, to installing sewage dumps, potable well-water, and 50 amp hookups to be able to charge a little more.

It’s rural out here, so their generators don’t bother anyone around, our house included.

Most of the travelers have been late-to-middle aged, easy going, and just simply looking to live a peaceful travelling lifestyle.

The best part is, and here is the big kicker on how I’ve been able to start paying off my homestead with the gig-economy; I’ve been selling my jams, syrups, and jarred peaches to them through Moochdocker. I would say 70-80% of my guests end up stocking their RV shelfs and fridges with my confections. No more farmers markets and Amazon.

This has been so successful for me, that I ended buying an old tractor and equipment again, offering hay-rides, and selling “pick your own” peaches during the harvest season.

It has been a kick for all involved. My guests enjoy it, I enjoy it. We have good conversations and a few have even offered to stay a little longer to help me around the place now that my children are much older and interested in other things… like dating.

After refinancing our homestead, reducing the P&I, we now have so much breathing room in our repayment. So much so, I am expecting the money made from Moochdocker to completely cover that payment for the months of May, June, July, August, and September.

So here we are, 12 years from where we started. My babies are basically all grown up now, self-reliant, and looking at their next stage in life. My husband and I have put a lot of work into “climbing out of the hole” but our next chapter is looking really good.

We don’t worry about his employment as the oil market is starting to rattle again. At the rate we’re on, we should have our homestead paid off entirely in only 10 years as the additional income we are generating from Moochdocker has afforded us the ability to refi on a 10-yr repayment amortization.

We are making great friends all across the country, a few who have even offered our kids good jobs once they leave here. The value and equity in our homestead, plus the improvements we have made, are far beyond what happened in 2008, so we are sitting comfortably there.

My husband’s retirement, plus Moochdocker, plus the confectionary income will probably allow us to travel in the winter every year, which we never have been able to do since starting this journey in 2007.

To us, this is what self-reliance and economic independence look like. We will be mortgage-free, not dependent on the oil market for a job, and able to produce our own food.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Throeau would be proud.

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