3 questions to ask when considering an off-farm gig

  • 2 min read

Ever want to have a business outside of farming? It could be a great way to learn new skills, earn extra income and keep busy at times when farming’s quiet.

Back in 2003, Drumheller, Alta. grain farmer Gary Chambers was looking for something beyond the farm. He settled on real estate. Today, the farm’s as successful as ever and he’s a well-known real estate agent in the area.

What made his decision the right one? Looking back, he thinks you can put your potential side-gig to the test by asking these three questions.

1. How well does it work for the farm?

Chambers is the fourth generation of a family farm that’s well over a century old. No way was he willing to risk the farm for a new venture. As he sees it, to be sustainable, a side-gig must respect the times when you need to be in the field. “You might have a big grain truck and be able to haul grain as a business,” Chambers says. “The problem is: everyone wants their grain hauled at the exact time you’re busy with harvest.”

Chambers manages his real estate business remotely during seeding and harvest. His clients know he farms, and his real estate colleagues can cover the occasional open house if he can’t be there. Once harvest is done, Chambers can devote his full energy to selling houses. It’s a good fit.

2. What grabs you about it?

“If it’s just a job, it’s not going to work,” Chambers says. “If you’re looking at a second occupation, it must be something you’re passionate about and good at. A lot of grain farmers do something with livestock because it’s a fit for the farm, but I didn’t like working with animals.” On the other hand, Chambers had a sales background and liked working with people. Real estate ticked this box too.

3. What’s your total investment?

To get going in real estate, Chambers needed to get his real estate license and set up an office. Compared to farming, the financial investment was modest but his investment of time was significant. Before you press play on your side business, be sure you understand what it’ll take to succeed.

If you can follow your interests, make some money and still put farming first, why not go for it? Gar is glad he did.

“You definitely want to go into it with a solid business plan,” he says. “This will help you decide if you’re willing to part with a few dollars and invest your time in that opportunity.”