For as long as I can remember I have worked outside on our family farm. My friends joke that I will be the 20-year old that has 18 years of work on their resume. There are pictures of me when I was in elementary school operating an excavator to clear a foundation for our house.
My next project was to clear a couple of acres of trees to build a pasture and barn. At age 7, I started a business with my younger brother selling firewood to our family and friends. My dad would fall the trees and sell most of the trunk to the timber mill but he would give us the tops and all of the crooked logs.
Thinking back, we were terrible at running a business. We had no concept of what our product was worth; we just knew we wanted money. When we delivered the wood, we would offer to stack it for $20 but would lower it to $10 before they could even respond. In the end, we would do it for free because we wanted people to do business with us the following year.
Since 7th grade, I have raised market hogs in 4-H to show and sell at the county fair. The first year I learned how important it was for the pig to have good structure and muscle and how it impacts the sales price. Now, I make a substantial effort upfront to select a piglet that has these characteristics to maximize my return on investment. I enjoy raising pigs and have saved and invested each year's earnings into my college fund. I am looking forward to the power of compounding interest!
I bake cookies twice per year and deliver them as a thank you to our buyers. Valuing customers has become an important tradition because it makes them want to return and support me in the future.
At age 12 I wanted to buy my first iPhone. Over the summer, my family was planning to build a barn and I took this opportunity as my first apprenticeship. I worked all summer with the construction crew and learned a lot about myself. The safety standards were pretty relaxed so I had to figure out for myself what I was comfortable doing. This was the first time I got paid by the hour for working and it introduced me to the world of construction. It sparked an interest which has led me to pursue a college degree in construction management.
Bucking Hay and Logging
In the years since, I have maintained two hourly jobs. One is working for my neighbor who raises horses. This is seasonal work and is very physically demanding. I buck hay for him and help him keep up his property. This normally takes place in June and is something that I look forward to every year. It is nice when school ends because this can be done every day – not just on the weekends.
The other job is logging for my parents. Three years ago, we bought the adjacent 50 acres next to our house. Since it is an overgrown Christmas tree farm, all of the trees are in a grid and super close together. With recent droughts, many of them are dying and we are working to thin and make them healthier. For this job, I run a chainsaw and equipment to move the logs. My favorite machine to operate is our timber harvester because I have put many hours into repairing it and it is fascinating to watch it work.
Building a Side Business
All of this logging has allowed my brother and me to continue and grow our firewood business. Now, we are much more official and productive. During the summer, we cut and split the wood after a day of logging. We create huge piles of inventory. Last November, we advertised our wood on Craigslist and immediately the phone was ringing off the hook.
Almost every day during school I would receive texts or email orders. During lunchtime or between classes I would respond to the inquiries and schedule deliveries for the evenings or weekends. Even while going to school full time, and playing sports, we made 37 deliveries in 6 weeks before we ran out of wood. Often, we would come home from football practice and load a cord of wood at night using headlamps in the pouring down rain.
Since firewood is a yearly purchase for most people, we gathered contact information from each of our clients and most said they would be interested in purchasing from us in the future. This year we are looking to sell twice as much wood and are currently in the process of cutting and splitting the wood. We will be selling it earlier this year because I will be off to college in August. This will also be nice because our advertisement will target a different group of people. Last year, we got orders from people that were not prepared and needed the wood immediately because their house was cold. Now we have a contact list for those people and will continue to add more.
My parents instilled the value of giving back for as long as I can remember. My brother and I are in a position where we are able to donate wood to local low-income families as well as needy families that we know through my father’s work. One of our deliveries was to a senior gentleman living on a farm. We decided to voluntarily stack the wood because we knew it would be quite the task for him. While we stacked, he shared stories about fighting in WWII and how appreciative he was. This was a very special experience for us as it happened to be Veterans Day Weekend.
Many people are bummed out and hunkering down during this COVID shutdown, but I am not complaining. I am taking this opportunity to work 6 hours a day logging and then doing school work at night. I am getting an education on hard work and running a business. We are making substantial progress on our thinning project and firewood inventory so I am beginning to think through a business plan where I can use my skills and equipment to pursue other business opportunities.
I am planning to attend Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University in the fall. I will major in Construction Management to further my knowledge in business and learn the construction process and terminology. One of my life goals is to own a construction company. I feel that running a business growing up has taught me many more lessons than I realize.
Altogether, I am a pig farmer, farmhand, logger, and equipment operator. But my favorite part is being my own boss and running a firewood business. These side hustles have taught me to keep a schedule, solve problems, communicate effectively, and to buckle down and get things done.
My goal is to be debt-free upon graduation from college and I see all of these side hustles as the scholarship that I am giving myself.
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Check out the other finalists here: 2020 Side Hustlin’ Student Scholarship Results Page.