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Our modern world was interrupted suddenly in 2020.
Conveniences and items that we take for granted became a luxury overnight.
And instantly, the people on the fringe of our society labeled as “homesteaders” or “doomsday preppers” didn’t seem all that crazy, did they?
In fact, I would venture to say that homesteader influencers on social media have the pandemic to credit for their boost in followers today. Homestead influencers are certainly “having their moment”.
But I don’t think the pandemic is the sole reason for homesteader lifestyle having this moment in the spotlight. I think my generation (the 30-somethings) are longing for something more in their lives, whether its connection with nature, with their family, with their food, or working with their own two hands. Pinterest is filled with DIY projects and recipes. Online learning via mini-courses has become huge. We don’t want to buy the product, we want to learn how to make it.
Without the pandemic, I think all of these back-to-basics ideas would have gained the same popularity that they have now, just at a slower pace. And I think it’s because we, as a society, have lost touch with something real.
But, what is homesteading?
Okay–so we know there’s this buzzword called “homesteading” flitting through the atmosphere. But what exactly does that word mean?
The Oxford Dictionary defines homesteading as: “life as a settler on a homestead.” A homestead is defined as: “a house, especially a farmhouse, with outbuildings.”
(Whew, that definition seems a little antiquated.)
Wikipedia describes homesteading as: a lifestyle of self-sufficiency, characterized by home food preservation and small-scale creation of household goods or craft work, which is used either for the household or produced to sell.
Homesteading can also be referred to as a form of self-subsistence agriculture.
Self-sufficiency or self-subsistence agriculture are the themes to take away from the myriad of descriptions and definitions out there about homesteading.
The History of Homesteading
In the past, when I heard the term “subsistence farmer”, the phrase conjured images from one of the history textbooks I had in elementary school. These images were usually of people from third-world countries. Subsistence farming was portrayed as, basically, farming that provided the basic needs of the farmer’s family with very little surplus, if any, to sell for profit. The images in my textbook seemed to convey the sense that subsistence farmers were extremely poor, unhappy, and isolated. In some cases, this may have been so.
But this lifestyle was and is not reserved to third-world countries. In fact, in the early days of America, settlers experienced the same challenges. For example, early settlers experienced isolation because no one lived near each other. And because of this isolation, they were wholly dependent on what they could produce on their farm or settlement because it wasn’t easy to trade with neighbors or travel long distances to cities and towns.
And even before the Homestead Act of 1862, an act that provided 160 acres of federal land to any settler willing to farm the land, people were living a self-sufficient lifestyle in all four corners of the Earth.
Castles had their own kitchen and medicine gardens. Bread was baked daily in home ovens. Clothing was woven and sewn by hands of the same household. Livestock raised in the backyard were butchered by the same hands that lovingly fed them every day.
The idea of meeting the needs of your family with your own two hands isn’t something that was just reserved to subsistence farmers, but also to the hunter-gatherers. You collected what you needed and used it accordingly for your survival, and for the health and survival of your family and tribe. Think about the Native Americans following the buffalo herds.
The Industrial Revolution is what caused mass upheaval to the old ways of living. People went to work in factories. Goods were mass produced. Suddenly, the responsibility of taking care of the home, the children, and goods wasn’t the forefront of daily life anymore. You began to outsource and depend on supply chains and systems.
Psst… Want to learn more about what I just said about our radical shift in culture? Check out Season 10 Episode 4 of the Old-Fashioned on Purpose Podcast by Jill Winger titled “Pushing Back Against Consumer Culture with Shannon Hayes (author of Radical Homemakers). It’s a good one.
As goods were mass produced, they became cheaper. You didn’t need to produce your own goods when you could walk up to the general store or market and buy exactly what you needed–exchanging our hard-earned money for goods. It was easy to do. And you didn’t have time to produce these goods or your food anyways.
I’m digressing a little, but you get the point. There was a culture shift. People forgot old ways–how to care, provide, and heal their families on their own. As always, rural areas were slower to change, but eventually their balance between consumer and producer changed dramatically.
What are modern-day homesteaders like?
Essentially, the modern day homesteader is trying to recreate an old lifestyle that was mostly present before the Industrial Revolution or before modern conveniences of the 20th century, at least. And modern-day homesteaders harness the power of technology to share their skills with others–people like Jill Winger, Melissa K. Norris, Living Traditions Homestead, Justin Rhodes, Venison for Dinner, Joel Salatin, and the list goes on.
Sure, as modern homesteaders we have modern conveniences (I’ll be the first to say—I LOVE our chicken plucker), but we’re making an effort to opt out of supply chains and massive systems in favor of a more grounded, connected life.
And let’s not forget, these systems can fail, and when they fail, we are lost. The pandemic has shown us this.
Most people would say that homesteading is mainly about food, but I would venture to say that it’s about more than food.
Homesteading is about satisfaction that isn’t fleeting. It’s about pride in the work of your own two hands and the gratitude (and wonder and awe) you feel when you teach your kids those very same skills. It’s the feeling that you’re setting them up with skills that can live within them for a lifetime. Skills that could truly aid them in this game of life.
Homesteading is a connection to something real. The Earth and this life has a rhythm or a pulse, and we are constantly seeking to get more in touch with that when we look to old ways. If you’re a believer, you may even feel that this lifestyle is also aligned with faith and scripture.
Homesteading involves lots of intention. Most of the time, living a homesteader lifestyle could be seen as harder. You are giving up certain conveniences and systems that have been created over time to make human’s life easier. You opt to do this for your health–mentally, physically, spiritually. You do this to create a sense of community and family.
Homesteader lifestyle is also a more natural way of life. We use basic ingredients in the kitchen, we harvest food grown on or near our property, or use whole ingredients to feed, wash, and clothe ourselves. We use ancient skills of foraging, soap-making, sewing, butchering, and food storage. We strive to live in harmony with Earth and its gifts.
Sounds rather hippie, but it’s very rewarding mentally and spiritually.
Remarkably, many homesteaders begin their journey into the lifestyle to reduce their dependence on others (like the government and the current corporate food supply chains) but they then create this very strong connection with their family and their community, too.
So essentially, venturing into homesteading is often about “self” at first, but then it manifests later into being about “others”. You either become passionate about teaching others your way of life, or you share the goods you’ve produced or created with others in hopes that it will better their lives.
How should we define homesteaders today?
I would say a new and improved definition of a homesteader would be:
Homesteader: A person seeking to reduce dependence on systems in favor of a more self-reliant, holistic life that harnesses the power of nature and old-fashioned skills to provide for themselves, their families, and their community.
When do you become a homesteader?
When Hayden and I began this journey into “homesteading” in 2020, we were already a little different than many of our peers.
And there wasn’t a point in time where we thought, “Okay, now we’re homesteaders.”
Believe it or not, it wasn’t the pandemic that forced us into this lifestyle, either. Ironically, we both had already been thinking about the future of our farm and living a simpler life. It felt like the “I want more, more, more, NOW” attitude was everywhere, and we were seeing how unhappy our friends and family were that had this type of attitude.
The week before shutdowns, I had purchased a book titled Hand Made by Melissa K. Norris simply because I wanted to learn how to make homemade crackers. I googled a recipe for homemade crackers and her website was the first to pop up. I ordered her book immediately because I loved what she was about.
Hayden was eager to get chickens pre-pandemic, and at the same time, there were a few podcasters that were beginning to introduce him to the topic of soil health. I’ll never forget–we were pushing the kids in the stroller and chatting, when he burst into a monologue about soil organic matter (i.e. “the good stuff” when it comes to soil health). This has led to his interest in grassfed cattle, silvopasturing pigs (letting them forage in the woods, basically), and cover crops.
We became so passionate about what we were learning and doing, that we felt like we needed to share. Remember how I said above that we were seeing people around us that were unhappy and unsatisfied? It felt like we had an omniscient view of the world and our community, and we could see what was missing.
So, we decided, in our journey towards self-reliance, that we would also share with others through words.
When Hayden and I chatted with friends about starting this homestead blog, one of our close friends laughed in our face.
“Homesteaders? You’re not homesteaders.”
Those that live off-grid and grow and preserve 75 to 100% of what they eat would likely agree.
But then I go out in public and chat with people or even chat with our own family and friends, it suddenly hits me full force. The way Hayden and I are choosing to live is different.
And I think that no matter where you’re at on the spectrum of homesteading, whether you’re in the very beginning learning how to make homemade crackers or as advanced as butchering all of your own meat, you’re a homesteader at the end of the day because of your values and mindset. Because of your intentionality and fortitude.
Hayden and I are interested in cultivating a life that’s filled with learning and abundance and longevity. And by abundance, I don’t mean money, I mean abundance of family, skills, freedom, peace, and handmade goods.
How do you become a homesteader today?
Pursuing a homesteader lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to quit your 9 to 5. In fact, you probably couldn’t even if you wanted to initially. Although there are people out there that take that leap of faith.
I like to explain it this way:
There’s a term called unschooling that’s used when discussing methods of homeschooling children. In fact, there’s an entire method of homeschooling literally called “unschooling”.
But what I’m referring to here is not unschooling the method, but rather unschooling the concept.
When kids have been in a traditional systematic school setting, designed to achieve results for the whole and not necessarily the individual (I’m not saying public school is bad, so don’t get your knickers in a knot), and they’re being pulled out of school (for whatever reason) to be homeschooled, sometimes people suggest taking a period of time to unschool them. This means that they’re trying to break their kids’ minds away from the old method of learning–the systematic way–in order to be more successful with their new way of learning. It’s a transition period that sets the kids up for more success later.
It’s the same for transitioning into a more self-reliant lifestyle. You don’t quit your job, buy land, acquire chickens and cows and pigs, and have a marvelous vegetable garden that provides nearly all of your own food in the first year.
It requires time to break away from systems, especially when we’ve been raised by them and have relied on them our entire lives.
You have to opt out of one system at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight.
But that doesn’t mean your mindset doesn’t move at a much faster pace.
So, even if you don’t have acres of land and the time to grow your own food or make your own household goods, you can choose to change your dependence on systems in order to set yourself up for success later.
Or maybe you do have acres of land but you’re not exactly stewarding the land in a way that’s sustainable or fulfilling.
You could start this way:
Instead of buying food solely from Walmart or Schnuck’s, you could find a local farmer to buy food from. You could purchase beef or chicken in bulk and learn how to cut up and process the parts.
Instead of supporting big box stores when it’s time to plant your garden, you could find a local family-owned plant nursery to buy vegetable starts from. Maybe ask the owner about those vegetables and their favorites to eat and use in their own kitchen.
Instead of buying gifts for loved ones from Amazon, you could make your own gifts or find someone in your community that has a talent for making gifts. Or maybe find a local antique store that’s selling items that could then be reused by your loved one. Perhaps there’s items in that antique store that could be useful for you, too.
Maybe you take your first step by baking your own bread every week instead of buying a loaf at the store.
Maybe you start veggie gardening on your back patio in a pot, and each year add a new plant or variety to experiment with.
Maybe you find raw milk for sale and make your own cheese.
Maybe you learn to sew or make your own soap.
Maybe you purchase books or courses to teach yourself a useful skill.
Maybe you just sit down with great-grandma Eileen and ask her about her life on the farm. How did she make butter? How long did it take her to milk a cow? How did they use their wood-fired stove? What is the one thing she misses about her childhood?
It just takes one step.
You really do have the power to become more self-reliant and lead a more fulfilling life. You have the time and the brain power to learn new, valuable skills.
Your hands can provide for you and your family, in small ways and in big ways.
I challenge you to dip your toe into this wide and deep world of homesteading.
What will you find? Or better yet, if you’re already exploring, what are you finding?
Leave us a comment and tell us what you’re most excited about!
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