“You've only been doing this for how long?”
“Oh, you live in town...”
“Seven chickens, three beehives and a garden and you're an expert huh?”
I've heard it all before. Sometimes I've even felt insecure about it. We are smaller than the tiniest homestead and we probably have no business assuming the grand title of “Homesteader”. I admit that I have even doubted myself, thinking they're right. Then I slap myself and shake off those homsteadier-than-thou haters and remind myself: Homesteading is in the eye of the beholder.
So are you a homesteader?
You bloom where you are planted:
Maybe you are like us and the right place hasn't come along. You are stuck in town or a city. But you till yourself a garden patch or your container garden anyway, and you do your best to keep your family full of freshly grown produce, and you preserve it for the winter months. What you can't grow, you buy from local farmers who can, and you stock your freezer and your pantry with locally grown meat, fruit, and veggies while they are all in season. Doing your best to avoid the store for most things. You might even make your own noodles! If your town allows you may have some of your own chickens for eggs and meat and you could have bees, too. You strive to be self-sufficient. Playing around with goats milk soap recipes and researching beehives gives you a thrill. You are content with where you are or you wait and you save until you can buy your real dream farm.
Our size doesn't dictate our knowledge:
Whether you have a barn full of cattle, hogs, fowl, goats, or sheep, it doesn't mean you know more than someone with one or two, and it certainly does not mean you know less. A lot of us have spent hours upon hours brushing up on health maladies and researching behaviors and methods. For example, someone can have an animal for a number of years without knowing or noticing certain health maladies exist while someone who only has a few can recognize an illness. While, sadly, others don't know and some don't care. We are dedicated to the health and well being of the animals we care for. Big or small, loss can be devastating and we all try to avoid it. Experience is worth its weight in gold, and us newbies can stand to learn a lot from all of you wise sages who have been at this business for years, but please remember, you were once a beginner too.
To homestead is to dream:
Maybe you have a place in the country and you have been doing this your whole life, but, let's be honest, there are probably things you would still love to get into. Like adding that spinning flock, or perhaps a team of oxen, and you really want a couple nice, tart cherry trees. Daydreaming is akin to breathing for us. Starting that orchard, expanding the garden ... sunflowers? Ostriches! It is all so exciting and it makes us keep trucking along. We all hope to reach the breakeven point and eventually the magical time when the dream starts paying for itself. Until then, we sit on the porch snapping beans swigging a cold beer after a long day, and we enjoy what we have.
Hobbies may make you sound like a granny:
Did you say spinning and knitting, deary? Yes, the desires to learn the old ways of doing things tend to come up and slap you in the dentures. My grandmother -- “Newt” as we affectionately call her -- is a wealth of knowledge. She was born on a farm in the 30's, survived polio, and raised seven kids by herself. She is a tough ole bird. She taught us how to make bread from scratch from a recipe that isn't written down anyplace, and we can make enough popcorn and molasses cookies to feed an army. Grandmas can be really helpful to have around. You oogle over fermentation crocks on the internet, dry and preserve herbs, and talk to butchers about lard. If someone says they have a tummy ache, you scurry over to your pantry to whip them up some obscure concoction. Hell, I even have a giant sun hat I wear in the garden, an apron for in the kitchen, and lord help me, I have developed a taste for beets ... roasted not pickled ... baby steps.
You love what you do and you love to share it:
People who are truly happy with what they do can't wait to share it with you. I've found myself sidling up to strangers to talk about bees. I get so excited when someone asks me a question I could just about burst! It makes me so happy to share the information I have stored up and my experiences, especially since I take a different approach than most folks do. Isn't that what its all about anyway? To be happy doing the work that you love? If this life doesn't make you happy, you need to find what does make you happy and go do it at some point. So go on and become a Master Gardener. Breed and show those fancy sheep. Get a booth at the farmers market. Smile.
None of us do all of this because its easy:
Finally, trying to take the homestead approach is a long road rife with difficulties. From caring for livestock, gardening, and canning, living this life is hard work. Big time or small hobby or urban, we all have our heartaches and disasters along with our victories. Being self-sufficient is the end game, and it's what we all hope for. The work pays off and you can taste it in the beef roast and vegetables with blueberry pie you make for dinner in mid-January. It won't hurt to be a bit more supportive of each other regardless of what stage we are in.
In the end we all have the same goals in mind.