The verb “homesteading” leads us to conjure up images of roosters crowing, the smell of freshly cut hay, jewel toned mason jars lining shelves stocked for winter, fresh juicy fruits dangling from a front yard orchard tree, and of course the quintessential porch adorned with rocking chairs to sit back and enjoy the country life.
Though this may be the ideal that we have in our minds, possibly crafted from one too many country lifestyle periodicals, homesteading can actually look quite different indeed. According to Wikipedia, Homesteading is defined as:
“A lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale.”
Far too many of us have a desire to homestead. However, lacking the rolling hundred acres that we have ideally tucked into our minds, we observe others and discount our own self-sustaining efforts. Let me suggest that anyone can homestead, or at least begin that journey. If you live on a smallish plot, in a more suburban area, on a few acres or as first generation farmers jumping in head first to the lifestyle of our ancestors, you can be a homesteader.
I actually began this journey about 15 years ago when I planted my first garden, in my first home. The string of years that followed caught me learning the skills of bread making, home canning, sewing, seed saving, dehydrating, and from scratch cooking. I still didn't consider myself a homesteader. We had expanded from a 900 square foot home on a tiny little lot, to a larger home on exactly 0.64 of an acre. I still didn't consider that I was on the road to homesteading; after all, we had no livestock, no rolling acres and no front porch rocker.
Fast forward a few more years and we were able to move out a little ways. Our small farm is just shy of 6 acres. Though I was aching for those rolling pastures, we purchased what was in our budget. That homesteading ideal was still eluding me, I wasn't feeling self-sufficient. Though cooking most everything from scratch by this point, I had shelves of those jewel toned morsels in mason jars waiting for winter. I had learned the art of saving heirloom seeds and growing a garden from seeds instead of nursery plants. I could identify and use a number of easily procured medicinal herbs and weeds. I could make most anything I needed, including laundry soap. I finally got some livestock in the way of chickens and turkeys, but I still felt vastly inadequate when I looked around at what others were doing.
We began harvesting and butchering our own poultry, purchasing our pork from friends, and drinking raw milk whenever we could get our hands on some. We made butter, yogurt, and sauerkraut. We learned more about food sources, cleaned our diets and introduced fermented foods and drinks. I also began blogging to teach others some of the skills I had learned. I still didn't feel like a homesteader, though I desperately wanted to join that ever intangible, seemingly exclusive club.
It was only recently that I realized that it was my ideal, or definition, that was holding me back from recognizing all that we had accomplished in the way of becoming more self sufficient, more sustainable. I was looking at others and comparing what our family did not have mastered and sustained, instead of accepting that we had come a very long way from the days when I fed my children macaroni & cheese with hot dogs for lunch and had no idea how to even cut up a chicken, let alone butcher one.
I stand amazed at the journey we have had to get to our homesteading nirvana. I may not have all that my neighbor homesteading on 30 acres down the road has, but I am learning daily and each season we get just a little closer to being less dependent on others and more dependent on ourselves and God's provisions.
If you are one of the voyeurs just lurking and wishing you could live the homesteading life, get started where you are. Plant some herbs in a window sill instead of buying them, teach yourself a new skill, and research some aspect of homesteading that fascinates you. Learn from another's mistakes and don't compare yourself to someone else, there will always be someone further along the road to total self sufficiency than you are. That someone will have a more well equipped greenhouse, more renewable resources, a larger scale livestock operation, and more country know how than you.
Don't let other homesteaders hamper your curiosity driven desire to get back to your roots, take off learning new skills so that you too can look back and see just how serendipitous your journey has become, and how you too are actually homesteading. You’ll be able to do just that, all while sipping a sweet tea from that quintessential rocking chair on the front porch.