Homesteaders of the year share their triumphs and struggles of becoming more self-sufficient.
GRIT teamed with its sister publication, Mother Earth News, to celebrate International Homesteading Education Month in September. We asked readers to tell us why they deserve GRIT’s recognition as our Homesteaders of the Year. These are their stories.
Age: Jana, 29; Jeff, 35
City/Town and State: Rich Hill, Missouri
How long have you been homesteading? I (Jeff) began my homesteading lifestyle in 2005; seven years. Jana joined me on this adventure one year ago.
What compels you to lead this lifestyle? A desire to live in a way that complements — rather than competes with — nature and leaves more resources for the generations that come after us.
What do you think sets your piece of property and operation apart from others? When I bought the property, there was no road, pond, buildings or utilities. It is now a comfortable place to call home. I used horses for leveling the ground for the house, dragging logs to the sawmill, and occasional trips to town. Having no monthly utility bills (no sewer, water, electric, cable) is a fairly unique position to be in (here) in the Midwest.
Biggest challenge of homesteading: Fixing everything that breaks. Being the plumber, electrician, builder, road maintainer, vet, gardener and manager every day is a challenge.
What do you estimate is the percent of food, supplies, shelter, etc., that you produce yourself? We built our barn from logs on the property that we dragged with horses to our own band-saw mill. We used a lot of local wood in our house that we cut, dragged, milled and dried on-site. Our water comes from either the pond or is guttered off the roof into a 6,000-gallon cistern, which we filter and use for all purposes. Ninety percent of our meat is venison. All electricity comes from solar power that is stored in a battery and then turned into AC power through two power inverters. Heat comes from a wood-burning stove. The firewood all comes from the property and is primarily drop-off limbs from the large pecan trees. We cook on the woodstove frequently in the winter and have a propane cookstove for summer use.
Final thoughts: Start practicing homesteading activities now. From conserving power to making the dream of going solar more affordable, to making a compost pile for your table scraps and coffee grinds, the little conscious tasks will go a long way toward making your dreams into reality. Dream big, but start small, and you will surely change the world for the better.
City/Town and State: Back of the Yards Neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois
Homestead Name: The Freak Farm Chicago — Sustainable Urban Living and Artists’ Residence
How long have you been homesteading? I have been working on this project since 2007.
What compels you to lead this lifestyle? I am not sure what took me so long to come to the conclusion that I could tie all of these parts of my life together to create something that I really feel good about. At the time this project began, my girlfriend (deceased September 2008) and I purchased our building in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago so that we could be closer to those we wanted to help. A simple web search will reveal that the Back of the Yards, Chicago, is a neighborhood that suffers from poverty and crime. What better place to attempt to purchase a decrepit two-flat building to rehab with the goal of living and working sustainably? Every day is a learning experience, and I am no expert.
Biggest challenge of homesteading: In an urban environment, you have to be very careful about bothering your neighbors, attracting rodents, and timing your beehive operations. I would say the biggest challenge is always space. My current production goal with my small backyard farm is 25 percent of the household’s total food. It is a very lofty goal, given my property size, but I feel it is possible.
What is your No. 1 recommendation for others pursuing homesteading? Share your project and network with others. I have learned so much from others and have gained invaluable knowledge. Also, ask for help. The people who help you are the ones you get to spoil when your project comes to fruition. I love the look of amazement on a Chicago native’s face when he or she tries an organic egg straight out of the coop.
City/Town and State: Rocky Mount, Georgia
Homestead Name: Morning Glory
How long have you been homesteading? Three years.
What is your definition of a homestead/homesteader? A good homesteader actively provides for himself and strives to be self-sufficient and sustainable; a real good homesteader works to teach a piece of property to provide food and nourishment for body and soul.
Reactions from friends/family: Everyone we know and love was expecting it — I think they just wondered what took us so long. This kind of lifestyle is really about who you are; it’s something that you just have in you — and if it’s in you, it’s just a matter of time before you step to the edge of the grid and try your hand at it.
What is your No. 1 recommendation for others pursuing homesteading? Know thyself. Prepare to compromise. Cultivate your talents and learn new skills. Be willing to do whatever it takes to have your necessities. Sell watermelons, begonias, eggs and crafts if that’s all you’ve got. Write a book, teach a workshop — whatever it is that you do well, learn to make a dollar doing it. You’ll need more hours at home if you want your homeplace to feed you.
Final thoughts: Every homesteader should keep their sense of humor handy — and try hard to get a lightning-proof hat if they can. My granddaddy has one, and he can ride his tractor while a Southern storm is rolling in. Perhaps his hat also helps him be the best farmer I know, or it could just be his grit, his determination, and that sense of humor he’s always got in his back pocket.
City/Town and State: Norridgewock, Maine
Homestead Name: Heidi’s Happy Acre Farm
How long have you been homesteading? Two years here in Maine, but we have always had a small homestead no matter where we’ve lived for the past 20 years.
What compels you to lead this lifestyle? Our children. We want them to know how to survive on their own without needing to rely on others to give them food or shelter. I grew up learning from the older generations when living off the land was a common occurrence. Everyone had a garden, made pies and bread, and canned food for the winter. Now everything is so easy to get by going to the store and buying off the shelf. But where is this all coming from? What is really in it? Who is making it? These are all questions I ask my children all the time. I always tell them the closer to home it’s made, the better it is for you! Make it yourself — you can’t get it any better than that.
Most rewarding thing about homesteading: Self-sufficiency and watching our children learn how to do the simple things in life and enjoy them. There is nothing better than seeing them laughing and playing outdoors in the sun with all the animals running around. That is how we know we are doing the right thing.
Current animals: Six goats, 16 hens, two roosters, three ducks, two geese, three rabbits, two dogs, two parrots, one cat and a goldfish.
What is your No. 1 recommendation for others pursuing homesteading? Teach your children or grandchildren how to live this way. They are the future and need all the help and knowledge they can get about living off the land and growing their own food. Being self-sufficient is going to be the key for subsequent generations.
Final thoughts: One of my favorite sayings is a Native American proverb: “Treat the Earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” This is why we must pass on the knowledge we have. Simple things like knowing if water is safe to drink, when a berry is ripe, when to plant a potato, how to skin a rabbit, what a chicken eats, and even how to trim a goat’s hooves — these are all part of homesteading, and these are not taught in school.
Age: Jennifer, 46; Randy, 53
City/Town and State: Columbia, Kentucky
How long have you been homesteading? One and a half years.
What compels you to lead this lifestyle? Producing quality food is a big part of it for us. The meat, eggs, dairy products, and produce that we get from our farm far exceed the flavor, quality and nutrition of store-bought food. It is just healthier. Energy independence is another important factor. Living off-grid, in a solar- and wood-powered home, is not always easy, but we live lightly on the Earth, and we don’t worry about electric grid problems. Living in a super rural setting also allows us to live closer to nature, which is more satisfying to us than city or suburban life.
Most rewarding thing about homesteading: The food! And the satisfaction of knowing what it is, and the source from which it comes. Independence from the industrial machine is another really big draw.
Short-term and long-term plans: Short term we want to add to our solar electric system and create some rainwater collection off the roof. We also need to build a run-in shed, a greenhouse, and maybe clear a little more pasture. Long term we aspire to move toward more self-sustainability, in both energy and food.
Current animals: Clover, our precious Jersey cow, two farm dogs and one little inside dog, heritage breed turkeys (Narragansett and Blacks), a small flock of laying chickens, meat birds, two breeding pairs of meat rabbits and whatever offspring they have at the moment, four parakeets, a fish, and various shop cats.
What is your No. 1 recommendation for others pursuing homesteading? You can do it, it’s not that hard, but you have to be devoted to the idea. Start learning some skills before you move way out into the country. Don’t do it if you are a wimp or afraid of hard work, or don’t like nature, dirt or bugs. Don’t set your heart on energy independence if you are not willing to adjust your lifestyle a little bit.
Age: In her 40s
City/Town and State: Ramona, California
Homestead Name: Red Gate Farm
How long have you been homesteading? Four years since the animal obsessions began, but I have had gardens many years before that. My parents and grandparents always had gardens for us to dig in and plant until nightfall if we wished.
What is your definition of a homestead/homesteader? Anyone who loves to do things for him- or herself. Working a small patch of veggies to growing five acres, it is whatever makes you happy.
Most rewarding thing about homesteading: Watching and working side by side with the family, all reaching for a common goal. The most beautiful thing is to watch a new life come into the world.
Reactions from friends/family when you told them you wanted to live this lifestyle: Family never even blinked an eye at the thought of our homestead; it was not a surprise. Friends feed my chicken addiction, so they were very supportive.
What do you estimate is the percent of food, supplies, shelter, etc., that you produce yourself? Fifty percent, but it’s hard to tell. I trade my goods for other goods that others make; a barter system.
Final thoughts: Love what you do, enjoy it with others, and share your harvest with your neighbors. Make it a meeting time to spend with friends.
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