Remember all the old westerns on television that showed wagon trains headed for “the West,” with the folks carrying all their earthly possessions in a wagon? If they made it through hostile Indian territory and floods and over treacherous mountains, they were promised free land on which to start a brand-new life. When we watch it on TV, it looks exciting and sometimes we wish we could be a homesteader. Alas, those days are gone ... or are they?
We are all homesteaders in one sense of the word, especially lately when more and more folks are fed up with modern technology and strive to get "back to the basics.” In that sense, homesteading is an antiquated word that has been dusted off and refurbished.
The homesteading ideal consists of a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. Many people confuse it with living off the grid, which, in reality, are two different things. Completely living off the grid means disconnecting from the electric and communication grid, generating your own water supply so as not to depend on the municipal water system, dealing with your own waste and sewage, and heating and cooling your home without natural gas.
This course of action is pretty extreme for most people. Even though it may sound like an adventure, how many people can actually pull up roots and move to an isolated spot to be completely self-sufficient? This would mean growing and raising all your own food, providing all your electricity and water, preserving your food, and having the knowledge to completely fend for yourself. On top of that, you would be giving up all sources of income and connections to family and friends. Some people manage very well in this setting, but they are few and far between.
Most people who want to homestead choose a less extreme measure, which does not involve living off the land totally. As with anything, there are different degrees in homesteading. This term actually came into being in 1862 when Congress passed the Homestead Act, which gave 160 acres of free ground to anyone willing to move west, build a home, plow the land, and live on it for at least 5 years. Hence, the wagon trains headed west and pioneers settling there. Some of the ranches of today were started from this free land. However, it came with a price. Although the land was free, anyone who claimed it had to possess a dire determination and be willing to dedicate their life to endless days of hard work.
Although the Homestead Act ended as recently as 1976 and free land was no longer given away, homesteaders still persist with the pioneering spirit and crazy work ethic. More and more Americans are choosing to unplug. Home Power Magazine estimates that 180,000 homes in the United States are completely generating their own power.
If a person is serious about giving homesteading a try, the biggest consideration is where to locate in the boonies. In choosing this lifestyle, of course, the further one is from a major city the better. Even with this said, it is imperative to pay attention to access to emergency services. No one knows when they will have a medical emergency, and just because you are prepared to live off the land does not make you a doctor. You also need a good reliable source of water and land that will support livestock and grow food.
Not cutting oneself off completely in the beginning is a good idea. You can homestead and still have a cell phone and Internet service through wifi hotspots and satellite connections. It is also good to be on top of possible dangers where you are locating such as floods, wild animal threats, etc.
It turns out that there is a new technique of generating water by pulling it from the air. By using an atmospheric water generator, water is actually collected by pulling from the humidity in the air. This is just me, but I am sure I would still want a good backup source of water until this new technique proves itself.
Besides the myth that homesteading includes free land, there are a few other myths that need debunking when considering this lifestyle. No, you do not need to come from a ranching or farming family to adopt this lifestyle. There is no doubt that it would make it easier, but, like anything else, new skills can be learned.
This is not an all-or-nothing venture. Just as you do not have to go completely off the grid to embrace homesteading, you do not have to raise or grow every bit of your own food. Some have modern appliances and buy food such as flour at farmers markets or local stores instead of grinding their own. Each person has the privilege of weaving any of these skills into their lifestyle to the extent that they wish.
It is also not true that you need a lot of land to be a homesteader. Some live in apartments. Homesteading is a certain mentality, a set of values of trying at varying degrees to sustain a lifestyle off the land. Even an apartment dweller can work toward this goal by canning his own vegetables.
Homesteading embraces people from all walks of life. So many have the notion that it is still a throwback to the hippie generation, and that is not true. You will find even lawyers and businessmen trying to simplify their life and depend less on others for their basic needs.
The skills needed to start homesteading are as varied as the degree with which you intend to pursue this lifestyle. Here is a list of some to consider if you are thinking about pursuing this lifestyle a little further:
1. Learn to garden and preserve the produce.
2. Learn to compost using vegetable odds and ends.
3. Make homemade remedies for ailments.
4. Make your own laundry soap, deodorant, and other personal care products.
5. Save seeds for future harvest.
6. Know first aid and CPR.
7. Learn how to do your own repairs on machinery and appliances.
8. Learn which wild herbal plants are good for medicine and forage for them.
9. Learn how to start a fire anywhere with what is on hand.
10. Learn to handle, shoot, and clean a gun.
11. Learn to hunt wild game and fish, not as a sport, but rather for necessary food.
Homesteading is mostly being mindful of how we use our resources, and all of us are homesteaders to some degree of the word. The more self-sufficient we are, the more confidence we have that we are able to survive crises and take care of ourselves. Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and is not defined by where someone lives, but rather by lifestyle choices that we make.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons