“What is a homestead?” my friend asked. The question threw me off guard, cause, geez, everyone knows what a homestead is. It’s uh….you know…a place where…I decided to consult the dictionary.
a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale for debt.
any dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.
a tract of land acquired under the Homestead Act.
a house in an urban area acquired under a homesteading program.
to acquire or settle on (land) as a homestead:
Pioneers homesteaded the valley.
to acquire or settle on a homestead:
They homesteaded many years ago.
And that, my friends, did not help me either because, frankly, I don’t own anything. I do not get to keep this land no matter how much I work it (unless I come into a vast amount of money!) and the second definition pretty well means any house in the suburbs is a homestead! So, what really is a homestead? What is homesteading?
The best way to answer this is to look at the general consensus. I have many friends who are what we would consider homesteaders. A homestead is a place where one tries to become more self sufficient. I wonder why that it is not in the dictionary. Still rather vague. Can an apartment with a balcony of vegetables be considered a homestead? Can a house in the city with a few chickens and a garden be considered a homestead? Certainly a place in the country with a large garden, goats, chickens, sheep, and cows is considered a homestead, right? I suppose everyone would answer this question differently. So, here is homesteading to me.
A homestead is a respite, a home with land to be able to succeed at becoming more self-sufficient. This place can be rented or bought. This place provides a basis for producing what one needs to live. So, homesteading is the verb here where one works to become less reliant on modern society and more secure in their own home as opposed to spending more time working outside the home and relying on utility providers, grocery stores, et cetera for their needs. It is possible that this could take a lifetime. But it is worth the effort.
I often hear the argument that it is impossible to be self-sufficient. I suppose that depends on your definition. Would you consider the Ingalls from “Little House on the Prairie” self-sufficient? I bet you would. They did go to the general store at times to pick up flour, and cornmeal, sugar, and a bit of candy plus some fabric. The question would be, if the store was not available, would they be alright? The answer would be yes. They would be alright, at least for a time. Would you consider the Amish self-reliant? I bet you would say yes. The home I visited of an Amish family last year was very simple. They had food stored in a makeshift root cellar (like mine), shelves of beautifully colored jars of produce (like mine), enough wood to get through winter (like us), and propane to light their house, run their stove, refrigerator, and sewing machine. That is what threw me off! We use propane to help offset the heat and to run the refrigerator. It is very expensive and is getting quite nerve-rackingly low. Are we self reliant? Not yet, in my book.
Why is it important? I mean, really, what is the big deal? A lot of folks are not really ready to give up their luxuries. Our bathroom was 35 degrees this morning. This is not for the faint of heart. My bottom is still cold. But, it’s important to me to become self reliant for two reasons.
One: working for other people is too uncertain. We make our own business, our own crafts, our own classes, and yes we have to have faith that folks will buy or sign up, but we control our destiny and our mornings. The more we have to be away from the house working for someone else, the less we can do here, so the less self reliant we are. We must make our living off of our homestead. Our living is a lot different than what it was ten years ago. To us a living was over $55,000 with a mortgage, car payments, utilities, food prices, gas prices, and all the other things we “needed”. Now our living is around $24,000 if we want to be comfortable with wood, homegrown food, fish, necessary items for our business, gas, rent, and animal feed. That is the first thing folks that want to homestead must realize. Be prepared to live on less. There is much to be done at the house. Canning, home business, chopping wood, year round growing of plants, animal care, But there is nothing sweeter than not worrying about where your next meal will come from and never sitting in a cubicle again.
The second reason it is so important to me to become self reliant is because I need to be able to take care of us and our children if necessary in an emergency. This could be a wide spread power outage or blizzard, or I often have dreams that there will be a war here. As much as that scares the heck out of me, I would rather have a house full of necessities and not be wondering how I would get to the grocery store or if we were going to freeze to death. I do not know if folks realize the folly in relying on large companies for your necessities. If it all came down to the wire, they don’t give a hoot about your family and it would be quite wise to have a way to access water, heat, food, clothing, and protection.
Each year we do a homestead checklist and see what we need to do to become more self reliant. Realize that I do not think that solar panels and their non-decomposing batteries, or wind power with its bird and bat killing capabilities are the answer. Living with less reliance on oil and gas is our goal.
- We have a wood cooktop/propane oven. A homesteader’s dream? Yes. But, I do not want to rely on propane and the small wood compartment does not do much to heat this house. 44 degrees in the living room is just a bit too freaking cold for me. Our stove can be cooked on, heat a small portion of the house, could heat water if necessary, and is great, however, this year we will secure (somehow) a real wood cook stove that will sit in the living room that I can bake and cook on plus heat the rest of the house.
- Since we stopped eating meat I was able to clear out an entire freezer. The remaining refrigerator/freezer holds milk, fish, cheese, condiments, and vegetables. Can one can fish? Can I can all the vegetables/fruits next year? How would we keep the milk cold? Particularly when milking starts again. I need an ice house. The back bedroom would seriously serve as a fridge right now though! We really need that other wood stove.
- We have several wells on the property. We have a tiny bit of water saved in canning jars, but is there a way to access the wells without electricity? We are also incorporating a water harvest system this year.
- I have a hand washing unit for laundry and a great clothes line plus a huge drying rack for inside if the electricity went out. (We haven’t used in a dryer in seven years.) We could live without the television and internet if he had too.
- I grew about a third of the items we preserved this year. I would like to grow sixty percent this year and plant several fruit and nut trees and berry bushes. I would also like to try my hand at growing mushrooms. I will incorporate container gardening, cold frames, and our garden plot to grow everything we love to eat. I would like to get a green house as well. That would really boost our production.
- I am kicking myself, y’all, for selling my spinning wheel! I would like to get sheep and work on spinning again. I would like to learn to knit this year and make us some fabulous sweaters and socks. There is so much discarded fabric out there. I have tons myself. I would like to increase my sewing skills so that I can make more of our clothes.
- We would like to make the fences more secure this year so that we can let the animals graze on the ten acres. That would cut down on how much hay they need.
- I need to find a way to advertise and promote my classes so that we can pay for things like gas and car insurance, grains, animal feed, things like that.
- We will start cutting our own wood and collecting wood this year instead of paying so much to have cords delivered.
Well, I am sure there is more, but that is a good start and each year we get closer and closer to being self reliant. Maybe that is the answer. Maybe self-sufficient and self-reliant are two different things. Either way, there is a great feeling of accomplishment and inner peace while performing simple tasks and caring for those you love on your own homestead.
Wishing you a prosperous and peaceful homestead this coming year!
8 Comments Add yours
You are able to can fish! My family cans smoked salmon in the fall after they catch them. 🙂
I need to start bartering for salmon!
What about the grapes and oak barrels for wine-making? 🙂
I admire your vision and desire to become self-reliant.
While each of us has a little different definition of homesteading, I think what most of us want is to take whatever steps we can to become more self-sufficient and create a healthier lifestyle for our families.
You are right. It is just one way that we all try to improve and make the most out of this life.
You can can fish, but only in pints or smaller and it takes the longest of any protein to can. But it is pretty wonderful to have. And trout tastes almost like tuna fish when it is home canned, so once I have enough canned we will switch over to it instead of buying canned tuna.
Oooh, trout cakes…
Excellent post! There is much wisdom and good sense in it.
Like you we sit down at the end of the year and do a very thorough review of the prior year. Our all-day sit down is Sunday, but I’ve seen the preliminary numbers and they’re much better than last year. It gets better every year. Every year we find that we are able to shed things that our culture wants us to believe are “necessities.” Even though we need less money (taxes and insurance continue to be our biggest problems), the quality of our life doesn’t go down at all. In fact, we’re more satisfied than ever. There is great satisfaction from knowing that most of the food we eat comes from right here on this farm.
You are an inspiration to many. Thanks for all you do in sharing what you’re learning about sustainable living! And best wishes for a very happy New Year!
Thank you so much, Bill. YOU are an inspiration to many and I look forward to reading your posts this coming year. May this year be filled with wonder and great lessons learned the easy way! Happy New Year!