North America’s 19th century homesteaders moved into the wilderness in search of a better future for their families. Today’s homesteaders pursue similar, but loftier goals.
Modern homesteaders, at least as we report about them here in Mother Earth News, are exploring new territories in search of a better future for all human beings. As growing human population and consumption threaten the planet, individuals in all walks of life are inventing lifestyles that are more efficient, more eco-friendly, more exciting and more fulfilling.
Impatient to drive more efficient vehicles, some of us are inventing DIY cars (see Here Comes the 100 MPG Car). Others are finding ways to reduce our “use” of water resources by diverting rainfall onto our gardens. And this new wave of homesteading is not just about learning to make do with less. We’re choosing old-time vegetables and fruits that give us richer flavors and better nutrition (see Harvesting Our Heirloom History). We’re also exploring completely-new-to -us crops (see below).
The efficiency of modern homesteads is beautiful to behold. In the country and even in town, the off-the-grid, owner-built homestead that produces its own energy and most of the household’s food is the ideal many of us strive for. But the homestead’s most valuable product isn’t a food, beverage or building. The most valuable thing being created on the homestead these days is a new sense of satisfaction and excitement as we discover more sustainable lifestyles. Modern homesteads give us all confidence that we can solve the problems our species has created, and create a truly sustainable human society.
In this respect, our homesteads are more about art than they are agriculture. Art has often strived to depict an ideal — from Michelangelo’s David to the Taj Mahal. In hundreds of creative ways the modern sustainable homestead does the same. Our ideal is more practical and earthy, perhaps, than El Greco’s saints and angels. Still, it ennobles and elevates the human spirit.
Sometimes we struggle to define the meaning of “homestead” in today’s world. For our purposes, we’ve decided to define the homestead as any home that provides an example of sustainability and beauty, whether it’s a Chicago loft powered by solar panels, a Santa Fe suburban solar home or a straw bale cottage on the Kansas prairie. Many of them raise some of their own food and generate some of their own energy. Some of them are self-sufficient. Some of them are beautiful. All of them, by our definition, are inspiring.