Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If you’re one of those people who dreams of being a farmer, building your own house, living off the land, being the envy of free people the world over, feeding your community with wild edibles . . .
This post might be for you.
I am a farm kid who grew up and went off to college like the system says you should. I worked as an activist and writer for many years. I gardened a lot. I started my own business and worked on launching several others. All the while, I constantly dreamed of returning to the home place to build my own sustainable farmstead. I know many people have the same lunacy. After about one and a half years of trying to put this dream in action with a minimal budget, here are some things I’ve learned.
1.) Building a house takes more time than you think it would. We started construction around the first of July, six months ago. We’ve hired help for some things, done a lot of the work ourselves, and got a lot of help from friends and family. Still, we’re a long ways from having a finished house.
2.) Living in an unfinished cabin-type house is hard on families. We don’t have full electricity yet. We have unfinished walls. We have one water outlet. We heat the place (and our water) with a wood stove. We have a bucket with a toilet seat on top for a stool.
3.) Concrete floors might sound simple, but they’re cold. We have a 5-inch-thick slab floor, and it’s always cold now that winter has settled in.
4.) When you’re heating with wood as your sole source of fuel, you burn a lot of wood. We burn approximately one cord of wood per month. Luckily, we live in the woods and there are a lot of smallish and downed trees around the farm that makes cutting and harvesting pretty simple. But still, it’s a lot of work. And handling all of that wood takes time and can be pretty messy.
5.) It’s pretty cold. So with the aforementioned conditions in place, when it’s 20 degrees outside all day and into the teens at night, we can keep it between 50 and 60 degrees in the house. That’s fine with some people. It’s not fine with others. And it can easily dip into the mid-40s in the morning before I get the stove fully cranked again.
Now, I don’t say all of this to be depressing or anything. I am definitely enjoying my time here building my own place. There are benefits to living this way, in closer track with the seasons and practicing daily chores. But it’s not for everybody. It’s not easy. And it’s definitely something to consider before jumping headlong into your own adventure of homesteading.
The whole point is not to romanticize this kind of life. Know what you’re getting yourself into. And consider that every project could take three times as long as you plan and cost twice as much. Not always, of course, but it happens.
So I raise my glass to the lengthening of the day. It’s a new year out there in the world: 2013. What will it bring? Your guess is as good as mine. My advice is to bundle up, wear lots of layers, drink plenty of water, and express yourself clearly and artistically without being a big fat jerk. Maybe not a resolution per se, but a meditation.
Talk later. There’s wood to split, water to carry, and seed trays to fill.
Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises, including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility, and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, a local food store that operates a weekly produce subscription program called the Missouri Bounty Box. Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.