Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Several years ago, my friend Jen started “The Virginia Urban Homesteaders League.” She spent many Saturdays that first summer at a local farmer’s market, doing demonstrations and getting the word out about the new group. In a few short months, she’d gathered together a core group of people who were all interested in ‘inspiring and empowering people to live a more self-sufficient, sustainable, economic, and meaningful life.’ Two years later, we now have over three hundred members on meetup, and over a thousand ‘likes’ on Facebook.
Many life-long friendships have been formed, and life-long skills attained, as a result of this group. Members are Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians… Christians, Agnostics, Wiccans… Omnivores, Vegetarians, Vegans… Farmers, Suburban Homesteaders, Apartment Dwellers… but our differences help to make the group better. We all want to learn more about homesteading skills, and share what we already know. Many new members have said it’s nice to find people who understand, who ‘get it’, who don’t think they are crazy for bringing chickens home to roost.
The group’s Facebook page also became a way to socialize and share tips. Using meetup.com, we organized garden tours, canning classes, and seed swaps. We also posted local events that might be of interest to our members, such as gardening workshops and fairs. We have partnered with libraries to offer classes. We have booths at Sustainability Fairs and farmer’s markets. Several times a year, we have a Larder Swap which is probably my personal favorite (see Food Swap Network for more information on how to organize your own.) We have learned how to crochet, how to dehydrate, how to bake bread in an outdoor brick oven, how to make Kombucha, soap, evergreen wreaths, and rain barrels… most classes are free, some require a small fee for supplies. (A local farm charges $30 for a canning class. Ours cost $5.) We are currently working on a group cookbook, with recipes using real food and locally grown ingredients.
Most of our events take place in late winter and early spring while our members have more spare time. Once it’s time to plant the garden (and then start preserving the harvest), things tend to slow down a bit as far as League activities are concerned. The holiday season is busy for everyone, too, but we do make time for our annual ‘Handmade Ornament’ swap which has become a group favorite.
I personally can’t imagine this homesteading adventure without the friendship and support I’ve receivedfrom my fellow League members. If you don’t have a similar group, I would highly encourage you to see if there is something in your area. Search on Facebook or meetup. If you find one, join it. If you don’t find anything, start one!
“Start a group! Me?” you ask. Yes, you. Gather some of your friends together and invite them to invite some of their friends for an informal meeting. Reserve a room at the library, or open your home. Talk about what you’d like to learn, what skills you could teach others, and how you can be involved in educating your community. Post flyers at your local feed store, and reach out to local beekeeping and gardening groups. Chances are, you will be amazed at the interest generated and pleasantly surprised at how quickly word will spread. September is “International Homesteading Education Month” and the perfect time to plan a kick-off meeting for your new group. What are you waiting for?