Star 2014 Modern Homesteaders
With our third annual Homesteaders of the Year callout, as in years past, we received more delightful nominations than we could hope to print. We’ve collected them here, so that others may still be inspired by the hands-on, self-sufficient lifestyles these families are leading.
Our Homesteaders of the Year contest runs in conjunction with International Homesteading Education Month, which we co-sponsor with Grit magazine each September. Share your skills with others by registering to host a homesteading workshop and posting it to our year-round, searchable event listing, or by listing yourself in our online speaker finder. Plus, you can find and attend the events going on in your area or seek out a speaker on a topic you're interested in. For even more exciting, hands-on learning, attend a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, where you can meet our Homesteaders of the Year face-to-face.
If you know a family that fits the bill, tell us about them! Send a 500-word description of a friend, family member or neighbor you think deserves to be one of our honored homesteaders to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com with the subject line “Homesteaders of the Year.” Don't forget to include several photos.
Lou and Nell Fletcher
We began working toward the homesteader lifestyle on our honeymoon. We came home with 2 bushels each of peaches and tomatoes. We canned everything on a two-burner kerosene stove. We were both still in college. We have continued canning and raising beef cattle every year except while Lou was in the Army. In 1956, unable to support ourselves on his family ranch, Lou began working for the Soil Conservation Service. We moved to a farm, put in a huge garden and added freezing our own produce to the canning and beef. Lou was transferred to Yuma, Colo. We bought 5 acres, a milk cow, calves, hogs, rabbits, and two old horses who passed on (age 28 and over 30.)
We began churning our own butter and baked all our own bread. I made my own clothes, Lou’s shirts and all the children’s clothes. We had four children at that time. We bought them a horse, then Lou was transferred to Salida, so we moved with the cow, calves, and horse.
Then Lou transferred to Steamboat Springs. The area precluded gardening, but we still had all the animals and we added chickens. We purchased fruits and vegetables, still putting up our own food, still churning butter and baking bread. In Steamboat Springs, we added another daughter and lost our oldest daughter to meningitis. Then Lou was transferred to Walden.
We rented a ranch home 18 miles from town, keeping the chickens, cows and horses. We raised what vegetables we could (at 9,000 feet!) and picked wild berries for jam and jelly. Our children started 4-H and our oldest son started in FFA. After 6 years Lou was transferred to Delta. Again, we moved cows, horses (four by then) and chickens. We bought 5 acres and the girls developed a large sheep flock. We had a huge garden with tomatoes, corn and all the vegetables we couldn’t raise in Walden. We gleaned onions and potatoes from local fields and picked asparagus along the ditch banks. At local orchards we picked fruit. I was still making our clothes.
Then came the inevitable transfer, this time to Alaska. We bought 1-1/2 acres and began gardening again, including building a greenhouse to raise tomatoes and cucumbers. We couldn’t raise corn or green beans. We had no cows, but kept rabbits and purchased steers and a lamb, which we butchered ourselves. We picked wild blueberries and cranberries for jelly and added fish to the freezer. We maintained self-sufficiency for the 17 years we were there.
Lou then retired. We moved back to 240 acres in the Colorado mountains. We built a log home, and have continued to tend a huge garden, and raise beef cattle and chickens. Lou refused to own a milk cow for the two of us. Now ages 80 and 81, we have lived though tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, floods and cancer — but life goes on. We rebuilt our fences, replanted the gardens, and still live our chosen lifestyle. We are beginning our 61st year of marriage, and now have 14 great-grandchildren. Three of our children have also embraced the homesteading lifestyle. Our oldest granddaughter will be moving to the ranch this summer, as she loves the place and self-sufficient lifestyle, and she feels that we could maybe use a little help.
When I hear the word “homestead,” I imagine 120 acres on the banks of Plum Creek and a supportive little town just down the road called Walnut Grove. Although that might be someone’s version of homesteading, I must admit, it isn’t our reality.
Seven years ago, my husband, son and I moved to a sparsely inhabited area on the fringe of a desert in central Mexico and built our own homestead. It actually is a mini-homestead, because our entire property measures a mere 14 meters wide by 20 meters long, half of which is our home and the other half of which is devoted to our livestock. Whenever possible, we used locally manufactured materials and our own two hands. We bought bricks from kilns in a neighboring town for pretty much everything and used stone from our own backyard for our kitchen hearth. My son, husband and father-in-law have laid brick, tiled, cemented and designed our home from the bottom up.
Construction, additions and alterations to our home are ever in progress. We only do what we can afford, when we can afford it. This way, we have no mortgage payment or debt. Sometimes, that means a project must be put on hold when emergency expenses come up. Currently, we are adding a second story to our modest brick abode in order to make it large enough to become a multi-generational home. We have been working on this project for two years now, but it looks like we will finally be able to finish it up by the end of this year. Brick by brick, stone by stone…
The region we chose to put down roots has some troubles. Some items, such as water pumps and solar energy systems, are just not available in our area. Sometimes, the cultural practices of the area are at odds with, and other times support, our evolving lifestyle. However, our determination to make it work keeps us looking for alternative solutions when we might be tempted to give up and move to town.
With that ideology in mind, we have become involved in our local community association. For the past three years, we have been searching for ways to better the living conditions of the residents of the community through traditional or alternative ways. It seems an endless uphill battle, but we keep plugging away.
One way we find living here more challenging than we had expected is the fact that our community does not have electricity. Fortunately, we have found that “making hay while the sun shines” is usually enough time for us to finish our daily tasks. Although we have hopes of installing a solar powered system in the future, it remains, as of yet, only a dream.
Living off the beaten path also means we have no water or sewer lines. We collect the rain water during the rainy season, and during the dry season we bring water from a nearby community spring. All that extra work means we are extremely conscious of our water consumption.
For that reason, we repurpose nearly all of our greywater for our fledgling mini-orchard. We have chirimoyo, peach, lime, orange, guayaba, pomegranate and blackberries growing in our backyard. Having such a variety means there is always at least one fruit in season, year-round.
Because of the size of our property, we do not keep many large animals. We have a donkey, a horse and a colt currently in residence, but find that we are a bit cramped for space. Fiona, our donkey, does the lion’s share of the harrowing and plowing during planting season. The rest of the year, she is my son’s constant companion as he rides her up and down and ‘round and ‘round the community.
Instead of cows, we keep a small herd of goats for milk and meat. On average, our herd consists of no more than eight nanny goats, give or take the arrival of twins, and with this we find we have more than enough milk for daily dairy delights. We have found goats to be extremely hardy animals, and they have proven to be excellent foragers in our semi-arid region. Part of our daily routine is to take the goats out for a few hours so that they can choose their own food and frolic a bit in the sun. It really is a nice way to spend the afternoon.
We keep a small flock of chickens as well. The chickens have free range of our backyard and animal area, and they are particularly fat and juicy when the locust season is upon us.
With the help of our horses and donkey, we are able to sow native plants, like garbanzo, maíz (corn), beans and squash on a share-cropping system. We grow enough organic, non-GMO crops in the rainy season to feed our animals during the dry months.
Our natural environment, which on the surface seems barren and desolate, is actually abundant in delicious foodstuffs and otherwise beneficial plants when you know how to look. As a non-native, I have learned quite a bit about local edibles and herb lore. Among other things, we eat pitayas and tunas (cactus fruit) when in season, and nopales (cactus leaf) throughout the rainy season. We brew our own tea made from wild chamomile or lemon tree leaves. When the need arises, we can find aloe vera or other healing herbs at our fingertips.
Our quest to be fully self-sustaining is not an easy one. It often requires making do through creative inventiveness and good, old-fashioned hard work. We have made mistakes and will probably make more — but hopefully not the same ones!. At times, there are tears and sleepless nights. But through all our adventures and disasters, we have discovered that with the coming of the dawn comes a new day and maybe, just maybe, we will get it right that day.
If you would like to read more about our quest to become self-sufficient in rural México, you can find our adventures at: Surviving Mexico Adventures and Disasters.
Full Circle Farmstead
Merin Roseman and Marcus Brothwell have fully committed to their homesteading dream of self-sufficiency. In 2012, they moved from their downtown home in Frankfort, Ky., to a small 16-acre farm in the country that had been used previously to grow hay and tobacco. There was an old trailer on the property that they “fixed up” enough to make it livable while they got their farmstead up and running. They call it Full Circle Farmstead because they are working with their land to create a sustainable homestead where everything (plants, land, animals, materials) is reused and recycled.
Merin had been making all-natural herbal soaps for years because she was concerned about water quality and health risks from the chemicals we come in contact with every day. After getting land where she could grow more of her own herbs, and partnering with local beekeepers for beeswax and honey, she turned her soapmaking into a small business that helps fund the development of the homestead.
In the last two years, they have added beehives, a large fruit and vegetable garden, and about 60 chickens. The beehives provide honey and beeswax for the soap business, which has grown to include lip balms and lotions. Their all-heirloom vegetable garden is used to feed themselves and on occasion they sell produce to restaurants, friends, and at a farmers market. Heirlooms are important because they save their own seeds. They use no pesticides or herbicides and add compost from their chickens to their permanent beds to keep the soil nutrient-rich. They preserve their own food through drying, canning and freezing. The most impressive project they have going is their pastured egg business. They have about 10 different heritage chicken breeds that are rotated in a pastured system, and the couple has successfully been selling eggs (along with their herbal body care products) at a local farmers market and through a CSA-type share system over the winter. This year, they purchased an incubator and will start their own hatching program to breed dual purpose birds that are best suited to their needs. They will use the roosters for food and keep the hens for their egg business.
Marcus has worked hard to salvage and repurpose materials from an old bar and house on the land to use for sheds, chicken coops and compost bins. He also started brewing his own beer, built hiking trails, and is working to clear their woods of invasive honeysuckle. Somehow, they have done all of this while in graduate school and holding off-homestead jobs. They even have a small website where they post farmstead updates and sell their products. Their philosophy is to be as sustainable as possible by working with their land and partnering with other local folks, such as the local beekeepers association and farmers market.
They aren’t content to just “do for themselves” – they also want to help others. They have started offering educational workshops to help others in their community become more self-sufficient. When Franklin County passed an ordinance to allow backyard poultry, Merin and Marcus got to work on offering an Introduction to Backyard Chickens workshop to help people get started. Merin also presents at conferences on sustainability and self-sufficiency topics. They have plans to build their own passive solar home and move out of the trailer in the next year or two. It is truly impressive that they have accomplished so much in just a little over two years, and how they have managed to build their homestead through frugality and sustainable practices that help them get to each next step. In the coming years, they hope to raise goats and rabbits, and to expand their beehives and garden.
Heather Harris: The Homesteading Hippy
My name is Kelly O’Malley, and I have recently started growing my homestead, and it has been so much work but super-rewarding. I used to be a corporate manager, until I was in a serious accident — I was a pedestrian, and was hit by a truck going 45 mph. That day changed my life and my priorities. No longer did I want (or have the physical ability) to be in the “rat race.” Instead, I moved to the country, bought 40 acres, and decided to move toward self-sufficiency.
My husband and I have been planning, building and working on having our new homestead become successful. There have been many ups and downs, but I have been blessed by having many people that have offered help and who have taught me so much about ways to homestead. No one more helpful than Heather Harris. She runs a blog called The Homesteading Hippy. Don't let this stop you from considering her; she is one of the best at what she does. She offers great advice, encouragement and a community for all those trying, succeeding and failing at homesteading.
She never makes others feel silly or inferior for their questions. I have asked many questions and never once did she laugh (at least publicly) at me, or make degrading comments. She has taught me about chickens, canning, gardening, natural cleaning and herbal medicines. In addition, she has regular recipes, tips and tricks that would help even the most experienced homesteader.
When I have a question, she not only answers, but she also opens up the discussion to the entire group so that everyone can share and learn. In opening up the group to talk, she has allowed us all to become more “self-sufficient.” We rely on each other for ideas and companionship. I have learned so much and have felt such comfort in being so connected to others. I think that, sometimes, homesteading can be a lonely way of life. Neighbors are far away, and because I don't work outside the home, it's just me, my husband and our animals. Although I love them dearly, sometimes a girl needs others to discuss homesteading ideas and problems with. Heather has been that for me and for the other 6,000-plus friends of hers on Facebook. She has formed a wonderful online community, of which I am grateful to be a part of. Although, I have not had the joy of seeing her homestead firsthand, I don't think that matters. She shares photos of her homestead and I have heard so many endearing stories of her family, animals and her homestead. She helps others reach their goals of homesteading, with a positive, communal nature. Can't much beat that.
As I grow our homestead, I am so proud of my accomplishments and am able to giggle at my failures. Between MOTHER EARTH NEWS and my Homesteading Hippy, I know I will, one day, have a successful, self-sustaining homestead.
McKamey Family With Heritage Meadows Farm
Our family adventure into self-sufficiency began when we purchased our farm in November of 2011. It had been neglected for a long time and needed a ton of maintenance. We recently combined two households into one and got married. Alan works as a full-time fireman and I work full-time as a veterinary technician. We have one son, Morgan. Our goal is to become fully self-sufficient, off the grid, and have a profitable farm business.
Our entire farm was in need of repair. We have been working hard to replace fencing, fix and repair barns, and refresh the neglected pastures. We have made the decision to raise heritage breed livestock. Most of the breeds we raise are listed with The Livestock Conservancy and are extremely rare. We also raise everything on pasture, including all of the poultry. We have two of the rarest lines of registered Large Black hogs in the United States, and four lines total. We hope to add an additional female line this year. We have 30 Ancona ducks from four different lines to start our breeding project this spring. We are working on a project to bring this breed back and also get them recognized by the American Poultry Association. These ducks are a multipurpose breed, and we plan on selling the meat and eggs, and also plan to raise and sell breeding stock. We hope to also start showing them this summer. We have started our flock of Katahdin sheep and will be expecting lambs in the fall. We currently have nine ewes and two rams. We raise many different breeds of chickens, including but not limited to Buckeye, Australorp, Americana and Barred Rock. We raise dual-purpose birds, and currently have around 80. The chickens are primarily for egg production, but we also process birds for meat; we may expand to produce more meat birds. We started working with a company to market all of our pasture-raised meats. The company has a USDA inspector on staff. We will be testing the market this summer with our first batch of duck meat.
We have three Anatolian Shepherds that live with our livestock. Because we pasture-raise our animals, the livestock guardians are a wonderful addition. So far, we haven’t had a single loss due to predators. We hope to produce future generations of livestock guardians down the road. We also have two horses, four other dogs and three cats. We purchased a feed grinder and started grinding our own feed mix this year.
This will be our third year with a 1-acre garden. We try to raise most of our own food, so we can, freeze, dehydrate, and root-cellar all of our vegetables. We also put up most of our own fruit for the year. I process as much as I can, including jam, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, relish, pickles, BBQ sauce and ketchup. We plan on having a booth this year at the farmers market to sell our jams, vegetables and eggs. We plan on expanding that to meat in the near future. We started an orchard of apple and nut trees, and a berry patch that we hope to expand this year. We hope to have fruit for ourselves, and some to sell. Whatever we produce, that we don’t eat ourselves or sell to others, we feed to our animals.
We dug out our pond this last spring and plan on using the dirt to start building our earth ship home this summer. It will be a home built with recycled materials (mainly tires) that will be extremely energy-efficient. Once the house is built, we will add solar panels and wind turbines. We will heat with wood, and we will recycle any greywater to water the planters in the front of the house.
We try to have as little waste as possible, composting and or recycling all trash. We save and use as much of each animal that is processed from our farm. We even save the fat from our hogs and render our own lard for cooking and baking. We do our best to avoid processed food; farming is a lot of hard work, but if you truly enjoy what you do it doesn’t seem like work at all. And at the end of the day, when you can sit down to a meal that was all produced on your own farm and by your own hands, it is all worth it.
Jason and Susan Morgan
Our family works each day to try and make a lighter footprint on the world around us, and we also seek to share our processes and tips with friends, family and the community around us.
Our efforts are logged to our All Morgan website. We refer to our 8-acre Indiana homestead as the “Morgan Ranch.” We are just outside the city limits of Lawrenceburg, Ind., but still close enough to really call our practices urban homesteading.
We have seven honeybee hives spread across three apiaries, one located on our homestead. We build our own beekeeping equipment, and I am very active in our local beekeeping club. I manage the Indiana Honey website and post timely information on beekeeping as well as create videos on performing regular tasks in the apiary.
We have two kids, a rabbit, 11 chickens, a rowdy rooster and two golden retrievers. My wife uses the beeswax from the hives to make skin cream products. We sell our eggs, honey and other products from the beehive at our local farmers market.
Our summer garden is a constant each year. In addition, we grow grape vines, a variety of fruit trees and brambles, make cheese, wine, homemade sausages and dry cured products. We hunt our back lot during the hunting seasons.
We keep a blog of our activities at the All Morgan website in order to create an informative homesteading resource. It is in our families’ spirit to share the knowledge that has been passed to us from our elders and put it in front of people today, as more and more people seek to handle more of their own food and make more of their own products.
My son, Yoram Shanan, 23, has spent the last few years working on various organic vegetable farms around the country. By working each time in a different capacity and with new responsibilities, he made sure that on each farm he learned and developed different skills. More recently he has chosen to work close to his hometown of Chicago so he could be closer to his family. When he would come into the city to work the farmers markets he would share his experiences and new discoveries with friends, neighbors and family. He has inspired us to eat seasonally, and has been encouraging and challenging us to eat, pickle and preserve vegetables we’ve never tried or even heard of before. He has helped others tend to their city gardens, offering his newly acquired expertise in vegetable production, while also spotting problems and offering solutions.
This year he is embarking on a new adventure. Sandbox Organics is a project that brings together his three favorite things: growing food, his hometown of Chicago and family. The goal is to grow enough vegetables in our family’s 400-square-foot backyard (where Yoram and his brothers grew up playing in the sandbox) to support a three-household CSA. Yoram has been hard at work making use of his limited resources, reclaiming every inch possible for the garden, harvesting manure from his brother’s backyard chickens, converting a bedroom into a seedling production operation, and more. Growing more than 40 different crops, he plans to deliver 16 weekly shares, harvesting from June to September. In addition, he’s implementing systems for conservation, such as a rain barrel for irrigation, a compost system for garden and kitchen waste, and a habitat planted to attract native pollinators. He is tracking and recording the steps of his process on Sandbox Organics' website and Facebook page to show other city dwellers who might be interested in growing their own food that it can be done — and is incredibly rewarding. He's also planning community work days throughout the season when anyone who's interested can come to the garden and get their hands dirty. "I think a lot of people are looking to transition their yards into gardens," Yoram says. "They just may not know where to start. Those are the people I hope to reach."
The Stone Camp Sustainable Homestead
My name is Mark Pitterle, and as a research scientist, I study sustainable homesteading and sustainable appropriate technologies for a living. For the past two decades, I’ve been searching for the best examples of sustainability and homesteading, and still to this day, the first homestead I’ve toured remains the untouched, best example of “the” homestead of all homesteads. Nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of Western Pennsylvania lies The Stone Camp Sustainable Homestead where Ted and Kathy Carns live a fruitful life by demonstrating internal wealth can be achieved by living off of the waste of society.
If you can think of any aspect of sustainable homesteading, Ted and Kathy have a demonstrated example. From renewable energy and on-site water treatment to sustainable agriculture and forestry, The Stone Camp demonstrates that it is possible to live in abundance off-grid with minimal impact on the environment. The Stone Camp’s claim to fame is the fact that they are 100 percent recyclable, down to the cigarette butt. Nearly everything you see at The Stone Camp was constructed from salvaged materials. From an outsider’s view, it seems the only thing new that they use are car parts, tooling, and consumables like welding rod and cutting discs.
Some great examples of reuse and building out of salvaged materials are the wood gasifier and alcohol fuel still. Ted and Kathy had an abundance of wood chips that were “scrap” from a local tree cutting company. To use the wood chips, The Stone Camp built a wood gasifier that was built completely out of reused materials except for one custom valve. The wood gasifier runs a tractor with a PTO, which can power a multitude of devices, including a backup generator that enables portable power for tools like a welder anywhere it is needed. The Stone Camp is truly welding with wood smoke. Similarly, the alcohol fuel was created when The Stone Camp started collecting scrap sugar that fell on the floor from the local pie shop. To Ted’s surprise, within a short period of time, they had over 1 ton of scrap sugar. So, The Stone Camp built an alcohol fuel still from salvaged materials and now has alcohol fuel as an additional backup for heating, cooking, and even powering various vehicles and tractors.
The list goes on and on. The Stone Camp uses sustainably harvested wood for heating, and recovers waste heat to heat their hot water — all of this is done without a pump and out of salvaged materials. There are just too many sustainable technologies in use at The Stone Camp to list. The Stone Camp has reached its maturity now, where not only are they able to live off-grid, but they have backup systems to their backup systems. For example, next year Ted plans on entering up to six tractors in the local parade, each powered with their own renewable energy source: biodiesel, digester gas, wood gas, alcohol, wind and solar. The battery banks are always full, there are stockpiled wood chips, methane gas, alcohol fuel, water storage to live through a 1,000 year drought, over a year of stored and canned food, and there is a stocked warehouse of salvaged materials that rivals the local hardware store ranging from every type and size of bolt you can think of to an inventory of scrap steel, pumps, generators, you name it.
Collectively, The Stone Camp is the most complete package sustainable homestead that I have ever seen. Their passion for simplicity and reuse set them in a league of their own. The Stone Camp has demonstrated abundance and comfort can be made by treating wastes as precious resources. The Stone Camp set out to be the greatest example of homesteading, and what they found was something far greater. The Stone Camp has laid the foundation for a new paradigm — where visitors realize that something about life at The Stone Camp feels right. Deep down within they always believed that such a delicate balance with nature can exist. And one by one, The Stone Camp has helped the countless visitors believe again and go home and realize sustainable changes in their own lives as well. Plain and simply put, The Stone Camp is a masterful demonstration of every aspect of sustainable homesteading that exists, rivaled by none other.