Star 2015 Modern Homesteaders
As with the previous years we have called for nominations for our Homesteaders of the Year, we had many more incredible candidates than we could feature in print. You can read about the four families we chose to feature in 2015 Homesteaders of the Year: The Many Paths to Self-Reliant Living [link to 2015 HOY article]. Below, you’ll find the stories and a few photos of a selection of runners-up who are living inspiring, unique lives on their own path to self-reliance. Find all of our nominees for each year we’ve held our Homesteaders of the Year contest on our Star Modern Homesteaders page.
The Cicarelli Family
There are many things that made us start down this road to self-reliance and homesteading, I would say one of the biggest is just that we love country living, knowing were our food comes from, and the challenge. Every year that goes by we add more and more to improve our way of life .We moved to New York from Connecticut about 10 years ago after we married so we could buy farm land at a good price.
We purchased our first chickens back in 2007 and then a couple pet goats the following year and then we purchased another goat and a cow the year after that. However, it wasn’t until about three years ago did we go “all in”. About three years ago, I was working for a trucking company that unexpectedly closed their doors. I came home from work that day devastated and crying. My husband looked at me and said “Why don’t you make soap? And I will make maple syrup!” Here were two people who have never done anything like that. We purchased a book about living off the land, and now here we are.
We are hoping to be off the grid in the next year or two, and would love to work only on the farm within five years. We just built a solar heater that is piped into our fiberglass greenhouse. Since this was such a great success we are talking about building one on a larger scale to heat our home. We also think that it is pretty great making our own compost. We have a tumbler but our chickens seem to do a better job.
We probably produce 80 to 90 percent of our family’s food, depending on the season. We have lots of apple trees and we have also planted pear, peach, and cherry trees, grapevines, blueberry and raspberry bushes, blackberry bushes, and strawberry plants.
We currently have four cows, and plan on breeding more. We usually butcher at least two beef cows every 1-1/2 years, and we butcher three hogs every year. Last year we raised 25 meat birds, and this year we are waiting on 85 that we ordered.
We have anywhere from 35 to 50-plus chickens for eggs, and we incubate our own chicks every year so that we never have to buy them. We do our own composting, we raise honeybees, and have 11 alpine goats that we milk every year. We use the goat’s milk for soap and lotion that we sell, and we drink whatever is left and make cheese. We also tap the maple trees on our property for maple syrup.
We preserve as much as we can with the time that we have. We do a lot of canning, not only of fruit and vegetables, but also meat that we get from hunting and fishing. With the garlic and berries that we grew we dehydrated some of it and made garlic powder and fruit leather. Most of our winter squash stores in our basement very well until about February. Our potatoes that we don’t eat in time go right back into the ground the following year, so we never have to buy potatoes. We just can, freeze and dehydrate until everything is done.
Being a modern homesteader means being able to provide some of the necessities in life using the means that you have; building, raising, and growing the things that many people take for granted. We live the life that we live to hopefully provide a better tomorrow for our family and the ones whose lives that we touch. We were not born into this lifestyle or inherited it because of a family member passing, we did it all by ourselves. No matter how hard things get we just keep chugging forward and we always seem to add more and more to our plate but we just wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s not about what you get in life it’s about what you get out of it! We also really enjoy communicating with those that stop by our farm stand and showing them what fresh fruits and vegetables really taste like.
Free Reign Farm
I (Bethany) have marched to the beat of a different drum my entire life. As a kid, I used to dream of living on the frontier as a pioneer. I learned to garden, knit, cook, make rag rugs, and more as a child. A lot of those skills I continued to utilize throughout my adult life. I guess you could say farming, and simple home-making, has always been a dream of mine. After graduating from nursing school, my husband joined me in that dream. We both realized corporate ladders and careers weren't where our priorities were. The true homesteading began with the purchase of the property in 2012. Before that we were hiding chickens in a storage shed in town!
To take a hillside so full of briars that rabbits couldn't even get through it and turn it into productive, healthy ground that sustains our livestock and gardens is simply awesome to watch. The best part is realizing that it continues to improve without any chemical or mechanical inputs.
Every year the garden expands. Our first year was a simple 10-by-10-foot space. We've since added several raised beds, and the regular garden plot has quadrupled in size. This year we are tilling (or rather the pigs are tilling) another 20-by-20-foot garden plot as well. We also have several fruit trees and berry bushes that we've planted. I can fruit that is in season (peaches, apples, salsa, strawberries, etc.), and I usually put up approximately 100 to 150 quarts total. We use fruit peelings to make vinegar, and I use a dehydrator (and sometimes a sunny window) to preserve herbs. Last year we brought in about 500 pounds of crops from the gardens. The garden is a good subsidy and provides for all of our salsa needs, but only covers about 1/3 our family's vegetable needs for the whole year.
Almost 100 percent of our meat comes from our own animals or we trade with neighbors. We raise dairy goats for milk, and all soft dairy products are provided by them. This year we will be working with eight does. The milk is the main ingredient for our soaps as well. We have also started experimenting with meat goat production. Our first meat goat kids will be born this year. We raise heritage-breed hogs. We keep three sows for farrowing. We sell many of the piglets at weaning and keep a handful from each litter to raise for meat for ourselves and to sell at market. We keep a flock of 30 laying hens, and a dozen ducks for both eggs and meat. In addition, we raise meat chickens and turkeys. In the past we've done only what we could eat, butt his year we are expanding to be able to have extras for market. The goats have also been a huge asset in helping us maintain our land and clear it of briars, poison ivy and kudzu. The pigs are utilized as both garden tillers, and garden/kitchen waste recyclers. Poultry is used in rotation to help spread manure and keep up with pest control. We over-seed our pastures with oats and wheat, which serves as forage for our pastured animals and helps to off-set the volume grain purchases.
We have some major goals for this year and the years to come. We are ramping up our meat production for meat sales by the cut and hope to build a loyal customer base for our pastured, GMO-free meats. On a more long term plan we are leasing ground and working with some other farmers to plant fields in diverse grain mixtures that can be self-harvested by the livestock.
I think one of the things we've enjoyed the most about this journey is realizing just how much everything in nature was designed to work together. For every problem that arises, nature has a solution. Bugs in the garden? Run some ducks in it. Rodents in the grain? Terriers know their job without being taught. Invasive weeds taking over? Goats will eat them. Compost pile need turning? Chickens will do it. It's really impressive to watch and exciting to learn about!
While homesteading is an ancient art, and one that I love, there are some things that modern technology had to offer that makes homesteading that much more efficient. Soil tests, electric fences, scientific studies, and the wealth of information on the Internet are all modern tools that lend themselves well to homesteading without detracting from the essence of it. To me, this perfect blend of assets defines modern homesteading.
Chris and Bill Hauser
In 1984, I (Chris) purchased the property in Gilboa, New York, where we live today. It met my basic criteria at the time as an affordable fixer-upper with indoor plumbing, central heating, storm windows, and enough room to plant.
After marrying my husband, Bill, in 1986 and starting a family soon afterward, we decided to make this our permanent home in order to provide wholesome lives for our children. Though we were successful in our city lives, it was important to both of us to provide the freedom to roam, learn and explore offered by a country life. From 1986 until 1993 we spent up to five months a year “half-homesteading.” We were fusion urban/rural homesteaders; improving the land, making friends, planting gardens, preserving food, purchasing local produce in bulk from farm stands, buying meat from local farms and storing it in our freezer. In 1993, we permanently moved to the country so our daughter, Hannah, and son, Andy, could attend public school here. Although he spent several months each year with us, Bill continued to work in New York City until he took an early retirement in 2003.
Today we are reaping the benefits of our previous efforts. We have what we need to get by. During the coming year we need to tie up loose ends on some works in progress. Bill’s shop needs more insulation to make winter use more possible. We want to finish the basement, which includes a retro-style canning kitchen, bathroom, laundry, chill closet, storage and living space. We would also like to plant more edible landscape, establish bees for honey and learn how to graft fruit wood.
Moving our house is probably our biggest accomplishment. The right of way for the road used to run through the porch steps of the house. With two young children running in and out, we considered moving elsewhere but couldn’t find any place in our area we liked — so we moved the house instead. We did this in 1995. Until work was completed, we lived across the street at a neighbor’s house. Now our house sits approximately 100 feet back from the road. If you can move your house, which entails drilling a new well, running new electric service, pouring a foundation, installing a septic system, and living with your family and pets in a four-room attic apartment for months while it’s being done, you realize all other projects pale in comparison.
The landscape is what distinguishes our 4 acres. The gardens have continually evolved since discovering remnants of daffodils, irises and peonies struggling amidst the weeds and tall grass of the neglected yard. The land, in 1984, was cut for hay. There were occasional scrub trees and a grove of diseased plum trees. Now there are flowers, vegetables, fruits and trees wherever you look. Hundreds of spring bulbs emerge to begin a parade of color, texture, and plenty that marches up to snow cover.
A general “day in the life” on the Hauser Homestead tends to change with the seasons. For instance, in winter we bring in wood to burn, the rest of the year we stack wood to burn. That may be a little flip, but the only things constant throughout the year are laundry, dishes, feeding the chickens in the morning and fetching eggs in the afternoon. Since we no longer have regular jobs, our days are flexible according to what needs to be accomplished. I prepare meals, Bill and I share basic household tasks, and he does most of the work cutting wood. In winter, daytime is spent on indoor projects unless there is snow to clear. Bill might repair or refinish furniture or continue with building projects like our basement. Once the snow melts we are outside working: tilling, planting, mowing, weeding, harvesting, canning, raising new chicks, painting, fixing. Evenings are for relaxing.
We raise between 15 and 24 hens for eggs. They are kept in a henhouse with a fenced yard for protection from predators. We collect compostables from a local diner and share scraps from the buckets with the hens to supplement their diet. In summer we raise 25 meat chickens on fallow garden space. We can grow our meat chicks on a different part of the garden each summer. They get good fresh air and protection. The garden gets good manure. Everyone is happy.
Our largest contribution to renewable energy is our use of wood to heat the home. The heating stoves get double use cooking soups and stews in winter.
As someone who has been striving toward a sustainable life since the 1970s, the term “modern homesteader” rephrases an ideal that many people have tried to emulate for decades. I am not sure that I am any more comfortable with the term “modern homesteader” than with that of “back to the land” coined a generation ago. My mental image of a homestead is rather arcane, a place carved with toil and sweat out of virgin land, a place earned not bought. The dictionary describes a homestead as a place, land and buildings, where a family makes its home. “Modern homesteader”, as I see it used in MOTHER EARTH NEWS, is a term inclusive of people trying to lead conscientious, self-sufficient lives in their own environment, be it rural, urban or suburban. It means growing and preparing whole foods, raising animals for food and fiber, repurposing, reusing, recycling, using skills to make more and buy less, as well as being as energy efficient as possible. It is almost impossible to obtain perfection in accomplishing all of these sustainable objectives but a “modern homesteader” strives as much as possible to meet them.
Jennifer Heinstadt and Tom Culbertson
I, Cheri Hoffman, nominate Jennifer Heinstadt and Tom Culbertson for Homesteader of the Year. The Heinstadt-Culbertson property is so thriving with greenery and life that you would never know it is within walking distance of apartment complexes and shopping centers. On their 1-1/2-acre property they have built a greenhouse, two hoop houses, dozens of garden plots, cold frames, a medicine wheel garden and a free-range chicken coop. Their property has been named "Ahimsa Gardens" which is Sanskrit for non-harming, as they live in harmony with the Earth and all of its creatures. They use all organic gardening methods and provide spacious homes and top-notch treatment to their five chickens and a few feral cats. You can always find them working barefoot in the garden, sipping home-brewed tea or kombucha, while their dogs run around or sunbathe nearby.
Jenn and Tom share their bounty of 100 percent organic fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs with the community by selling it on Saturdays at the yoga studio they own nearby, where they are working to promote locally produced, Earth-friendly goods. They have volunteered their time and their land for community events, fundraisers and organic gardening classes. I have them to thank for reconnecting me with my love of working the soil. About three years ago I began helping out in their gardens in exchange for yoga classes and produce. Jenn and Tom quickly became like another set of parents to me, even renting out a room of their home to me when I was in need. The year I spent living with them showed me a new way of life involving reusing any and all materials possible, composting things I was used to throwing away, and harvesting my meals fresh out of the backyard. They are the two most kind, compassionate souls I have ever encountered and I know many people would agree that they deserve to be recognized for their commitment to and passion for living in harmony with the Earth and their efforts in sharing their knowledge with the community
The Hepworths, a family of 10, have transformed a hobby into a lifestyle. From an outdoor canning kitchen to recycling a trampoline frame for use in the construction of a greenhouse, the Hepworths prove with every new project, seed planted, and baby animal born on their hobby farm that homesteading is very achievable, even with undesirable land conditions and a frugal budget.
Amanda Hepworth, a stay-at-home mom, chooses to home school her 8 children and uses farmwork to teach her children about the world around them. They learn about photosynthesis while watching their garden plots grow. They learn anatomy, systems of the body, and how to care for others as they raise their many and varied creatures. Their 4-H and county fair projects give them a healthy dose of competition and pride. They learn about death too. Not every animal survives. Amanda is also the self-appointed “family historian.” By keeping her ancestors in her heart, she is inspired to live simply and humbly. Every bite of a sun-ripened peach is a smile from the women gone, who lived much the same way as Amanda lives. Each seed planted this spring will be a testament to her family, now and then.
The Mister of the house, James, is as handy as they come. He fixes their house with a homemade outdoor wood boiler, complete with a water heater, while putting boards artfully together, for some shelving units complete with grow lights, comes naturally to him. He even crafted the outdoor canning kitchen for his wife. Small wonder why they have been together for nearly twenty years.
The regular fauna of a typical barnyard live on The Hepworth Homestead, as well as some unusual breeds. Keeping variety in your life is important, so you might spot pot-bellied pigs and chickens in addition to guinea pigs and parakeets. Even snakes have been known to slither about the house. Little boys do live there, after all. I think the girls prefer the bunnies, though and the Jersey cows just love everybody.
All hasn't always been sun-ripened peaches and homemade sweet cream, though. Predators have nearly decimated their chicken flocks in the past. Critters need to eat too, and do whenever they get a chance at the gardens. Enticing bees to choose her homestead has been a struggle. A barn fire a few years ago set them back quite a lot. In the beginning the soil on The Hepworth Homestead was mostly sand, as is most soil in West Michigan. Growing enough food to make it through the harsh Michigan winter is a daunting task by itself. The Hepworths have used their prodigious research skills, good old fashioned hard work, and infinite creativity to turn her parcel of land into a bountiful haven. Despite all obstacles, and in some cases because of them, The Hepworth Homestead is flourishing.
Steve and Sherree Hill
We lived in the ‘burbs of Los Angeles and would escape to the mountains every weekend and on vacations. We started reading MOTHER EARTH NEWS in the late ’70s and dreamed of having a home in the mountains where we could grow our own food. Since that time we have gradually changed over that time, becoming more and more self-reliant. We have been at our present home for 32 years.
Being a modern homesteader means merging technology, such as solar power and drip irrigation, with time-tested ways of living. Growing your own food. Having home cooked meals. Making products from scratch. Learning the skills that are necessary to DIY so you don’t have to depend on outside services to do what you can do for less money. We love working on projects together, whether it’s building and remodeling our home, getting to 100 percent solar power, or learning to grow food — the right kind and the right way, for our lifestyle.
We have about 3,000 square feet of raised food bed;, 10 kinds of berries (thornless raspberries and blackberries and blueberries in a reverse aviary); mini-fruit tree orchard (that we can cover with frost cloth); and apple, pear, and fig trees spread throughout our perennial vegetable beds. We also grow shiitake mushrooms on logs stacks. We have never estimated total harvest, but we can produce what two people need throughout the year. Being mostly vegetarians (chicken and fish on occasion), we do not grow meat for food. We have four chickens for eggs and to compost their manure, and we raise bees for pollination and honey. We buy goat milk to produce dairy products. At this point, we produce 60 percent of our food. Our goal has always been to produce three meals a day, 365 days a year.
We designed and built our home, starting with a “basic box,” after taking an owner/builder course the summer before. We have remodeled from that original box for comfort and efficiency. The first thing we built was a tool shed to hold everything while we built the house. This took about five years. We figured anything that you have someone else build for you will cost you 70 percent more than if you do it yourself. We do everything on a cash basis. The tool shed is now a studio for Sherree. We are 100% solar powered with wood heat: no gas, no AC or forced air heat. We have an on-demand whole-house electric water heater and a solar-electric well water pump.
Almost everything has been self-taught over time. As we learned how to do one thing, it
gave us the knowledge of how to do something else. And of course, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been of great help to us as well. In fact, we were giving a tour of our homestead and the gentlemen commented “I see you must be a reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS.”
We created what we have and live comfortably. We feed ourselves, attract wildlife, live debt free and try the leave the smallest possible footprint on Mother Earth. We don’t do it for anyone but ourselves. We have people asking to visit all year long to see what we have created. Someday we would like to share our skills and teach others what we have learned.
Hudson Heritage Farms
We started buying our farm in Virginia many years ago with the thought that we would once be able to live full-time on the farm. Prior to living full-time in Virginia, we lived in Alaska where we worked and lived in many of the remote areas of that rugged state. Before moving, we always did some form of homesteading in Alaska, such as growing our own foods, subsistence fishing, or gathering natural growing berries and herbs.
Subsistence agriculture’s self-sufficiency farming appealed to me, as did the preservation of some of the older heritage breeds of livestock and heirloom vegetable varieties. I wanted to embark upon homesteading with the capacity to make livestock breed selections and planting decisions based on the principal of what our family and friends would need for the upcoming year, how best to help preserve some of the lost breeds of livestock or plant varieties, all with an eye on the secondary notion of what our farm could market to help sustain the farms requirements.
One of our favorite accomplishments has been cleaning up the land and recycling the items found on the property (years of previous owners’ trash and old machinery) and reworking the pastures with natural lime and manure from our livestock instead of applying chemicals to the land.
I wake up each morning eager to get outside and begin the never-ending tasks that are part of my daily routine of molding our farm in Virginia into a healthy, sustainable and respectful atmosphere. Our garden space is several acres and we have apple trees as well. We grow many food crops, but the list changes year to year. We have learned that we don’t have to grow or produce everything ourselves, and instead we share and trade with our neighbors. We find that if we concentrate on what we do best and work with neighbors that concentrate on growing what they do best, it really works out well for all of us.
We raise beef and milk cattle, meat sheep and goats, and hogs. We also raise chickens for eggs and occasionally some for meat. We also have meat rabbits and a pond that is stocked with fish for us to harvest. We had bees but lost them, but still have stores of their wonderful honey. We freeze, smoke and jar our meats and can our veggies and fruits. We make cheese from our raw milk products, and we preserve our cheeses in wax and cold storage.
At a time in life where many friends are retiring and living their dreams of less work and more play, I have chosen more work, physical labor, and a sometimes demanding but always changing and interesting lifestyle. What I have found I am capable of doing consistently amazes me. I sleep well each night, except when the coyotes are lingering on the outskirts of my goat pastures or the subzero temperatures threaten the birth of a new animal on our farm.
An old friend who maintains a stress-ridden 60-hour-plus work week recently put my years of transition to farm life and homesteading into words for me when she said, “Your life is simple [she did not know I was up all night worried about a sick animal] but meaningful on a daily basis.” Her comment reminded me that we can make life less complicated, and that we can learn to live a less complex and hectic lifestyle if we choose to do so. All it requires is the desire to change and learn patience, flexibility, physical labor, and the daily ability to laugh at one’s self when mistakes are made. It also helps to enjoy digging in dirt, milking a cow or goat, spending countless hours feeding and watering livestock, making cheese and butter, preserving and canning the farm’s bounty for later use, and smelling (and tasting) warm bread coming out of the oven.
So far, homesteading for us has been an 11-year journey. It started out of a necessity to be able to feed our family and has turned into a passion and lifestyle. My husband and I have six kids and just purchased our farm last summer. We moved from urban farming in a backyard to 15 acres of beauty in Concord, Michigan, that we call K7 Farm. I can't begin to tell you all the ways in which we are working more towards self sufficiency. It has become a lifestyle and it is hard to pick out specific skills or things that are unique and there is still so very much to learn! I have taught others how to can, garden, start a rabbitry, cook, and a variety of other homesteading skills — and now that we are in a more appropriate area, we are teaching others the skills of butchering. I often open my kitchen, and soon will open our farm, up to those who want to learn by helping and watching things get done. As time allows, I try to chronicle our farming adventures and post many scratch cooking recipes from my past and future cookbooks on our blog and Facebook page (K7 Farm & Scratch Cooking with the Concord Country Cook). Classes are often available as well.
We moved late last summer, so we haven't been able to turn our farm into exactly what we want just yet (and I am sure it will forever be a work in progress), but I am prepared to garden about 3 acres this year with a goal of preserving enough vegetables to get us through a whole year. We have chickens, turkeys and rabbits for meat, and keep laying hens for eggs. We reduce our animal feed costs by free-ranging our chickens and supplementing their feed with kitchen and garden scraps. I have a goal of growing their food in addition to ours. We forage and hunt on our property, and we make use of all parts of the animals we hunt or butcher. I save seed (and try new varieties every year), cook from scratch (morning, noon and night, often over our woodstove), and learn as many useful craft skills as possible (sewing, soap-making — this year I hope to learn basket-weaving and hide-tanning). Our short-term goals include adding a fenced orchard (to keep the deer away), bees, goats and/or pigs. We are planning a "you-pick" flower garden, pumpkin and watermelon patch for this year, along with a large variety of produce, homemade goods and handmade crafts to offer to our local community. I dream of starting a CSA and selling at farmers markets, and doing what I can to supplement my husband’s income so we can continue to help our farm grow into our vision, and offer real, naturally grown and sustainable food to our community. We heat with wood, have a well for water, a septic system and clotheslines. Clothes are line-dried whenever the weather allows — we didn't even have a dryer installed for the first six months we lived here! We are in the process of building a greenhouse in our basement so I have a safe place to start our seeds. A portion of our basement also acts as a root cellar. My husband and I built heavy-duty shelving to hold the weight of our home-canned goods.
We home-school our kids, so they are living the homestead life right along with us. They help out in all areas on the farm and are becoming quite proficient at a self-sufficient lifestyle, too! Some of our favorite family traditions include canning until the wee hours of the morning during the height of canning season (and sometimes mom cans all night and all day to make sure that food hits the shelves for winter). I wouldn't say life is “simple”, because to avoid modern day conveniences often involves lots of hard work. But it is a very satisfying life. We are blessed, indeed.
We are the O’Connors, John and Jeana, and we own Three Days Farm in Winchester, Virginia. We bought our house and property in the summer of 2012. Our house was built in 1833 and we have 18 acres surrounding the house. It had been abandoned since 1980 and has never had indoor plumbing. When we bought the house it had no windows and there had been a fire in the past, so the structure was in a precarious state. We did not want the house to fall and be lost, so we decided to take it on. Two years ago we started clearing the area around the house and built a two-car garage with an apartment over it, and we started calling that home. We also bought an old barn and had it dismantled and moved to our property. We are using the stone foundation for retaining walls on our steep property and the wood and hardware for our restoration. It gives the buildings an instant old-timey character that fits with the house.
We attended the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in 2013, and we went home with the knowledge that we could process our own chickens and make yogurt. We researched goat breeds based on information we received at the fair. We bought a ton of books and seeds to guide us in our journey. A year later, we built a chicken coop and goat shed from reclaimed wood, had a barn built, and bought solar panels to put on the barn from the FAIR we attended in Asheville. We also insulated our house with the foam insulation we heard about at the FAIR. We ordered chickens for layers and broilers, bought two goats to start our herd, and John started keeping bees. We continued clearing land for our food fields. In the meantime, we built a kitchen garden with eight raised beds and grew vegetables.
We have an overgrown pear orchard and a few persimmon trees which we are rehabilitating. We also have a large berry patch, which has required significant thinning and clearing. Our property has many black walnut trees, and I am now using those nuts for all of our baking.
We butchered 18 chickens last August, and our oldest goat gave birth to twins in the summer, so we now have fresh milk. Our hens are laying and we have just ordered more broilers plus three turkeys for this year. John started bow-hunting last year, and we have three deer in the freezer to supplement our chicken. We also purchased a few head of cattle this winter so we can produce our own grass-fed and finished beef. We will sell all but one cow next winter. Our bees should start producing honey this year, and we will no longer need to buy sweetener.
To top off our busy year, we got married on our new front porch in October!
I have started to make yogurt, bake all of our bread, can many, many quarts of vegetables and sauces for our pantry, and make our own laundry detergent. We dry out clothes on a clothesline and heat our house with wood from our property.
It is not a stretch to say that MOTHER EARTH NEWS has given us so much confidence to tackle many new skills along the way to reaching our goals and has helped us connect with like-minded people. The list of new skills we have acquired since starting this adventure is staggering: Everything from masonry work to making our own sea salt from water we brought back from the beach. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has given us the confidence to try these new things because we know there is always a venue for learning that supports our goals.
We live in a rural community in Irving, Illinois. We have rebuilt our home and have lived here for three years. We strive to be self-reliant in everyday life. We live on 1-1/2 acres, and, while we only use about half of it, we have plans to expand our little piece of heaven to include a clay-works artist studio. Our family has learned how to use what little we have to be the best homesteaders that we can be.
We have two chicken tractors which house about 20 chickens, mostly layers that provide us with brown and green eggs. A fellow hobby farmer gives us produce he cannot sell to feed our chickens. We eat most of the eggs and also sell some to “2 Marthas”, a bakery/eatery in Greenville, Illinois. For Thanksgiving, we raise turkeys to butcher and share them during a feast with our friends. Tim also raises and butchers rabbits. We eat them and sell them to local folks. We are learning about how to save their pelts as well.We also maintain a beehive, which came with the house.
During the spring and summer months we have a small garden. We like to grow vining plants, such as pumpkins and zucchini. Last year, our family attended a festival at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds where I bought a lot of seeds. We will be planting all heirlooms from now on. I hope to trade with local folks for different varieties. I am also interested in traditional medicine and using plants for medicine. We also have a strawberry patch and about 25 thornless blackberry plants given to us by some friends. There are a few Silver Maple trees that we tap, and we are experimenting with making syrup. I make brand, and Tim has been making beer. We also grow hops and share them with local brewers. To top everything off, we compost and collect rainwater for our animals and plants.
Tim has also been dabbling in blacksmithing and goes every Wednesday to the Macoupin County Historical Society in Carlinville, Illinois, for instruction. In the future we will plan on building a wood-fired pizza oven, a ceramic studio with a wood-fired kiln, and a woodstove. I will also be getting goats to milk, which we have had before (I love them) or an alpaca from which to spin wool.
We use the resources that we have and utilize other resources that are available. We try not to waste anything while living at one with the nature and the people who surround us. We try hard to be self-reliant, and when kids are grown we would love to live off the grid.
Since 2009, my husband and I have been building our dream home in Gilbert, Arizona. We purchased a property on 1 acre shortly after we were married and had a vision to create a self-sufficient homestead. In the backyard, we transformed a dead patch of earth into a beautiful 2,500 square-foot garden, where we grow all of our own organic vegetables. As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time preserving our crops, mostly freezing and canning. It is a lot of work growing your own food, but it is well worth the effort. There is nothing quite as satisfying as picking a vegetable from your backyard and enjoying it at the dinner table minutes later.
In addition to vegetables, we also grow our own fruit. Over the years, my husband and I have planted a variety of fruit trees, including citrus, peaches, plums, apples, pomegranates, apricots, pear, and fig. We also have two almond trees and several grape vines. Three years ago, we planted our first crop of wheat, an heirloom variety called ‘Sonora Wheat,’ which grows well in the desert. We harvested, threshed and winnowed it completely by hand. It is a very labor-intensive process, and we have a new, profound appreciation for everything made from wheat. We currently have our third crop growing!
We have also raised two flocks of chickens. Our older flock consists of Buff Orpingtons, Silver-Laced Wyandottes, and Gold-Laced Wyandottes. Our newest flock, which is currently six months old, is made up of Australorps and Delawares. We very much enjoy fresh, pastured eggs and share them with our families and neighbors. Our chickens also provide us with nutrient rich manure that is composted and worked back into the garden. Nothing goes to waste on our homestead! We are avid composters and recyclers; if something can be reused, repurposed, or returned to the Earth, we try as hard as possible to make that happen. My husband is also learning the art of carpentry from my father, a lifelong construction carpenter. We built our chicken coop from recycled materials, and we recently finished a red gambrel barn adorned with a cupola and old-fashioned rooster weather vane.
On our way to total self-sufficiency, we began growing and breeding tilapia indoors this year for meat. This spring, we will begin building a greenhouse where the fish will reach harvest weight in a complete aquaponics system. The system will be solar powered and will grow fruits and veggies year round. Future plans for our homestead also include raising goats for milk and keeping bees.
We hope to show others in our community that you can have a successful urban homestead in Arizona and inspire them to get outside and grow something.