Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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What is ‘Modern Homesteading,' Anyway?

1/16/2013 4:32:00 PM

Tags: modern homesteading, rural living, Victoria Gazeley

chickens in the sunA few weeks ago a particularly ornery guy called me a ‘poser’ on my Facebook page. And then he went on and on an on in post after post about how I wasn’t really ‘homesteading’ and I should call my page something else.

Sure Mr. Grumpy Pants. OK.

Thankfully, a bunch of awesome people came out of the woodwork and told him a thing or two about what it is we do there. Which is simply share our experiences with various aspects of living in the country. Thanks, guys!

Thing is, I’ve never put myself out there as an expert at this gig. I’m pretty 'green' around the collar myself (though I have researched the topic for years), which is why I started a page and blog for other rural living fans with even less experience than me. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a whole lot of VERY experienced folk join us as well, which is an absolute honor. They jump in and answer questions, share their insights with those of us who have yet to dispatch a chicken or attend the birth of a calf, and in general enrich our lives every single day. Oh, and they defend l'il ol' me when the odd grumpy pants goes on the attack. Thankfully, that's been a rare occurrence.

But back to the question – what exactly is ‘modern homesteading’ anyway?

I asked the question on our Facebook page and here are some of the responses - I think you'll find them illuminating:

"It means "home". 

• "Each family is in a different place in their journey and has different homesteading goals. I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all definition. Each family has to decide for themselves what's right for them. We should be encouraging each other, not judging each other." 

• "Living a simple life and treading as lightly as I can on mother earth." 

• "It's just a lifestyle - we all have our different path, but it does not mean we are lost. I use the tech end of it to spread the word and show folks what I'm interested in and maybe, just maybe they are interested too!  Do what is important for you and your family to be sustainable and to pass that knowledge down to future generations!" 

• "It is a journey, a process, not an event or a place. Homesteading to me indicates action. Trying and learning all the time... expanding what one knows how to do on your own. We are all headed the same direction. Some take different roads but we are all going the same direction." 

• "Homesteading to me means taking steps to be self sufficient. Doing as much (or as little) as you are willing or able to do. Grow your own food or buy it from farmers markets, go solar or just reduce your power usage... whatever your comfort level!" 

• "Well, to me it means using the property around the home to produce items for the sustenance of the family. So having a garden and livestock for that end. It also can encompass anything that can be 'homemade' to provide for the needs of the family. Along with acquiring and using any and all skills necessary to reach that goal. Kinda technical but that about sums it up. Of course this can be done on many levels depending on circumstances." 

• "I think "modern homesteading" is using modern conveniences to augment your homesteading style - like using tractors, incubators, augers, et cetera to make everything work. Most people aren't going to get to total self-sufficiency, and a lot of those don't plan to. Using technology to help will hopefully encourage other people to try to be more conscious of their impact on their surroundings." 

• "All of life in any point in history is about balance. For me that balance is best described in the realm of hunting northeastern whitetail deer. I have pursued many craft, and have gone down the purist road in many of those. The question is how far will you go. In hunting, I will never be truly purist unless I take that game with a spear that I forged myself or a deadfall, or just ran it down like the Indians used to do. Or will I use the closest thing to 'pure' to take the game efficiently without waste. Likewise with how you homestead. Why would you not use the technology available to live self sufficiently as efficently as possible. There is value in doing things the old way so you know how, though it should be left up to the individual." 

• "Simplicity, being green, eating more healthy, and trying to get rid of some of the chemicals..." 

• "Homesteading to me simply begins with living within your means, respecting the land, animals and people you come in contact with and learning how to do things as naturally as possible (like companion planting instead of chemical pesticides)." 

• "Trying to learn (and remember) the 'old' ways that served our elders so well, so that we can perhaps taste a little more simplicity in our own lives. Living in the city, so love to support our local markets, etc..." 

• "We live in a small town and I am striving for self sufficiency. I don't really consider myself a homesteader, I just want a different kind of life. One that is still in contact with nature and the seasons, a way of providing some things for ourselves, finding some of the 'lost and forgotten' knowledge of our grandparents and great grandparents. I wanted more wind in the trees and less sirens and smaller class sizes for my kiddo. I'd like to live a little bit further out of town but it's a good compromise with a young child seeking friends." 

• "I've thought about that a lot too. Do I have to be 'pure' to be a homesteader. Then it occurred to me...home...steader. Like the word 'home-making', it's basic. Home-steading is making a home out of a stead (a piece of property). So homesteading is whatever you need it to be - if it means you make your bread from scratch, with the ground up wheat (that you of course hand processed) you grew yourself...or, if you went to town to buy your bread, and even some eggs, because you only have a rural house, a small garden in the backyard, and some herbs in the kitchen. Homesteading is turning your property into a home, using whatever means you deem necessary." 

• "For me a big part of our self reliant journey is learning skills that have been forgotten. Sometimes putting a modern technology twist on ancient practices." 

• "For me, living in a suburb, homesteading is anything that allows me to a) Provide for myself with my own efforts rather than running to the store. That can include sewing, cooking, carpentry, growing my food and herbs, etc. b) Teach my children a skill that will allow them to someday do those things for themselves as well." 

Interesting, isn't it - the variety and breadth of definitions?  That's what makes it such an amazing topic to write about. And that's why I love the people on our Facebook page so much. They're simply (and I don't use this word often, but it applies here) awesome.

For me and our specific situation, the definition of ‘modern homesteading’ is this:

"Modern homesteading is living consciously, using as few natural resources as is comfortably possible. It’s learning and using the ‘old ways’ of living that were almost lost from the days when everyone grew and preserved their own food because they had to – keeping chickens, dairy animals and other small farm livestock, growing produce, canning, fermenting, dehydrating - because these are things we should all know how to do. It’s being set up to be comfortable without electricity if you have to, even if you never need to. It’s learning the skills most of our ancestors took for granted, like fixing things instead of throwing them out, buying quality ‘pre-owned’ items instead of new where it makes sense, knitting and mending, fence building and repair, and basic construction. It’s being pro-active about your and your family’s health and knowing how to prevent and take care of minor illnesses and injuries without a doctor. It’s knowing you have enough food put away to last you at least 6 months, which is what all of our ancestors did or they’d have starved. It’s building community and asking for help when you need it. It's being as free from debt as possible. And it’s about doing it all using the modern tools we have available today in ways that allow us to reach our own personal ‘self-reliance’ goals as efficiently as possible."

Here’s what it’s NOT about, at least in my books:

• Modern homesteading is not about being self-reliant out of fear, but out of love, respect and responsibility to our families and communities.

• It’s not about living 100% like we did in the 1800s (though I’m in awe of those who have chosen that life!), but rather taking small steps towards being more independent of ‘the system’, whatever that looks like for your family.

• It's not about 'me first' and hoarding supplies, neighbours be damned, but rather sharing and planning for caring for others.

I know this might be a controversial post, and that's OK. I don't mean to belittle anyone's choices. The beauty of 'modern homesteading', as you read in the definitions above, is the wide variety possible ways to live it. What I can't entertain here or on our Facebook page is judgement, fear porn, or disrespect in any form. I spent many years of my career designing community education programs for 'living with less impact' initiatives. I know from personal experience that the way to inspire long-term change is by making the process enjoyable, and dare I say 'fun'. It's not by scaring the crap out of people and belittling them. That might work for awhile, and for some, but it's not the type of community or business I want to build.

We can live our rural living dreams with love and respect. We can provide for our families' futures with wisdom and reverence. And we can prepare and be responsible for our families without denigrating anyone else's choices. I invite you to join us on our Facebook page if you haven't already and meet the amazing group of people who've assembled there. I learn something every single day. And for that I am grateful every single day.

What's your definition of 'modern homesteading'. Share it in the comments below! 

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6/18/2014 2:38:24 PM
I was not familiar with the term modern-day homesteader so I was doing some research. From what I can tell, something that encompasses everything in essence means nothing. The only shared trait that I can see is a general sense of being earthy, and being noncommittal. With such a loose definition of what modern-day homesteading is I can see why it would be easy to call those claiming to be one posers.

Victoria Becraft
3/20/2013 10:28:48 AM
All I can say is, "Shame on Mr. Grumpy Pants". My husband and I live on a small farm. We have a fruit and nut orchard, 50'X50' garden, green house, berries, chickens and a pond. I can, freeze, dehydrate and root cellar everything I can. I also "make" almost everything we use, cleaners, soap (shampoo,condition, laundry soap, dish soap and bar soap). I make my own yogurt and mixes (cake mixes, pudding mixes, seasoning, teas) and I sew most of our items including our clothes. I spend less than $50.00 a month at the grocery store. If an item is in our house, I probably made it. I teach free classes through our church. I start very small...making laundry soap, recycling, conserving water, electricity and fuel (buying in bulk, vehicle maintenance). I start small because if they knew my "real" life it would overwhelm them. ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING approach is best and one should NEVER try to press their views on others because in the end, we "homesteaders" are just trying to create a better life. This is why I never use the term, "self-sufficient". Our parents used to say, "A community raises a child". Well, a community also feeds a family! I purchase my beef from a farmer buddy and buy bulk beans from another farmer buddy, etc. If I have to purchase an item, I try to stay with-in a 50 mile radius if possible and buy in bulk. I encourage "get-to-gethers" when making home-made mixes. Make several dozen jars together and then split it! Have fun, save money, create less trash and have food made with items you can read! My Cherokee Indian ancestors taught me, "No one owns the land, we are merely stewarts". My Christian belief teaches me that our planet is a gift from God and it is our obligation to care for it. Happy homesteading!

Avril Hall-Andujar
1/19/2013 2:41:51 PM
My idea of homesteading is what I am currently doing. Living as close to natural as I can. Its planting my vegetable garden, raising some chickens and rabbits for food. Teaching my children how to live without accepting the belief that it is okay to continue the now accepting view of overuse and disposal. Its teaching them to reuse and recycle everything. From feeding kitchen scraps to the chickens and having a worm compost to making smarter choices with how we dispose of cans and plastic. We try to use them as little as possible. It eating as natural as we can, and trying to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible.-Avril

1/18/2013 12:59:53 AM
My idea of a homestead, is a place where I have the chance to be human again... I've spent my life thus far away from the activities that make humans human. Computers, videogames, college, and the stresses of modern Western life have deprived me exactly that, life.There is no use or purpose for my bread baking, my gardening, my building in this modern world. So, I will leave this world to create a new one,a better one. This world is nearing its dusk, our current society is not sustainable. I have a dream of a small eco-village. Not a hippie commune or cult. But rather, just normal people, tending to their needs in the most human way. A community where there are no tv dinners and deadly toxins. Where I can hear sheep and see lush vegetable gardens. Chickens wander around the community and all about there are people, tending to their laundry lines, tending to their vegetables, selling their goods, or simpyl enjoying the company of other people. I realize it is easy to idealize the past, but is the present really so great?Homesteading to me, is being a human being again. I'm not a machine. I need soil under my fingernails, good food in my belly, and surrounded by my family and friends.

1/18/2013 12:50:40 AM
My idea of a homestead, is a place where I have the chance to be human again...

Bruce McElmurray
1/17/2013 3:25:24 PM
Modern Homesteading is a lifestyle and working toward self sufficiency. It is a process and can be done in the city, country or on the side of a mountain where we live. I believe it also means being more environmentally conscious and trying to lessen your impact on the environment. It can mean anything from going into the woods with an ax, saw, and hammer and forging yourself a home to living in an apartment and growing your own herbs in a window box or patio garden. Each step toward self sufficiency is a step toward modern homesteading.

Dave Kent
1/17/2013 12:16:27 AM
Your explanation of your motivations reeks of common sense, a deep respect for the things our ancestors learned the hard way, and an innate desire to make things better for those who follow us . On the rare occasions that I meet folks like you, I find that we share similar experiences, mostly from our youth.

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