I see a lot of posing on Instagram and other places on the web, which I think is indicative of our time. This is the era of crafting a lovely persona on the web, when in real life things are very different. I think that we all want to be perfect and look just right, that's understandable. But as a homesteader, I don't want to give others the impression that homesteading is easy, romantic, uncomplicated, or that anyone can just pick it up like a new hobby. It takes real work. I feel that it's my obligation to communicate the reality so that others contemplating this lifestyle can get a truthful picture.
Maybe it is just my personal experience and there are none others that have gone through this. Zach with An American Homestead on Youtube referred to the first 3 to 5 years as just Survival Mode, which really resonates with me. I think it depends on your personal situation, of course. I have twins that were babies when we moved to our land, and a 7 year old. We homeschool and cook from scratch, so all of those things factor into making things more challenging. You're just juggling a lot of balls with our situation. This past year in particular we made a lot of mistakes but we've learned a lot.
Many people have physical limitations, health issues, or tight finances which can make things just as hard as it has been for us (if not more so!).
We started off with no equipment (tractor, brush cutters, skidsteer, four-wheeler, etc). We just had a chainsaw and an electric hedge trimmer. It was very tough to get anything done, and we are remote, so we couldn't rent equipment.
We had to clear 12,000 feet of extremely thick brush (up over a person's head) to put up a new 9 wire electric fence to keep out bears, deer, wolves, and cougars. The largest Grizzly bears in the world and 500lb black bears regularly walk through our area. We started small and just put a fence around our house (using a tulip bulb auger for 2" posts!), then in year two we tackled the 12,000 feet. Overall we cleared around 100,000 fq ft of brush for the fence (we measured our property on Googlemaps). It was still hard, felt hopeless at times, and took a lot out of us. But we accomplished it, so the victory was pretty sweet. If we had chosen to hire someone, the cost would have been astronomical."
We did end up buying an old 1967 tractor, which had a new engine and many other replaced parts. That is now our mower, snow plow, and all-purpose machine. We steered away from buying an expensive fancy tractor, as we don't like to have debt of any kind. My favorite tools are our brush cutter (made by Stihl) and weed wacker, now that we've cleared small trees and thick brush. We have 20 acres, so anyone with less land will find it easier to get by without lots of equipment. Most homesteaders with our acreage would have bought a $15k 4-wheeler and a $30k skidsteer or tractor, but we choose to live cheaper and not have a debt hanging over our heads.
We have consciously chosen to do many things ourselves, from figuring out how an electric fence works, experimenting with how many wires would work to keep predators out, and of course, doing the dirty work of clearing brush and digging holes. We also do our own plumbing and construction on our home. Our situation is pretty unique, we live 6 hours away from a medium sized city. I think most new homesteaders pick a location near a big city, which is really wise for anyone who thinks they might need help and assistance with building projects or fencing.
However, I still think that DIY is smart, within a person's capabilities. We build our own bed frames, kitchen countertops, tables, make our own bread and yogurt, and are always coming up with ways to reuse items in our house. Yogurt containers become mixing bowls, pots for plants, and toy boxes. Coffee cans are always reused (and fought over!), as are salad clamshells (when we're not growing our own lettuce outdoors). My handy husband is planning on building our own sawmill, solar dehydrator, and poly tunnels this spring!
Is Homesteading Still Fun?
Maybe you think I've soured on homesteading? Far from it. I love the wide open spaces, the freedom to tackle whatever farm project suits my fancy, the absence of close neighbors, and the wild and free life for my children.
Nothing beats eating food you've grown yourself, or putting in a sweaty day at "the office."
Thrifty and Uncertain Times
These are volatile and uncertain times. I believe that we are far from entering a better year with 2021. Financially everyone will be hit. We all need to tighten our belts and forgo financing and debt. It's time to buy very cheaply or do things yourself. Stop yourself from wanting to hire someone to fix a problem. Push yourself to learn new skills. Those with pensions coming in every month may see their payments cease at some point soon. Maybe we can all go without that $50k kitchen remodel or over-buying on tree seedlings. We focused on having the basic tools for getting one or two major projects done per year.
If you are remote, there are difficulties with getting deals. Shipping is more expensive, local stores charge more because of extra transport costs, and some online shops don't even ship to remote locations (like Amazon). We've had to learn by trial and error. We also tried to trade with locals for used equipment or parts for broken machinery (although we still haven't succeeded with that - just too small of a population).
Stress Can Overwhelm a Homestead
You will make mistakes, lots of them. You will lose animals and waste time on projects that don't come to fruition. With homesteading, no one is coming to bail you out. Especially during this pandemic, stress almost crippled us. I've found it's best to spend time being grateful for what I currently have: family, good health, comfortable home, nourishing home-grown foods, skills, experience, and relationships. I look around and imagine being alone, without a home, without support of friends and family, and without money or employment. In our cushy Western lifestyle, it's hard to imagine being uncomfortable or without conveniences. Savor and enjoy simple things. I appreciate electricity (as we have long power outages at times), hot coffee, a warm house, good friends, and even good memories. I remind myself to see the big picture:
- What are our goals for the homestead?
- What are our big goals for the family?
- How is that going, and what can I change or improve?
What Will Prepare You for Successful Homesteading?
Both you and your partner (if applicable), must love homesteading and "embracing the suck". If you're not willing to be sweaty, dirty, chase animals through mud, or dig potatoes in the rain, you shouldn't be homesteading. If your partner isn't interested in this, it probably won't work. It won't always be hard, but at the beginning you will have a big learning curve.
I have to break it to you - documenting every step of your fledgling homestead, sharing it on social media, and getting paid for it with big sponsorships is a thing of the past. Editing videos and photos takes a lot of time and you never get paid for it. Youtube doesn't pay you ad money until you get 10k subscribers and even then it is a fraction of what they used to pay "content creators". That model was successful in 2010, not 2021.
What will make you successful is the mindset of:
- Save money
- Do it yourself or scale back
- Give up visions of grandeur and luxury
- Listen to experience not rumors, heresay or blogger opinions (ha!)
Some projects just require you to start, and your experience will teach far more than articles or youtube videos. But with highly technical stuff like plumbing or fixing machinery, read manuals and ask someone who actually has boots on the ground doing it.
Homesteading is a mindset of saving everything, buying cheaply, avoiding buying unnecessary junk, and being creative in solving problems.
Having just written a fairly pessimistic article about homesteading, I still believe in the lifestyle. And I still believe it is the only way to save the world. Growing your own food and designing systems that allow a family to grow together and sustain themselves over hundreds of years — this is the way.
Rosemary Hansen is an author, homesteading Mama, and a chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their perennial plants homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website or on Instagram (@rosemarypureliving). Read all of Rosemary's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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