Adirondack Rural Skills Festival: Shining Example of Homesteading Month Event

Reader Contribution by Hannah Kincaid
article image

Brett McLeod, professor and coach at Paul Smith’s College, sent us an article (below) from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that covered the Homesteading Education Monthevent hosted by his college. The homesteading festival ended up attracting over 800 people and will be featured in next fall’s issue of the regional magazine Adirondack Life.

The growing homesteading movement in the North Country and across the U.S. will be showcased Saturday when the Paul Smith’s College VIC hosts a day-long series of lectures and hands-on workshops geared for those looking to be more self-sufficient.

The Adirondack Rural Skills and Homesteading Festival, which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., includes sessions on using draft horses to plow a field, raising chickens, making butter and canning.

“It’s about acquiring the skills that have largely been lost, what I consider the lost arts,” said Paul Smith’s College Professor Brett McLeod, who’s organizing the festival. “It’s about learning from past generations. There’s sort of this attitude I run into about these antiquated skills, and ‘Why do we need them? We’ve got technology.’ Technology is seen as this panacea that will take care of us. For me, it’s about putting down your iPhone and picking up a shovel.”

The event is one of hundreds happening across the country as part of International Homesteading Education Month, sponsored by Mother Earth News and Grit magazine. (Full disclosure: Mother Earth News and Grit are owned by Ogden Newspapers, the same company that owns the Enterprise.) It comes at a time of renewed interest, both nationally and here in the North Country, in living more simply and sustainbly.

“This is what I call the neo-homesteading movement; it hasn’t been this big since the 1970s,” said McLeod, who wrote his dissertation on trends in rural populations. “There’s been this resurgence in basically all rural skills. The motivations for people doing it, some of them are the same as in the 1960s and 1970s, things like self-reliance and being able to provide food that you know where it came from.”

McLeod said homesteading has traditionally been associated with what he described as the myth of rugged individualism. The neo-homesteading movement, he said, is more of a community movement.

“That’s one of the biggest differences between then and now,” he said. “It’s not saying that everyone has to go and butcher chickens, but it’s saying that if someone in your community has that skill set, and someone else is good at gardening and someone else is really proficient with a chain saw, there’s an ability to weave together what I call a more durable landscape. This is part of making more durable communities.”

Paul Smith’s College faculty, staff and students, as well as representatives of area organizations will put on Saturday’s lectures and workshops. There will be ongoing events throughout the day on topics like cider pressing, butter making and splitting wood. There are also events scheduled for specific times on low-impact logging (featuring the college’s draft horse club), bow-drill fire making, antique farm tractor operation and longbow construction, to name a few.

The feature presenter, cordwood builder Rob Roy of West Chazy, will speak at 1 p.m. about the keys to a sustainable life. The Adirondack Farmers’ Market will take place throughout the day. The Adirondack North Country Association is also using the event as one of its public meetings for a grant-funded effort to develop a Homegrown Sustainability Plan for the North Country.

The festival is being run in conjunction with an open house on the college’s campus, which is adjacent to the VIC. McLeod said the college wants to show prospective students that it’s not just “talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

“Homesteading as a theme works for this,” McLeod said, “because if we’re doing low-impact horse logging, that speaks to our forestry students, and if we’re doing local food cooking demonstrations, that speaks to our culinary students, and talking about mortgage-free living speaks to our business students. It’s a good common platform to address these academic ideas in the context of the real world.”

Hannah Kincaidis an Editorial Assistant for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. She is an enthusiastic student of herbal medicine, organic gardening and yoga. You can find Hannah on .