Life on the Homestead: On Becoming Self-Sufficient

Given any thought to becoming self-sufficient? You — yes, you! — can learn the skills you need. Here’s how one modern homesteader discovered the joys of a self-reliant life.

| April/May 2009

Late one night I was grinding coffee and listening to a radio show. There was nothing particularly interesting about this. Most nights I get the percolator ready for the next morning, and the radio is almost always on in the kitchen. But that night I realized something mildly profound: A hundred tiny efforts and decisions had converged right there on the countertop.

The radio was crank-powered, and the coffee grinder was an old hand-turner I had picked up at an antique store. I was standing in the glow of my solar-powered lamp with the aid of some beeswax candles. Suddenly, I realized that nothing I was doing required any outside electricity. I was seeing in the dark, grinding locally roasted beans and listening to renewable energy driven entertainment. As mundane as the situation was, it felt perfect.

Outside the kitchen, my trio of hens was cooing in their hutch. Snap pea pods, hanging heavy on the vine, were climbing up my windowsill. The dogs sighed and stretched on the kitchen floor. The smell of just-crushed coffee beans wafted through the air, giving me a sense of profound comfort. I felt that if the world shut down, we’d just go on grinding and stretching and sighing until we retired to a warm bed. Maybe it was the candlelight, or maybe it was the promise of fresh-brewed coffee in the morning, but in that moment I felt I’d accomplished more than anything I had ever achieved in my professional career.

Seeking and Becoming Self-Sufficient

My first step down the path to self-sufficiency happened when I started learning more about how products get to us consumers. I was considering a vegetarian diet to get in better shape and feel healthier. By reading a few basic books on vegetarianism, I started to learn about the mass production of meat in factory farms and all its related problems. The more I educated myself about how the meals I was eating got to my plate, the more disgusted and disappointed I became. I also became much more appreciative of small farms. The more I read about all the small organic farmers who treated their meat animals humanely and didn’t flood their planting fields with chemicals and pesticides, the less I could stomach buying those foam trays of meat and plastic bags of vegetables from the grocery store.

When you start to comprehend something as basic as how food gets to your plate, you start thinking about how other items find their way to you, too — things such as clothing, electronics, and especially energy. The bloodshed and national security threats caused by depending on foreign oil were loud and clear on the daily news. The scary thing was that I was completely dependent on fossil fuels, and so was everyone I knew. My gas-heated apartment, my groceries from the supermarket, my station wagon parked outside — everything was part of the system. And if the system broke, I was going to be hungry, cold, and immobile. So I threw my hands in the air. I was done with Wal-Mart and Wonder bread. I wanted something real. I wanted a lifestyle that was no longer a part of the problem, or at the very least was constantly striving to be less involved in it. I wanted a more sustainable life.

Learning about homesteading — or the skills associated with it, anyhow — seemed like the solution I desperately craved. I decided to take the reins and start learning how to produce some of the food and resources I used every day. There were obvious problems: I had no idea what I was doing. I had just spent four years in design school learning where to put things on computer screens, and that doesn’t exactly help you bed down a chicken coop. Also, I didn’t have a home to stead. At that time, I lived in a rented farmhouse in Idaho. The only skills I loosely possessed were simple knitting and soap making, which I did for fun, not as part of some self-reliant lifestyle. So I started doing simple research. I pored over books and magazines. I haunted homesteader blogs and online forums. I did whatever I could to edge my way through the crack in the door.

1/23/2011 4:34:00 PM

To the poster who asked what the angora rabbits are for, it is for their fur. Angora wool comes from angora rabbits. I'm sure the pellets come in handy, too, though. You just can't have too many rabbit droppings! They're the perfect fertilizer, easy to handle because they're pelleted, full of nutrients and they won't burn your garden even if you lay them right on your plants! No, angora rabbits are seldom eaten, mainly because they are so expensive and produce such wonderful fur. Size really doesn't matter when it comes to rabbits, there are breeds that only get up to about 6-8 pounds that really are meat rabbits. It's actually the perfect size if you don't want leftovers.

1/23/2011 4:19:57 PM

Hello, Realist. You really need to learn what homesteading is. Real homesteading is living offf the grid, supporting yourself and your family. It is farmwork, plain and simple. Who doesn't want to support their local farmer? I'm guessing the answer would be you. Yes, some homesteaders don't pay taxes, but the vast majority are just hard-working citizens who only want to be independant. Independant of the government, who tells them how to use THEIR LAND, independant of food producers who may not even be there tomorrow, finally, they want to be independant of fools like yourself who only believe civil responsibility is to work 40-60 hours a week and die immediately after social security kicks in, never having had enjoyed their lives. You seem to think haomesteading is a form of welfare, it is exactly the opposite. It is independance, true independance. True realists homestead. Plain and simple.

Felicia Luburich
5/26/2010 5:05:15 PM

FOLKS: It does not have to be all or nothing. There is good in doing good for yoursaelf and others. Giving xcess veggies and eggs to older people on limited incomes is the thing to do, if youy can. When possible evryone shouuld do some outside work, even if it is volunteer. THAT is what will make the world go round correctly. If we keep out of other people's business and quit giving BILLIONS to the very rich and other countries, USA could be a paradise for all.Also, the government must see to it that ALL people stay in school until they learn a trade with which they can support themselves. Germany has an excellent model. I've never seen a down and out person in Germany; or one would could not read and write ( barring developmental problems and I've never seen one of those there either). EVERYONE has enough. I'm not sayying some don't struggle, but no one is living in a tent as they are here in NJ and NY. I never saw anyone living in a trailer either. I think trailer living is a neon sign taht something is wrong... I mean "trailer trash" places. No ne has rats and roaches in their apartments, live on the street pushing a grocery cart, etc.. All improvements are worthwhile doing, including our infrastructure. We are too busy bombing Iraq's and then paying insiders billions to fix it:: which they don't. A march on Washington is in order. They are cutting us but giving themselves raises. There is something horridly wrong with that picture. So be self sufficient.

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