HOMEGROWN Life: It’s Cold Out There for a Farmsteader

Reader Contribution by Farm Aid And Homegrown.Org
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This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org.

If you’re one of those people who dreams of being a farmer, building
your own house, living off the land, being the envy of free people the
world over, feeding your community with wild edibles . . .

This post might be for you.

I am a farm kid who grew up and went off to college like the system
says you should. I worked as an activist and writer for many years. I
gardened a lot. I started my own business and worked on launching
several others. All the while, I constantly dreamed of returning to the
home place to build my own sustainable farmstead. I know many people
have the same lunacy. After about one and a half years of trying to put
this dream in action with a minimal budget, here are some things I’ve

1.) Building a house takes more time than you think it would. We
started construction around the first of July, six months ago. We’ve
hired help for some things, done a lot of the work ourselves, and got a
lot of help from friends and family. Still, we’re a long ways from
having a finished house.

2.) Living in an unfinished cabin-type house is hard on families. We
don’t have full electricity yet. We have unfinished walls. We have one
water outlet. We heat the place (and our water) with a wood stove. We
have a bucket with a toilet seat on top for a stool.

3.) Concrete floors might sound simple, but they’re cold. We have a
5-inch-thick slab floor, and it’s always cold now that winter has
settled in.

4.) When you’re heating with wood as your sole source of fuel, you
burn a lot of wood. We burn approximately one cord of wood per month.
Luckily, we live in the woods and there are a lot of smallish and downed
trees around the farm that makes cutting and harvesting pretty simple.
But still, it’s a lot of work. And handling all of that wood takes time
and can be pretty messy.

5.) It’s pretty cold. So with the aforementioned conditions in place,
when it’s 20 degrees outside all day and into the teens at night, we
can keep it between 50 and 60 degrees in the house. That’s fine with
some people. It’s not fine with others. And it can easily dip into the
mid-40s in the morning before I get the stove fully cranked again.

Now, I don’t say all of this to be depressing or anything. I am
definitely enjoying my time here building my own place. There are
benefits to living this way, in closer track with the seasons and
practicing daily chores. But it’s not for everybody. It’s not easy. And
it’s definitely something to consider before jumping headlong into your
own adventure of homesteading.

The whole point is not to romanticize this kind of life. Know what
you’re getting yourself into. And consider that every project could take
three times as long as you plan and cost twice as much. Not always, of
course, but it happens.

So I raise my glass to the lengthening of the day. It’s a new year
out there in the world: 2013. What will it bring? Your guess is as good
as mine. My advice is to bundle up, wear lots of layers, drink plenty of
water, and express yourself clearly and artistically without being a
big fat jerk. Maybe not a resolution per se, but a meditation.

Talk later. There’s wood to split, water to carry, and seed trays to fill.

Oates is a farmer, father, writer, and rural economic development
entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables,
beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in
Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises,
including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese
processing facility, and a conservation-based land management company
that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce
currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia,
Missouri, a local food store that operates a weekly produce subscription
program called the Missouri Bounty Box. Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.

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