Expert Advice on Homestead Living

If you dream of owning land of your own, here are some experienced hands who can give you the lowdown on homestead living.

| April/May 2006

Ever since 1970, when MOTHER EARTH NEWS was founded, readers have been writing in with questions about homesteading and stories about their own experiences with rural living. We get calls and e-mails every week confirming that thousands of Americans still dream of going “back to the land” to learn to grow their own food, build their own homes, generate electricity from renewable sources and live a self-reliant lifestyle.

Often, people ask us “What should I do first? How can I learn what I need to know?” To answer these questions, we’ve gathered advice from people with decades of experience with different kinds of homestead living. Many of their suggestions are included in these pages, and you can read the entire discussion online in our Homesteading forum

Where to Start

Although many people dream of buying several acres in the country, you can start homesteading wherever you are. Heidi Hunt, an assistant editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS, frequently talks to readers who are considering buying land in the country. Hunt homesteaded on a farm in northeastern Washington, where she built a cabin, gardened and spent many hours chopping wood. She says she always recommends learning as many homesteading skills as possible before moving. “Planting, harvesting and preserving food are skills that can be practiced almost anywhere,” Hunt says.

In fact, many aspects of homesteading work as well in the city or suburbs as in the country. Solar panels, straw bale building, wood heat and collecting rainwater are all possible in the city or suburbs, and even raising chickens is allowed in many cities. Just be careful to check all relevant zoning and local ordinances before you get started.

Whatever your homesteading plans, Hunt says it’s important to focus on your priorities. Decide which parts of the dream are most important to you. “Then, do your research,” she says. “Learn the skills and find out what’s involved. Each new homesteading activity requires new tools and skills, as well as a certain amount of money and energy.”

Some of these activities require more money and time than others — another reason why it’s a good idea to start with smaller projects, such as learning to garden before buying farmland, or doing some basic home repairs before deciding to build your own home. If you pursue larger projects, there are many ways to learn more about your interests. For potential farmers, apprenticeships and volunteer opportunities on organic farms can be invaluable. Renewable energy workshops around the country help people learn about small-scale solar or wind power. To learn about building, options range from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to attending straw bale building parties and natural building workshops.

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