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

  • homestead living - illustration
    Turn your dreams of homestead living into reality.
    Illustration by Frank Fretz
  • homestead living - landscape
    Look for a homestead that’s the right size for your needs.
    John Ivanko
  • homestead living - chicken
    Raise a few chickens on your homestead and enjoy the freshest free-range eggs.
    Bryan Welch
  • homestead living - house
    David Schafer and Alice Dobbs’ house in northern Missouri is a combination of stone and straw bale, with many other green features, including solar power.
    Tatjana Alvegaard
  • LisaKivirist
    It’s easy to teach children to love gardening. And they’re much more likely to enjoy the food they helped grow.
    JOHN IVANKO
  • RobertaBailey
    Roberta Bailey lives in Maine, where she has built 20 log houses and has been farming on a small scale for 28 years. She dabbles in plant breeding, sells seed crops and helps run Fedco Seeds.
    Frank Fretz
  • GeorgeDeVault
    George DeVault and his wife, Melanie, are writers and market gardeners in Emmaus, Penn. For the April/May 2006 issue, George has written about farm ponds and fish farming.
    Frank Fretz
  • IvankoKivirist
    John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist are organic growers, own a bed and breakfast on their five-acre property in Wisconsin, and are the authors of Rural Renaissance.
    Frank Fretz
  • HeidiHunt
    Heidi Hunt lived on an 80-acre farm north of Spokane, Wash., before moving to Topeka, Kan., where she is an assistant editor at Mother Earth News.
    Frank Fretz
  • StuartMack
    John Stuart and Carol Mack live and homestead on 40 acres of forest in northeast Washington state where they built a vertical log home and raise much of their own food.
    FRANK FRETZ
  • SteveMaxwell
    Steve Maxwell is a writer from Ontario, Can., who lives in a stone house that he and his wife, Mary, built by hand.
    Roger Yip
  • EdSmith
    Ed Smith is the author of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. Ed and Sylvia homestead in Marshfield, Vt. Their home is heated with wood and powered with solar energy.
    Storey Publications
  • ScottVlaun
    Scott Vlaun is a writer and photographer who lives on 50 acres in Maine with his wife, Zizi. They are currently building their own home.
    Frank Fretz
  • BryanWelch
    Bryan Welch is the publisher of Mother Earth News and lives on a 50-acre farm outside of Lawrence, Kan., where he and his wife, Carolyn, have a large garden, 40 free-range chickens and grass-fed cattle, goats and sheep.
    Frank Fretz
  • DavidSchafer
    David Schafer farms in northern Missouri and is the author of Just the Greatest Life. He and his wife, Alice, sell natural meats from their Web site http://www.schaferfarmsnaturalmeats.com.
    Frank Fretz
  • HarveyUssery
    Harvey Ussery is retired from the postal service. He and Ellen live on a Virginia farm where Harvey offers a Poultry 101 seminar.
    Frank Fretz

  • homestead living - illustration
  • homestead living - landscape
  • homestead living - chicken
  • homestead living - house
  • LisaKivirist
  • RobertaBailey
  • GeorgeDeVault
  • IvankoKivirist
  • HeidiHunt
  • StuartMack
  • SteveMaxwell
  • EdSmith
  • ScottVlaun
  • BryanWelch
  • DavidSchafer
  • HarveyUssery

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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