Live the Homesteading Dream

Reader Contribution by John Ivanko
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Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life which you have imagined, you will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”

One could say that Thoreau was as an effective homesteader as Helen and Scott Nearing. My wife (Lisa Kivirist), son (Liam) and I share this homesteading quest. (And it’s a quest, for sure, for there’s always something new to learn or challenge to overcome.)

Like Thoreau and the Nearings, we feel more alive and participative in the natural world around us on our 5.5 acre homestead and organic farmstead than Lisa and I ever did walking through a corporate cubicle maze in the city. We call our Wisconsin homestead, where we operate our farm and bed and breakfast, Inn Serendipity to remind us to embrace new friends, new ideas and new foods. In many ways, that’s what the Mother Earth News Fair is all about and why we love participating in it.

Today, we manage to grow 70 percent of our food in our kitchen gardens and produce 110-percent of our energy (no typo, we get paid by our utility company!) with a 10kW Bergey wind turbine and .7kW photovoltaic system.

Equally important, however, is our connections to other homesteaders like neighbors, Phil and Judy Welty, the masterminds behind the restoration of our 1974 CitiCar and the solar thermal systems that we use to heat our water. There’s a difference between independence and interdependence – and we strive to find a balance between the two instead of holing ourselves up in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. There are just too many great people out there doing amazing things. So perhaps it’s not surprising that our heroes are farmers, beekeepers, artisan cheesemakers and, more generally, all the entrepreneurs out there who make the world a better place (people we call “ecopreneurs”) by thriving in a restoration economy.

From our perspective, much of our success as homesteaders shares Thoreau’s and the Nearings’ determination to authentically live the dream, largely opting out of the consumerist culture (we don’t watch TV!) and try to maximize not our income, but our self-reliance. By doing so, we can live richly without being rich. Our story is caputred in various ways in our books Farmstead Chef, ECOpreneuring and Rural Renaissance.

We seek to live by what we say we value: healthy food, spending time with our son (currently homeschooled) and celebrating energy independence from fossil fuels. We eat from our gardens and prepare our meals in our kitchen, savoring dishes with recipes we share in Farmstead Chef that rival anything we once had at fancy restaurants – but for pennies on the dollar. What we did with the thousands of dollars a year saved by not giving the money to the utility companies, TV manufacturers, supermarkets, daycare nannies or fast-food restaurants allowed us to pay off our mortgage by age 45. That’s freedom to us.

Homesteading is what made it possible. It worked for Thoreau and the Nearings, and it works for us, too.

John Ivanko presented workshops at the Seven Springs, Pa. MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR.

Please visit the FAIR website for more information about future FAIRs: June 1-2 in Puyallup, Wash., Sept. 20-22 in Seven Springs, Pa., and Oct. 12-13 in Lawrence, Kan. Tickets are on sale now.

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