The DIY Life: Learn the Ways to Self-Sufficient Living

The MOTHER EARTH NEWS 2014 Homesteaders of the Year have taken self-reliance into their own hands, and with a little time invested in learning new skills, you, too, can achieve the DIY life and practice more self-sufficient living.

  • Norman the steer grazes along the edge of Homesteaders of the Year Kelly McCormick and Glenn Maresca’s pond. The Florida couple’s hand-built home overlooks the native duck haven and farm, which has become a home to unwanted rescue animals who are now useful, well-loved livestock.
    Photo courtesy Lisa Neff and Connie Wolgast
  • Kelly McCormick of Duette, Fla., surveys her organic garden's tomatoes. Gardening is one of many self-reliant skills that she has incorporated into her DIY lifestyle.
    Photo courtesy Lisa Neff and Connie Wolgast
  • Modern homesteader Glenn Maresca of Duette, Fla., hangs with Willie, the potbellied pig. Willie is one of many rescue animals who now calls this farm home. He is joined by several poultry breeds, dogs and cows as part of the farm's livestock population, not to mention as part of a great source of entertainment and enjoyment.
    Photo courtesy Lisa Neff and Connie Wolgast
  • Homesteaders of the Year Kelly McCormick and Glenn Maresca have put many DIY skills to use on their Florida homestead, including using repurposes materials, such as abandoned wood pallets, to build their farm's structures, such as this cowshed.
    Photo courtesy Lisa Neff and Connie Wolgast
  • The Sailer Family was named one of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. They are lined up here in front of their Loveland, Colo., home, where they put self-sufficient living skills to work in an urban setting. From left to right: Jeremiah, Sarah, Emma, Bella, Ruby and Gia.
    Photo by Christa Tippman
  • This urban organic garden supplies the Sailer family of Colorado with the majority of their fresh produce. Growing their own food is one of the thrifty-living tips they exemplify and share with their neighbors and friends.
    Photo by Jeremiah Sailer
  • Jeremiah Sailer turned unused space over his home's staircase into a useful food pantry by making a bridge and cabinet out of repurposed wood. Learning simple carpentry and adding a bit of ingenuity to create this cabinet is one example of how the Sailer family truly embodies a DIY life.
    Photo by Christa Tippman
  • The Sailer family lives a self-sufficient lifestyle with this greenhouse and rabbit hutch in their backyard. They have a chicken coop, too, that is unpictured. As do-it-yourself builders, they built all of these structures to outfit their urban modern homestead with repurposes materials.
    Photo by Christa Tippman
  • Homesteaders of the Year Leslie and Andrew Gibbons practice a DIY life on land near Elkport, Ia. Here they pose in front of their hand-built home.
    Photo by Michelle Gifford
  • The Gibbons knew how to build a house, and build a house they did. Recently, the front three-season sunroom, painted green, was added on using repurposed materials almost exclusively.
    Photo by Michelle Gifford
  • The Gibbons' off-grid, hand-built guest cabin (left) and outhouse (right) are two of many DIY projects the couple has completed on their rural Iowa property. The couple's hunter friends stay in the cabin seasonally, trading the housing accomodations for the meat they hunt on the land. Another structure they built on their property, the art studio, is where Leslie creates upcycled crafts. All told, the Gibbons have put up six DIY buildings on their lan, plus multiple renovations to those structures in later years.
    Photo by Michelle Gifford
  • The Gibbons' trusty sawmill has helped them turn unwanted and repurposed wood into multiple structures on their rural Iowa property. The couple embodies a simple, DIY lifesty as true modern homesteaders.
    Photo by Michelle Gifford

Breaking away from the confines of a full-time office job in order to build a self-sufficient homestead is something many of us dream about — but actually diving in can be a daunting decision. This year’s Homesteaders of the Year share how they have applied thrifty-living sense and DIY skills to work more from home doing jobs they love — jobs that connect directly to their health, creativity and life satisfaction. As the charts included in this article show, all three families have embraced the DIY life and have saved big by constructing and renovating their homestead structures, often making use of salvaged wood and other repurposed materials. Two of the families even built their own homes.

If you, too, want to go “back to the land,” don’t be deterred by a lack of homesteading skills. At the outset, you may only have passion, determination, physical strength or an addiction to sun-ripened tomatoes. Whatever pulls you toward self-sufficient living will form the foundation upon which you can build a framework of practical skills to carry you forward. Each how-to book you pore over and each conversation you have with practiced DIYers will expand your expertise. And each time you master a new skill, complete a challenging project or sit down to a delicious, 100 percent homegrown meal, you’ll feel more confident that you made the right choice when you chose to become a modern homesteader. Eventually, like the do-it-yourself builders we feature here, you’ll be able to tackle big projects, maybe even taking on DIY building projects with repurposed materials. Who knows? You could even learn how to build a house for your family!

You can also learn and share new skills with your neighbors by participating in our third annual International Homesteading Education Month this September. Check out all the resources and event listings we’ve compiled at our International Homesteading Education Month page to join in.

Without further ado, we’re proud to introduce the following hands-on and how-to families as our 2014 Homesteaders of the Year who are truly living the DIY life. For even more stories of families practicing a DIY lifestyle, head to our Star Modern Homesteaders collection page.

The DIY Life on a Human-Powered Farm

Who: Kelly McCormick and Glenn Maresca, along with Kelly’s parents, John and Linda
Where: Duette, Fla., since 2007
What: 5-acre farm with a 60-by-30-foot garden, tropical fruit trees, poultry, cows, a potbellied pig, bees and dogs
Employment: Kelly: freelance Web and graphic designer; Glenn: homestead maintenance man, car repairman and on-site vet
Homestead Highlights: Committing almost entirely to human and animal power; saving seeds to create heat- and pest-tolerant crop varieties; producing 80 percent of their food; crossing South Asian game hens with Turken chickens to breed what they call “swampers”; adopting livestock from local animal organizations
Handy Work: Click to see the full list of their DIY Building Projects Made With Repurposed Materials, including the time and money spent on each project.

What does being a “modern homesteader” mean to you?
To us, it means being self-sustaining without fearing new technology — enhancing time-honored activities with new concepts and ways of thinking. For example, we hope to eventually use solar power for all of our electricity.

8/28/2014 7:24:18 AM

“The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, And let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.”

8/25/2014 4:01:55 PM

After reading the articles on both these families, the second family does sound like their NUTS. First, they don't speak of any children. Where are they? They probably couldn't wait to move away when they came of age. The Gibbon's family claim they are barely living above the 'poverty level by living simple. Who in their right mind would choose living like this? LOL / What do they do when they need a 'doctor or a dentist? Barter 4 dozen ears of corn and hunting privileges on their land for professional services? It sounds to me like they couldn't conform to society early on or couldn't hold down a steady job. It also sounds like the land (100 acres) that they share with her father, was given to them. People don't just fall into 100 acres of land with a 'saw mill and start building a couple of houses, start tilling a garden, and what did they use to put in their garden ? A mule and a plow they borrowed from the 'amish down the road? Or a $40,000 John Deer Tractor? Where did they get their resources to start living like the 'Engels? Just the two of them? How can he hold down being a 'Handy Man for the neighbors and still work the land and keep building on their property? Most people would go Bonkers living like they described. Their unique alright!

8/21/2014 9:11:35 AM

I will respond to you in the following way. proximity to medical attention is an issue. in our case there are doctors about half an hour traffic.we have insurance.that being said, part of the reason we do this is the health benefits. you get exercise everyday and you are eating healthier is less processed and grown with concern to our gardens and animals.eventually we would like to pass what we have learned with anyone who will also have to learn cpr and first aid in the event of an emergency.people have raised their children for generations out here and they area happy healthy lot.all we are trying to do is live a good ,clean,honest life.

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