How One Homesteader Prioritizes Her Time

Learning to live sustainably is not just about gardening and farming — it’s about our everyday choices and practices.

Reader Contribution by Jo deVries
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by Jo deVries
The grease-monkey degreasing her 1972 GMC C20.

Here in Ontario, Canada, our winters seem never-ending, so at the first sign of spring, we jump at the chance to start working on the plans we have spent months pouring over. Although we can usually get started on our gardens in April, the threat of frost is sometimes not over until the beginning of June. I am still finding patches of ice hidden beneath items that were left laying in the yard. The backroads are full of mud ruts, but the dark forested north-facing slopes are still frozen.

Making Best Use of a Homesteader’s Time

Consider bug-free weeks. During spring, I find myself longing to spend all of my time outside, knowing that I only have about a month before the bugs arrive. Blackflies arrive in May and remain fierce for a couple of weeks. They are followed by mosquitoes, which are then joined by horseflies and deerflies, and the ticks will remain until everything freezes again.

It’s important to use the few pest-free weeks in spring and autumn to our full advantage. The rest of the time, those of us working outside will be donning a bug jacket during the peak working hours of the day, to avoid certain misery. One quickly learns which tasks should be done in the cool of the early morning before the bugs wake up.

Use “down time” wisely. During this past winter, I turned 60 and now feel the urge to press forward with my plans, with new-found urgency. I’m taking more responsibility for my health with a better diet. I’m greeting my chores with more enthusiasm, being grateful for the health to be able to do them. I continue to make progress, slow as it is, turning my piece of bush-land into a sustainable homestead.

All of this culminates in a good night’s sleep, which is the foundation of good health. I know that working hard toward my long-term goals is more fulfilling than the short-term happiness of a movie and a bag of chips. Learning tips from DIY videos is a much better use of my time than watching anything that’s happening in movie-land.

The Best DIY Videos are Honest

My favorite sustainability videos, books and magazines are the honest ones — the ones that examine the pros and cons of the subject at hand. A positive attitude is essential for success, but ignoring the truth about obstacles is immature at best.

I recently enjoyed a video that focused solely on the negative aspects of raising chickens. The woman in the video loves raising chickens but felt it would be dishonest not to give full disclosure on the nastier, unspoken truths of this endeavor. Most people only want feel-good videos delivered by supermodel hosts. I want the truth and I don’t care how you dress.

Many animals have found themselves neglected or abandoned when the initial excitement of their existence wears off. Their owners ignored the realities involved in proper animal husbandry. Animals are a high-maintenance and often costly undertaking.

Sharing only the positive aspects of something creates a false sense of security, setting people up for failure. Honesty provides an opportunity for people to be proactive by preparing for the inevitable. Research requires a sincere, unbiased approach.

Kudos to those giving us a more realistic view of the hardships that we may face in life. Congratulations to the plain-Jane, down-to-earth video hosts who are taking the time to reveal their findings. Thanks to the old, wrinkled authors who have chosen to share their secrets and the 5-year-olds who will tell us like it is.

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Honesty is a crucial part of any worthwhile education. A lack of honesty yields this powerful weapon in the wrong hands.

A Good Use of Homestead Time: Fixing Up an Old Farm Truck

As I move forwards towards a more sustainable lifestyle, I continue to question and adjust my daily practices. My latest challenge was when I was told by my close friend James, a mechanic and metal fabricator, that my van would soon need to be replaced. I have a dirt bike for good weather, but there is no getting around my need for a vehicle that can haul building materials, various farm animals, and jewels I pick up from the side of the road or at the dump.

Automobile manufacturers, like everyone else, think that the way to sustainability is through technology. The result has been tragic. No longer is the garage full of eager young people wanting to learn about, work on, and modify their cars. Mechanics can no longer diagnose a problem without an expensive, complicated machine or guarantee that parts will be available.

Computer chips and sensors control whether or not you will get to work or arrive on time for that important appointment. Thinner, weaker steel reduces the lifespan of newer vehicles making restoration undesirable and deeming them disposable. Most cars and trucks today are problematic, time-wasting mechanical and technical nightmares. Automobiles have become frustrating, disappointing money pits. I know of at least one person in the automotive business who retired early to save their mental health.

After much prayer and discussion with James, I decided to buy a 1972 GMC C20: a ¾-ton pick-up that came from British Columbia. Fifty years old and still going strong. In Ontario, most of those trucks died from salt poisoning, but this one arrived in decent shape. My son, Jordan, completely surprised me by paying for the truck in full! James, being fed up with new cars, offered to do the work. I was ecstatic.

We have been working on restoring this truck for the last two months. James is busy with body work after working on the engine and getting the transmission rebuilt. The transmission was working fine, but it was 50 years old and would only have lasted a few more months. The ignition was changed over to a simple electronic ignition, the broken air conditioner and all unnecessary wiring was removed, and slowly everything is being cleaned and old and faulty parts replaced.

The work has been hard and messy and I’ve banged my knuckles a fair number of times, but I’m glad to help with the cleaning. I’ve scraped off about 5 pounds of grease and dirt, but I remind myself this dirt came all the way from B.C., and there’s something special about that. I feel secure knowing that there will always be parts for this beast and any problems will be easy to identify.

Homesteading is About Relearning

Learning to live sustainably is not just about gardening and farming — it’s about our everyday choices and practices. There’s a lot to learn, and even more to un-learn. We have to go back to the beginning.

We need to be more like children, asking questions, questioning the answers, and boldly speaking plain truths. Let’s continually search for better ways of doing things, and admit that the Good ol’ Days are called that for a reason. If we have to step back to move forward, so be it. Whatever your challenge, stay positive and Keep on Truckin’.

Jo deVries (Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is? and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land into a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Jo of the Woods.

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