Guide to Self-Sufficient Living: Advice From Nine Modern Homesteaders

Homesteading experts share their wisdom about seeking self-reliance in rural, suburban and even urban settings. No matter where you live or where you are in your own journey for more sustainable living, these experts’ real-world advice on simple living will give you the inspiration to jump-start your own quest for change.

| February/March 2012

A growing number of us are shifting our focus homeward, making our homesteads the heart of our life’s work. A desire for job security, concern for the environment, demand for quality food, escalating food and gas prices, hands-on work, and cool things we can learn to do — many or all of these factors are driving the search for more sustainable, self-sufficient living.

For some, the quest for self-reliance begins simply: The search for a decent-tasting tomato leads you to a seed catalog, which opens the door to gardening, canning and composting. After a few years (or sometimes decades), this journey toward more sustainable living leads you to an abandoned farmstead — say, 3 acres with some overgrown fruit trees, a house and a barn that “needs work.” (No matter: It’s your homestead, and it’s your work.)

Others recall a pivotal moment. One day while sitting in a traffic jam, you realize you crave a different kind of life — one that’s closer to the natural world, less dependent on goods and services from corporations, and, ultimately, more rewarding.

According to a recent survey of MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers, more than four out of 10 of you now raise chickens. More than a third of you generate your own solar electricity or plan to within the next two years. And nearly all of you raise a healthy portion of your own food. We are part of a growing trend toward greater self-reliance: North Americans as a whole are choosing more self-sufficient lifestyles.

“In previous homesteading movements, people had to make it on their own,” says Harvey Ussery, author and longtime homesteader. “Today we choose to grow our own food because we prefer quality, and we recognize the tie between good food and good health. It’s hard to buy that kind of quality.”

Modern homesteading and homemaking are built upon many choices, not solely on managing money. There is no single right way to “make it,” say experienced homesteaders. Whether you live in a country farmhouse, suburban townhouse or center-city apartment, you can get closer to simpler, self-sufficient living. For insight and inspiration, we talked with nine homesteaders who’ve written books about their journeys back to the land. Find more information about these authors at the end of this article.

3/15/2012 11:00:37 PM

Homesteading is a bit of a mis-nomer. There have been no new homesteads in the US since 1976 with a 10 year extension for Alaska when the Homestead Act was put to rest by congress. We may need a new term. With respect to these folks sharing their journies with us--Thank You! Your encouragement is appreciated. My family is trying to create a demonstration farm for sustainable living on 15 acres in Eastern Washington just north of Spokane. The biggest challenge so far has been government regulation which requires us to install non-sustainable systems or systems dependent on commercial electricity. Unfortunately, most of the administrators are not interested in being educated or any approach that would deny their agency's permit fees and jurisdiction for such things as unconstitutionaly non-compensated easements. It's quite a shame that our family has a wealth of knowledge and 20 plus years experience covering everything from animal husbandry, natural medicine, organic gardening, home construction to code and alternative energy systems. Do not be discouraged though. Just know getting started can be quite expensive and require an enourmous amount of energy "politicing" for a sane life style. Dennis Patterson and Family--Deer Park, Washington

2/27/2012 6:18:08 PM

What a wonderful primer on how to get started in this endeavor. My family and I are trying to do these very things because we see the waste and the lack of resources that are just a few years away. We have a great story to tell, even in it's infancy. We are reversing course from takers and users to builders and makers of things. My wife and I are middle aged, (47and 45), parents of two (20 and 15).. There's too much to go into now, but we've found our spot and we bought it with cash, even while we are paying off our mortgage on our house... The tips and tidbits you've discussed in this article help me with the future obstacles that surely will come... Thanks!

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