In 2011, we asked our readers to nominate friends and neighbors who deserved to be named as the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. We were touched and moved by the awesome stories of the wide array of modern homesteaders who have fully embraced the sweet satisfaction of self-reliant living. You can read about the winning homesteaders who were featured in Our 2012 Homesteaders of the Year: Living the Good Life, in addition to reading about all of the star 2012 modern homesteaders listed here. For our full collection of yearly nominees, see our Star Modern Homesteaders page. We think you'll find each story to be inspirational, maybe a bit quirky, and definitely an example of what can happen when the goal of living simply is taken to heart.
We are Steven and Sedley Abercrombie from Denton, N.C. We used to be from New Orleans, but after weathering Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, we chose to seize the opportunity to cut and run. We landed here in rural Davidson County and bought 7.5 acres with a fixer-upper ranch house.
We were living in the suburbs of New Orleans shortly after we were married (12 years ago), a friend gave us a copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. We both read the magazine from cover to cover and we had an epiphany! We were the Adams family on the block and now we knew why — we didn’t belong here!
We began with baby steps, by expanding our garden, composting and baking bread, but we dreamed of one day moving to the country and doing it for real. We thought one day when we retired, but what turned out to be the most horrific natural disaster in U.S. history turned out to be our catalyst for change.
Since we closed on our home in October of 2005 (our girls were 4 and 5), we started with five roosters and a garden that washed away in a flash flood. That first winter we were shocked at the price of fuel oil, a heating system we had never seen in Louisiana, and we invested in a wood-stove insert and learned how to chop wood. Having experienced the chaos and anarchy of what life would be like if we suddenly ran out of oil after the hurricane, Steve and I decided to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle and a healthier environment in which to raise our children.
Since those first few months, we have achieved all sorts of things and acquired a variety of skills. The journey from point A to point B was never a straight line, but that’s part of the fun of it, learning from your mistakes:
Steve and I both work full time and we like our jobs, so ours is truly a hobby farm. Our favorite place to be is our home because we never run out of things to do. Our girls are happy and healthy and growing up in a small town environment which we like. We have since started a Five Roosters Farm blog about to help chronicle our journey with friends and family across the country.
I am nominating Jeremy and Mindy Brooks of Battle Ground, Wash. They are the proprietors of Brooks Hobby Farm. I have never met Jeremy or Mindy, but I feel as though I know them. I stumbled upon Mindy’s blog while searching for Hobby Farming. I have always wanted to have my own farm, but my wife and I have demanding jobs. I never would have thought it would have been possible to operate a farm and work like we do, but Mindy has shown me that it is. Jeremy and Mindy are white-collar workers as are my wife and I. They didn’t let this hold them back and now because of the Brooks Hobby Farm blog, we have not let it hold us back. The blog takes you along the journey from the very conception and purchasing through current issues that arrive. It is written with humor, wittiness and, most of all, sincerity.
I have never made it to Brooks Hobby Farm; I live 2,067 miles away. I don’t have to go to feel like I have been there. Mindy’s blog makes one feel as if you have been their neighbor and friend all your life. I always heed her advice even though we live in two separate climates/regions. I have learned from her (Mindy) that I want to learn how to can, preserve, and go back to living the simpler life. I grew up having a set of grandparents that lived this way, but being an adolescent city boy, I took all of my grandparents wisdom for granted. This became a lost art it seems for a while, but I am glad it seems to be making a comeback. I also hope my kids learn to appreciate what I failed to.
I wish there was a way to get Mindy’s blog more noticed. I think there is a yearning in young corporate professionals for living healthier and more efficient (there was for me). I know she could inspire others to do what seems impossible in the modern world. I know I thought it was. She doesn’t know it, but if I had my choice to live any way I wanted, it would be like they do. That is what we are working towards. Since happening upon her blog, we have bought us a hobby farm and have started cleaning, clearing, dreaming and building, modeling a lot of things we do from someone who lives 2,067 miles away and have never met. I have even started my own blog. Even though I don’t have any animals yet, every farm has to start somewhere and someone can always learn from experience just like I did.
Warning: if you start reading her blog, (it’s long and covers a lot of time) you will not be able to stop. Prepare yourself for a journey to what I believe modern day homesteading is all about.
I have some dear friends that live in Tennessee, and they have fulfilled their dreams. Their names are Bobby and Hoyce Carter. Bobby introduced me to my husband, Larry, over 45 years ago, and Joyce and I have know each other since birther. Our friends’ goal was to live on a small farm and be self-sustained, with everything they need coming from their farm.
Bobby saw an ad in MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 43 acres in Sneedville, Tenn., and they bought it. The land went from the bottom of a small mountain to the very top. Land had to be cleared for a home and driveway. They cut lumber from the trees on the land and built their house (cabin) while on vacations and short trips from their home at the time in Florida. Bobby would try and garden on this land, but it was difficult because the land was not level. Bobby bought a small tractor, but when he tried to garden with it, he would say, “I am slope-challenged.” That’s when they decided to look for some flat land.
They found their dream on 6 acres in beautiful Greeneville, Tenn. This time, they had a house built instead of building it themselves. The land had an old barn on the property, so they started with what they had available. The first livestock they acquired were pigs. After constructing a chicken yard they purchased chickens, and then came rabbits. It wasn’t long until they purchased a goat.
They have a friend who cuts hay from part of the land. Sometimes, while cutting, he’ll find a wild turkey nest in the field. In these cases, he picks up the eggs and takes them to Bobby, who puts them in his incubator to hatch.
Bobby, with the help of his son, David, will slaughter a hog and put it in the freezer. Bobby has a garden every year, and Joyce cans and freezes many vegetables and meats from their property. Bobby had to build shelves in the basement of their home so they’d have a place to store the many filled jars from Joyce’s canning. Joyce and I still talk everyday, so I get a chance to collect some of her canning recipes. Joyce also makes her own washing powder to wash their clothes and is very well pleased with the results.
They purchased a cow, Emilann, so they could have her milk to drink. After Emilann gave birth to “Steakum” they had plenty of milk. The calf was named Steakum to always remind their granddaughter, Morgan, that he’d put slaughtered for meat. Their farm just keeps growing!
Bobby is in his mid-70s and Joyce is in her mid-60s, but they are both still going strong. I believe some of our young people might find it hard to keep up with this strong and determined couple. I guess they both come from some of that good pioneer stock of our forefathers. Always remember: It is never too late to start your dreams.
Our family adventure into self-sufficiency began with a simple interest in gardening. In fall of 2009, we quite naively enrolled in a “Sustainable Small Farming and Ranching” class sponsored by our local agriculture extension office. We quickly realized that our 2-acre “homestead” near the city might have an enormous potential that we had never considered. I exclaimed, “We have a enterprise.”
Over the next several months we developed a whole farm business plan, organized Flock and Feather Farms, LLC, and acquired our first pigs.
We soon sold our miniature horse and donkey and set about putting our one-acre “hobby farm” irrigated pasture into maximal production. We corrugated, sampled soil and water, and learned the science behind organic, sustainable food production. We added Saanen milk goats and learned to make cheese, butter, yogurt and delicious ice cream. We proudly became licensed to sell raw milk.
I used my medical background to learn the veterinary skills I would need to worm, vaccinate, trim hooves, deliver baby sheep and goats, treat infections and maintain optimum health of all our critters including our five dogs and two cats. Susan’s packaging and graphic art expertise led to the creation of the amazing “Rainbow Dozen” egg carton and our beautifully designed business cards and logo. As the resident farm photographer, Susan documents our family life with friends, neighbors and other farmers.
We have added to our egg-producing chickens by hatching our own chicks, and in addition to the pigs, have raised broilers, meat sheep, meat goats and ducks to supplement the vegetables and herbs from our garden.
We transformed the garden by building raised beds, installing water conserving drip irrigation, putting in fruit trees, and adding a small greenhouse. We went about mastering the art of compost production and have tried to eliminate off-farm inputs. Winter rye, sowed as a cover crop, provides marvelous tilth and weed control. We spend summer and fall harvesting, canning and preparing for the next cycle of breeding and growing. We are cracking this year’s English walnuts by the winter fire as we await spring lambs and kids, fresh milk, and sun-warmed soil.
We have had our share of misfires. The chicken-chasing Guinea hens drove us crazy with their racket; we bought a four-wheeler that doesn’t get much use; and worst of all the four cows bought sight unseen were not pregnant as advertised. All along, we have been searching for a value-added product that would make our farm venture profitable. We have realized that with only one acre in production, we do not have the economies of scale to make real profit, but we have been so richly rewarded in so many other ways, we have no plans to stop.
Most evenings we prepare a healthy organic plate of food that is directly from the fruit of our labors and thus satisfying to both body and soul. Perhaps most important of all, our children have experienced the immeasurable value and satisfaction of sustainable, self-sufficient family farming.
Our family, consisting of myself, my husband Carlos, our three children, Jessica (8) and twins Aiden and Mia (4) are probably not what you would consider your typical homesteaders. Up until recently we were actually big-city dwellers and moved from the windy city of Chicago to quaint Richmond, Virginia about two years ago.
We do not own any land and are living in a small house on just under half an acre right at the city line of Richmond in Henrico County. Even though we are not your typical homesteader we certainly are embracing and living the sustainable, homesteader life.
Even when we lived in Chicago we maintained a green living philosophy; from grinding our own fresh grain to bake all of our bread and pastries to composting in our tiny city condo with the help of a worm bin.
So even though our space is still what some would consider limited for a family of five it certainly has not kept us from moving forward and expanding our homesteading activities since we now have a garden.
Our small flock of Plymouth Rock, Orpington, Wyandotte, Silkie and our Silkie Bantam rooster provides us with plenty of super fresh, organic eggs in addition to being wonderful helpers in the garden by working under our cover crops in the spring and leaving plenty of fertilizer around along the way. Our bantam silkie hen is a wonderful mother and we have had three baby chicks born at our little homestead. We have many people stop at our house when we have the children and chickens play in the front yard. Surprised to see chickens in our quiet little urban neighborhood and inquiring about how difficult or time consuming it is to keep chickens.
Having grown plenty of tomatoes from upside down hanging baskets while still in Chicago I knew immediately where I would grow the Paul Robeson and Cherokee Purple I had been lusting after once we moved into our little house with a garden.
In addition to tomatoes we grow potatoes, corn, cucumbers, carrots, salad greens, and a variety of sunflowers, mints, oregano, rosemary and lavender. We have been very successful with heirloom bush and climbing beans in addition to peas and round our table out with garlic and greens. Obviously we are limited in the quantities we can grow but in addition to converting some of the lawn in the back and front yard to garden beds we also utilize containers to maximize our growing area.
This winter we also planted several dwarf apple trees in our front yard to create a small orchard and provide some food for our bees. We already produce blueberries and have a strawberry patch even though the squirrels have been eating most of the strawberries. My daughter loves our blueberries just as much as the bees love the blossoms in early spring. Our hive is a top bar hive and grew so quickly in our little backyard oasis that the bees swarmed in the first year which many experienced beekeepers told me was very unusual.
Well, if our bread baking, chickens, garden, orchard and bees were not enough to impress you, how about some bunnies that provide me with fiber that I spin into yarn and knit wonderfully fuzzy hats and scarves for my family? Did we utilize the rabbits for meat production as well? Yes we did, but have to admit that it was a difficult task to process animals that we knew and cuddled from the day they were born. For our children it was an important lesson to learn that every time we eat meat an animal had to die to provide us with that food.
So even though we might not be the typical homesteader we certainly are a living example that you can live a self sufficient lifestyle no matter where you live and how much space you have available and that is really the message I think is important to relay.
Strikingly similar to Helen and Scott Nearing, Stanley and Gale Flagg escaped the burgeoning ski resort regions of Vermont by becoming homesteaders in Maine. One difference however is that instead of the relatively balmy coastal climate of Harborside, the Flaggs chose the frozen north of Violette Settlement, Aroostook County.
With about a mile’s walk (or XC ski trip) to the mailbox, Gale runs successful businesses in handmade Christmas decorations and pressed wildflowers. This is a natural fit for the retired botanist.
They lived for several years in a trailer (I think) while building their house in the mid 1990’s. Since the summers are so short in Northern Maine, Stanley had an ingenious system for building the house. First he laid a foundation only a few rows of cinder blocks high, and then constructed the metal roof on top. This gave him all winter to continue to lay cinder blocks as he elevated the roof with what seemed like dozens of hydraulic jacks!
It might seem to be common sense that they would use alternative energy at this off-the-grid property, but that took time too. Now, however, they have all the amenities they could want with the help of a new solar array.
The Flaggs are active in their church and wider community. Gale is a local celebrity with a newspaper column, nature shows on the public-access cable TV channel, and she helps at the local college, the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
Stanley and Gale Flagg are homesteaders in the truest sense of the word and it is my pleasure having known them.
I am writing this letter to enter our farm into your Homestead of the Year contest. My husband and I purchased a small abandoned farm in 2008 and have made many changes to the property, in order to make our home more environmentally friendly and eco-conscious.
To begin, we bought an existing structure in order to reuse many of the original materials during our remodel and to have to buy as few new building materials as possible. Not only was this cost-effective, it added quite a bit of rustic charm to our interior designs as well. For example, the barn wood siding we pulled from an outbuilding made lovely trim for all of our doors and windows and paneling for our “great room” ceiling.
During the remodel process, we had many opportunities to create a more energy-efficient home. The first step was to re-orient the house to take full advantage of the southern exposure. This involved closing off windows and doors on the north side, and opening up the southern side with lots of glazing. The largest eco-friendly changes we made were to forgo conventional indoor plumbing and opt instead for a composting outhouse and greywater system. Although our friends and family thought we were crazy for going back to an old-fashioned outhouse, we prefer to see it as moving forward and setting an example for water conservation. We now save thousands of gallons of water a year that would have literally been flushed down the toilet, and we get to enjoy the numerous opportunities to experience the outdoors at all hours. The greywater system we installed for our indoor shower and kitchen sink feeds our fruit trees, which then require much less top watering — and it keeps our yard nice and green all summer long.
To help decrease energy costs for our new 650-square-foot home, we coated our tin roof with an elastomeric sealant that allows for potable rainwater collection in addition to preventing unwanted leaks. The white color reduces roof temperatures and helps save electricity. We also installed minimal wiring throughout our home to minimize the use of surplus electrical appliances, and we bought CFLs for all of our lights. We use a small, dorm-sized refrigerator instead of trying to cool miles of condiment space, and set our hot water heater to a temperature that uses less energy to maintain than the standard setting. To heat our home, we purchased a soapstone stove that uses an interior catalytic converter to have increased efficiency and decreases pollution by burning the chemical compounds in the wood smoke itself. We get the most heat from the fewest materials this way, which in turn means having to harvest fewer resources from our wooded acreage.
To promote future self-sustainability and decrease consumer purchases, we have planted many fruit trees to supplement the nut trees that were already on our property, and we grow as many of our own vegetables that we can. We also raise free-range chickens that provide us with all the omelets, custard and quiches that we and our friends and family can eat. The chicken manure is added to our garden compost and used to fertilize the raised vegetable beds that provide our fresh produce. We also “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” to contribute as little as we can to the local land fill, in addition to what we term pre-cycling — which means not buying products that are heavily packaged or that contain plastics. We also try not to purchase glass bottles, which we cannot recycle here in our area.
The next step for our farm is to install solar panels for electricity, and to add a solar hot water system. We are looking forward to the time when we can be entirely self-sufficient and “off the grid”. There is a popular saying that goes, “It ain’t easy being green”. However, my family has found out that the benefits of living a healthy outdoor lifestyle far outweigh any extra work or inconvenience involved. I just think of all the beautiful starry nights I would have missed if I didn’t have to go outside to get to the bathroom.
Almost eight months to the day after my beloved husband of 30 years died in my arms at our local Hospice, I was helping to deliver a new life: my beloved granddaughter Naomi. With me holding one leg and her daddy holding the other, mom Danielle pushed this beautiful child into the world. Less than a minute later, I cut the umbilical cord and began my dedication to the life and happiness of my “little bean,” a nickname that would prove prescient.
The front lawn of our house was a sun-soaked sand pit with sandspurs, weeds and no arable soil, yet I could visualize it as the ideal place to finally realize a dream of raised garden beds and organic vegetables. With Naomi’s birth, I felt an urgency to act.
I started small: three 4-by4-foot beds modeled on Mel Bartholomew’s Square-Foot Gardening (my first gardening “Bible”!), and from the time she could crawl and eat dirt(!), Naomi was my shadow. I composted, hauled top soil, started seeds, and every day, whispered to the soil and the new life that was burgeoning before – and beside – me. Bush beans, eggplant, lettuce, kale, radishes – veggies I loved – and sunflowers thrived, surrounded by various containers with tomatoes, peppers and herbs – even an old cardboard box that produced baby potatoes. (I use Rubbermaid containers now because they last longer.) All were beautiful and we enjoyed the bounty for months.
The learning curve in Florida’s hot, humid – and buggy – climate has been steep ,but by year three, I had added a 4-by-8-foot bed and many more containers. And by this time, my “little bean” was a willowy 3-year-old helper who labored to carry the watering can and who now was able to sample the bounty, be they green peas off the vine, tiny green beans, fingerling carrots or crunchy lettuce and spinach, seasoned only with the water she had poured upon them.
Is this tiny garden a homestead? I know it is to me and my “little bean,” who is now serious and curious about how food grows, who relishes putting her hands through the soil, who gets to eat homegrown veggies for about six months of the year.
We now have broccoli and cabbages and three kinds of beans, in addition to the other “reliables.” And there will be two more 4-by-8-foot beds added this year, because I’ve now learned I can grow sweet potatoes and Malabar spinach in the summer. There could even be a “stealth” chicken coop in the future!
Naomi will help me plant them, nurture them and eat them ... new life, as she was, wrapping around my heart after a horrible loss, showing me home, giving my homestead new roots for the future.
George told me, “We trellis everything from cucumbers to scarlet runner beans, spaghetti squash, patty pan squash, peas on wire, and beans on pole tipis. This year they grew ‘Sun Gold’ cherry tomatoes on a trellis that climbed to over 10 feet tall.
Using companion crops, such as slow-growing carrots combined with quick-growing radishes, is another method for utilizing space wisely. The Native American Three Sisters method of growing, beans, corn and squash is another great method they use.
Good soil and compost is the foundation of a good garden and they have a great local source of compost, as well as composting all household food waste, combined with manure from their goats, horses, and chickens and carbon waste from stall cleaning.
Most of the transplants are started from seed, which saves money. Tomato starter plants a bought from a local greenhouse grower are the exception.
Linda’s expertise is with the four Nubian milk goats that keep them in milk for drinking and producing their own cheese and yogurt. The does are bred and the offspring becomes meat in the freezer. The nearby Rogue and Applegate Rivers provide more protein in the form of salmon and steelhead. They often get a deer or an elk, which they process themselves when the hunt is successful. Linda and George are avid canners, pickers, dryers and preservers.
They produce a lot of food on their modern homestead, but it doesn’t stop there. George and Linda also have excellent bulk shopping skills and are ready for whatever life brings them. Their house is very energy efficient with their use of natural gas and up-graded windows. I believe these southern Oregon modern day homesteaders are an example for all of us and should be featured in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
The Fulmers have not forgotten their roots, which is apparent with their mission statement: to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together to celebrate our traditions, preserve our culture and learn about our heritage.
For 24 years, they have hosted the Mississippi Pecan Festival. Starting out as just a one-day gathering for food and fellowship, the festival has grown into a family-friendly, three-day event.
Located on the farm are the Jones House and the Dunam House (both of which were moved to the farm). They are over 100 years old and are furnished with period antiques. The public is encouraged to walk through them and see what kind of house people used to live in.
All through the year, the Fulmers invite groups (seniors, youth groups, schools, churches, etc.) to come to the homestead and learn about life the way it used to be.Groups get a narrated and hands-on tour of the Fulmer Farmstead, learning, seeing and being a part of life the old-fashioned way. You get to see biscuits being made from scratch and cooked on a wood-burning stove, then try your hand churning butter (and even get to put some on your hot biscuits!). You can wander through the victory garden, pet the goats and look at the chickens (you might even see a child or trying two catch one of them). You get to see the big Percheron horses being harnessed, watch as they work in the field, and then you can get treated to a horse-drawn hayride. You can even talk to a cowboy to learn about chuck wagons and eatin’ over the open fire. It’s a great way to spend the day!
Because of the demand from the public, two years ago they built a general store in which people could get home-grown fruits/vegetables (most grown right on the farm); fresh baked goods; dairy products; Amish meats and cheeses; home-cooked lunches; horse-drawn items (such as wagons, farm equipment and harness); bulk items such as flour, sugar, dry beans, grits, rice, seasonings, etc.; and canned goods, knick-knacks, toys and antiques.
This past year, the farmstead starting teaching pressure-canning classes. Using the USDA-approved method of canning, participants learned how to can carrots, potatoes, jams, jellies, blueberry pie filling, and chicken on the bone. The general store also is one of the areas largest suppliers of canning supplies: pressure cookers, jars, lids, canning salt, etc. This year, the classes will also include sustainable living lessons: laundry detergent, gardening, harvesting, bread making, and soap making – just to name a few! All of the wonderful past comes to life each and every day at the Fulmers Farmstead.
I would like to nominate the Blue Y Farm in Mason, N.H., for your Homesteaders of the Year award. My brother and sister-in-law, Jon and Cheri Grovesteen (and their daughters Alyson and Emma) are truly deserving. In September of 2008, Cheri was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 (with no family history). This would be a difficult situation for any mother, but in addition to her daughters, she tirelessly tended to the pigs, the horses, the chickens, the dogs, and the cats on their 10 acres in southern New Hampshire while Jon worked his full-time job as an engineer at BOSE. They officially incorporated as The Blue Y Farm, so they could legally sell eggs and meat. (The name is a tribute to our grandfather’s Blue Y Stables once located in Ghent, N.Y.)
It was during Cheri’s chemo treatments that Jon found his dream house — a dilapidated Cape built in 1779 on about 80 acres in a near-by town. After many, many weeks of stress-inducing situations (selling their current house, negotiating on the new, securing financing and insurance for an antique property, trips into Boston for rounds of chemo, low blood counts interfering with treatment, etc.) the property finally became theirs.
Three years later, Cheri is now cancer-free. Replacing rotted original beams, residing the barn, and turning the el into a functional kitchen have breathed new life into the property. (The Amish-built, wood-burning cook stove they installed is amazing!) In addition, they have created a large garden, increased their flock of laying chickens and also their pigs, begun raising meat chickens and turkeys, and planted new apple trees to supplement the older ones already there. A nice grove of old sugar maples enables them to boil their own syrup. In her “free” time, Cheri dehydrates and cans to preserve the harvest. (It is worth noting that she grew up near Boston, and used to think chipmunks grew up to be squirrels! How far she has come...) Jon is always tinkering and building something — whether it’s a chicken tractor, a portable water trailer or a pig pen. The girls particularly enjoy the animals and always seem to be carrying either a cat, a rabbit, or a chicken. They hope to soon have the old hay fields ready to hold some beef cattle.
I love visiting the Blue Y with my own girls. Whether it’s a rooster crowing, the pigs snorting or the horses neighing, the sounds of life are everywhere. It is a testament to the family’s strength and determination that such an unexpected diagnosis did not prohibit them from chasing their dream of being more self-sufficient.
I'd like to nominate my family for Homesteader of the Year. My husband, Tom, and my stepson live on a quarter-acre lot in the city and raise chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats and bees along with having 27 fruit trees and a 5,000-square-foot garden. In October 2010, we decided to see if we could survive a year without buying food from a grocery store, box store, convenience store or even a restaurant. We lived on food we produced, purchased directly from farmers, bartered for or could get through an organic, local buying club. We were able to stock our freezer with meat we produced on our little lot. We also produced all the milk and eggs we needed.
For three months of our year we didn't purchase any food and depended wholly on our backyard production and what had on our shelves. It was difficult but we made it through the year and continued on into our second year of no grocery stores. It has truly changed our views on food and how to live a more simple life. Everything we eat requires work since it's all made from scratch including cheese, bread, condiments, cereal and pasta. We learned not only how much effort went into making our food, but also that it doesn’t have to have all the chemicals and additives that are put into today’s food.
We took on this project and are also running our urban farm while we both work full-time jobs outside the home. We also still visit with friends and family and attend events. One of the biggest surprises about our project was just how easy it really was to do, which is one of the reasons we continued on into a second year. By telling people that you don’t have to give up their life to eat better, we hope to help change our food system.
Besides food, we’ve also made a lot of other changes to our lives. We now make all our own cold-processed soap and we only use vinegar and baking soda to clean our home. We had to live for a time without a stove, which forced us to make a wood-burning oven out of an old gas grill. Clothes go out on a clothesline and we try to build all of our projects with reclaimed materials. We produce all of the compost we need because of the animals, so we no longer have to haul in soil amendments. We even ripped out our front lawn and planted all edible shrubs to increase our food production. On top of all that I write for two of my own blogs (www.dogislandfarm.com and www.ayearwithoutgroceries.blogspot.com) along with doing monthly articles for another site to teach people how to become independent of the grocery store.
Our project helped us become closer as a family because we have to work together to get everything done. We became healthier and lost weight by eliminating industrial foods. And first and foremost we have built a community by openly talking to people about what we’re doing and helping people follow in our footsteps.
Caney Branch Farm, Florida’s 2011 Innovative Farmers of the Year, is an 11 1/2-acre farmstead located 15 miles east of Tallahassee, Fla. Despite having full-time professional careers, owner/operators Ellyn Hutson and Roger Twitchell have earned Master Beekeeper, Welsh Honey Judge, and Master Sheep producer certifications. Established in 2004, the farm prides itself for its naturally grown honey, meat, eggs and fiber. Although small, the farm packs a lot into a little space, and has been designated as a certified wildlife habitat and a certified butterfly garden.
Most of the farm is covered in pasture, which is utilized through rotational grazing by heritage breeds of Belted Galloway cattle and Icelandic sheep. Heritage chickens freely range behind the cattle and sheep to assist with parasite control. An apiary of 20 beehives, located by one of the farm’s two ponds, provides pollination for the plethora of fruits, vegetables and herbs planted throughout the property. A large pear tree shades the rams during the summer, patches of native wildflowers dot the property, and several varieties of blueberries line the drive. A sizeable herb and flower garden nestled next to the farmhouse provides a variety of nectar and pollen sources for bees, butterflies and other pollinators, as well as a focal point and resting place after a hard day’s work.
All livestock are raised hormone- and antibiotic-free and are supplemented with the farm’s own special blend of grains and minerals developed to meet the specific needs of our animals. Caney Branch Farm owns the southern-most flock of Icelandic sheep in the world, so northern management practices have been altered to accommodate the hot, humid Florida summers. Most notably, shearing times for the sheep have been adjusted, which provides two to three premium fleeces per year. Likewise, we have adjusted northern beekeeping practices by incorporating hygienic bees into our apiary and altering traditional management practices, which has allowed Caney Branch to maintain chemical-free beehives for over five years — despite the pressures from colony collapse disorder, Varroa mites, and hive beetles. Hogs have recently been added to our program and, at the request of our customers, free-range turkeys, ducks and geese have been added to our repertoire in spring 2012.
Caney Branch Farm participates in the annual farm tour hosted by the local food cooperative to provide local families with a hands-on farm experience. Children are given an opportunity to harvest eggs, pet lambs, goats and the resident horse. Tanned hides, fleeces and horns are available for children to handle. The farm is also home to a classroom where hands-on seminars on beekeeping and queen-rearing have been hosted. Courses on maintaining urban poultry and making hand-crafted soaps, beeswax candles, herbal vinegars and butters are planned. Farm products include registered breeding stock, grass-fed beef and lamb, chicken and duck eggs, turkeys, hides and fleeces, horn products, yarns and roving, beeswax candles, soaps, fresh blueberries, pears, and a variety of vegetables and herbs.
I would like to nominate Rachel Kaplan and Adam Kinsey for your of Urban Homesteader of the Year Award.
They live in near San Francisco in a small town, in a small house where they do amazing things.
They keep bees, chickens and rabbits, raise annual vegetable crops,mushrooms, and culinary and medicinal herbs. They tend a small urban orchard (15 trees) in pots on our back patio, and in the ground. They have numerous gardens around our property that provide pollination opportunities for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Rachel has set up an impressive water saving system hat includes greywater recycling of bathtub/shower, and washing machine. This saves and redistributes thousands of gallons of water a year. They also save water through a simple rainwater catchment system, including barrels and buckets, as well as swales and other earthworks throughout the garden.
They can, ferment and dry food and are constantly involved in food projects.
They also grow herbs for cooking and medicine, and create tinctures, salves and creams from them.
In addition to the gardens at home, Rachel tends two gardens off-site, one at a community garden, and the other in a friend's backyard. With these three gardens, and because of the Californian four-season climate, she grows most of the vegetables her family needs throughout the year. Adam tends the bees and keeps nine hives.
They teach organic gardening, urban homesteading, canning and food drying, beekeeping and backyard chicken tending to their local community. Rachel is the co-author of Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living (with K. Ruby Blume),and spent the last year teaching and lecturing about the urban homesteading movement and all of its delights.
I find them to be an amazingly impressive family, dedicated to the earth and their community.
They have worked very hard over the years to develop a lifestyle that is in keeping with their values.
This is a family which walks their talk.
It all started in the mid 1970’s in Tempe, AZ where it’s so hot in the summer you can “fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Barbara Kerr and Sherry Cole did better than that. They experimented with homemade solar cookers in Barbara’s backyard. Soon they were feeding their neighbors solar-cooked hot lunches.
The Kerr-Cole modern-day version of the light-weight, cardboard, tinfoil and glass cooker was swooped up by solar cooking enthusiasts and taken ‘round the world. Numerous non-profit organizations such as Solar Cookers International, Solar Oven Society, SHE and Jewish World Watch, made it their mission to bring solar cooking to the world’s most impoverished people.
Meanwhile Barbara moved on to the White Mountain region of Arizona where she designed an earth-bermed house which is heated and cooled by the sun and natural air flow. She created an organic garden, built solar batch water heaters, installed photovoltaics for electricity and created a down-draft food crop dehydrator.
Her home is especially noted for its solar wall oven in which supper is cooked daily with the sun. Located in her kitchen, it is used just like a regular oven. Space between two doors allows a warming area in which to raise dough for bread or create homemade yogurt.
Ten years ago Barbara created the non-profit Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center, Inc. so that these simple DIY solar ideas could be shared into the future. Today, the Center hosts regular “Solar Tours” for the public. As Barbara ages, younger blood has expanded the homestead with a permaculture garden and swale to catch (infrequent) rainwater. Buff Orpington chickens are part of the new garden, adding their life-giving qualities to the high desert land.
And the beat goes on. The ten acres Barbara bought is officially designated as a wildlife refuge. Numerous bird feeders adorn the space just outside the south-facing windows. Permaculture zoning of the land is in the works. This means some of the land will always be left wild while other portions will be artfully tended using permaculture principles.
We use solar-pumped well water, some of which goes through a solar water distiller for nearly perfect purity. Of course “solar driers” (clotheslines) dry the laundry. Rainwater from the roof pours into a 2,500-gallon poly tank which is used to water the vegetable garden via a small solar driven pump.
Soon our visitors and guests will be able to do more than look at these ideas. They will build them here at workshops so that they can take their creations home. That way the show-and-tell can go on. Our intention is for the community to build upon these ideas, improve upon them and keep the cycle of knowledge going and growing.
Nearly five years ago, my hubby and I bought a little house in an urban working-class neighborhood in Vancouver.. When we bought it, it was nothing but knee-high grass. What started as an innocent decision to plant blueberries in our front yard unknowingly launched us on our urban homesteading adventure. Our entire lot is now a chaotic, abundant, edible Eden.
Our first year we planted a small veggie garden, about 200 square feet, which we put in before we even moved into the house. Five growing seasons later, both our front and backyard are full of veggies, fruit trees, berries and even hops! When Vancouver passed a bylaw allowing urban chickens, we added a flock of heritage Barred Rock hens to the mix. They keep us in eggs and make short work of our kitchen scraps and garden trimmings.
Our second year saw a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes. We grew 12 varieties, 50 plants in total, in addition to our other veggies on our 30-by-108-foot lot. We stopped weighing the harvest when it hit 300 pounds. With this many veggies, canning is a necessity. We make salsa, stewed tomatoes, pizza sauce, every pickle imaginable (sweet zucchini being our favorite, handy when there's the inevitable glut!), sweet green relish and even ketchup. This summer I'm determined to learn how to pressure can so I can put by homemade stock, sauces and soups. Our makeshift cold room is always full of homegrown garlic, potatoes, onions and squash.
We both love to be in the kitchen. We make our own bread, pasta, ice cream, baby food and a mean homebrew (if we do say so ourselves).
The garden plan for this year includes tomatoes, leeks, onions, shallots, potatoes, beans, peas, cabbage, beets, carrots, lots of greens, celery, mushrooms, peppers, cucumbers, squash, cauliflower and herbs in addition to the peaches, crab apple, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, hardy kiwi, currants, lemons and grapes that have permanent homes in our yard. We grow open-pollinated, heirloom varieties whenever possible, and we do our best to save our own seeds. This year we're excited to add honeybees to the mix!
My hubby has built us a beautiful greenhouse that allows us to grow year-round in our relatively mild climate (zone 7). We use it part of the year as a home for our chickens, and the attached shed is topped with a green roof made into a beautiful bee meadow. The rest of the year we rotate our movable chicken coop through our various garden beds. We collect rain water from our roof and all of our garden methods are deep organic, as both my hubby and I are Organic Master Gardeners.
We have a young family and homesteading has allowed me to quit my job to stay home with our baby full time. Growing food in our front yard created an unexpected sense of community for us and our neighbors. Our mail lady enjoys our cherry tomatoes all summer, and folks from all around stop to chat and exchange recipes and growing tips. East Vancouver is known to have problems with gangs and drugs, but our homesteading provides us not only food security, but the security that comes with strong community and knowing our neighbors.
Our friends and family think we're nuts to do what we do, but they always seems to find their way to our place just in time to enjoy the harvest! As for me, I love that our young son is growing up eating real food, surrounded by an abundant garden, cheerful chickens and a home that always smells of freshly baked bread.
You can read more about our adventure on my Slow Foods Mama blog.
Homesteader of the year? How about “Schoolsteaders”?
As one of the teachers of the Austin Montessori Adolescent Community I would like to nominate our 33 adolescent students/farmers/entrepreneurs to be nominated as homesteaders of the year. Maria Montessori called the program for adolescents Erdkinder, which translates as “land children,” emphasizing the interdependence of the natural world and human life. We are extremely fortunate to have a campus, Gaines Creek Farm, which serves as a place for young adults to explore and learn about living healthy lives, making responsible choices, and contemplating their roles in society.
Our 280 square foot garden, 33 chickens, three bee hives, our 20,000 worms are some of the ways in which students learn about the interconnectedness of all things. Maya, one of our students, was reflecting this week that she had enjoyed watching the plants grow from seed. She also mentioned feeling a sense of pride in telling the parent customers at our weekly farmers market, that the produce displayed had been harvested only hours ago.
Being the entrepreneurs they are, our students have expanded beyond selling fresh, school-grown, delicious vegetables. Our basil becomes, pesto; all our paper towels and part of our compost are consumed by our worms and turned in to nutritious worm tea and earthworm castings that benefit our garden. We are growing herbs and drying them, resulting in herbal teas and dried herbs. We have pickled cucumbers and, looked for local raw milk to learn how to make mozzarella cheese. We have harvested and tasted raw honey, made lip balm and are helping to rewrite the law in the city of Austin to stop the killing of feral bees. We are collecting some of the rainwater from our roofs and are currently expanding that endeavor to include the main roofs of our school building. We are hoping to fill our pond, water our garden with what we collect, rather than with the chlorinated city water.
With the support from many parents at our school, we are hoping also to install a commercial kitchen. This will give us the opportunity to really bring our farm produce to the table: steamed chard, kale chips, a fresh garden salad, roasted home grown potatoes with fresh rosemary, sweet crispy fresh asparagus (which usually doesn’t even make it out of the garden), the best of what nutrition has to offer.
So, you see, it’s all about planting seeds, whether it is in our gardens or in the minds our students. The seed currently being planted is in your mind. The Schoolsteaders of Austin Montessori Adolescent Community! If you could see what I see every day: so much potential, so much idealism and belief in a good world, so much kindness; such vulnerability. Our students inspire me every day to be a better person. That is why I feel the homestead spotlight has found a place to shine.
I would like to nominate Cam and Michelle Mather of Sunflower Farm in Tamworth, Ontario, Canada, for Homesteader of the Year. The Mathers live the homesteaders' dream that many people strive for: They have taken the sum of all individual parts of homesteading and put them together. Cam and Michelle Mather live on a 150-acre farm in Canada in a 100-year-old farmhouse, where they've raised two home-educated daughters. They produce, store and cook most of their own organic food. Without the use of an energy-thirsty tractor, they garden intensively and produce a variety of vegetables and fruit for use during the growing season, including sweet potatoes, garlic, squash and raspberries, among others.
They continue to strive for increased self-sufficiency every year in all aspects of their lives, like often using an electric bike to drive the 9 miles (14 kms) to the nearest town. Cam brings horse manure and old hay back to the farm on a regular basis to increase garden space and fertilize the garden. They also offer vegetables and free-range eggs for sale at their local farmers market. They live sustainably off the grid, producing their own electricity with solar and wind power, plus Cam cuts and uses firewood from his own property to heat their home as well. They are modern homesteaders who appreciate the ways of the past.
In addition to their accomplishments as homesteaders on the land, they have taken their self-reliant living to an impressive level by starting their own publishing home business, Aztext Press. They publish and distribute books on alternative energy/living including $mart Power: An Urban Guide to Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency by William Kemp; and their own storyLittle House Off the Grid by Cam and Michelle Mather. In addition, they publish Solutions for Sustainability DVDs to help others to achieve their goals.
Cam Mather is also a frequent speaker at EcoFairs, universities and local events. His knowledge and expertise in sustainable living and alternative energy has made him a desired speaker. In addition, they've held alternative energy workshops right at Sunflower Farm for aspiring off-gridders and homesteaders alike.
In his “spare” time, Cam blogs about his experiences, from affordability to zucchinis, in a comfortable and humorous manner, often touching on serious subjects like peak oil in his Homesteading in Canada blog.
First of all, let me tell you a bit of our history. As kids, we both grew up in rural Ohio. At the time we did not realize how blessed we were to be raised in the country. We had chores to do and hay to bale, weeds to pull, etc. We had no idea that what we were really learning was how to be self-sufficient; whether it was from eating a fish fresh from the pond, snapping the ends off of green beans and helping my mother can them, or baking a pie made with the still warm blackberries hand-picked that morning.
As we got older, we were swayed in directions other than farming. We each ran our own business for a while, as well as working for others. A few years after we got married, we moved to a little island in Florida, called Big Pine Key, about 30 miles north of Key West.
As you can imagine, life in the tropics was wonderful. Fishing, swimming, walking on the beach, it felt like an endless vacation during an endless summer. There were hundreds of restaurants to try and always a social activity to go too if we were inclined. We continued to stay creative, though, in different ways. Doug loves working with wood, anything from building a cabinet to a beautiful little jewelry box, and I enjoy writing, painting and landscaping.
After living in the Keys for 12 years, we realized something. All we talked about was how we had loved our country life. Surrounded by this tropical paradise, with the ocean and warm sand and palm trees swaying, we would find ourselves bragging about who caught the most catfish one year, or who filled up a coffee can with earthworms one night after a rainy summer day in the country. hat we realized is that Big Pine Key was our address, but our "home" was the country.
So happily, we packed up our sandals and swimsuits, and replaced them with our well-worn, but oh-so-comfy blue jeans, barn coats and muck boots.
We now live on a 60-acre farm, which we have named The Rusty Armadillo, in northern Alabama. My husband has put his woodworking skills to use building raised beds for our garden, as well as trays to hold our plants in his aquaponics system that he started three years ago. We still fish a lot, but now it is at a local nearby lake, or in our own pond where we collect minnows for his aquaponics water tanks.
We have a yard full of guinea fowl, to provide eggs as well as humor. Our garden grows larger each year, with vegetables and melons galore, and we hope to have our first green house up by summer. I love seeing our pantry full of our home-canned sauces, jams, vegetables, etc. Nothing feels better than to have a meal that we have completely provided ourselves, either by hunting, fishing, or growing in our garden. My husband has a small grist mill, and when he grinds the corn and we mix in some fresh buttermilk left over in our butter churn, ahh, we are treated with biscuits made in Heaven. The churn was a gift from my mother to me years ago, and from her mother to her — I feel blessed each time I use it.
Each morning, we start the day on our front porch, coffee in hand, and talk about our next venture. This spring, the plan is to expand our herb garden, so we can use them in our home made soaps. All natural, no chemicals, and from our home to ... who knows?
It does take some hard work, but a whole lot of love. This is our paradise.
Having taught horticulture at Montachusett Regional Vocational High School in Massachusetts, Deirdre came to Harrisville with broad experience in growing food plants and the teaching skills to help eager gardeners succeed. Scott taught machine repair at the same school, and is proficient in the building trades.
Now retired, they’re putting their talents to work in Harrisville. But it’s not just about their own homesteading and forging a path to self-sufficiency by building an energy-efficient home, seed saving, propagation of plants and growing food in their garden and orchard, keeping poultry for eggs and meat, learning to process their poultry, building a root cellar in their basement and constructing a hoop house for year-round cultivation. It’s also about helping others develop their homesteading skills.
In 2010, Deirdre established a community garden in a sunny field under conservation easement. Owned by Historic Harrisville, Inc., a 501(c)(3), the concept fit right into the nonprofit’s operating plan, which includes a community building component. With help from local farmers who plowed the field, delivered sheep manure and supplied an electric critter fence at cost, the Harrisville Community Garden opened with 20 plots. Eager gardeners signed up, paid a nominal use fee, attended meetings to learn how they could amend the soil, and began digging out some remarkable-sized stones in early spring. Despite a hot, dry summer, the gardeners’ success was beyond expectation, and the following year the garden was expanded with 10 more plots. Since then the Olivers have found a solution to the problem of supplying a dependable water source. A special dug well to be sunk this year will provide gravity-fed water to the garden.
In 2011, with the community garden doing well, the Olivers helped establish a new advisory body in town government: the Harrisville Agricultural Commission. In its first year it initiated a farmers market with a dozen local gardeners and food producers selling vegetables, meat, eggs, flowers, honey, maple syrup, home-spun yarns and home-baked goods. Cooperating with the Ag Commission of the neighboring town of Nelson, the Commission has set 10 market dates for 2012, alternating the venue from town to town.
This year our Ag Commission has scheduled a series of public informational programs on beginning shepherding, season extension and composting.
By selling extra produce to the Harrisville General Store, the local “hot spot” and cultural crossroads in this town of fewer than 1,000 people, Deirdre and Scott have helped the store become known not only for great dishes in its café but as a resource for locally grown food.
Despite their hard work and dedication to community, the Olivers have a charming and human side perhaps best expressed in the story of Sawdust, their one-eyed pet rooster. Only tolerated by the rest of the flock, he gets special treatment around the farm. When he pecks at the kitchen door, he’s let in for a visit. And it’s not unusual to see him around town, sitting on the pickup seat with Scott. Sawdust enjoys a good outing now and then.
I would like to nominate myself for a homesteader of the year recognition. My situation is humble, though unique, and I am very proud of it. I am a 30-year-old male artist, carpenter, metal fabricator and commercial fisherman with and BA in Philosophy and an MFA in sculpture. I live alone on my homestead with a small dog.
I built an 8-by-12-foot shed/beautiful and comfortable little home in the abandoned yard of a 150-year-old industrial building in the center of Providence, RI. It is a bleak industrial area surrounded by a structural steel company and a liquid crystal manufacturer.
I moved into the shed on January 4 of last year, in the middle of New England’s worst recorded winter. I tapped the water and power of the building the shed is up against, in which I have an art studio. I bathe with a bucket and washtub. My heat is electric, but only because I never got the chance to build the waste-oil stove I want (a modification of a MOTHER EARTH NEWS design).
I have a two-burner propane stove and a rudimentary greywater system. I never got a chance to install the rainwater system I built, though I did catch rainwater when I lost running water for four days over a boiler issue. In the little patch of toxic earth I raised chickens, bees, mealworms and rabbits to mixed results, though I learned an incredible amount through my successes and failures. I had a pathetic little garden, but I spend June and July commercial fishing for sockeye salmon in Alaska. I learned to forage for wild mushrooms and distill liquor, and I researched projects I hope to undertake in the future, like raising pigeons and mushrooms. It has been a year of hard work and savage living. It was a year of learning, and what I learned most was how to be present within an environment. I made this wasteland my home. I dedicated a year of my life to a place, and I poured my love and hard work into it.
While in reality I produced very little food and maintained dependence on many systems I would like to be rid of, I lived with determination and intentionality. I created a space that validates life within a bleak and dead post-industrial landscape. I write in the past tense because I am moving on in two months, after just a year and a half, due to problems that have jeopardized my situation and for another opportunity that has come along. It is an illegal home, and I understood from the beginning that ultimately my situation would come to an end. But it has been a success. On this little patch of earth I found a way of living and a way of being that draws me closer to the environment around me. This homestead was short lived, but I’ll take the experience and knowledge gained here forward with me in my life. I found my path here.
Our story begins a couple years ago when my husband and I were dating and decided that I would move in with him. I said OK, but I’m bringing my chickens and I want a big garden! I grew up in the country and had continued that lifestyle as I got older. But he lived in town, so we decided to make it our urban farm.
Every year we have a big garden, a small garden and container gardens. We can everything that can be canned. We raise chickens, ducks and quail for their eggs and meat. We also raise rabbits to butcher and recently added a milk goat to our little farm, from which we plan to make our own butter and cheese when we start milking her. (Not to mention all the natural compost/fertilizer we get from their waste!) We use what resources we can from the woods, such as digging sassafras roots for the tea and harvesting wild asparagus. Also, we tap maple trees and make our own syrup. We also hunt mushrooms and collect nuts. Both of us enjoy fishing and hunting, from which we process, cure and smoke the meats ourselves. We pick up corn from the fields that we shell and grind for our animals.
Our house is heated by wood we cut and split ourselves. I started straining our wood ashes to get the lye to start making our own soap. Most all of our garden plants are started indoors from seed. I strictly plant our garden by the Farmers’ Almanac. A well supplies us with our water, and we are getting ready to build a solar water heater. My husband built a solar heater from a used storm window and it helps heat our front room on a good sunny day.
Last year we raised catfish, blue gill and crappie in a pool we buried in our yard, then my husband added grow beds to it to make it an aquaponics system. When the season was over and we harvested all of our fish, we let the ducks have the pool. We have also added a small orchard. There was already an apple tree and two very good walnut trees in our yard, but we added two more apples, two peaches, a pear and an apricot. We also have a strawberry patch, blackberry and raspberry patch, two grape arbors, a blueberry bush and a hazelnut tree. This year we plan to add honeybees to help pollinate and provide honey.
As we can afford it we are going to redo our kitchen by adding a wood cook stove and an ice box. Also more solar power things to the house. Although we have only been homesteading for about two years now we take steps each day on our way to becoming self-sustaining. What makes our little homestead so unique is that we only own a half of a city block in our small town.
My friends John and Nita Rau from Guthrie, Okla., I think would be the best homesteader nominee for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Nita belongs to a food co-op and buys whole grains and grinds her corn meal and flour. She cooks and bakes from scratch. They heat their house with wood. They grow a garden and Nita has a food dryer, so she dries her food and cans.
They have a dog, chickens, horses. Nita buys little chicks every year and than butchers the young rooster for the freezer. Nita did, but not sure she still does, go to the store and get fat from the butcher and render it in a big pot on an open fire to get lard and make lye soaps. She used to sell it, plus she make drip candle, wagon train rag dolls.
Her family of two boys and girl which are grown now, use to dress up in the 1800’s outfits and go to festivals and make drip candles and dolls, her husband would make coffee and biscuits in a cast iron Dutch oven with coals on top over an open fire like they were on a wagon train.
Nita sewed all their outfits. She also has a spinning wheel. She would get wool from friend that raised sheep and spin it and dye it and then knit things. She also uses rags and crochets rugs for her home and sell and give to her friends. She home-schooled all her kids. They live in the country 3-5 acres. I am sure I have left out something. They are some of the neatest people I know.
I would like to nominate my friend and neighbor Danielle Sheffield for homesteader of the year. We live in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which is a small beach community outside of Jacksonville. Our neighborhood is small, very modern and overall your standard U.S. neighborhood. The Sheffield family is different.
They are breaking the mold of what you would consider suburbia. The first thing you will notice upon entering their property (a small lot of under 5000 square feet) is that they have transformed their entire front yard into a working composted organic vegetable garden. Large and bountiful stalks of every kind of heirloom vegetable grow tall.
You may see a Sheffield child pulling broccoli off the stalk and eating it. Or you might see Scott Sheffield talking baskets of collard greens to neighbors. Most likely you will see a large smoker in the cobblestoned driveway cooking fresh meat that the Sheffields have hunted in the woodlands in nearby Palm Valley. Neighbors gather in front to enjoy the smells and samples.
What you may not see is that Danielle Sheffield cooks everything from scratch, every meal, every day. She makes her own bread, cheese, yogurt, desserts, and snacks for the kids, all from non-processed, natural, organic ingredients. Her love of cooking and her background in science has allowed her to evolve from cooking to soap making, cleaning products, detergents and shampoos.
Any byproducts of her creations are either reused, go into the compost pile or are recycled. Because Scott Sheffield is a general contractor by trade he is able to modify their home to be the most energy efficient that it can be. The family is highly involved in the community, including donating time to teach about green living, working in the community garden and volunteering in church events.
This family embodies the spirit of natural living and homesteading in a usable and modern way. They have shown the community that you can make a difference in your community — even in suburbia.
I'd like to nominate us.
We live in the suburbs in New England but are zoned for critters, and take full advantage of this. We raise free-ranging chickens for meat and eggs — truly free-ranging in a 2-acre fenced pasture. We have pigs on pasture, fed almost exclusively on gleaned free food until they go to freezer camp. We have goats for dairy and make many types of cheeses, kefir, yogurt, lattes, pudding, chowders, soap, etc. with the bounty of milk.
I've discovered that there are more cheeses to be made with goat's milk than simply chevre. We have many pounds of feta, Gouda, caerphilly, and chevre stored for the coming months. I've also made St Mauer, Camembert, cottage cheese, mozzarella, ricotta, and cheddars. Oh, and I made my own cheese press from scrounged scraps I had on hand.
We do our own processing of the animals here on our property. I butchered all three pigs this year with very little help — I sure know the musculo-skeletal anatomy of the pig now! Rendered and put up 60 lbs of lard, made 5 gallons of salt pork, cut and wrapped and froze more meat than I cared to weigh. I'm ashamed to admit that we still send the bacon out, but on the project list is a smoke house for next year.
We both forage and grow plant foods. We have extensive gardens with veggies and herbs, and mushroom logs in the woods. I always take a picking pail with me when I walk the dogs and come home with many things, including grapes, elderberries, and raspberries, which become pies and wines. We bring home sea water in pails when we can and render it into sea salt all winter on the wood stove.
We preserve by canning, freezing, dehydrating, fermenting, and root cellaring.
I've carded wool to make pillows for our bed and to felt onto dryer balls. I sew window treatments and bedding and some clothing, .including warm coats for the dogs and for the baby goats for those chilly spring nights.
In a good year, I use a scythe to make hay to offset what we need to purchase. In a very good year, the sale of kids pays for hay for the goats, and the sale of goat's milk soap pays for their whole organic grain. There’s more, but I think I’m out of space!
When people think of Montana, the word “homestead” isn’t far behind. That being said, Billings is Montana’s largest city with around 100,000 residents. We are classified either USDA Hardiness Zone 4b or 5, depending on your property. We have long, cold winters but incredibly bright, beautiful summers when you can just about hear things growing.
I’m a freelance writer and home school our two young children, and love teaching them where our food comes from. They’ve been involved with our food production and harvest since before they could walk and now help feed the hens and the compost, help make sausage, have their own garden spots, and even sell some of their “mixed bags” of vegetables and herbs at a local Gardener’s Market we participate in.
We have a small yard but several multi-use gardens in front and back (vegetables, herbs, flowers). My husband built an 8-by-16-foot greenhouse and I’ve had up to 2,500 plants going in there at one time. And we joined St Andrew Community Garden, a lovely opportunity just a half-mile from our house. From August 1 to December 31 of 2011, I canned 353 jars of produce and meat! The pantry is full of everything from pasta sauces to dill pickles, jam to canned venison.
What doesn’t make it into a canning jar is dehydrated or frozen, and I filled about three-quarters of a 21-cubic-foot freezer with pesto, green beans, zucchini, corn, rhubarb and kale. I grow most of the spices used in my daily cooking.
Early in 2011, some friends and I started the long-overdue “urban hen” movement in Billings to clarify a confusing city code. This issue (not yet resolved) has involved many weeks of 60-plus hours spent working to educate, inform, and support. We’ve grown to several hundred supporters, put on a Hen Expo and formed a 501(c)3 non-profit group to support the issue.
We love trying out things that our grandparents could do with ease … I’ve made wine from dandelions, rhubarb, cherries and chokecherries. I started a wild sourdough and made bread, pancakes, biscuits and even sourdough chocolate cake … plus given and sold starts of the sourdough to others. We make jerky, sausage and butter; cheese is next on our list. We hunt and fish and add those to our larder. We buy a side of local grass-fed beef yearly, and this year I rendered 21 jars of tallow to use in cooking and suet-making for our micro-flock of 4 laying hens. Wild food gathering is a family affair as we pick chokecherries, thimble berries, wild strawberries, raspberries, huckleberries, and wild bergamot for tea (with our trusty field guide in my backpack).
The house isn’t always tidy but we’ve got a lot of things going on – and our kids are an integral part of our local and sustainable efforts. Montana is still part of the last frontier, and as the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.
It all started six years ago with a newborn in my arms and a 1600-square-foot garden. My husband said I was crazy, but I was tired of worrying about the factory food system and wanted to feed the best to my children. That year I discovered canning and canned 100 pounds of tomatoes. The next year’s garden was 2400 square feet, and I taught myself how to make jams and jellies.
The third year I learned how to frame and built myself an 8-by-10-foot chicken coop. I called my husband at work one day (he has a fancy day job, I’m the full-time farmsteader), 9 feet up on the chicken coop roof, and asked how to set the depth of the circular saw. He asked why, and reminded me that I’m terrified of the saw. I said I needed to finish the roof to the coop, and I figured 9 feet up was as good a place as any to learn to use it.
The first “animal” year I raised chickens for eggs, rabbits for meat and bees for pollination. I giggled that 10 years earlier, I’d been a vegetarian, but now here I was learning to skin a rabbit from a library book (which I accidentally got blood on and had to buy them a new copy). The next year brought ducks and turkeys.
Our 2.5 acres was covered in pines and acidic, rocky soils. I’ve spent thousands of hours picking rocks, cursing the soil and crying in the dirt. This rocky Massachusetts land has threatened to break me many times, but I’ve refused. The pines came down and in four years, I’ve sweetened the soil with compost we produce. Our land now boasts bumper potato crops and fat, happy earthworms!
My sadness is that there has been no one to teach me. My grandmother told me that her mother used to do these things, but she never wanted to learn because it was a status symbol to be able toafford food from the grocery store. Now I bake by own bread and mill my own wheat; make cheese, butter and yogurt; create jams and jellies; can what we grow; harvest honey from bees, make beeswax products and soaps; spin fiber; raise rabbits, turkeys and chickens for eggs and meat; and build my own animal tractors — and I hope to add goats for milk and meat this year.
My husband has a day job — this is my dream, which he supports and fill in for as a great farmhand. Our three boys are 4, 6 and 9, and help out with some farm chores. Our children know where their food comes from and what’s involved in producing it.
I now teach traditional living classes to empower others. I’ve gained a connection with the Earth and animals. I’ve learned not to waste things — and that one can never have too many 5-gallon buckets. I never meant for it to go this far, but each time I take a step, I slide further down the slope of self-sustainability.
My husband and I live in Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, and we were very lucky to find our dream home in 2009. We were specifically looking for affordable homes on acres, which are rare to find in the metro area. We were newlyweds and had a dream for our first home: to have space and to become more self-sufficient. This was new to us since we had never owned land before, but received help from my parents who were homesteaders in the 1970's.
Since moving into our home, we have put in a 2500 square-foot garden where we grow organic broccoli, carrots, peas, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, melons, squash, corn and eggplant, to name a few. We often have family and friends over to help us with harvesting and enjoying the fresh veggies. Arizona has the perfect climate to grow a variety of foods almost year-round. We are currently growing wheat for the first time, an heirloom variety called Sonora wheat. Shortly after moving in, we planted an orchard of fruit trees including citrus, peaches, plums, apples, pomegranates, apricots, pear and fig. We also have almond trees and several grapevines.
As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time preserving our crops, mostly freezing and canning. Most meals we prepare contain something from our garden or trees. We have collected a variety of recipes that utilize our crops well. Some of our favorites include spinach enchiladas, carrot souffle, apple-carrot cake, fig ice cream, zucchini relish and veggie stir-fry. During apple harvest, we love making homemade applesauce and apple butter, both of which freeze well so they can be enjoyed all year long. We compost everything we can, which in turn goes back into our garden.
Our most recent project was building our chicken coop out of recycled materials. We have 20 chickens we raised from day-old chicks. They include Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes and Gold Laced Wyandottes. Our next major projects are to build a barn and garden shed. My husband has also been avidly researching beekeeping as a hobby and intends to start a hive this year.
We share all of our gardening and homesteading tips and happenings on our AZ Gardeners blog. By having this blog, we hope to show others in our community that you can have a successful garden in Arizona and inspire them to get outside and grow something. We feel very lucky to have this opportunity to create our own homestead. It is a tremendous amount of work, but we love it because it is so rewarding.
I nominate Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm because she is farming all by herself. I do not know her personally but I am a faithful reader of her blog and her books that she has published. If she didn’t live on the opposite side of the United States I am quite positive that we would be friends.
She is currently raising chickens for eggs and meat, sheep for wool, pigs for yummy bacon and an amazing little horse for her farm chores. I learned of her through one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS articles and was fascinated by what she has accomplished so I went and purchased her first book Made from Scratch and was completely enthralled.
She inspired me to get my own flock of chickens and two goats. My husband and I are going to move to the state of Washington and I am hoping to have a small orchard, field of vegetables and be able to start a small vegetable stand.