We asked our resourceful readers to nominate friends and family for our second annual MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year contest. We found ourselves getting more inspired with each family’s story, whether they were installing their own solar panels and food gardens, raising livestock, homeschooling their families or teaching their communities. You can read about the winning homesteaders who are featured in Community-Building and Self-Reliance: Our 2013 Homesteaders of the Year. In addition, we've collected many of the nominations we received as additional inspiration for those of you looking to get started homesteading or looking for kindred spirits. For our full collection of yearly nominees and winners, see our Star Modern Homesteaders page. We think you’ll enjoy reading each family’s unique story as much as we did. We hope you'll find yourself contemplating how to build an Earthship or plant an orchard of your own.
Our Homesteaders of the Year contest runs in conjunction with International Homesteading Education Month, which we co-sponsor with Grit magazine each September. Share your skills with others by registering to host a homesteading workshop and posting it to our year-round, searchable event listing, or by listing yourself in our online speaker finder. Plus, you can find and attend the events going on in your area or seek out a speaker on a topic you're interested in. For even more exciting, hands-on learning, attend a MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, where you can meet our Homesteaders of the Year face-to-face.
If you know a family that fits the bill, tell us about them! Send a 500-word description of a friend, family member or neighbor you think deserves to be one of our honored homesteaders to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com with the subject line “Homesteaders of the Year.” Don't forget to include several photos.
In eighth grade, I met a tall girl from Texas who had a big fancy bag I’d never heard of. We quickly grew to be best friends. Adulthood reached us and we moved apart — Angela to Grinnell College to study biology, and I to find my own way in life.
Angela started married life in St Louis; she and her husband had the first of their four children. They had a small urban apartment whose balcony had little room for growing food. She didn’t let that small space stop her. Angela saw potential in an abandoned field behind their building. She put a guerilla vegetable garden there, thus beginning the principles of her permaculture life.
When they moved to Portland, Ore., they purchased a bungalow on a weedy quarter-acre. They quickly sheet mulched the yard. Angela’s goal was to feed her family affordably and organically while renewing the earth and maintaining sustainability. Her children are learning about science and permaculture while sharing the fruits of their labor. Frugality and the value of hard work are part of the homeschooled education she gives them.
During this process Angela realized that she wanted to document and share with her family and friends the ways and whys of what she was doing. She created Salt of the Earth Urban Farm blog and complimenting Facebook page to share her stories and photos.
Angela quickly had many followers listening to her gardening tips, news blurbs and recipes from her crafty, homeschooled farm family. Angela’s passions for teaching, growing food frugally and sharing with the community led her to start teaching classes at their farm. Through the local food bank Birch Community Services (BCS) she offers free workshops on poultry husbandry, sheet mulching, garlic growing and more. She gives participants free starts and cuttings she propagates. She equips low-income families with skills to increase their food security.
She volunteers their farm as a Teaching Garden for BCS. The garden is also used as a "feeding garden." For BCS, Angela grows and donates more that 1,500 pounds per year of organic food on a budget of less than $400. Her goal for 2013 is at least 2,000 pounds for the same budget or less.
Angela deserves to be The Homesteader of the Year. She provides education and energy to her community. Her publications in This Old House, Sunset Magazine and the Oregonian are ways that she has been proven time and time again that her knowledge should be shared with the world.
She works hard to replenish the Earth and sustain her family on a limited income. She helps care for those around her with home-baked meals, seedlings and education. Angela’s gift of teaching and her ability to generate excitement for the permaculture lifestyle is something worthy of recognition. Her life has been dedicated to helping empower and feed hungry families in Portland.
I would like to nominate my nephew, Baron, and his wife, Jamie, for Homesteaders of the Year. They have learned to live off the land at their homestead in Brimfield, Ohio. They have four children: Soren, Ammon, Kiedis and Odessa; and they have taught their older boys responsibility and self-sufficiency through raising animals and completing 4-H projects. The family has a large plot of land that they tend in order to sustain their needs and supplement their income.
The family grows organic produce that they sell at a farmers market every Saturday morning along with sprouts and baked goods that Jamie makes. They raise chickens and sell the eggs, as well as raise and sell birds for meat. Sometimes we are the lucky recipients of their free-range chicken or fresh eggs when we are in town visiting. Baron also raises, slaughters, and processes his own pigs. The boys have observed and helped with this grueling process. The pigs each receive names and are pets until the fateful day, but the kids are not traumatized because they have learned about the circle of life and where the food they eat comes from.
Jamie is an amazing woman, and I have learned a lot from her about living simply. She's a vegetarian and makes sure that her family eats only wholesome, homegrown foods. She makes her own soap and uses only natural cleaning products. She delivered all four of her children naturally at home using a midwife, except when her daughter was born and there was no time for the midwife to arrive. Instead, Baron had to "catch" the baby as Jamie stood in the living room during delivery, and then their oldest son cut the umbilical cord. The whole family was present to see the birth of their only daughter/sister. Jamie saves money by using cloth diapers, breast feeding even as the children reach an advanced age and making her own baby food. She works hard as a full-time mom and caretaker of their homestead, but I have never heard her complain!
Baron also impresses me with the carpentry skills that he learned from his grandfather and some skills that were self-taught. The home where they now live was just a small, dilapidated house until Baron used his carpentry skills to renovate it into a cozy home for his family of six. The only income the family receives comes from the jobs Baron gets to renovate other properties.
The whole family has learned how to use their hands and how to work the land in order to have a free and productive life. It is amazing to see how content and happy their family is living with fewer material goods and less technology. They live closer to the land and get more of their enjoyment from being outdoors and interacting with the earth!
In 2003, my husband Christopher and I began looking for a place to live self-reliantly and teach and learn from others on the same path. In 2004, after searching England, New Zealand, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest coast, we left our beautiful home on the Monterey Bay and settled at the northern-most coastal tip of Oregon. Here we found water, a small cohesive progressive community, and three acres that matched much of the checklist that we early retired newlyweds could afford. We named it Earth Haven.
A former student of Peak Oil guru Richard Heinberg, my husband isell aware of the looming shortage of fossil fuels. A trained solar technician and Industrial Design engineer in California, he set about insuring our self-reliance through solar, wind, conservation, all sorts of Appropriate Technology buildings and tools (We have five scythes!), rainwater catchment systems, a garden, greenhouses and orchards. I began creating educational and community outreach programs, raising chickens and organizing our finances.
In 2005, we hosted a West Coast Lifeboat Conference and founded a 501c3 educational nonprofit, the Titanic Lifeboat Academy. We attended many workshops, joined a "Petroholics Anonymous" community awareness group, and put in hundreds of "people hours" in speaking engagements in the Pacific Northwest. We produced 40 episodes of The Lifeboat Show, a half-hour radio program where we interviewed Dr. William Rees, Richard Heinberg, Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, Kevin Danaher and others including local people creating sustainable solutions.
We train interns from the U.S., Canada and England, one at a time in an intensive three-week course. We offer work-study retreats as introductions to the off-grid modern homestead lifestyle, and we've developed an incredible library of books, articles, magazines (like MOTHER EARTH NEWS!) and documentaries which help peel back the layers of domesticated conditioning.
Each year we challenge our community and friends with our October "Green Fest", a one-month test for unplugging, letting go and trying out an off-the-grid, self-reliant lifestyle. Each year we learn more and fill in more gaps. Community members have tried public transportation, given up plastic, become vegetarian, cut electrical use and other personal experiments for the month. I founded a "Holiday Gifts Fair" based on donations made to local nonprofits in honor of friends and family. With an incredible group of area young people, we started a local time bank.
We also volunteer with several emergency preparedness groups throughout our area, which we see as an approach to community resilience and self-reliance that appeals to a wider audience. Meanwhile, we continue putting in approximately 30-hours-per-week of research into current problems and ancient remedies while searching for ways to communicate the urgency of these changes.
There's so much to relearn! Our chickens, ducks, goats, horse, dog, cat, trees, plants and wild plants and animals have been some our best teachers. Hands in the soil, close, respectful work with other species, and intensive relearning is our living prescription!
Hello MOTHER EARTH NEWS, I wanted to drop you a line and tell you about my family’s life. I am a 32-year-old fellow with a wife and two small kids. We live in the same small community that I was raised in. I grew up on 50 acres, and was raised by very old-fashioned parents. My father, being in his 80s now, has shown me how to accomplish just about anything I would have a need for.
We grow and sell vegetables to supply the community with fresh produce. We make sugar cane syrup (this was my 17th year making it myself) and we grind our own meal and flour with a grist mill. We raise our own meat cows, pigs, quail, rabbit and chickens as well as our own crops for canning, dehydrating and freezing. We save all of our seed for the next year. We have farm-raised fish, three stocked ponds and honey bees.
My wife and I built our 1,500-square-foot home out of logs that I cut down and sawed into lumber. We have a modern home that we have invested a lot of time in; we’ve done all of the work ourselves. We are starting a high tunnel crop this year with a 30-by-72-foot tunnel. We also have solar panels from Harbor Freight for the house to run the lights. I do everything myself, and over the years this has allowed for some big savings.
My wife and I decided to live a simple life by not taking things for granted that God wanted us to have. I am a small country preacher, that pays our bills and we’re able to save some too. I have mastered a lot of trades, including electricity, mechanical, carpentry, locksmith, welding, plumbing and farming and I’m learning blacksmithing now. These skills make it easy to pick up a little cash when necessary. We didn’t want to have a huge debt that we would have to work our lives to pay off and never enjoy the simple things, like watching our kids grow up to live healthy lives.
Americans go so far to support their families with jobs, and to have STUFF, that they actually take their time and support away from the family. We took the TV out of our house and enjoy reading and doing things that mean life to our family. So many people have no clue what life is all about, but when you feel the soil in your hands, eat what you planted and butcher your own meat, you realize what life is really about — being self-sustained.
I would like to nominate Mike and Alison Buehler of Starkville, Miss., for the 2013 Homesteaders of the Year. I had never heard of the term "homesteader" until I met this amazing couple. Their tireless efforts have made quite an impact on our community.
When trying to find the words to describe all that the Buehlers have accomplished over the last few years I decided that the best thing to do would be to submit some of their blog entries ...
“I always wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read every book and watched every episode as a kid, and I guess it stuck. My family decided to start the Mississippi Modern Homestead Center when one too many friends stood in our garden and said, "Y'all should teach this stuff." This "stuff" includes all the things we have learned over the past six years as we transformed our home and 5 acres into a modern homestead, including, chickens, orchards, vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, solar panels and a cistern and grey-water system. Mississippi is rich with practical know-how, but much of that information has been lost in an era of cheap energy and convenience. The purpose of the Homestead Center is to help Mississippians rediscover self-sufficiency skills by combining the best of our past knowledge with our current improvements and technologies.
"The Homestead Center is on 6 acres of lakefront property located one-and-a-half miles west of the Wal-Mart in Starkville. There is a big kitchen with a walk-out, screened-in porch for nutrition and cooking classes, a large meeting space with a view of the gardens and lake, an art space dedicated to all things messy, and a children's education classroom with an attached greenhouse.
"We want people to be able to travel for activities, workshops, and events as needed. We are turning the five bedrooms into various sleeping arrangements, including two family rooms, two bunk rooms and a single room with additional pull-out beds available. Three primitive campsites are also in the works for the coming year, along with a compost toilet. The Homestead Center is partially powered by a solar array.
"We have chickens, bees, an orchard, two teaching gardens, gray water, rain catchment, compost systems and more than a mile of nature trails. There is a dock for catch-and-release fishing, several boats to paddle around the lake and plenty of comfortable outdoor seating. Wildlife is everywhere. Deer, beavers, cranes, turtles, rabbits and the occasional fox all make appearances at the Homestead. We call it Big House in the Little Woods. When we can reuse old materials to make something, we do. When we find technology that allows us to be more self-sufficient, we use it too. Our goal is to provide a place where we can recover fading traditions and share important knowledge right here in Mississippi with the people and place we love."
In 2009, I moved from my one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment to a sprawling 65-acre property called Better Farm along the New York-Canadian border. Purchased by my uncle in 1970, the “farm” was actually a hippie commune that was largely defunct by the late 90s. When he passed away and left me the property, I seized the opportunity to ditch cubicle culture for the homesteading life. I was 27 years old.
By the following year, I'd adopted two puppies, a handful of chickens, and turned the empty farmhouse into a sustainability campus. Better Farm rebranded itself as an education center and artists' colony where people from across the globe could study and create alongside each other. I installed organic vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens and a 70-gallon aquaponics setup. I converted the two-story hay barn into a 1,400-square-foot gallery and studio space and created applications for artist residencies and a sustainability education program.
Although Better Farm was nestled into a sleepy community of only 500 people, I didn't want it to stand on its own. So I became an active member — and later president of —the neighborhood association. I joined a young businesspersons' association, the local chamber of commerce and several agricultural groups. I also signed Better Farm up for every local community outreach activity I could. Our students and artists were suddenly helping out with repainting the local post office, installing interactive mural spaces at area events, hosting free music festivals for the public, helping to build a community greenhouse for the town and participating in farmers' markets.
Better Farm has been a temporary home to more than 100 people from all over the world, who in being here became more knowledgeable about practical sustainability. Because each person who comes through Better Farm pays their new skills forward after leaving — sharing what they've learned with their family and friends in the suburbs, city, or country — it's hard to tell exactly how many people we've reached. But speaking for myself as a former city girl, I've come a long way from attempting to sprout spinach plants on my windowsill.
I can construct rainwater catchment systems, map a garden and compost — then teach how to do the same. I've joined Better Farm's visitors and residents in gardening with mulch, gardening vertically, and gardening aquaponically. To date, we've raised 36 chickens, built three mobile chicken tractors, created a greenhouse from discarded windows that neighbors donated and started an earthship out of tires. Instead of getting Chinese takeout around the corner, I'm canning and preserving. Instead of running down city blocks, I've learned how to track deer and forage for edible wild plants. I'm easing the house off its unsustainable power grid, renovating and building with green materials.
I miss the allure of urban life; the subways, the museums, the diversity of New York City. But I can no longer imagine what it would be like to wake up without hearing the sounds of birds; to lie outside at night and not see a blanket of stars in the sky. I can't imagine not growing my own food or being in the woods on a regular basis. To go without living intentionally and more simply seems a sacrilege. I've become more literal in the last few years. For the first time in my life I feel that I am of the earth and in the earth; that the less literal thing is the rat race and the grind. I worship the dirt, I worship the water. I exalt the holy seedlings. I relish the patterns of weather and the changing seasons.
I am taking the liberty of nominating myself — my urban homestead, that is — for 2013 Homesteader of the Year. Just five years ago, my tiny property in central Asheville, N.C., was a slab of hard pack clay; my husband and I had purchased a long-vacant property of 3,900-square-feet and were in the process of building a house of poplar bark there.
Today the landscape contains numerous fruit-bearing trees, grape vines and berry bushes, roses with edible hips, dozens of annual and perennial vegetables, wildflower species and cold-hardy culinary herbs. The "Bark House" homestead shows that even when animal husbandry is not suitable for constricted urban spaces, the intensive four-season cultivation and heavy reliance on flowers to boost pollination pays off in farm-sized yields.
This richly landscaped garden produces food year round, and fruit juice from the yard has won a blue ribbon at North Carolina's Mountain State Fair. Most recently, in 2012, the seven gallons of crabapple fruit from my two young trees produced two gallons of pure, cold-pressed crabapple juice; half was pasteurized and canned, half became a fermented hard cider. Delicious! Some of the homestead's crops are for eating, and some are for drinking. The yard has contributed ingredients for juices, wines and meads, syrups and teas. Some crops are frozen, some dehydrated.
All of this bounty is produced organically, without any need to spray for pests. Thanks to some interesting properties of the chemical-free poplar bark exterior cladding on the house, the garden is super healthy and quite resistant to pests and diseases. Various bees and wasps have settled around the cozy material; they pollinate heavily and, in the case of wasps, also consume damaging cabbage worms and other insects but pose no threat to humans. There is no birdfeeder at this homestead. Rather, the whole garden is planted to attract birds, and there is also a birdbath kept full to provide water for their drinking and grooming. The birds, too, eat insects and help keep the homestead naturally pest free.
By the successful example set here at the Bark House, I hope to inspire other city dwellers to explore ways to grow much more of their own food and beverages as they introduce beauty into the neighborhood street scene.
Ken Clark describes himself as a lazy dairy farmer. That is his rationale for designing an innovative, strikingly simple and unique setup for his 150-acre dairy farm. He worked with two New Zealand consultants when he designed a new way to be a dairy farmer. There is no barn; the cows are milked in an immaculate outside milking parlor that overlooks the woods and rolling green fields. This milking parlor gleams with the materials he used to build it, which include a lot of shiny, non-rusting stainless steel. He has wintering woods for the cows on cold days. He does not have a manure spreader — he doesn’t need one. The cows are totally grass feed in his lush rotating pastures. He milks his cows once a day and dries them off for three to four months a year. He also lets his calves nurse 9 to 12 weeks before weaning them.
At age 64, he knew he wanted a dairy farm that he could manage in his older age and one that had a more natural strategy (no hormones). His 43 mixed-bred Jersey cows do not have that hallowed-out bony look that you see in lots of dairy herds; covered with manure and mud. Ken's cows look to be brimming with health. He says the cost of farming for him is greatly reduced with less electricity and grain planting machinery — no need for monster tractors. Managing the resources of the earth and the cows are his basic tools and costs — plus his ability to notice and keep an intuitive eye on how his cows are doing, and what they might need to stay healthy and productive.
Ken also built a radiant heated (propane) machinery building where he can work on fixing up antique tractors and store his hay-making machinery for feeding in the winter months. This space is also used for a side business for additional income.
His equally talented wife, Anita, is in charge of the garden and canning. They grow their own meat and, of course, have some of the best tasting (and healthiest) milk around. With small dairy farms becoming a dying breed in the U.S., I think it’s important to salute Ken and Anita Clark for their unique and thoughtful self-sufficient dairy farm. These days, most people don’t want a job that is as demanding as being a dairy farmer. When the utter is full of milk — you have got to milk. You can’t decide to take a day off. Ken says he is lazy, but a better way of describing Ken and Anita is hardworking, innovative Pennsylvania Peasants.
Larry and Misty Cluck have been homesteading most of their lives. They are members of the Mennonite Community in middle Tennessee and know first-hand the trials and tribulations of doing it the right way. Larry and Misty began their lives together in 1996 and it’s been a blessing ever since.
The family consists of Larry, Misty and their children Indica, Serenity, Whisper and Timber. Misty homeschools the children and gives them the best of practical and book learning.
Her day starts early, between 5 and 6 a.m.; milking the cow, starting the wood stove and bringing in wood, eggs and milk from the early morning chores. She isn't alone because the children help in completing the tasks at hand. Indica, the eldest daughter, claimed the milking as her job; the cow seems to agree. Then it’s breakfast cooked on a woodstove with filling, organic foods.
Misty and Larry live off grid. They have an extensive solar generated system and battery back-ups that would make any off-grid enthusiast envious.
The Clucks are avid hunters and can skin and clean a deer in no time flat. Misty, Indica and all the ladies of the family can shoot just as well as the patriarch of the family. They also trap and forage. Misty and Larry treat the children and themselves with homemade remedies. Larry and Misty have recently started their own small greenhouse complete with a woodstove heater. They garden through most of the winter and enjoy winter-hearty produce through the coldest of times. They are a healthy, happy lot. Lessons of the day can combine rabbits skinned, chickens plucked and hides tanned.
The Clucks have compassionate hearts and the church is an important part of their lives.They give thanks to the maker for all he has provided and praise God daily. Misty gives credit to the Mennonite community and has often made videos with members of the community on how to make homemade soaps and other household items.
The children's favorite mode of 4-wheeling is riding their horses. The girls take them through the hills and it provides them with an outlet. Misty encourages the girls to step up and learn everything that it takes to run a homestead.
Misty and Larry are Internet savvy. They have a Facebook account under the name Misty Cluck and a YouTube channel. They make some informative, interesting videos that show the easiest way to cook, bake, chop wood, make butter, teach children, butcher, preserve, can and pickle. Smoking isn't just a hobby to them, but a way to preserve their hams, sausages and bacon.
Misty even has her own recipes. She will gladly share them with anyone wanting to message her on Facebook. She will demonstrate how to bake biscuits on top of the woodstove and show how to grill pork from freshly-slaughtered hogs. Always with a smile on her face, she goes to a whole new level of homestead cuisine.
Bartering is a way of life for Larry and Misty. For instance, when they needed extra hay for the winter they raised and cared for a motherless calf which they traded to a neighbor for the hay they needed.
Larry is a cornucopia of wise and thrifty traditions and, as with Misty, will share his solutions or suggestions to anyone who asks. He is a hard worker and is camera shy. You won't see a picture of him, but he's the man behind the camera and the editor of the videos that they prolifically produce.
They learned through the years that to be prepared is to be able to weather the worst case scenario. They have enough food and provisions stored by to last them for months. Whatever the winds throw at them they can handle. The children don't seem to mind this life, and if fact they are thriving. What more can you ask for? Life is good.
The sun rises on them with a half day's work behind them and goes down with more than a half days work yet to complete. But they do it with a cheerful heart, knowing that their way is the simple, honest way.
Sarah Cuthill of Frühlingskabine Micro-Farm is the most energetic, enthusiastic and inventive young homesteader to be found in all of Tuolumne County, California.
After her daughter arrived, and with no agricultural background, Sarah and her husband whole-heartedly took to organic gardening, egg production, rabbitry and beekeeping.
Using a quarter-acre urban lot, Sarah has continued to learn skills and apply methods of self-sufficiency. She built most of the farm enclosures with materials on-hand. They caught a feral honeybee swarm for their hive and even reared a honeybee queen. The honey harvest has been strained and has a most wonderful flavor.
Sarah has researched and embraced bio-intensive vegetable gardening and has harvested the produce planted with organic seeds. She also constructed a cob oven for outdoor baking and discovered how to make sourdough yeast from just flour and water. Some of her experiences have been a bit of a surprise, such as when the fruit juice and ginger bug turned into wine. She finally made naturally carbonated soda from ginger root and sugar — it was quite tasty!
In the past two years, Sarah has successfully bred and raised six Angora rabbit litters. In some instances she has hand-fed the kits the mother rabbit was ignoring. In hot weather, containers of ice were placed in the rabbit cages to keep them comfortable. Attending a workshop, she learned the science of butchering rabbits for meat and tanning the pelts. She also uses the beautiful Angora rabbit wool for spinning and wool felting.
The chickens produced enough eggs to sell to others, and that coveres the cost of feed during the summer and fall. Now with more experience and knowledge, all the animals and fowls have been transitioned from commercial pellets to fresh sprouted fodder. The Cuthills also gather their own firewood for heat and baking in the cob oven.
Sarah certainly is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished in urban farming. She is willing to research, learn and try many ways of being more self-sufficient in this modern world. Sarah shares her experiences (good and bad) through her blog and is ever willing to help others get started and learn new ways of self-sufficient living. This example of Sarah’s experiences will surely be an encouragement to many other young adults who are interested in this subject.
I would like to nominate LaTosha and Brandon Dinsmore for Homesteader of the Year because of how much they've learned, how far they've come, how hard they work and how much energy they put into every one of their endeavors. They truly are aiming for a simple life of self-reliance, while at the same time working to build stronger ties between themselves and others in the surrounding rural communities.
From day one this young married couple soaked up everything they possibly could from old-timers, neighbors, and anyone else that would sit for a few minutes to share their knowledge. I've talked with them at great length, and have learned that even though they lived in the big city for a time, they really do love living in the country.
Brandon and LaTosha have been raising chickens for about a year and they seem to honestly love those birds, as Brandon is outside with them constantly — improving this or rebuilding that. LaTosha is like the head doctor of the place, as she takes care of any of the injured birds. She even coordinated a rescue effort when someone flipped their truck into the ditch near their home and was badly hurt. She managed to make sure he was alright the entire trip into town, which took them about 45 minutes.
Brandon was able to grow a decent garden when he first got out here, but this year what he's doing is just impressive, to say the least. He has really learned a lot about the lay of the land, what to plant where, when to plant it, and how to support it once it starts to grow. He's even talked about getting some 25-year-old crowder peas to grow that were handed down from a few generations in LaTosha's family. It will be something to see when they harvest those!
Brandon and LaTosha have built things which, while small, are still great accomplishments. The more they do this sort of thing, the more they'll learn and the more they'll grow.
I think they would be more deserving of this award than myself, because they absolutely love this magazine and I'm just an old-timer that likes to watch others from the back fence lines.
Brandon is always talking about how MOTHER EARTH NEWS and other publications from the same company are chock-full of great tips. He will frequently offer me some bit of learned wisdom that goes right over my head, but helps me out later in a hurry. I really do appreciate your magazine for that. If I hadn't met Brandon and LaTosha I wouldn't have been able to figure my way out of a few tricky situations on the farm.
That's my two cents. They're a wonderful couple and everyone out in this area wishes them the best of the best for the rest of their lives.
My husband has been a professional homebuilder for years. He always had plans to build our family a dream home. However, those plans got expedited when our home burned to the ground in December 2005. After several years of planning we decided to build a new home south of our original location. There were many large oak trees on this property. When we contacted the local power company about building at this particular spot, they informed us that we would have to pay $50,000 to get power to the property. That is when we started looking around for alternative energy sources. We learned that no one in Kansas had the expertise to build an off-the-grid home. We finally found an engineer in Montana that has put up more than 200 such properties, both commercial and private homes. In Montana, they understand the need for "off the grid." Pairing our love of nature and trees, we have created a lovely spot in the woods to raise our son. We have more than 20 cedar trees inside our home, which my husband and son harvested from our land, power washed the bark off of, sanded and treated. They truly are works of art!
“Hey, we got the new MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine today and they’re only havin’ two FAIRS this year; one in Pennsylvania and one in Puyallup, Wash.”
“Really? Puyallup? Let’s go to Puyallup, that’s only about a 3 hour drive and I’m sure we can find a reasonable room somewhere.”
Well, boy did that conversation get us started and keep us going in the right direction. There is so much to see and do at the FAIR that you really can’t take it all in with just one, we’ll have to attend another.
We have a few acres and we’re starting to venture into raising chickens (laying hens), planting a garden and keeping some sheep part of the year to keep the pasture cut.
This year, we doubled the size of the garden and pastured six sheep during summer. I added 10 new chicks to our three remaining laying hens, and we have lots of eggs. I also ventured into the meat chicken arena. I built a chicken coop, expanded the chicken yard and built a portable chicken coop for the meat chickens to move around the pasture with the sheep (some stories there). I have a couple of neighbors who also raise meat chickens, and we helped each other butcher our chickens (my first go, and quite a learning experience). All of this we try to do organically.
We canned nectarines and pickled some asparagus and beets, some a little stronger than others but all good. We credit the book Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton, which we purchased at the FAIR.
We also saw a demonstration for a solar dehydrator while we were in Puyullup. I bought The Solar Food Dryer by Eben Fodor and decided to build my own. I already had most of the materials on hand, but I picked up the glass and screen frames from the Habitat store and the metal absorber plate from a sheet metal shop. We live in a dry climate area (semi-arid) and get lots of sun, so I couldn’t wait to try it out. WOW is it awesome. I dried cherries, tomatoes, carrots, squash and grapes (raisins). I can’t wait to do more this year using the free solar energy!
We have been looking at alternative energy sources for some time and decided to invest in solar panels this year. We installed them ourselves (a little outside our realm of expertise) and we now generate solar electricity. We are, however, still tied to the grid for tax credits and incentives.
We would still like to install a root cellar and solar hot water heater. It never stops; there is no end to the great ideas and information we get through the MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine and FAIRS. Thank you so much for the inspiration!
I would love to nominate Fern Estes of Kanardo, Kan. She and her husband, Raymond, have gardened, raised chickens, milked cows, raised pigs and done the gamete of what it takes to survive. She and Raymond had 5 children and they all worked to help provide for the family. Fern raised a big garden and canned everything she raised from vegetables to meat. They fished in the summer to provide fish and for recreation.
Fern has been on her own since her husband died several years ago, and she is now in her 90s and still gardening and canning. She is now down to 80 pounds and is frail, but somehow she keeps going. She has quite a story to tell.
Last March I took classes to become certified in permaculture design. I had done some organic gardening in my backyard, and for the last two years volunteered at a large community organic garden, but I wanted to learn more. And I did. I learned so much in the permaculture certification classes that I thought I was quite possibly exposed to every permaculture idea that exists.
Shortly after becoming certified, like-minded people started to come my way. My son, who lives in the Mark Twain Forest, introduced me to his neighbors, Jamie and Jeffery. He took me to visit their homestead, Falcon Creek Farm. At the entrance we met Jeffery's mother driving their solar-panel-converted golf cart. She escorted us about a quarter mile down the drive where we found Jamie and Jeffrey, at work of course. Jamie graciously took time out of her busy day to give me a thirty-minute tour of a few of their 30 acres (zones 1, 2, 3, and 4 in permaculture jargon). I was excited to see dozens of the permaculture ideas I had recently learned put into practice, including rows of hugelkultur beds, natural pest control through companion planting, expanding food forests of grapes; fruit trees, and nut trees surrounded by supporting perennial tree guilds, and even a ginkgo biloba tree. They have built no-till raised gardens and an earth contact home with an earthen floor and living roof for Jeffery's mother. Large solar panels supply all their needed power and drinking water from the spring is pumped up the hill with a solar pump. I remember wishing I had brought my notebook as I was given more new information in 30 minutes than I could remember. The family is now completely off the grid and are in the process of building another passive solar earth-sheltered house with a green roof for themselves. Currently the soil is being built up with rye and clover and will eventually be transitioned to sedum, strawberries and chives.
Two people who came from the work background of a software tester and a musician have accomplished all of this within less than three years. Both Jeffrey and Jamie are totally self-taught, mostly through books and videos. In addition to these many accomplishments, Jamie shares all she's learned (a lot through trial-and-error) on a beautiful blog. She documents the experiences of their "journey to create an intentionally simple and self-sustaining homestead in Missouri." Jamie hopes to someday be able to share all her knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning a new way of living through hands-on teaching at their homestead.
Jerry and Candy Ford from the JCF Mini Farm live just like the pioneers of the old days, but with a modern twist. They grow, can and preserve more than 75 percent of the food they eat. Their gardens are a complex system of raised beds watered from a rainwater harvesting system. The greenhouse is always full of herbs and new seedlings ready to be planted. Right out the backdoor of the kitchen you will find a cooks herb garden that Candy picks from every night to spice up her already tasty homegrown dishes. There is hardly a time when you can’t find the kitchen counters full of dehydrators drying herbs, vegetables and meats. Their store room is full of quart mason jars packed full of canned vegetables, homemade pasta sauce, salsa and whatever else they can put by. The leftover produce and fresh eggs raised on the Mini Farm are either given to friends and neighbors or sold at the local farmers market.
For meat, they raise and process their own beef, pork and chicken. Two weeks ago they processed thirty chickens using a homemade chicken plucker that Jerry built. He also built a cold smoker and he cures and smokes his own bacon, sausage and hams. One cow a year is selected and pasture-raised along with two pigs and about 75 chickens for their yearly source of meat. If more is needed, then he will raise more.
The rainwater harvesting system holds about 3,500 gallons. It has a first flush on it to screen out the big stuff from the roofs. The gardens and animal’s watering systems are all tied into the rainwater. It is pumped using a 45psi on-demand, solar powered pump. It is 100 percent free water. The rainwater is also used in the solar-powered bathhouse. The sun heats the water through a solar batch water heater and comes out more than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The lights are all oil lamps, and the bathhouse even has a composting toilet. Just flip of the switch, and you can bath in 100 percent free hot water. Believe it or not, he also shaves using a straight razor. Before the rainwater can be drunk, it is ran through a Bio Sand Filter or distilled in his solar distiller. His shop is heated by a beer can solar heater, he cooks on a solar cooker and even has a solar dehydrator. This is what I mean about living like a pioneer with a modern twist.
Jerry also writes a daily blog called Modern Day Redneck about his projects and homestead living to help others learn how to live more self-sustainably. He has spoken and been invited to speak at Homesteading groups as far as four hours away. During growing seasons, both Jerry and Candy can be found out back in the gardens, usually working or showing a visitor how to garden and practice self-reliant living.
Perhaps you would consider naming a baby boomer couple as Homesteaders of the Year. We moved to a 40-acre, forested North Carolina homestead from urban Pennsylvania in 2012. We had purchased this land and its small home in 1999 and partially improved it since then in preparation for retirement. Those improvements included building a Quonset-style steel garage, adding a driveway, recycling logs as boards to build a garage loft, designing and building (as first-time contractors) an energy-efficient home addition. We oversaw all construction, and were the subcontractors for much of the work, including painting, installing hardwood floors, tile, landscaping and removing trash and debris from the work site. We built a chicken coop with leftovers from the house's construction and raised a small flock of free-range, laying hens for six months.
In 2013, we plan to add a four to six acre lake, have 15 to 20 acres of trees logged according to a state forestry plan (and to pay for the lake), raise and harvest 30 meat chickens (first-try), terrace the backyard with raised-bed planters using pine boards left over from the loft, grow a salad garden on the raised beds, clear a two acre spot for a garden, add some fruit trees, build and install cornices for the windows and build shutters for the window exteriors.
In 2014, we plan to raise fish (tilapia) and begin to use the large garden to feed ourselves and our children, kayak on the lake and hunt turkey and deer on the land.
Ben Gleason and Christine Faith
Ben Gleason and Christine Faith have built a backyard homestead on a hilltop in a historic neighborhood in Colorado Springs, Colo. Groundbreaking on the homestead began in the spring of 2009, and minor improvements and adjustments continue today. The homestead consists of five main components — poultry, aquaponics, honeybees, vegetable gardening and fruit production.
The poultry are integrated into the landscape when appropriate and are used for bug patrol and soil aeration. The ducks are particularly good at bug control, while the chickens excel at turning soil (who knew a creature with such small feet could dig so proficiently?). Both the ducks and the chickens provide eggs to the homestead (for sale and for eating), and on occasion the ducks will hatch a clutch of ducklings. Organic ,soy-free, corn-free feed is provided to the chickens with a supplemental meat-bird feed provided for the ducks.
Ben and Christine developed an aquaponic growing system that was placed inside their 8-by-12-foot greenhouse. The aquaponic system uses koi fish to generate nutrients loads in the water. The water is pumped to growing beds where the plants take up the nutrients, clean the water, and oxygenate the water before it’s returned to the fish. The aquaponic system uses 90 percent less water than conventional gardening, an asset in an arid state like Colorado.
Honeybees are kept on the homestead for pollination, honey, wax, and bee pollen. The honeybees provided the homestead with 35 pounds of honey in the fall of 2012. The honeybees are supplemented with organic evaporated cane juice when the nectar flows are low, and great care is taken to protect the hive from pesticides.
Vegetables are grown in raised beds to accommodate for Colorado’s notoriously poor soil. Like all things on the homestead, great care is taken to maintain organic standards in food production. The raised beds provide vegetables for Ben and Christine with a little left over to sell. They also donate 10 percent of their yields to a neighborhood non-profit food pantry.
More than 40 fruit-bearing plants have been added to the backyard. When fully mature, these trees, shrubs and vines will provide all of the fruit Ben and Christine need with ample left over for selling and donating.
Ben and Christine work with their friends and neighbors to make bulk purchases for items they can’t produce in their backyard. They also trade goods and services with these same friends and neighbors, and have created a micro-bartering community.
Ben and Christine have dedicated their lives to the promotion of backyard homesteading. Since the homesteads “completion” they have hosted an average of 100 visitors per year; visitors are always welcome. Workshops, classes, informal meetings and site-seeing tours have become regular features of the backyard homestead. Christine is the founder and organizer of Colorado Springs Urban Homesteading, she also publishes a blog for backyard homesteaders.
I would like to nominate our family homestead for the 2013 Homesteaders Contest. It was founded on Aug. 17, 2005 when seven of our family members packed up two campers and a horse trailer and headed out to our 200 acres to see what we might make of it.
We've always been on the adventurous side, so this was very exciting to us. You see there was nothing on this place but 200 acres of woods, three-quarter-miles of creek, a small pavilion and an outhouse. We where going to get to live like the early settlers, and we were more than ready for it. Past farming experience had prepared us for almost anything, at least we thought. We wanted to see what we could bring about from the ground up.
We circled our two campers and horse trailer around the pavilion and set up our communal living room — a large fire pit and a variety of chairs. All the cooking was done on this fire with the help of cast iron everything. At first, there was no electricity or running water. All water was carried from a nearby spring and many baths were taken in the cold creek. It was a great day when an old cast iron tub was set up by the creek, complete with hot water from some pans on the fire. In the evenings, after a hard day's work, we would set around the fire reading by kerosene lamps and enjoying the night sky.
Our first departure from the old ways was the purchase of a sawmill and tractor. We had several chainsaws and this was the beginning of clearing the land for buildings, gardens and pastures. Slow and by hand, pieces of land where becoming usable and our lumber, firewood and kindling reserves where growing. The first priority was a field for a couple of horses and a few dairy goats, then a chicken house and some laying hens. A 10,000-square-foot garden was taking shape. Buildings began popping up, including a well house, small cabin and shop. Electricity was brought in. Four more family members joined us. The pass was picking up. Every day was such a challenge, but we were having the time of our lives. This was all from the land; lumber from our trees, rocks for foundations and food from our gardens and pastures. It has been so satisfying; a family working and playing together day in and day out.
Although we are far from finished, we feel rather modern now compared to our humble beginnings just eight years ago. We miss the simplicity of the open fire and campers, but we are so pleased to have experienced it all. We are now looking at becoming a teaching homestead to show others that if you can dream it, you can do it. This year we will offer a few classes and start selling goods at a nearby farmers market. When we are fully operational, we will be able to teach all aspects of horticulture, animal husbandry, carpentry, crafting, music, fun and so much more.
Looking back over our accomplishments and experiences is rewarding. But the thing that really makes me smile and praise the good Lord for our good fortune goes much deeper. We came here and became better people. Patience, endurance, and a can-do attitude became ours as well as the ability to let the land, animals, and plants teach us. Plus, we got to do what most people only talk about. We learned how to appreciate, admire, and respect each other for our strengths and we got to the place where we could except, overlook or challenge one another in our weaknesses. It’s a piece of land, in true stewardship, where the soil and the people become better together.
I would like to nominate Jason and Jennifer Helvenston as the Homesteaders of the Year.
This couple homesteads right in their suburban yard in Orlando. They live a sustainable life and they promote sustainable living in their community. Jason does energy auditing and teaches energy-efficiency and other sustainable techniques when not tending his garden. Due to environmental conditions, the Helvenstons planted their vegetable garden in the front yard. A very productive garden it became, and the neighbors enjoyed some of the bounty. Then an out-of-town neighbor who rents his property complained that vegetable gardens should not be permitted in front yards. This has certainly raised awareness about local foods and urban gardening. Now, the City will be revamping its ordinance to allow gardening in front yards (not specifically prohibited now) and is struggling with balancing everyone’s property rights. The Helvenston’s had no idea that they were starting a movement by simply living in a sustainable manner.
I would like to nominate our own garden, Humble Beginnings, in this competition. My husband and I have the same vision, to feed our children as healthfully as we can. We do our best to save our own seeds, be it heritage potatoes, lettuce, orach, silver beet, dahlias, calendulas, whatever we can, for ourselves and the community. We have more than 100 fruit trees, plum, peaches, fejoa and much more. Living near the mountains is beautiful, but we have a very short growing season and likelihood of frosts. We have a variety of animals, most for our own consumption, which we process ourselves; cows, sheep, goats, pigs, ducks and chooks. As for pets, we have guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, budgies, fish and a love bird. We sell our extra organic produce and seed potatoes at our local market, and have even sent potatoes as far as Kaeo. You really have to be here to appreciate our little patch of paradise.
Lover of all things Mother Earth. I came across your posting for submissions for Homesteader of the Year. It seems you have an article about Greg Joly from many years ago. It would be nice to him as homesteader of the year for 2013. Here is a video I did of their place while I was on vacation in Vermont.
I'm writing to nominate my dear friends Sean and Carrie Kelleher for Homesteader of the Year. These two bought their first farm last year in Medina, New York. Prior to their purchase, they lived and worked on an organic farm in Colorado. It was there that they learned the trade and organic practices that they needed to start their own homestead.
Their farm, Markwood Acres, is home to a lovely Highlander cow, dozens of chickens, and a flock of adorable ducks. They live there with their adorable son, Eoghan. They grow countless fruits and veggies using organic and sustainable practices. They are starting a CSA this year and will be providing organic food to western New York. Through their blog and social media sites, the pair works to educate the public about sustainable agriculture and the local, slow food movement.
Sean and Carrie are a true inspiration to me. I love reading about their farming adventures and learning from their endeavors. They are working hard to better the environment and the lives of the people in their community. I truly believe they deserve some recognition for all that they've done.
I would like to nominate my parents, Richard and Lily Kellar for Homesteaders of The Year. My dad worked most of his life as a mail carrier. My mom was in sales and was also a secretary. He retired from the post office, and they both became long-haul truck drivers for about ten years. They left the road and my dad became a security guard at the age of 67, and my mom became a taxidermist. He finally retired for good last year and started a garden. My mom works in the garden and still continues to do taxidermy work.
The garden they started is not your ordinary garden, it consists of multiple acres. They attend their weekly meetings with the local garden club to share information. They have both spent hours reading books and searching the internet for information about how to make the soil right for planting.
My dad has a John Deere tractor that he tills the soil with and makes the rows. He has a smaller tiller he uses to keep the rows weed free. Together they have managed to create and maintain a beautiful and productive garden in an area that was once pasture. They installed rows of irrigation pipe that is fed from the well to keep the garden watered. They have planted flowers along the water rows to help with the insects. They use lights and water pans to attract bugs at night to keep them off the plants as well. They don't use any pesticides on their plants.
They have chickens for eggs, and feed them from the garden. They have hogs that they feed from the garden as well.
They have supplied the family with fresh vegetables for the past year, and even got me to eat (and like!) fresh spinach. Broccoli, cabbage, multiple varieties of lettuce, greens, onions, tomatoes, corn, you name it, they have it. I can't believe hothe difference between fresh vegetables and the store-bought kind.
The garden is not only a source of food, but it has really brought my parents hours of enjoyment. It's hard work, but there is a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day when they sit at the picnic table and look at the true fruits of their labor.
I would like to nominate my Son, Jeff Kloss, and his wife Sharon. They are organic gardeners in Durham, Maine. Jeff is retired from the Navy, and Sharon is a school teacher and wonderful cook. All of their spare time is spent cultivating the grounds and gardens where they live. Just like his mom, he never liked weeding when he was a youngster. But now he’s an outstanding gardener! Jeff and Sharon have blueberries, and two years ago they put in grapes. They also have herbs to spice many different foods.
They have a nice greenhouse that Jeff built out of windows. They put up and freeze all their crops, dry some and make jams and jellies. Sharon dries the garlic, braids it and hangs it all over the house. They have built portable cleaning stations near the garden to save a few steps. Jeff has also installed a watering system along one side of his house and they shred paper to put down for weeds. Did I mention they also raise ducks, chickens, rabbits, pheasants and honeybees?
They’re an amazing couple who are very dedicated to the land. I’m so proud of them. When you go to their place you never want to leave!
Paula Angelmyer and Terry Cahalane moved into their 30-year-old, off-grid log cabin in November 2011 during the first big snow storm of the winter. They are seniors in their late fifties, early sixties and at the time Paula was on crutches due to a broken ankle and subsequent surgery. Needless to say, their experience that winter was an interesting one.
Paula and Terry subsisted on heat from an old woodstove, light from oil lamps and water from a spring miles up the mountain. Cooking was done on an old Majestic wood cookstove or a propane camp stove. Mother Nature provided refrigeration in the unheated back room, and the front porch was cold enough to be their freezer that winter.
When they moved in, the cabin had only a sub-floor. Because they wanted to install flooring before moving in the furniture and appliances, they camped in the living room on air mattresses and sleeping bags. What they thought would be a month on air mattresses quickly became three and half months because the flooring was delayed through mid-February. It wasn’t until the beginning of March 2012 that they were able to set up furniture and sleep in beds again.
The cabin had a 12-volt electrical system, but the batteries and generator were shot. The plan was to have solar installed, so they bought a generator that would work with the future solar system. The generator was used to charge cell phones, laptops and watch an occasional DVD in the evenings. Solar was installed in December 2011 and Terry began wiring the house for 120 volts. Solar reps informed them that several trees would need to be removed since they blocked the sun, which resulted in at least 70 trees being cut down. In an effort not to waste this natural resource, these logs are being used for fencing, firewood, a pole-barn tractor shed, orchard posts and a coral.
Because the residents before them had turned off the water to the pump, the water in the line going to the cistern froze and plugged the pipe. The Highlifter water pump pipes in the kitchen also froze, all of which had to be replaced. The water lines finally thawed out during Easter weekend 2012, and after five months Paula and Terry had running water.
Last spring, they added a small vegetable garden on the property. They cleared, fenced and planted a small apple and plum orchard in the fall and now Paula uses wild berries on the property for jams. In an effort to conserve, they still use the oil lamps and switch off power to things like TVs and the microwave. After that first winter, they no longer take heat, water and electricity for granted as so many of us do.
There were a lot of considerations that went into the decision to live off the grid, and a lot of work went in to making the cabin livable; but it's a lifestyle Paula and Terry have embraced to the fullest.
Logan and Hanna were a happy couple living in New Mexico. At age 21, Logan was nurturing a desire to learn the ways of tending land and building a home. In 2003, he discovered an internship in California so he and Hanna decided to adventure there. The internship was on amazing land called Wild Grace Farm, perched high above the Yuba River. The job at hand was building a light straw clay home for the couple who maintained the land. Logan worked hard and soaked up the knowledge and skills being shared. When the house was complete Logan and Hanna were invited to stay to help with other projects. They both loved the area, and the life, so they decided this could be the start of the next phase for them. They were right! They nestled deeper into the community, got pregnant with their first child and Logan met an experienced builder who became his mentor. After many months working together, the land stewards offered to finance them on a 9-acre parcel just up the road. Hanna and Logan said yes!
In late 2004, they drove onto the raw land, excited to vision how they would create home. A well had been drilled before their arrival, though there was not yet electricity to pump the water. The first winter was challenging, but they loved the land and were committed to the homestead vision. They needed a warmer structure so Logan built a small cabin with a woodstove.
Spring came and a solar-powered pump was installed, paths were cleared and space cultivated for a garden. They worked the land by day and shared stories by candlelight at night. In 2007, a solar array was installed to bring electricity for lights and other luxuries. The homestead and family have grown over the years and they now have three children ages 9, 5, and 18 months. The family has a large garden, greenhouse, fruit orchard, cob temple with living roof, outdoor kitchen/dining area, composting toilet and a granny cottage built for Logan’s mom, Judy, who moved onto the land in early 2012. Logan still works with his mentor and on his own on many local building projects. He is already passing the knowledge on to his eager 5-year-old son, Tule.
Last summer the family began building their permanent home — a mix of earthbag, light straw clay and traditional construction. They have hosted a 2-week earthbag-building workshop, as well as several WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). This year they are hosting spring and summer homestead internship programs where interns will engage in a holistic experience of conscious, earth-connected community living. The programs include hands-on learning in natural building, permaculture, simple living practices and more.
The land, called Laughing Heart, has touched the lives of many. The ongoing vision of the family is “that these efforts create a sacred space that has a profound impact on those who visit, opening their hearts in higher ways to nature, Spirit, and to themselves. We believe that everyone who spends time here will have powerful opportunities for the physical and emotional healing that prepares us for higher consciousness.”
Lifeline Farm Inc. began in 1978 in Victor, Montana with a group of young men and women who wished to grow nutritious, organic and biodynamic foods to nourish people in their community and throughout the U.S. Originally, Lifeline grew field-scale vegetable crops, selling vegetables in Montana and on the West Coast, off the farm and operating a market stand. The dairy was added in 1984 in order to diversify the operation, but also to provide a source of on-farm fertility.
Today, Lifeline Farm Inc. is a partnership between three of the early members, Ernie Harvey, Luci Breiger, and Steve Elliot. The farm has formed two distinct parts, Lifeline Dairy and Lifeline Produce. Steve and Luci, who manage the produce, grow vegetables, herbs and flowers and care for about 20 sheep and lambs. All of the produce from their 10 acres is marketed within Montana.
Ernie Harvey manages a herd of about 400 Brown Swiss cows, bulls, calves and steers that make up Lifeline Dairy. Long revered by the Swiss as an excellent, dual-purpose breed, the Brown Swiss produce rich milk, which is used on the dairy to make cheese and delicious beef sold throughout Montana. The dairy also "recycles" many feeds by raising pigs which are then sold as pork cuts and in home-style sausage.
I have been homesteading on less than one tenth of an acre in the heart of Los Angeles for 22 years. Within this space, I grow more than 50 different vegetables and fruits, 55 different herbs, five citrus trees (four of them potted). Six espaliered apple trees line the perimeter of my property. I also have a small flock of free-range chickens that help compost our scraps and provide eggs for my family. I grow enough food to help feed my family of four, have a little extra to give away and what is left over is canned and preserved for future use. I use organic, sustainable garden practices and do my best to save money by repurposing and reusing things in creative ways.
Aside from packing a lot into a very small space, what I do differently from most other homesteaders is that I do not grow my edibles in rows. Instead I plant everything in a cottage garden style. I feel that a homestead should be beautiful so that it feeds the soul as well as our home. For that reason, I plant in drifts rather than rows and practice standard garden design methods so that my garden looks pretty to the eye. Yet, I still manage to get a large yield from a very, very small space — mainly because the drifts allow every available piece of soil to be used. I do the standard growing in layers (short in front and tall in back) and I also grow vertically (with squash, beans, nasturtiums and pumpkins covering every available wall space). I grow food in window boxes, hanging baskets and unusual containers hung around the property. I am big on incorporating flowers with edibles (many of the flowers are edible, too). I do this to draw pollinators to the garden and it adds beauty as well.
Everything is grown organically and sustainably, and I even practice crop rotation within my small space. The garden is taken “full circle.” Kitchen scraps and weeds are given to the chickens (who produce fertilizer). Garden cuttings and the coop bedding is composted within a large dual-drum composter. Vermicomposting takes care of the rest. Finally all of the compost is added back into the garden. I grew up gardening this way, and have been doing it here for more than two decades.
I have a degree in engineering, but I also studied horticulture and professional culinary arts and went through the Master Food Preserver certification program. I blog about homesteading, raising backyard chickens and preserving the harvest on my blog, Living Homegrown. I am currently the Co-Executive Producer and the canning expert of the national PBS television program, Growing A Greener World. Going into our 4th season, our program tells the stories of people making a difference in this world through gardening (Joel Salatin, Will Allen and Farmer D have been featured). We pride ourselves on the fact that the show is produced by sustainable gardeners for sustainable gardeners. My homestead was featured on one of the episodes, and you can watch the entire show here.
I would like to nominate a YouTube family. They are a fantastic example of a true homestead family. Their YouTube id is MayeuxMinistries. Their channel contains a wealth of information, from seed saving to blacksmithithing.
I hope it's not too immodest to nominate oneself! My husband, Jacob Racusin and I (Mary Niles) live in Montgomery, Vt. We are 12 years into our modern homesteading adventure on 100 acres of land. We were seeking a healthier living environment, a connection to our food supply and a greater degree of self-sufficiency. The ideals that thrust us into a homesteading way of life have morphed over the years as we mature and realize that ideals must be tempered by reality, and that absolute self-sufficiency is a misnomer. For us, the goal is a blend of self-sufficiency and interdependence with our community.
We bought raw land, and because we had limited building skills, we erected a yurt which housed us for four years while we built our home. None of what we've accomplished would have been possible without our amazing mentor, Remi Gratton, who took us under his wing and taught us everything we needed (and then some) to build our home. We spent hours peppering him with questions and, while we still made mistakes along the way, the number would be much higher were it not for Remi's guidance. He did this with no expectation for financial remuneration, just the desire for us to pass along our knowledge when we were ready and skilled enough. We logged our land for the timbers to frame our house, utilized straw bales, straw-clay and blown in cellulose for insulation.
Due to my chemical sensitivities the house is completely non-toxic down to the finishes used on the wood. We plumbed and wired the house ourselves, and designed the systems so we can fix them ourselves. An enormous amount of research informed this process. We heat exclusively with a woodstove (utilizing wood from our forest), a coil from our wood stove preheats our hot water (which offsets our propane use until we can invest in solar hot water). We have a solar array and battery bank for our electricity and a gravity fed spring which provides delicious, ample water and requires no electricity.
We have an acre of cultivated gardens and a diversified orchard where we grow more than 300 varieties of annual and perennial vegetable, fruits and medicinal herbs. We have a root cellar and freeze or can a great deal of food and medicine for the winter. The gardens are one of my deepest passions and a vehicle for optimizing our health and sharing abundance with our community, including our local food shelf. We believe healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We have a small year-round flock of laying hens, and we raise meat birds seasonally on pasture. We keep a small flock of sheep and raise pastured lambs as well. We buy locally produced grain for the chickens, and our winter hay for the sheep comes from a farm down the road. We do all of our slaughtering as humanely as possible here on the farm and support our local butcher who cuts and wraps the meat.
We are excited to be putting up a high tunnel as part of the USDA grant program through Vermont Natural Resources Conservation Service. This will allow us to grow earlier in the spring and later into the fall. We are constantly pushing the envelope with season-extension and experimental crops such as figs, paw paws, peaches and apricots. Other anticipated projects for the upcoming season include building a hay-mow for storing winter hay, improving fencing for summer rotational grazing, installing gutters for rainwater catchment, and beginning foundation and drainage work for an attached greenhouse. It's always about the fine balance between money, time and quality; we've learned that with this triad you can often only have two simultaneously. We strive for quality and have more time than money, so we constantly reassess and make sure we are realistic in the goals for each season. Again, it's the delicate balance between vision and reality.
Jacob recently published a book with Chelsea Green entitled The Natural Building Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to Integrative Design and Construction. He builds homes for others and teaches extensively on the subjects of natural building, green design, deep energy retrofits, and building performance in cold climates. I have taken my passion for food and healing, permaculture and herbal medicine out into the world to teach both locally and regionally. Homesteading has engendered enriching careers, right livelihood and an avenue to give back to the world in small, but hopefully meaningful ways.
On a final note, perhaps the most important thing we've grown over the last decade has been a family. We have three children (two of whom have the proud distinction of living in a yurt with no electricity or running water) while we chipped away at our house. While the journey has not always been easy, the children have learned poignant lessons about hard work, fixing mistakes, honoring a process (however long and tedious it might seem at times), and dedication to one's ideals.
I have known "Ohio Farmgirl" as an online persona for several years, and while I have never actually met her, I know that she has been a homesteading inspiration to a large group of people. She is a natural teacher and an inspirational figure. I originally found her posting on a forum dedicated to self sufficiency, and was drawn to her can-do style and her down-to-earth way of encouraging people to do things for themselves. I became one of her "following" and several years later I still avidly wait for the next installment to her blog, Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in the Good Land. She makes things such as raising and butchering pigs, canning the fruits of your labors, making your own cheese, feeding your hens from grains you grow in your yard and raising ducks for meat sound EASY. She also shares tons of recipes and tips for turning these farm products into actual meals. In getting to know her online, she has taught me about training herding dogs, handling goats and pigs, putting up fencing, deterring varmints and just about every aspect of farm life that she has encountered. But somehow, she does it in an amusing manner and you find yourself smiling at her writing style while getting inspired to try things yourself. You feel like you’ve gotten the insider scoop on the “easy-peasy” way of doing things.
If you flip through her blog, you will see the huge variety of posts regarding homesteading and how to make things accessible. Her photos are great, and she explains things in a manner that is easy to duplicate. She herself is a transplant from the city, so she doesn't look at things from the perspective of someone who has always grown up with pigs or whatnot, and therefore expects that you might know the finer details. She hits the important points very carefully and cautions folks to do their own research and make their own decisions in a wise manner, even though she usually has the topic covered very nicely. Her perspective is not from that of a person trying to market farm products, but rather someone who wants to purchase as little as possible from the store, and to make all her foods from wholesome, homemade (if possible) high-quality ingredients. And she isn't highfalutin; she is down to earth, has a heart for the puppies and the stray kittens and has a no-nonsense way of looking at the world.
I would like to take this opportunity to nominate Old River Mill Farm located in Sand Fork, W. Va. as a potential candidate for the 2013 Homesteader of the year award. My wife, Lurenda, and our six children live on this small 6.5 acre farm nestled in the hills of Central West Virginia.
We moved from a small rural lot to “The Farm” about six years ago in an attempt to become more self-sufficient. The goal was to cut food costs and provide our family with quality produce and protein. We also recognized this as being a golden opportunity to educate our children in the realization that effort reaps great rewards. I feel compelled to give my wife credit for initiating this new lifestyle as our entire family has enjoyed many aspects of the conversion.
The first project at hand was to revise the old garden lot. We plowed the area with an old horse-drawn plow using the Honda 500 4-by-4 as the horse, my wife as the rider and myself as the plowboy. Overtime we improved soil condition greatly by adding self-made compost and planting a cover crop of annual rye grass. Today, the garden provides fresh organic vegetables throughout the growing season and we are able to utilize Lurenda’s canning skills to put up for the winter. We also planted an orchard of about 16 fruit trees of various types in addition to strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and a small grape vineyard.
The second order on the agenda was to erect a chicken house large enough to house approximately 75 chickens. The back of the detached garage was a prime location for this operation. It was just the right distance from the house, and we only had to construct three sides. Using rough-cut boards from a local lumber yard proved to be economical, plus, no leaching from chemically treated material. We added four windows from an old house for light and ventilation. After construction we ended up with a 12-by-28 foot chicken house. About one third of the birds we ordered were roosters as to provide poultry for the freezer and the kids had a great time learning to process them. Today, we have a steady supply of fresh eggs and surplus to sell to the neighbors. Quite honestly, the chickens pay for themselves. To broaden the protein menu, we process our own wild game during hunting and fishing season and this year was our first to collect and boil down Maple sap for syrup.
Future goals are to raise our own pork and grass-fed beef. We are currently working on the fencing and pasture to make this possible. In giving credit to my wife, not only is she willing to get down in the dirt, she has homeschooled all five children ranging in ages from 6 to 16 for the last four years and has done extremely well. True, behind every good man is a great woman. Thank you for your consideration for Homesteaders of the Year.
There are several reasons to consider Kennette for Homesteader of the Year. An inspiration, she practices healing arts, year-round sustainable gardening, food preservation and 4-H leadership along with having a career and family. I only hope I can paint an honorable portrait of a friend who truly lives her life embracing the earth and all its gifts to the fullest.
Inspiration is a rare quality. Kennette’s love of her family and the world around her is evident every time you talk to her. It’s with enthusiasm, sincerity and a knowledgeable approach that she undertakes every endeavor she engages in. Kennette is a full-time nurse; she is also a healer of extraordinary ability and compassion. Her innate healing gifts — along with the science of her nursing practice —provide the means for a holistic approach to maintaining health and abundance. This way of life is the foundation for her family, garden, preservation of vegetables and fruits, animal husbandry, clothing and homemaking.
With the help of her family, she maintains a year-round garden. Per Kennette “We have half an acre. It's not perfectly flat, either! We have multiple raised beds and we grow probably about a quarter-acre in vegetables, fruits, and berries. Every inch of the land has some function. We grow year round, and in the summer of 2011 we harvested about 2,500 pounds of tomatoes alone. We can, freeze, and dehydrate much of our produce. It's a work in progress!” The farm also has a greenhouse made from 90 percent recycled materials and cold frames for year-round growing. Kennette practices sustainable gardening that utilizes this small area to the fullest. The family supports local vendors for their supplies, seeds and grass-fed beef.
As an involved community member and teacher, Kennette and her husband will be the main leaders for the local 4-H club. But if you ask her, she is "only" teaching about rabbits, sewing, knitting, and foods. At home they also raise chickens and rabbits for food, stating, “We have 7 rabbits right now. The cages are suspended in the chicken coop. We have a few chickens and a couple of ducks for laying.” Both Kennette and her husband have homeschooled their children when it best suited that child's needs; teaching and sharing is her way of life.
A loving, strong, self-sufficient woman, wife, mother, nurse and member of the community, Kennette Orsingher is amazing! It doesn’t matter the age, gender or social status — she simply inspires those who know her to live the fullest life and to count the many blessings of our wonderful Mother Earth!
The Pittman’s homestead is a rare gem of fertility and abundance in our drought stricken bioregion. Home to The Permaculture Institute and site of frequent classes and tours, it an exemplary model of the promise and potential of permaculture. In fact, in 2010, they hosted a group of Army National Guard troops bound for Afghanistan in a 2-week crash course in “sustainable living practices” to share in rural communities during their deployment.
The Pittman’s homestead is a love song dedicated to the earth, and living well upon it is woven into every aspect of their life. They live with their 4-year-old son, Sasha, in a hand-built passive solar straw bale home that features a greenhouse atrium where all their waste-water is recycled via a pumice bed that gravity feeds to a host of subtropical perennials. Surrounding the home is an extensive food forest that includes orchards watered by traditional irrigation ditches called acequias, perennial plots of raspberries, asparagus and medicinal plants. They have an enormous vegetable gardens where they grow an astonishing amount of food which they preserve with a canning pot, dehydrator, freezer and old-fashioned fermentation. They live off this bounty through the year. Believe me when I say that such abundant gardens are not an accident, and in a high desert climate like ours, growing a year’s supply of onions and pumpkins is nothing short of miraculous. To round out the food production at their place, you will find a lamb or two wandering around all summer, a healthy flock of free-range laying hens and roosters (served for dinner on Sundays), and Rosa and Katia, two soft-eyed goats who are milked in the old swimming pool turned greenhouse, milking room and art studio.
When I first met Arina, it would have been easy to feel intimidated. If I’d encountered her first on her blog, Lots of Love In One Place which is peppered with posts on candle dipping, goat midwifery, rooster stew, hand-embroidered napkins, sauerkraut recipes and how to make funny old-world garments for your children out of repurposed clothing. I might have felt a measure of disbelief and envy. Instead, it was over tea, handwork and unruly children that our conversation took place, and I could see for myself the lifetime worth of growth and practice that went into making Arina who she is. From the beginning, I felt both at ease and inspired. Though I was still in what I call the “Trader Joe’s” stage of life, her friendship and example opened my eyes to a new way of living, one that honors the earth through hardwork, dedication, and the beauty of a homemade, homegrown, and heart-filled life. Arina and Scott Pittman are my Homesteaders of the Year any day.
A little more than four years ago our family bought a farm. Growing up I was always a country girl. I lived on a little farm in Missouri for about five years, and then we moved to a little town in Kansas when I was 9. My husband was always a town boy, but he also had the desire to live in the country.
Our first 11 years of our marriage we lived in town. We looked for a place, but it just seemed that we couldn’t find what we wanted in our price range. I gave up, but God knew all along where we would end up. We finally found a place and it had everything we wanted; 40 acres, a barn, a shop, and a nice three bedroom house. It also had a large field that my husband and his dad could fly their Power Para Gliders from.
At the time my parents lived in Joplin Mo. but my dad was having health problems. Ten months after we moved in we moved my parent’s mobile home to our land. The first year we spent getting things set up.
We knew that we wanted to become self-sufficient, but we also knew that we had to take it slow. Right after we bought our new house the economy went bad, and we were stuck with a house in town that we couldn’t sell. We had planned on selling our house for a good profit and buying the equipment that we needed to run a farm with. We had to improvise and buy old equipment and fix it up. The first two years we stuck with chickens and buying an old tractor.
The third year I requested a calf for my birthday. I knew that I wanted a milk cow, but since we couldn’t afford to buy a cow outright we started with a bottle calf. That led to two more calves and two goats. We also added a box garden and more chickens.
We’ve now been at our homestead for a little more than four years. One of our cows had a calf, which means we are producing our own milk, cheese, and butter. I also learned how to make soap and lotion, which I sell. Our garden is still a work in process, but we are finally getting it down to a fine art and we are making it more manageable for our busy schedules by adding irrigation. We are getting ready to breed our goats so we will have goats milk to make soap, lotion and cheese with. We even harvest our own hay and straw. We have our meat chickens, and as soon as one of our cows gives birth to a steer we will have beef as well.
It has been a lot of hard work, but with God, everyone’s help and both of our parent’s guidance we are getting closer to our dream of being self-sufficient.
I would like to nominate Dr. Linda Barnes and her husband Mark Runquist. Mark is a former member of the Board of Wholesome Harvest, and went on a trade mission to Japan to explore Japanese organic meat markets. Linda teaches biology and makes sure to include information about local ecosystems, nutrition, and the benefits and risks of genetic engineering in her classes.
From teaching sustainable agriculture at Marshalltown Community College, to volunteer grant writing, to installing a wind turbine on their own organic farm, I believe they are an excellent candidate for your Homesteader of the Year. And, their daughter won an internship in India with the World Food Prize Foundation.
I am proud to nominate Kenneth N. Rusczyk, of Oak Bluffs, Mass. as the 2013 Homesteader of the Year. Kenneth is a long-time organic gardener, who is also primarily responsible for bringing local, organic hop plant cultivation to Martha's Vineyard, where local beer brewers benefit from using the organic hops in their brewing processes. Kenneth built his own house in Oak Bluffs many years ago, and actively practices sustainable, earth-friendly methods to both heat and cool his home.
Leslie and Adam began their homesteading journey more than two years ago when they bought a piece of farmland with an old farmhouse and a wonderful, well-conditioned barn. The house was in complete disarray, so it was torn down and the material in it used to build cabinets and parts for the barn that would eventually be their home. Leslie and Adam have five beautiful children: Bella age 9, Kane age 7, Max age 5, Helena age 3 and Sylvia age 10 months; four of whom were born at home with a midwife. They are presently homeschooling their children.
Leslie and Adam plan to grow all of their food and live in an even simpler way. They will be moving a breeding pair of turkeys onto the property soon, and plan on having both laying and meat chickens, bees, goats, possibly pigs and hopefully alpaca or sheep in the future. They will be planting a garden that will be organically managed and will provide ample food for their large family. They also have berry bushes and will be planting an orchard. They preserve and can a large quantity of their garden harvest. They have a large root cellar area in the basement of the house where they are now living until they finish the upstairs of the house to move in to. They are heating the house with a wood-burning furnace and gathering wood from the surrounding forest. They will be designing a grey-water conservation system for the main living area of the house and rainwater collection barrels, along with using the old hand-dug well for their garden’s water. They are also very conscientious of non-native invasive species to be rid of on the property, and will be planting native and non-threatening plants in the flower gardens. As you can see, this is a young couple that is making the efforts to preserve, protect and nurture the earth and their family in every possible way.
My husband and I had the good fortune of becoming acquainted with Tony and Karen Tipsword in the spring of 2010. We were searching the internet for a campground and came upon a link to Persimmon Creek Campground. On the website, it looked to be more on the “roughing it side” than I wanted, with a bathroom but “no showers” advertised. But, the price and location were right so we decided to give it a try. In the fall of 2009 a rockslide closed Highway 64, the main road to the Ocoee river. The day the highway reopened we headed to Murphy, N.C. for the first Ocoee release of the season. We were the very first tent campers, as the campground had just opened for its first season. It seemed that Tony and Karen had spent the winter very isolated in Murphy, North Carolina due to the rockslide. But, it was clear that they were resilient and had used that time to prepare the campground and their day-to-day lives for making it on their own.
We were welcomed by a beautiful, lush green level campsite, with a babbling stream, a picnic table made from a fallen tree, and a large stack of firewood in the campfire ring. Since then, we have stayed at Persimmon Creek every time we camp and paddle the Ocoee. The Tipswords are a wonderful example of not just homesteaders, but true environmental stewards. These are two of the hardest working people we know! They are successful at sustaining themselves by growing their own vegetables and fruit, raising free-range chickens, and repurposing natural materials from their own land. It’s very apparent to all who know them that their sustainable lifestyle is a labor of love that they continue to strive towards. Since we began visiting them, they have worked side-by-side on building structures to house their animals, garden, tools, picnic tables, and my personal favorite, a bath house with the most amazing hot shower assisted by solar heat. To my knowledge, the bulk of material is all repurposed, coming from trees fallen on their own property or the property of friends. The things that others cast aside, Tony and Karen see new life for! Tony is a master at crafting beautiful things from wood and reusing found materials. Karen is a genius in both the garden and the kitchen, always canning and freezing, and finding creative ways to prepare and store food, even baking homemade dog biscuits! Their life is not for everyone. They are not going to be wealthy in the monetary sense, and they work long hours, seven days a week. But I am sure the reward for them is all that they are doing for themselves, and in the process, the environment. We always look forward to staying at their campground, not just because we love the place, but it’s always inspirational to see what new improvements their hard work and vision have created.
In 1993, on the eve of the birth of their granddaughter, Annie and Jay Warmke bought 38 acres in Muskingum County, Ohio. This was the beginning of their homesteader journey. Their transition to homesteading began when they decided to leave the corporate world to find a simpler way of life, and along the way they became pioneers.
By the following spring, Annie had heard about Earthships — a home built with tires, cans, bottles and anything else that could be reused. She was sure that if they built an Earthship people would come from far and wide to learn more about how to be better stewards of the earth’s resources.
Between 1996 and 2001, Annie spent her summers — along with her young granddaughter — building the house, planting fruit trees and growing a small garden. Jay joined her periodically to do the jobs she didn’t know how to do. Each fall they returned to their corporate world.
But people started to come — sometimes by the carloads — because someone told them about the “garbage house.” Then Annie had an idea. After completing the Earthship’s roof she convinced the local newspaper to do an article on the house. The next day more than 400 people showed up to share stories, and they were so amazed that many of them went home and brought more people back to see the first Earthship east of the Mississippi. It was clear to Annie that they were on to something.
By 2004, Jay and Annie were ready to start their plant. They were leaving their jobs behind and permanently moving to the land, unfinished Earthship and all, to implement a business plan that would create Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living center. The Earthship would serve as the centerpiece.
Since that time they have used their homesteader resources to create a variety of projects to bring education and awareness to the issues of sustainable living. More than 25,000 people have walked through their living room since August, 2004. Some of them stayed to eat. Some of them visited to attend a workshop on natural goat care, raised bed gardening or to construct a plastic bottle green house. They found a ready audience for their message, "re-think about food, about resources, about life and you, too, can be a homesteader wherever you live."
Annie would be the first to say that what they do is nothing new. The way that they feed and raise their farm animals is merely the natural way for animals to be healthy. The way they feed themselves and others reflects how their grandparents lived. nd sharing their knowledge and farm with others, so they can learn from each other, just makes sense.
They raise dairy goats, chickens, eggs, and willow trees. This year they added maple syrup. The kingpin of their education program is creating a partnership with the livestock and the land. Whether it is milk or pack goats, pullets or willows, everything has a lesson to share with the visitors who travel from around the world to see first-hand how sustainable practices can work to economically sustain a family, and the earth.
Their garden, while not what most folks would think of as grand, helps them to demonstrate different ways of growing vegetables, fruits and seeds. This year they will begin implementing a 100 year forest gardening plan. They supplement their produce sources by trading with neighbors, and buying things that they don’t grow from the Chesterhill Produce Auction, helping to create “homeland security” by forming relationships with other farmers.
And pretty much every visitor is offered their raw milk goat cheese to create opportunities to talk about the benefits of raw foods and how people can use those foods in their diets. One of the key points they demonstrate about food is that we need each other so we can produce a variety of food that can be traded, shared or sold. Annie also teaches cheese-making classes and incorporates natural goat health care as part of the workshop. Her book, Naturally Healthy Goats, is a best seller among Hoegger Goat Supply customers.
In 2006, they created an intern program for young people (41 have gone through the experience) so they could design and build projects including natural livestock care, water collection systems, organic gardening and natural building techniques. In 2012 they created an intensive certificate program – The Blue Rock Station Fellowship – to provide opportunities for young farmers to learn how to implement sustainable practices in their own work and life.
The simple water collection systems Annie and Jay have designed for each of their buildings are easily duplicated. Some buildings demonstrate vegetated roofs for growing food, while others simply collect water for use in the gardens or with the farm animals.
They designed a plastic bottle greenhouse (made with more than 1,500 two-liter bottles) that also collects water. This little building has been duplicated by small plot farmers, schools and community gardens for growing greens and water collection.
Jay and Annie were the recipients of the Sustainable Livelihood Award from Rural Action in 2009, and Jay was honored by Green Energy Ohio as Pioneer of the Year in 2012.
Jason and Nicole Wiskerchen began their homesteading adventure in Colorado. They bought a modest house with property. They managed snow and established a garden, neighborhood CSA and small herd of goats. Shortly thereafter, they lost everything.
The Wiskerchen Family is an example of American fortitude, a portrait of the incumbent circumstance. A young couple with two small children, Jason and Nicole struggled to make ends meet in a troubled economy. They had a beautiful home with a great start and, like so many, lost it in the housing crisis. The set back didn't compromise their values, however, and the Wiskerchens didn't lose sight of their dreams. They took their spade, their fork and their labradoodle and they went west.
My partner and I, also renters trying to make it work, met Jason in Nevada City at a community meeting on post-petroleum economies. I knew immediately that he was one of the most cheerful and resourceful people I would ever meet in my life. He talked about heirloom vegetables. He talked about chickens. He talked about his wife and kids. He talked about making biodiesel from locally grown sunflower seeds. We were going to be good friends.
Jason and Nicole lived about 30 minutes from us, about an hour out of town by car. The first time we had dinner with the Wiskerchens, they made five different barbeque-baked pizzas using local ingredients. Local, for the Wiskerchens, meant that almost all the food was grown just yards from the table. The nearest grocery store was almost 30 miles away. The cheese came from their heard of goats. The sauce was from last year's tomatoes and this year's fresh basil. The olive oil was from the orchard up the highway. The wine came from the vineyard down the road. The evening was delectable.
The family had only been on the property for a short time, and so much had been done. That evening, while Nicole played prep-chef, Jason showed us their goats and the DIY milking station. Their daughter, Violet, listed the goats' names: Monterey, Gouda, Jack, etc. Their young son, Grady, showed us the garden and taught us how to find the low-hanging tomatoes. When I asked Jason about the investment they must have put in, knowing they didn't own the property, he shrugged and said something like, “This is where we live. This is planet earth.”
Despite the investment and idyllic terrain, the remoteness of the Wiskerchen homestead was creating a strain. It was difficult to be so far from town, especially with a fledgling ballerina and a curious 2-year-old. The Wiskerchens made the tough decision to uproot once again and move closer to town. In-line with their values, they dug up their kale and took it with them. They had garden beds before beds to sleep on in the new house. They moved their family once again and the new garden is already sprouting.
For Jason and Nicole, homesteading isn't just day-to-day living, it is a cultural philosophy. They apply the values of homesteading to parenting, to their work and to their personal community outreach. Their kids, their friends, and their community are better for it.
My husband and I live in Gilbert, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix. In 2009 we were newlyweds, and the dream for our first home was to create a self-sufficient homestead. We found the perfect home on an acre in town shortly after we were married. Over the past four years, we have turned our property into the homestead we envisioned. In the backyard, we transformed a dead patch of earth into a beautiful 2,500 square-foot garden where we organically grow all of our own vegetables, including broccoli, carrots, peas, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, onions, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, melons, squash, corn and eggplant. We often have family and friends over to help us with harvesting and to enjoy the fresh veggies. As you can imagine, we spend a lot of time preserving our crops, mostly freezing and canning. It's a lot of work growing your own food, but it’s well worth the effort. There is nothing quite as satisfying as picking a vegetable from your backyard and enjoying it at the dinner table minutes later.
In addition to vegetables, we also grow our own fruit. Over the years, my husband and I have planted a variety of fruit trees including citrus, peaches, plums, apples, pomegranates, apricots, pear and fig. We also have two almond trees and several grapevines. Spring is one of our favorite times, since we get to enjoy all the delicious fresh fruit off our trees! Two years ago, we planted our first crop of wheat, an heirloom variety called ‘Sonora Wheat’ which grows well in the desert. We harvested, threshed and winnowed it completely by hand. It is a very labor intensive process, and we have a new, profound appreciation for everything made from wheat. We planted a second, larger crop last November, and it should be ready to harvest in May.
In addition to our garden and fruit trees, we have also raised 20 chickens from day-old chicks. Our small flock consists of Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes and Gold Laced Wyandottes. We very much enjoy their fresh, pastured eggs and share them with our families and neighbors. They also provide us with nutrient-rich manure that's composted and worked back into the garden. Nothing goes to waste on our homestead! We are avid composters and recyclers; if something can be reused, repurposed or returned to the Earth, we try as hard as possible to make that happen. My husband is also learning the art of carpentry from my father, a lifelong construction carpenter. We built our chicken coop from recycled materials and our current project is a red gambrel barn adorned with a cupola and old-fashioned rooster weather vane. Future construction projects include a greenhouse, garden shed and goat housing. On our way to total self-sufficiency we plan to raise dairy goats, keep bees and grow tilapia.
We have learned a lot from our homesteading endeavors and all the details can be found on our blog. We hope to show others in our community that you can have a successful urban homestead in Arizona and inspire them to get outside and grow something. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
2nd grade is the earliest I can remember that I had the desire to grow vegetables. Did you ever start the bean in the paper cup and watch it each day, filled with the excitement of being able to take it home to proudly show your parents what you grew at school? I did, and much to my sadness I remember when it died because I didn’t know what to do with it after that point.
Reading, watching television and asking questions when the opportunity presented itself is how I've reached the point where I am 40 years later.
I have a wonderful ease of looking at a blank piece of land and bringing it to its fullest potential. During my years of homeownership I have created beautiful gardens for future homeowners to enjoy.
It wasn’t until November 2012, that I realized why I always seemed to be searching for better or different when I would move into a new home to begin that next vegetable garden or flower bed, because I was living in communities that didn’t understand my visions or dreams. I was sharing conversations with neighbors that thought I was crazy for what I wanted to do with my life and my home…I wanted to be a farmer.
Once I was honest with myself, my mind opened up and all this information began to come to me. “Stuff” started making sense to me. The growing methods I had been using that didn’t work, I understood why. Realizing that seeing ladybugs in the vegetables wasn’t all about being cute…they were actually working and doing me great favors and the vegetables too!
I am currently in a home that had a beautiful open space when It was on the market. I drew my vision and turned it into a reality. The quest has begun to sell my current home and buy my hobby farm. I have thanked my current home for all the wonderful lessons I have learned and at the vast amount of vegetables, fruits and herbs the earth has given to me in return for my love and constant attending to.
The next homeowner of this property will enjoy my blackberry and blueberry bushes, strawberry and asparagus beds, the peach tree, the pear tree and the apple tree. I will not be here to see the kiwi bear fruit, but they will for many years to come.
I credit MOTHER EARTH NEWS for being one of the biggest resources along my journey. My magazine collection has numerous tabs, folded corners and lots of highlights.
The most important thing I take from my gardening experience is: Talk to the earth as you till it. Hold the seeds in your hand and observe how tiny each one is. Imagine the vine that will sprout from this seed in your hand. Give thanks for the food this one seed will provide. Place the seed in the ground with love and patience and do what we seem to do the best…..wait…check each day…and just like opening a package Christmas morning, be joyous when you can see the earth mounding as the sprout begins its journey.
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