What is Homesteading?

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt

We frequently use the term ‘homestead’ and ‘homesteading’ in articles in Mother Earth News. The term ‘homesteading’ may be familiar, but its usage can cause some confusion as its meaning has changed over the decades. For years the word referred to a free government land program and the skills necessary for pioneer living. Today the word homesteading is more apt to refer to a lifestyle that promotes greater self sufficiency. To better understand all things homesteading, here is a very brief timeline of the common use of the term.

The Homestead Act

In the middle 1800s, the word homesteading was synonymous with The Homesteading Act of 1862, which provided public land grants of 160 acres to any adult citizen who paid a small registration fee and agreed to live on the land continuously for 5 years, after which they would be granted a deed to the land. The program formally ended in 1976 under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. But its unofficial end was in 1935 when President Franklin Roosevelt withdrew the public domain lands in order to institute a nationwide land conservation program. During the life of the Homestead Act, 783,000 men and women ‘proved up’ their claim and were granted title to the land.

The Back to the LandMovement

In the 1970s, the word homesteading evolved to mean a lifestyle as tens of thousands of young adults and other adventurous souls threw off the cultural mantle of urban and suburban living and returned to their ancestral rural roots. These ‘back-to-the-landers’ were the core readers of Mother Earth News and the impetus for its creation, beginning in January of 1970. Over the next three decades, the character of the term homesteading has emerged to include self-sufficient living in urban and suburban settings as well as on rural acreage.

21st Century Homesteading

These days at Mother Earth News, we’re using the phrase 21st century homesteading, which is all about self sufficiency — wherever you live. It’s about using less energy, eating wholesome local food, involving your family in the life of the community and making wiser choices that will improve the quality of life for your family, your community and the environment around you. With today’s advanced technology, living off the grid doesn’t mean going without electricity, but producing your own with photovoltaics (PV), hydropower or wind turbines. In addition, home businesses are no longer limited to farm produce stands and craft sales, but can include marketing a home business or telecommuting via the Internet.

Mother Earth News has covered homesteading in depth for 36 years. In this blog we’ll talk about homesteading in all its urban, suburban and rural forms, from large projects such as building a house, planting a garden, producing your own energy and starting a home business to small beginning steps such as hanging laundry on the line, canning produce, splitting firewood or using a bicycle for transportation. We’ll give you ideas, inspiration and a starting point in your quest for wiser living on your 21st century homestead. We look forward to continuing to cover all things homesteading as the topic continues to evolve.