Wisconsin Homestead, Step by Step

The stories and adventures related by other readers inspired one family to found their Wisconsin homestead.

| May/June 1983

  • Wisconsin homestead - author and kids painting a wall
    There are always projects to do around the ol' Wisconsin homestead.
    Photo by Karin Worthley

  • Wisconsin homestead - author and kids painting a wall

Ever since that cold January day ten years ago when my husband Jim brought home MOTHER EARTH NEWS, giving us our first inkling that there were a lot of other folks with dreams so like our own, some of my favorite reading has been Reports From Them That's Doin'. As I'd snuggle up in our St. Paul, Minnesota apartment (which was almost on top of a freeway) and pore over tales about their cabins in the woods, their goats, and their root cellars I'd often slip into daydreams, wishing, "If only it were us!"

In fact, at one point we even answered a Positions and Situations listing from some friendly folks in northern Minnesota who were offering a rough cabin with garden space in exchange for simply fixing up the place. But we were expecting our second child at that time, and try as I might, I just couldn't imagine myself washing diapers in a bucket of ice water in the north woods. So that opportunity passed us by.

Then, during the summer of 1973, an opportunity emerged that opened the way to us establishing a Wisconsin homestead. An old friend who was living in the western part of the state tipped us off to an available teaching job in a four room country school. Jim applied and got the job, and that August — with six-year-old Matt and three-week-old Laura in tow — we moved into a solid (but poorly maintained) 44-year-old farmhouse four miles outside of town. The place had a drafty old barn, a chicken-house that was in dire need of a cleaning, a sagging granary, and a leaning corn crib, all of which was situated on five lovely weed-covered acres nestled in the gentle Wisconsin hills.

That first year, we cleaned and scrubbed, rescued a dozen old (but still laying) Leghorns from a neighbor's soup pot, started collecting eggs, and planted a garden. And I kept on dreaming as I read the "reports from" about people who were living in tipis and sheep wagons. I still hoped that eventually my family and I would be able to spend our days homesteading an 80-acre farm.

The next year, we insulated and painted our house, cultivated an even bigger garden, did lots of canning and freezing, and earned a little extra income by growing cucumbers for a big pickle cannery nearby. (Our "pickle profits" were used to pay for chimney blocks and a woodburning stove that Jim installed.) We also got to know our neighbors better. The folks bordering us on the north shared machinery, spoiled bales of hay for garden mulch, kittens for the children, flowers for the garden, and lots of spur-of-the-moment suppers on the front lawn with us. And one icy winter day, our whole family snowshoed to the next farm down the road. There, we enjoyed coffee and giant gingersnaps and learned about our hosts, a couple who had farmed on their land for more than 50 years.

And while we were having these adventures, I was always eager to read about what MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers were doing with their pigs and their methane tanks and their workhorses. I dreamed that someday we, too, could become self-sufficient.


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