I frequently hear the following comment: “I really want to homestead, but we’re waiting until we can afford to buy an acreage.”
I usually respond with what a fellow homestead friend once said to me: “If you have a home, you have a homestead.”
While the term homestead initially referred to a piece of land given to you by the government in exchange for cultivating it, Merriam-Webster defines a homestead as simply “a house and the farmland it is on.”
I believe that houses can come in any shape or size: a tent, a mobile home, a farmhouse, an apartment, or a home in a suburban neighborhood. And I believe that land can be an acreage or simply a collection of terra cotta pots assembled on a back patio.
In other words, homesteading isn’t based on the resources you have — it’s about what you do with them.
Homesteading is an attitude of the heart.
So, here are some ways you can create a homestead, regardless of where you live or the resources you have (or don’t have).
1. Gain a new perspective on your food.
I will never forget the time when, as a new gardener, I brought several heads of fresh lettuce in from the garden. Suddenly my pristine kitchen sink was filled with mud. I was somewhat taken aback by this revelation: my food comes from dirt.
The grocery store with its sparkling aisles of clean and perfect produce creates something of a buffer between us and what we eat. It’s a buffer that shields us from that fact that healthy produce is not always uniform and blemish-free. Chickens lay eggs in numerous shapes and sizes, and true whole milk needs to be shaken before drinking.
While many of us don’t have the capacity to grow everything we eat, we all can seek out ways to get more up-close-and-personal with our food. Shop as much as possible at the local farmer’s market, and make sure to ask the grower about their cultural practices. If you can’t keep your own chickens, check local Facebook groups or Craigslist for people selling fresh eggs. Seek out a source for locally-raised meat.
Cook as much from scratch as possible, eliminating as many processed foods from your diet as you can. Yes, it does require more time in the kitchen, but perhaps you could use some of your homemade goods for bartering those fresh eggs.
2. Look for ways to be more self-sufficient.
Plant a small garden, even if you are limited to just a patio behind the house. So much can be grown and harvested from containers. Seek out others who are growing what you can’t and ask if you can offer a few hours of weeding in exchange for fresh vegetables. Learn where and how to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk and then freeze, can, dehydrate, or ferment the food to preserve it for later.
Preparedness and self-sufficiency are not limited to food either. Think through any potential hardships or emergencies you and your family could realistically face. Do you have a plan in case they happen? Do you have enough drinking water, batteries, candles, flashlights, etc. in the event of a power outage? Do you have a well stocked grab-and-go bag?
Do you rely on the conventional grocery store, gas station, or local convenience store? Can you reduce your reliance in any way?
You can also become more self-sufficient by learning the traditional crafts of our ancestors. Can you learn to set fence posts? Build a chicken coop? Do you own and know how to operate a sewing machine? When the need for a specific item arises, think “Is this something I can make for myself?” before you buy it.
3. Slow down the pace of your lifestyle.
Many people desire a life in the country because of the calm and peaceful surroundings. Peace, however, is an attitude of the heart — it is a function of our spirit. Evaluate your home, your lifestyle, and your surroundings. When you walk in your front door or go about your daily routine, do you feel a sense of calm? Or do you feel stressed and rushed?
Can you reduce the areas of your life that cause stress? Are there things you can eliminate to bring a sense of quiet? Consider turning off, or even getting rid of the TV. Can you limit errands to just a few times a month, giving yourself more time at home?
What about the atmosphere of your home? Backwoods Home Magazine recently had a fascinating article on the use of kerosene lamps (Issue #146, April-May 2014). My husband and I have purchased a few and enjoy using them in the evenings. Lighting them is a pleasant ritual: it signals the end of the day and quietly sets the tone for the next.
4. Honor the rhythm of the seasons.
The modern-day lifestyle constantly resists the natural order of things. We want light when it is dark, we want to be cool when it is hot. We want summer fruit in the middle of winter.
I believe the pattern of the seasons — rest in winter, awakening in spring, summer activity, followed again by a season of rest and reflection — was ordained for a reason. Our body, mind, and spirit need those down times in order to rejuvenate.
Regardless of where you live or what your homestead looks like, how can you incorporate the change of the seasons? Look for ways to bring the outside indoors. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables in season, or seasonal food that has been preserved. Use the long daylight hours in the summer to work hard, but give yourself a rest during the autumn and winter months. Instead of working outside in the winter, spend time indoors working with your hands. Turn in a little earlier at night. Eat warming foods like soups, stews, and casseroles.
A few final thoughts.
While the homesteading scenario will look different for each individual family, I believe we all crave the same thing: simplicity. Often however, in a move toward “simple” self-sufficiency, we take on more than we can handle. If the homestead lifestyle is new to you, go slow, enjoy the journey, and give yourself time to adjust and learn new skills.
If you long for 100 acres in the country but are limited to an apartment, bloom where you are planted and do all you can to live as self-sufficiently as possible.
At the same time, if country living is not for you, and you are very happy with a small garden and backyard chickens, there is no reason why you shouldn’t consider yourself a homesteader.
What does homesteading mean to you? What does your homestead look like?
Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger. “Contrary to popular belief, a homesteader doesn’t have to be someone who lives on hundreds of acres with the perfect red barn and white picket fence. They live in apartments in the middle of the asphalt jungle. And in suburbia with mini-vans. And on a few acres on the outskirts of town. Your Custom Homestead is a 21-day guide to moving closer to your homesteading dreams, no matter where you live.” Click here for more info.
You Can Farm by Joel Salatin. “While this book can be helpful to all farmers, it targets the wannabes, the folks who actually entertain notions of living, loving and learning on a piece of land. Anyone willing to dance with such a dream should be able to assess its assets and liabilities; its fantasies and realities. “Is it really possible for me?” is the burning question this book addresses.” Click here for more info.
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