Q. To me, “homesteading” means free government land, and I know there isn’t any more of that! So why do you use the term?
A. The term “homesteading” in the modern sense has been around since the 1940s, when it was used in such publications as Reader’s Digest and Better Homes and Gardens. The idea of living on and providing many of a family’s needs from a small piece of land was popularized by such well-known books as M. G. Kains’ Five Acres and Independence and Ed and Carolyn Robinson’s The Have-More Plan: A Little Land-A Lot of Living. The concept had great appeal for many Americans, especially returning World War II veterans.
Today, the appeal often centers on a desire for a simple, more independent and self-reliant lifestyle, as well as building a sustainable future.
Modern homesteaders aren’t carving a new civilization out of the Wild West, but they ARE pioneering a new civilization for the Post-Industrial Age.
Q. In other words, homesteaders are just hobby farmers?
A. Not exactly.
Most of us do live in the countryside, “beyond the sidewalks.” And many do have a few animals-sheep or goats, a horse or a cow, or at least a few chickens or waterfowl.
Also, some homesteaders ARE small or hobby farmers…just as others are large commercial farmers!
Farming-large, small or hobby-is an occupation or avocation, while homesteading is a state of mind. Some homesteaders are farmers, while others are doctors, teachers, or truck drivers.
The key is “The Homestead Philosophy” (see our “About Us” page). A person can have all the physical attributes of a homesteader-the country home, large garden, animals-but lack the required attitude and outlook.
At the same time it’s important to remember that many people today have that attitude even though they don’t live in the countryside!
Homesteading is a state of mind.
Q. Okay, so what is it exactly that these homesteaders do?
A. Since self-reliance and independence play a large role, home food production is important. The ideal-although not many attain it-is to grow all the grains, fruits and vegetables, meat, milk and eggs, the homestead family requires. This obviously includes cooking and baking from scratch as well as preserving and stockpiling the bounty of the homestead from one harvest to the next. Many homesteaders make butter, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and some make and smoke ham, bacon and sausage, and a growing number raise fish.
Energy independence can take several forms, ranging from simple conservation, to heating and cooking with wood, to complete wind and solar powered systems.
For many, an owner-built home is the ideal. Home birth, home schooling and home businesses are common.
Beyond that is a vast array of activities including but not limited to spinning and weaving, woodlot management, and numerous old-time crafts and skills.
Q. This all sounds pretty weird for the dawn of the 21st century. It’s sure a lot simpler to buy a loaf of bread than it is to make one… and you’re saying some people even grow and grind the wheat? Why would anyone want to work so hard to provide necessities when the stores are full of that stuff?
A. “Work” is a matter of opinion.
Gardening is one of America’s leading pastimes today. Cooking is also very popular. Combine those with a desire for organically grown food, the satisfaction of sitting down to a meal that came entirely from your own efforts and skills on your own homestead, the security of a well-stocked cellar and pantry in case of a job loss or other disaster, and those “hobbies” become homesteading.
Many people raise animals, work on crafts and other projects, just for the fun of it. Homesteaders have just as much fun doing this “work,” but also enjoy other benefits as a result of the homestead philosophy.
What it boils down to is that some would rather be behind a hoe in the garden than behind a shopping cart in the supermarket. They’d rather be caring for their chickens and goats than skiing or sailing. They truly enjoy scaling down their lifestyle, slowing down, simplifying.
Q. There’s that word “simple” again. I can understand somebody wanting to get out of the rat race and simplifying their life, but homesteading seems anything but simple!
A. Homesteading is simple in the sense that it’s plain, and without pretense-not because it’s easy and uncomplicated.
It’s simple because it gets close to “First Causes” by eliminating layers of bureaucracy and technology.
Sure it’s “simpler” to stop at a gas station to buy a loaf of bread than it is to bake your own, especially if you grow the wheat, or even just grind purchased wheat into flour.
But that gas station bread didn’t just appear by magic. A farmer had to buy the seed-probably from a high-tech company with patents on its hybrid seed. He most likely got a bank loan to make the purchase… even while paying off previous loans on his land… and expensive machinery. The wheat is harvested, sold, milled and sold again, baked into bread and sold yet again. All of this involves sales people, office clerks, commodity traders and brokers, truck drivers, bakers, and all the people and equipment it takes to support them… which if you take it to the nth degree means not only the people who make farm machinery and trucks and bakery equipment, but also the people who mine, smelt, transport and fabricate the ores, or who drill for, pump, refine and transport the oil, or who cut pulpwood, drive logging trucks, make paper, print it, and convert it into bread wrappers and sales slips and records of all kinds. Then all of this requires road building and maintenance crews, and traffic cops.
Compared to all this, planting a few pounds of wheat seeds in a large garden, harvesting it by hand, making it into flour in a grain mill on the kitchen counter, and mixing it with a few other ingredients to make a loaf of bread is by far the simpler.
And of course this can be applied to almost everything.
Q. So how does homesteading compare with Voluntary Simplicity and the other forms of downsizing we hear so much about today?
A. Homesteading has obviously been around longer than Voluntary Simplicity or any of the similar current trends. But these trends don’t take self-reliance and dependence as far as homesteading does.
For some people, this is fine. If they don’t enjoy gardening and cooking and the other domestic arts as much as some of us, at least they’re simplifying their lives. However, they’re missing out on some of the benefits of self-reliance and independence they claim to seek.
One is the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of sitting down to a meal you have produced entirely by yourself, in harmony with nature and with minimal technological and bureaucratic input.
Another is simply knowing you CAN do that!
And then there is the consideration that most of the Voluntary Simplicity gurus have incomes dependent on the stock market or other investments, meaning their incomes are far from guaranteed. How much more secure they would feel if they could at least produce their own food!
And if that process also gives them a greater appreciation for everything from a loaf of bread to life itself by more clearly seeing the First Causes, they’re missing a great deal, indeed.
Unfortunately, most Americans are in this position. But that’s changing, in many ways. It’s entirely possible that a Post-Industrial Age will see not only a massive shift to Voluntary Simplicity, but beyond… to homesteading.
Q. How can people who are so down on technology put out a magazine with Mac G3s and have a web site?
A. Good question!
The answer is using technology selectively. Nails are technology. Our cast iron cookware is technology. Fire is technology. Homesteaders use those that serve their needs with the least harm to the Earth, society, and themselves, and set aside the others.
Much of this involves personal decisions, often based on individual circumstances. For example, most homesteaders would prefer not to use garden tillers, because of the cost (in money, upkeep, and what they draw from the planet, including the pollution they cause). But it takes time and effort to build raised beds, improve soil, and use other means of being able to produce food on a sizable scale without the use of machinery. So in some cases, for some people, a tiller might be a necessity-at least for the time being.
Or consider tv. Most homesteaders consider it a waste of time and other resources. Used with discrimination, however, it can be a valuable tool.
A growing number of homesteaders are using computers, and the Web, with the same discrimination.
Q. Where can I find more information on homesteading and self-sufficiency.
A. Our Resources page contains links to other websites that may be of interest to Countryside readers. Of course, Countryside Magazine is the best and most reliable source of homesteading information, but feel free to check out some of these links – just to prove that point.
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