For the most part I live a typically middle class life. I have a 9 to 5 (or 6 or 7) job. Mr. WPW and I each have a car. We watch (probably too much) tv and play computer games and even occasionally go to a mall. We also have almost 10 acres, raise chickens, and grow an increasing portion of our food and preserve it. I consider our home to be our homestead. So what makes us homesteaders? Do you have to have lots of land and farm animals to be a homestead? I don’t think so!
What is Homesteading?
I’m not talking about the legal definition for purposes of the homestead exemption. Most states or counties just define homesteads as a person’s only primary residence. There’s more to homesteading than that. I think it’s more about mindset. It’s about wanting to make the most of the resources you have to live a more sustainable and healthy life. Whether that’s having a miniature herb garden on your windowsill or having the acreage to raise beef cows, you’re doing what you can do in your space to help ease your burden on the food system and the planet. You’re trying to be part of the space around you and not just exist on it.
I think it’s also about the way you regard the people with whom you share the space. Are you all just using your home as a place to hold your stuff or is it someplace that you spend quality time together? I think homesteaders look at their family as partners in life instead of as separate individuals who have to be accommodated but aren’t really part of a whole. They work together to achieve the goals of the family, whatever that may be. Does that mean that you have to have two parents and 2.5 kids to homestead? Heck, no! You can be single, or have a made-family (people not related by blood that live and love as family), or any variation you can think of. However you’re configured, the point is how do you look at those who share your space?
Homesteaders also look at the world a little differently. We find value in older traditions and skills. A loaf of homemade bread, even if it’s lumpy and a little dense, means more to us than a perfect, golden loaf from the grocery store. Our chicken coop may turn out just a little tilted, but by golly it’s sturdy enough to keep our chickens safe. Although many of us have to relearn these things, we know that these kinds of skills are important and we want to keep them alive.
Turning your house into your homestead
You’re convinced – you want a homestead! But you’re not sure how to transition your house into a homestead. Especially when you live in the suburbs or a city it can feel like the dream of homesteading is impossible. The laws prevent you from having chickens or honey bees and your three foot by two foot balcony wouldn’t grow enough wheat for a slice of bread, much less a loaf! What can you do to homestead now, even if the dream of a farm is currently out of reach?
The good news is there are probably 101 things you can do to make even a studio apartment more of a homestead. Start by finding ways to be more sustainable in your space. Use cloth shopping bags instead of plastic. Find your closest farmer’s market and get your veggies there. Learn to use your kitchen.
Bring nature into your home where you can – house plants are great ways to freshen your air and some of them are super easy to grow. I like pothos – they’re almost impossible to kill as long as you water them every so often. That was the first plant I managed not to kill and was something of a gateway plant into gardening! If you’re feeling bolder, start an herb garden on a windowsill. Get a large planter and put in some rosemary or even a green pepper. If you have a house with a yard, try putting in garden beds around the house. If you have an HOA that thinks food gardens are ugly (as an aside: what the heck is wrong with those people?!), try interspersing food with flowers. There are also several ornamental varieties of peppers and cabbages and such that are still quite edible and tasty.
Learn to be thrifty. Don’t throw something away if you can repair it. Don’t buy something if you can make it. Embrace the older values of frugality and self-reliance. Read the books written back in the times of the pioneers and the Great Depression and see how they addressed the issues of food and homesteading. The books may be old and a little hard to read, but they’re filled with so much good information! (Just be sure where safety is concerned you learn modern techniques, too. For instance, we’ve learned a LOT about safe canning since the old days and I’d never risk botulism by using the old methods.) Find ways to be greener, like installing solar panels on your home.
Get out in nature. If you can’t have nature at your back door, go out to nature. Look for CSAs (community supported agriculture) that will trade labor for food. Go hiking in the state parks close to you. Learn to identify and gather edible plants (make sure you learn from people who know what they’re doing or this can be dangerous). Find a neighborhood garden and get a plot for your own.
Meet your neighbors. Homesteaders realize that as much as we’re trying to be self-sustaining, none of us can do it all on our own. Have a progressive dinner in your condo building or offer to mow your neighbor’s lawn for them since you’re doing your own anyway. Share your bounty with your neighbors to build bonds. You may find that the person you gave those extra jars of home-canned jam to is a plumber who can help out when you have a leak under the sink. This is how communities worked back when we actually had communities – the supported each other.
We can’t all move to the country and have farms – and not everyone wants to, not even every homesteader. But if you DO want to, it is possible. It takes time to save the money or find the right kind of loan. (If you’re interested in farming and need to look into loans, be sure to check out the USDA Rural Housing loans or talk to your county extension agent to find out about programs in your area.) In the mean time, read every book on gardening and farming you can get your hands on. Visit local farmers and learn how they do things. Go to your state or county fair and ignore the midway rides and instead go see the agricultural exhibits. Make your current house a homestead as much as you can.
Most importantly, keep dreaming. Every amazing thing created was started with a dream, a hope, a wish, and a desire for something more.