The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Why homestead?

Child holding up a peaHave you ever tried to explain to a mainstream American why you homestead?  The conversation often goes something like this:

Mainstream American: "Okay, now explain to me again why you put so much effort into growing tomatoes.  Did you know they're less than a dollar a pound at Food City?"

Me: "Yuck!  We can't even eat storebought tomatoes any more.  A sun-warmed, organic tomato picked straight off the vine is so delicious..."  My eyes mist over and I start counting the days until our summer garden is in fruit again.

Mainstream American (snapping her fingers impatiently): "Hello!?  Are you still there?  Did you mention something about me not being able to use an indoors shower when I visit you?!!!"

Me: "Yeah, we haven't gotten around to that yet.  The garden and orchard just seem more important right now."

Mainstream American: "So hire somebody to install one.  Duh!"

Me: "I'd rather wait a few years until we have time to do it ourselves.  I don't think it's worthwhile to work 40 hours a week outside the home so that we can have modern conveniences."

Mainstream American (frantically trying to change the subject away from homesteading): "Did you see that cool car commerical in the Super Bowl last night."

Me: "Super Bowl?  Is that baseball?"

A community mulching togetherWhich is all a far too long way of saying that one of my favorite parts of Rachel Kaplan's Urban Homesteading was her explanation of why she thinks homesteading is important.  Rachel writes that people considering homesteading for the first time often think about what they'd lose in the endeavor, but that the homesteading lifestyle isn't about what you do without, but what you gain.  As a result of living more simply, we have more time with people who really matter and our souls (and bodies) are nourished by being part of the ecosystem.  We're more self-sufficient, so losing a job isn't a disaster and we know how to rebuild after a fire or hurricane.  And, of course, there's a deep satisfaction involved in making things with your own two hands.

That said, Rachel explains that she's not seeking self-sufficiency but community sufficiency, achieved by building guilds of people (and plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria) who fill all of the niches in her community.  Her book considers the big picture right from the beginning, looking at social justice and peak oil as ethical reasons to homestead that transcend the personal.

I'd be curious to hear what your own goals and beliefs about homesteading are.  Do you homestead to be prepared for the apocalypse?  Because you don't want to get a job?  Because you're enthralled by the beauty of a garden in full leaf?  What do you say when that mainstream American tries to understand your life choices?

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This post is part of our Urban Homesteading lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I really like your ability for writing dialog! I am probably a mainstream american but it still is funny!
Comment by Maggie Tue Apr 5 12:38:29 2011
If you visit my blog ( you'll find todays posting - which explains one very good reason why. I also am preparing for darker days (where possible) and finally because I am alive when I am on my land - be it the small portion I/we occupy for now, or the larger portion where I/we aim to be as quickly as possible.
Comment by Dani Tue Apr 5 13:21:13 2011

Maggie - Glad you enjoyed it, you mainstream American, you. :-)

Dani --- Those are both good reasons. (Funny how those crazy Brits felt the need to name a different bird "robin" everywhere they went.)

Comment by anna Tue Apr 5 15:20:19 2011
I want control over what is in my food - no chemicals. I have tasty chicken eggs, chicken, tomatoes and veggies any soon beef. We can't stand how awful store bought food is. Once you grow it yourself you will never go back.And sharing our bounty is the best way to make friends.I feel so blessed to work the land and get so much in return.
Comment by Ruth Tue Apr 5 22:07:21 2011

Ruth --- I couldn't agree with you more. The food you put in your stomach is the most important thing you can do to keep yourself healthy and happy, in my opinion, and you can't find food that good even if you buy organic vegetables from small farmers at the farmer's market. I think freshness is just as important as no chemicals, and also taking care to keep the micronutrient content of your soil high.

And you're totally right about sharing the excess --- we used to try to sell a bit of produce, but soon realized it wasn't worth our while. However, giving it away is very much worth it!

Comment by anna Wed Apr 6 07:55:07 2011

I can't say that we "homestead" yet, although it is an elusive goal that we are always working toward. The funny thing is you probably never know when you reach it.

The reason we chose to "simplify" our lives is because we weren't happy with the quintessential "American dream". We tried it and realized, quickly, that it wasn't for us. Life is too short and, as far as I can deduce, you only get one shot at it. We try to homestead because we don't want to spend a good portion of that one chance working in a factory, cubicle or corner office. We try to homestead because we don't want our lives defined by what we do for someone else (as in the question, "What do you do?") as much as what we do for ourselves. When someone asks me what I do I still tell them I'm in search marketing, but that's only because I don't feel like explaining my philosophy on life to everyone who ever asks me a seemingly benign question.

Great post Anna. I love a good thinker in the morning!

Comment by Everett Wed Apr 6 09:50:17 2011

I think you're definitely a homesteader --- you've got chickens, worms, a garden, and (more important) the dream to live simply. Our homesteads are all works in progress!

I like your reason for homesteading too. Funny how everyone has a different reason and I agree with you all. :-)

Comment by anna Wed Apr 6 13:03:53 2011

I'm still struggling to reach the point of "homesteading". We've got the land now, and the desire, and much of the knowledge we need to get started, but unfortunately it all came with a large mortgage that needs to be serviced. So right now we need to spend more hours on "jobs" and less on "homesteading", but over time we're trying to shift that balance - and in the longer term, change the definition of "job" to work-at-home income-generating pursuits that we're truly passionate about. Obligatory hat-tip to your eBook here :-).

Our path (university degrees, careers, mortgages, etc) is not the only way to get to "homesteading", but it's the path we've ended up on.

Thinking about it, I don't actually get asked very often about why we do what we do. It's hard to pick one reason, but we really enjoy the whole lifestyle and think it gives out children a great start in life.

So many of society's problems come about because of a general disconnectedness between individuals' actions and their consequences. I can't change what everyone else does, but I hope to at least provide an counter-example that makes people think about that a little more.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Wed Apr 6 22:48:14 2011

It intrigues me to hear both you and Everett unsure if you're homesteading yet. I decided that I clearly didn't know what homesteading was, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, where they have a tiny entry, most of which I've excerpted below:

Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of simple self-sufficiency. As of 2010 the term may apply to anyone who follows the back-to-the-land movement by adopting a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. While land is no longer freely available in most areas of the world, homesteading remains as a way of life. According to author John Seymour, 'urban homesteading' incorporates small-scale, sustainable agriculture and homemaking.

Mark and I were discussing it, and we think that homesteading is all about a path rather than a destination. In my opinion, anyone who raises his own pigs and chickens and has a garden is a homesteader, especially if they're trying to become more self-sufficient. By many people's definitions, we wouldn't be homesteaders either --- we buy some of our own firewood, we still buy fruit, etc. But I think we're homesteaders!

Thanks for the hat tip to the ebook, by the way! I hope you reach financial self-sufficiency soon! And your point about connection is one of the primary reasons we homestead, although it's harder to articulate so we don't discuss it as much.

Comment by anna Thu Apr 7 07:50:31 2011

We don't homestead yet (we don't have a home to homestead with!) but we will. Why do we want to do this? One: we think it would be fun. Growing our own food and watching squirrels instead of TV sounds like the good life to us. Two: we're super-frugal people. My husband moreso than myself, but spending money on something I don't need is usually extremely difficult for me (books excluded. I know I could borrow from the library, but I love the smell of old books and having that reference on-hand is important to me mentally). Three: we would like to only have to work part time, if at all. Spending 40 hours each week being a cog in someone else's machine is draining. There's another element too, but it's harder to put into words. We feel that things should be more local and people should be able to do for themselves. And change starts at home, so we want to start doing for ourselves and make our personal world smaller.

Comment by Angela Sat Apr 21 15:48:59 2012
Angela --- Sounds a lot like the reasons we homestead!
Comment by anna Sat Apr 21 20:08:02 2012

It is curious to me that all my life I have wanted to be a homesteader, I think. It started with the influence of Bonanza TV Shows and was enhanced by the Laura Ingalls Wilder TV series. There was something so cool about how simple their lives were.

We went the route of degrees, kids, mortgages and stuff! Now we own a 74 acre farm, and it is paid off. Our children are in university or grad school and pretty much taking care of themselves and its our turn. We have one year and a half on our work contracts before our full time farm life begins. I literally have a countdown clock on my computer--not sure I will ever be able to give up that.

When we are on vacation, we are building fences around future pastures, mucking around the land and preparing green house pads . . .and of course researching everything we can about heirloom seeds, heirloom breeds, and sustainable living.

Being an English teacher by trade, I am often teased about my Walden utopia and "living of da fat o' the land" mentality. All I can do is smile and nod and say, "We want to homestead because we can. There is nothing more satisfying than reaping what you sow." There may be a day when my husband and I don't greet the morning on the farm with a grin and boundless energy, but for now, it is our chosen life.

Comment by shellintx Fri Feb 1 19:14:03 2013

My hubs & I have a habit of doing things the hard way - because hey why not try to do it yourself, & if you fail that's fine, at least you've tried & learned some awesome lessons along the way.

After 8 years in urban/suburban living we wanted to be more self sufficient & live a more sustainable life. Most Americans live in a way that's just wasteful & it was hard to see that on a daily basis & we didn't want to be part of the problem anymore, we wanted to be part of the solution.

We already had a small solar set up & basic knowledge of building & electronics (as well as brewing mead). We had a desire for several years to open a meadery - so we decided let's do it all!

We looked for land within an hour of Dallas (where friends/job was located), found 30 acres in Ellis County to build our green meadery business & home. We bought an RV to live in on site & 10 months later we are completely off grid using solar & wind, have well water, a tractor, the beginnings of a cob house, an onion patch, producing plum, peach & pecan orchards & plans to keep goats to eat our blasted poison ivy problem away.

Do I regret it? Hell no. Is it hard. Oh yes, but in the best way. I've become a better person, stronger physically & mentally.

And the best thing: I work with Mother Nature, not against her.

When it pours rain when I want to work outside, I do the necessary things indoors instead & am thankful for the break. It transcends lifestyle. It is life.

Comment by Magen Thu Aug 13 12:26:21 2015

I have everything I need to start the self sufficiency process and it is truly all I study and plan for. My wife won't leave California for our Minnesota property and I completely understand because we have 3 granddaughters and they are her life and she is from cal. However, I have to do it to be fulfilled. I know it won't be easy so any advice from all of you that have been doing this is appreciated. I believe I'm in better than average shape for being 51 and I fear if I don't do it soon, I will always regret it. Wish me luck !!

Comment by Bob Sun Jun 26 22:10:20 2016
That was a funny post. I feel that way about my conversations about homeschooling. I appreciate your honesty and look forward to reading more.
Comment by Jenni Thu Jun 22 17:25:26 2017

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