Is it a return to simplicity, or something more?
Beautiful sunrises. Chirping birds. Fresh-baked bread. Quiet. Sunsets and stars…
This past year has seen people choosing to live a different kind of life by chucking away city or suburban life and relocating in the countryside. Farms, acreages, and practically anyplace with trees and/or grass have been snatched up by persons seeking a unique, possibly less-complicated life.
For some, a half-acre in the woods is enough to feel at home; others may require hundreds around them to feel safe. Still more welcome a hard-work ethic and leave-no-tracks philosophy while “urban homesteaders” remaining in suburbs (or apartments) are growing their own food, washing with kitchen-manufactured soaps, and re-discovering the recipes of their ancestors.
Well life on the farm is kinda laid back
Ain't much an old country boy like me can't hack
It's early to rise, early in the sack
I thank God I'm a country boy
—John Martin Sommers / John Denver performance
By definition, “homesteading” is about building a home. Soon-to-be-retired from the military, Robert Vols just wanted to put down roots. He found a few acres in Tennessee and working on setting up his own homestead. “After 20-plus years of moving around this country, it is exciting to own a piece of America and call it home.”
But surely homesteading is more than that, isn’t it?
It’s more work, but…
Veteran homesteaders advise that country life isn’t always the least expensive. Livestock need to be fed daily and accrue veterinary bills. Something is always breaking and needing repair. And city-supplied infrastructure like water and sewer require you to build and maintain that them on your homestead with no help from someone else’s tax dollars.
In short, you are on your own, voluntarily.
A paradox of homesteading today is that some may choose a totally off-grid existence…but still buy chain saws and ATVs to support their efforts. Others might require the fastest internet available in their area, but sew their children’s clothing and bake bread in wood stoves using grains they have personally grown and ground.
So, if homesteading doesn’t mean living in the country, living more economically, swearing off electronics, or even that using store-bought foods isn’t’t inherently evil, what does it mean to be a homesteader today?
We reached out in search of an answer to this, and were surprised at all that homesteading encompasses.
Kris Bordessa, author
Kris has for years embraced the idea of self-sufficiency, and has written “Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living” to help others understand its appeal.
Homesteading is something of a touchstone across generations, she says: “The idea of learning and using skills that your grandparents once used is appealing to so many when families are scattered across the nation. It feels like a bit of a touchstone,” reaching across time, she says.
A Hawaii resident, Kris says “you don’t need 160 acres and a cow” to grasp the lifestyle. “So many homestead skills can be embraced even when people are limited in space,” Kris tells us.
“Apartment dwellers can learn to preserve food when it’s fresh and abundant at farmers markets, suburban families can grow productive gardens, and anyone with the desire can head out into the wild for foraging, fishing, or hunting to acquire wild foods.”
She points out that all this homesteading knowledge has to be earned and researched. Would you know what wild mushrooms to forage? Or how to care for—and clean up after—backyard chickens? Kris’s book and her very popular Facebook page “Attainable Sustainable with Kris Bordessa” offer help to newbies and refresher ideas to established country folk.
Andy Schneider aka The Chicken Whisperer
Andy and Jen Schneider and their two children moved to their 13.5 acre Georgia homestead a little under four years ago with the hopes of being more self-sufficient and self-empowered. In the Schneider household, that means homeschooling.
“My wife, a very creative former public school teacher with a passion for teaching, can teach our children so many subjects outside in nature, on the homestead,” he says.
“What student wouldn't want to have class outside under a shade tree by the creek, or in a pasture with cattle grazing by?”
The Schneiders raise their own beef, pork, and chicken, so the children are well aware of the cycle of life…and food.
“The pandemic last year really made us even more grateful we live on a homestead,” Andy says. “We also have several water sources on the homestead, so that was convenient as well. This (all) allowed us to give back some of our bountiful blessings by donating some food to the food pantry at our church.”
Bonnie Von Dohre, blogger
A homesteader and blogger, Bonnie grew up in Ohio surrounded by a large family who taught her how to can, garden and cook from scratch. Now living in Florida and raising three children, Bonnie and her family raise chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, pigs and horses.
Importantly, she offers experience-based how-to advice on her blog, The Not So Modern Housewife.
Would homesteading appeal to you? On her blog, she writes, “You’re in the right place if…”
- You are deeply yearning for life in another time: feeling like something is fundamentally missing from modern life.
- You want the independence that comes from a self-sufficient life.
- You’re overwhelmed because you don’t think you have the resources necessary to achieve your dreams.
"Learning to be self-sufficient means reconnecting with nature on an intimate level,” Bonnie says. “Its benefits have far reaching implications to your own life as well as your community and our environment.”
She writes about everything from cooking, canning, and cleaning to gardening, livestock, and figuring out ways to get children to help with the daily work.
“It isn’t an easy life. I’m not even sure I’d call it a simple life, but it is a rewarding life.”
Jessica Dilger, businesswoman
Living on her husband’s family’s original homestead, Jessica anticipated her move to their Washington state farm meant life would go into low gear.
“When we first moved here I thought it would be a way to slow down in life, and that couldn’t be farther than the truth,” she says. “Homesteading and farming are tough work. The troubled cows always seem to go into labor at 3 a.m., predators are a constant worry, and the learning curve can be harsh when you have no one here to teach you.”
Raised with an eye for entrepreneurial opprotunity, Jessica has started several businesses, and currently has FM Business Coaching, with “FM” shorthand “for makers” of products, and other small businesses.
Still, it is the determination to see things through that hasn’t diminished her love for living a rural life.
Raising cattle, goats, and chickens, she has learned the value of providing healthy, sustainable food for her family. “I guess homesteading means being able to know what we’re putting into our bodies and our kiddos. Being able to grow our vegetables, eggs, and meat is a godsend.”
Homesteading in the 21st Century, Jess has found, has its modern-day challenges: “It’s hard to take vacations because there aren’t a lot of people you can trust to watch your animals.”
Sometimes she can almost hear the echoes of others who lived there. “I guess my favorite part of it is knowing that we are following generations before us on our land, planting crops in possibly the same places they did. The significance in that is amazing. I’m sort of a sentimental fool but I love knowing we are still planting our roots in the same land generations later.”
“The best marriage test is working cows with your significant other.”
In the end
So, homesteading isn’t necessarily about giving up all that our time has to offer in favor of an 18th Century existence. Nor is it a young-person’s romantic notion about living off the land.
Perhaps homesteading is about accepting the challenge of harder work, finding something more in yourself, and conducting a satisfying life.
Well I got me a fine wife I got me an ole fiddle
When the sun's comin' up I got cakes on the griddle
Life ain't nothin' but a funny funny riddle
Thank God I'm a country boy
—John Martin Sommers / John Denver performance
Homesteader Melissa K. Norris’s tips from the Great Depression