What is homesteading? Well, the dictionary definition is an act or instance of establishing a homestead, which is defined as a dwelling with its land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by the homestead law from seizure or sale for debt. Ok, that’s nice. But what does homesteading mean to the thousands of us who claim this name? To me, it’s the idea of using the lost arts of self sufficiency and sustainability to provide for our families. This can mean different things to different people, but for us it is striving for food independence through gardening, barter and purchase from local sources, putting up locally grown produce and meat to last us through the winter, recycling reusing and renewing items in our home to minimize our environmental impact, creating or repairing items before going to the store to purchase something. Remembering the things that were every day for our grandparents; canning, sewing, gardening, composting, cooking from scratch and raising small numbers of livestock.
People get introduced to the idea of homesteading through a million different avenues, for me it was a combination of over-active imagination as a child and a voracious appetite for reading. This combination led me to loving the Little House on the Prairie books and researching everything I could about that period of time. I read historical fiction, non-fiction, and my history books cover to cover. Fascinated with the idea of people putting all their possessions and heading west with the dream of being self sufficient. I read tales of early colonist and their struggle to cultivate the land, local history of Native Americans and early fur traders, fiction that included Dr. Doolittle and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
Around this same time I discovered that I loved to cook, I was lucky to have amazing grand parents who would let me follow them around in the kitchen and learn everything. My Grandpa James still lives in my memory as one of the most amazing baker’s and inspirations I’ve ever known. Standing next to him on the chair he would let me break eggs and stir and follow along with everything he did, creating the most delicious cookies, cinnamon rolls, bread and other goodies. My favorite part of my birthday was always getting to help him make my German chocolate cake, and not just because he let me lick the mixing spoon when we were done ;-). I inherited my joy of baking and my dislike of cleaning the kitchen afterwards from him!
My Grandma Jessick was a beautiful, funny and warm woman. She worked incredibly hard for her family and every night had a yummy dinner on the table. My mom worked hard as a single mom to take care of me and my sister, so I spent a lot of time with my grandma after school and during the summer. We would sit and chat for hours on the porch talking about everything under the sun. I have lovely memories of music always playing in the kitchen while she worked, my grandpa taught me to bake, but it was my grandma who taught me how to cook and how to feed a family. Indelible lessons that to this day fill my heart with joy and happy memories. I lost both of them way to early, but like to think they’d be proud of the person I’ve become and the goals I have to care for my family.
In addition to my incredible biological grandparents I was blessed with wonderful step-grandparents when my Mom remarried. For years they have provided us with delicious fresh picked produce from their beautiful backyard garden and more recently I’ve gained great resource in canning and gardening knowledge. Their pantry is the stuff of dreams, filled with rows upon rows of home canned goods from the garden. It’s been so fun to visit with them and chat about how are gardens are doing, learn from their experiences and repay them with produce from my own garden or pantry. I admire both their hard work and their relationship, together more than 50 years they still enjoy each others company, laugh together, hold hands, it’s a beautiful thing to see and I can only hope my own relationship will be so filled with joy after that many years.
Modern homesteaders learn from the past, but also make best use of the technology of today. My immersion blender has replaced my food mill for jam and sauce making, Pinterest and Facebook have connected me with other like minded individuals across the country and the world, and so many other modern conveniences that make homesteading easier today. We choose to learn and appreciate the techniques of the past while adapting them to modern technology, it’s a good pairing in my opinion and I wouldn’t want to live my life any other way. Right now we are homesteading on a typical suburban plot, not a whole lot of room, lots of neighbors, lots of rules on what we can do (but yay I can have chickens now!). Someday though that will be different, in 5 years we’ll be buying our land and raising our goats, breakfast will include fresh eggs and homemade cheese, hard work that is not for the faint of heart but something I have dreamed about for a long time.
Thanks to our frugal lifestyle and debt reduction plan we will be debt free in about 5-6 years depending on circumstances, emergencies, and raises. But we are pretty confident that our 5 year goals are on track. We have made the strategic decision to pay off our debts and student loans as fast as possible (and not to create new ones) so that in 5 years we can run away to the country and do everything in our power to be self-sufficient. That doesn’t mean we’ll be holed up in a cave like the uni-bomber, we’re blessed to live in a time where if our garden fails or someone gets sick we can drive into town and get help or run to the grocery store. But our first stop will always be our personal knowledge, strength, and support system, which for me is the true meaning of being a homesteader. The willingness to try it on your own, the courage to fail if necessary and the strength to try again as many times as needed to get it right.
So what does homesteading mean to you? How did you get introduced to this life? I love hearing about the dreams and history of others, the so many diverse ways we got to this same place.