What is homesteading?
Have you ever wondered about that? Friends tell you that they’ve started doing it, or your local library has a class on urban homesteading, and you’re confused. If you’re a bit of a history nut and know what the word meant a hundred years ago, you might be even more confused.
What is a homesteader?
If you stop and think about what it meant in the past, the answer does not seem to fit up with today’s reality. Perhaps you had an ancestor who homesteaded the land.
You know what they did – they cut down trees, built their homes by hand and worked hard to build a life.
The parents homestead, the children farm, and the grandchildren move to town.
I know that when my grandfather – a self-sufficient farmer in a very rural area – used the word ‘homestead’, he was talking about his own father’s place up on the mountain, hacked out of the woods and without access to any sort of modern amenities. Grandpa had a farm. His father had a homestead.
The funny thing, though, is that many of the great-grandchildren are redefining an old, almost lost word and calling themselves homesteaders – in a way their great-grandparents might not have recognized.
The term “homestead” has changed its definition.
So first we need to make a distinction between traditional homesteaders and modern homesteaders.
They really have little in common beyond their attitude.
The Homestead Act of 1862, in the United States, set off the original homesteaders. Amazing for its time, any adult who had never taken up arms against the US – including women and black Americans – could apply for 160 acres. Within seven years, they had to show proof of having developed the land.
Things have changed a lot!
Both modern and traditional homesteaders were willing to work hard for what they believed in – a sense of independence and pride, a feeling of hard work and accomplishment, and, let’s be honest, the knowledge of doing something that most people cannot or will not do.
My mother always said that the surefire way to get me to do something was to say “Marie, you just can’t do that. It’s not possible.”
It might take me thirty years to figure out, but I’ll do it. (And I’m seeing that same “Oh, yea? Watch me” attitude in my sweet little daughter.)
If you define yourself as a homesteader, you have at least a little bit of that “Oh, yea? Watch me” attitude, too.
What is the homesteading lifestyle?
Homesteading is a modern movement of people who are constantly striving to live a life of self-reliance.
It is a strong desire – and the result actions necessary – to get off the system of dependency that most people take for granted, and to learn to connect with, and ideally live upon, the land.
Even if “the land” is in your kitchen, on your balcony, or a mile down the road in the community garden!
Now we personally spent three years living far out in the woods on 24 acres of land, off-grid, with 100% wood heat and solar power.
The internet for our cabin came from satellite, our cell phones relied on a cell phone booster on our roof, and we would have to win the lottery to get a land line or a power line up there. The cabin had no fridge or freezer and only cold running water (except when it freezes in the winter, at which time we would “run” to the spring!)
Even by the old definition of hacking out a little farm from scratch, that’s homesteading.
But you don’t have to be doing this in order to homestead.
Really and truly, you don’t.
And just because we lived out here for three years (only moving into town after I became very ill), that doesn’t make me more of a homesteader than someone in an apartment. Moving closer to people didn’t make us less homesteaders, either!
A lot of it today is in the attitude, and today’s homesteaders are redefining what it means.
Nothing in that says that you have to live on a farm or even in a rural community. There are urban and suburban homesteaders – as well as those who live in the country.
We started our self-reliance journey – our homesteading journey – while living in a dark basement apartment within walking distance of downtown in a large city.
What do modern homesteaders do, then? Because it can’t all be about attitude.
At the heart of the modern homesteading movement is a desire to grow as much of the household’s food as possible, and to source the rest as close to home and nutritious as possible.
If growing your own food isn’t possible, all cities have farmer’s markets.
So a homesteader in an apartment might only grow sprouts, but they’ll get eggs and vegetables and meat from farmers with whom they’re building relationships instead of from an impersonal grocery store. Homesteaders tend to move away from boxes and cans, too, and work on building new skills in the kitchen.
Cooking from scratch often goes hand-in-hand with homesteading ideals.
When I couldn’t find a truly from-scratch homesteading cookbook, one that exclusively used farm fresh or sustainably preserved food, I WROTE IT. Now A Cabin Full of Food is being used by homesteaders throughout North America and as far away as France and Africa.
All homesteaders, as far as I know, do some kind of food preservation.
This could involve freezing, canning, drying, pickling, fermenting …. I love knowing, when I’m putting up a canner of meat, that my grandmother was doing the same thing in her kitchen sixty years ago.
Like my grandmother, I love that I can save money on food while putting up healthy food for my family.
Tied into that, you will find homesteaders doing things like fighting for urban chickens. (Because seriously – chickens! They eat insects. And they have other useful traits.)
Many homesteaders sew clothing. Not me. Definitely not my skill set. But that’s just one of the many practical skills that homesteaders are likely to pick up.
These are the homesteading skills once known as “handicrafts” – an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands (Thank you, Mr. Webster) Since moving to our homestead, the mister has had to learn carpentry and wiring by necessity, and he’s picking up a bit of plumbing, too. There’s a lot to learn.
Now let’s address one last thing – maybe you’re reading this and thinking “I do a lot of that stuff and I am NOT a homesteader.”
No one is going to make you take on any definition that you don’t want. There are actually no homesteading police who will decide if you are a homesteader, a highly skilled homemaker, a farmer or something else altogether.
But if you’re pursuing a lifestyle of self sufficiency, you just might be a homesteader.0