Is homesteading such a chancy endeavour that those who choose to do it must live around people who can provide them with ready assistance, resources and even money when things go badly?
Homesteading – it’s the ultimate in sustainable and self-reliant living.
Or is it?
Is a community an absolute necessity for homesteading?
That is, do homesteaders require constant financial and physical assistance from those around them?
This is a loaded question and I hope that I can give a good answer.
The answer, after much thought is … Yes, but …. well, no, that’s not quite right. I mean .. No, but ….
I feel like the elephant trying to use the telephant right now.
Let’s look at these two positions in detail.
Does it Take a Village to Homestead?
Yes, A Community Is Essential
A community is an absolute vital necessity in order to successfully homestead or farm.
There is just no way that you can do it while living as a lone wolf in the woods. Believe me – I’ve tried! Three years off-grid, homesteading in Nova Scotia, living deep in the woods, gave us a good understanding about life far from your neighbours, and it’s just not possible to live without other people.
One really important Mennonite maxim, among my Old Order friends, is:
Your neighbours do not need you, but you need your neighbours.
It means that any one person in a community is replaceable, but the community itself is necessary.
No Mennonite would think of acting like Charles Ingalls in The Little House on the Prairie and taking his family a week’s wagon drive from the nearest community. Humans are social creatures and we really do need each other for fellowship, assistance and trade.
We buy hay from a neighbour because we don’t have the flat space needed to grow it, nor the equipment to harvest and bale it.
We buy barley and other grains, in part because we don’t have the fields necessary, but also because we just don’t have the knowledge or equipment. The animal feed industry knows that not everyone can grow their own feed.
We buy firewood, as logs, because our woodlot was cut heavily a couple of decades ago and needs time to regrow. And that’s a good thing, because it supports the industry of those who have wood to sell.
The list goes on. There are many things which we cannot grow or build for ourselves, like tools, clothing and more.
In addition, when one is starting out as a homesteader, complete isolation can be deadly. There is always so much more to learn.
And while we’re learning and building up our resources, friends and neighbours will sometimes get a phone call.
“Hey, G, could you bring up your tractor and pull me out? No, no, didn’t go into a ditch …. the driveway collapsed with all this rain. Yea … and when it dries up a bit, maybe we can have you come up and grade the driveway?”
“Good morning, L. How’s my favourite mechanic? Any chance you could take a look at the truck tonight? Just a quick peak and tell me what’s going on? Not tonight, but tomorrow? Perfect.”
“Hey, B, could you come on over and give me a hand getting that metal roof up on the barn?”
When I get letters from my Mennonite friends, I hear about a barn raising after a young family lost their barn in a fire, or their community pitching in to fund a disabled farmer’s seed business launch, or my friends sending their daughters to help out a new mother or someone healing from illness. Communities can be lifesavers.
In addition, a lack of community makes it impossible to sell your farm produce. A community is necessary to run a farm stand or a small local business. The municipality, last time I checked, will not take carrots and sweet potatoes as payment on property taxes. (But if you hear different, let me know, ok?)
Communities are extremely important for new homesteaders and farmers. Barnyard in Your Backyard and Back To Basics are great reads but they are nothing compared to the hands-on knowledge required to keep everyone alive through the winter. A caring community will pull a new homesteader’s fat out of the fire for the first few months while they get established and figure it out.
No, Homesteading Equals Preparedness
There is simply no excuse for any farmer or homesteader to run out of food, dry firewood, animal feed and hay, unless that excuse involves a horrible, unpreventable natural disaster. There is a huge difference between members of a community supporting each other and one person needing bailouts because of a lack of planning and preparedness.
Setting aside horrible disasters, the very concept of homesteading demands a certain level of preparedness and independence. Homesteading requires a mindset of self-sufficiency, in which “What might I need tomorrow, next week, next year?” remains constantly top of mind.
This means checking the firewood – both the stuff by the fire and the stuff in the wood shed – daily and ensuring that some is indoor drying before it is needed. It does not matter how much wet, green wood is stacked outdoors. If it is not aged and dried, it is worthless.
This means knowing exactly how much food is available for the animals and how much might be needed in the near future. Running out of animal feed is inexcusable unless you are in your first year of homesteading and have yet to figure out just how much the beasts eat. (And even then, estimate HIGH, not low.)
If you’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of dealing with a freeloader, then you know you don’t want to BE that person who takes and takes without giving back!
It means keeping the barn filled with hay, that oh-so-important hay, at all times, and checking it frequently to ensure that nothing molds.
It means having twice as much food for people as you think you’ll need, because storms, injuries, illness, bad roads and other problems happen. Because when you absolutely NEED to get into town, that’s when the road will wash out, or the storm that no one saw coming will hit with white out fury.
It means, whenever you are physically capable, doing for yourself.
If you are not capable of planning ahead, preparing for what is necessary for today and next year, do not plan for a future as a homesteader. That’s pretty simple, right?
Homesteading also means paying a fair price for services when they’re needed.
It means paying G for his time and gas when he hauls the truck out of the mud (or the ditch!), or for plowing out our very long driveway after three consecutive snow storms. Not everyone in the community has large equipment, and we’re so grateful for his help.
It means paying L for his time when he checks the strange rattle in the truck, especially when he does it on short notice. We’re so lucky to have such an excellent mechanic handy.
It means preparing a good, hearty meal for B when he helps with the roof, and also bartering time for something he needs done.
That caring community that pulls the new homesteader’s fat out of the fire?
Well, they don’t stay caring and helpful forever, not if they are greeted with disaster after disaster and it never stops. My experience is that you’ll have about a year to get your act together (and even, then, the mistakes you make during that time will be remembered and recounted with glee by many).
After that, figure out what you are doing or move back to town.
There Are Some In Every Group
It does not matter what group you are talking about, there are always “those people”. These are the ones who gain the most attention, making the rest shake their heads in horror and disgust.
These are the ones who whine, complain (but in a gentle, teasing manner, so don’t take it so seriously), beg and mooch. They do not do what they say they will, and then they depend on others to fix the problem. Their irresponsibility becomes everyone else’s responsibility.
The truly crazy thing is that these people often gather the most publicity and, therefore, money. It’s frustrating.
And there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Whether you’re talking about a racial group, a religion, or a movement like homesteading, these people exist and will continue to exist.
It takes a village to raise a child.
If it takes a village to run your homestead, it’s time to grow up.