Many people in the United States think of homesteading as the mass migration West in the 1800s, when the Homestead Act offered free land to hardy people who were willing to stake out a claim and live off the land.
But homesteading is still alive and well today, and more and more people are leaving urban areas to pursue a life of freedom and self-sufficiency in the country.
Homesteading means different things to different people, but it’s basically a “back-to-the-land” movement where folks live a life of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Homesteaders grow their own food (or most of it anyway), preserve their own food for the winter, and make many of their own necessities, including clothing, textiles, crafts, and even cosmetics.
Many homesteaders also live “off the grid,” and use solar panels or wind turbines to heat their water and generate their electricity. Some choose to go without cable TV or internet access, and even cell phones in come cases. Homesteaders are an independent lot, and many find this disconnection from society liberating.
Homesteaders are artisans, farmers, writers, retired city dwellers, mothers and fathers, hunters, fishermen, young couples looking for a simpler life, and just about everything in between. This back-to-the-land lifestyle offers health benefits, peace of mind, family values and the direct benefits of a person’s labor.
Homesteading has many options
There are no hard and fast rules to homesteading. In fact, you can live in the city and practice “urban homesteading” with sustainable agriculture and eco living techniques that provides a self-sufficient lifestyle just about anywhere. People on urban homesteads use minimal resources, are self-reliant, and save money and energy all at the same time.
Many people who choose a rural homesteading lifestyle are isolated somewhat in that they’re not typically part of a village or other community. This is part of the draw for many folks who value their privacy, and who just want to be left alone to live as they please. Other homesteaders band together and live in small groups where they can work and socialize with their neighbors.
There’s a perception among the public that homesteaders and “back-to-the-land” practitioners have a much lower cost of living compared to folks living in the city. But that’s usually not the case, and in fact small scale farming and green energy production can actually be more expensive than buying groceries at the supermarket and getting your heat and electricity from the utility company.
For most homesteaders, living off the land is a lifestyle choice rather than a way to save money, and they get a deep satisfaction from growing their own food, making their own textiles and fertilizer, and generating their own electrical needs. They love the independence this lifestyle affords them, and the healthy benefits of hard work and freshly grown food pulled straight from the soil.
Urban homesteading is gaining in popularity
As mentioned earlier, you don’t have to live in a rural area to be a modern homesteader. Urban or “backyard” homesteading is becoming increasingly popular in many major cities across the US, the trend is growing as people look to become more self-sufficient, spend less money on groceries, and reduce their carbon footprint all at the same time.
It’s been shown that with efficient organic gardening methods, it’s possible to feed a family of four – year round – on less than a quarter acre of land. Gardening is allowed just about everywhere in the city, and many municipalities even allow some livestock to be raised on your property, including chickens, pigs, rabbits and goats.
This sort of “square foot” or small-scale farming allows the urban homesteader to grow not only fresh vegetables, but also nuts, fruits, herbs, and grains. Grains can be made into breads, pastas and even beer. Herbs can be turned into herbal teas and homeopathic medicines. You could even grown grapes in your backyard and turn them into homemade wine.
And with the proper preservation methods, you can can, freeze, or dehydrate your home-grown foods and enjoy them throughout the winter months. There’s really almost no limit to what the backyard homesteader can accomplish with a little imagination, hard work, and ingenuity.
How much land do you really need?
Beware of buying more land than you really need when purchasing land in the country for your new homestead. Remember that land needs to be cared for even if it’s not being cultivated. Otherwise you’ll find yourself with acres of land that’s going fallow, and becoming overgrown with weeds, brush, trees and just about any other wild thing that sprouts up out of the ground.
Also remember that land costs money, and you’ll have a yearly property tax assessment to pay as well. So how much land should you be looking to buy? For most people, ten or fifteen acres is plenty for a homestead or small scale farm, and many get by with a lot less, especially if it’s good, fertile land. And if you plan on heating your home with a wood stove, you might consider buying a few acres of additional woodlot land and save some money in heating expenses at the same time.
Know what you’re getting into before moving to a rural homestead
Homesteading can be a wonderful lifestyle, and a way to connect with the land and nature, be more self-sufficient, and explore a deeper relationship with our spouse and family. Many people (especially folks raised in the city) have a romantic vision of this Little House On The Prairie life where everything is peaches and cream, and everyone gets along great all the time.
Make no mistake, homesteading, farming, or ranching can be an incredibly rewarding way of life, but it’s not for everyone. Simply moving from the city to the country isn’t going to make all your problems go away, and this kind of frontier living is a lot of hard work. There are usually more chores that can be accomplished in one day, you may have animals to take care of, and if you’re a social person who likes a lot of co-workers around when you work, you might be disappointed.