We all have different reasons for why we homestead. They are what make our journeys unique. They are also what bring us together. It is those reasons that make homesteaders stand out, and what make homesteading such a rewarding experience.
So, what is homesteading? Really? I first heard the term on TV when some talk show (I don’t remember which one) was interviewing Jewel about her childhood. She grew up in Alaska where her grandparents had to homestead in order to survive. The skills she had grown up with (canning, baking, and cooking from scratch) weren’t much different than I had learned growing up, except that I learned them for pleasure and she learned them as a matter of survival. I had always been treated as a bit of an oddity because I was a young person who did these things, but she was my age and grew up where it was the norm for everyone to know how to be self sufficient. It really left an impression upon me.
It was years later before I attempted to have a homestead of my own. When I lived in Ohio with my parents, I had a thriving garden and made extra money at the farmer’s market selling pies, pickles, and salsa. Most of my ingredients either came from my garden or local u-pick farms. Moving to Florida was a bit of a culture shock for me. Gardening is completely different. The soil is poor and the growing seasons are backwards from what I’m used to. I had never had so many problems with mildew or bugs in Ohio as I’ve had in Florida. I have yet to grow enough of my own tomatoes or pickles to be able to can any salsa or pickles. There are u-pick farms, but their prices are much more expensive than what I was used to in Ohio. They’re still cheaper than the store, but not cheap enough to justify baking with them and selling my extras. Now I’m happy to put enough aside to last my family for a year.
Moving to Florida also meant having to completely support myself financially. I had my own apartment in Ohio, but my parents still kept and fed my horses. I didn’t have any other pets at the time. When I moved to Florida, I brought two of my horses with me (the third came down a few years later). I was renting a house on a horse farm, but I had to pay to rent a couple of stalls, plus I had to pay for hay and grain for my horses. Once again, the expenses were much higher than what I was used to in Ohio. I had to work a lot to support myself, which left very little time for gardening. The gardening I did do was limited to flowers because I couldn’t seem to keep vegetable plants alive.
Fast forward a couple years to when my husband and I bought 5 acres in the country. We were both working long hours an hour or more from home. In the winter, we wouldn’t see our property in daylight hours during the week. We had to feed the horses by flashlight. At some point, my husband decided that he wanted chickens. Now, Hubby grew up in Orlando. He had never owned chickens. I grew up in the country where I had vivid memories of roosters trying to chase and flog me. I reluctantly agreed.
And thus began our slow spiral downward. Our six chicks from Tractor Supply ended up being six roosters, so we had to get some hens from craigslist. Those hens had chicks and our flock grew. I started to get involved on Backyard Chickens, and we started to attend poultry swaps. We decided to get into purebred birds, so we started hunting down desired breeds. My son and I started showing chickens. We got ducks. We had goats to clear the property. We started raising pigs as an economical source of meat. We started breeding pigs. We started breeding goats. We started milking goats.
Not long after our adventure began, the economy crashed. I lost my job while I was 4 months pregnant with my son. My husband went through a few of his own job losses and changes. We survived, but it was tough. It required a lot of help from our families and church. And it’s been a long, slow road to recovery. It opened our eyes to how quickly circumstances can change and the importance of being prepared for the worst.
During this time, we also had several people close to us fight and (far too often) lose the battle to cancer. Plus, I also had some health issues of my own. It changed how we ate and looked at food and other environmental factors.
So, why do we homestead? Well, if you couldn’t tell, there are a lot of reasons.
Control of Our Food Supply
Having control over our food supply involves several different factors. First of all, there is the quality. By controlling what my animals are fed, how they are bred, how they are raised and how they are slaughtered, I control the overall quality of the food my family eats. The result has been pork that is more moist and flavorful than anything I’ve ever had from the store. I have eggs with richer flavor and darker yolks than anything I’ve ever seen from the store. And I don’t have to question what my animals were fed or what their quality of life has been like.
I have also created better stability of our food supply. Now, I’m not going to say that raising animals is always cheaper than buying meat from the store. The initial costs of building pens, purchasing animals, and feeding them can sometimes be as if not more expensive than just buying meat from the store. And that’s not even taking the occasional vet bill in to consideration. However, there is always some kind of meat in our freezer. We always have eggs in the fridge. Soon, I shouldn’t even need to buy milk. And we have found ways to offset our costs. Once the pens are built, that expense shouldn’t be a reoccurring factor. It may need repairs or renovations, but those will be less expensive than the initial expense. And breeding and selling a couple litters of piglets a year offsets any costs we have from feeding our sows and the occasional meat piglet we keep for ourselves. We’ve also fed out a few piglets to sell to others. We show our purebred chickens and are able to sell hatching eggs, chicks, and extra adults to offset their costs. We also sell some chicken and duck eggs for eating. We could probably save some money by not feeding so many roosters, but that is an issue unique to our situation.
We also do this to prepare for the future. Now, I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but I do believe that governments use the food supply to control their people. Food prices are largely controlled by government subsidies and price control legislation. Now, most of the time, the government does this in the name of keeping food prices low, but they also do it to control supply and demand. Farmers can actually be paid to not grow certain crops some years. What’s to keep the government from doing the same to raise prices? Imagine a climate where one political party controls the White House while another controls the legislature. It is easy to diminish public opinion of an administration through an economic crisis. What better way to deflate the economy than through inflated food prices? Everyone’s got to eat. Don’t believe it could happen? Watch fuel prices during an election year.
Improving Our Health
About the time I started getting fit in preparation for my wedding, I decided to start eating healthier. I started buying more fresh produce and cooking from scratch, while trying to cut out processed foods. It wasn’t something that happened over night. Produce is expensive, and it takes time to get into the routine of cooking from scratch every day. I was also working full time, which gave me less time for cooking and preparing meals.
In some ways, losing my job was a blessing because it did give me more time, but it also gave me less money. I started shopping local farmer’s markets and planning meals around seasonal produce. Around this time, I also had a friend fighting a losing battle against colon cancer, and I learned how her doctors were trying to fight the cancer and strengthen her body by controlling her diet. I was in culinary school, and learning more about food science and nutrition. I was meeting many like minded people who put value in what we put into our bodies, and it changed everything about how I looked at food.
Later that year, my son started solid foods, and I started making his baby food. How I fed my family had become vitally important to me at that point and I started this blog. I started paying attention to food labels and all of the “stuff” that’s in processed foods. Culinary school had given me a better perspective on the importance of ingredients. I had always known that the quality of ingredients made a huge difference in the end product, but hadn’t really considered how that would also become a factor in my family’s overall health.
Teaching Our Children
Above all else, I wanted my kids to know where their food comes from. I grew up in a farming community and bought a lot of products locally, so I wanted that same experience for my kids. But it became even more evident how far society has become detached from its food supply after I left the town I had grown up in. I began to meet people who thought it was so strange that people still gardened and raised animals for food. People who had no issue buying chicken and sausage from the store, but thought it was cruel that I would butcher and eat my own chickens and pigs. I didn’t want my kids to become that detached from their food supply.
And there are other lessons kids learn from growing up around animals. First of all, they learn to respect the animal’s life and respect the sacrifice it is making to feed our family. Children are taught empathy by learning to put the needs of the animals above their own. Giving them age appropriate chores teaches them responsibility. Plus, they are living a childhood spend outdoors, which is good for their emotional, social, and physical development. Being around the dirt and animal dander is even good for their immune systems. In my opinion, there really is no better way for a kid to grow up.
Caring for God’s Creation
Last but not least, I feel a moral obligation to homestead. I have always felt a calling to care for those who could not care for themselves, especially animals. Anyone who has known me for an extended period of time is not surprised that I’ve chosen a life that involves animals. But this lifestyle goes beyond just keeping animals. It’s making sure that they’re happy and cared for. It’s rebuilding the soil. It’s preserving habitats. It’s trying to live in harmony with nature rather than destroy it. It’s learning to improve the system rather than be a burden to it. And like most things where God is concerned, I fail daily. I’m human. I get sick, tired, and frustrated. More often than not, my vision is greater than my resources. But I’m making a conscious effort. I make sure that at least my part of the food supply is raised humanely. I use the manure we produce to fertilize the soil. I avoid the use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers. I do what I can to be a responsible steward of the Earth, and every day I thank God for the blessings and responsibilities He’s given to me.
What Makes Someone a Homesteader?
There is no set formula that says “do XYZ and you’ll be a homesteader.” Sure, there are those who live completely off grid and hunt, gather, raise, or grow all of their own food, but they are truly rare in this day and age. To be honest, I don’t even know that I want to be that far disconnected, although I do find those who are to be an inspiration. I like my internet and air conditioning; however, I’d like to think that I could survive without it if I had to. No, homesteading doesn’t have to mean that you are completely self-sufficient, but more so that you are conscious. You could be making your own toothpaste and trying to live more chemical free lifestyle. You could be growing a potted tomato plant on your back porch. You could be learning to knit or sew or preserve food. If you do even one thing to make yourself less dependent upon others for your survival, you’re a homesteader in my book. But what’s most important is that you’re a homesteader in your heart.