What is homesteading? The term ‘homesteading’ originated with the enactment of The Homestead Act of 1862. The Homestead Act provided 160 acres of land free of charge to any man willing to settle and improve the land by living on it continuously for 5 consecutive years. Participation in this program became known as homesteading, and the participants were labeled homesteaders.
The Homestead Act was dealt a blow in 1935 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt rendered much of the nation’s remaining unclaimed or unsettled lands ineligible for private ownership through his nationwide land conservation initiative. The program met its official end in 1976 with the enactment of The Federal Land Policy and Management Act. So, if the official homesteading incentives were halted in 1976, why is homesteading trending now? What is homesteading in the context of today’s modern world?
In an attempt to provide an accurate, modern-day answer to the new “what is homesteading” question, we dug into the background stories and personal motivations that have contributed to the growing number of Americans embracing the concept of homesteading again. We didn’t stop at simply updating the definition. Our research revealed not just one, but several distinct definitions for modern homesteading. Each distinct homesteading ideology offered up a veritable treasure trove of knowledge and experience. We hand-selected five of the most interesting, useful, or perspective-shifting facts about today’s modern homesteading and analyzed each to get a better understanding of their importance.
What Is Homesteading in the Modern Context?
The modern iteration of homesteading is not quite as easily defined as the original. The modern term is applied to a diverse array of activities, ideologies, motivations, and people, making it difficult to pin down just one definition. However, there is one central philosophy common to every type of homesteading. A desire to be self-sufficient can be found at the core of the modern homesteading movement. Ask twenty homesteaders to explain why they feel self-sufficiency is important and you are likely to hear twenty different reasons. Now, ask all twenty homesteaders, “What is homesteading?” and all twenty answers will focus on a desire to become self-reliant and to be dependent on no outside source for resources.
What Is Homesteading to Each Unique Type of Homesteader?
Different types of homesteaders have different priorities, different tasks, and different tactics for completing those tasks every day. Let’s take a look at what homesteading looks like for each type of homesteader.
Classic Rural Homesteading
Classic rural homesteading represents the picture that most of us have in mind when we think about homesteading. Rural homesteading generally requires a sizable parcel of land for gardening, orchards, animal housing, and grazing space. The classic rural homesteaders are the purists and the most likely to reach and sustain a fully self-reliant way of life. The list below provides a rundown of some of the most common aspects of rural homesteading.
► Five acres (or more) of remote or rural land suitable for farming
► Installation and maintenance of a private well with both a hand pump and an electric pump supplemented by a passive rainwater collection system
► Installation and maintenance of a solar or wind turbine powered system to provide electricity supplemented with a powerful electric generator
► Installation of a septic system or a composting toilet system
► Plant and harvest produce from fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and herb gardens to feed family and to sell as a steady source of income
► Care and feeding of poultry for meat or eggs, and goats or cows for dairy production
► Care and feeding of sheep for dairy and wool production
► Care and feeding of Alpaca for fleece production
► Construction of residence and any outbuildings
► Canning and curing for long-term food preservation
► Marketing and sale of harvested produce, canned preserves, and other home-made products at the farmer’s market, or through food distributors
► Homeschooling children
Suburban and Urban Homesteading
Much like classic rural homesteaders, suburban and urban homesteaders are also driven by the same ideological desire to practice green sustainable living. Suburban and urban homesteaders must work around the complications introduced by the limited space and strict municipal land use codes that are part and parcel of suburban and urban life. Suburban homesteading can feature all the same aspects as classic rural homesteading minus the larger farm animal care and the ability to live fully off-grid using only sustainable alternative energy sources.
There has been significant forward momentum generated on the political front in the alternative energy department. Suburban and urban homesteaders can now use solar panels to supplement part of their electric use. Full energy independence may be made available to city dwellers sooner than we think.
- Community gardens are tended by local residents for the good of the entire community
- Bartering, sharing, trading services, and labor exchanges help the community as a whole
- Individuals can use greywater systems for plant watering, and bike rather than drive to live green within the city
- Growing gardens in vessel planters and in wall-hanging planters in a process known as vertical gardening allow for fresh produce in a tiny outdoor space
Prepper homesteading follows many of the same practices and has many of the same goals as rural homesteading. Prepper homesteading is practiced for different reasons and is intended to be temporary. The people who practice this type of homesteading are not motivated by the sustainability of Earth’s resources or ecology. They are primarily middle-class or upper-middle-class and prefer their current suburban or urban lifestyle over a minimalist rural life.
Most prepper homesteaders have some knowledge from either a childhood spent in a rural setting or a career path that provided experience with rural living. Prepper homesteading is a backup plan. Preppers will typically purchase a property that has some type of existing functional dwelling and stores non-perishable supplies at the location so they are prepared in the event of a catastrophe or societal breakdown. Though some preppers may visit their homestead property frequently, it will only become their true homestead in the event of an emergency.
Survival homesteading is a close cousin to prepper homesteading. However, survival homesteaders have a decidedly darker vision of what the future is likely to hold in the event of an imminent catastrophe. The survival homesteader is less likely to view the transition from suburban or urban life to rural or remote homesteading as merely temporary. Like the prepper homesteaders, they will usually have a property with a residence of some type stocked with non-perishables as a backup plan should the current society cease to exist.
Survival homesteaders often have a military or outdoorsman background. They are well-equipped both mentally and physically to handle any possible threat to their or their family’s safety but are less inclined to participate in any joint community organization or planning. The homestead property chosen by survival homesteaders is often more remote and inaccessible than the other types, as they are more inclined to select a property that affords a high level of natural protection from a possible trespasser.
Now that we have answered the question “What is homesteading?” it is time to share all the awesome advice and knowledge that we picked up from homesteading experts and newbies of every variety.
What Experienced Homesteaders Wish They Had Known When They Started
Experienced homesteaders make a minimalist lifestyle in a rustic rural setting look peaceful and idyllic. Dig a little deeper beneath the surface of any homesteader’s personal blog and you will come face to face with the facts about homesteading. Spoiler alert: Not everyone is cut out for homesteading and it is not nearly as easy or peaceful as the pros make it look. Let’s have a better look at the top five facts heard most frequently in our quest to answer the question, “What is homesteading?”
1. Homesteading Is a Full-Time Job, and No Sick Days Allowed
Farm animals are adorable and it is easy to view them as family pets, no different from a dog or cat. This is one of those facts that people simply have a hard time believing until they experience it for themselves. It is a little like the way you felt about children after babysitting your sister’s adorable toddler for an afternoon versus the way you feel about children when the toddler is your own and is throwing a decidedly un-adorable temper tantrum in the middle of the grocery store.
The fact of the matter is homesteading, especially when livestock is involved, is much more demanding than your average nine-to-five workday job. There are no days off and you can’t call in sick when you catch nasty stomach flu. No matter how miserable or feverish you may feel, the cows, goats, and sheep will still need to be fed, watered, and milked. The eggs will still need to be collected from every chicken hutch, and the chickens and turkeys will need to have grain spread out. This is a fact of homesteading life, even when the snow is piled so high you have to use your truck’s snow plow blade (yes, you will need a snow plow blade) to even reach the barn.
This is the warning repeated over and over by the experienced homesteaders, yet it is often the least likely to be heeded. Be brutally honest with yourself before deciding to pursue a homesteading life. You are the only one who truly knows your weaknesses and your strengths. Lying to yourself at this stage could make for a very costly learning experience.
2. Books Alone Will Not Teach You All You Need to Know
There is a treasure trove of resource material available. Prospective homesteaders can find detailed instructions and first-hand accounts of just about any task you can think of. There are books that teach you how to breed goats for dairy, books that detail the secret to perfect preserves, books showing you how to install a septic system, and even hundreds of books with step-by-step instructions for building a house. These books are invaluable for the wealth of knowledge they impart. But reading about a task in a book is one thing and actually performing the task in real life is another. You are guaranteed to hit one or two unexpected speed bumps that were overlooked in the books.
These challenges and complications, even the abject failures, are true education. There is only one way to gain experience in a new field of study and that is by paying close attention to what doesn’t work and making the corrections to see that it does work. The remote nature of most homestead property means that you and your spouse or partner will not have a more experienced mentor to show you the tricks of the trade. This is where blogs and online chat communities can be a lifesaver. If you run into a challenge that resists all of your best solutions, post your dilemma in the online forums and chat rooms frequented by other homesteaders. Chances are good that someone online knows exactly what you need to do to solve your problem.
3. Farms Require Time to Start Providing a Steady Income
It is absolutely possible to earn a comfortable and steady income by marketing and selling the products you create from the fruits and vegetables you have grown yourself, or from the eggs and dairy produced by your animals. This is not an overnight wealth generator, though. This is something to bear in mind when you are just starting out.
If you are able to get an internet connection to your property (we will discuss the internet connectivity question a little later) there are plenty of opportunities that will allow you to work remotely from your homestead which can help smooth the transition from a regular 9-5 job to a self-sustained farming income.
If you are still in the planning stages and have not yet made the physical transition to a homesteading lifestyle, you can accomplish some preliminary tasks now and shave a significant amount of time off the transition period and the time needed to start producing an income with your property.
For example, you will need a farm business plan prepared if you intend to sell the products from your farm through a food distributor. You will also need a business plan if you are considering applying for the government grants available to small business owners and farmers.
Preparing a farm business plan is the same concept as preparing a standard business plan. There is a lot of market research involved and of course, you will need to have a plan hammered out. Having both of these tasks completed will put you ahead of the game when you are physically on the property and ready to start producing income from your farm.
4. Choose Your Land Carefully
If you are still in the land shopping phase, we have a few criteria that you may not have considered. Most people know the basics of land shopping. You know you need a parcel with relatively level terrain that is able to support a basic garden and possibly a few fruit or nut trees. There are several other criteria to hold out for if you have the opportunity; we guarantee you will be glad that you waited for the perfect parcel of land. After all, what is homesteading without the proper land?
- Research the source of the water that will supply your well to be certain there is no contamination potential
- Research the latest floodplain map available through the county assessor’s website
- Research the internet options for the property location; if there is no internet available now, what is the likelihood of future availability?
- Research the planned development reports for the surrounding area; it can help you avoid having a 6-lane highway outside your front gate in 5 years
- Research the quality of the soil in the region and confirm that it will support the production and trees you wish to grow
- If you must cross other parcels to reach your property, confirm that your access can’t be restricted when the other property is sold and developed
5. Internet Access Is Important
Many new homesteaders start their homestead project with visions of eliminating all dependency on the grid and becoming 100% self-sufficient. This is understandable, and even admirable, but it is not particularly practical in today’s world. The internet is such an omnipresent part of our everyday lives that we are unaware of how many times we actually access the web and how much we rely on its consistent availability.
This need does not recede with a transition to rural homestead living. In fact, rural homestead life may actually require greater internet connectivity than suburban or urban living requires. If you are depending on your homestead farm to produce a steady source of income to sustain your homesteading lifestyle, a high-speed internet connection will be absolutely crucial. Most modern marketing campaigns are administered through “word-of-mouth” recognition using multiple social media platforms accompanied by a personal blog and a business website. The business of farming and homesteading has changed with the times and an online presence is important to establish legitimacy and foster trust in today’s marketplace.
A high-speed internet connection will ensure that you are able to access remote work opportunities that can provide a supplementary income while you work to establish your farm business.
The answer to the “What is homesteading?” question has changed over time. It has been transformed into a new movement with a mission statement and goals adapted to the way we do business and live today. The principles of self-sufficiency and human liberty remain the core driving ideology for homesteading.
Families are searching for homestead land and considering increasing their level of independence as a result of unsettling occurrences affecting the security of the food supply, health and wellness, and the global economy. That frequently entails living on a homestead in the modern world.
What is homesteading? Homesteading is freedom.
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