Are You Feeling the Urge to Homestead? Here’s Some Honest Advice

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On the surface, “homesteading” looks like frolicking outside in the dirt all day and then sitting down to a delicious scratch-cooked, home-raised meal in the evening. Sure, that is part of it. But, having a functional homestead involves a lot of different skills. 

I remember telling my dad once that it felt like farming was more about construction and small engine repair than anything else. My dad laughed and told me my brother (who works in a large agricultural facility) had just told my dad that “…farming was mostly figuring out how to keep old diesel equipment up and running.”  

There are likely harder times ahead

Many people have been increasingly concerned about supply shortages. And rightly so. Where I live, outside of Denver, the grocery stores have not gone back to normal. I have three children myself, and the apparent breaks in our supply chain are unnerving. It is easy to get overwhelmed.  

People tell me how lucky I am since the lockdown. My kids and I raise most of our meat and grow a fair amount of our vegetables. I’ve got about 1300 square feet of vegetable garden these days. I’ve also got four acres on which we’ve raised chickens, sheep, and goats for food. We’ve got a productive chunk of land, but it all started as a little backyard suburban garden.

However, “most” and “good amount” is by no means “all.”

We are all vulnerable to some degree

To have this land we grow so much of our food on, I live in a lightly policed, unincorporated area. As a petite divorcee, I’m an easy target, and I have had to deal with a lot more crime than my friends living in planned, policed, regulated subdivisions.

I left the suburbs to get away from consumer culture, and it’s not something I would lightly recommend. I know plenty of people my age, mostly married professionals with no more than two children, who are content to work from home and order everything online. 

That’s all well and good for them. But I know others out there who want to become more independent, in one form or another but aren’t sure where to start.

Lifestyle changes are hard, sometimes more than you can imagine

Change is hard for most of us. If you are considering homesteading or any other significant change, I recommend starting with one thing at a time. If you try to change too many things at once, your chances of getting frustrated and giving up become a lot higher.  

Here’s an example of the frustration I experienced from too much change. I am the oldest of eight children, and my parents had very little money. My mom used cloth diapers, and, as the oldest, I was cloth diapering like a pro by the time I was in middle school.

When I had my first child, I assumed I would just cloth diaper too. 

After all, I had a ton of experience with cloth diapers. It would be no big deal, I thought. 

Turns out my assumption was wrong

I had my first baby via C-section and had a hard time moving around for months. Trying to put a cloth diaper on a wiggly newborn was overwhelming. I remember bursting into tears and saying to my incredibly exasperated now-ex-husband, “I did this all the time when I was twelve! Why can’t I do it now?” 

Well, for one thing, I was exhausted from surgery and emotionally overwhelmed with a new baby. My newborn had problems breastfeeding, and I was in constant pain. Additionally, I wasn’t giving my twelve-year-old self enough credit; there’s a bit of muscle memory involved in using those old-school cloth diapers with pins. I hadn’t spent much time changing babies for almost ten years before having my own. 

I’m nothing if not obnoxiously stubborn, and I stuck it out. But, when I was expecting my second child, I recalled how frustrated I was the first time around. I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about cloth for the first three weeks. I’d get adjusted, get the baby nursing properly, and then I’d get back to the cloth diapers. It worked out very well. 

When my third child came along, I was fortunate to have the help of my sisters and a lovely church group. Again, I gave myself time to adjust, and I was back to using cloth diapers by the second week.    

“The New Normal” can actually be better for some

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve come to hate that phrase with an unholy passion. My personal belief is it’s being used by people in power to coerce us all to go along with whatever new edict various state governments come up with.

However, there is a world of difference between passively accepting a lower standard of living and choosing which of your existing skills and interests to pursue to help you simplify your life while you still have time.

I’m not saying everyone has to cloth diaper or grow their own food. But, I firmly believe we all have something we are meant to do in life. Something that doesn’t involve quite so much time staring at screens. It could be gardening, animal husbandry, home education, weaving, metalworking, something we have a knack for and enjoy, and something that would also come in handy in an SHTF situation.  

If you don’t have a green thumb or five acres out in the country, don’t despair

Progress toward true homesteading is about shortening the chains between production and consumption. Is it more expensive? It can be initially, but it’s also more resilient. However, most of us saw last spring just how fragile homesteading could be. 

If you want to be part of remedying that fragile situation, the time to prepare is now. I think many of you may have been feeling a nudge to “get ready.” Stocking up on food is a good start, but to truly prepare, we need to plan ahead in terms of skills as well. 

My little mini-farm began as a love of gardening. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My family originally gardened to put a dent in the grocery bill and the trash bill. In our particular suburb, you had to buy a tag for each garbage can. We saved a lot of money by composting: the garden ate our waste and fed us in return.

College and work kept me from gardening for quite a few years. But I started up again with a vengeance after my brother was killed in action in Afghanistan. At that time in my life, I had a toddler, was seven months pregnant with my second child, and lived in my own little suburban house. 

I realized then I loved gardening even more. 

It doesn’t matter where you are starting from as long as you start

If you have some skill or craft you’ve felt the itch to pursue, now is the time. Just start and see where it takes you. I would love it if things settled down, law enforcement got back to normal, and all of the toilet paper returned to the grocery store shelves. 

But that may not happen, and in this strange new world, we that do not fit the prescribed norm of professionals working from home may find ourselves looking for different supply chains or finding new ways to become independent and self-sufficient.

Where I live was mostly a farm town when I moved here in 2014. Since then, most of it has integrated into Denver’s sprawl. During the lockdown, I was part of a “Buy/Sell/Trade” for a suburban group and a rural groupDuring the lockdown, the rural group immediately starting talking about trading goods and services. I traded eggs for toilet paperIt was nice to see how many people out there are still resisting the massive push to do everything online. 

Having a trade community is excellent, as long as you have something to bring to the table

If you are anxious about another lockdown, more shortages, or an SHTF event, I encourage you to use any spare time you have to pursue and sharpen your skills. Plan that garden; join that knitting club; take that class on welding.

Functional economies are organic; they grow out of people’s natural desires and interests. 

There is a lot of uncertainty about the global economy and the world itself. Still, small groups of semi-independent people can survive if they are able to work and willing to do so. 

If you feel the coming changes and are considering a homesteading life, the time to start simplifying and adjusting is NOW. If you wait until the S has already hit the fan to start raising your food, you’ve waited too long.

About Joanna Miller

Joanna has been homeschooling three children since 2012. In 2014, she moved to the High Plains of Colorado. She and her children began a little homestead, gardening and raising chickens for eggs and meat. One animal led to another, and these days they have livestock guardian dogs, chickens, geese, ducks, alpacas, goats, pigs, and one very spoiled cat.

Are You Feeling the Urge to Homestead? Here\'s Some Honest Advice
Joanna Miller

Joanna Miller

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  • I have found an excellent show on T.V. Homestead Rescue. Watch an episode or two and you will be hooked. Also, you will see it isn’t all roses. I don’t “homestead” actually, but I have learned a lot.

  • Thank you for this article. Depending on the kind of homesteading you try to do, it can be a cold, lonely way to die, or at the least a large expense and disappointment. Starting with some gardening and expanding that as your skills improve is an awesome way to do things, and living in the right area is important too. I love seeing people getting into gardening and backyard chickens.

    One of the most heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed was a large plot of land that a certain individual wanted to turn into an organic farm. It was a pretty big area, with outbuildings and even power and running water. He had goats, a couple draft horses, and a rather sullen half-grown calf. He used to have sheep before the local predators ate them. He didn’t have the skills needed, or any help, and had to go back to work in a nearby city. It resulted in lots of dead animals and lots of wasted resources. He didn’t have the skills or COMMON SENSE needed to make a go of it.

    For anyone looking to homestead, I recommend Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living – it’s dated, of course, but does a pretty good job of dealing with the realities of homesteading.

  • “ If you have some skill or craft you’ve felt the itch to pursue, now is the time”

    Absolutely agree. I took for myself that if during this whole period I didn’t learn/improve on many (not just a few) things, then “no time for…” has always been just an excuse.

    Since march I’ve been helping some people here to be better prepared. I’ve seen folks starting from zero who now can shoot decently, talk in Morse code or use a ham radio and start a fire without much difficulty. All that and more in a matter of months.

    I myself have learned a lot more by helping others. As the Stoics say, This is the time to improve or to give up. I tell people at a minimum to stay aware and well informed,, thinking critically, and acting with good sense in what is under our control.

    Let’s hope more people put in the work and sacrifice needed to improve.

  • It is not just doing construction and small engine repair.
    It is also being your own vet. Having to assist in kidding a goat the old fashion way. Treating pinkeye (3 cases this year, none before that). Testing for worms. And then sometimes despite your best efforts, you still lose one. Or, you have to put her down. She was a good goat, one of my firsts.

    Then there is being your own hog processing plant. From raising them when they are weened from the sow, to putting them down, bleeding them out, gutting, butchering and final cuts into the freezer they go.
    Today, I am processing a turkey.

    I cut, raked, bagged 90 days worth of hay for 6 goats, all by hand just to see what it takes.

    Try to re-purpose everything to make things last longer. But dont take a short cut if safety is a factor and safety is always a factor. Even when sick, animals still need water and fed in the dead of winter, even when I had a fever.

    It is work. But it beats the heck out of a cubical job.

    • We just had to put a goat down this morning, after spending a week trying to save it. Husband now skinning ihim for his hide. All this during a tropical storm.

  • Great article, Joanna and Daisy! Homesteading is a way of life. When we acquired 2.5 acres in a more rural area, we started out small, raising guinea pigs, then boarded horses for extra income, then acquired some steer, and now have goats, chickens, and an ever-growing garden with garden with hoop houses over it to extend the growing season. What we don’t garden, we grow grass on to feed the livestock. While I never considered us homesteaders because we have all the modern conveniences, I suspect we have snuck into the homesteading way of life. For us, it was a gradual process, and it’s taken years to figure out which garden crops grow well and at what time of the year in our area. We started container gardening and each year took a leap forward to expand our skills. We started out with plants from Home Depot and now grow everything from seed. I learned to can when I was young, but have refurbished those skills in recent years to preserve our garden produce. There are a ton of good videos on homesteading on youtube. I’m partial to Dirt Patch Heaven and Deep South Homestead, but there are many others worth watching and absorbing their wisdom. You can start now, even in the winter, indoors, with a grow light, and start learning.

  • Excellent advice – it is so easy to get caught up in the romantic vision and forget just how much really hard work is involved. I live in a cramped inner city neighbourhood with some pretty sketchy neighbours. I am turning every inch of back yard into productive garden space, I have canners and dehydrators going day and night, and i routinely practice offgrid cooking and water collection/filtration. My basement looks like that of an Amish grandmother anticipating a 7 year drought – and I live alone! As a semi disabled single boomer, I know I could not manage living on an actual farm (although I would like to move to a smaller town or suburb where I do not feel constantly afraid of violent next door neighbours.) But I do practice many urban homesteading skills. It is not the all-or-nothing proposition folks tend to believe it is.

  • Thank you very helpful article! I’m approaching 50 and about to retire (30 yr CA prison nurse w/very generous pension I’m aware & grateful for, although I know it’s unsustainable & on borrowed time…). I’ve a house on acre 85 mi NE of Reno that I’m planning on returning to next Sept, it’s rented out on a yr lease currently. I’m certainly in a hurry to return, but at the same time like you say, not too much at once. In the meantime I’m trying to learn repair & food-growing skills, and trying to acquire all that I’ll need-tools supplies etc. I’m the prepper-stacker-accumulator while my brother’s the homesteader & survivalist. Thanks again!

  • I live on the western slope and I am itching to start building our house and get our own garden and chickens going.
    I understand what you are talking about.
    I also would like to find people who would be willing to group together to be able to help each other out when sh hits the fan.

  • Cloth diapers? Oh that brings me back to when I was a nine to ten year old BOY having to take care of my youngest brother when my mother was busy with my other siblings, The most important rule to remember—keep your own fingers under where the safety pin goes in, so that if you slip, you stick yourself and not the baby. Ouch!

    I live in a place where almost nothing grows. This year even a couple of the cacti in our yard died. There is a surprising number of trees and undergrowth around, but no grasses, fruits or vegetables (no one in this neighborhood has a garden, because of the local climate). At least we don’t have to worry about wild fires because the types of plants around here don’t burn easily. Growing food is out of the question.

    But I have a mini-metal lathe that’s long enough that I could make chair legs with the wood cutting attachment. I’ve also used it to make specialty parts to fix bicycles and other things. I have a commercial grade sewing machine and know basic sewing. I got that thinking I could use it to make and repair sails while wandering around the world in a boat: unexpectedly I ended up in a desert instead. I know much about construction, but I’m partially disabled, which limits how much and more importantly how fast I can work. I have a few other skills as well. In short, I’ll have to trade for food, which makes me really sensitive on how dependent I’ll be on others to survive should SHTF.

    I mention these not to boast, rather to show that not everyone is able to become a homesteader. Having said that, thanks Joanna Miller for the article, I enjoyed reading it.

    What scares me are all the people working at their computers who know almost nothing about manual work. Even Martin Luther, who started the Reformation, learned how to do lathe work so that he could provide for his family should he lose his job as a professor. Should SHTF, we’ll be much more dependent on what can be made locally, and that will require manual labor. But how many people can do that today? Start where you can.

    • “Growing food is out of the question”

      try lambsquarters. a very capable weed that’s edible.

      “a surprising number of trees and undergrowth around”

      enough to raise rabbits?

      • Thanks, good ideas, but lambsquarters don’t grow around here.

        The undergrowth around here is mostly various cacti and sage brush. Here is not wet enough to grow tumbleweed. Apparently the few rabbits we see survive by eating some of the softer cacti.

        One of the big reasons for people to live around here is because it’s considered a prime area for retirees. As a result, there is much medical facilities as well. But very little manufacturing and farming only where irrigation is available (which is available only in a few places, most of the land has no irrigation).

        If it weren’t for my job, I wouldn’t be here.

        • well then you could take a short to medium term approach – if the water grid goes down you’ll have to leave, but that will be the last grid to go down, and until then you can grow whatever you want in your backyard. might as well get the practice in.

  • Thank you for this article and reality check. I am 65 years old and have been ‘homesteading’ most of my life. I grew up with 6 brothers and sisters, raised by parents who grew up in the Depression (both born in 1920). My father was a nurseryman with acres of truck gardens we tended as small children. The produce was sold to augment his income as a radar instructor for the Air Force. We planted 1/2 acre of sweet potatoes every year and dug them by hand. As a family we have operated a retail/wholesale plant nursery continuously since 1947. My father came from generations of poor southern farmers, and I was instilled with this hard won knowledge from birth. I have plowed behind a horse and cleared acres of forest with a crosscut saw and axe. I feel as though my early years were not far removed from the 1800s.
    One of my early jobs was milking cows every day before and after school starting at about 10 years of age. I have raised cows, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks, guineas, turkeys, and rabbits. I’ve probably forgotten more things than I realize. Growing up on 80 acres and maintaining it required using tools and methods without electricity; being 1/4 mile from the nearest outlet required using axes, crosscut saws, brace and bits, etc. I never used an electric tool until I joined the Navy.
    I currently still live on the same 80 acres with a few of my siblings, and currently am raising chickens (about 80), ducks, and guineas. I have about 2,500 sq. ft. of garden and try to pull off three crops a year. I experimented with wheat last winter just to see if it was viable as far south as I am (Gulf Coast). It is and I harvested over 6 times what I planted.
    I say all of this to highlight that I still experience crop failures, even with irrigation systems. Gardening is hard and I have been doing it all my life. The weather is never the same from year to year, especially lately. Tropical storms flattened all of my field corn this year that I was growing for animal feed and human consumption (grits and nixtamal). Anyone that thinks producing food when your life depends on it is easy or romantic is in for a big disappointment. Learning from your mistakes is part of the process. I have learned more from my mistakes than from my successes over the years, and I have had many failures.
    Not to be too gloomy, it can be relatively easy to grow produce and raise animals to augment what we purchase at the grocery store. You can grow green beans and peas in containers on a patio or deck with good results. Raised beds with close spacing can produce an amazing amount of vegetables over the span of a year. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and all types of ‘greens’ can also be grown in containers. One zucchini plant will produce buckets of fruit over its growing season. Keeping a few hens in the backyard is also relatively easy and can reliably give you eggs almost year round if you keep lights on 14 hours a day.
    I usually am awake and going by 4 AM and rarely go to bed before 10 PM, 365 days a year. This is due to working a regular job and trying to maintain a homestead. As stated elsewhere in the comments, animals need tending 7 days a week; Christmas, Labor Day, when you are so sick you can barely walk, and through freezing cold and blazing heat. But the reward of eating what you produced, and hatching off 30 chicks and raising them to laying hens is well worth the effort.
    I work to learn as much as I can, and Daisy has created one of the best places for that. The wealth of knowledge of the readers and commenters here is humbling. I greatly appreciate every nugget that is so generously offered.
    I apologize for my rambling post, something I rarely do (post not ramble), but I see and hear so many people trying to glamorize a lifestyle seeped in hard work. If you approach this lifestyle with open eyes, a willingness to learn and work hard, and the tenacity and patience to withstand the hard times and failures, the rewards are well worth the effort and will be repaid many times over.

    • “If you approach this lifestyle with open eyes, a willingness to learn and work hard, and the tenacity and patience to withstand the hard times and failures”

      history shows that most people if presented with the opportunity to leave the farm they know for the city, they do so. is this lifestyle something that can be adopted later in life, or must one be born into it to be successful?

      “I still experience crop failures”

      heh. lots of farmer preppers are in for a very rude surprise during grid down, famine three years in ten used to be a really good agricultural performance.

  • HOMESTADING is WORK !!! ALL The TIME !!!!
    and you just may need money ! Some one needs to at or on the Home at all time for the time we may be in?

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