Homesteading Today, by the broadest definition, is a
lifestyle striving for self sufficiency.
The Homestead Act of 1862 is a far cry from the movement today.
This is why I never thought of our adventure as homesteading.
A few years too late, in 1989, I visited the subject of taking up some land, to find that in 1986 the Homesteading Act of 1862 had been abolished. Extremely interesting history of our nation. The Homestead act was a brilliant attempt to keep the land in the hands of free men and avoid land monopolies.
30 states offered 160 acres, a quarter section of land, at a very high price. Before we began clearing our land in 2005, I would have told you that the government gave citizens the land. My husband has always said "nothing is free" and how true that is.
The burden put on people who attempted to "prove" land was filled with numerous hardships. Unlike today when most homesteaders still have access to the conveniences of modern life, the early homesteaders faced challenges we today could not imagine.
For 5 years a homesteader had to live on the land for 6 months out of the year. Many men needed outside income to keep the family and homestead going. This quite often left women and children alone for long periods of time. The requirements did vary by state, but land under the homestead act had to be improved for agriculture purposes.
Work took place in between the blizzards, prairie fires, tornadoes, planting seasons, schooling, tending and harvest times, sickness, insect infestations, household chores, building shelter and repairing tools, tending animals and so on. In the earliest years everything needed to be accomplished with animal power and hand tools. After all the criteria was met the homesteader had to publish his intent for the land. "If" no one disputed the claim, a deed of property would be issued from the General Land Office.
Harvesting barley by hand, with scythes, at Root Cellar Farm.
Today's homesteads are not defined by government requirements, but by the people living on them. In comparison to hardships of our forefathers, I found a local homestead group and soon became perplexed. These people had public utilities and lived close to town. The founder of the group had a website with beautiful pictures of barns and animals they had yet to own.
I was disappointed. I applaud everyone who makes the effort to take care of themselves. But... I had this picture in my mind of people out in the country making do... making cheese!!! But... these families were happy with the skills they were learning and happy with their lifestyles.
Living completely off the grid is more challenging than the homestead group I came upon. Basic farm work can take longer and often requires modification. Many advantages are available to the homesteaders of today. Conveniences that can make the journey of the modern homesteader quickly productive and very rewarding. Conveniences the pioneer homesteaders never imagined.
What a blessing it is, regardless of our "style" of homesteading ~ that we see and taste the labor of our hands.
What to bring to the Homestead
The most valuable thing you will bring to the land is experience.
All the money in the world can not replace experience on a homestead. Situations happen quickly and you may not have time to call a veterinarian, or wait for parts to arrive. Learning things the hard way - that gets old and expensive real fast.
Depending on family and friends is not realistic either. Very few people who set out to live this unique lifestyle accomplish this, and of those, fewer live this way for a lifetime. Expecting others to share your passion and excitement, your labor, and expenses is unfair.
Do not throw friendships away because others do not share your ambition. The novelty of the land wears off rapidly, even for the homesteader. People have other obligations and interests of their own. Expecting them to spend what free time they have fencing an acre, butchering chickens, or plowing a field is not realistic. If you wish to share from the abundance of your work, do so freely.
Grandpa's father, Opa crossed a cold river in Dakota Territory in search of a friend. Soon after, he was farming land prosperously in South Dakota. The Dust Bowl years referred to by some as the "Dirty Thirties" drove Opa, Oma and their children up into Nebraska. Grandpa grew "food" bearing trees, vines and kept a garden throughout his life. He made sure his grandsons had the proper size shovel to work with. Photo, 1999
If becoming self-sufficient is your dream, and you cannot move to land now, then use the time wisely. Read. Choose biographies of those that have been there and done that. Look for articles by people who have been "successfully living" a self-sufficient lifestyle "for years". Forget novels and drama, you need facts. Take notes, start journals, buy or rent training videos, then practice what you learned.
Learn more than one method for every task. Take courses in machinery, automotive, first aid, gardening, and animal husbandry to name a few. Learn how to prepare for long term emergencies. When help can't come to you, you will have to help yourself.
If you are reading this on the internet, you have a great resource at hand. Gather as much information as you can. YouTube videos may be interesting but not always accurate. Visit websites for the products you need to learn about. Herbal medicine, natural goat care, diesel engines and rebuild kits are good places to start. Companies that provide the information, services, training or products you need will provide the most accurate information for those products or services.
Our family had not lived off the grid before, we did have a good start with some experience in related areas. Lj
My husband worked in the outdoors. He had 30 years of experience in irrigation, backflow installation and repair, home and vehicle repairs. He had experience with equipment and tools like tractors, chainsaws and such things. His "fix it, don’t replace it" philosophy really paid off. He saved us many times when water sources froze in the winter. Just about everything that needs fixing he gets to, sooner or later.
Growing up I lived in some rural areas where water, natural gas, and sewer service was not provided. I raised farm animals and cut wild oats for feed. Putting food by, sewing, and such things had been a part of my life beginning at age 10. Turning 10 years old was better than Christmas morning for me. 10 years old was the age that children could join a local 4-H Club. Taking on a project was work. It taught us self discipline, responsibility, and skills.
How blessed I was to have learned some farm skills growing up.
Beginning in 1990, we began using natural and organic alternatives for managing our gardens. We have chosen to use plant combinations that thrive in our geographic area. These combinations help to build the soil, support beneficial insects, and create a habitat for our garden friends - like this frog.
This little frog lives in the damp rows of the Bright Lights chard. Here he is camouflaged in the bright green leaves while feasting on aphids.
What we knew prior to starting our adventure was a good start. What we gained from years of reading books, particularly by successful rural farmers, gave us the upper hand on many occasions. Learning some basic skills will allow anyone to focus on the unexpected challenges that come with homesteading.
Though our daughter accompanied me even as a toddler into the 'pick your own' tomato fields each summer, she did not take to gardening. Of the many home projects she was involved in, baking seemed to be her favorite. She was a fantastic baker at a young age, turning out cakes baked from scratch.
Our 3 sons started learning young. They worked hard in the gardens and tended chickens and rabbits. Our 2 youngest sons 7 and 11 years old, started the off grid adventure with us.