12 Rules for a Modern Homesteader
My new book, So You Want To Be a Modern Homesteader? will be out with New Society Publishers this November. In anticipation, here are a few guidelines for the would-be homesteader thinking of ‘going rural’.
Know Your Goal
For every homesteader there is an inspiration. Some are farming to control how their food is raised. Some are doing it to provide their children with a healthy and free childhood. Some do not trust the government, or the pharmaceutical or agricultural industries. There are so many reasons to become a homesteader - and no one reason is right or wrong. The important thing when you’re taking the leap is to know what your reasons are, and to stick to them. Having a driving force behind your homesteading mission will help you survive the hard times and thrive in the good.
Know Your Limits
It is great to set lofty goals and it is even better to achieve them, but be realistic about both what you want and what you can achieve. Know the limits of your land and what facilities you have when making plans for the future, and know how far you want to take things. A thriving brand of goat soap or becoming a popular homestead speaker might be fun, but do you want to travel around to farmer’s markets or speaking engagements all the time? You might love goats or cows or horses, but how many do you realistically want to be milking and caring for? It’s good to be aware of your own limitations before you find yourself overwhelmed.
Make and Take Free Time
Leisure time is crucial to enjoying the rest of your time! I can work non-stop for days, as long as I know the date that I’ll have a few hours to myself for exploring Maine, summer swims, or sitting by the fire with a book. Even if it’s just two or three hours, make sure to schedule regular breaks where even if there’s things to do, you step away and let both your brain and your body relax and recover.
Try it All - But Find a Focus
Homesteading is a great adventure and you’ll find you are always trying new experiments, thinking of things to add to your farm, and discovering new passions on the land. While you should try everything you can to provide for yourself, it is also important to stay focused on a few specific goals. Getting too spread out with different projects can mean not doing any one project well. When it comes to time, make a schedule and stick to it, even if it means taking a day away from the more ‘fun’ parts of the farm. If your goal is, for example, dairy goats for soap or cheese making, then dedicate the majority of your land and time to that goal. Try all the new things you can - but try them on a smaller, more manageable scale, while using the largest amount of your resources towards your end goal.
Bootstrap, Get Creative, Don’t Be Ashamed
Every homesteader I know works within a pretty strict budget. This means that problem solving requires getting creative. It means that figuring out solutions can include unorthodox methods. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel embarrassed about your farm solutions. We lived without plumbing in our home for two years, using a makeshift bucket to compost our waste. It worked great, but it wasn’t ideal for visitors. And some solutions just don’t work. We lost all of our root vegetable crop the first year because we didn’t store them properly, and one season we had two dozen guinea fowl killed as keets because of a weasel in the barn. Every homesteader knows there’s not a right or a wrong way to do anything. Create the solutions that you can, and keep on learning.
Do Your Research
That being said, it is important to do as much research as you can before diving in to a new project. Especially with animals, you owe it to them to have some idea of what you are doing before you take on the task of caring for their lives. And even with vegetables, if you’re planning to feed your family, don’t just throw seeds in the ground and hope for the best. The internet is full of resources for the would-be homesteader, and Amazon and the local library have even more opportunities to learn. Take advantage of any down time, long winters, or time spent waiting for the right plot of land, and learn everything you can about what you want to do.
Ask All of the Questions
Can’t find it in a book? Ask! On the homesteading blogs, instagram pages, and so on, you are digitally connected to folks who are really doing this for a living, who may have many years of experience with trial and error. No question is dumb, nothing is too naive, and among homesteaders I've spoke to, everyone is eager to help and get more people involved in their world. Ask away! Attend workshops! Find nearby farms and visit on open farm days. Build a network of people you can turn to with the quick, on-the-fly questions, and people you can debate the larger topics with.
Don’t Judge How Others Homestead
Farming, homesteading, and living off the land tends to attract folks from extreme sides of the political and philosophical spectrum. There are preppers and hippies and plenty of people in between. While you might disagree with the reasons behind someone’s homestead, remember we’re all experiencing this together and we can be great resources for each other. Don’t waste time judging other people’s homesteads or philosophies. Even more so, don’t spend your energy criticizing their solutions to problems on the farm or judging what crops or animals they’ve chosen to prioritize. Even more so than in day-to-day life, living off the land can be a struggle and it is one we should support one another in.
Try Everything Twice
If something is worth trying it is worth trying twice! Especially with animals and gardens, sometimes you don’t have all the information or you don’t know what to expect, and you can have a negative experience your first year with a crop. Try it again the next year, taking steps to correct whatever the problem was. Don’t give up so easily, making a few minor changes from year one can make all the difference in your enjoyment and benefit from a crop or a livestock animal.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Everyone makes mistakes, and on the homestead sometimes when you make no mistakes things still do not turn out as you desired. There are pests and droughts and illnesses and many circumstances outside of your control. There are things within your control that you’ll do wrong or you won’t know how to do. If you’re browsing social media homesteaders it might look like their farms are all picture perfect and no animal ever needs the vet, no crops fail, and they’re never covered in bug guts and dirt after a day in the garden. Either they don’t actually farm, or that’s not true. We all struggle, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes or think that because something isn’t working out for you there is some flaw inherent in yourself.
Never Give Up
All those struggles can add up, but don’t give up. If one thing fails, try another, or do it a different way. So you had a bad experience with goats who broke out of your fencing all the time. Try again with better fencing, or turn to a family cow for your milk. Always get back on the horse, and always keep pushing for your goals.
Love What You Do
As in any lifestyle there are trials and tribulations to the homestead. As I mentioned, there are days you come in from eight hours in the garden covered in bug guts and dirt. There are also long summer nights spent staring up at the stars. And there are mornings spent tearfully struggling to keep a goat or a chicken alive after a difficult birth or a predator attack. There are days where you sit in the pasture and watch the goats jump around you in joy, and days you can pick all your meals straight off the vine. It is a give and take. To succeed you have to love what you do, and those precious moments with your animals or in your garden, living the lifestyle you’ve chosen, at the end of the day those moments are why you’re doing what you have chosen to do.