Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"What Exactly Is It That You Do?"

Someone asked me the other day what it means to homestead. I admit I have bandied the word around a bit in my writing and in relaying to people what Larry and I do on the Hill. It’s subjective; there are as many interpretations of the word as there are people who claim to homestead.

The word "homesteading" tends to conjure up images of pioneers on the frontier.  Yup, that was it, too.  But modern day homesteading is a wonderful combination of getting your hands dirty and, say, indoor plumbing.

I fine-tuned my own definition after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This book followed her family's adventure of living solely off food they could produce themselves over the course of one year. In addition to being highly entertaining, it was inspiring and gave me lots of good ideas. Being able to implement them, however, was another story. Or, if I'd want to implement them. No citrus at all? Not sure I could do that.  And I have yet to butcher my own animals, although I think that is on the horizon.

For my purposes, I define homesteading as living as self-sufficiently, off the land, as capably and realistically as possible, given resources and time. What may be totally doable for one family may not be reasonable for another. You could say we practice homesteading lite. For us, it means:

1) Utilizing our gardens as much as possible. Every year the soil gets a little richer and we get better at preserving our bounty before it gets away from us and spoils. Every year we learn more, through good and bad experiments. Larry does a great job of canning and you can always find neighbors to trade vegetables with.

2) Being fuel independent. We heat entirely with our own wood from our property, but we do use propane for the stove. Our hot water heater is electric, but Larry installed a hot water pre-heating system that works off solar in the summer, woodstove in the winter. It made a huge difference in our power bill.

3) We started an off-the-grid project for the barn, but it stalled out a few years ago. We have most of the equipment, we just need to get the rest of the wiring in the barn done and then hook the whole thing together. We moved this project up on our list of 2013 To-Dos as it's low hanging fruit that's foolish to continue putting off.

4) Picking and choosing what to spend our money on. Yes, the horses are an expense and ski passes aren't cheap, but they are passions of ours and we choose to expend our hard earned cash on them. We don't have television and Larry only recently got a cell phone (I'm holding out but his iPhone is pretty darn sweet). We try to limit our entertainment, don't shop a lot and are fairly frugal all the way around. Instead of spending hundreds on a gas barbecue grill, we fixed up the ring of rocks in the backyard, put a used grill over it, and cook on it most summer nights. We call it our Adirondack Weber. Sure it takes a little longer to get the fire going, but that's the perfect time to sit in a chair and have a beer and talk about your day with your spouse. We're talking about quality of life here.

There are thousands of examples of how people take things much, much farther than this, such as using reclaimed vegetable oil to fuel their vehicles, farming to a much larger degree, having significant livestock and having their entire residence off-grid. Pick up any issue of Countryside magazine, which is largely reader written, and you'll get a real sense of what everyday folks are doing out there to live more independently. The internet is packed with websites and blogs filled with how-tos and what-fors. As extreme as it seems consumerism is, there is just as much happening with folks implementing things to bring themselves back to a more natural state of living.

The important thing is to experiment, try new things, and find what works for you. Even if you put the smallest idea into action, you have still taken a step towards a simpler and more grounded lifestyle. And above all, have fun with the whole process. If you can stand there covered in grime and sweat and bug bites, have something to show for it, and laugh about it, it’s a good day.


  1. See, I knew y'all were kindred spirits.

    Two years ago, Best Beloved and the Little One and I became nomads. Left our rented house in NorCal and wandered the US and Canada, house-sitting and occasionally staying with friends.

    We're settled in northern Wisconsin now, looking for a bit more sustainable lifestyle. I adore the balance you've found, doing what you can without beating us all up for not doing more.

  2. I've learned to not compare myself to the Farmer Joneses out there; I'm not capable of doing everything they do, nor do I want to. It's nice to save money where you can, but it's important to find that personal balance so you enjoy the process, not resent it. Then it DOES work for you.