Homesteaders have historically been considered a relatively fringe group, but with the growing public interest in sustainable living and responsible consumption, the laid back homestead is becoming the new American dream.
Many people adapt to this particular lifestyle with thoughts of going back to their roots, reducing their carbon footprint, or simply leading a simpler, more self-sufficient life. We recently spoke with Ash, a lifelong homesteader who recently started her own farm along the southern coast of Oregon. For her, the main draw is being able to ensure a high standard of animal welfare to her livestock.
Whatever your reasoning, and whether you’re ready to commit to making your own homestead or just adopt a few new sustainable practices, homesteading can be an incredibly rewarding way of life—for yourself, your family, and the planet.
What Is Homesteading?
Simply put, homesteading is a commitment to living a life of self-sufficiency. Although that definition of homesteading may have worked as a blanket term back in the 1800s when the concept of homesteading was first recognized, it’s become much more nuanced and personal as society has evolved.
These days, homesteading is more accurately defined on a spectrum, and can mean different things to different people.
While some homesteaders aspire to be completely self-reliant by living off the land, building their own house, going back-to-the-land, bartering for all their belongings, and providing their own food, electricity, and clothing, many homesteaders take a more measured approach.
For instance, many people consider themselves to be homesteaders while taking on just some of the practices of this lifestyle. This could be due to geographic area, finances, convenience, even property taxes, aversion to the government, or a variety of other circumstantial limitations and preferences.
More specifically, urban and suburban homesteading is a subset of the lifestyle that includes those who live in the city or suburbs who still assume the title of homesteader by providing for their own needs within the confines of their environment.
For some, that might mean utilizing a small suburban yard for a few chickens, while for others utilizing a small city lot to grow vegetables is the viable path.
The Origin of Homesteading
The concept of homesteading was solidified with President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Homestead Act in 1862 granting Americans plots of public land for just a small filing fee.
Considered one of the United States’ most important pieces of legislation to date, the Homestead Act led to Western expansion as hundreds of thousands of people moved to the Great Plains in an effort to take advantage of the low-cost land.
Though the government far overstepped its own property lines, this was the first chance for many citizens to obtain their own property, their own house—their own homestead.
The Homestead Act was ended in 1976 by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in an effort to shift control of western public lands from state to federal government, but the concept of homesteading remains—albeit in a different capacity than in the 19th century.
How to Start Your Own Homestead
Before you even begin to start thinking about implementing infrastructure, it’s imperative that you do your research.
Ash stresses that this is the most important part of the process, and without doing ample studying about the homestead lifestyle in general, and which parts of it are workable options for you and your family, you likely will not succeed. She says this is particularly important when it comes to keeping animals, and some people often underestimate the knowledge and work it takes to raise and care for healthy, happy livestock.
Once you’ve committed to being a perpetual student, it’s time to start thinking about an area to start. Ash recommends starting small—identifying what’s important to you, picking a few tasks, and committing to doing them well.
Here are some thought-starters to help you identify the best place to start your homesteading journey:
- Do you want to reduce your carbon footprint by a specific percentage?
- Do you want to live on the grid, partially on-grid, or completely off-grid?
- Do you want to raise livestock, have fruit trees, or other things that will require more land?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your homesteading lifestyle shouldn’t (and won’t) be either. You really want to make sure that what you’re committing to is a sustainable choice for you and your family—and one that you feel like you can uphold long term. Once you’ve done your research and identified the elements of the lifestyle that appeal to you and seem like reasonable choices given your environment and circumstances, you’re ready to start implementing a few practices.
Below is a list of relatively low-lift ways you can start to dip your toe into homesteading. Note that most of them can be modified based on your environment (or “homestead”) and can be accessed in some capacity whether you are a rural, suburban, or city dweller.
Remember, you don’t need to wait until you have your dream farm to begin. You can start your journey into homesteading right away. Much of homesteading is a mindset and lifestyle, as opposed to where you live.
6 Ways to Start Your Own Homestead Wherever You Are
Even if you’re living in an apartment, you can start moving toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle today.
1. Strive for Zero Waste
Unfortunately, not every brand is concerned about reducing its waste. From manufacturing to packaging to paper mailers, there’s a lot of pollution and waste—much of which ends up in your trash can and recycling bin.
While you’re doing the right thing by recycling, you could actually help stop the process before it starts. At Public Goods, one of our core values is to minimize wasteful packaging, especially plastics, before they’re created in the first place.
Part of homesteading, urban or rural, is about making decisions that limit your waste production and therefore your contribution to landfills and dependence on overloaded recycling centers.
Do the least harm. Check out our collection of reusable and zero waste products. We also have large shampoo refills, surface cleaner and glass cleaner refills, lotion refills and more, so you won’t need to keep buying (and tossing) plastic containers.
Not sure if your favorite brand strives for zero waste? Learn how to tell if a brand is sustainable and ethical here.
2. Start Your Own Vegetable and Herb Garden
If you have a large backyard that’s not being utilized, put in a garden or raised bed, and start growing a portion of the vegetables for your homestead. If you don’t want to change the infrastructure of your own land, see if there are community gardens available in your town for you to utilize. If you don’t have a yard, but still want to start gardening, you can start growing your own herbs or lettuce in a sunny window.
3. Preserve What You Grow
A great way to preserve the crops you yielded for year-round consumption is by canning. A technology that’s constantly evolving with better, more user-friendly canning equipment, it’s a relatively easy practice that nearly any gardener can pick up quickly with a little help from YouTube.
As a quick overview, the simplest method of canning is water bath canning, which includes filling jars with acidic foods such as tomatoes, berries, and cucumbers in vinegar, covering them with lids, and boiling them in an open pan of water until a seal is formed. This forces the air out of the food and out of the jar, creating a vacuum in an acidic environment where bacteria cannot thrive.
As you start to get more comfortable with this method, you can start to introduce yourself to more advanced methods, such as pressure canning. Although it requires a little more skill and some specialized equipment, it’s a great next step as it can provide you with a wider variety of preserved foods.
4. Learn to Sew
Learning the basics of sewing can serve a variety of purposes for a starter homestead. Not only will it provide you with new items, but it can also be used to maintain your clothing for a much longer time. When your clothing does inevitably become too worn out to mend, you can sew your unusable pieces into a quilt. Sewing will allow for your clothing to go a long way, ultimately be recycled, and will save you significant money in the process.
5. Commit to Composting
The great thing about composting is that it’s a completely attainable practice regardless of where you live. There are so many methods well-suited for nearly every living situation. In fact, some states offer composting services for those of you who are urban homesteading.
But there are many benefits to keeping and using your own compost, though, like providing soil for your land.
And fortunately, it’s pretty easy! For example, enclosed compost tumblers are perfect for small suburban gardens or urban conditions, while large compost bins or piles may be a better choice for a larger homestead property or even small farms.
Once you collect your compostable food waste in a compost bin, it’s best to take it out to either your garden, compost pile, or a drop-off location at least once or twice a week to prevent mold or odors. If you live in an urban environment and don’t have significant use for compost in your own living situation, many cities offer community drop-off sites where your food waste will be put to good use.
6. Utilize Your Fireplace
A lot of homes have unused fireplaces. Whether you’ve just gotten used to relying on more modern methods of heating, or if your fireplace needs maintenance, switching over to fireplace heat is a great first step towards homesteading. Even better, it will significantly reduce your heating bill.
Start Homesteading Today
Ash told us that although farming isn’t glamorous, she feels good knowing that she’s greatly reduced her impact on the environment by not having her food trucked across the nation. She says that if you put the time and labor in, you’ll find that it’s a very rewarding, wholesome way of life.
Like everything, homesteading is all about what feels right for you. You have complete control to define your priorities in whatever order or way makes the most sense for your life. Even if you only commit to making one or two small life changes, you’ll still be committing to living a more self-sufficient, globally responsible life.
Remember, it’s a gradual process. Start small, do what feels most impactful given your unique environment, and go from there.
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