The daily tasks involved in living in a self sufficient lifestyle on a small family homestead are too numerous to entirely cover in one blog post, or even on an entire website. This section of JuicyMaters, the Family Homesteading category, is intended to cover the “what’s” and “how to’s” of many of the homesteader’s basic tasks as well as possible for one site (and within the author’s knowledge). It is also intended to cover what I call “the four cornerstones of a self sufficient homestead”.
We’ll cover a wide range of topics (some have already been covered in earlier posts…check the archives) from appropriate homestead livestock to planting and maintaining a market (or personal) garden, from “putting by” (canning) the bounty from that garden to tips and tricks for running a frugal household… and much, much more.
Before you can deal with the day to day homestead issues however, you must first have a homestead to live on and run, and like any other place you live, a homestead needs a substantial foundation. I’m not talking about a brick and mortar foundation under the physical dwelling, but rather the philosophical foundation that “homesteading” rests upon.
I would guess that there have been several thousand articles written about the “basics of homesteading”, with most addressing those day to day things I mentioned earlier. In this article I’d like to address that philosophical foundation that must be present in a successful homestead.
Note: While I want the Family Homesteading category at JuicyMaters to be a sort of “one-stop-shop” resource for current and potential homesteaders, I’m certainly not the be all and end all authority on the subject. This article on the homesteading foundation, and other homesteading articles, are based on several years of research and expirience, but aren’t, and cannot be, EVERYTHING on the subject.
Please use the comment section below each post to add any information you may have based on your own research and/or experience.
Alternatively, use the comment section to just say, “Hi…I stopped by!” so I know someone is reading this stuff…LOL!
Based on my experience, there are four foundational pillars, or “cornerstones”, to having a successful, self sufficient homestead. I’m not going to claim that all of these are absolutely critical to success, or that a homesteading venture will automatically fail without all of them, but I believe they make for a strong foundation, and any structure’s strength is only as strong as its foundation. At least in my case, these cornerstones…ALL of them…are indeed critical. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Self sufficiency is as much about commitment and mindset as it is action.
Homesteading is not something you “try out” on a temporary basis. About the closest you can come to trying out homesteading is to pack up the family, the dog, two chickens, a rabbit, and three potted plants and go camping. That will give you as realistic a view of homesteading as you would get if you decided to take three months one summer and “try it”. Homesteading is not about having a garden (you can do that in the suburbs) or having those two chickens and a rabbit (you can have those in the suburbs too, as pets). Homesteading is about making a commitment to a lifestyle that happens to include gardens and chickens and rabbits, and to the work and acquisition of knowledge that will help you do that successfully. That cannot be done on a two week, or even a three month, trial basis one summer.
Before you take the first step to actually “do” homesteading, ask yourself two simple questions:
“Why SPECIFICALLY do I want to homestead?”and “Do I want it bad enough to fully commit to the lifestyle right from the get-go?”
If your “why” is a generalized, “I’m tired of the corporate rat race and want to do something different.”, and your commitment level amounts to little more than, “Heck, I’ll give it a shot.”, then don’t even try because you are doomed to failure.
2. Self sufficiency is NOT self isolation…it does require community. Embrace it.
When I first moved out of the city to the little 2 ½ acres that has become my homestead, I did not do it in order to homestead, I did it to check out of everything except actual life. I pretty much wanted the world to just leave me the hell alone, and I would reciprocate in kind.
I was fortunate in that my decision to rejoin society (and quit being a hermit) coincided with my decision to live a more back to basics homestead life. Despite not being able to see how homesteading is dependent upon community (at least at first) I have found that a sense of community is pleasant and necessary.
While a homestead family might exist in isolation they cannot live that way, and I’ll select living over existing every single time. Survivalism is existing, and we’re talking about homesteading, not Survivalism.
When talking about homesteading, community does not have to be writ as a “large C” Community, involving all those things we’re trying to get away from when we become homesteaders, but instead is community on a small, local sense. If you are a churchgoer, it means actually getting involved with your church rather than just filling a pew on Sunday morning. If you have school age children that you do not homeschool (or even if you do) it means attending and participating in local school board meetings. It means being involved, perhaps as leaders, in your local Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations.
It means being there to help an elderly or sick neighbor whose family can’t, or won’t, help them. It means being more involved with your local farmer’s market than just showing up on Saturday morning to sell the bounty from your garden.
Are these activities necessary? For existing…no. For living a full, rich homesteading lifestyle? Absolutely, without a doubt.
3. Self sufficiency requires spirituality.
Wait! Don’t leave yet! Note that I said spirituality, not religion.
For some, including myself, spirituality and a belief in God and Jesus Christ go hand in hand. For others, spirituality may simply be an acknowledgement that they’re not the be all and end all of their domain, that there is something more powerful than them. It is rather like one of the 12 steps in the AA program. It does not ask that one believes in God, instead it only asks that we acknowledge “a power greater than ourselves”.
Regardless of what one believes about the origins of this earth we live on, very few believe that it simply ” is”, instead recognizing that it is a gift to us from “a power greater than ourselves”. As with any gift it is our responsibility to take care of what is given us. As in the above paragraphs on community, I believe this good stewardship is a large part of what separates living from existing.
4. Self sufficiency is DAMN HARD WORK!
If you have a little bit of age on you, as I have, you’ll remember the TV show “Green Acres”, on CBS from 1965 to 1971, starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor. Some people actually think that was a homestead lifestyle. After all, they did leave the “city life” of NYC for a simple country life on a farm, right?
Well… kinda sorta, but not really. I think the biggest clue was in the opening scene shown at the start of every show that had Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Albert) plowing his fields sitting on his John Deere tractor wearing dress slacks, a white dress shirt, a tie (snugged up at the collar, of course), and a (buttoned) vest. Um… Mr. Douglas, yer gonna ruin that shirt.
Homesteading is hard, dirty (sometimes very dirty) work. Depending on what homesteading type activities you include it can also be 24/7 work. If you have livestock I can almost guarantee you that one of your dairy goats is not going to get sick or decide to give birth at 2:00 PM on a warm Tuesday afternoon. It will be at 2:00 AM, on a cold, wet, windy late February morning. And you will be there.
Any equipment you need to run your homestead will not break down except at the exact moment you need it the worst… And you will fix it then, not after dinner, not after a nap because you’re tired, and not tomorrow (tomorrow will have its own set of chores to deal with). Oh, and YOU will fix it because homestead finances will turn you into a regular Mr. Fix-It (along with being a Dr. Vet, a Joe the Plumber, and a Tim the Tool Man Carpenter).
Even the regular chores can make unreal demands on your time and schedule. Remember that dairy goat from a minute ago? The one that decided to give birth in the middle of the coldest, wettest winter night of the year? Well…when she isn’t delivering babies, she has to be milked.
Twice a day.
Seven days a week.
10 months a year.
And then…after all that…just when you think you can sit back with a cup of coffee and relax, all that community stuff I told you about kicks in. The neighbor isn’t as good as you at animal husbandry and needs your help birthing HIS goat’s kid. Or there is a casserole to cook for tomorrow’s “dinner on the grounds” after church. Or…or…or…
So…there are (my) the cornerstones of a successful Family Homestead. It IS a mindset. It IS a commitment. And it IS damn hard work.
It’s also well worth it.