Answers to 7 questions about modern homesteading

If you’ve been thinking about diving into homesteading, you may have a few questions. And if you’ve already been living the modern homesteading life, you’ve probably been asked a few questions about it. Below are answers to the seven most common questions we are asked about our homesteading lifestyle.

* Homesteading? I thought homesteaders were the people in the 1800s who went out west and got free land. Can you do that in Illinois? (or Florida? or London? or ______?)

Although there is no such thing as free land any longer, the term homesteader has been picked up by those who embody the homesteading spirit. We have the same independent and self-reliant spirit as the homesteaders of the 1800s. We’ve simply decided to live a more self-reliant life and start producing some of the things that we use rather than buying everything.

* Can you learn how to do this stuff if you didn’t grow up on a farm?

Absolutely! When we moved out here, our livestock experience consisted of two cats and a poodle. We learned by reading books and finding mentors over the internet. And we made a lot of mistakes!

* You don’t seem like the type to do this sort of thing. You look so normal. Isn’t it mostly hippies who do this? (or conservative Christians? or the Amish? or ______?)

{cue laughter} I’ve never been into tie-die shirts, and I don’t think the goats really care what I’m wearing, so I think it is safe to say that you don’t have to be a hippie to be a modern homesteader. You also don’t have to have any sort of religious beliefs to do this.

* Are you off grid?

I wish! Although we would love to be off-grid, we are not willing to live without electricity, and so far we have not been able to fit solar panels into our budget. Unfortunately, we have too many trees on our property to make a wind turbine practical. We are hoping to have solar panels someday!
* How do you make money? Do you have a job, or is this all you do?
The goal of modern homesteading is more self-reliance, not subsistence farming, so unless they’re retired, with a nice pension, most modern homesteaders have a day job. Depending upon where they work and how long their day is, whether they have to travel, or how flexible their job is, they may or may not have certain livestock or take part in certain activities, such as gardening.
* What do you do about things like salt and sugar? Do you buy clothes?
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t buy anything. Even the homesteaders of the 1800s bought things like salt and sugar, as well as coffee and flour and other staples. There is no rule that says you can’t still buy things. But a lot of homesteaders are more likely to buy local produce rather than going to the big box grocery store. I’m a terrible seamstress, and I’m too busy to make my own clothes, so yes we buy them.
* I wish I could do that, but I live in town. (or … you have to have a lot of land to do that, don’t you?)
A moveable chicken pen used by urban homesteaders

Lots of modern homesteaders are living the dream in suburbia or even in big cities. Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts, a Google group, has more than 500 members! When I was writing Homegrown and Handmade, I interviewed several of those members and learned that many of them also have gardens or bees. Some compost, and some live without a car, which is pretty easy to do in a city with a great mass transit system. I interviewed one couple that lived in an apartment, and on the roof of their building, they had chickens, bees, and hoop houses for winter gardening. They also did a lot of canning!

As you may have concluded by now, there are no hard and fast rules about what a modern homesteader can or cannot do. However, it’s the self-reliant attitude of most modern homesteaders that sets us apart from those who are content to buy everything from the store, eat fast food daily, and work out at a gym. We want to eat real food and get real exercise without ever lifting a dumbbell. And rather than viewing cooking, chopping wood, and domestic arts as drudgery, we see them as a way to increase our self-reliance and live a more meaningful life.

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