Homesteading, Then & Now
There is a lot of talk about homesteading among those who are prepping to live long after there is a major economic collapse or some other terrible disaster befalls the world. Despite its common usage, not everybody is truly familiar and informed about what homesteading truly is. There is a good reason for that. Many people equate homesteading to the pioneer days when families loaded the wagon with everything they could fit and set out for the wild west. They had only what they brought with them and were forced to start with nothing as they learned to live in a new, dangerous and sometimes treacherous world. Then there are those who assume a homesteader is some farmer who lives out in the boonies and never ventures into town. Homesteading is an umbrella term that covers many different families and the way they live.
What is Homesteading
Homesteading has been around for more than a hundred years. In reality, it goes back much further than that. In a nutshell, homesteading is living a lifestyle that is self-sufficient. You live off the land. You support yourself by growing your own food and making things that you can sell to buy the things you cannot produce and to pay the taxes on your land. Homesteading means you do not have to rely on modern conveniences like grocery stores to buy the bulk of your food or the utility company for your water and power.
Homesteading involves you living on a piece of land that you work. While some people buy a nice home on a couple of acres and either ignore the extra land or turn it into a park for the kids to play, homesteaders use the land to grow their food, raise their livestock and work a trade. This isn’t to say a homesteader must have acres and acres of land. Many people homestead on very small pieces of property.
Part of homesteading is freeing oneself from debt. You don’t want to deal with high mortgage payments. That would make it difficult for you to ply a trade and make the money you need to support the family. It is about learning to live with the things you need and worrying less about all the extra things that are really just clutter.
Homesteading Act of 1862
Homesteading has evolved significantly since the Homesteading Act of 1862 was put into place. Abraham Lincoln signed this after the southern states seceded. It freed up 270 million acres of land for people to essentially take. All a person had to do was be 21 and be the head of a household (even single women could be a head of household) and they could snag a 160-acre piece of land.
The person had to work the land for 5 years and live on it. After they proved themselves, they could pay an $18 filing fee and the land was theirs. The proving portion required nothing more than the homesteader building a house, working the land and having two neighbors sign a statement that the homesteader had improved the land. This Act gave men and women the chance to get the land they needed to become self-sufficient without paying a hefty price. Let’s face it, land prices are the one thing that hold thousands of people back from learning to live a self-sustaining lifestyle in today’s world.
The Homestead Act was officially repealed in 1976, with Alaska holding out until the late 1980s. The act was considered to be revolutionary and helped shaped the United States today. Although many of us wish there was free land available to those willing to work it, what many fail to realize is the amount of work that went into the job. The pioneers and settlers that put in the time and energy over a hundred years ago to help settle the west learned the hard way what it meant to homestead.
Homesteading today looks a little different than it did 150 years ago. Today, most homesteaders are dealing with some kind of a mortgage on their land along with taxes. This can make it difficult to make the money needed to support a family and pay a steep mortgage. Modern homesteading can look many different ways as each family tweaks the homestead lifestyle to suit their needs.
Many folks grow food and raise livestock while holding down a job. The land parcels tend to be much smaller and a bit more manageable for the average person who cannot possibly spend 18 hours a day working the land. There are various stages of homesteading. Some folks may live on 20 acres out in the country, completely off the grid, while others are in a rural setting, connected to the grid, but grow their own food.
There is no wrong way to homestead. You can choose to dabble in it with a nice garden or go the whole nine yards and shuck the modern world and become completely self-sufficient. Really, every little bit helps and even if you only grow vegetables, it is making you that much more self-reliant. The modern homesteader doesn’t have to work as hard as the pioneers did, but it is still a job that isn’t for the faint of heart.
Modern homesteading does not require you to have a great deal of land. There are plenty of ways to maximize a small yard by learning about container gardening, vertical gardening and even gardening on your roof. Having solar panels installed, even if you live in the suburbs, is also an option. Never assume you cannot be a homesteader because you don’t live on a large bit of land. Learning ways to conserve water are also a part of the modern homesteading way of life. It is about learning to manipulate what you have to become more self-sufficient.
Lifestyle of Self-Sufficiency
The goal is to get yourself to a point that you don’t need to run to the grocery store to get food for the family. You don’t need the power company to ensure you have electricity to run your freezer. Learning how to hunt, fish and raise livestock will keep food on your family’s table. You will need to learn how to butcher the meat you harvest as well as various preservation methods.
Along with putting meat on the table, you need to be a jack of all trades really. Learn how to fix your solar power system so when it needs fixing, you can fix it yourself without spending hundreds of dollars in repair fees. Learning how to sew, tan leather and make the things you need will help you truly become self-sufficient. Get back to the basics and learn some of the primitive trades that have been pushed out in favor of modern machinery.
In this day and age, we have forgotten or ignored many of the hands-on trades in favor of modern technology. This is a dangerous truth. If and when the world suffers a major setback, those who do not have a clue as how to chop down a tree and cut it into firewood or how to grow vegetables are going to suffer and be prone to death. Those are the people that are reliant upon the big machine of government control, banks and commercial industries.
The lifestyle of a self-sufficient person is freeing. You are not swamped with bills. You are not worried about making enough money to put food on the table. For those who are off the grid, you don’t have to worry about the power going out or worry about paying the electric bill. You have everything you need right there at home. When you are hungry, you walk to the garden and grab a healthy snack. Your freezer and pantry are filled with foods you harvested and preserved.
There is a sense of peace and confidence knowing you can handle anything that comes your way because you know exactly what to do. You are not forced to rely upon anybody else to stay alive. Your lifestyle of self-sufficiency is hard work, but it is extremely rewarding and satisfying.
The best way to learn about How to Get Started in Homesteading is to see what others are doing. There is a great network of Homesteading Blogs out there that provide useful information as well as life lessons learned. Listed below are some of my favorite blogs that my wife and I follow.
You can never have too much information. The best way to start on your path to sustainability is to build a good library of self-reliant and homesteading books. Here a few that I recommend, click on the book to find it on Amazon.com