The Question – What Is Homesteading And A Homesteading Farm? Ask one hundred people and you’ll likely get 100 different answers… well, 87 at least!
There are so many different viewpoints on the theme that expecting a single definition is folly. Even the online ‘definition’ sites can’t agree.
Wikipedia’s definition of homesteading says:
“Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale”.
The ‘ever so posh’ Cambridge Dictionary offer these useful pointers:
Homestead – “mainly us a house and the surrounding area of land, usually used as a farm”
and … “in the past, land given by the government for farming”
There is obviously a historical perspective to the homesteading term, mainly in the USA, where, in 1862, the Homestead Act paved the way for settlement in the west of the United States. Any American, including freed slaves, were allowed to make a claim for up to 160 acres of federal land to begin a homesteading farm. All in all over 1.6 million claims were approved. Homestead farming became a reality for many Americans who would never have had a hope of purchasing land to farm and feed their families.
These new homesteaders began a life of self-sufficiency, growing their own food, raising their own animals. Sounds like an idyllic life doesn’t it. Well, times were hard for them. Many had little experience of farming, life was a struggle. But at least they had their little bit of America, the dream was alive.
The Wikipedia definition for what is homesteading farming is as meaningful today as it was in the 1800’s, small-scale production, food preservation, a life of self-sufficiency. The difference today is that most of us homesteaders, whether on acreage or in the city, can play at it. Sure, we want to make it a success, but we’re unlikely to die if we fail, unlike those pioneers.
The modern homesteading movement is alive and well. Things can still be a challenge, but the infrastructure we have, more than 150 years after the first homesteads appeared in the USA, makes ‘the dream’ a far more viable proposition. But even though the definition holds water, it beggars the question…
Table Of Contents
What Is A Homesteading Farm In The 21st Century?
As I mentioned at the start of this article, the homesteading lifestyle means many things to many people. There is no one definition, but most, if not all homesteaders are looking to become more self-sufficient, less reliant on the government, the food industry and unsavory modern farming practices to sustain them.
With the obesity levels rising, the food industry producing food-like substances that are damaging our health, and our genetic expression, the self-sufficiency and homestead farming movement is growing at an incredible rate. Millions of Americans and people all over the world are looking to escape the status quo, to lead simpler, more meaningful lives where they know what is going into the soil their food comes from, that the meat they eat is not stuffed with antibiotics and hormones just to keep it alive and fatten it up for slaughter.
The lovely, inspiring thing about homestead living in the ‘noughties’ is that it’s a mental attitude, a lifestyle, a journey that doesn’t depend on the size of your property or how many heads of cattle you own. You can embrace the homesteading lifestyle in the middle of the city, or in the middle of nowhere, the choice is yours. The self-sufficient lifestyle is a continuum, you can move as far along it in either direction as you lie. Of course, move too far in the wrong direction and you are no longer self-sufficient in any way and become just another dependent member of society.
I often get asked how I got into starting a homestead. It’s been a long journey, I’m 49 years old at the time of writing, but I’ve always had a profound interest in health and nutrition, and being as self-contained as I can. I hate depending on the state or an employer to ensure the basic needs of my family are met, I’m just a bit of a contrarian I guess 🙂
How I Started My Homesteading Farm Adventure
I originally began growing my own fruit and vegetables while living on the south coast of England, where I was born. I nurtured vegetable plots, fished in the sea (and ate what I caught), hunted rabbit and pigeon with an air rifle. I never got satisfaction from taking a life, but I always felt it was the right thing to do if I was to remain an omnivore.
In 2005 I moved with my family over to New South Wales in Australia, went to university to study business, and bought a 4 /1/2 acre mini homesteading farm with an original farmhouse, built around 1900. It was on an exposed ridge, the views of the valley were epic! We raised a few sheep, had chickens and ducks, grew more vegetables than we needed, and loved ‘almost’ every minute of it.
Overwhelm was a regular phenomenon, but learning new skills and seeing our little homestead in the country flourish was reward indeed. I took a Permaculture Design Certificate with Rosemary Morrow, gained a chainsaw certificate to fell small trees, and studied Permaculture, bio-intensive gardening and animal husbandry. I read everything I could get my hands on, watched Youtube videos, purchased DVDs and immersed myself in self-sufficiency and homesteading for beginners
Here are some pics of myself and the family, plus some animals back on our mini-homestead in Australia.
In 2010 we returned to West Dorset, a beautifully unspoiled part of England, close to the sea, but surrounded by incredible countryside and a real sense of ‘real food’ and a more laid-back lifestyle.
We live in a small village where I keep my modern homesteading dream alive and well, with vegetable gardening, fruit trees and berries in abundance. My passion for nutrition and wellness continues, with my belief that the modern food system is inextricably linked to illness and disease. Taking responsibility for our health and hopefully longevity, through growing our own food and sourcing high quality, locally sourced meat and eggs from local organic producers, makes perfect sense.
Foraging is a real option from Spring through Fall (autumn), with many berries, salad leaves and other tasty morsels available in nature’s garden. Throw in some mackerel fishing in June/July, some rabbit and pigeon shooting through the year, and one is making a major inroad towards a more self-reliant lifestyle.
So, for me, the now urban homesteading lifestyle is a journey, it’s about enjoying the small, incremental moves towards a life of less materialism and consumerism, of more human connection and community, and slowly but surely, retreating from the modern food industry that is killing us. Almost all of our food is produced using the raw ingredients.
We ferment sauerkraut and kimchi, drink home-brewed kombucha and culture own milk kefir, use a pressure cooker and slow cooker to make stews and hotpots to die for. Our milk is raw from Jersey cows, from a local farm shop we frequent. Much of our purchased meat is from grass-fed English Longhorn cattle and ancient and hardy breed that produce excellent meat. We are so lucky to live where we do.
But as I said, we are all different and have differing wants and needs. My definition won’t necessarily be your definition. Whatever you are hoping to achieve, there are some essential skills, tips and even mindsets that are good to have. Figuring out where to start can be overwhelming. What if you know nothing about farming, growing food, tending animals, off-grid living or alternative energy.
Relax…it will all become clear over time. I’m sure that the rest of this article can start to demystify the journey before you.
Let’s spend a few minutes considering some of the homesteading lifestyles that are thriving today, you might be surprised just how many people are becoming homesteaders, and where they are doing it. you don’t need a country retreat, that’s for sure.
Urban Homesteading Explained
The rise in popularity of urban homesteading is quite staggering. I guess it’s been going on forever really, but, as with all things, it takes some time to put a label on it. There are a number of definitions of urban homesteading, some related to federal and state programs to get people into homes in the city, but in our world, we’re talking about people who are practicing urban agriculture within a city of an urban environment.
The urban homesteader does generally not have a lot of land, but they make the most of what they do have and get creative. They repurpose lawns for food production, they use vertical space when the ground area is at a premium, they grow indoors when there is no outdoor space available. It’s a lifestyle of thoughtfulness, practicality and massive satisfaction when you start to understand just how much impact you can have by beginning urban or suburban homesteading.
Some of the aspects that urban homesteading addresses include:
- Food production – creating edible landscapes, often called foodscaping, in which the property owner (or renter) grows fruit, herbs, medicinal plants, vegetables. Maximizing food production is a small space is one of the mainstays or the urban homesteading lifestyle.
- Raising animals – An urban environment is not always appropriate for raising larger livestock for meat, but the city dweller can usually raise some chickens for eggs or meat, rabbits, and bees for honey and pollination of fruit trees.
- Self-sufficient living – Self-sufficiency isn’t about never needing to go to the grocery store again. It’s about becoming less reliant on external sources for you to live a comfortable and happy life. Re-using items, recycling, repairing rather than discarding, freecycling, these are all goals of the homesteader, alongside reducing the reliance of the food industry.
- Building community resources – bartering, trading goods, and services, foraging, labor sharing schemes, community gardens. These are just a few of the excellent community-building activities that are taking place in many cities and towns around the world.
- Food preservation and fermenting – There are many food preservation techniques the homesteader can call upon. Preserving food for the winter when not much is growing is important, and fun too. I love to ferment vegetables into sauerkraut and kimchi, to slow dry tomatoes and turn them into amazing tomato sauce that I can jar up and use through the winter. Preserving is something that doesn’t need any fancy equipment, just some ingredients, some glass jars and an oven (to heat and sterilize the jars before filling).
- Composting – reducing waste through composting or worm farming is a great way to reduce your reliance on landfill to get rid of your stuff. Vegetable clippings should be composted, and provide an excellent source of nutrients for your food garden. Worm farms are perfect where space is limited.
- Reducing energy consumption and resources – rainwater harvesting, low energy light bulbs, walking or cycling instead of taking the car, solar panels, greywater systems for watering plants. There are many ways to reduce your costs and pollution footprint.
Even if you don’t have anything as grand as an urban plot, community gardening schemes are a great way to meet people and learn how to grow food. Your local council should have information on a community garden near you.
But how about if you are on the 20th floor of a tower block, or in a tiny apartment. Fear not, there are thousands of people apartment homesteading in cities around the world.
Inspiration by the bucketload with this urban homesteader who is taking action and creating something incredible.
Tips For Starting Your Own Homesteading Farm
Whether you are living in an apartment in the middle of New York, in a suburban town, or in the country, homestead farming is something you can do, no need to buy another plot of land at all. Choose a couple of projects that you could achieve this week or even this month. Grab a book on the topic or do some searching on this site or the mighty Google. There is so much information for you to learn from.
If you are planning on being an apartment homesteader, start thinking about making space to grow some food indoors, or on a balcony. Check out community vegetable gardening schemes in your neighborhood.
If chickens are a possibility, grab the timber, start making the run in your backyard. Most small homesteading projects don’t take long to implement. Or how about building some raised vegetable beds ready for the growing season. Start with one, then expand as you get the time, money and motivation.
Just start. Strike while you have inspiration, the rewards are massive, and you really will be doing something positive for your family, community, and environment.
Make A List
Listing priorities is a great idea. You’ll be inundated with so much information about how to homestead, you won’t be able to do everything at once. With so many aspects to being a homesteader, as we’ll discuss in a moment, break your tasks and goals down into smaller parts, prioritize what you want, which is most important, and start at the beginning.
Is growing and preserving food your main goal? Are you interested in raising animals for meat or eggs? Do you like the idea of reducing your power consumption or gas costs for transportation? If energy efficiency is a priority, getting low energy light bulbs is an easy win. OR start walking and riding a bike more, to lessen the car use. If you have spare cash, checking out solar panels or wind generation is something you could do this week.
Make Plans For Year One
Thinking long term, 5 years ahead or more sounds great, but it always seems such a distant dream. I prefer a one-year plan, which I can then break down into quarterly goals, and then into monthly projects that I can achieve. I often need to get down to the daily level to make sure I achieve something small each day to take me closer to my dream.
We are all different, you may do great with lofty goals, some people prefer not to think past today 🙂 Know yourself and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. The next section contains some skills you can learn quickly to get you started.
Homesteading Basics For The Modern Homesteader
You don’t have to learn these homesteading basics all at once, or BEFORE you start your journey towards homestead living. Pick one that interests you and research it. None of these are hard, but feeling the need to learn everything first will lead to paralysis by analysis. I’ve been there…trust me 🙂 Here are some ideas to get you started in homesteading your home.
1. Canning Garden Produce
Preserving fruit and vegetables during the most productive times of the year is a practice that has been passed from generation to generation. Preserve during the gluts, as the lean times with surely come.
2. Learn To Ferment
Fermenting food is a great skill to learn, and incredibly easy. As well as extending the food’s shelf life (not as long as canning), the process of lacto-fermentation provides an incredible number and diversity of gut-healthy bacteria species. Eating fermented food is a very powerful step to take towards better health. Tastes good too!
3. Dehydrating Food
Home food dehydration is a great way to increase the life of the food. There are solar dehydrators that use the sun to provide the heat, electric dehydrators, and if you have an oven that allows for a low enough temperature setting, you can use that. I’ve had some amazing beef jerky results in my oven.
4. Learn To Compost
Improving the quality of your soil is easy, but often neglected. Learning some composting principles and making a start in building quality soil will see excellent returns, in quantity of food, nutritional value, and also a reduction in pest attack. Healthy plants are way more resistant to pests.
If you don’t have room to compost, how about a worm farm? This is a space-saving way to reduce wastage and put your vegetable peelings to good use.
5. Grow Vegetables And Fruits
Almost every homesteader you talk to wants to produce more of their own food. Trying to go from supermarket aficionado to complete self-sufficiency overnight is impossible. Incremental steps work the best. A small vegetable garden can produce a lot of food, and it easily manageable.
6. Get Chickens Or Other Poultry
Not everyone has the room to raise cows, pigs, and sheep. If you live in the city, chickens might even be out of the question. If that is the case, sourcing free-range, animal-based foods should be pretty simple, you might even be able to barter with someone. Tomatoes for eggs?
7. Raise Some Livestock (If You’ve Got Room)
Raising animals for meat (and wool?) takes a lot of time and some learning. Good animal husbandry is essential. If we are going to take a life for our own food, we should make sure that life is a wonderful one, and that the death part is swift and does not cause suffering and fear. Most homesteaders follow this ethos. If you don’t have the room or the stomach for raising your own animals for meat, buy from someone who shares your values and cares for the animals they raise.
8. Make your Own Cleaning Products
Most of the off the shelf cleaning products you can buy are full of chemicals none of us have heard of, and we trust that they won’t have long-term negative effects on our health. Homesteaders throughout the years have used natural products like Apple Cider Vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, and it works well. It takes minutes to make a batch.
9. Make Your Own Skin Care Products
As with cleaning products, many manufactured skin care products are full of chemicals and additives that you probably wouldn’t want to be putting on your skin if you knew what they were. Making natural products is fun and cost-effective.
10. Consider Alternative Energy Sources
Alternative energy can be expensive but is a good way to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and other dirty energy sources. Solar, wind, there are many systems, some that can be made yourself if you have some basic skills. This can often be a more long-term goal for those who are a little cash-strapped, but even using energy saving bulbs in your homestead is a great start.
11. Reduce Your Reliance On Fossil Fuelled Transportation
If you live miles from anywhere, taking to two wheels for all your weekly chores might be a drag. But most of us could do with a little more activity in our lives, and cycling is a great way to reduce monthly gas bills, get some activity in your life, and enjoy the wonders of nature. It’s amazing how much you miss sitting in a car.
12. Start Vertical Gardening
Even if you have plenty of space, maximizing your food production should always be on your mind. Having often harvested foods plants close to your kitchen ensures you tend them well. Vertical gardening is a great way of doing this, in fact, if you have a small garden or yard, or live in an apartment with a balcony, growing food indoors and growing UP is likely to be your only option.
Trellis, pergolas, purpose-built containers, there are many ways to use vertical space.
I’ll be updating this list of homesteading basics weekly, and adding more ‘how to articles’ to show you EXACTLY how to learn these skills. I find it really satisfying to learn new stuff, that makes me more self-reliant. I hope you do too.
Before we look at some really useful blogs and resources for the homesteading beginner, let’s hear what others think about homesteading, and what it means to them.
What Does Homesteading Mean To Others?
Jessica Lane of The 104 Homestead puts it this way:
“Homesteading is a way of life, a way in which we can all live off the land that we have available to us, relying less on living beyond our means. As we all move into the future, we are relying less on our skills and abilities and more on buying everything we need. Homesteading teaches us to get back to the traditional ways of life, growing your own vegetables, raising your own animals, baking your own goods, but that doesn’t mean you have to move out into the countryside and run a large farm.”
Teri from Homestead Honey says about her move to a homestead lifestyle:
“The decision to move to Missouri and start a brand new homestead was not an easy one, but it came from a strong desire to live in close community with friends, to own a piece of land on which we can grow our own food and live in harmony with nature, and most importantly, to live simply and without debt, so we can spend more time as a family, doing what we love”.
Janet of Timber Creek Farmer says:
“Our family farm is our homestead, where we raise vegetables for our table. and raise animals for fiber, eggs, meat, and companionship! Wasting less and being more self-sufficient is our ongoing goal”.
Nicole of Little Blog On The Homestead has this inspired offering:
“I believe that every little step we take can create a better world and hope to provide you with the tools, encouragement, and information to make some changes in your own life. Every little bit helps. And no matter what, we can all homestead right where we are now!”
Daniel From Arms Family Homestead Has Some Words Of Wisdom In This Video
You can certainly see a theme emerging. Growing their own food, self-sufficiency, living more lightly on the planet, making small changes over time, living without debt, wasting less.
These are some of the central tenets of a lifestyle as a country or urban homesteader, and you CAN DO IT, right now, wherever you find yourself.
Here are a few homesteading tips and skills that are great to learn, and can take you towards that modern homesteader lifestyle.
Other Homestead Farming Resources You Might Like
Blogs About Larger Homesteads On Acreage
Having practiced homestead farming on a little acreage in the past (4.5 acres to be precise), I love seeing how people are turning often barren plots into an oasis, full of life. Many of these folks left the city for a new life, and are loving it.
Blogs About Urban And City Homesteading Farms
As a smaller scale homesteader these days, I love to see how people are urban homesteading on small plots are making self sufficiency work for them. These are some that I follow:
Well, that just about rounds up this article. I sincerely hope it’s been useful to you and provided some inspiration to get going on starting a homestead. Don’t put it off. Today is the perfect time to start. And please share your homesteading farm tips in the comments, we are always learning at Better Homesteading, and your experiences are invaluable. What does homesteading mean to YOU?
Other Essential Articles:
Join me for fun and adventures in homesteading land.