Until recently, I only thought of homesteading as something that could be done on acres upon acres of land, and that, to be a homesteader, you had to raise all your own meat as well as grow all your own fruits and vegetables. Additionally, you should make your own shampoos and soaps, forage for medicinal plants, and wash your clothes on a washboard in a wash tub. Looking back, I see that that way of thinking was bizarre. However, I still get a little bit embarrassed when I say I live on a quarter acre of land, and I consider myself to be a homesteader. However, there’s still that connotation that to be a homesteader, you must have oodles of land and lots of farm animals. I’m here to tell you, that is simply not the case anymore.
I consider myself a Modern-Day Homesteader. I have hardly any land, but I believe where there’s a will, there’s a way. When it comes down to it, homesteading is growing and preserving a lot of your own food. It’s using natural and organic remedies for simple illnesses, and not relying on the dependence of grocery stores and convenience items. Basically, a homesteader is someone who seeks a life of self-sufficiency. Nowhere in that definition does it say anything about needing to have animals or needing lots of land. Modern-Day Homesteading is homesteading, regardless of where you are. In some cases, that is easier said than in others, but nowhere is it impossible.
Where I live, I can’t have any farm animals, not even chickens, but that doesn’t mean I can’t raise my own meat. Even in backyards where you can’t own the typical farm animals, you can still raise meat rabbits, perhaps even backyard ducks or quail.
If you aren’t able to own farm animals at all, or are unwilling to raise animals for meat, there are many things you can do to help become more independent in the meat department. Go to nearby rivers and fish for trout and catfish. Go hunting for deer, turkey, and even squirrel. Even if you can’t do any of that, learn who does and make friends with them.
Find the local farmer who has extra raw milk you can buy that can be turned into cream, sour cream, cheese, butter, etc. Find a good local butcher and buy half a cow or half a pig. Buy organic, free-range chickens where you can talk to the man who raised them and know they were raised correctly. Find the hobby farmer with extra eggs.
If you can’t have a garden, use your weekend mornings to hit up the local farmer’s market and buy the organic fresh fruits and vegetables and can or freeze them to feed you through the winter months. Turn these into your sauces, pickles, jams, pie fillings, etc. Can whole fruits and vegetables to have as easy side dishes in the winter months, or make soups with them for quick and easy dinners, ready to go months ahead of time.
Look into getting bees and collect your own honey year after year. If you have a maple tree you could tap it and make your own maple syrup for the year. Every item you can make yourself is one more item that you no longer need to buy, and you can often make it for just a fraction of the cost.
As you can see, homesteading can be done anywhere. If you can’t raise your own meat, or have your own garden, there are ways to allow you to enjoy the benefits that come with homesteading. It just requires the desire and drive to motivate you to go the extra steps to make yourself as self-sufficient as possible.
The question I always get asked though is, “Why homestead?” Why go to the trouble of doing all of this myself, when I can just go buy it from the grocery store and save a ton of time? My answer always is, “Because I love it.” Once you start trying to become more self-sufficient, you will begin to crave it more and more. I started small, with just a backyard garden with a total of maybe ten plants, and now, four years later, I am obsessed with growing, raising, or making everything I can, myself.
Two winters ago, in the middle of a snowstorm, I was craving some zucchini and cherry tomatoes. I went and purchased some from the grocery store, ate some, and stored the rest in my fridge. Within two days, those fruits had started growing mold on their surface. The integrity of the fruit was still there though. There was no discoloration, no softness, no blemishes, nothing. But, still, the mold was rapidly growing.
Around this same time, I had bought a loaf of sandwich bread and it got lost in a cabinet, as things do. About a month or so later, long enough that I had no recollection of purchasing the bread, I pulled it out and the bread was still perfectly edible. No mold, yellowness, staleness… nothing. If you have ever baked homemade bread, you know that bread only lasts five to six days at best, before growing mold. This mold either grew or didn’t grow because of the preservatives in these items.
I am not someone who screams that everything that goes into my body must be 100% organic and natural, but I do shy away from these foods knowing how many unnatural, man-made things are in what should be a natural food item.
Preservatives aren’t the only reason to homestead. Folks with gluten sensitivities and/or food-dye allergies can benefit from growing and preserving food themselves. For example, a lot of spices (like onion powder), have gluten added to them to keep the powder from clumping, meaning that someone with a gluten allergy cannot use many store-bought spices. However, a simple dehydrator and a food processor or blender can turn an organic onion into a gluten-free onion powder that’s safe for everyone. Most all store-bought yogurts and popsicles have food dyes in them that have shown to cause multiple issues, especially in kids; those can be completely eliminated by making your own at home. Even if you don’t have the ability, time, resources, or desire to grow it yourself, buy your fruits and vegetables from a local and organic farmer and provide yourself some peace of mind about what you are feeding your family.
Finally, that brings us to the last part of being a modern homesteader, and I think, the most fun part of homesteading as a whole. Homesteading isn’t just about growing or raising food. It’s about producing items on your own homestead.
In the food category, one by one, commit yourself to start making all your own homemade breads, all the mayonnaise and salad dressings your family consumes, all the tortillas, the yogurt, and more. Once you gain one skill, move on to the next. You will be surprised at how quickly you adjust. When making a sandwich, for example, your mind will quickly retrain itself to not reach for the jar of mayonnaise but reach for the egg carton and the oil so you can whip it up yourself. But it doesn’t stop there.
Learn how to dip your own candle sticks, make your own herbal tea blends, both medicinal and just for enjoyment, make your own soaps and shampoos, etc. All these things are easy and fun projects that not only give you new skills, but they also help cut out your dependence on the grocery stores, therefore cutting your grocery store bill drastically, making you increasingly independent.
All these things are great, sure. However, if anything, the last two years have shown us that our “normal” life can change in an instance, and we should be ready to deal with any unplanned changes. In this day and age, we take for granted the convenience of many things, so much so that a lot of the older practices and ways of life have been lost to a lot of people.
When the grocery stores initially were emptied at the start of Covid-19, and even now as food shortages continue across the country, knowing how to feed your family has jumped to the top of many people’s to-do lists. When everyone else was running to the grocery stores, buying everything they could find, I was safe at home knowing—without even preparing—that I could get by for a few weeks, or even months, on the food I had put away from last year’s garden. Plus, I had the knowledge to grow additional food for my family.
While we love having the convenience of grocery stores, we shouldn’t be dependent on them. At the end of the day, if the grocery store is empty, you still have to feed your family. Shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Well, the grocery store was empty again today,” isn’t going to work. A convenience item is great… if it’s there. When it’s not there though, what do you do?
You don’t need to raise and butcher a pig to be a homesteader these days. Modern-Day Homesteading is about doing what works for you and your family. I encourage you to look around your home and see what you can do for yourself. What condiments can you make yourself and stop buying? Turn that green grass lawn into a garden that will work for you, a yard that will feed your family and save you money in the process. Can you spend one afternoon making soap for your family that will last for a year? If you think you can’t begin to homestead until you have your own land one day, I’m here to tell you that that way of thinking is wrong and outdated. As Jessica Sowards from Roots and Refuge Farm says: “Turn your waiting room into a classroom.” Is it hard? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely. No matter where you are, it is never too late to learn something new, and you will never regret planting that garden or freezing those veggies. That, I promise you.