What is a modern homestead? This is such an open answer. Many people have answered it and even though all of the people live very differently and are striving for very different lifestyles, but yet we are all related in our thoughts and goals.
I am a mother of two young boys living in the northern suburbs on a piece of land. Our family has decided to use this piece of land to grow our own food and raise livestock. Plain and simple.
But homesteader’s goals are so much bigger. Homesteading is a life of frugality, managing waste, and being overall self-sufficient.
Let’s back up. Think of the word homestead, what do you think? I think of a farm in the late 1800’s. No water. No electricity. No supermarkets. Everything is homemade. Everything is original. You make what you need and it has to function properly, for as long as possible. They are not trying to make things overly pretty (which to me makes its own beauty). Homestead reminds me of family, work, struggle (sometimes even to live), livestock, gardens, preserving, and being overall self-sufficient. If they need it, they make it, grow it, or sell something to get it.
What about modern? We live in the 21st Century. We do have electronics and electricity, water, supermarkets, and we are not struggling to live as they were. There are so many privileges and resources that were not available in the 1800s. So how do we incorporate that old life to our? Who would WANT to live like that?
In my opinion, modern homesteading is living the best of both worlds. We get to have the best of both worlds. We get to have technology and knowledge and learn to appreciate how our elders lived. Connecting with food, connecting with nature, connecting with people. We have the privilege of the internet, to reach out to people and learn, and do not have to make a day trip just to learn from other farmers.
Okay… so, what is a modern homestead? Understanding self-sufficiency and implementing such a lifestyle is key to this way of life. Buying less, throwing away less, and connecting to what we do have and learn to do things for ourselves. This may all sound daunting and loony – I mean I think so too, but hear me out…
Old-School vs. Modern Homesteading.
Old homesteaders use gardens as their only source for fresh food. They were connected to their food, they worked hard to have flourishing crops. They were professionals at where to plant food, how to plant food, and how to produce a strong bounty. If they failed their gardens, they could not eat. They calculated how much food they needed to grow to produce for their specific households. People ate to live and worked to eat.
Nowadays we do not have such pressure. The supermarket is up the road or there are farmer’s markets in nearly every city. I couldn’t tell you how many heads of lettuce my family eats in a year, I couldn’t tell you what I would need to supply my family of four for an entire year. I definitely couldn’t tell you how I would go about confidently growing such amounts of food, let alone preserving it. Modern homesteaders strive to grow more of their own. Not all modern homesteaders strive to grow all of their own, some are happy growing a few tomato plants. The important part is being connected to the food and supplying a better-quality food. As long as you do not use harsh chemicals, you can grow your own organic food right in your backyard.
This brings me to my next point, because if you are growing acres of food, then you need to preserve it. Preserving food can be done many ways, and this post is not to discuss all of the ways, but to discuss the importance of it. Old homestead families needed to have precise and accurate recipes to preserve all kinds of food. If they did not preserve food throughout the winter, then they would not have food. They would not eat. If the food spoiled, they could get sick. Preserving food is detrimental to survival.
Supermarkets save the day again. Factories preserve our food and can our food. Large shipments of fresh food throughout the world are shipped to local stores, we do not even need to eat preserved food anymore. However, it turns out that preserving food not only allowed consumption throughout the months, but it also provided essential nutrients such as in fermentation. The natural process that fills our food with probiotics and healthy bacteria. We can preserve our food to grow healthy bacteria, or to have access to our own organic nutrients year-round. Preserving food can be done in many forms – freezing, canning, fermenting, dehydrating, etc…
Livestock each had their own purpose: cows provided labor, milk, and meat; chickens provided eggs and meat; horses provided great labor, pigs provided lard, meat, and (from a farm I have visited) the bristles helped to keep hands clean when working. Sheep provided fiber for the family to make clothes and blankets, some extracted lanolin. Each animal had their own purpose and was respected as a laborer in their respected field, so to say. When they could no longer provide, they were typically eaten (when applicable) to fulfill their entire circle-of-life-journey.
Have you heard of my footless chicken? What about the chicken infirmary I sometimes keep in my house? I have a chicken that got frostbitten feet and currently is living in our house until she heals, maybe forever. Time will tell. Back in the day, she would definitely been “taken care of.” Now, not all modern homesteaders are as crazy as I am, some strive to live more like the old homesteaders. That’s the beauty of it. You do not need all of these animals, or you can have easier access to a greater array of animals to provide your specific needs. Some people raise smaller animals for meat, especially where chickens are not allowed. Some modern homesteaders do not have animals at all, especially if they are vegan or vegetarian. Livestock is just another piece of the pie.
There were not weekly garbage services, there were not landfills. Each thing had a purpose and a place. This was easier, because there was no supermarket packaging and plastic materials. Most things went to the compost – if it was in any way from the earth, it can be transformed back into the earth. Paper, plants, food, even hair, livestock waste, old clothing (no polyester, just cotton or wool), etc… Compost was then fed to the gardens to grow more food. Meat may have been placed in compost, but it attracts wild animals, which were not welcome on the farm. Animals that were eaten were then boiled in a broth until they were basically nothing. Every morsel was given a purpose. Certain animals that could not be eaten were buried back into the earth. Everything they used was natural, therefore everything could break down into nutrients.
As a whole, the United States throws away a LOT. Approximately 4.4lbs per person PER DAY according to the Environmental Protection Agency. We can recycle more, yes…but what else? Compost. A box of organic garbage will marinate in the right environment and turn into organic garden gold. Another way to reduce waste is to re-use. Re-usable food storage, re-usable utensils, re-purposing old items, and many other things. Ever since our family has switched to composting, we went from emptying our trash can nearly daily to almost weekly! Ya. What?! Who hates emptying the trash and has two thumbs? THIS GIRL! Composting, recycling, choosing to NOT purchase plastic or synthetic materials, up-cycling, re-purposing, are all great examples of waste management in a modern homestead.
Being in an old homestead meant that you provided all of your own. You could sell extras if you were in the right place, and people needed it. Other than that, unless goods or services were traded, you didn’t have much money. The farm was the biggest asset.
Growing your own food, taking care of your own waste, buying less plastic and re-using more – all of this is creating a type of self-sufficiency. It is not only empowering, but can be financially freeing.
You may be thinking, this all sounds great but I do not have anything and this all sounds so daunting. Adding a garden, animals, shelter, everything is expensive. My answer is yes, it can be expensive… but it does not have to be. Look around for scrap material that is cheap/free, pallets are often cheap/free. Ask around for things you need, network yourself. Join local seed exchanges for your garden. Grow your own sourdough starter, make whey to ferment food. Each of these systems, if done properly, should be fairly self-sufficient.
This is how every modern homesteader is so vastly different. We are not all gifted with a family farm, some even live on tiny city lots. The idea is to strive for your own version of a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Whether you have a small garden, preserve food, raise livestock, reduce waste, or adopt a few self-sufficient strategies, it is all a constant step forward to the old lifestyle. Except we have the advantage of living in the time we are now.
Maybe you are a modern homesteader and didn’t even know it?
What goals are you working toward? Comment below!
If you ever have any questions, or ideas for future blogs, comment below or shoot me an email!
From the farm,