Thursday, October 25, 2018

Homesteader Defined

A couple of days ago I made pork chops for dinner and then posted the above photo and following comment on Facebook. "Pan fried, pasture raised, Red Wattle pork chops with home grown garlic. Tonight is an excellent night to be a homesteader."

A Facebook follower then sent me a message and asked "Could you explain the exact meaning of homesteader in this day and age?"  An excellent question. So, here you go M.K. a blog post about being a homesteader in 2018, but first a bit of history.

The original definition came from the federal Homestead Act of 1862. Specifically it applied to large areas of unsettled land, usually about 160 acres in the western states, which could be granted to any US citizen who lived and farmed that land for at least five acres. Today the definition is broad and encompasses a house, some outbuildings and people to live and work there. Usually, homesteader is applied to those who live in rural residences but the term "urban homesteader" has gained popularity. Think of those folks who raise veggies and bees on New York city rooftops.

The almighty Wikipedia further defines it as a lifestyle of self-sufficiency which includes food preservation, sustainable agriculture. and small scale production of salable goods like textiles or crafts. They also state that homesteading is more than just rural village or commune living in that most homesteads are isolated. 

Our unconventional homestead above surrounded on four sides by conventional fields
New barn is the silver building in the middle
With all that said, here is what homesteading is to Keith and I. Simply, it just means raising, growing, cooking, preserving, recycling, reinventing, reusing as much as we can while spending as little as we can. We work extremely hard here at home so we don't have to work so hard away from home in order to enjoy our home. 

I understand, that's a bit convoluted, especially in light of the fact that Keith has a full time off farm job. In fact, since we started this whole self-sufficient hippie homesteader thing just four years ago, it's unlikely we'll ever be totally self-sufficient by the time we die. But each year we get a bit closer. Our plan is for Keith and I both to be home full time. 

Lets talk specifics about our self proclaimed homesteader label.

Food. We raise or grow about 80% of all our own food. This means all our meat: beef, pork and chicken, all our eggs and milk. We preserve (via canning or freezing) lots of veggies from our summer gardens but not yet enough to get us through the whole winter and spring. We do buy fruit, flour and sugar but raise bees for lots of honey. One day we'll raise our own wheat for flour, and we have several fruit trees gaining maturity. Any food scraps goes to dogs, chickens or pigs. Extras become fall d├ęcor.

Clothing. No, I don't make our own clothes but we buy about 95% of our clothing in thrift stores or at garage sales. We also happily take freebie clothes offered from relatives. Keith usually needs replacement chore boots once a year and it's unusual to find good ones in his size at the thrift stores.

Utilities. We provide 100% of the heat needed in our grain bin house via our Rocket Mass Stove. The wood comes from our property which we gather and cut. We do use a small 100 pound propane tank to run our gas cook stove. Electricity still comes from "the man." as solar panels are not in our current budget. We do not own a microwave, dishwasher or clothes dryer so our electricity bill is small. We each have a simple smartphone and use TracFone for our data at the cost of $25/month for both. We do not have cable or regular TV, just Netflix at $7.99/month.

Transportation. We drive very old vehicles with very high mileage. Three vehicles insured at minimal liability costs us less than $40/month. 

Disposable goods. We only buy toilet paper. A girl needs some luxuries. We do not buy paper towels, plates or napkins. No glad bags, aluminum foil or plastic wrap. We do use plastic bags given to us by family and we use newspaper to spread oil in pans, clean windows, wrap leftovers or to wrap gifts.

Personal hygiene. I make our own toothpaste, deodorant, laundry soap, bath soap and shampoo bars.

Hot process soap, made in a crockpot
Home improvement projects. We recycle, reuse, beg, borrow and barter for supplies whenever we can. Currently we are dismantling an old house on our property and setting the pieces it aside to finish the building of a 'new" barn made with about 70% recycled materials. For example, the floorboards of the old house have been removed and set aside and soon will serve as the new floorboards in the two lofts of our barn. See picture below. 

I thinks that's enough specifics. Overall for us M.K., homesteading means that if (when) our country's infrastructures begin to fail, we will have the ability to feed, heat and shelter ourselves and any other family members who want to jump aboard.  Like the homesteaders of the past, our residence is not likely to ever make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens but it will fill our bellies and keep us comfy and warm for some time to come. 

Why do we homestead? Because it is a deeply satisfying (although often exhausting) way to live. I worked for others outside the home for decades, mostly in nursing. I made a good salary and had all the wonderful benefits but I did not have the benefit of time. My time did not belong to me, it belonged to my bosses. What I gained in "security" I lost in time away from my children, my husband and the pursuit of things that made me happy, like reading, writing and making super excellent tomato juice. 

I hope that answers your question M.K. Thanks for asking it!


  1. Love post. I feel very much the same. I'll lucky to get to be here pretty much full time and although I do still worm I can choose to look at things and decide what I'd rather do. Build a bed from scratch or earn the money to buy it for example. I nearly always make it.

    1. I find myself making so much more each year. Keith has all the woodworking skills but today he had me out pouring concrete. Every year news skills, mostly out of pure necessity!

  2. Replies
    1. Well thanks. Most days it's good, while others, it's just plain exhausting.

  3. In the UK they tend to use the words 'smallholding' or 'smallholders'. There is also a new term 'hobby farmers' which I find ridiculous, and usually refers to people who have two chickens and a donkey in a small paddock.

    1. Yes, that "hobby farmer" thing is over here too. I don't care how others refer to themselves just don't call ME a hobby farmer. This isn't a hobby, it's hard work.

  4. I love this post! You so hit the nail on the head. I felt like I was reading about Dan and me except we don't have Netflix (yes, we have two Tracfones!) Everything you said is very true, and I think you did an excellent job explaining it to others. I'd like to add a link to this post in my "Homesteading Viewpoints" sidebar if it's okay.

    1. Of course that's ok Leigh. I so respect all the hard work you and Dan do together, it's be an honor to be a link on your blog!

  5. Thanks to MK for asking the question and to you, Donna, for providing such a complete answer. I greatly admire that you and Keith can provide for yourselves by raising most of your own food, recycling, re-purposing and so many other ways you conserve. I sadly admit that I'm not in that league by any means. However, I do shop at thrift stores not because I "have to" but realize that clothing and other items can and should be re-purposed. I look for bargains and while I do not have room to stockpile things in our apt space, I do try to reduce over-spending. Even for us who re not homesteaders in the purest sense, there are ways to cut back on waste.

    1. We do what we can do as we are able to do it. Fifteen years ago Keith and I raised thousands and thousands of pounds of organic meat for restaurants and grocery stores while we ate cheap processed unhealthy food ourselves. Too tired to cook our own products! Each year we do a bit better in the self-sufficiency arena and by the time we're dead...we should be experts! Or we'll die trying :)


Comments are good, as long as you're a real person and not some goof telling me how you were cured of hepatitis by snorting a pulverized neon blue crayon. Your comments don't even have to agree with my viewpoint, I love a good discussion, but civility does matter.