What Does Homesteading Mean to You?

For me, homesteading began with food. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, all I wanted to do was find, grow and eat local food. I was convinced the only way for my family to eat a grassfed turkey for Thanksgiving was to grow it myself. That’s the moment I became a farmer.

Unfortunately, I was still living smack-dab in the middle of suburbia, so raising livestock just wasn’t an option. While I waited for my farm dreams to come true, I focused my energy on things I could do immediately to feed my family more healthfully, while saving money, so that we could one day be able to live on a farm.

At that time, my oldest child was only a few months old, and we were drinking organic milk and eating organic vegetables, but we were still fully engaged in the industrial food system. I made it my goal to visit the Farmer’s Market every week that summer, and found a wide variety of foods I had never heard of. And boy, was it expensive! I realized immediately that if we were going to be purchasing real food, from real farmers, we were going to have to spend less in other areas of our life to make up the difference. And it was something I was committed to.

That summer was the first time I ever cooked a whole chicken, and after three years I can finally say I feel comfortable with that. We started out roasting the whole bird every time, but I felt we were wasting a lot of meat {not to mention the carcass} so last year I started cutting the bird before cooking it. Now we eat the breasts and tenders one night, the legs another night, and save the carcass for making stock.

The challenge of cooking a real, whole chicken was just the beginning of my journey to homesteading. In the kitchen, we started baking our own bread, making our own jam and apple butter, and eating fresh, local vegetables nearly every night of the week. One way we save money for fresh veggies is pretty simple: we purchase less meat, and instead rely on other non-meat forms of protein, like beans. I now have hundreds of delicious vegetarian recipes that allow my family to enjoy our meals together – and feel satisfied –without eating chicken breasts every night. Those three meals we get out of our Farmer’s Market chicken? They last us three weeks. We limit our dinners out, and buy almost no prepared foods, opting instead to make our own popcorn, rice crispy treats, fruit bars, and more. Making our own food means I know exactly what goes into everything, and allows me to eliminate sugar almost entirely. We don’t buy “instant” oatmeal, and rarely do we buy cereal. Instead we make our own oatmeal, granola, muffins, and scones and spend those dollars we save on pasture-raised chicken eggs which we enjoy almost every other day.

Rather than purchasing canned beans, we buy dry beans in bulk. They’re ridiculously affordable, and really not that hard to prepare, so I feel good knowing my kids are eating organic beans, organic rice, organic barley, and organic oats. We buy bushels of fruit when they’re in season, meaning we pay much less for “low-spray” fruit that was grown right around the corner – which is good for us, and good for the farmer who grew it.

But homesteading means more than just where you shop for groceries. To me, it’s a lifestyle. And what’s interesting is that a lot of our frugal family choices are ecologically-friendly too. We chose cloth diapers for our children because we couldn’t stand to send bags and bags of paper diapers to the landfills where they would never decompose, so we reduced our environmental impact while also saving thousands of dollars in disposable diapers. We use cloth napkins, towels and washcloths in the kitchen. The kids and I use cloth wipes at home, meaning we buy about ¼ the toilet paper we did two years ago. We shop at thrift stores and consignment stores for nearly everything for the kids and myself {My husband works a “real job” so he shops the big sales for his work clothes, or uses Christmas money to purchase new items}. Clothes, shoes, toys, books, canning jars, bookcases – whatever you need, you can probably find it used and for a lot less than what you would pay at a retail store. I still use Amazon for hard-to-find books, but purchase them used whenever possible. We utilize Craigslist for big-ticket items like our {1996 Ford F150} farm truck, our {1974 Massey Ferguson 135} tractor, and the trailer we’re using for our eggmobile. Every purchase is made with re-useability and longevity in mind. I absolutely abhor re-buying things, so I sometimes spend a little more now {say, $30 on a set of enamelware picnic plates} instead of spending more over time for something that will be thrown away.

We try to save money and do-it-ourselves in other ways too. We believe children deserve a better education than what is being offered in public schools today, but the cost of private school is insane, so instead, we plan to homeschool our two children. We will have the opportunity to spend countless hours of quality time with them, not just rushing them to and from the bus every day. We get to take extended vacations – any time of year, like during the “off-season” when attractions are easily half as expensive. We can really get to know them, and they us, as we grow and learn as a family.

We eliminate unnecessary expenses wherever we can and utilize free programs and events in town like story time at the library, music in the park, parades, festivals, etc. And though I can’t seem to get my husband to give up the television, we only pay for basic, basic subscription now. Don’t get me wrong, we both have iPhones {good luck trying to get mine away from me}. We choose to spend a little extra on our cell phones and instead gave up having a landline.

And now that we have moved to a place with a little more space – we’re doing more “real” homesteading. We built a garden and have planted mostly beans, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash and a few other things, with the hope that we can dry and can the excess to use over winter. This is our first real attempt at stocking a larder, so my expectations are very low. Saving seeds will allow us to spend less next year when it comes time to replant the garden. And eggs? The biggest expense in switching to a whole food, grassfed diet, is animal protein, and eggs are no exception. We were paying $4.00 per dozen in Georgia, $5.00 over the winter, and found a farmer at our local Farmer’s Market here in Pennsylvania that will sell them for $6.00/doz. For a family that now eats about 2 dozen eggs per week, it was easy to see what our second farm enterprise would be. Growing, feeding and caring for 12 laying hens will not be very cost-effective this year {we don’t expect to get eggs until late fall}, but with plans to feed our birds entirely on grass and then hatch out our own chicks next year, we hope to reduce our off-farm inputs dramatically in the future.

I have grand plans for our little farm {like, maybe someday it won’t be so little}, but in the mean time I’m doing everything I can to make living closer to home more comfortable and enjoyable. I experiment with everything in our CSA box; learning to cook once-foreign vegetables has become somewhat of a delight for me. I read books. All the time. I’m getting a thorough and enjoyable “free” education in composting, organic gardening, raising grassfed meat, raising chickens, living more sustainably, homeschooling, sewing, knitting, and more. I attend free seminars, did a few months worth of an un-paid internship last year, and have joined every club and Facebook Group I can find involved in the local food/local anything community where I now live. And I write this blog, where I can share my experience with you, and hope that you will share yours too.Image

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Become a Master Composter

NEW Master Composter Program

If you enjoy working with people, digging in the dirt and talking “trash”, we want you to become a volunteer Master Composter with the Athens-Clarke County Master Composting Program! Become a home composting expert and teach your family, friends, neighbors, and fellow community members, “How to Compost”.

Master Composters are an elite group of volunteers who have undergone an extensive training class in all aspects of the composting process, and then use that information to teach others how to turn their organic material into a beneficial soil amendment.

Master Composter Program Information Expectations:

  1. Complete the training course and field trips – (8 classes and 2 field trips)
  2. Complete class project
  3. Volunteer a minimum of 40 hours back to the program


Typical Volunteer Duties:

  1. Teaching or assisting staff with compost workshops.
  2. Staffing composting information booths at various public education and outreach events.
  3. Giving lectures on composting to various civic, community, and garden groups.
  4. Giving hands-on presentations or assisting staff with school compost programs


Program Details:

DATES: Tuesday evenings, January 10th – February 28th, 2012 including two field trips on Saturdays (February 11th and 18th) to exemplary commercial, farm, and residential composting facilities.

TIMES: 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

LOCATION: ACC Solid Waste Department Administration Building Training Room, 725 Hancock Industrial Way, Athens 30605

COST: $100

TO REGISTER: Contact ACC Cooperative Extension at (706) 613-3640

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit athensclarkecounty.com/recycling or download the registration form here.

~ Special thanks to my dad for this awesome Christmas gift,
even if you do think it’s weird to love compost! ~