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

Ladies Woodcutting Party

This weekend I spent a day with some great friends, on a beautiful farm, chopping wood. And even though almost every part of my body is in some degree of pain, I had a blast!

Our fearless leader had already spent hours teaching us how to use chainsaws and axes safely while on our Ladies Homestead Gathering Retreat, but we were eager for more practice. When she mentioned having a few downed trees on her property in need of removal, we jumped at the chance to help. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout – over 20 adults and nearly 10 children! And, in LHG style, we enjoyed the most amazing pre-Thanksgiving potluck picnic!