Is homesteading today still possible and practical?
Is homesteading still possible? The answer is yes, but homesteading today is different than you might expect from the tradition of pioneer days. It is still possible to live self-sufficiently on a small piece of land; it's just that many of the tools and technique to achieve your homestead dream have changed.
By the way, I was inspired to write this piece about the realities of homesteading today by a recent catastrophe here at the farm. On July 21, a hail storm hit our farm and just about wiped out our market garden.
Despite our protective measures, the destruction to the garden was just about total. The hail was heavy enough to shred the row cover protecting our plants, and even punched holes in my poly-covered greenhouse. I also found one little laying hen that had been killed by the deluge.
This was a devastating blow. The families that were expecting veggies from us will receive nothing at all for at least 3 weeks. And of course we lose the extra income we were receiving from the overflow produce at a local market.
But, we are soldiering on. We are doubling and tripling up on plantings for fall deliveries, to make up for some of the losses. We will use our little greenhouse and some other season extension techniques to stretch out the season. It won't be perfect, but it's what we can do.
So, to get something positive out of this event, I decided to write something about the realities of small farm and homestead living, and how things have changed from 'pioneer days'.
Finding land for your homestead
As an example of things changing, finding free land in exchange for developing it is a rare situation these days. There are no national programs currently in existence to provide free homestead lands. And while there are still rural communities that will deed you a property if you commit to building a home on it, the opportunity is not realistic for most people.
True homesteading properties tend to be in remote and fairly isolated parts of the country. While the land, the people and the lifestyle may have some old-fashioned attractive charm, opportunities to make a living will be restricted.
There are also restrictions on these local programs, and some may include penalties if you fail to comply with the conditions. If you want to pursue the search for free land, try Googling "find free land" and following up with what you find.
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So if you plan on homesteading today, you will most likely have to acquire your homestead land by purchasing it
. Here's a few points to consider when
buying a rural property
There are still bargains available in good land once you get outside of major urban centers. The amount of land you buy will depend on what type of homesteading enterprises you plan to carry on to support yourself. Here are some suggestions for
deciding what to farm on a small property
The tools and skills you need to survive on your homestead today
have also changed. While many 'old-fashioned' methods of gardening, animal husbandry, and home-scale construction are still valid, there are appropriate technologies that can be applied to make the job easier. There will always be sufficient work to do on your homestead
without making it harder by refusing to use technology when it makes sense. I am a big believer in taking advantage of the technologies while we have them,
and at the same time planning for how I would do without them if necessary.
Are you psychologically ready for homesteading today?
Homesteading today can be stressful; at times over the last 10 years I've been broke and literally not known where the next dollar was coming from. And there is always more work to do than time (or money) to get it done. And, things don't always work out like you plan; it sometimes seems to me that Mother Nature is carrying on an illicit affair with Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame.)
So, stuff will happen on your homestead; and you will be the one that has to solve the problem and save the day. As well as all the practical skills – e.g. gardening, plumbing, animal husbandry, carpentry, equipment repair, marketing, business planning (those last two might surprise you but they are necessary) – you need the emotional resilience and entrepreneurial attitude to treat problems like learning opportunities, and keep on truckin'.
However, don't let this discourage you; despite the ups and downs, this is still the best job I have ever hallucinated. Carving your own path holds a lot of satisfaction that is unknown to the denizens of cubicle farms in corporations everywhere.
If you are still not sure about making the leap to your own homestead, read my
BIG FAIL page
and maybe be inspired to give it a try.
How much homestead do you need?
I think its a mistake to take on more land than you can efficiently manage. It takes a lot of attention and effort get full use from even a small property. You can get a lot of food from very little land, if you integrate animal and garden production and use intensive growing methods.
Based on my experience raising chickens, pastured pigs, and market gardening here at New Terra Farm, I would suggest that you could raise an appreciable portion of your own food on about one-quarter acre (10,000 square feet). Check out my
Quarter acre farm plan
This much land in good condition would let you raise a batch of 50 chicken, 2 pigs, and have a large garden as well. You could also have some laying hens roaming around to provide eggs, set up a beehive or 5, and plant the perimeter of your property to fruit and nut trees to provide even more food.
If you are planning to make money on your homestead, I would suggest that a 1 acre mini-farm is about the most two people could handle with primarily hand tools. You can see more about this in my
one acre farm plan
The one acre mini-farm could provide 80% or more of your own food, as well as a surplus for sale to bring in some cash.
If you have or can acquire farm equipment, you could homestead a larger piece of property and produce a full-time income. You can see my
five acre farm plan
for ideas on how this might work.
You're gonna need some cash for homesteading today
Despite how things have changed, homesteading today is still all about self-sufficiency. This means you will probably need to generate some cash income working from home. Even if you are lucky enough (or careful enough) to be mortgage-free, some cash income will always be required, if only to pay property taxes. For further reading . . .
One of those 'appropriate technologies' I mentioned previously makes this more possible than ever: the Internet. The Internet makes starting an online business from home
more realistic than ever, and well within reach of most people.
The technology and the tools are so good these days, that anyone, regardless of technical skill or experience, can learn to create an income-generating website.
I truly believe this is one of the greatest opportunities for sustainable, practical, homesteading today. You can create a real work-from-home business on your own time, one that has the potential to significantly change your life.
My Internet business provides a significant portion of my farm income; in fact it generates enough cash to pay the mortgage on the farm itself!
And (BIG POINT) my online business keeps producing income regardless of what happens with my garden - as you can imagine this is a particular comfort under my present circumstances.
You can read more here about how a simple farmer/poet came to
grow a successful online business
If you are thinking about homesteading today, now is the time to start planning for next season. Check out the links below and the resources at right to help you make 2011 a successful year on your homestead . . .
There's a world of difference between the typical home garden and a successful market garden. Here's some thing you need to know about
vegetable farming for profit
Growing a high income market garden is within the reach of most growers. It's possible to gross $40,000 or more from a one-acre garden, but achieving this revenue depends on careful crop selection, good marketing, and efficient work methods.
Here are some suggestions for the most profitable crops to grow in your market garden.
The High Income Market Garden
Vegetable garden site selection is critical for the success of your homestead or market garden. You need to consider the following factors in
selecting your vegetable garden site
A backyard nursery can be a profitable home-based business for the new grower or would-be small farmer. Learn the ropes here Start a backyard nursery
If you are a homestead gardening beginner, here's a great gardening video and book course that will have you growing a bountiful, sustainable garden in no time. Read my review of
the Food4Wealth gardening system
How much money can you make raising chickens for meat on your homestead? Here's a sample budget for
raising chickens for meat and money
If you want to raise a large number of meat chickens on your homestead, you don't need to spend a lot of money to build a chicken coop. Check out the
New Terra Farm Movable Coop
If you just want to raise a few chickens for eggs, and need plans to build a small or medium sized coop to shelter your hens, these are the
best chicken coop plans
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) might be defined as a partnership between farmers and consumers. CSA is a great model to start homesteading today, and can provide you the start-up cash you need to launch your market garden. Find out more about
Community Supported Agriculture
Raise a livestock animal that can actually improve your land. Raising pigs on pasture is a great way to put some food in your freezer and a little folding money in your wallet.
Raising Pigs on Pasture
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