By Alexis Griffee
Homesteading and self-sufficient living is the talk of the town at the moment. It is cool to be a homesteader. This trend is a great thing. It has brought many people back to their roots and helped families and entire communities get back in touch with their food and the land! However, I have also seen a problem that this has created.
Having Realistic Expectations for Self-Sufficient Living
While riding the wave of this new trend, many people seek to make money off of those who are new to this and do not have the experience to discern truth. Books abound on numerous gimmicks self-sufficient living all promising to make you rich, or that you can do more than possible on your land. We often have new people contact us with grand ideas in their heads about homesteading. They have done their research (or so they thought) by reading, and are ready to tackle the bull by the horns. However, there is so much more to homesteading than any book will be able to tell you!
The biggest problem that I see is unrealistic expectations for their land. We have a small farm ourselves, 2.5 acres, and have had to work very hard to implement the things we want for our land. In addition, we have also had to realize that there are some things we simply do not have the land to do.
One family contacted me stating that they were purchasing half an acre with a home. Don’t get me wrong—much can be done on that property—however, they thought that they would be able to fit horses, bees, large gardens, poultry, a goat herd, an orchard, and probably a cow on this piece. When we tried to explain that there simply wasn’t enough room for such big dreams on that property, they took it as an insult instead of experience trying to save them from years of frustration. There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you have a limited amount of land and then planning accordingly.
You Don’t Need To Do It All At Once
It is hard to be a “jack of all trades” and many people, especially those just starting out, do not need to try to do it all at once. If you have half an acre, you can have a very successful garden, an apiary, and some poultry easily! However, you won’t be able to successfully keep a herd of cows on that land too, and that is fine. Networking is a homesteader’s best tool. Look for other farmers in your area. Maybe there is a dairy farmer who simply does not have the time to grow those beautiful vegetables that you can. Work out a trade deal with them! You can still ditch that reliance on the grocery store by trading.
You can also learn so much from other homestead farmers. As time progresses, maybe you will be able to step up from that half-acre parcel. By then, you will have the farm contacts, gained real-life experience, seen firsthand what works or what could be done better, and you will be able to make an informed choice about setting up your next property and how you want to specialize.
Homesteading Locations and Homesteading Laws
Another problem that is not mentioned in many books is location. If an author writes a book on homesteading in California, I cannot use it as my primary guide if I plan on homesteading in Alaska. Self-sufficient living, especially gardening, is very regional. Animals may have issues with certain diseases or parasites in one part of the country, but be fine in another. This is why it is so important to check out your local Cooperative Extension office, visit and talk to other farmers in your area, and take in all of the advice that you can. If they are successful homesteaders, they have been through the trial and error themselves and do not want to see you waste seasons or years on making the same mistakes they did.
If you are planning a big move to your new homestead, make sure that you have researched the state and local laws as well. Just because there is a property that seems big does not always mean that you can farm or keep livestock on it. Zoning can be tricky and what once was a farm may no longer be zoned for it. Before you purchase and before you move, make sure that you have thoroughly checked out the rules.
Additionally, some states have laws against things like collecting rain water, or being completely off grid. You need to know about these laws before you sell everything you have to chase your self-sufficient living dreams in a state that does not allow what you hope for.
Geographic Information Systems
Another secret that many people do not know is that most counties have a GIS (Geographic Information System) program online or a GIS department. If you are looking at a particular parcel or tract of land, you can either go online or contact them to get detailed information about the property. Most of this information will cover elevation, contours, flood areas, soil types, vegetation types, wetland zones, and so much more. This information is usually provided for free and can help you make an informed decision before you buy, or even on where to plant your garden or arrange pastures on your current land.
Think Outside Of The Box And Take Your Time
Sometimes our dreams for self-sufficient living are bigger than our land, and that is okay—as long as you realize it. Thinking outside of the box is a trait many homesteaders and farmers possess. We are currently limited by our land, yet we noticed that our neighbors had vacant pasture land. We approached them about a land lease and they agreed. This allowed them to have us deal with the land upkeep and maintenance, provides them with a small supplemental income, and gives us the chance to expand a bit.
Don’t despair if you don’t have the room you need right away. Look for a solution! Sometimes being limited can be a blessing in disguise! It is so easy to want to do everything that homesteaders do, but not fully learn about the how and why before jumping in. This can lead to failures and frustration. Take your time, learn, and set realistic goals.
It’s All About Perspective
The self-reliant movement is exactly what our country needs, but we also need to shed the American idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” in order to succeed. We may not have one hundred acres or one hundred head of cattle but we are more self-reliant than most people in the country! We may not have a grade “A” dairy, but we have enough to provide us with milk for our family. Even if your homestead consists of a small garden, this still puts you way ahead of most people. It’s all about perspective, staying grounded, thinking outside of the box, and blooming where you are planted.
Alexis Griffee lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband and four children. She is the owner of a small dairy farm, Watchtower Farm. She also homeschools her children, is a 4-H leader, and active locally in advocating for agriculture and livestock programs throughout the area. http://watchtowerfarm.wix.com/watchtowerfarm