As I contemplate all of the reasons my family has chosen this lifestyle, I find it interesting to see how many different areas of our lives have been improved by the decision to live closer to the land.
It all began with a trip to the farmer’s market back in 2008.
I was a pretty typical 26 year old stay-at-home mom of two. Although I wasn’t super health conscious at the time, somehow I’d come across an article talking about the benefits of drinking raw milk and I was curious to try it. I didn’t even realize at the time that raw milk is illegal to sell in my state.
Having just learned about a small farmer’s market starting up in our sleepy rural town, I decided to scout it out one weekend to see what I might find. When the day arrived, my husband and I along with our two small children piled into our minivan and drove for fifteen minutes through winding country roads until we happened upon a grouping of a dozen or so tables set up in a field adjacent to a large farmhouse. This must be it, I thought. To be honest, it didn’t look like much. I climbed out of the passenger seat and walked over to take a quick peak around.
At the booths I saw vegetables, and plants, baked goods, homemade soaps and fresh eggs. But of course, nobody was selling raw milk.
Although I didn’t find what I was looking for that day, I happened upon something infinitely better. Something I needed more than anything else at that time in my life.
I found a mentor.
I struck up a conversation with one of the ladies selling goods that day, and she began telling me about her “homestead”. It was the first time I’d heard the phrase and I really had no idea what it meant, but I was completely intrigued by what she described to me.
She told me about her cow that supplies her family with milk, and the chickens that give them meat and eggs. She told me about her vegetable garden and the many fruits she was growing. She shared with me about canning, baking homemade bread, making soap, and healing with herbs.
It was all so foreign to me. I soaked up every word.
Over the next several months I would visit this amazing woman often to see what she was doing and to learn from her. I asked a billion questions and then eagerly went home to put her wisdom to practice in my own life.
In the beginning, I was most drawn to homesteading for the money saving aspect of it. Before I started homesteading I was a religious extreme couponer. Every week I’d do my thing and bring home a massive haul of stuff for pennies on the dollar. Over time, however, I began to realize that the stuff I was getting deals on wasn’t the healthiest to consume. Pretty much all of the grocery items I brought home were highly processed. Rarely did I score something fresh.
It’s funny how gardening never even occurred to me as an option back then.
After talking with my new friend and seeing how much food she was able to grow and preserve for her family, the dollars started adding up in my head. Think of how much money we could save on our grocery bill if we grew our own food!
I could hardly contain my excitement. As it so happened, the Father’s plan was set in motion and a few months later we moved onto an acre of land where we tilled up our very first garden plot.
It took a lot of work and plenty of trial and error, but eventually I succeeded in growing food. Never had I felt such satisfaction as the day I made a salad completely from stuff we’d grown in the garden.
Eating from the fruits of our labor brought new enlightenment. For the first time in my life I discovered the immense satisfaction of eating homegrown food picked at the peak of ripeness, rich in vitamins, and lacking any chemical sprays that might be harmful to the health.
Suddenly this homesteading thing had turned into a quest for healthier eating. Becoming mindful of where our food was coming from caused me to contemplate everything that crossed my plate, and especially what was entering into my children’s bodies.
We began our endeavor to grow more and more of our food. I learned to can, dehydrate, and freeze the abundance from the garden. It was wonderful to have a sense of control over our food and what was in it.
Gradually our food storage grew, and with it the realization of how dependent we’d always been on the modern food distribution system. We contemplated, if we were no longer able to get food from the store how would we feed ourselves? Did we really want to depend on others to supply our most basic needs?
Learning that grocery stores only keep three days worth of inventory in stock at any given time was eye opening to us. We stepped up our efforts to become more producers than consumers.
Chickens came to our homestead. And milk goats. And eventually a pig (though we never brought ourselves to butcher her.) My husband began hunting for the first time.
I focused on growing more perennial edibles, things that only need to be planted once and will continue to produce food for years. Berry bushes, fruit trees, strawberries, asparagus, Jerusalem Artichokes, walking onions, and herbs.
Herbs. I’d never really used fresh herbs before I grew them.
I immersed myself in gardening books, learning all I could about plants and their many uses.
Naturally my studies led me into the world of using herbs as medicine, and the garden took on a whole new importance to us.
I began to experiment in small ways with using herbs to treat my family’s minor ailments. Plantain for bee stings. Lavender for sunburns. Peppermint tea for headaches. Garlic for coughs and earaches.
Less and less I was going to the pharmacy for medicine, and more often than not I discovered that I was able to easily treat our needs at home.
It was liberating and empowering.
Our visits to the doctor for every little cough or rash eventually stopped. The appointments I found myself making were reserved only for more serious issues that couldn’t be treated at home, which were extremely rare.
We’d haphazardly stumbled into yet another money saving benefit of homesteading. Eventually we dropped our health insurance. We went to the doctor so infrequently it just didn’t make sense for us to continue forking out a fortune every month for something we weren’t using. Instead, we put that money into a savings account that could be used to pay doctors with cash as needed.
With everything I’d been learning about healthy eating and herbal remedies fresh in my mind, I began to research other ways that we could live healthier lives. This led to a desire to make cleaning products and toiletries at home. Amazingly, it had never crossed my mind that the cleaning products and toiletries we were using every day might have toxic side effects to our bodies and to the environment around us.
I began using herbs and essential oils to make non-toxic household cleaners, laundry detergent, soap, deodorant, tooth paste… you name it I tried it.
Some of my concoctions were complete flops. And some worked like a charm.
Turns out, making cleaning products from simple ingredients like vinegar and baking soda is MUCH cheaper than buying it from the store!
It seemed that we were saving money at every turn, and living healthier because of it!
And then in 2008 the economy took a turn for the worse. You remember. People were losing their jobs, including my husband. The future looked bleak and uncertain.
Nobody knew how bad it would get. Nobody knew what to expect. Everyone felt the tension in the air. Some even talked of a coming civil war.
This was when we realized our need to be more prepared for whatever might lie ahead.
We didn’t like feeling helpless against what was to come. We didn’t like not knowing how we’d provide for our family’s needs in a long term crisis.
We knew we didn’t have enough food stored up. How would we heat our home if we lost electricity? How would we cook our food? How would we secure the things we needed in order to continue to live comfortable lives?
Quickly our homesteading goals went yet another direction. What started out initially as a way to save a few dollars on our grocery bill, which then turned into a desire for healthier living, had now morphed into a passion to become more self-sufficient.
I became obsessed with studying the Great Depression and how people back then survived on so little. I watched documentaries and collected old Depression Era cookbooks for recipes that used simple ingredients. I then went back even further in time to the pioneer days and studied how our ancestors lived off the land.
I was fascinated about learning old fashioned skills such as tanning hides, weaving baskets, making tools, cooking over a fire, candle making, making lye from ashes for soap, wilderness survival… Anything that had to do with self-sufficiency I wanted to study and know about.
Oh how much wisdom we’ve lost over the generations!
Eventually we decided we needed to wean ourselves from being dependent upon the power grid. We invested in a small solar electric kit, which provides enough power to run everything in our house, including a small chest fridge and large chest freezer; excluding the major appliances such as the well pump, hot water heater, kitchen oven, Heat pump, A/C, and washing machine.
For the things which the solar panels couldn’t power we devised non-electric backups. We put a hand-pump on our well so that we could still pump water to the house if we lost power long term. We also installed rain barrels on the house. We bought a wood cook stove for backup cooking. We bought a plunger washer and clothes wringer for hand washing clothes, and installed a clothesline instead of having a dryer. We installed a wood stove into the fireplace in our living room, and built a large wood shed to keep filled with split wood to heat our home in the wintertime.
We started collecting non-electric gadgets as well: a wheat grinder, hand tools, cast iron cookware and dutch ovens for campfire cooking, and camping equipment.
We made great strides toward self-sufficiency in the first nine years on the homestead, despite taking a few steps backward along the way. But one huge burden still weighed heavily on our shoulders. As hard as we’d been working toward having a sense of freedom, we were still slaves to our mortgage. It was the only debt we had, and it felt like shackles around our feet.
Every month we lived as frugally as we could. Every time we got a little bit of extra money we determined to put it toward paying down the mortgage. Jerry picked up odd jobs and worked overtime when he had the chance, and I worked my online business every spare moment I had.
After nine years of scrimping and saving, in 2017 the Father laid His hand of blessing on all of our efforts and we were able to pay off the balance on our $100,000 mortgage.
We are now 100% debt free!
Homesteading not only enabled us to save money and live healthier, more fulfilling lives. It also opened our eyes to the wisdom of being prepared for the future and provided a way to break ourselves from the bondage of debt.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen how this lifestyle change would have benefited my family.
Meanwhile, our (four) children have been having the time of their lives. We got rid of cable tv pretty much as soon as we moved onto the homestead, and although we do have the internet and can watch movies online, the kids have spent a lot of time coming up with ways to otherwise entertain themselves.
They play outdoors a lot, swinging from vines in the woods, hunting for crayfish under rocks in the creek, fishing in the pond, rolling down the hill in barrels, building forts and treehouses, and foraging the garden for their favorite seasonal edibles.
They pretend to be Robinhood and practice archery. They run through the woods (sometimes slathered with mud) pretending to be wild children or a pack of wolves. On occasion they ride four-wheelers and dirt bikes with the kids at the top of our road. In the wintertime they slide around on the frozen creek, sled down our steep driveway, build snowmen and make snow cream.
Of course, these are still 21st century kids we’re talking about. They also love playing computer games, learning coding and robotics, and watching shows on Netflix. With limitations.
Looking back over our years on the land, I think watching my children enjoying the garden and playing in nature has brought me more pleasure than anything else we’ve done here. To watch the little ones gorging themselves on fresh blueberries straight from the bush, or delighting over a box turtle creeping through the woods makes my heart burst with joy.
All the hard work has been worth it.
You know, the more we homestead, the more our reasons to continue grow.
It’s like a gift that keeps on giving.