Homesteading dates back to the Homestead Act of 1862. Settlers from various walks of life, single women, slaves, and immigrants fresh off the boat, took up the gauntlet to build a home and live free on 160 acres for five years.
During that five-year-period, they were charged with making improvements and “keeping the land”. Two witnesses, friends or neighbors, then vouched for the hard work via their signature. The homesteader would then receive a patent from the President of U.S.
Today, homesteading is still alive and well, even though there isn’t much free land to be awarded. Those who homestead today, however, strive to emulate the key characteristics of those early homesteaders, their self-reliance and tenacity. Homesteading today can be undertaken on any piece of land, no matter how big or small and is still very much about self-reliance.
Early homesteaders lived a stark existence out of necessity. They had no power, no running water, they were forced to hunt and prepare their own meat, and grow their own food.
They were forced to find ways to preserve their food from one harvest to the next and sometimes longer if weather or other unpredictable events destroyed crops. Homesteading is a logical choice for many preppers.
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What is Modern Homesteading?
Technically, the definition of a homestead is just a “dwelling with its land and buildings where a family makes its home.”
That could be anywhere, right?
The notion of homesteading is one that is often viewed synonymously with idyllic landscapes of rolling pastures, towering grain silos, and dozens of cows grazing on an open range.
You might picture chickens free ranging all over a country lot or rows upon rows of canned goods, fresh from the water bath.
However, by definition, homestead doesn’t have to be as specific. While you can certainly be a homesteader if you live in a rural environment and are able to raise all of your own meat animals, grow all of your own vegetables, and live totally off the grid, you can also be a homesteader if you only have access to a 600 square foot apartment in the middle of New York City.
Modern homesteading focuses by choice on lowering energy consumption, eliminating waste, and growing or hunting your own food.
People today choose to live this self-reliant, more simplistic, but definitely hard-working lifestyle because they value the independence and freedom that comes with it.
Today, homesteading is seen as a lifestyle choice. It’s a conscious choice to go back to the basics, step away from the materialistic nature of society, and truly take care of ourselves and our family.
Homesteading is simply the process of actively trying to be more self-sufficient. You can start homesteading no matter where you live, or what kind of resources you have access to – more than anything, homesteading is a mindset.
Still not sure whether you qualify as a homestead? Here’s a great video that breaks down what other people think homesteading is – and what it means to them.
Reasons to Homestead
Here are some of the best reasons to consider a lifestyle of homesteading if you’re a prepper, and want to make sure you can sustain yourself in a long-term disaster.
- You see the potential destruction of our modern society looming on the horizon, and want to be prepared to live as “normally” as possible even when modern luxuries and systems collapse.
- To reduce the amount of power you need and utilize solar, wind or hydro power in order to decrease or even eliminate your dependence on a power grid that could collapse at any moment.
- To become adept at growing and/or raising your own food to ensure that you and your family will have a source of food when grocery store shelves stand empty or food rationing has been implemented.
- To be less dependent on a government that seems to increasingly act in a way that isn’t in the best interest of its citizens.
- To avoid high food prices and/or high utility costs.
- To avoid GMO impact in foods and eat more organically
- To escape the false American Dream of working a job you hate to own material possessions (big house, fancy car, pool, camper, etc.) that you have very little time to enjoy.
We are in some respects lucky that modern homesteading is not the all or nothing venture that it was for those early homesteaders. At least not yet. Those who wish to become homesteaders today can move into it in phases and can choose how far removed from dependence we want to be.
For most people, choosing to be self-reliant or off-the-grid is less about removing themselves completely from modern society and more about the ability to live as “normally” as possible if and when the need arises.
So how does one become a homesteader?
The answer to that question is as diverse as the people of this great world we live in but here are some suggestions as to how to get started:
Homesteading 101: How to Get Started Today
Step 1. Analyze Your Commitment and Reasons for Homesteading
First, reflect and analyze your reasons for wanting to homestead. It’s important for you to figure out why you want to homestead so that you can ensure that it will actually meet your needs long-term.
Homesteading today may not be the life or death trials and tribulations that it was for those early settlers, but it is certainly not a life of luxury either. As a homesteader, you will work hard, and your days will be long. You will be less reliant on government entities and more at the mercy of weather patterns.
Homesteaders often are in a constant state of learning through trial and error. You can study how to grow your own food or raise livestock but you must be essentially okay with uncertainty. Homesteading is not an exact science and things don’t always have the outcomes that you expect.
As a homesteader, you have to come to terms with and be prepared to “go with the flow” and adapt as needed.
You can do everything correctly when raising your chickens and the neighbor’s dog could get loose and kill the entire flock two weeks before it’s time to cull them for the freezer. You have to have the mental mindset to deal with the unpredictable.
You and your family will need to pull together, to protect the garden from a late frost or to round up livestock that has escaped, or to pick the harvest before the coming storm destroys it.
It’s important to understand how committed you and your family will be to this lifestyle before you get started. Understanding the level of commitment will help you determine how far off the grid you and your family can go.
Once you have analyzed your commitment and reasons for homesteading, prioritize your most important issues first and plan for those. If eating organically grown food is most important, then you will likely want to focus on growing your own food and raising your own livestock.
If you can’t bring yourself to kill an animal yourself and eat it, you will either have to pay someone to do your butchering or continue to get your meat from elsewhere rather than raise your own.
Step 2. Analyze Your Current Situation and Location
It’s important to know what you’re getting into if you are going to start homesteading. Do your research, talk to people who are homesteading, and decide how big a leap you are going to take initially.
Step 3. Pursue Food Self-Sufficiency
Make sure you understand the local laws and regulations regarding livestock, alternative energy, and farming for your location. You don’t have to own a large piece of land to start homesteading. It all depends on what you want to do and how you choose to do it.
You can also grow a lot of food on very little land if it’s properly managed. Research all the different ways that people grow their own food including:
- container gardening
- lasagna gardening
- companion planting
- straw bale gardening
- raised bed gardening
- herb gardening
- community gardening
- vertical gardening
- food forests
- rooftop gardening
- wild edibles
If you grow your own food make sure you consider building your own root cellar to store and preserve your crops.
You will want to learn the basics of how to can your own food. Without a pressure canner, you can use water-bath canning (boiling) to preserve many different types of acidic foods. This includes all types of jellies, marmalades, and jams as well as relishes, pickles, and even tomatoes and tomato sauces (add lemon or vinegar).
Other ways to preserve food shelf life include the use of:
Step 4. Provide Your Own Water
Homesteaders own land anywhere from 1/10 of an acre to several thousand acres and any amount in between. You can pick and choose which aspects of homesteading will suit your family. Regardless of the area that you choose, make sure that you have a reliable source of freshwater.
You may need to dig your own well or tap into a spring or creek on the property. An alternative for those without a natural creek, spring, or pond would be a rainwater catchment system which would collect rain from the roof of buildings and funnel it to be filtered and used for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene.
You can use solar power as a backup power source or you can install a system large enough to run your entire home on a daily basis. Some people have even figured out how to create their own power using a bicycle to wash clothes or charge a battery.
Step 5. DIY Construction and Repairs
As a homesteader or soon to be homesteader, one of the skill sets that you will definitely need to acquire is the ability to build simple but solid shelters for animals and to make repairs to your home, barn, outbuildings and equipment.
For this reason, carpentry and woodworking skills will come in handy for most homesteaders. It’s much less expensive to build or repair things yourself, especially if you want custom features.
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Power tools won’t be functioning in a SHTF event so make sure you have the following carpenter and woodworking tools on your homestead and know how to use them:
- Shingler’s Hatchet
- Folding Drywall Saw with Plane
- Double-Sided Pull Saw
- Aviation Snips
- Utility Knife
- Nail Puller
- Pliers (Channel Lock and Needle Nose)
- Chisels (Wood and Cold)
- Woodworking hammers (finish, deadblow or mallet, tack, framing)
- Woodworking saws (combination saw, miter, coping, limbing)
With the above tools and the right amount of know-how, you could build just about anything you needed or do any kind of repairs that might be needed after a natural disaster.
Step 6: Consider Raising Livestock
You can decide to raise your own livestock and poultry or hunt to provide all your own meat or you can choose to find a local livestock farmer to buy your meat from already prepared.
Some livestock and poultry to consider are:
- Chickens are easy to care for. In the first several years the hens will lay eggs that can either be eaten or incubated to produce additional chickens. Chickens are great for homesteaders because they can survive on free range grass and kitchen scraps. Young chickens are ready to be culled for the freezer after only about 8 weeks. Simply build a chicken coop to ensure safety from predators at night and keep out cold drafts and they will fare quite well.
- Guinea fowl are a superb addition to your homestead because they are low-maintenance and they will be very active in pest control. Guinea fowl eat all kinds of insects including beetles, flies, cockroaches, termites, grubs, wasps, spiders, and best of all, ticks. They even devour the occasional snake and small rodent.
- Rabbits are by far one of the easiest animals to care for and they are a great source of protein if you can get beyond your hesitation to kill and eat these furry bundles. Because of how quickly they can multiply, one buck (male) and several does (females) can produce a year’s worth of meat for a family.
Other livestock you might consider raising include goats (for clearing land, producing fiber, making milk, and for meat), sheep (for milk, wool, cheese, and meat), ducks (for meat and eggs), pigs (for obvious reasons – the pork), and cows (again, for obvious reasons).
It’s important to even consider animals like cats and dogs, and how they can be used on your homestead – remember things like livestock guarding and pest control are valuable contributions!
Step 7. Try Beekeeping
Beekeeping is an option for homesteaders as well. Bees are much easier to keep and when you know what you’re doing, a lot less dangerous than one might imagine. The benefits of honey for a homestead and especially in a SHTF scenario are tremendous.
Honey is full of antioxidants, it has many nutrients essential for human health and it has antimicrobial properties. The many alternative uses for honey make beekeeping a worthy endeavor for any homesteader.
Step 8. Make or Repurpose as Much as Possible
One of the core tenants of homesteading is trying to do more with less. To that end, it only makes sense that you should try to make or repurpose as much of what you need as possible.
Take a look in your pantry to start. What staples can you make or grow yourself? Things you might consider making yourself include dry beans, pasta sauces, pancake and cookie mixes, and dairy products.
You can make your own butter and tomato sauce, and easily whip up your own mixes for baking simply by buying flour and sugar in bulk.
Cooking from scratch is one of the best ways to embark on a self-sufficient lifestyle. When you stop buying convenience meals and can cook from scratch, you’ll not only be more self-sufficient but you’ll likely be healthier and save a ton of money, too.
Your efforts don’t have to stop in the kitchen, either. There are all sorts of things you can do for yourself, including:
- Making your own candles
- Reusing old clothes to sew blankets and make other crafts
- Making essential oils and herbal tinctures
- Making your own medicines
- Creating your own candles
- Whipping up your own cleaning supplies and detergents
Step 9. Aim for Interdependence
There are so many people out there who want to live a life of solitude, away from other people – and in focusing so intently on solitude, they miss out on another valuable component of homesteading. That component is interdependence.
As a homesteader, much of what you do will rely on sheer grit and internal, personal willpower. However, it’s also important to rely on a community.
Not only can you engage in the community by trading skills and creating friendships, but you have a group of people to rely on for information and support in a crisis.
Step 10. Make it a Family Affair
Getting the kids involved in homesteading is one of the best things you can do for their future – and for your family life.
Can you homeschool your kids to provide them with an education in the ways of the homestead? Perhaps you can teach them rural skills on the weekends, like how to sew or cook.
Can you make your own baby food? Use cloth diapers? Encourage the kids to complete farm chores? Whatever you do, get the whole family involved in the homestead whenever possible. You won’t regret it!
Step 11. Never Stop Learning
There are tons of people who are homesteading and regularly post videos about their lifestyles and the various ways they do things. Look for and subscribe to some of these folks on YouTube. Some that I like are JNull0 and Becky’s Homestead.
Regardless of where you choose to start, spend some time and watch others who are actually growing or raising what you’re considering.
Make sure you consider how much time, energy, and resources will be needed to properly care for your animals. This can sometimes help you decide how big a leap you want to take and what you do and don’t want to deal with as a homesteader.
Choose One Area, and Start Small
New homesteaders can quickly become overwhelmed with the exhaustive amount of homesteading skills they need to learn. Most experts recommend that if you want to homestead, you start small in your current location.
A great place for most people to start is by making their own food from scratch until you are buying very little pre-packaged foods. Then move into growing the foods that you eat the most.
You can also start out with any of these skill areas:
- Make Homemade Soap at Home
- Making Pemmican
- Making Hardtack (one of the best survival foods out there in terms of shelf life)
- Sewing Your Own Clothes
- The Best Foods to Buy in Bulk
- Getting Out of Debt
If you’re looking to get started in homesteading, where you start doesn’t matter as much as that you actually start in some small way and that you don’t give up easily. When you start small, you can manage mistakes and adapt as needed without jeopardizing your entire well-being.
Once you gain confidence in that one small area and can produce it reliably, then choose another category or skill and master that one. Before you know it, your homestead will be growing, one small step at a time!
updated 04/28/2021 by Rebekah Pierce
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.