My family and I want to live on 20+ acres in the country. We’ve had this dream for a long, long time now. One day, maybe we’ll have that, but for now, we’re “apartment homesteaders.” We grow a few plants out on the patio, try to reuse everything we can to reduce waste, and are learning more and more about food preservation. We’re learning as much as we can so that when we are able to own that house in the country, we know how to make our homestead what we want it and in what order things should be done to best suit our needs.
Just like any other major decision in your life, planning your homestead should be a major priority for you. It’s ok to dream, as long as those dreams are realistic. Make a list of what you want, then figure out what you can do first. Research everything!
Making Ends Meet on the Homestead
Like my wife and I, many people have the dream of buying some land and earning a living from it. There are tons of ways to generate income from your land — farming, market gardening, raising seed crops, and selling homemade products (like hand-spun wool or homemade soaps) just to name a few. The challenge is to find or create a stable market for your products or services.
Many homesteading families make it work by having at least one person holding a “traditional job” with benefits (like health insurance and 401k). Computers and the internet are making it much easier to work at a traditional job from home or to market the products your homestead produces online. There are also many ways to earn supplemental income.
My wife sews different style pillowcases and other things. I make paracord crafts and I do some web and graphic design (check out NinjaWolf Studios).
Find Your Place
- How rich is the soil, and how long is the growing season?
- Does the property provide adequate pasture and water for livestock?
- Will you need to build a barn?
- Will you be able to harvest firewood from your land?
- Is there a nearby farmer’s market?
- Do the roads near the house get enough traffic to sell products from home?
- Will I retain the water rights to my property? (Very important if you plan to have a well.)
Define your priorities before buying your land so you have a better chance of a successful homestead. Even if you have a clear idea of what you want and where you plan to settle, take your time before committing to a specific piece of land. Obviously you should pick a place you like, but you also need to make sure that your planned crops and animals will be compatible with the local environment and laws.
When you start figuring out how much land you need, keep an open mind. Forget about having to have a certain number of acres. With today’s cultivation methods (such as raised beds, square foot gardening, container gardening, and greenhouses), many homesteaders are able to grow most of their own food on less than an acre. That can work in an urban area, and even better, in a small town where property values are lower (kind of like The Urban Farming Guys). Find an inexpensive house on a double lot, and you may be in business. You might even want to buy your land and live in a small cabin until you’re ready to build a house.
If you do want several acres in the country and cam’t afford to buy your land outright, you might consider renting. Many farmers rent at least part of the land they farm. If you’re fortunate enough to find an older farm that someone wants to see revived, you may be able to negotiate a longer lease at a lower rate. It never hurts to ask for a lower rate, just don’t be insulting with your offer.
Building Your Home
One of the biggest decisions for a homesteader is selecting the home itself. If you’re interested in green building, this can be an especially difficult decision. Is it better to build a new energy-efficient house, or renovate an older home? Both choices have different advantages, but a new, “green” home may be the better option. If your resources allow it, starting from scratch may be a better idea than leaving bad designs in place. You can’t always turn an older farmhouse into your dream home without a sizable investment of time, money and energy.
Whether you choose to renovate an older home or start from scratch, you’ll most likely be much happier if you stay involved in the entire process. You have to be in charge of the planning and design and oversee every step in the execution so the house becomes a home you’ll want to live in for the rest of your life. While a builder may know how to build a house, no outsider will know your habits and living patterns like you do. Also, if you take on a project, be ready to spend what you must for good-quality materials and workmanship — do not try to get out cheap, or it may cost you a lot more in the long run!
Using Renewable Energy
My personal idea of self-sufficient life includes generating all my electricity from renewable resources. We could use a wood stove as our primary heat source and get our electricity from solar panels and a small-scale wind turbines.
A good first step is to reduce your energy use. That way a smaller, less expensive wind energy system and fewer solar panels can meet your electricity needs. To do that, you can replace all light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or LED bulbs and switch to Energy Star-rated appliances, which use significantly less energy. There are many ways to reduce energy usage (which will subsequently cut down on monthly bills).
While home-scale wind power can provide enough power to be completely independent of power company produced electricity, it requires a sizable upfront investment. These systems may take as long as 20 years to pay off the initial costs, but can take much less time depending on the energy incentives that are available in each state. If you’re seeking a quicker return on your investment, you might try solar water heating systems. With one of the solar water heating systems, you can provide all the hot water for your entire household — and in states that offer renewable energy incentives, they can pay for themselves in as little as three years!
Wood-burning stoves have become cleaner and more efficient in the past few years, so if you are purchasing a new wood burning stove, be sure to look for a recent, EPA-certified model. Any wood stove can heat a home, provided the stove is an appropriate size for the building and the house has an open design and good insulation.
Make Connections with Homesteaders and Suppliers
No matter how extensive the plans for your homestead, the most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t need to happen all at once. Start with a small garden, a few chickens or a small home-repair or building project, and let your plans evolve based on those experiences; and don’t neglect one of the most important aspects of your homestead — building community.
Experienced homesteaders always come back to the importance of being part of a community of like-minded people they can turn to for advice and support. The homesteading life is simply much richer and more rewarding with a strong community of friends and neighbors. Those connections are very easily forged among those who share a passion for gardening, renewable energy, green building and things of that nature. Plus, making these connections gives you someone to barter with, too!
Some of these activities require more money and time than others — another reason why it’s a good idea to start with smaller projects, such as learning to garden before buying farmland, or doing some basic home repairs before deciding to build your own home. If you pursue larger projects, there are many ways to learn more about your interests. For potential farmers, apprenticeships and volunteer opportunities on organic farms can be invaluable. Renewable energy workshops around the country help people learn about small-scale solar or wind power. To learn about building, options range from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to attending straw bale building parties and natural building workshops.
Whatever your homesteading plans, it’s important to focus on your priorities. Decide which parts of the dream are most important to you, then do your research. Learn the skills and find out what’s involved. Each new homesteading activity requires new tools and skills, as well as a certain amount of money and energy.