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Why Do I Homestead?
I started gardening in 2009 with about 300 square feet of soil in our suburban tract condominium. Watching plants grow from seed that I had planted with my own hands quickly became my favorite pastime. Those garden plants began to nourish my creativity, spirit, body and mind. I began to feel connected to our earth.
Those feelings of connection sent me down a path of earth discovery and self discovery that continues today. I began replacing the desire to have more stuff with a desire to discover more connection, beauty and nourishment.
Several gardens and over a decade later, I find myself solidifying a more recent choice to homestead. After gardening for six years Ann and I spent two years traveling and living on farms and homesteads as volunteers and apprentices. Another 2 seasons was spent homesteading on rented land. We then moved to this land where we have been putting down long term roots for 3 years now.
Homesteading in a more permanent location has brought me more responsibility through making decisions about stewarding the land, care taking of trees, plants and animals, maintaining infrastructure and cultivating the portion of our income that is derived from our activities on the land.
One of our family’s favorite activities is dreaming about what our future homestead may look like. Our brainstorm sessions always produce the possibility of more gardens, plants, buildings, fences, livestock and businesses! I have learned early on to prioritize homestead projects based on my personal goals and the family’s goals, against our energy and time constraints so that the most important projects at any given time have a good chance of being completed!
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Am I Still Happy with My Choice to Homestead?
In the same way I have learned to reflect back on my own life goals from time to time. I find myself asking from time to time “Why do I homestead?” and “Is homesteading still serving my best interest based on what I know now?”
In fact I was also asked a similar question by my father last year when he saw how exhausted I was at the end of a hot summer season from watering all the trees I had planted, while at the same time helping to raise our then 2 year old son; “Are you still happy with your choice to homestead here?” At the time my answer was a resounding “Yes!”
Feeling exhausted can be satisfying, as long as it is by choice and not a chronic condition. Learning my limits within the context of homesteading has many times lead to exhaustion physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Often all at once.
My homesteading lifestyle has lead me work with each of those facets of myself in order to meet my homesteading goals, which include not only growing food, but becoming a more emotionally mature man and a more spiritually connected human being.
Recently it was brought to my attention that “work” is not the best word for describing improving oneself (i.e. “working on myself”) because of the negative connotations associated with “work” in our culture, when we are talking about something we have to do vs want to do. Nonetheless, when I remove that stigma, I find the word useful because it implies some effort is applied to achieve a result.
Similarly, I think “homesteading” is not a perfect word to describe what I am doing. It comes preloaded with a past cultural context that is not applicable today: 1) homesteaders were directly taking or given land that was previously inhabited by indigenous people, and 2) homesteaders had a make or break experience since their survival was more directly related to their act of homesteading.
A New Culture
Today we are living post colonization and post industrial revolution with a global supply chain to rely on. Our context is completely different since we don’t need to homestead to survive. And yet it is currently the best word I currently have for what I am doing because homesteading today does have some resemblance to the lifestyles of homesteaders of the past. And besides, the word “homestead” is widely used by those who practice it today.
What I love most about the word “homesteading” is how variable its interpretation can be. I love that its modern use leaves things way open. Today homestead still has a literal place. Derived from home and stead, it means to stand firm in the home or place where one lives. I interpret that as literally putting down roots where one lives, finding nourishment from the land, living in relationship to nature and thinking multi-generationally. Another homesteader will have a different definition influenced by their own biases, cultural context, and personal philosophies. I think that’s great that we can all share this gradient word while we make culture together!
I forgot where I heard it, but this idea always stuck with me over the years: Given access to cheap energy, materials and food, we have the responsibility of experimenting in our gardens to find new ways of growing food and discovering what plants thrive in our local niches and microclimates. Those of us that are not directly dependent on the land for our survival, have the opportunity to discover, learn and experiment with new ways of surviving and thriving from the land. If we aren’t dependent on our land for making ends meet this season, then we are free to wander from the “tried and true” practices such as large scale annual monocultures and using pesticides and herbicides. We can take part in finding solutions that can not only help us survive and thrive, but also contribute to a regenerative, distributed food system and healthy ecology around us.
We are lucky to live in a time of cheap energy and the modern marvel of the global supply chain. We have industrially farmed food to rely on if we cannot, or choose not, to grow enough food to fill our plates. And yet I also recognize that industrially farmed food is not as nourishing to my body, mind, emotions and spirit as the food that I can grow with my own hands, nor is it as nourishing as the food that I can purchase from local farmers or that is shared with me from fellow gardeners.
Friendships & Connections
Another reason that I choose to continue homesteading is the culture. Farmers and homesteaders are some of the most humble, appreciative, loving people I know. Through wwoofing and volunteering on farms and homesteads for about 3 years I became accustomed to socializing with gardeners, herbalists, homesteaders, permaculturalists, wildcrafters and farmers.
Those friendships and relationships have changed my life so much for the better! These folks have more earthy belief systems and less shallow judgements than those who I had previously been accustomed to socializing with, on average. As we re-defined our lives we chose to spend more time with these earthy people both personally and also as colleagues and clients of our business. It was a natural decision, because it just felt good! Homesteading presents so many opportunities for friendships, connection, nourishment, joy and income.
Speaking of income, this lifestyle has become so fulfilling for our family that we are motivated to bring the aforementioned opportunities into our family business. About 5 years ago we began designing our website consulting business to allow us to work with farmers, healers, homesteaders, artists, non profits and other people that are making a positive difference in our world.
We’ve been selling flowers, seeds and tree seedlings as a by product of our passions and love for homesteading and aligning with plants. Those efforts have also allowed us to meet people in our community and make new relationships with fellow lovers of plants and beauty that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
And we are now starting this website, Homestead Culture, as an extension of that original intention so that we can share the joy of pursuing positive transformation and becoming more connected with our natural world.
Thinking Beyond My Life
Through planting long lived food bearing trees and stewarding the native trees on this land, I have learned to expand my personal time horizon out decades and generations. I remember counting the rings on one of the felled trees on our land and losing count after 80 rings. I was 40 at the time. I looked around and saw the still standing trees with similar or larger girths and was suddenly filled with awe and wonder about these old beings that I walk amongst on a daily basis. There are some trees living here that are well over 100 years and possibly up to or more than two centuries old.
I’ve come to take pride in planting trees that will outlive me and many of which will not come into peak bearing until my old age or even after I die. Leaving this natural capital behind when I pass on has become one of the principles I live by. I hold this reverence in my heart when I plant and care for trees, and that appreciation for the natural world is a ripple that spreads out to my family and those around me.
Back in my first suburban garden I remember kales and mustards growing so well, yet I didn’t harvest their leaves for the longest time because I didn’t want to hurt the plants. I was so awe struck by how beautiful all the plants in my garden were. My favorite past time was getting down on my hands and knees and looking at all of the bugs, colors, flowers, leaf buds, leaf veins and beauty everywhere I could look – Endless beauty!
Raising a Son
As a parent I am proud that I can raise my son in and around a garden. He can experience all this beauty from his childhood that I only discovered as an adult. I am proud that he will grow up surrounded by farmers, gardeners and homesteaders. Even if he chooses not to pursue this lifestyle as an adult, he will have earthy roots and will have intimately experienced where food comes from and how much we rely on mother Earth. He will grow up influenced by people that practice expressing gratitude for life and mother nature.
Without knowing what the future looks like, I know that these intentions and actions will affect my son’s life past my own. And should he have children, what ripples from ideas and rituals that I hold close will influence into future generations? Asking this question leads me into feeling awe and wonder for our own human existence on this world. I remember how small I am, and yet this gratitude filling in my heart is such a big feeling.
I thank our homesteading lifestyle for giving me unique opportunities and perspective to learn from my young son. He is more connected to the natural world, more filled with wonder and discovery and less filtered from social conditioning and biases than I am. Much of what I strive for in life he accesses with ease. And I find myself going deep into friendship, discovery and learning with and from him. I so look forward to more of that as his childhood continues.
I can thank my homesteader and farmer friends for giving me courage to seek maturity in my life. I can thank nature for giving me endless wonder. I can thank the actions of homesteading for helping me see the connections between my own survival and the natural world.
I can see my ego manifest before my eyes in the homesteading projects I choose to pursue, a sort of spiritual litmus that allows me to ask the daily question “What really matters?”
I take pride for the life I am living and what I have accomplished here. But more precious to me is the humble acknowledgement of the natural world as the source of life and beauty.