Today I’m excited to give you another interview, this one is with Amy Stross from TenthAcreFarm.com. She’s an expert permaculturist, gardener and homesteader. As always, thes interviews are packed with real-life knowledge, so let’s not wast anymore time and start with the questions!
1) What got you into homesteading, and how long have you been doing it?
Three things happened simultaneously in my life about 12 years ago that sparked my interest in homesteading.
First, I started questioning whether I wanted to maintain my career as a high school teacher throughout my entire working life. I passionately believed in the work I was doing with inner city youth, but the truth was, I didn’t love it. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t want to give up on my students. Although I didn’t grow up gardening, I found myself tinkering with plants as a way to de-stress.
At the same time, I became severely sick. I was in so much pain that during my last year of teaching, I used up all of my sick days. I was misdiagnosed several times, and it has ultimately taken the last 10 years to be correctly diagnosed and find the right treatment.
This new development inspired me to take more responsibility for my health and eat more vegetables. I joined a local CSA program and received weekly produce from a local farm.
Finally, it was during this time that I met my soon-to-be husband. When we got engaged, I quit my job and moved to his city two hours away. Suddenly I was free to think about how I wanted to contribute to our new life together.
I heard the calling loud and clear: I wanted to grow things! I dedicated more time on the local CSA farm helping to grow organic vegetables for 100 local families. And I got a part-time job as a landscape gardener, learning how to create unique edible landscapes, pollinator gardens, and herb gardens for clients.
Being active throughout the day helped me combat the pain, and I felt a renewed passion for my work.
2) How long does it take to become a successful homesteader?
I think anyone can decide to be a homesteader at any time. Start today! For me, homesteading is about making the switch from being an all-out consumer to producing more things for yourself. Anyone can develop productive skills, and I don’t think you need to compare yourself to others or belittle yourself if you don’t have a bunch of skills.
My first garden was a crazy mess compared to the types of gardens I plant today. But it produced food for my household right away. Figure out how you can add useful and productive things to your everyday life that give you joy and satisfaction.
That was the biggest lesson I learned from quitting my job, but of course, you don’t have to quit your job to have a productive and enjoyable hobby. 🙂
If you raise livestock — amazing! If you love to knit or sew, that can be amazingly useful. If you can play an instrument, how lucky your family is to have “homegrown” entertainment. Be proud of your skills!
3) What’s the worst homesteading experience you’ve had to go through? What about the best one?
My worst homesteading experience was trying to garden in my tiny yard that was half driveway and half yard that was a filled-in swimming pool. My shovel hit giant chunks of blue-painted concrete when I tried to dig in the ground. My neighbors’ large trees blanketed the area with shade. So I was dealing with the triple wammy of little sun, poor soil, and a very tiny space.
And this turned out to also be my BEST homesteading experience! Homesteading is about being innovative. It’s about solving problems. It keeps your brain young! I figured out how to grow hundreds of pounds of produce each year by finding the right techniques for each little space in the yard. It just took a bit of patience and a willingness to experiment. It was empowering and satisfying.
For example, two raised beds placed on the pavement produced hundreds of pounds of leafy greens and root vegetables. Planting perennials (such as fruit trees, berry bushes, strawberries, herbs, and flowers) in the ground meant that I didn’t have to fight with the chunks of concrete in the soil year after year. I planted them once and after that I simply maintained the space and harvested delicious fruit.
4) What would you do differently if you had to start all over again?
I could say that I wish I had found homesteading and a productive lifestyle sooner, but truthfully, all of my experiences have shaped who I am today. I think the only thing any of us can do is have a willingness to continue learning.
5) What are the top 3 homesteading skills everyone should know?
Bill Mollison, co-founder of permaculture said, “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children.”
There’s a lot of leeway within the idea of taking responsibility for your own existence. Since everyone’s situation is different, I don’t think it’s necessary to “require” a certain set of skills in order to be a homesteader.
Personally, I’ve focused my energy mainly on growing food (fruits, vegetables, and herbs), developing kitchen skills (meal planning, cooking from scratch, food preservation), and foraging (plant ID)/herbal medicine. These activities bring me joy. However, I know lots of homesteaders who have much different skill sets than I do. Variety is good. If the apocalypse comes, we can’t all be good at the same stuff! It takes a village.
The main thing is that you are working toward developing skills that can help you be more self-reliant.
6) Top 3 most important tools in the homesteader’s arsenal?
Oh gosh, I think the tools you use will be indicative of the homesteading skills that you really want to develop. I wouldn’t grow food without my garden knife, I wouldn’t want to preserve food without my dehydrator, and I wouldn’t want to go foraging without my ID book.
7) Is homesteading a way of preparing for disasters and emergencies? Why (not)?
It can be, but I think it depends on what your version of homesteading is. Just as there are a gazillion makes and models of cars on the road today, I think there are many different versions of homesteading out there.
Personally, when I thought about ‘being responsible for my own existence’, it made me think about how I could be better prepared. We spent many years aggressively working to get out of debt and building up preps to get us through emergencies and disasters. I wouldn’t say we’re hard core preppers, but we are intentional.
8) How much land should a homestead ideally have? How much is too much?
I don’t think hard and fast rules about land size are necessary. We all come from different walks of life, and in many parts of the world, land ownership is prohibitive. Homesteading is about doing what you can with what you have.
Our first property was 0.10 acre. I was able to make that space super-productive, but there were limits (no animals for one), and I do enjoy a measure of privacy. We recently moved to a property that is over 3 acres. It seems huge to me! Certainly my perspective is different from the rural homesteaders out there, but, regardless, we can all feel a kinship with one another no matter the size of our property.
9) What are some of the things you DON’T waste time doing? What are homesteaders doing that is robbing them of their time and resources?
After a few years of homesteading and trying to learn everything, do everything, be all the things a homesteader “should” be, I realized that I don’t have to do all the things. Especially because I didn’t grow up doing this stuff, so I have to take the time to teach myself as I go.
I think it’s important to choose a handful of skills that you really enjoy and really want to develop, and get really good at those. You will learn many skills along the way, as you need them. For example, I learned canning by necessity during my first big harvest year.
10) Is homesteading running your life? Should it?
A homestead can certainly run your life if you let it. In fact, if you don’t create strict boundaries, it probably will! After a few particularly intense years, I really honed in on the size of garden that is right for me based on my household’s needs, the time I have to maintain it, and the time I have to dedicate to food preservation.
Homesteaders are really good at doing things. Given the chance, we will “do” ourselves to death! I think “being” is just as important as “doing”.
Make time to sit in your garden, with your animals, or walk your land for the sake of enjoying it rather than pointing out what needs to be done. Recognize all that you’ve accomplished. Feel grateful that you have this opportunity. Share time with family and friends. You only live once!
11) Is homesteading enough to make a living? Should people quit their job to do it full time?
Some people have homestead-based businesses that generate income, perhaps enough to be a full-time income. I have a chapter in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm, that details some of my ideas for making money on the homestead.
By and large, however, most people piece together a homesteading lifestyle with one foot firmly planted in a job outside of the homestead.
Over the years, I’ve developed food production skills, received my permaculture design certificate, and spent years running community projects and doing private garden consultations. At some point I became a writer and an author about homestead food production to share some of my experiences (see my website TenthAcreFarm.com), and this has turned into my second career.
Although it has reduced the time I have available to dedicate to my own homestead, I delight in the fact that I get to help others who are drawn to this way of life. The message is clear: Do what you can and what you feel called to do.
12) What’s the best way to teach homesteading to your children and/or grandchildren? How do you make sure they won’t start to lose interest as they grow older?
I think homesteading activities should be fun, whether you’re a young kid or an old kid. Of course, everyone should have to contribute to the household with age-appropriate responsibilities, but beyond that, requirement to participate could feel like a punishment.
I don’t think there’s a way to ensure that kids will stay interested in homesteading as they grow older. Keeping things fun and collaborative is important. Encourage them to have some autonomy and experiment with projects of their choosing.
13) What are the first steps newbie homesteaders should take?
Your first steps will depend on what skill(s) you feel the most excited about. Pick your skill and then figure out your first baby step. If you’re interested in gardening, for example, I think planting a small raised bed is a great first baby step. Or add some vegetable plants to your landscaping. Pick something really small and get some wins and confidence under your belt.
14) What are some of the Amazon books and courses you’ve written that you’d recommend to the NewLifeOnAHomestead.com community?
I write about permaculture and growing food in the suburbs at TenthAcreFarm.com.
My award-winning book, The Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People, can be found on Amazon or anywhere books are sold.
Subscribers to my weekly-ish newsletter receive my free Guide to Organic Soil Amendments, which shows you exactly which amendments are right for your soil conditions.
I’ve taken over this blog from Kendra Lynne around 2018, and turned it into one of the best an most comprehensive homesteading website out there. I was raised partly in the countryside living a very frugal life ever since I can remember.