6 Reasons Why I Started Homesteading – Tara Dodrill’s Story

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I think I have been homesteading my entire life in one way or another since I was a child. Perhaps I was inspired by my love of Little House on the Prairie and Grizzly Adams television shows that I loved, and my by Sunshine Family dolls. They were far more awesome than those superficial Barbie dolls!

In spirit, I have always been a homesteader – although it took more than a couple decades to live a fully self-reliant life on a large and sustainable homestead of my very own.

How I got here and why have defined my life more than anything else I have ever experienced.

My Homesteading Journey – The Early Years

Some of my favorite childhood memories were spent on my grandparents’ farm just a mile or so from my rural small town home.

I loved the sights, smells, and sounds of the barnyard, and the feel of dirt between my bare toes. The only part of my time spent on the farm that I do not recall fondly was being chased by a flock of vicious chickens.

As my brothers watched the birds “come after me” and laughed relentlessly, I slipped and fell and sliced my knees open on the concrete steps leading to my Papaw and Mom-mom’s porch.

That started a fear of chickens that did not go away until AFTER I purchased my first chicks four years, determined to get over my fear after we bought our 56-acre survival homestead.

When I was a little girl I helped with barn chores, and in the garden – my primary chore was staking up the tomatoes and re-staking them as they grew. I simply could not get enough of being around the horses regardless of the weather.

Picking the garden and “putting up” the harvest was always a busy time. I helped my mother and grandmother can in the kitchen.

When I was really little, sitting on a tall chair and counting the number of “pings” the can lids made to ensure they were sealed properly was a really important task that was assigned to me.

I created a whole homesteading world with my Sunshine Family dolls – one that is a universe away from the Barbie Dreamhouse environment most of my friends were giddy over.

My dolls had a pottery wheel, a pickup truck with a camper on top, a barn, and a general store.

Each doll set came with a little craft instruction book and glue to teach you how to make something on your own from primarily “trash” items like a paper cup, toilet paper roll, or egg carton.

Turning trash to treasure and making use of the materials around you while using resources wisely was definitely a vital homesteading skill I fully embraced before I was even in double digits.

My Adult Homesteading Journey – From Tragedy To Joy

I longed for the simple days on my grandparent’s farm while I stayed overly busy with my first post-college job at a rural elementary school, followed by coaching multiple sports – including running some of the leagues, and being a village council member in my hometown.

The love of homesteading never left me, but there was so little time to find time for it as I continued to jump through hoops in the rat race.

After my first husband, a really good man, died young and unexpectedly, I decided my daughter and I needed a change not just of scenery, but an entire lifestyle reboot.

I had an insatiable craving to focus keenly on the simple and most important things, to reconnect with nature, and make sure my daughter’s had full exposure to such life, as well.

We moved one county over into one of the most rural counties in the state. I got a job as the local newspaper editor, and was able to put all the knowledge I gained (and where my true passion ran) from my first major in college, to work.

I loved my adopted county, everything about it. It was like an eclectic “Mayberry.”

One we arrived in our new “out in the country” digs I had enough of a backyard space to start homesteading on a small scale, and to make changes in our daily lives that I felt were incredibly important both for myself and my daughter.

As a mother, I was determined to teach my daughter about where her food comes from, how important natural resources are, and a host of other self-reliance skills.

Homesteading, Love, and Shared Dreams

After a while, I also got my real estate, license and was once again faced with my childhood fear while showing some Amish properties’… vicious chickens.

I, of course, knew there would be plenty of farm animals when showing Amish property, but I had no idea they would all be free ranging.

They crowded me before I even got the door of my vehicle completely open. The cow followed me around like the most loyal of dogs while I showcased the impressive property.

It was around this time I met the love of my life. We had so many near misses in meeting for more than a decade, and apparently were destined to meet at the right moment and time for us both.

We engaged far more into homesteading in our small town backyard that I really thought was possible.

But we both wanted to live a more simplistic and sustainable lifestyle, and started on a plan to get moved onto a farm in two years.

The two years spread into nearly five as we sold off rental properties, gave our home a cosmetic facelift and got it sold, and eased out of our numerous community commitments and offices.

I started writing books, for magazines, and online, so my job became far more portable and home based. I loved the newspaper, but also the idea of working both from and on our homestead more.

…And Then The Lights Went Out

A power outage that left the entire region without lights during the worst drought and heat wave in many years for over a week increased our desire to live a more self-reliant lifestyle out of town, and no longer be dependent on grocery stores, and on other modern amenities to meet our daily needs.

Which is a good thing because the only grocery store in the county closed after the outage, and a new one did not get opened for three years.

The Search for the Perfect Homestead Can Be a Lengthy One

We found two near miss properties, and almost put them under contract, but neither would be absolutely perfect unless we blended them together. We had worked so hard and waited so long to have a homestead of our own that we decided to wait for perfect.

Our homestead is partially wooded, so there is plenty of hunting and free firewood with which to heat our home. There is a spring-fed pond, and a creek that runs through the lower part of the property that had never run dry.

We have large enough hayfields to provide all the hay we need for our livestock, and enough pasture to allow them to graze from March through, usually, November.

We put in a large ground plot garden, my apothecary patch for herbs and medicinal flowers, we have a greenhouse, my cool old wood barn that is my favorite place on earth.

We worked in the old tractors and have acquired more gently used pieces of equipment, and we cannot see another home or the road from out house that is at the end of a half-mile driveway.

The upper pasture is an amazing spot where I could sit for hours and soak up the serenity.

You literally could not tell what century you were living in from there because there are no power lines or signs of any modern amenities at all. I think Grizzly Adams would definitely approve.

Now that you know the how portion of why I wound up on a homestead, perhaps you will better understand the why.

Although every homesteader’s journey is different, we all share the same core beliefs, and are yearning to live off the land as much as possible.

Reason #1: Connecting With Our Food

The farm to table or homestead to table concept was the first and perhaps the most important part of the small town backyard homesteading project we launched.

Children who grow up not grasping that the chicken nuggets they get in a fast food meal are layered in unhealthy oils and preservatives, or that the bacon they love once walked around in a pen, turn into grocery shopping adults that do not understand or appreciate all the efforts and obstacles that go into growing and raising food.

They’re also never be able to fully comprehend the importance of the changing seasons and how drastically weather patterns can impact food availability and price.

The pride and patience that comes with putting a seed in the soil, getting your hands deep in the dirt, and tending to the growing seedlings until it is time to harvest and preserve the bounty is a wonderful learning lesson on the road to food security and self-reliance.

Seeing the miracle of growth through the inquisitive and excited eyes of a child is a beautiful thing to behold.

Reason #2: Tasting Whole and Naturally Grown Food

The taste of apples picked off your very own tree or sweet corn hand picked and shucked that goes from your own patch of dirt to the dinner plate in a single hour simply cannot be beaten.

Watching the fruit and vegetables grow, eagerly awaiting the day you can finally pick and enjoy them is not only a visual but an overall sensory experience that cannot be replicated by picking up a bag of apples, or stuffing corn on the cob into a plastic bag at the local grocery store.

children busy in the homeschool classroom

Reason #3: Making Memories and Teaching Lessons That Last a Lifetime

There is no better way to bring up children than on a homestead, farm, or ranch. The independence, responsibility, self-esteem, and critical thinking skills that are naturally acquired while working the homestead build a strong foundation that will serve them well as adults.

Our grandchildren have absolutely no idea that you need to get in the car and drive somewhere to get a tomato to put into a salad.

Nope, they help grow or forage everything that goes into the salad, and help tend to the animals that provide us with milk, eggs, and free range meat.

Our four year old granddaughter, Auddie, can now identify more than two dozen different types of wild edible or medicinal plants, and helps me make natural salves and tinctures to tend to minor wounds the family sustains working the homestead.

Reason #4: Freedom – In Every Sense Of The Word

Homesteading is hard work; denying that fact would offer complete misguidance to anyone considering chucking it all, and buying a piece of land and a shovel.

But, the joyous freedom you gain by being self-reliant has to be akin to the sensation of our pioneering and exploring ancestors when they came to this brave new world.

Every day is a new adventure. You may get to watch a calf be born, a duckling hatch, find a massive patch of blackberries to snack on, hike up a hill and take in a stunning sunset sitting on a rock that is centuries old with someone you love.

You do not need to leave your homestead and spend money for fun, there is plenty of your own to make, watch, and enjoy.

Sitting on the front porch listening to the family’s amateur musician, double heading on a 4-wheeler with your beloved to mend fence on “date night,” or laughing until your sides hurt at the antics of baby goats are far more enjoyable and life-affirming that browsing Facebook or binge-watching the latest thing on Netflix.

Homesteaders live life on their own terms, day in and day out. Whether you are flush or nearly broke for the month, your daily life really does not change much.

There will always be food to eat fresh out of the garden or barnyard, or pulled from a Mason jar on the pantry shelf, swimming in the pond or creek will cool you off and provide water if the power is out on a hot summer day or if rain is still not in the forecast.

If you need to repair or make something, you do not have to scrimp and save for a store run, you simply go to your “junk” pile, and pull the materials or parts you need to make it work. That is what homesteading freedom is all about.

little girls playing with a mini horse and a goat

Food Security

When you live on a homestead, you never have to worry where your next meal is coming from, even when times are hard, during a power outage, or some type of man-made or natural disaster.

There are always the ingredients you need to put together a healthy meal over an open flame if necessary, thanks to all the hard work you continually put in on the homestead.

When the rest of your community is rushing to the grocery store because the weather forecast is calling for a big storm, you are double checking your barnyard critters, and then going back in the house to browse the pantry for “fixins’” for a hearty meal.

Knowing that your family will never go hungry because of your labors is both a part of the sense of freedom homesteading provides as well as an overall sense of fulfillment that you have done your job as a mother, father, grandparent, or spouse.

Skill Building and Bonding

A homesteader is a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. We know how to “doctor” our animals, plant a garden, fix fencing, work on a tractor or vehicle, repair plumbing… the list goes on and on and on.

Calling someone to come over and fix something, or forking over our hard-earned money to go the easy and quick route and buy new to avoid revamping the old – this is simply not in a homesteader’s DNA.

Money saved by doing things yourself is only a part of the reasons building homesteading skills is so important. The freedom and security that comes with learning and honing skills makes the family more self-reliant and close.

On a homestead, regardless of its size, there is a lot of work to be done.

Saturdays spent working together from dawn ‘til dusk to get a project finished before sitting down to a fine home cooked meal as a family brings everyone close, bonds them to one another in a way that an outing to a movie at the mall or playing video games together truly cannot.

Skills are passed down from generation to generation, creating a priceless legacy that could never be quantified in dollars and cents.

The best part of our secluded homestead is that it will be home to our great-great-great-great grandchildren one day.

Our daughter and her family already live here, and the children ages five and younger have already picked out where they want to put their cabin one day, and have more homesteading skills than many adults who live in the nearby town… combined.

I have chronicled our journey to the homestead along with everything we have done here to build it, pictures and videos included, so there is a living history that can be added to and passed down for generations.

Once you become a full-fledged homesteader your life is forever changed in ways both large and small that you could never imagine.

You quickly learn to appreciate the time and effort that goes into the food production that keeps our country alive and strong.

It will be the perfectly constructed wood fence around a farm pasture you pass going down the road that catches your eye and not the fancy vehicle and its irritated driver as you slow down to gawk at it.

The time, sweat, and likely a little bit of blood that it took to build that fence to house the animals that feed and make money for the old farmhouse (that was likely once owned by a great grandparent) will make your heart swell with pride because we are all members of the same club.

What you think and how you think about it will change drastically once you start homesteading.

  • You will find yourself counting down the time until “Chick Days” happen again at your local agricultural store.
  • You will start tossing around phrases that only a few years ago you never knew existed like “straight run” and “cold stratify.”
  • Your ears will perk up when someone in front of you at the bank mentions their doe is getting ready to kid.
  • As soon as all of the rustic homemade Christmas decorations are put away your favorite shopping time of the year finally arrives as seed catalogs start flooding your mailbox.
  • Friends will call you up to ask not about the latest social media gossip but about herbal remedies.
  • You will schedule yourself a day off when “mushroom season” is about to hit.
  • You will not need a weather app to know what type of a front is about to roll it. You will learn how to feel and smell rain or snow coming before you even glance up at the sky to codify your premonitions.

I never knew one could fall into love with a piece of land so deeply. But, once the homesteading life becomes a part of your soul, the only thing more important than the land you embrace is the family that is living on it.

Perhaps one of the best reasons to start homesteading encompasses all of the many integral reasons above – how well you will sleep at night.

Your eyes will close quickly when your head hits the pillow not just because you are tired (and you will be) but because your life is satisfied, full, fulfilled, and you know that come what may tomorrow, your family is going to be prepared to face it head on… with a full belly.

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Tara Dodrill
About Tara Dodrill 192 Articles
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she's an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.

2 Comments

  1. BRAVO! I loved this article and thank you for sharing it. It gives me energy (which I need some of). I’m 65 and everything I start and finish, on my just 1/3 acre plot, reminds me of wishing I had started 10 yrs earlier. It will all get done just taking alot of patience. Good luck and much success to us. ps. i always enjoy reading your help and advise.

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