Homesteading is a new trend in old ways – people who are tired of the noisy, congested city and seek open air and refuge are turning back to cultural traditions of our grandparents and great-grandparents. We’re growing our own food, mending more and buying less, and finding ways to be more self-sufficient, most of the time in the country and a few animals to tend and keep us company. It’s a reconnection to nature and a disconnection from chaos.
We’ve spent generations moving away from our family farms and wide open spaces into cities with better job opportunities and more activities to occupy our time, but many of us have found that at some point we passed a feeling of more security and entered into some sort of stress-breeding hamster wheel that we can’t step off of. If you’ve dreamed of homesteading, that analogy hits home for you.
Slowly but surely, a movement is afoot among those of us who have had enough of the race to nowhere. There are ways to make a living working exclusively within the parameters of a homestead, but with modern technology, even if you haven’t figured out how canned jams and jellies or organic sausages convert to sustainable wages, you can still make a living from your own private paradise.
So what’s holding you back? Why haven’t you packed up your tiny, dingy apartment and headed to the country? It’s a scary step to take – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, even if they and you know it’s the right move. But as scary as it may be, it also may be just what you need to achieve your dreams without feeling like you sacrificed your soul or your freedom in the process. Let’s talk about your fears of homesteading, slay those dragons one by one, and get you to your destiny.
#1. You think you have to make a complete break with technology
This is actually the biggest concern I hear and it amuses me – I’m a homesteader and I make my living writing – mostly on the internet. Homesteading doesn’t require a complete or even partial break with technology. You can do so if you want to; I know a few people completely off the grid with no electricity or running water, no bank accounts, no cars. But there certainly aren’t many like that.
The truth is, technology is going to help you as a homesteader. We don’t need to go back to a time when we had no advance warning of storms and it took a day’s journey to reach a doctor. We’re connecting to nature, but we’re doing it this year, not in the nineteenth century. You choose the level at which you want to disconnect.
Regardless of what route you wander, once you start homesteading, you will be using technology a bit less as your outdoor time increases, and likely more productively and with more intention. This can manifest in simple ways like using Skype to chat with friends, learning how to sell and advertise your products online, or even moving your job entirely online and relying on a computer for it.
It is not simply breaking away from technology, but rather utilizing it for different purposes that have become more beneficial to you, breaking away from the mindless scrolling and use of technology. In today’s society, technology provides a very important role for our survival. We use it for work, for school, entertainment, distractions, even to order food from our beds and have it delivered right to the door.
But once all of these are right outside your door you will see yourself slowly easing off the use of it. There is no need to order food when the freshest of ingredients are right outside your home, and will save you the forty dollars you would otherwise pay. You will not be scrolling through Facebook looking at stories you really do not care so much about, because now you will have things to do outside.
When you break from technology during homesteading, you are not cutting that part out of your life. Instead, you are replacing it with something much more fulfilling and healthy for you!
#2. Growing your own food sounds like you’re going to starve
Growing your own food is a big part of homesteading but I would argue it doesn’t have to be for everyone. Buying from your neighbor or at the farmer’s market can be just as rewarding if you lack time or talent for food cultivation.
It’s a tough adjustment if you haven’t grown or eaten from your own garden before, and alarms don’t go off when you enter the grocery store or the local McDonald’s every once in a while. But once you get used to harvesting your own crops, you’ll start to notice that produce is really pricey, and you’ll feel motivation to eat from your own earth.
If you’re a meat eater, consider raising chickens as well. Hens give free eggs every day and you can prepare their meat, too. You’ll save cash on chicken and won’t be eating meat that has been pumped full of chemicals, either.
This step might be harder to take for some people but in the long run, it’s likely more humane for the chickens that they be homegrown and quickly culled, rather than being raised in a far off factory farm that is overstuffed. Consider purchasing a goat too, which you can use for milk to drink, make cheese, or use in household and beauty products. This can bring income to the homestead too – the goat has to be bred for milk, so you can raise the kids and then sell them.
Once you have everything set up and properly running, you should be eating fresh salads with more nutrition than what you’d buy elsewhere without dropping a dime on it. Consider purchasing some machines to use at home to help you make prep as well, like a bread maker. With just these small steps, you’ll have yourself making filling meals and spending hundreds less per week than you would at a grocery store.
#3. Your idea of physical labor is scheduled from 5:30-6:30 at the gym
Working on a farm is hard work; there’s no getting around that and there’s no reason to sugarcoat it. You will most likely be growing your own crops and caring for livestock, so you’ll have to know how to tend to their needs and keep them as healthy as possible. How much you do will depend on whom else lives in your household, the help you have around the farm, and how much you choose to rely on the earth and your own work for survival.
Most of the work will be a challenge at first but quickly become a routine, and you can ease into that routine more quickly in a few ways – before you move onto the homestead, try working as a farmhand on the weekends with someone in the community you’re considering relocating to. Or hire someone to help you at yours, either short-term to show you the ropes, or long-term if you feel it just isn’t your skillset or you’ll lack the time.
Weather changes will require adaptations and flexibility as well. Some physical labor and scrappiness is required for sudden and unanticipated storms – at very least you’ll want to ensure livestock housing is sufficient and maintain it, and when nasty weather brews, cover the crops as quickly as possible and gather livestock and bring them in.
It might not be often but it will require a plan and some hustle. Other storms will require more preparation and possibly a few hands on deck, and with time you’ll recognize weather patterns and know instinctively how to prepare. A few trial and error mishaps will actually help in the long run and eventually keep you from both under- and over-preparing, saving time and money.
Homesteading is, despite your greatest fear, a godsend in bad weather. All of your food is right there and you’ve likely canned and preserved months’ worth of it already, so you won’t need to fight crowds at the supermarket for foods that aren’t even usable without power anyway. That in itself is worth every bit of learning curve, study time, and humility to learn the art and science of homesteading.
Bad weather is going to cause more physical labor in the aftermath and clean-up, but with good preparation it isn’t a setback except in the severest of storms that would inconvenience no matter where you are. You’ll bounce back quickly and find yourself back to your routines much faster than you ever did after natural disasters and bad weather in the city.
#4. “This sounds really expensive!”
Finding land, moving, and setting up a farm are difficult tasks and finances are no small issue by any stretch of the imagination. I’d like to say that homesteading is cheaper in the long run, but I’m not sure that’s true, and it’s definitely not in the initial setup.
It’s an investment in your future and should be viewed as such, but in the end the costs come down to priorities – your mortgage will likely be less than previous housing expenses, but you’ll be doing maintenance and repairs you didn’t factor into your budget before. Your food bills will go down dramatically but healthy livestock requires vet care and attention. You’ll spend less on transportation and other expenses will go down – fewer clothing purchases, less eating out, and so on – but now you’ll be paying for other things.
Eventually these costs will go down as you make the purchases and build the projects you need, but in the first few years, most likely you’ll wonder how you ever thought this adventure would be cheaper.
To get an idea of how much funding you’ll need, check out real estate in the area you’re considering, just to get a picture in your head (we’re sure you’ve already done that). Then build a list of what you need to help you narrow down exactly what you’re looking for.
How close to town or the biggest city? How much land? What price range is absolutely too high? (Tip: don’t even look at anything outside your price range, not even a couple thousand out of it – like in all parts of life, there are too many other areas to potentially blow your budget so you don’t want to start that pattern with the very first one.)
Get a real estate agent involved early on – they’ll find the places within your criteria set and will have access to information such as proper soil, weather patterns, flooding history, and so on. Get an idea of what you’ll need to add to your land – are you building or are the house and other structures existing? If you’re buying an established farm, does it include equipment and livestock? If not, what do you need to add and what are those prices?
Once you have these factors established, try to pad your budget by 10%. That should cushion the blow if you have to go over-budget on anything, will keep you from blowing the budget if you go over in a couple of areas because others will be under or right at the line, and if you do this really well, you might even have savings at the end (but don’t count on it).
#5. Your family and friends worry you’ve lost your mind
Your inner circle might not be your biggest supporters at first – you’ll probably be moving away from them, or they’ll think you’re crazy because they’ve never seen you do farm work a day in your life. Eventually, they’ll come around – literally, because they’ll enjoy the wide open spaces too, and figuratively, because they’ll be impressed by the skills you’ve developed and will be interested too.
Your partner and any other family members along for the adventure will need to be in agreement, though. Children raised in the city or suburbs are often a tough sell but they eventually adjust and love the life as much as anyone else – visits home or to a new city even take on a new magic as they develop appreciation for sights they no longer regularly see.
The best way to circumnavigate the voices of doubt and protest amongst your friends and family is to visit often, and invite them to visit you! And always, always, bear gifts. From fig preserves to a dress you made, the sausage you’re learning to make (or maybe the farm you bought came with the last owner’s prize-winning recipe!), moonshine, some sort of craft you made, there are a million ideas and while they’ll come to be everyday products in your life, they’ll be novelties in theirs and they’ll be appreciated and treasured.
Your friends and family will never be replaced, but you’ll add to the menagerie in your new adventure too; you’ll never meet more colorful characters than the people who entertained themselves alone or within small circles. You’ll meet your neighbors, you’ll go to church, you’ll attend town halls, you’ll know all the families in your children’s schools – you’ll know more in your small community than you ever did in the big city.
#6. You worry you’re going to mess everything up and everyone will sue you
I don’t think this is as complex as many people make it out to be, but hire a good lawyer and have them do the legwork. You’re in a whole new environment and things likely won’t go wrong, but they might, so cover yourself.
If you don’t have a will, make one. Be generous with insurance; get every policy you might possibly need and at the best coverage you can afford. You’ll want to make sure you have all proper licensing and certification for your endeavors, from handling farm machinery to growing crops, raising livestock, and selling food products.
Investing a little money in legal counsel is intimidating but you’ll save a lot of money and headache in comparison to potential lawsuits for hot water you had no idea you were submerging yourself slowly into.
#7. Your excitement is met with prejudice and fear – sometimes even from yourself!
You likely have a lot of people around you who don’t like this idea – we’ve talked a little bit about how to handle friends and family already. How convincing the naysayers are will depend on your personality and how well you handle judgment; the truth is that most people go into homesteading to return to their roots and make reconnections, not as a cool fad.
But people don’t understand that, and you’ll hear a lot about it from them. All the time! They’ve gotten used to you being around and they don’t want to give that up – that’s quite the compliment! Take their fear as an expression of love and don’t let it get to you.
Naturally, you’ll feel some anxiety. Changing careers and moving are two of the big life stressors and you’re doing two at once, and not without some uncertainty. You’re moving into a great unknown, and there are many preparations, and many things that will go awry no matter how well you plan – that’s LIFE, it’s not some divine sign.
Keep pushing forward! You’ll gain so many new experiences and skills that others never will. You might limit your daily pathways but you’ll see so much more of the world.
#8. You aren’t sure you’re healthy enough for this
As you already know, homesteading takes labor, both physical and mental. It can be difficult on your body, and even when you’re sick there are still constant tasks to complete without many people around to help you.
You also won’t be next door to a corner pharmacy anymore either, so stocking up or making your own remedies might be difficult or have to be foreseen ahead of time. In many ways, I can tell you that you’ll find yourself healthier than you ever were before, stronger from the physical activity and fresh air, and mentally more well from the slower pace and greater self-reliance.
But you know better than anyone else what your limitations are; if you have serious disabilities, you will need a strong support network and you’ll need to know how to adapt your work. As a personal example, I am a homesteader with multiple sclerosis; some days are good, some are bad, some are amazing, some are awful.
I sit more often than I’d like, but you can do chores in spurts and you can milk a cow on a stool. A day when I can’t move as fast will be a day I ask someone in my family to chase after animals but I will get the lawn mowed, a day when I feel a lot of pain won’t be spent in the garden but I can do the books, a day when my hands aren’t working won’t be spent at the sewing machine, a day when I’m not feeling strong won’t be designated to clean the barn, and so on.
#9. The transition from worker bee to independence sounds intimidating
Transitions are always scary but when you’re stuck in your city or suburban routine and the homestead life seems far out of reach, it isn’t just overwhelming – it feels impossible. Your life will feel simpler in the end, but it isn’t while you acclimate.
It might save money in the long run – especially if you educate yourself on tax write-offs, late bit of advice here: get an accountant – but it won’t feel like it at first and it will require a lot of money upfront, especially as you learn to accept throwing money away on mistakes that inevitably occur. (Second late bit of advice – add a line item to your budget called “Oops” to soften the blow on those mistakes!)
Also, keep in mind that life is never problem-free. You aren’t going to solve every problem you have, and you’ll create new ones, I guarantee. But you’re going to stop feeling like you’re drowning and can’t catch up, you’ll stop watching the clock, you’ll stop craving nature and sunlight from inside a cubicle.
What you must remember in the transition is that one is always necessary to get a goal, and at the end of your leap and your learning process on the way down is the life you’ve dreamed of. You’ll find that most things aren’t as you idealized, but you will love this life more than the one you are leaving behind.
A good way to start dreaming about homesteading is on Pinterest, but you’d do well to remember that Pinterest isn’t real. We never reach that picture perfect goal in anything we do, and you won’t in homesteading either. There will be failures and hiccups and great disasters and funny stories.
This is life before the finished product and it has no filters. Homesteading is not an escape – an escape is a vacation. It’s going to become your real life even though it feels like an alternative universe today.
You’ll still need to run to town and you’ll still have an errand list a mile long when you do; you picture a cozy cabin in the woods and that’s attainable, but that beautiful garden outside needs constant tending and you likely can’t grow absolutely everything you’ll need in it.
This is the life on the land, reconnecting with nature and our own spirits. It will require more of you in many ways but those ways will also recharge you. It is not a more difficult life, but it will be more challenging.
Don’t let nine reasons – or any other doubts you have – be your distractors from what could be exactly what you need. It’s a process that will take some time, but you have to start somewhere, and you can start now.
Sara Castellano has been homesteading in San Marcos, Guatemala, for three years with nine children, her first grandchild, and a menagerie of chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and peacocks. Before that, she was running the family farm in her native North Carolina.
She runs a hostel and language academy in San Marcos, in addition to being a writer and operating a VA service with clients worldwide. She is working on opening an orphanage in Guatemala.