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From City Slickers to Homesteading

Maybe you remember the 1991 film starring the late Jack Palance, Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Helen Slater, and Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson) that tells the story of three wealthy men in the throes of midlife crises who attempt to find themselves on a cattle ranch. Getting far more than they bargained for, each returns to their lives in New York City changed men, ready to face their former lives with a new outlook and a set of skills that most who are raised in a “concrete jungle” traditionally don’t learn.

Of course City Slickers is a comedy with a Hollywood-style ending where everybody wins and finds deeper meaning in their lives in the hopes of enriching their current circumstances. But for those of us who know that clearly “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” the necessity of swapping out the apartment or suburban home in the concrete jungle for a cattle ranch has to be something that is weighing heavily on your mind.

No Shakespearean Play Or Comedy: This Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life!

One hardly needs to spend much time contemplating the future. A quick check of today’s news in comparison to yesterday’s proves that nothing’s changed. It is grim, and as we all know, it’s not a question of if but rather when things will implode. If you weren’t concerned, you wouldn’t be a regular at Off the Grid News, reading and printing out articles that will help you prepare for the future. From learning how to care for livestock and how to feed yourself to determining the best weapon to use to hunt and how to care for your body when conventional methods are no longer available, the more information you have to prepare, the better.

For many, there is a lingering question that seizes them when taking that first step: “How do I/we go about it?” How do you extricate yourself from the rat race, away from suburbia or the big city and go from growing a few heirloom tomatoes and raising chickens in your backyard to finding a small piece of land and “getting out from under” before it really hits the fan? Far more than stocking up on everything from supplies and ammo and filling your bug-out bag, making that transition takes time, money, a mindset, and of course faith.

It’s Not A Cliché: Just Do It!

There are many ways to go from having a thought to acting on it. There really is no right way to go from being a consumer one day to living on a farm and homesteading the next. I can give you advice based on our experience and hopefully some pieces of it may help you take the steps toward self-sufficiency.

Three components must be in place before deciding whether you can do this:

  • Conviction/Faith
  • Immediate family must be on board
  • Feasibility and a good plan

Many call it faith, some call it conviction, others call it chutzpah, but you need it in bucket loads to make this work. You have to believe that you are doing the right thing. Everything is in place for us to be consumers and part of this all-consuming society. Maybe our ancestors lived a certain way that we want to emulate, but that’s not how people live now, and it’s not how society even wants you to live. If you are looking for a sign, so to speak, it may not come in the form you are hoping it will. Signs all around us speak to us daily, you just have to be looking in the right places and ready to interpret them.

Many still believe the market will correct itself and things will go back to normal. We know this is not going to happen. But knowing it and acting on it takes a whole lot of guts. You’ll be called everything from crazy to stupid, but you must believe in yourself and move forward. I have come to believe that when people have called us crazy for doing this, inside they are actually fearful that we’re right; that in fact we do know something they don’t and they wonder why they can’t see it. But you will do what we did. You call on your faith, strengthen the bond with your family, and move forward. As with everything in life, the first to go against the grain is considered a rebel and set aside or even written off. Don’t let anyone tear you down, and keep your plan in place.

It is really important that your spouse is on board. It isn’t necessary for your siblings and parents to agree with your plans, but it really does help if your spouse shares your vision for the future. This isn’t a choice between which washing machine or shotgun to buy; to execute this takes both of you to agree that the future is bleak. It might sound silly, but if one of you believes that things will return to the days of yesteryear and the other knows that “ain’t gonna happen,” you will have problems.

Create a feasibility plan. We have been conditioned to follow society’s vision for our future to:

  • Go to school
  • Go to college or find a trade
  • Meet someone
  • Fall in love
  • Get married
  • Have a few babies
  • Stay at the same job for forty years or more
  • Retire with a pension
  • Enjoy being a grandparent

Start Your Homesteading Before You Even Leave The City

Knowing how unrealistic much of this list is today, create a new one that goes hand in hand with the inevitability of the new future. It could look something like this:

  • Figure out where you want to buy a farm
  • Sell your house
  • Become debt-free
  • Be ready to revise your plans when unplanned things happen
  • Work your farm
  • Learn how to hunt
  • Learn to be crafty
  • Learn new things
  • Homeschool your kids
  • Be prepared to have to work, if need be
  • Be ready for when family realizes you really hadn’t lost your minds
  • Be prepared for them when they beg you to take them in
  • Enjoy the fruits of your labor

You’ll need some money to live sustainably. No matter how much planning we do, things cost money and usually more than we think they will. Even if you plan to build your own house, your goat pen, or chicken coop; wash everything by hand; take up quilting; power your home with alternate means of electricity; and collect rainwater; at minimum you need the raw material and tools to accomplish these things. And all of these jobs take time and money to achieve.

Where In The World Will You Live?

One critical component to living a prepper lifestyle is where will it be? Despite how bleak things are, in general (although it varies by state and county), prices are not keeping pace with how bad things are. It is still pretty expensive to buy your own home, and now that there’s a rumor that stuff is going to hit the fan, farms are no longer being abandoned but are rather a hot commodity. There are many off-the-grid communities popping up around the country. That’s an option. If you have figured out that what your house is worth is less than the price of a new farm in the U.S., consider moving to a developing country instead. Prices are generally far cheaper, and for the most part (again, it varies depending on the country), Big Brother is not only unwelcome in other countries, he’s a nuisance to have around. This should be a pretty big consideration wherever you choose to live. Getting there is half the battle; being happy once you move offers a whole new set of challenges.

If you are having difficulty selling your house in a down market, there are tips our there that can help you. The more you can net from the sale, the better. You will need a pretty large amount of capital to get started, and your home is still going to be the best place to find this (unless you are fortunate enough to be in a family member’s will and testament). You absolutely want to avoid buying a house on credit. The point is to move away from borrowing in the present and paying off in the future. It’s part of why the economy is in the mess it is. Going into this new lifestyle debt-free is the smartest way to make this all happen. Not only do you need all the money you can gather, but you also don’t want anyone coming after you if you are unable to pay for something you bought on credit.

Be Prepared To Plan And Revise Often

When my husband and I first moved to Puerto Rico, we thought we were going to do as everyone else does here: grow and sell coffee, plantains, and citrus. Remember, we’re city slickers – I was raised in New York City, and he was raised in the nation’s capital. We had no clue what farming entailed when we bought our farm.

Going organic meant cutting down the coffee trees, getting some goats, and planting different plants than the ones everyone else has on their farms here. This is one example of being prepared to revise your plan when needed. In getting goats, we had to build a tropical goat pen (which meant learning how to do this and having all the tools and raw materials on hand), and we had to read a few books and articles on how to care for them. Far as I know, there are no goats running loose on the streets of New York, and so this has been like learning a new language for me. Many of the things we learned from scratch have in many ways been a lot like being back in college.

We got involved with the farm bureau, and the first thing that they expected us to do was use chemical fertilizer and herbicide, despite the known dangers. Like buying the biggest house and car you can afford, it’s conditioning to do things the monoculture way. Using the three sisters method and doing things the way our ancestors and the indigenous people did them required learning, patience, and a lot more time. Things don’t grow as quickly with goat pellets as they would with chemical fertilizer. However, things taste better and don’t expose you to carcinogens.

Learn To Be Crafty

I am making no assumptions about you, but I was definitely a city slicker in every sense of the word. I worked in an office, I drove a car to work (albeit a fuel efficient one), and I gave little thought to the money I spent on clothes and necessities. If a skirt’s hem became snagged, I took it to the cleaner’s and asked the seamstress to mend it. If the heels of my shoes became worn, I gave them to Goodwill and bought a new pair. If something in the house broke and my husband couldn’t fix it easily, we called someone. We had more money than time, and on the few precious weekends that neither of us was traveling for work, we didn’t want to have them taken up fixing things.

From creating cleaning products that are natural and safe to use and making shampoo to canning, cooking, and beyond, when the raw materials to make the things we use on a daily basis aren’t available, will you be prepared? The time to start isn’t when these things are no longer able to get to the supermarket because the U.S. was ultimately unable to negotiate safe passage of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, but rather now when things are relatively calm.

Homeschooling Your Children

Many of you already see considerable value in homeschooling your children. Between having some control over the curriculum and having the freedom to have your kids with you as much as possible, I don’t have to tout the benefits. Most of you already know them.

Be Prepared To Work If You Have To

No matter how well prepped we were, we found that things didn’t happen as quickly as we wanted them to. We bought a well-established farm, but because it had been one of the largest coffee producers in the area and we had decided not to pursue coffee and go organic, we needed capital to do this. Neither one of us wanted to step foot back in an office, and so I started freelance writing. Prior to writing for Off the Grid News, I had actually never written professionally.

Going back to work is not a step backward, as I had originally felt it was. You don’t want to go into debt while you are financing your future, and the best way to do this is to work or get used to bartering. The more established we become in the area, the more comfortable we have become entering into bartering arrangements. Along with being ready to adjust your plans, be prepared to have to raise money. It happens. But take comfort in knowing that you aren’t raising capital for a 70-inch plasma TV, but rather a backhoe, a tractor, or a stable of goats. It is an extremely different feeling when your money goes to pay for something that will directly or indirectly feed you vs. having something your friends can ooh and ahh over.

That Day Will Come

My family continues to think we have both taken leave of our senses. Nobody on my side talks to us, and they tell people we are playing games and one day we will wake up and realize that it’s too late to get back into the rat race. My husband’s family was always supportive but probably thought we were a little weird. Once they came to visit and saw what we were trying to achieve, and why, their questions about what we were doing made it clear they had started considering the possibility that we had been right all along. A few “jokes” were made like, “get that apartment ready, we may be joining you one day.”

The Fruits Of Your Labor

Well, we’re hardly there yet. We have a whole lot more work to do. We are eighteen months in to harvesting our own fruits and vegetables, and the goats and chickens are as much a permanent fixture as our dogs and cats (hangovers from city slicker life that have both come in handy living on a farm). We look forward to the day when we are feeding ourselves completely and no longer having to jump in our cars to buy any food or supply, but that’s a ways away.

Having said that, however, I can tell you that each time we eat something from our farm, create an addition to the goat pen (to make room for another), or someone refers to us as farmers and no longer the retirees, I feel like we finally have what I love to call “farm cred.” We have many more steps to take, but I feel like we have successfully made the transition from city slickers to homesteaders. And so can you!

©2012 Off the Grid News

© 2008-2014 Off The Grid News

13 comments

  1. My hats off to you for acting on your convictions. In the article, you said the locals now speak of you as farmers, not retirees. Are you of the retirement age? Are you taking on the work of trying to start a farm at retirement age? If so, my hat is really off for you.

    I guess you could call me a preppee. Last summer I built a solar powered greenhouse in my back yard. I am getting my feet wet with aquaponices. I have 2 goats, 6 chickens, and 3 175 gal tanks in which I grow my tilopia. There is just me and the better halve.

    I guess I was ahead of the game in that I already had 10 acres. I still only use a fourth of it, but I am trying.

    Thanks for the article. It was good reading and helps open our minds to what is possible…..John

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for your kind words! Actually no, I was 41 and my husband was 46 when we moved here. The reason we were automatically assumed to be retirees is an interesting one. Puerto Rico is part of the US (a commonwealth) and many go back and forth to the mainland to work and then come to the island to retire. Americans who aren’t of Puerto Rican descent rarely come to the island to work and when they do, it’s usually to the “nation’s” capital and not to buy farm land and work it. And when those rare instances happen, they hire a bunch of locals to work their farm. We are the only ones we know who were neither Puerto Rican nor who hired people to work for them. So while we may have initially been lumped into a category, we’re now establishing ourselves as actual farmers here – in spite of deciding not to do things by the “book.”

      I love what you’re doing! What kind of goats do you have? Our does are half Saanen (sp?) and Alpine. Our buck is Saanen. I love goats! Our next project is to make a greenhouse. And like you, it’s just us too! ☺

      Thank you,
      Sarah

  2. By the way – In the text of the “Product of the Week” it describes Belize as an “island nation”. I’ll bet that will come as a shock to people living in Belize who always thought they were pretty well attached to the mainland.
    Any recent geologic events that you know of that may have separated them?

    • Hi Jeff,

      Oh dear! Did I write that? And I know better as I know a considerable amount about Belize. Although much of it faces the Caribbean, it is definitely not an island.

      If I wrote that, I am sorry! I hrow myself on the mercy of the court!

      Sarah

  3. Hello Sarah and good article. I more or less told some old biker friends the same stuff when they visited yesterday and they are prepping to take the leap. We left the city a little later in life, I was 55 and my wife 38 [cradle snatcher and grave robber], but we adapted quickly and it is good. A plus was that we both had a bit of rural lifestyle experience and knew some of what to expect. We don’t farm in the true sense, but have plenty of land that we could, can hunt as desired, a milk cow and garden seriously. Sometimes I wonder if I’m retired or retarded, as the work can be harder for a lot less money than our city jobs paid. The personal rewards are much greater however and I reccomend being semi-off-the-grid to anybody. The beauty is that most anyone can do it with the proper motivation and mindset.

    • Hi Hickabilly,

      Your comments always make me laugh! Thank you for your comments and kind words. I, too wonder whether we’re retarted sometimes. There are some days when I think, wow there are really easier ways to make five bucks! But then I go out and see that I have no neighbors whose houses are only 2 feet from my property line. I don’t miss those days. I don’t know if we’ll ever be fully off the grid but each day that I don’t ge involved in the rat race and feel compelled to buy a 47-inch plasma (we don’t own a TV), I feel like we’re getting closer to how we’re supposed to live. Of course “supposed” to is relative to each person. :)

      Thanks,
      Sarah

  4. Good article. My wife and I have been growing and canning our own veggies for several years. We have chickens, cows and 2 horses. I was born in NYC so I knew nothing about anything. But been doing it it for 19 years now and I am at peace with self and those around us. I have my neighbor Who retired from Army and his wife doing the gardening and I gave them a calf as a joke and now they have several cows and goat and Lamas. Showed them what wild berry were good for making jellys. So it is all fun and everyone learns from somebody else. Always enjoy your articles.

    • Hi Nobody!

      Thank you! Ah a fellow NYC dweller?? Whereabouts? I am from the upper west side, but I have lived all over, Chelsea, and in each of the five boroughs.

      That’s a funny story about the calf. It’s how we got our first chickens. I think the neighbors wanted to see what we were really made of. Those first four are now 45 and they all laugh and say that never expected us to really “do this.” They thought we’d run back and hand them back their chickens. Who can’t resist their alarm clocks?

      I am so glad you like them. I really appreciate hearing that. You made my day!
      Sarah

  5. We’re straddling both worlds on a rented farm while hubby still works. We’ve got chickens, ducks, & beef cows. We’re learning as we go & putting our canning, gardening, & crafting skills to the test. Our nearly-grown homeschooled kids are learning practical skills & the value of hard work. Our families are jealous that we took this leap at 40, & many consider us too old. The physical work is hard, but after years of urban living, our bodies are responding & growing leaner. It’s not easy. We’re learning as we go so we can “retire” to the acreage we’re purchasing to be “off the grid.” It’s worth it. I’ve never been happier!

    • LB,

      You could be us! Well, minus the cows. We want ducks. 40s? Pfft! It’s the new 30; didn’t your aching body tell you that? :)

      We’re still such newbies at this, and I can tell you that I will never go back to conventional again. We’re having too much fun! It sounds as though you two are as well. Looking forward to hearing about your hubby’s retirement, so y’all can do this full time!

      Thank you,
      Sarah

  6. Wonderful article Sara. We live near a small town in central Virginia. We are living in the house I grew up in. My wife and I started discussing the state of affairs in the country and decided to start preparing for what we believe is a coming economic collapse. We do have a house payment but that is it. We now have chickens and will soon have some pigs. We have planted our own garden and I hunt every year. I have two wants. One to pay off this house and the other is more land. At least we have family close by that have land if it comes to that. I admire you for what you have done. Keep up the good work. Thanks for your articles. I believe they are an inspiration to all who read them.

  7. I enjoyed your article but I always have concerns when people advocate for moving to a foreign country or non-U.S. territory. When I first got hired as a police officer, there were a few old timers who were carrying on about their impending retirements to Belize. This was is the early 80′s and the U.S. was still involved in the Iran-Contra controversy and war was raging in Central America, so to me, the area didn’t seem that it would be very appealing. There aren’t many other countries who have an understanding of personal freedom and property rights that we have here in the U.S. (and I understand that Puerto Rico is a U.S. protectorate). But my main concern is waking up one day and finding that the government has just changed hands to Marxist/Communist control and all personal property has just been nationalized and all ownership by non-citizens has been outlawed. Kind of like what happened in Cuba in the 50′s and how foreigners are not allowed to own property in Mexico without a citizen as a partner or straw man owner (even though they demand to come to the U.S. and enjoy just such privileges), and as is increasingly becoming the case right here with our property rights being constantly eroded. What do you plan to do as a stranger in a strange land if the revolution comes knocking at your door and the “people” demand to share in your good fortune or seemingly abundant lifestyle or the govt. decides to tranfers ownership of your property to the indigeneous population as happened in many African nations where the white farmers were run of their lands or outright murdered and the property was given to people who knew nothing about farming and the populace starved as a result?

  8. I have some rural property letsid for sale out off of Highway 36 just East of the Oregon Coast on the other side of the mountain barrier. 18.98 acres of privacy and wildlife ready for someone to build a beautiful gettaway. There are water rights from a creek that runs through the property and electricity is already run. Cute and cozy little log cabin really adds the rustic charm. Make an offer and live in nature.MLS# 11625375

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