Homesteading is usually associated with self-sufficiency. Many who live in the city dream of one day becoming self-sufficient, “leaving everything” and moving to the country to run a homestead.
But aside from financial and social constraints that may hold them back, there are numerous things – mostly fears — that convince them rural life isn’t for them. Losing one’s income, not having the necessary skills and detachment from “civilization” are top reasons why they won’t even give it a second thought. Whether suggested by others or conjectured by themselves, these fears may be just that – negative, unfounded illusions fueled by industrial society and swallowed hook, line and sinker by most urban-dwelling, mall-hopping, Starbucks-sipping corporate workers tied to their desks.
I know because I used to be one of them city-zens. Until life took a different turn and brought me and my family to the boondocks. Now, three years later, we’ve taken to the country so well we don’t ever dream of going back to city life. We love the fresh air, blue sky, and wide open spaces here. We’ve learned many new skills, acquired some grit, and even developed the physique necessary to run a backyard farm.
For those who are considering but are afraid of making a similar move, here’s a list of 5 common myths that I know might be keeping you from pursuing your dreams … and how you can debunk them:
1. City-dwellers-turned-homesteaders belong to a certain stereotype. Doomsday prepper. Right-wing fundamentalist. Tree-hugging activist. Anti-government hippy. While an increasing number of modern or recently turned homesteaders may fall under these categories, the majority of us are just regular nature-lovin’, garden-growin’, homemakin’ folk who enjoy working the land, producing our own food and leading simple lives — away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We prefer being surrounded by grass rather than concrete. We don’t mind recycling kitchen scrap into compost. We enjoy going to the rodeo. And we absolutely love drinking our goats’ milk!
2. You’d have to own vast acreage. There are two concepts that can be argued here: “own” and “vast.” First of all, one doesn’t need to own a homestead property. There are all kinds of leasing, lending and working arrangements, voluntary or paid, that can be explored. For farm owners, different situations may arise that would require the help or presence or other people in their properties. They may need to leave or move away for several years and decide to lease their place. There are wealthy landowners whose ranches and vacation estates need caring for when not in use, and they’ll hire people to watch them for good pay. Or you might have a good friend or relative who owns land that’s just lying idle, which you could offer to farm for a number of years while you save up to buy your own. They’d benefit from your care of their property, while you gain much-needed experience for your own future farming.
Second, whether or not you own the place where you’re in now, you can very likely do some small-scale gardening. Whether you’re staying in a tenth of an acre in the suburbs or a high-rise condo in the city, there’s likely a yard that you can till or a balcony you could keep a container garden in. You have to start somewhere, even if it means taking baby steps in a long path that would eventually lead you to your ultimate goal. Start now, while you wait for opportunities to expand later.
3. You’d lose your job and income. Thanks to the Internet, the likelihood of getting (paid) to work online is almost unlimited. So many services can now be offered and supplied remotely. Do you write? Design? Do bookkeeping, administrative or consultancy work? There are countless opportunities, part- or full-time, on sites like Elance, oDesk and of course, Craigslist. You can sell crafts on Etsy and provide unique services – from jingle composition to voice-over narrations — through Fiverr. You can teach English to Japanese and Koreans. Many areas of expertise have field-specific directories you can advertise your services on – from life coaching to stock photography. There is little reason why you couldn’t continue your career from remote locations, if it can be conducted online and you have a reliable Internet connection.
Yes, you may experience some reduction in income, but don’t forget that living in the country is much, much cheaper than it is in town. (Especially if you’re going to be producing your own food and generating your own power.) Also, you could consider transitioning slowly. For example, if you’re opting to live in the country just outside the city you’re in, you or your spouse could keep his or her job by commuting to the office or working part-time from home, while the other stays home full-time to set up the farm. This could be done for the first year as you gradually adjust to country life.
4. You have to live off-the-grid. While solar, wind, hydro and all other forms of clean energy are definitely a goal to strive for, many homesteaders continue to rely on conventional municipal sources for power – whether fully or partially — while they work on becoming completely self-sufficient. That goes for other utilities as well like water, gas, sewer and telecoms. It depends on their location and financial means.
5. You’ll be completely isolated, without emergency help. There are, of course, varying degrees of “isolation” that you’ll have to decide to live with. Will you be living in an area without a neighbor within a couple of miles? Poor cell phone signal? Unreliable Internet connection? It goes without saying that homesteaders should be self-reliant in the basics of life, including safety and security. But those opting to relocate far from the city should do their research and find out the social conditions, wilderness environment and availability of medical help in the area they’re considering. While crime in rural areas tends to be low and may not be of real concern, the chances of getting into freak incidents – getting a snakebite, falling off a ladder, or someone being cut or run over by farm equipment — may actually be higher. Always follow safety rules when working around the farm or navigating the wilderness.
Avoid doing hazardous tasks alone, and always take your phone or a two-way radio with you. Keep young children within sight or earshot all the time, especially outdoors. Older kids can be left to themselves, but it would be smart to send them out in pairs if they need to go some distance from the house, in unfamiliar territory. (Having them bring a stick, a first-aid kit, or a whistle would be good, too.) That said, it’s always great to make friends with your closest neighbors. In some respects they can and will be your closest allies. Not only will they come in handy at harvest time or when your truck gets stuck in deep mud or snow, but they’ll be crucial if – God forbid – you get into an emergency situation.
Positive you’re ready to take the big leap now? Here are more tips to make your transition easier on the pocket as well as the psyche.
1. Get inspiration from those who’ve done it. There must be hundreds of thousands who’ve made the big move ever since the recession. A YouTube channel that has helped me and my family adjust to rural life is MyLittleHomestead. They’re a happy family of 6 who do everything by themselves – from building their cob home to making the teenagers’ zipline. Also, there are dozens of blogs and websites by couples, especially women who’ve taken to rural life beautifully. Two of my favorites are: http://modernhomesteading.ca/blog/ and http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/. If there’s any specific skill that you’d like to learn, from no-till gardening to recycling grey water, there are countless articles, instructional videos, groups and forums online that discuss those things. Take advantage of the Internet and get all the information you need, for free.
2. Do it now, wherever you are. Acquire the necessary skills, now. You don’t have to wait until you set foot on an actual rural farm. Garden in your apartment balcony. Learn to DIY everything — can meat and veggies, make essential oils and tinctures. Attend workshops. Take a permaculture design course. Again, soak up all the necessary information online. There’s no reason why you can’t start learning relevant skills – today.
3. Transition slowly. You don’t have to do it cold turkey. If there’s a way for you to start living in your chosen area without fully committing yet, do so. Rent a property and try living there for several months. Look for job opportunities, even volunteer work if you can afford it. That way, you can test the waters and see what it’s like to stay for extended periods of time. Get acquainted with the local culture, weather patterns, water quality, flooding or drought situations. Know the inconveniences. For singles and couples who like travel and adventure, there are exchange programs in and outside the U.S. where you could stay in small organic farms with free board and lodging in exchange for five hours of work per day. Such opportunities can be found on sites like http://www.workaway.info/ and http://www.wwoof.net/.
4. Don’t go it alone. Ever considered group ownership? There are such things as co-ops and land shares, where a bunch of friends or relatives pool their resources together and purchase property that’s large enough to accommodate several different homes. There are also intentional communities, where you join an existing neighborhood of like-minded individuals. These kinds of arrangements aren’t for everyone, but they can address financial constraints. Plus, it would be easy to find farm-sitters if you need to go away on a short trip. In a practical sense, sharing the rigors of medium or large-scale farming can be so much easier – and fun – with more hands on deck. Intentional communities of various backgrounds and pursuits are sprouting up everywhere – from faith-based groups prepping for the apocalypse … to eco-villages practicing permaculture … to vegan or yoga camps building a health community. You don’t have to be alone.
What myths would you add to the list? Share them in the section below: