Philosophy of the Homestead

It may be helpful to think of homesteading as a “philosophy” rather than any particular farm, design, or situation. In general, a homesteader seeks to minimize their dependence on outside manufactured sources, or in other words, the grid. These dependencies can include food, water, power, income, and any other resources that a household needs to survive. While a plot of land out in the middle of nowhere will demand the most self-sufficiency, it is also possible to apply the principles of homesteading directly within your backyard, or even in your apartment’s kitchen.

Even in the city, an industrious person can grow their own food, minimize their expenses, and maximize their own sustainability while satisfying the deeper tenets of the homesteading philosophy: a deeper connection to the natural world through improved diets and nutrition, consuming minimally processed foods that are free of artificial ingredients produced in a lab; eschewing the products of GMO practices, including the animals that feed on GMO products. Some might want to divorce themselves from products of industrial farming. Wasteful disposable products, those produced from unsustainable sources like petrochemicals, or inhumane labor practices overseas can all be part of the “back to the land” movement.

Homesteading, as part of its philosophy of independence, also involves planning for hardship. Whether that’s disaster preparedness for extreme weather in a traditional homestead, or stockpiling food and other supplies to survive crises like job loss or the disruption of a major snowstorm, homesteading skills like preserving food and purifying water can all be integral parts of a homesteading lifestyle even in an urban environment.

Homesteading can be divided into two primary categories: Traditional Homesteading, and Urban Homesteading. While no two homesteads will look exactly the same and none may fit precisely into a single category, these general classifications can help us understand the challenges and constraints of different situations.

Traditional Homesteading:

Complete Independence

This is the Little House on the Prairie picture that most people hold in their minds while considering a “homestead.” Typically, this involves a large tract of isolated land, idyllic and unspoiled. Since this theoretical tract comes with so much room, food can be grown on a large scale, animals can be raised, and large equipment can be utilized to generate power or collect water. The larger the homestead, the more opportunities there are to generate excess resources and provide luxuries to your family. You might sell leftover food or turn it into even more valuable products. Animals can be bred and auctioned off, or used for their wool, milk, hides, etc. If there’s enough power being generated to run your own home, excess energy can even be sold back to the grid to generate a small profit.

Partial Independence 

Not every single farm has to be an island of production and self-reliance. Many modern-day homesteads pay for internet bills, are subscribed to meal delivery kits, or get their necessities off Amazon. Where you make your sacrifices, and where you choose to indulge, is entirely up to you and what suits your family.

Urban Homesteading

This form of modern homesteading is, in many ways, easier to accomplish. Land ownership is much harder to come by now than it was in the past and starting a chicken coop in your suburb’s backyard may prompt the HOA to send some angry letters. However, the same principles of self-sustainability and anti-consumerism are applicable in any setting.

Backyard Homesteading:

While hundreds of acres of fertile land may be out of reach, a backyard can provide so many options for an aspiring homesteader. A greenhouse can be as big or small as your imagination, and can provide healthy, delicious vegetables year-around. Greenhouses can also potentially be passively heated and powered with the right design and equipment. If you’re in a place where animals are a possibility, a small flock of chickens can be an amazing source of eggs. These can be sold at farmers markets, turned into beautiful cakes, or fried for breakfast. A goat or two can provide milk, manage your lawn, and be adorable friends for kids and adults alike. Solar panels can be installed in your yard or on your roof to power your home and limit your dependence on the local grid.

Apartment or Countertop Homesteading:

In many situations, even a small backyard is a luxury out of reach. Apartments within a city center don’t necessarily have much room to work with inside, let alone outside space. Regardless, vegetables and herbs can be grown on a small balcony, or even on a countertop beneath a window or an artificial light. Advancing technology continues to innovate, like in the case of compact, smell-proof containers available for indoor composting. Vertical agriculture, like in the case of many aeroponic designs, can massively save space while minimizing waste and mess. This involves stacking plants above one another, and watering from the top, so that vertical space is utilized and water is carried downwards via gravity.  In some urban centers, like New York and Detroit, programs have been instituted in the past which allow vacant lots to be utilized for things like farming and cultivation. Cooperative and community gardens are incredibly popular in places like this, where neighbors can pool their resources and energy in order to harvest healthy greens and veggies for everyone involved.

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