I’ve had this dream for years – dreams of chickens and gardens and log-home-living. While my head version included more land, sometimes life gives you less, so the ability to adapt saves the dream. That’s how my five-acre dream became a one-acre plot which meant I had to squeeze more in less space. And it takes creativity to do more with less. Afterall, it’s one thing to have the dreams in your head but quite another thing to make them a reality. So, how’s that work? For me, using several tools helped me plan out my homestead and bring it to life.
The first tool was a course in permaculture design held at Trevecca Urban Farm where I work as the farm’s coordinator. One of the great things about the course was our amazing instructors, which included Cliff Davis and Jennifer Albanese, along with our Farm Director, Jason Adkins. We experienced hands-on learning by creating a permaculture design for a nearby property. We also spent several days at Spiral Ridge Permaculture Farm, home of Cliff and Jennifer, where they practice what they teach.
It was so inspiring, I decided to sit down and draw out a design for my own homestead. When we first moved on the land, there were no gardens or eatable fruit. This is what it looks like now (see drawing below).
If you find that there isn’t such a course being offered in your neck of the woods, or you find the price out of reach, there are many websites and videos available online that can help you understand the principles and create your own permaculture design. Another option is hands-on learning from someone local. Before I was hired at Trevecca Urban Farm, I volunteered weekly and learned far more than I would have learned from books alone. There are also farms that are willing to teach you these skills in exchange for labor.
The second tool that helped me along this journey was an eBook, Your Custom Homestead written by Jill Winger of The Prairie Homestead.
This guide asks important questions to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Out of this came my Mission Statement which goes like this… “To create a peaceful and fruitful oasis (homestead) that supports both physical life and emotional well-being in a financially sound way.” I also set several specific and measurable goals to be accomplished over a six-year period.
So here are eight tips that might be helpful to you on your homesteading journey:
1) Dream big! When I was living in a 600 square foot apartment close to downtown Los Angeles, a homestead seemed like a ridiculously impossible dream, but I persevered, and it became a reality! So don’t let your present circumstances discourage you from dreaming.
2) Start small. When I finally had a piece of land, I wanted it all - NOW! But if you do too much, too fast, all living things suffer, including you! When I first began my homestead, I was working full time so, I started with one raised bed and learned how to grow delicious strawberries before I expanded to a vegetable garden. Remember, it doesn’t end with planting…you must weed and water everything you put in the ground! And since I garden alone, I learned that one the hard way. So, be sure you have your systems in place before you begin, and the journey will be a lot smoother.
3) Build your homestead without debt. Some might also include land in this tip, but we purchased our home and land on a 15-year mortgage but bought under what the loan company told us we could afford. It’s the only debt we have (soon to be paid off) and everything else on the property was purchased with cash. You might ask how that’s possible so, here’s one example. Goal: Add bees to my homestead. It began with asking for a smoker and hive tool for my birthday, then a beekeeper’s suit for Mother’s Day, then someone surprised me by donating all new woodenware just because they knew I wanted to be a beekeeper, and then I asked my husband to buy bees for my Christmas present. Believe me - my family has learned that I will ask them for strange things when gift-giving time rolls around. I’ve also sold things I no longer want through local websites and then turn around and buy something (used) I need for the homestead. Bartering is another good way to help your fellow homesteaders while building your own homestead without accruing debt.
4) Be flexible. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned but being flexible can keep your dream alive and flowing in the right direction- even if it wasn’t originally in your plans.
5) Embrace failure. Last year I attended a class on growing mushrooms but when I tried it at home, I had no success at all. While my first attempt was a failure, it was a hands-on learning experience which increased my knowledge and hopefully I will improve with each attempt.
6) Surround yourself with other homesteaders/gardeners/animal lovers. If you don’t live near anyone, you can find online communities that can be a support to you. I’m part of several groups on Facebook including homesteaders, gardeners, soap makers, and beekeepers. I’m also a member of a local beekeepers’ association and regularly connect with others in my area that are passionate about this lifestyle.
7) Keep learning and growing. I often seek out ways to learn new skills either online, at local classes (check out your state university’s extension office), or from others that are willing to teach me. I also follow several homesteading families on YouTube. I’ve learned so much from them and they continue to inspire me on this journey (and it doesn’t cost a thing).
8) Don’t work so hard that you forget to stop and enjoy all you’ve accomplished. While you may be eager to leave the rat race and seek a simpler life, I can tell you from experience that you can start your very own rat race right on your quiet, little homestead. Even though gardens and animals demand care you can’t put off until tomorrow (because things will die), don’t get so busy that you can’t sit and watch the bees bring in pollen or push a child in the tree swing.
I didn’t start this way of life until I was well into my 50’s. I figure when I’m 90 I’ll look back and not regret the many years I lived doing what I feel passionate about. And hopefully, I’ll inspire those coming after me to do the same!