Millions of Americans are involved in homesteading and it’s become a subject of increasing interest for millions more. But exactly, what is homesteading? Well, it’s more than that which is defined in the Homestead Act, that’s for sure.
Our guide will help you understand the historical context, what homesteading is today and how to get started.
What Does Homesteading Mean Historically?
There are two historical approaches to the concept of homesteading.
Homesteading As Commonly Defined
The first, is simply a reference to being self-sufficient and living a sustainable life. It involves small-scale production of food and necessities.
The dictionary puts it this way and defines a homestead as “a dwelling with its own land and buildings, occupied by the owner as a home and exempted by a homestead law from seizure or sale from debt”. Sadly, they’re not exempt from property taxes, though. It’s your own property but the government still wants its slice. Self-sufficiency thus means earning enough to pay that tax too.
This means that technically “to homestead” simply means that you bought a homestead but, in fact, in common usage, it’s more an understanding that a person is living sustainably on the land and attempting to be self-sufficient in some respects. This is why “urban homesteading”, for example, is now a thing.
Homestead As Per The Homesteading Act Of 1862
In the early years of America, there was a need to settle the American West and ensure that land was put to good use.
The Homesteading Act of 1862 was passed by the federal government and it allowed any American (including freed slaves) to claim up to 160 acres of land as their own, for free, to farm and work as their own homestead.
This land was a “homestead” and nearly 18 millon Americans claimed a homestead under this act, as a matter of Federal land policy, before it was discontinued in 1976.
What Is Homesteading Now?
The idea of homesteading, in the modern sense, now simply refers to the act of growing your own food (and sometimes also raising your own meat) so that you can become more self-reliant. Thus, urban and suburban homesteading are now growing in popularity as the homestead lifestyle has become desirous in our cities too.
This also tallies with the original definition of living sustainably as home-based agriculture tends to be more sustainable than big agribusiness is.
How To Get Into Homesteading
We’ve got four very straightforward ways to start homesteading without making dramatic changes in the way you live.
If you live in the suburbs, you might find our suburban homesteading guide handy for this but wherever you live, you should start simply. The homesteading lifestyle is best when you go slow to begin with. Measure some successes and you’ll find things speed up in no time.
This is to help you build up your confidence before you try more complex projects.
Plant your garden or learn to bake some bread in your urban homestead and see how easy it is to become more self-sufficient, leave moving off grid until you’re ready for it.
Involve Your Family
We’ve found that when our kids help us collect eggs from the chickens or go out to water the vegetable patch in summer, their enthusiasm for this way of life increases.
And our enthusiasm grows as we see the benefits of taking on responsibility for our kids, it’s a virtuous circle and one that keeps the whole family focused on homesteading.
You can also involve friends and neighbors if there’s any public land for community gardens nearby. An urban homesteader
Develop A DIY Mindset
One thing we love about homesteading is the financial freedom it brings and one of the easiest ways to have more money is to try and build things yourself and recycle what you already have.
You can easily learn to build basic furniture items or to repair the chicken coop using some old wood that’s laying around in the shed.
Some people have more experience than others but over time and with concerted effort, you’d be amazed at the things you can create at home without spending any money.
Activities You Can Try
You can find a whole host of cool ways to get into homesteading at our favorite homesteading blogs but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Get some chickens. Check local bylaws, mind you, not everywhere allows you to raise chickens but if you can, free eggs are awesome.
- Start a vegetable garden. This is easy, no matter how much space you do or don’t have and fresh veggies are so much nicer than store bought.
- Learn to pickle, can, freeze dry, dehydrate, etc. Preserving food cuts down on waste and thus, puts more money in your pocket for other things.
- Go foraging. Free mushrooms! What more could you ask for? There are so many tasty fungi out there just begging to be eaten, just make sure you know what you’re doing before you cook anything as not every mushroom is safe to eat.
- Start making your own clothes, furniture, candles, etc. There are so many things we use in day-to-day life that can easily be made at home, so why not learn how?
Final Thoughts On What Is Homesteading?
Homesteading is, in modern terms, the act of living more sustainably and becoming more self-sufficient, particularly, in terms of growing your own food.
You can start homesteading anywhere, you don’t need to live on a farm and it’s surprisingly easy to do and quite a bit of fun too.