A lifestyle of self-sufficiency characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and sometimes the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. Modern homesteaders often use renewable energy options including solar electricity and wind power. Many also choose to plant and grow heirloom vegetables and to raise heritage livestock. Homesteading is not defined by where someone lives, such as the city or the country, but by the lifestyle choices they make.
In recent years, food has been the center of so much attention in the media and healthy eating circles. The garbage served at fast food restaurants and passed off as ‘burgers’, has been shown to contain a very small percentage of actual meat, and instead consist mainly of the substance dubbed ‘pink slime‘, a culinary atrocity barely fit for human consumption and bound to put even the most ardent supporter of window food off their appetite. Then there’s the EWGs ‘dirty dozen’, a list which details the produce found at stores which contain the greatest number of pesticides. Most of the produce you buy and consume without a second thought features high levels of pesticides. Hasn’t everyone grabbed an unwashed apple from the bowl and bitten in to it without a second thought? You’re getting more than fruit in that bite – and don’t get me started on the glue used to affix the product label.
Then there’s issues with GMOs, and studies which show them to cause tumors and cancers in lab animals. Avoiding genetically modified ingredients is virtually impossible and sent me into a proverbial tailspin when I tried to get a handle on what we were really putting on our table at meal times. I wasn’t sure what to avoid, how to avoid it, and whether substances that I felt may be harmful – and I’m talking long term, the products where the long term risk hasn’t even yet been evaluated – might be concealed in things I was unwittingly feeding to my family. I’m a ’round the edges’ shopper, meaning that I rarely, if ever, venture into the center aisles of the supermarket for processed and pre-packaged products, preferring instead to stay on the outer sides of the store for fresh food and basic ingredients. I began questioning everything. This spurred me to provide even more for my family than I do already, to truly bring us closer and closer to absolute self-sufficiency.
Even milk, the supposedly most pure of substances, essential for nutrients and bone growth, the quintessential children’s drink, has come under the microscope. rBST, or recombinant bovine somatotropin, is a growth hormone fed to cows, which causes a significant increase in milk production. It has been alleged that it is passed through into the cows’ milk and, when consumed by a pregnant mother, can pass from her to the child she carries, causing birth defects and higher birth rate babies. The fact that it is already banned in several countries is enough to place a large question mark over it for me. Raw grass fed milk has much more health benefits than pasteurized, but is expensive if even available in your area, so having your own dairy cow is ideal.
Pregnant mothers are further concerned by Monsanto’s RoundUp contaminations, the key ingredient of which, glyphosate, has been found in breast milk, causing mothers to lobby the EPA to have the key ingredient of RoundUp recalled. In light of these issues, which are increasingly appearing in the mainstream media, people the world over are questioning the origins of their food, and what makes its way into their systems, and that of their children, ‘under the radar’. Even the most dedicated and vigilant parent is hard-pressed to protect their families and children from the effects of chemicals, hormones and genetically modified produce and ingredients when purchasing at the store.
More and more people are taking charge of their food, taking charge of the sources of their food, taking charge of providing for themselves. And that’s where homesteading comes in. As if you needed further convincing, it’s not just what’s IN your food. It’s the price of the food.
Heirloom seeds are an absolute must-have for serious homesteaders. They’re not significantly more expensive than the kind you buy at the store, which are usually hybrids, selectively designed and bred for productivity and hardiness. However, unlike the hybrids, the seeds of the resulting fruit or flowers can be harvested, saved and stored, and then used to grow the subsequent years’ crops. Hybrid seeds are often designed to be sterile, or will simply not ‘breed true’, for example, they are the result of crossing plant A with plant B, in order to obtain plant C. Therefore, should you retain seeds from plant C, you will actually end up with plant D.
As the homesteading trend has really gained momentum, many townships and cities are allowing for the keeping of backyard chickens. While you may only be allowed to keep hens, they will provide a good number of eggs for your family, whether there is a rooster present or not. In places where a rooster is permitted, encouraging a broody hen to hatch her eggs, or purchasing an incubator and hatching them yourself, will allow for a self-sustaining flock, extra roosters for the pot, and a few spare eggs and chicks to sell to cover the modest feed bill for your birds.
Many people have an income from their homestead, be it in the form of selling excess produce, birds or livestock, or perhaps some form of craft or foodstuff created from the items on the farm. Eggs for eating or hatching, chicks, baby animals, yarn and raw fleeces are just a few examples. A small income is a useful thing even if you practically never need to buy anything in; feed bills and vet bills will accumulate all the same, and unless you have found a way to self-manufacture toilet paper and other mundane life essentials, you’ll still need cold hard cash for that!
On larger homesteads in rural areas, where there are few to no ordinances and restrictions on land use, people often opt to keep livestock to provide their families with milk and meat. These two products are often the most expensive at the store, and have the potential to be the most laden with hormones and steroids. Buying organic from farmers markets and stores such as Whole Foods is an option, but the price per pound can be staggering.
Keeping a cow for milk is one option, goats are a smaller and – many believe – easier to handle animal for a family on a small farm. The larger breed does give in excess of a gallon of milk a day, which can then be enjoyed as milk, or crafted into a variety of cheeses and ice cream. There are even breeds of goat which will be dual purpose, with extra wethers (castrated males) filling the freezer nicely for meat for the family. Milking sheep is a less attractive option, as sheep can be a squirrelly species and give less milk than your average goat. But for meat and fiber they are excellent, and grow to a reasonable size for culling in a relatively short space of time.