A Small Farm Is Better Than Homesteading

The Term Homesteading has gained wide popularity in the last decade, but many who attempt it find the lifestyle to be a tough taskmaster. I grew up on a rough patch of land in the Ozarks and saw my father struggle to raise cows where there was no pasture and crops where there was no topsoil. Father had a vision of self-sufficiency that did not accommodate his declining health. After watching the homesteading pattern repeat itself with neighbors and struggling myself for years with this mindset, I’ve come to some conclusions.

#1 – I believe that growing things is really good for the soul, but the homesteading ideal is too stressful for most people. Calculating the calorie needs of an entire family, along with the right levels of protein, carbs, and vitamins in itself can be daunting. Expecting that you will be able to raise all that food for yourself creates an incredible amount of stress on a new gardener/rancher. It’s never enough though…next you will be pressuring yourself to become an amateur electrician so you can wire up wind turbines for your electricity. Then it’s on to chemistry and plumbing as you set up your own water-catchment system complete with stainless steel cisterns. This pattern leads to burn-out and many people bail on the entire idea. You don’t have to do everything. Maybe there are a few people who do everything, but you don’t know what kind of struggles they went through to get there, and they may have started life in a family that already homesteaded, so their learning curve is not as steep. Exploring only one aspect of self-sufficiency AND ENJOYING IT is better than doing nothing self-sufficient at all. I would even propose that being entirely self-sufficient and HATING IT every day is not as good as doing just one little thing that you really enjoy.

#2 – The idea that you must do everything to be ‘self-sufficient’ forces the new homesteader to take on tasks that they really aren’t interested in. Self-sufficiency is an impossible ideal anyway. Even the Amish live in communities where they can buy sugar, wheat and canning jars from each other/family stores. You will find in true self-sufficient communities that some of the members specialize in fruits or grains while other members will focus on livestock or dairy. They may have additional backyard chickens or a garden, but even though many are full-time farmers, they focus on a handful of things they are really good at. Self-sufficiency is an admirable goal, but constantly falling short of the goal can be demoralizing. A hobby farm allows you to set one goal that you can achieve in an area that you truly enjoy. Raise only exotic Frizzle chickens if you want. Hand milk a single miniature Irish Dexter family cow if you wish. Cultivate a garden plot of only Martha Washington Asparagus if you want. There is a ton of joy in raising an animal or crop that tickles your fancy. You will accumulate tools and learn so much along the way that the next project that delights you will naturally build on your past success. Please don’t let some homesteading ‘Purist’ suck all the fun out of growing things.

#3 – Although the situation has greatly improved, there are still many people who will scoff or shame anyone who adopts the title of ‘homesteader’ because they associate the word with ‘prepper’ which really isn’t the same thing. I believe that a level of food independence is really good for the soul, but the approach that some preppers take is fear-based which is very corrosive to your mindset and energy. Initially it seems that cultivating that fear inside will give you the motivation necessary to become self-sufficient but there is a faster and more enjoyable way that doesn’t require you alienating friends and family. While in the prepping mindset; you can assess what the 2-3 most important areas are. Then of those 3, pick the one you most want to do. You may want to pursue an area because it has always fascinated you, it seems fast and easy, it is paramount to survival, you have a friend who could help you with it, or any other reason. The reason doesn’t matter, just frame it in your head that, “I WANT to try this” and forget any fear-based reason that would cause you exhaustion. Please choose to ENJOY your next project instead of letting fear drive you like a task-master.

#4 – Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Enjoying your project goes beyond just choosing the right breed of chicken or strain of sweet corn though. Consider your hobbies: do you buy the cheapest fishing pole, golf clubs or running shoes you can find? When something is for pleasure, we try to maximize our enjoyment as much as financially reasonable. So, buy the cute chicken coop, construct the fanciful bee hives, and build the sunken green house. To some degree you can justify a little splurging because it’s ‘kind of practical’. Besides investing money, invest time in making your project/hobby/farm as enjoyable as possible. Consider for a little bit, what the worst aspect of keeping an animal or a garden would be and start working that out. Keep all your notes for your project in one place. If you need a place to start, I highly recommend this classic that every homestead/farm should own. You also can reach out to me if you need someone to brainstorm with. My contact form is on the homepage, first column, under “Contact For Consultation”. I’d be happy to help.

#5 – Lastly though, the biggest reason I’ve seen folks give up on the homesteader track is that purist homesteading becomes a full-time job that crowds out the most pleasant aspects of conventional employment (the most pleasant aspect of all being a regular paycheck). It is such a far-ranging concept that it can devastate any attempt at time management. You can purchase all the supplies and books you need to start homesteading, but you will find that skill sets and experience are just as necessary and take much longer to accumulate. Depending on how much available time you have, you might have to focus in on only one area to reach proficiency. Much better to do a few things well than do everything poorly. Much cheaper too!

I use the term homesteading often because many people who are looking to return to the land or live in unbreakable abundance are most familiar with the term. I’ve learned all 5 of the above points the hard way though. My basement is full of tools, supplies and books that I haven’t ever opened. Even though I have a wide range of interests, I am discovering more freedom and energy by seeing myself as a hobby farmer instead of a homesteader.

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