5 Homesteading Myths

5 Homesteading Myths

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There are times when the common wisdom holds us back. We forget that what is true for one person, may not be true at all for another. We forget that where one person tried and failed, others tried and succeeded. Even in the world of homesteading, there are some persistent myths that may prevent our success - or even stop some people from trying at all. Here are the top five homesteading myths I hear and why I think they are wrong.

Myth #1: Growing your own food is more expensive than buying it.

Reality: First, let's cast aside the idea that homesteading is only about saving money. In truth, what compels most people to begin growing and raising their own food is things like avoiding animal cruelty from factory farms, obtaining healthier food, eating higher quality food, and better self-sufficiency. That said, it is a myth that growing your own fruits and veggies or raising animals for meat and eggs always costs more than buying that same food. Even if you're talking about buying that food from a cheap source, like a frugally-minded grocery store. 

Periodically, I like to figure what our homegrown food costs us. Always, I'm delighted to discover our homesteading enterprise actually saves us money. Here's a recent example: After adding up store-bought feed costs, our quail cost about 64 cents per pound. I can't even find quail meat locally (it runs about $5 a pound or more online, plus shipping), but still - there is no meat I can buy in the store or the farmer's market that sells at so low a price per pound. Plus the quail give us lots of delicious eggs. 

I haven't added up our gardening expenses since 2013. But back then, comparing our organic produce to conventionally grown store-bought stuff, we grew about $1,770 worth of fruits and veggies. After subtracting expenses, that meant we saved $1,492 in a single year. At the time, we were living in the suburbs; I grow much more food now that we live in a rural area - plus I now save many of my own seeds and have plenty of homemade soil amendments and so on. Our savings, in other words, have only increased. 


An entirely homegrown meal.
 

Of course, you can spend a lot of money raising food (read the book The $64 Tomato for a supposedly true example), but you certainly don't have to. Aim to make-do whenever you can, and never miss an opportunity to work a wee bit harder but save a little money. Example: Instead of buying fertilizer, collect and compost your chicken manure; compost vegetable and fruit scraps; use grass clippings as mulch; and otherwise scrounge up organic matter to fertilize your garden. 

Myth #2: I can't homestead because I don't want to raise animals. 

Reality: If you have no desire to raise livestock, you most certainly can still be a homesteader. Homesteaders, as individuals, have varying goals. Some want to live off-grid and try for complete self-sufficiency. Some just want to grow a few veggies to supplement what they buy at the farmer's market. And most homesteaders fall somewhere in between. Nobody has a rule book with a list of "musts" that need checking off before you can consider yourself a homesteader. If you don't eat meat, or just don't want to mess around with caring for critters, the homesteading police aren't going to come after you. (There are no homesteading police!) If all you want is to grow plants, by all means, that's what you should do...and have no hesitation in calling yourself a homesteader. 

Homestead-grown veggies.

Myth #3: You need to own a lot of land to homestead. 

Reality: A lot of people I meet are waiting to start homesteading. The most common reason for waiting is the belief that they must live in a rural area before they can begin. But the truth is, you can homestead anywhere. In fact, your future success as a homesteader will greatly improve if you start putting homesteading skills into practice right now. 

If you live in the city, find (or create!) a community garden, grow food on your balcony, or see if you can get permission to grow food on your roof or in pots in a meager side yard. If you live in the suburbs, establish not just a traditional vegetable garden, but learn to add edibles to your ornamental garden, too. Plant food in window boxes, mow strips, side yards, and porches. Add a few fruit trees to your yard; you could train them to grow in espalier fashion along a fence or wall, or you could choose patio varieties that grow in pots. If you have room, you could even grow a few dwarf trees. Grow berries along your fence line. Raise chickens, quail, rabbits. There's a lot you can do in the suburbs. Some people even manage to grow or raise most of their food in the suburbs. 

The Dervaes family of Pasadena, California are possibly the best-known suburban homesteaders on the Internet. Let them inspire you. On only 1/10th of an acre, they grow 6,000 lbs. of produce yearly, plus eggs and honey, and make $20,000 a year via porch sales and sales to local chefs. 


Location matters a lot less than you think. Even if your ultimate goal is to homestead in the country, by starting your homesteading journey right now, not only will you reap the many benefits of the homestead life much sooner, but you'll be far ahead of someone who waits to learn and practice homesteading skills until they have "a lot of land." 

Myth #4: Homesteading is the simple life. 

Reality: Sometimes people refer to country or rural living as "the easy life" or "the simple life." I suppose in some ways it is easier or more simple...but it's also important to understand that it's a lot of hard work to homestead. Yes, you should definitely sit on the porch overlooking your garden, sipping sun tea as the day comes to a close; relax and appreciate what you have! But whether your goal is to raise some or all of your food, it takes time and work to accomplish this. It's easy to romanticize the work related to homesteading. Fetching eggs from the hens, harvesting fresh veggies from the garden, canning peaches...it all seems rather like a TV episode of Little House on the Prairie. But if you've read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that television series is based on, you should know homesteading is less about simple, idyllic tasks and more about hard work. 

To homestead successfully, I think it's important to enjoy the work of the homestead - because instead of going out and playing, like your non-homesteading friends may do on the weekends, you'll likely be at home weeding, butchering, and repairing fences. There is always work to be done on a homestead. 

Myth #5: It's impossible to homestead full time. 

Not all prolific homesteads are at the end of country roads.

Reality: I believe that if you can dream it, work smart, and work hard, you can probably achieve it. However, it's also important to look into heady dreams with your eyes wide open. And the truth is: Your dream of homesteading full time in the modern world is not easy to achieve. Most homesteaders will never live it. But some most definitely do. 

Yet you shouldn't expect to suddenly set up a self-sustaining homestead. It costs money to buy livestock, to put up fences, to get tools, to get a woodstove, to buy land, and so on. It takes time and money to get that sawmill to turn your trees into lumber, to drill a well or pump water from a spring or pond, and to get set up so you can feed your livestock without shopping at Rural King. Even once your homestead is entirely set up the way you like, you will find that you still rely on others for some things...often things that must be purchased. 

To achieve the dream of homesteading full time, you'll need to begin with land. Ideally, you'll buy that land inexpensively (which usually means it has no house - at least not a livable one - or a barn, fencing, etc.) because to homestead full time, you need a goal of zero debt. Land may be worth going into debt for, but likely nothing else is. As you establish housing for yourself, as you build animal shelters, as you put up fencing, and so on, you'll need a job (or considerable savings) to pay for it all. Slowly, you can add livestock, a garden, an orchard. Maybe once you reach this point, you can begin aiming for self-employment. That might mean working at a non-homesteading job or you might be fortunate enough to start a successful CSA, farmer's market stand, or Etsy shop with items derived from your homestead. Maybe you can even sell the offspring of your livestock or the meat derived from them. Likely, you'll need to do at least several of these things to continue paying for your dream. 

Another way this dream of full time homesteading could work is if one spouse or partner works full time and the other stays home and works on the homestead. Money will likely be tight - but it is do-able, especially if you eschew many modern conveniences and money-suckers, like eating out, cable TV, more than one vehicle, etc. Be careful of burn out, though - especially if you have children. Raising kids, keeping the house reasonably tidy, and homesteading all by yourself isn't easy. 

Homesteading full time is a dream that isn't instantly achieved. (Maybe that's part of what makes it so rewarding.) And if it's your dream, start working toward it today, right where you are. Even if you live in the city.

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