Remember “The Oregon Trail” computer game? It was designed to teach schoolchildren about the harsh realities of pioneering life. That lesson was always driven home by images of a covered wagon falling into the river and the heavily pixilated message: “You have died of dysentery.”
But modern-day homesteading doesn’t have to be so extreme. There are lots of different ways to go about your homesteading journey. Here are some of the most popular types of the practice and how to get started.
What is homesteading?
Self-sufficiency is at the heart of homesteading. Back in the day, those original settlers couldn’t just walk to the corner store to fetch a loaf of seeded bread and a jug of oat milk. Instead, they had to be totally self-sufficient and live off the land.
Homesteading today takes the idea of only consuming what you can create and applies it to modern life. Whether you’re looking to lower your environmental impact, challenge your survival skills, or just find a new hobby, there’s a variety of homesteading for everyone.
If you’re going with the OG concept, a homesteader would be as self-sufficient as possible. You’d be living off the land as much as you could with no outside support.
But let’s be real. You might have a day job that you’re not quitting any time soon, or you might have other health or logistical reasons you can live off-grid. That’s OK! Homesteading doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can choose any level of homesteading that works for you, and build on it as needed to make it yours.
This level of commitment requires living totally off the grid, like on a farm or ranch. You’d probably:
- use solar power
- have access to well water (or another natural source)
- grow, raise, or hunt all your own food
- can or preserve food to feed yourself throughout the year
- make your own textiles
For any necessity you couldn’t extract from the land, you’d have a side hustle. This side hustle, like a roadside veggie stand or soap-making venture, could bring in cash or you could use it to barter with other homesteaders.
Less “Little House on the Prairie”
If you’re like #Nope to living off the grid or making your own outfits out of the wool you’ve shorn from your very own sheep, you can opt for a more manageable level of homesteading.
- keeping a chicken coop (for eggs)
- getting a goat (for cheese)
- tending a garden to grow your own veggies
Looking for your own side gig? Maybe your herbal apothecary business could kill it at all the local farmers markets or mom-and-pop shops.
Homesteading super lite
If the goat’s a deal-breaker, and you’re not giving up your salary or the occasional Sunday brunch, that’s OK. There are plenty of things you can invest in to make yourself more self-sufficient, including a:
- victory garden
- compositing pile
- rain barrel
- small canning and preserving setup
Plus, you can hone a craft on the side if you have dreams of building a side-hustle and turning it into something more. (But there’s no rush.)
City slicker gone green
Even if you don’t own land (even if you don’t have a yard) you can still dabble in homesteading concepts without trying to sneak a cow into your studio apartment. You can try:
- growing some greens on your patio or herbs on your windowsill
- getting your sourdough starter on
- scoping out a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) for some kombucha-making
If you’re not feeling DIY yet, you can check for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in your area so you can skip the supermarket sometimes.
In the Greatist Guide to Homesteading, we threw the rules out the window. That was easy, because there aren’t really any rules on how it’s done, anyway.
You don’t have to be entirely self-sufficient to be following homesteading principles. You can start with whatever interests you most and then work up from there. Here are a few ideas.
Growing your own food
One of the key pillars of homesteading is growing your own food. *Googles how to grow chocolate croissants.* OK, so you’re probably not going to grow everything you eat — unless you’re going full boss-level homesteader. But if you’re looking to get started with gardening, check out our beginner’s guide.
Fertilizing the soil
The totally self-sufficient gardener doesn’t drive to Home Depot for fertilizer — they feed their plants with compost. Composting your kitchen scraps cuts down on what ends up in the landfill and cuts down on things you need from the garden store. It also enriches your soil with nutrients and acts as a natural fertilizer for your veggies, herbs, and flowers.
Watering the plants
You can always crank out the garden hose to water your plot, but a rain barrel and soaker system makes you more self-sufficient and saves valuable resources. This type of system can collect thousands of gallons of rainwater — and save you cash on your water bill.
In a nutshell, a rain barrel harnesses the water that collects on your roof and in your gutters. If you then attach a soaker-hose system and weave it throughout your garden, you can simply flip a switch when you need to water. Easy!
How can you land a rain barrel of your own? Check with your utility company. They might offer a discount on rain barrels. You can also order one online or through your garden center or supply store.
Don’t have a yard? You can grow some veggies indoors, even in small spaces. Plus, lots of food you get from the supermarket can simply be regrown in water without even using soil.
If you can’t grow your own food, or you find yourself unable to grow certain things because of space constraints (or because your cat knocks everything over, you can still tap into homesteading principles.
For more homesteading space, join a CSA, visit farmers markets, or head to nearby u-pick farms for berries and other produce. You can also forage for fungi and other edible plants. Just be sure to do your research before chowing down.
Canning and food preservation
Storing all the food you grow (or get) to make it last longer is another principle of homesteading. You can eat some of it now, but what do you do with that bumper crop of cucumbers that you can’t possibly consume right now? Hello, pickles! Get your canning and preserving game on.
Not sure what’s your jam? Start with jam. It’s one of the easier things to preserve with three simple ingredients. Keep in mind that lots of foods can be frozen to boost shelf life, too.
Raising backyard chickens
If you’re interested in raising animals, you can get your feet wet with a few friendly backyard chickens. But before jumping in, do your research.
First, consider your time. Chickens need daily care such as feeding and watering. And you have to keep their spaces clean to avoid health concerns for them — and you. You need to be careful with handling chickens and eggs to avoid Salmonella, so read up on safe practices.
Next, consider the laws. If you live within city limits, find out what your town’s municipal code allows.
Your fine feathered friends will need a safe space in the form of a coop. You can buy one or build your own if you’re feeling crafty. (That would be very homestead-y of you, BTW.) The coop should keep your chickens safe from predators, like coyotes and foxes, at night.
Your hens will also need a nesting box for all that egg-laying action. And, you should also prepare a large, fenced-in chicken run for your birds to peck around and get in their delightful dust baths during the day.
Not all chickens are the same, especially when it comes to laying eggs, so know what breed you’re interested in getting before you buy.
So, there you have it, homesteading doesn’t have to be hard to help you and the planet. Remember, you can choose any level of homesteading that matches your comfort zone and time constraints.
At its core, homesteading is about becoming more self-sufficient, whether that’s growing some of your own food or learning to patch the not-on-purpose holes in your pants.
Self-sufficiency can save you money, like lowering your grocery bill. But it can also empower you when life feels sort of out of control. No matter what your motivation is for homesteading, have fun with it!