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Debunking the Myths Surrounding Modern Homesteading

A Gold Lacewing Wyandotte from my flock
A Gold Lacewing Wyandotte from my flock
Lisa Keipp

It brings to mind an historical view of rugged individuals who headed westward (and depending on the time period you’re thinking of, this could have been Iowa or all the way to California) built their own homes – first of sod, then of wood - broke the soil for crops or brought in herds of cattle, survived droughts, blizzards, childbirths, deaths and either managed to thrive in their new homes and communities, or returned eastward. But this view is a bit outdated. Today your modern homesteader may actually buy land and built their own home from the ground up, but more often, a homestead in the modern terms is as varied as those who use it.

Because of this, a number of myths and misconceptions of what a homesteader is and does have arisen. Today, we’ll dispel those myths in an effort to get to a better understanding of homesteading.

MYTH - It's easy.

It’s not always easy. Homesteading, whether you do it in an urban setting or a country setting, takes work. Gardens take attention – weeds, bugs, small animals, too little water, too much water. It is a daily responsibility. If you have livestock – chickens, turkeys, rabbits, goats, llamas, horses, cows – no matter how many or how few, they are also a daily responsibility. You cannot avoid it if you want them to live. No oversleeping or staying inside because it is too hot or too cold for you. The animals need to be fed, watered, manure cleaned up, living quarters need to be maintained, their health needs to be monitored. You cannot just go away on a trip without arranging for their care – and sometimes it can be hard to find a competent caregiver for your animals. The animals come first.

Even preserving foods – drying or canning them – is a time consuming process. Hours can be spent on just a small amount of vegetables. Hand crafting clothing, chopping wood, all the things associated with homesteading – they take time, effort and a certain amount of physical strength and fitness.

However, while it is not easy, it is rewarding.

MYTH - You must be off the grid.

While some may choose to have that lifestyle, it is not a requirement. You can have electricity, running water, indoor plumbing, internet and still be practicing many aspects of homesteading. Modern homesteading is not an all or nothing venture; each family or individual can tailor the lifestyle to fit their personal needs.

MYTH - You must own lots of land.

Many modern homesteaders do so in a urban setting – having a few chickens in their yard, growing gardens in their yards, even in containers on porches and balconies. Just like the last myth, you can tailor your homesteading experience to your surroundings. However, many do get the “bug” to expand and have as a goal a move to a more rural setting.

MYTH - You have to do it all by yourselves.

One of the guiding factors of historical homesteading was a sense of community. While a man historically may have the rudiments of woodworking and blacksmithing, as well as animal husbandry and farming, and a woman all “Home side” knowledge of cooking, sewing, gardening, basic first aid, many people just weren’t that skilled in certain aspects. A community helps with those things. You love fresh eggs but your city ordinance says you cannot have chickens? There is someone who is willing to sell you those eggs or trade them for some of your skills.
In communities historically, the people of the community came together for more than just church – they had barn raisings to help build new buildings for one of their neighbors. Harvesting crops was a community event, in order to make sure everyone’s harvest came in before the weather changed. Farmer’s co-ops to make sure everyone got the best price for their crops and livestock were formed and exist still today. In times of hardship, the community rallied to support the family in need.

While this aspect of life has kind of taken a back burner – we are often ashamed to admit when we need help - communities of like minded people are forming locally and through the internet, offering support, knowledge and advice. Our community is no longer within 10 miles of us, it is global.

MYTH – you homeschool.

While many homesteaders do homeschool, a lot still send their children to public schools. It is not a necessity of being a homesteader.

MYTH - You homestead only because you are poor.

Where did this myth come from? Does it stem back to the Great Depression, when growing your own vegetables, recycling items, making your own clothing, raising chickens, sticking to a budget was the only way to survive and thrive? Or does it come from World War II., when people here at home were required to ration food and goods, encouraged to raise chickens. Or does it come from a time after that, when times were more prosperous and buying things in the store was seen as highly preferable to those made at home?
No matter where it stems from, it is a myth, especially for the starting homesteader. Want to can your own food? Canning kettles, jars, pressure canners all cost money. Stocking up food and goods for hard times or harsh weather can cost money. The materials to make your own clothing cost more than they used to. Animals constantly need feed. Now, a lot of things – a pressure canner, a spinning wheel, a loom, canning jars, a chicken coop, a rabbit hutch, a greenhouse – all are onetime expenses (unless you decide to expand or improve) and once you have them, you tend to keep those items for years, even decades. But the initial startup can be expensive, even with getting items from Craigslist and Freecycle.

People do not homestead ONLY because they are poor, though a tight budget can well figure into the decision to do so. People homestead because they are choosing the lifestyle.

MYTH - You are (Select your stereotype)

So many stereotypes exist about the modern homesteader. You are a hyper religious right winger, a hippie, a pot grower, you are anti government, you are part of a militia, you are afraid of the zombie apocalypse, an extreme prepper like those on that TV show. All of these are basically untrue.

Yes, there are some people in every one of those categories out there who do call themselves homesteaders; the majority of homesteaders come from every walk of life and every region of the country. Some do live off grid, far out in the country. Some live in cities. Each is searching for a less complex life, a life where they are not living outside their means, a life that is healthier, A life that makes them happiest.

What does it take to be a homesteader? A desire for a simpler life, a desire to reduce your “global footprint”, a desire to eat healthier and live healthier. Bottom line, it is a desire and willpower that make it so, no matter how you choose to go about it.

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