What is Homesteading?

When I started this website, I promised to share tips and information on homesteading, to be used whether you lived on a farm or in a tiny apartment. I got lots of kind and useful feedback when I first launched this website (thank you all for that!), including the big question... what is homesteading, and why would you want to do it so bad?

Definition of Homesteading

Wikipedia defines homesteading as "a lifestyle of self-sufficiency". It involves home production and preservation of food, can involve production of clothing and craftwork for household use (or sale). A homestead is often (not always) the home of a single (extended) family. In the UK, the term "smallholder" is being used (and means almost the same).

Our homestead, Mas del Encanto - seen through a bush of tree strawberries we'll soon turn into liquor.

Our homestead, Mas del Encanto - seen through a bush of tree strawberries we'll soon turn into liquor.

Homesteading in history

A little history now... The word "homesteading" is derived from the American Homestead Act, a law passed by president Lincoln in 1862. It provided pioneer families with a piece of land at very low cost;  the only requirement was that they would work the land, make a home on it for their families - and after five years, it would automatically become theirs. In the seventies, the word was often used to describe the hippies' "back to basics" movement. Nowadays, homesteading is mostly about self-sufficiency and making your own stuff from scratch. In some cases (mostly in the United States), it's also associated with prepping (when people prepare for a big disaster by stocking supplies and building shelter) and survivalism (when people prepare for that same disaster, by learning all kinds of skills that will learn them survive after the crash).


Homesteading skills

We make oil from our own olives...

We make oil from our own olives...

Dozens of websites and blog posts make lists of "homesteading" skills you can (or should, according to some) acquire before or while you're embarking on the homesteading journey. Cooking, baking and preserving food; gardening and small scale farming; making your own remedies, household products and items; keeping, taking care of and training animals (and get food from them - like milking a goat or keeping bees for honey); use and care for machinery and tools; making and repairing clothes; building stuff (from small contraptions to whole buildings); the list goes on and on.

As for the difference between a farm and a homestead...
A farm generates money by selling livestock and / or produce from the land. A farm is all about production; a homestead is more about self-sufficiency. So of course you can have a farm and a homestead at the same time... Not every farm is a homestead though, and not every homestead needs to be a farm.

What does homesteading mean to me?

I like to bake my own bread...

I like to bake my own bread...

To me, homesteading means learning how to be more self-sufficient, how to grow and make your own food and most of the above definitions - however, it's much more than that. Being able to grown your own food, from putting a seed into the ground to eating your own made tomato paste or peach compote... That's just the best feeling in the world. 

I think homesteading is a way to take back control of our lives. To know exactly where our food comes from, to decide what to do with the time (and the money) that is given to us instead of walking the beaten path. It's a way to discover our hidden talents and passions (who ever thought I would enjoy writing and cooking so much? Or that Mr. Digging Dutchman would become an expert at building stone walls?). It's a way to connect with our natural environment (gardening does that), with our loved ones (we're in it together!) and with our local community, who have been so kind and helpful in our journey so far. It's also a different way of raising our children: a way to teach them to love and to be confident, a way to teach them all kinds of skills they won't get at school. It's a way of life, really - one that might alienate you a bit from your non-homesteading friends and family members... but they'll still love you if you come by with home-made foodstuffs.

Making tomato paste with tomatoes from the garden

Making tomato paste with tomatoes from the garden

Homesteading exists in many forms and gradations. Whether you've got a farm and  you're making cheese from your own cow's milk or you're making fabulous salsa from the peppers on your city balcony, there is a place for everyone in this lifestyle.

Homesteading, to me, is all about the journey. Even if the goal is to be 100% self-sufficient, to make all of your own stuff and to know how to handle every little or big emergency in or around your house... even then, a real homesteader still continues learning how to do new stuff, experimenting with new techniques and planting new seeds.

Steve at realrurallife.com has this wonderful piece of advise that says it all:

Love like you'll die tomorrow, but plan your homestead like you'll live there forever.


More homesteading blogs:

  • The 104 Homestead - Jessica writes about homesteading where you live
  • Grow a Good Life - lots of nice recipes to make things from scratch
  • The Prairie Homestead - to me, Jill Winger is the prototype of a homesteader: she will try anything once, rides horse and has a milk cow, and is able to support her family with her essential oil business.
  • The Homestead Lady - I first got to know Tessa Zundel as "the goat lady", as she did a webinar on keeping goats I attended. I've been following her ever since.
  • The Family Farm at Liberty Creek - maybe they evolved into a farm rather than a homestead, but they've got fabulous photography (I follow them on Facebook).

More about homesteading in an urban (or suburban) setting: