Daniel: I wanted to ask you some questions that I haven’t been able to find any answers to yet and I was really hoping that you could give me some insight . . . You mention that you were very young (23) when you first moved out to your land. It’s something that I have often thought about but taking that mental leap has not happened to me yet. I still have fear that I would be isolating myself too much and I’d get lonely – did you have those same feelings and how did you overcome them?
Steve: My homesteading experiences over the last 30 years have sometimes been frightening, lonely, exhausting, full of despair and made me feel intense regret. That said, feeling these things are not all bad. Working through the difficulty is worth the pain, especially when you come to realize that the smiles do come back, and when they do you’re a bigger man than you were before them. My current challenges are different than the ones I faced when I was starting out at your age. My biggest mental challenge now is keeping up with the demands for my time and productivity. I have 5 kids, and besides having mouths to feed, I’m working with my son, Robert (23) to build a small house on our homestead for him to move into with his new bride in October. I’m also committed to helping all my kids follow their inclinations and talents. Joseph (16) has an interest in shot put and discus, Jacob (14) needs help following his passion to become a vet. Ellie (6) loves to spend time with me doing anything, and Katherine (20) is married and a mother now. I want to be a great grandfather with little Noah. My life was much simpler and less complicated than when I was your age, and being on the homestead with my family full time does add to that complication. But it’s still a huge blessing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Daniel: I’d also like to know how you managed to generate income in your beginning years so that you could buy the basics like food and tools (I presume all of the money you did have was put into buying the actual land).
Steve: I’ve had a very serious interest in woodworking that first surfaced when I was 7 years old. I developed this interest on my own to the point where I paid my way through university by building furniture and cabinets for people. After I bought my land in 1985 with all my savings, I spent the winters working as a cabinetmaker and carpenter, saving every penny I could, then spending those pennies building our house without hired help. I lived very frugally, living on the homestead in a tent at first and then a 10×20-foot shed I built for $500. It took 5 summers of working with simple materials before we had a proper roof over our head. My wife and I were married in 1988, and by 1990 she was a registered nurse working part time at a local hospital. That helped financially until September 1990 when Robert was born. Mary took a 1 year maternity leave after Robert and Katherine (born 1994), then stayed home for good after Joseph was born in 1998. She’s been a full-time homemaker since then.
Daniel: How do you make your living now? I read your post saying that you work from home and remember reading on another one that your wife works in town sometimes (if I remember correctly).
Steve: I was 18 when I decided I wanted to move from the suburban home of my boyhood and pursue a homestead life, and location was always the primary issue. I would do whatever it took to earn a living in my chosen place, and that originally meant woodworking and growing pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries. I did this at first, but soon found that these activities weren’t going to earn the kind of money I’d need. Even a simple homestead life needs decent funding, especially at the beginning when you have to buy tools and put up buildings. In 1988 I got the idea that writing magazine articles about woodworking might be fun and lucrative, so I wrote a letter to the editor of a woodworking magazine with an article idea. She agreed and gave me the assignment. I had to journalism training, but I was fairly good at writing, so the project worked out well. I was a published author. I kept track of my time on that article and I earned about the same as I did as a commercial carpenter, even though I was writing on a manual typewriter and didn’t have much experience. This first article eventually led to more articles. As digital photography and videography became a reality, I added these skills to what I do. Today, 25 years later, I earn my homestead living digitally creating articles, videos, websites. I could talk quite a bit about the financial side of homesteading, but there’s no doubt that the best option today is some kind of digital business. The money can be good and, most importantly, you don’t need to leave the homestead to earn it. Earning a living on your land is key in my book.