Back on my Mother Earth News blog I talked about the reasons I see would-be homesteaders change their minds and give up on their homesteading dreams. This often involves rejecting too much technology, but there are other reasons, too. Mistaken ideas about food production is one. Getting the food thing wrong can set into motion a downward spiral for your homestead right from the start.
Can You Really Afford to Grow Your Own Food?
Home-grown food can be the best stuff in the world depending on how it was raised, but producing your own food is often much more of a priority than it should be in typical homesteading scenarios – especially at the beginning. Food is vital, yes, but it’s only one part of homesteading success. You can have a cellar full of home-grown potatoes, a productive milk goat, a freezer full of your own beef and an orchard full of apples and your homestead dream can still die from the disappointment of a hundred different disasters. You can run out of money, your roof can leak terribly or your wood pile can run short in February. Your well pump can fail, your vehicle can die on some back road or you can go crazy because you’re living in a dark, cold little hole with too many kids in too small a space. The real question isn’t whether or not you can grow a ton of potatoes, but do you have the time to afford to? You’ll spend way more time planting, hoeing, digging and hauling a year’s worth of potatoes than you will earning minimum wage and buying potatoes in the fall. Should you grow your own? Yes, but only if you have time left over from earning the money you need, and keeping your home in good repair, fixing up the mechanicals in your life so they’re reliable, and taking a little time to enjoy your surroundings. The more food you can produce yourself the better. Just don’t let a food fixation derail your homestead dream. It’s okay to buy things from the grocery store. Even a little non-organic food won’t kill you. Relax a little and get less idealistic.
Hands-On Homesteading Skills Matter
Making a homestead thrive successfully for the long-haul involves a huge array of hands-on skills and a lot of tools. Deficiencies in this area are where so many homesteaders fail. Homesteading is really a form of DIY on steroids. The idea is to do as much as you can for yourself, and this doesn’t happen without preparation.
In any given month you may need to be a plumber, engine mechanic, roofer, cabinetmaker, farm laborer, welder, sales person, lumberjack, drywaller, heavy equipment operator, electrician, gardener and more. Do you need all these skills and the tools that go with them right away? No, but you should be prepared to tool up as you face the inevitable physical challenges that will come your way. Your success as a homesteader is directly proportional to how expertly you can do a hundred different jobs that most people pay a professional to have done.
When I started homesteading I began building my life in the wrong order, like a lot of others I saw: growing food, putting up outbuildings, making a comfortable place to live, building skills and tool collections, earning money. This is exactly the wrong way around. Create a homestead-friendly money-earning system for yourself first, building your skills and tools, create a comfortable place to live, build outbuildings, then grow some food. Combine this with the kind of heart that can work happily from dawn until dusk and you’ll enjoy success.
Every so often I find a blog or video about someone giving up on homesteading. Click to check out my response to a woman who walked away from the homestead she lived on with her man and children after a year. She didn’t have to make it so hard on herself. I hope she tries it again another way.