Nowadays, homesteading is a cool new trend for city folks to “get back to nature.” I want to encourage those of you interested in homesteading to give it a go!
I spent my whole life on a homestead. My mother grew up on a farm, and my dad grew up in areas where farming was still quite popular, and everybody still had home gardens. They wanted a place for four children to be able to run around safely, and a place that felt private. They value a home garden and respect nature, and wanted their children to have the same values. About five months before I was born, my parents purchased a 21 acre farm in Michigan.
Our homestead was once an old celery farm. It is conveniently irrigated by two streams and hill runoff. Our garden plot is about five acres of cleared land, and the rest of the property is wooded. There were several structures left behind by the old farmer that we never put into use. As kids, these turned into awesome clubhouses. In the summers, we rented garden plots to our neighbors. Despite the hard work of keeping everything running, it was a pretty awesome place to grow up.
Here are the things I learned from growing up on a homestead farm…
1. Reduce, reuse, recycle
We reused as much as possible. Old newspapers were used for fire-starters, old jars were containers for screws or used for catching bugs. We composted our leftovers, so we could dig worms for fishing. And we made new things from what we had — our scarecrow every year was made from old wood and shirts we out-grew. As an adult, I still compost, reuse, and recycle.
2. The best snacks come from nature
What we grew, we ate. Our homestead produced many different plants. Not only did we grow a traditional vegetable garden, we had a fruit orchard, and I was encouraged to forage for berries in the woods. There were many times in my childhood when I was hungry for a snack, and my parents told me to go outside and pick something out of the garden to eat. Everything was so fresh and delicious, I had no complaints. My mother makes an absolutely amazing wild blackberry cheesecake every year from berries that grow in the woods.
3. The cycle of life
From an early age I knew that animals had sex to have babies. Sometimes those babies didn’t always live. Sometimes those animals become prey for another animal. But that prey helps another to live. And when animals get really sick, they die. I remember witnessing my first birth at age three, when my cat had kittens. I loved those babies so damn hard. When the mother cat caught a rabbit for her kittens, it seemed so natural to me that the kittens would eat what the mother caught.
When I was that young, I didn’t know why my friends’ parents wouldn’t let my friends play at my house. Now I know that they were horrified that their young child might see a dead rabbit get eaten by a litter of kittens. I assure you, if you’re raising your child on a homestead, these facts of life just seem so normal (and won’t come as a shock when it comes time for biology classes in school). These lessons may be hard to learn, and can be sad at times, but because of it I learned to value and respect all life.
4. The value of hard work
A homestead is a lot of hard work. There always seems to be some part of the land, or the home, that needs tending to. The value of the work you put in, though, pays off so many times over. It feels like magic to plant a seed, and water it, then a few weeks later there is food to put on your table. Watching the seasons change, and caring for the land the whole year, is downright spiritual. Over time you feel the rhythm of life, and anything else feels boring and sterile. (Really it feels all wrong to eat imported fresh asparagus in the winter; it’s a spring crop.)
Of course there are many more lessons to be learned from a homestead farm. These big life lessons were learned early, but now carry me through my adult life. You don’t have to be a committed homesteader to learn these lessons. Even if you’re a city-dweller, you can get closer to the land by composting, growing a garden, or raising pets.