Come the revolution: Homesteading as an act of radical resistance

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Norah Messier

After our sex, death, and recycling post, we noticed a lot of Homies were interesting in homesteading. So here's some more food for thought…

Revolutionary Beet
By: Sterling CollegeCC BY 2.0

You hear a lot nowadays about "preppers," and homesteaders, and urban farmers, and tiny house people, and locavores, and Slow Food, and Real Food and… Some of it is critical. Some of it verges on adoration. A lot of it has been castigated as trendy, elitist. A lot of it overlaps. Some of it doesn't. But somewhere in the middle of all the social media babble and the pop psychology of the newest "back to the land" stuff, there is a deep philosophical root tapping down into the most basic needs of humankind — and it's a philosophy of resistance.

We bought into the idea of homesteading for a variety of reasons, some of them philosophical (what, exactly, is a "food product" and why should I eat it?) and one of them totally practical (we had a goat living in our house). In trying to figure out how to convince our little goat that she was not actually a person and that she needed to live outside, we began to reevaluate our life priorities.

We wanted land. We wanted to grow real food, and raise animals for real milk and real meat and real eggs. We wanted to sit at our dining room table without a goat jumping from chair to chair.I had enough of a background in historic agriculture (to say nothing of a full-time job doing historic agriculture) that I was willing to take the leap out of the suburbs and into hobby farming. My husband quickly jumped onboard.

It never occurred to me that what we were doing was part of a larger social trend. I just wanted to dig in the dirt and have chickens (and, well, a goat). I'd been raised on an urban homestead without ever calling it such or even knowing that it was unusual. I've always been labeled a radical for my political views; I didn't realize that I could further that with the simple act of planting a garden. But the more I read about do-it-yourself backyard farming, and the more I heard about the corruption that seems rampant in the world of industrial agriculture, the more I knew that we had found the right path.

It shouldn't have to be a radical act to resist the status quo — to object to social expectations — especially when it comes to the most basic of human requirements for survival. I mean the whole business of food, specifically. Many (I daresay even the majority of) Americans are so far removed from the origins of what they eat, that the urban legends of children thinking that chocolate milk comes from brown cows suddenly become less fantastic and more believable.

There are many historic social trends that have led to this grand divorce from agriculture, too many to go into in a post like this, but the fact remains that the folks who choose to grow and/or raise their own food are fewer today than a hundred or so years ago. Thanks to the rise of industrial agriculture, the many are extraordinarily dependent on the few.

And yet, there are another few, and they are growing in number. My husband and I can be counted in that census. We are the ones who are actively resisting the industrial food systems of the twenty-first century. Are we radicals? Absolutely. Are we rabid? No, we're not foaming at the mouth. We've just simply assessed the way things are going locally, nationally, and globally, and chimed in with Bartleby, the Scrivener: We would prefer not to. We are not alone.

Despite the fact that "homesteading" can still conjure up images of ditching city life and moving out to the wilderness and building something from nothing, it's not the reality for most of us who plunge in. We have jobs that we can't quit while the mortgage needs to be paid, so we found a little old house on an acre of land in a blue-collar town only sixteen miles from work. We're two minutes (seriously) from the interstate, an hour from Boston, and just over the canal from Cape Cod. The back yard is now home to six goats, with more on the way, seven chickens, and a great big kitchen garden. We fitted out part of our basement with two big freezers; the house came with homemade built-in cabinets, perfect for storing canned goods. I've set us up with a decent root cellar on a very small budget (thank you, Craigslist). Now that we're members at the local wholesale club, we can slowly begin stocking up on things to save our meager human-food budget and thus afford to feed our livestock and buy seeds and a generator.

Am I suggesting that everyone has to pack it in and move to the country to participate in this radical reframing of everyday life? Absolutely not. The apartment-dwellers with windowsill herb gardens are part of this movement the same as those who do flee to the wilderness and go off the grid altogether. But there is a middle ground. Saying "no" does not require abandoning modern society. It is a collection of choices. It is consciously choosing what to buy and where to buy it if it must be bought. It is consciously choosing quality, from seed to table. It is consciously choosing to support local and sustainable rather than international and industrial whenever possible.

Radical refusal is simply the act of saying, "we would prefer not to." Homesteading is eating those words.

  1. I'm starting to feel like a revolutionary. I'm not much into politics, but lately have been attending city planning meetings and advocating for our city to pass an ordinance to allow backyard chickens. Just LAST NIGHT our planning commission voted down the ordinance despite experts from the state voicing their support of the issue. Basically the majority just don't "get it" and don't want it for themselves so they vote to deny that right to the citizens who do out of fear, misinformation and self interest. Its maddening.
    I kept hearing over and over again "want chickens? move to the county." What kind of City encourages their citizens to move away? Someday I'd LOVE to have a little farm and expand my garden and have a full flock of chickens and goats. But right now I have a just right sized house and yard with more than enough space to support a garden to feed my husband and I and house the meager 3 chickens they'd allow if they ever get this thing passed. Why should I have to leave in order to get to do with my land what I please? Why does anybody care that much about what goes on in my own back yard? Especially when its just food!
    Sigh. Viva la revolution.

    • I also can't get over the city ordinances that don't allow vegetables to be grown in the front lawn. There have been several instances in the news of people getting fined and/or having to tear out their beautiful, orderly veggie gardens.

      Chickens CAN stink and make noise…but so can lots of humans.

        • Oh. My. Gosh.

          The kids that just moved in to the house behind me like 3 months ago make *so* much noise. It's ridiculous. I wish someone would outlaw them.

          Then, a couple weeks ago, I was outside watering my carrots by the back fence, and they were on their trampoline screaming and carrying on as usual, and one of them lean's over the fence and asks "do you have roosters?" I'm like "no that's next door, and they're chickens." and she goes "oh, well, they're really noisy, they wake us up in the morning", and promptly goes back to her jumping and screaming….. whatever…..

          • Just to clarify. Roosters are chickens. Hens are chickens too. Roosters are male chickens and hens are female chickens. So…

      • I think a lot of the resistance probably comes from people not knowing about/understanding things like raising chickens. Yeah, they make some noise, but I would rather deal with a rooster that crows a couple of times at 4 a.m. than a dog that barks all night, all morning, all afternoon…Before you think that I'm a dog hater, I should add that I had a wonderful dog growing up and I think dogs are fantastic. I also lived for a year in an attic apartment that was next door to a house with family who had a dog that barked CONSTANTLY. I do mean CONSTANTLY and it was annoying and definitely disturbed my sleep. It's a lot easier to get used to a rooster crowing a couple of times in the early hours of the morning, in my experience, as chances are, a person will sleep through it anyway.

        My only caution would be that regardless of whether you plan to plant edibles or raise backyard chickens, be sure to get your soil tested. I read something recently that talked about the possibility of high levels of lead and other harmful materials in urban backyard chickens and their eggs, due to what was in the local soil. Unfortunately, I don't have a link to share, as I don't remember where I read it, but it seems logical, and probably not such a bad idea to test your soil first, anyway. Absolute worst case, you might have to remove a pretty deep layer of soil from your property and bring in new soil that isn't contaminated (or so I remember the article recommending…again, this isn't from personal experience).

        • Agreed. But you don't need a rooster to make eggs, just more chickens. Hen's will lay eggs regardless. In our ordinance roosters are outlawed.
          As for Dogs, I love them too. I do not love the ones that are left outside all night to bark and carry-on. I feel sorry for them, as its obviously their owners causing this.
          The most noise a hen makes is when she's laying an egg…I think I'd make a little racket if I was pushing out something that size as well…. this does not happen at night usually, hens enjoy their beauty sleep too! =)

          • Very true about the rooster situation. I just figured they were probably the main reason people assume that chickens are so noisy. And yeah, hens do make a certain amount of noise when they're laying, but it's really not that much of a racket, again, compared to barking dogs or car alarms or police cars/fire trucks/ambulances…

          • We live next door to a house with at LEAST 7 chickens (I believe 4 is the limit but our neighbor is a rebel.) The hen house is maaaybe 25 feet from our yard. I've never smelled a thing, and they make way, way less noise than the trucks that drive down our street…plus, the noises they make are hilarious. I only very rarely even hear them indoors.

            I'd love to have chickens ourselves but they'd have to share a backyard with two mutts who'd be hell-bent on eating them, sooo… haven't quite figured out those logistics yet. I'd hate to keep 'em totally penned up (though that's probably technically the rule anyway. The neighbors' gals free-range it, I often see them outside our bedroom window or up in the trees. Don't mind a bit, though I do worry they'll wander into the road. Hasn't happened yet though!)

          • When I had just one bantam hen as a kid (who slept in a wire crate in my room and spent her days picking through our grass for bugs or sitting on laps in front of the television) she started crowing in the morning, and not just when she was laying. That can happen with solo chickens or all-female groups, one of the hens becoming the designated Morning Yell Bird.

        • Here is the link to that study you mentioned: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10653-013-9586-z

          I'm a urban stormwater nerd and can't recommend enough to get your drinking water and soil tested before raising anything you'd eat on your property. I'm an avid gardener and wannabe chicken farmer (it's still illegal here) but I am all to familiar with the concentration of pollutants in our urban soils and stormwater. Many cities have free tests for drinking water and soil tests can be done pretty cheap depending on the level of detail you want.

          • Thanks for finding the study! As for urban stormwater, I would be afraid to know what all actually gets washed into the gutters. Eek! I should get our drinking water tested–we typically use the water from our Brita pitcher, but I probably still drink about 8 oz of non-filtered water a day from when I take meds, and typically cook pasta in non-filtered water, since most of it is drained off anyway…

        • General tips for chickens:
          My in-laws had chickens for a couple of years. I do not know where they bought them, but each time they got 8 "hens" at least half of them were roosters. So make sure you get them from a reliable source. Also make sure you know exactly where your hens are roosting. My in-laws had an instance of a hen who laid eggs under their porch, and then they hatched, which meant even more roosters. And then eventually predators found them… They really did plan for the chickens, provide shelter, et cetera, but there were surprises along the way for sure. But those couple years of fresh eggs was really nice!

          • My understanding is that it's sort of difficult to determine the sex of chicks, but I could be wrong. I just know that when my parents had chickens, when you got chicks, you had to wait until they were older to be able to tell if they were male or female. Inevitably, there were always at least half roosters…

            If you build roosting boxes, I think it somewhat encourages the hens to roost there, instead of all over the place, though I doubt anything is 100% effective. Something my dad did, which also seemed to help, was putting a couple of golf balls (yes, I'm serious) in the boxes. Of course, there was always at least one hen that didn't seem to produce eggs, but would happily sit in a box warming golf balls, though. I just hope that they weren't left wondering why the golf balls didn't produce chicks after all their hard work!

          • You can (at least I can, at our local feed store) get chicks that have been DNA sexed. It costs a little more (like a buck per) but it is very helpful for someone like me who is forbidden to have a rooster within the city limits. 🙂

          • Nature gives us 50/50 hens and roosters. Even the most practiced chicken sexer (do you want that job?) will only be about 90% accurate. Many cities outlaw roosters. This means that the roosters get slaughtered. It is something to think about when choosing backyard chickens. The closest I've ever been to being vegan was the week we had to give away our rooster (Seattle prohibits them). We'd bought three sexed "hens" and one was a roo. It was sad (though we did find a happy place for him). Since then we've gotten sex-linked chickens- they cross breeds so that the day old chicks have distinguishing markings.

            You can make a "predator proof" coop, but you need to maintain it. We let the girls free-range, but only in our fenced in yard, and only during daylight hours. They all go back in the coop at least an hour before dusk.

            And yes, the eggs are AMAZING! I can't order eggs in restaurants anymore unless they have a lot of veggies or cheese mixed in.

      • Our girls make a lot of noise when they lay, one in particular is LOUD. She's do a squawk squawk squawk SQUAWK song for about 20 min. And they stink when you are standing next to the coop, but not even 3 feet away. Hens won't lay at night, but will once it is light, which can be 5am. And they do make a lot of other clucking noise, but you can't hear that from 10 feet away. And they provide HOURS of entertainment, not to mentions yummy eggs!

      • I live in a block of flats in the UK, with communal gardens – and the terms of the lease forbid vegetables and fruit to be grown, even if everyone agrees to it.

        My impression is that these rules were written directly after the second world war, and that people had been very affected by having to dig up their gardens for food, and specifically didn't want that to continue in peace time. In addition, growing food in your garden was thought of as quite "working class" and the "middle class" types wanted to differentiate themselves again.

        Obviously, this is now pretty irrelevant – and growing your own food is considered to be quite a middle-class thing in general in the UK. But the rules remain, as a weird post-war hangover…

        Probably not so relevant to the US, but still interesting!

    • I completely agree with you on principle (you own the land and should be able to do as you like!), but having lived near a neighbor with chickens (and a rooster) in the suburbs I can see why people may not want to allow it, (I hated those damn noisy birds so much). It seemed like they were never quiet. I realize it is a very selfish reason, but it is a reason.

    • Have you tried quail? I've heard them referred to as "stealth chickens." Quail are quiet, and having quail isn't usually against ordinance. They can provide a lot of eggs and meat on a very small footprint. (*Small* eggs, true… but lots of them! Adorable pickled or deviled…)

      • I second this so hard. I have kept chickens for years, but this year I got quail for the first time and mind = blown. I live in the country now with plenty of space, but i WISH so hard that somebody had told me about quail back when I was trying to keep chickens in a crowded suburban area.

        Quail are small, quiet, relatively clean, and extremely productive. Mine lay more reliably than nearly any breed of chicken I've seen. The hens make a cute little whistling noise, and even the roosters only make a croaky little call. I kept one rooster in isolation for awhile in the basement, and you could just baaaaaaarely hear him upstairs if it was very quiet in the house. The eggs are delicious, and yes, you have to crack open 3-4 for every chicken egg, but since they lay so well and require so little space per bird it's really no big deal. They are also laying/butchering age at 2 months, as opposed to most chicken at around 6 months. And if you're into the meat end of things, quail is fantastic and soooooo easy to process. I really can't say enough good things about quail for the urban homesteader.

        And if you thought baby chickens are cute…grab a paper bag to hyperventilate into and google baby quail pics. They're like tiny feathered bumble bees!

    • Chickens can pose a public health hazard. The first issue is that generally, when you have urban chickens, they tend to have a very high rate of abandonment. Many urban people do not know the amount of labor that goes into caring for the chickens and what's involved. There's been a serious issue in some locales of the chickens being taken to animal shelters (which, since their urban, are usually ill-equipped to deal with them), or simply abandoned – and they usually end up preyed upon by feral animals, wounded or killed by humans (accidentally) or taken for use in other things like dogfighting bait. Another issue is chickens will naturally draw predators, based on where you live. Areas with large numbers of domestic chickens report an increase among natural predators like foxes, skunk, mink, racoons, etc. – and these bring their own issues, including disease.

      The second issue, and the one I consider the most pressing, is the disease and public health angle. There have been several fairly high-profile samonella outbreaks in the last few years that were directly traced back to urban chickens. One from 2012 infected almost 200 people and was traced back to a single hatchery the provided chicks for urban coops. That was the largest single human outbreak of samonella ever traced to avian transmission, if I recall correctly. The other concern is the potential for avian to human transmission of diseases through feces as well.

      Does all this means nobody should be able to have chickens? Not necessarily. But when you live in a society with some collectivist leanings, a government is obligated to consider how what you do on your land impacts others. If we had pure libetarianism, that would be different. Gardens are a different matter, personally, for me. But I've worked with zoning boards in the past, and just want to add that there are some very legit, very good reasons to oppose urban chickens. it's not as easy as many people make it out to be. A city or town must consider all the issues and all the people it serves.

      • I agree with your point about urban chicken owners getting in over their heads and abandoning chickens. I guess it's one of the drawbacks of raising chickens becoming a "trend." I have heard of a cool program, though, where you kind of "rent to own" chickens. For a fee you get a few chickens, ordinance-compliant chicken coop, and other things you need for a few months. You keep the chickens for a "trial period" and if you decide it isn't for you, the company will take them back! I don't know how many different areas have programs like this, but it seems like a smart business idea, giving wanna-be chicken owners a chance to experience it first-hand before fully committing.

      • Do you have a citation for the salmonella outbreaks caused by backyard chickens? My understanding from Storey's "Raising Chickens" is that salmonella is a concern for the backyard farmer in one egg every 80 years. (so statistically much lower than store-bought eggs).

        And chicken abandonment doesn't seem like a reason to outlaw them all together. Just punish those who abandon under typical animal cruelty laws.

        • http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/03/24/175057536/backyard-chickens-cute-trendy-spreaders-of-salmonella

          The outbreak infected 195 people across 27 states. The strain was linked back to a single hatchery that provided chicks for urban coops. It was confirmed last year to be the single largest avian to human samonella transmission documented. There have been far smaller outbreaks, but this was the largest.

          Like I said before, the abandonment issue isn't merely about animal welfare. It raises the risk to humans by drawing into urban areas animals that naturally prey upon the chickens. One of the major concerns is that areas with large numbers of backyard chickens is an increase in rabies – because the chickens draw in natural predators like raccoons and weasels and foxes, all of which are prone to rabies and can infect humans.

          Also, it's not as simple as you make it out to be. Only a very small percentage of people who abandon animals are ever actually caught. Your suggestion wouldn't work in a large percentage of cases because those people simply aren't caught. Think about it – how many people who abandon cats and dogs actually get caught and prosecuted? The number is incredibly small. You can't prosecute what you can't find.

  2. I love this. I would also add that people have to do what works for them and what works with THEM. Chickens are on my wishlist because I want eggs I don't have to get in a store. I would love to put in a backyard garden, but I won't because I know that I wouldn't take care of it. I hate bugs and dirt and sunlight. My poor garden would be overgrown with weeds in less than a month. Making changes to your lifestyle and your diet should always stem from your own needs and a realistic understanding of yourself.

    • If you get the chickens, you may be able to garden a little bit — chickens love scratching in the dirt for bugs and seeds, so they'll take care of most garden pests. There are certain plants they won't eat, though — tomato plants, for example. So if you plant your tomatoes as seedlings (which you could buy from a local farmer), and get varieties that can be caged so you don't need to prune and tie them (Tiny Tim cherry tomatoes, Patio, and Silvery Fir Tree all do well caged), assuming you have enough sun, you could have tomatoes in your back yard! I think there are also some herbs that chickens don't like, so that might be another option (and many would require less light than tomatoes would)

      • Do note that chickens are attracted to the color red. If your hope is to grown tomatoes that *you* eat instead of your chickens, you should try alternative colored tomatoes. Green zebras are quite tasty, for example.

      • My chickens would disagree with you on the tomato plant thing! The row of plants on the edge of my patch have their leaves nicely trimmed up to the height the chickens can reach. I also know they love raspberry leaves, and will eat the heck out of thyme, sage, rosemary and oregano.
        Cheeky little buggers, but I love them anyway.

  3. Great post! Lots of food for thought. 😛

    I think my family have always been part of this movement (pushed in this direction largely by my brother, who now owns an organic vegetable farm), and it has certainly affected how I live my (currently urban) life. I think the movement is more than just food, though. For instance, my husband and I don't have a car, and I would argue that our bike-everywhere lifestyle is part of the same general movement, although mostly incompatible with rural life. It's about conscious consumption, and awareness of supply lines for all the products we buy. It's about saying "I would rather not" to consumer culture, to the idea that more and easier is always better.

    I'm definitely with you on the food, though — since I can't grown the majority of my food at this point, I try to buy direct from farmers, and I can and freeze a lot of food all summer to eat all winter. I'm not perfect about it, I do sometimes buy non-local out-of-season produce, and I certainly buy non-local staples, such as rice. I find fresh, local food tastes so much better than any sort of "food product". (As an aside, I've found that if they need to tell you in the name that it's food or drink, it's probably suspect. "Blue cheese style cheese food product", eh? I'll pass…).

    • I'm super-excited about signing up for a local CSA this year, as my husband and I have wanted to do so for a few years, now, but with our finances and the continual possibility of moving to a new region looming, we never made the jump. This year, with careful planning, we should be able to squeeze it into our budget and have guarantee of a much healthier diet during the growing season.

      Probably a lot of our friends/family think that we're crazy "crunchy" types for the fact that I take things like the content of our household cleaning products and the things we put ON our bodies (lotions, soaps, cosmetics, etc) pretty seriously, but to me, it's about doing what is healthier rather than being part of any kind of movement. The same with our hope to do cloth diapering–I don't really care about whether or not it's trendy, but I do care about the chemicals involved, the lack of biodegradability of most commercial disposables, and the financial cost of said disposables. If being concerned for our environment and our health is turning into a movement, though, it's not a bad thing, I would say…

  4. It's sad to me that something as simple as wanting to eat real food is considered "radical," but I guess that's where our society is right now. It is also very interesting to me how some people roll their eyes at this homesteading movement because it's "trendy." Honestly, though, of all the things that could become trends, growing gardens and canning food is a great one.

    Anyway, lovely article. My partner and I hope to have land some day for growing food and perhaps raising a few animals (among some other projects). Every time I hear of someone doing it, it seems a little less daunting to me.

    • I think this is a distinctly American/Western phenomenon. When I lived in Austria, the majority of people I met really cared about their food, where it came from, what pesticides were used, etc. I felt the healthiest I ever have in my life when I lived there and ate like the locals. Then when I came back to America I gained 5 pounds in one month, and had to find my way back to "healthy."
      Austrians also have this lovely tradition of owning a garden plot outside the city, usually equipped with a quaint gardening shed on the plot. Taking the train anywhere meant miles of watching these cute little gardens go by.

  5. Dear Norah,

    This is a fantastic post. My husband and I are interested in making a similar move. Are there any blogs, books, or other resources that you found particularly helpful in your homesteading journey?

    Thanks so much for the encouragement!

    • Hi, Mercedes!

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. I've only recently begun writing about our adventures in homesteading, and the responses here are by far some of the most encouraging I've received!

      The top four books I've found to be (so far) the most helpful are:
      – The Backyard Homestead, Ed. Colleen Madigan, Storey Publishing;
      – The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, Ed. Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing;
      – Backyard Homesteading: A Back-to-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency, David Toht, Creative Homeowner;
      – The Complete Kitchen Garden, Ellen Ecker Ogden, Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

      I've also found Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home magazines to be fantastic and enjoyable resources.

      I hope that helps!

  6. Yay! More, more and more please! Being raised by foodie hippies this has really always been a major part of my life. Every time someone makes the decision to care its a wonderful thing. We don't all have to be farmers but the more real food farmers coming into this the more real food people have access to. I think a big part of this revolution is about safety and health. More people spreading the word, the better for everyone.

  7. One of my favorite sites (other than this one, of course) is You Grow Girl. http://yougrowgirl.com/ Gayla Trail has a couple books out too. She is all about using found materials, growing plants in unlikely spaces, and using plants in a variety of ways that I would never consider. For those of us who can't move to the country (one day!) she is a great resource to teach you how ANYONE can garden in any space. She also has tips on how to store and what to do with the food you grew.

  8. Yay! I love philosophy posts, and I love reading about homesteading. The part of this article that talked about "consciously choosing" really resonated with me. I think that's a large part of the homesteading movement – people deciding to consciously think about their lifestyle and choose how they want to live, and I see a really strong correlation with posts/comments on the Offbeat Empire blogs: people who self-identify as Offbeat are consciously choosing to not just do whatever society tells them to do, whether that's in the clothes they wear, the hobbies they do, or the food they eat.

    Whenever I get in a discussion with people about the "weird" homestead-y things I do (many of which started as an urge to reduce my environmental impact), I try to focus on the fact that while I've reached the conclusion that these are the right choices for me and my family, what I think is the really important part is that we thought through the choices, and that I think everyone should be living consciously, or minimally, be aware of the fact that unless they're working at it, they're probably society decide for them!

  9. Slightly off topic…

    You had a goat living in your house? This is the coolest thing I have ever heard. I want to know more about life living with a goat in the house! How did the situation arise? How did it work? Why did it not work and result in you moving the goat into the new garden? And everything else about life with a goat that lives in your house.

  10. It's so interesting to me how living off the grid can end up as a result of both being a far left radical AND a far right radical. (my grammar is weird). The modern prepper movement seems like it's mostly made up conservatives who think Obama is literally going to ruin the country. And left leaning folks have anti capitalist reasons. And there's the whole factor of it being trendy now, too.
    (I don't mean to pigeon hole anyone; I realize there are TONS of reasons!)

    • My parents started out "homesteading" as a way to raise us kids in a traditional way, and learn the value of some good hard work. But over time my dad has gone increasingly more interested in conspiracies and prepping, and has decided that our family is keeping the farm forever more just in case the world ends and we need to "protect our own" by living at an easily defensible property that can also grow all the food needed to support 10+ people.

  11. I love this so much! I grew up on a small farm in a rural area, but have spent my adult life in cities and suburbs. Part of me really longs to be that person who lives at the end of a long dirt road in the middle of nowhere 40 miles from the closest civilization, and I know I could be very happy that way. However, I married a city boy, and he'd go CRAZY if he wasn't 5 minutes away from a gas station, post office and grocery store. So we live in the 'burbs, but we're doing as much urban homesteading as we can. It is possible, and it does not have to be all or nothing.

    I read a great article the other day, wish I could remember where, that was telling people not to be a "Homesteading Asshole", basically it's great to be excited and proud of what you've accomplished by completely changing over to a self-sufficient lifestyle, but don't get SO excited in trying to convert others that you downplay the baby steps that others might be taking towards that path. (I'm certainly not implying the OP is doing this, AT ALL, though I know that I'm guilty of it sometimes.) The best point of it, I think, was that you can start small; a few chickens, a small garden, even container plants on the balcony of your city apartment…one small thing is better than never doing anything. Even the tiniest step towards taking control of your own food production is a major thing, even if it does not seem like it. Thinking about it as a whole (we're going to produce ALL our own food! We're going to buy a farm!) is perfect for some…and a terrifying prospect for others because it's so overwhelming. I admit that I've felt in over my head sometimes with some of the things I've tried to do, and that having the crutch to fall back on (I don't HAVE to make soap, I can buy soap if I need to) is comforting. 🙂

    I don't care if homesteading/self-sufficiency is dismissed as a "fad" by some people. I believe that people are growing dissatisfied with plastic hectic consumer culture, and are desperately seeking ways to opt out of it, even if they don't realize that's what they're doing. Even a little thing like planting some strawberries or growing a tomato plant…it's important and it's good for us.

  12. PLEASE tell me about how you lived with a goat in your home!
    I have always wanted a goat. But I always thought goats were "outdoor" pets. Can I have an indoor-outdoor goat, like an indoor-outdoor cat? I am very excited by this idea that I can have an adorable pygmy goat-friend that lives in my home with me.

    • Hi, Cass!

      Having a house-goat is not for the faint of heart. Sandy lived in a big pet carrier when we weren't at home (after she transitioned from going just about everywhere with us) to keep her from causing mayhem in our absence. When we were home, she got to run around and she loved it – though the watchfulness has to be constant to keep them out of mischief. All in all, it was always meant to be a temporary arrangement, and when we finally bought our house we were relieved to get her outside. I'd recommend goats as excellent homestead companions, but I can't say that I suggest keeping them as house pets unless you're home ALL the time and want to sweep up goat-berries on a regular basis! 🙂

      • Did the goat's hooves destroy the floor? That's the big thing I worry about if I ever wanted my pet goat to come indoors (everything else can be cleaned up or put out of reach if necessary).

        • Goat hooves are amazingly floor-friendly, especially when they're young. Sandy (and her niece and nephew) were unusually fond of paper, cardboard, and photographs, just as a warning. 😉

  13. I enjoyed reading about your decisions! I think many of us so often get caught up in the day to day grind that we forget we CAN make some decisions about our access to food and contributions to sustainability.

    It's funny, I grew up on a small family farm and HATED gardening. You know, because it was something I HAD to do. And then, many years later, I found myself longing for being able to dig my hands in the dirt. I started off with flower gardening, but I'm so excited this year to be able to finally live in a house that has enough sun for a vegetable garden. Unfortunately there is only one small spot, awkwardly in the middle of our back yard, that has enough sun to do this. (It's a rental, we don't get to tear down the trees 😉 )

    So: I'll be starting with a small 4×4 plot, but I will do what I can to maximize it. Hopefully I can add another 4×4 the following year. I've been reading a lot about Square Foot Gardening, and also plan to put some tomato plants in pots.

  14. I grew up in the country. We always had a garden, Dad raises cows on my Grandma's farm (although the chickens were long gone before I was born).

    I just think it's amusing at how many people look down on the country lifestyle and then as soon as it's trendy they're all about it. Maybe I'm just unlucky in the fact that I live in an area that has a high concentration of – as one poster above called them -"Homesteading Assholes."

    Not saying all of the New Homesteaders are like that, but if someone gets up in my face and tries to tell me all about their heirloom tomatos are they're so superior to anything I may eat, I may have to dope slap them. (yeah, I get it about heirloom veggies. My sister grew her beans last year from actual heirloom seeds given to her by our grandma, saved each year from the harvests she herself grew. And she passed some of THOSE seeds to me for next year).

    So yay for self sufficiency and more power to you for taking advantage of the privileges you have to do so, but if someone doesn't want to follow that path, or doesn't have the means to do it, don't be a jerk.

  15. THANK YOU so very very much for writing this piece. It hit the spot in my little revolutionary heart, and I feel like perhaps my contemporaries and I are not the only ones who believe in this "radical resistance" as you put it. I left America five years ago in large part because I was appalled by the eating practices, the difficulty of finding safe and healthy food to eat at acceptable prices, the gluttony juxtaposed against our issues concerning personal weight (particularly concerning women). So I moved to Thailand as a way to live a little slower, more relaxed, and certainly closer to the food chain and circle of life.

    In a few months, my new husband and I are heading to New York with our two dogs. My guy is French, and has only visited once before, so he really has no idea what to expect. Despite leading a good life in Asia, we're selling most of our worldly possessions and minimizing everything down to a tent, two bikes, and our dogs. We'll bike south and west and meet with other homesteaders and intentional communities to hone our skill sets and meet some like-minded people. WWOOF, helpx, Couchsurfing, and new/old friends will determine where we stay, but I'm also a big fan of stealth camping.

    Reading all the comments about raising quails as "stealth chickens" and building compost heaps, becoming more conscious of where your food comes from, and all those little things that the OP mentioned as being "back to the land"… I feel myself grinning ear to ear. Things are at a pivotal point in the US, as well as the environment, so it's awesome when reading about others who are looking for a different way. Internet high five!

    Ah, the clock strikes midnight over here in Hong Kong, endless firecrackers. Kung hei fat choi!

  16. I'm making the baby steps into greater homesteading — starting with a vegetable garden in the Spring. I've already plotted where it'll go! so, this was really helpful to me as I do have concerns (to put it lightly) about agrobusiness.

    I was wondering if the OP or anyone else had information or knew anything about hobby beekeeping? It can help the entire neighborhood with pollination, but I know there's some restrictions to it. I'd love to see more about that as it's something I'm very interested in as part of my movement into self-sufficiency, or at least supplemental food production.

    I'm in the suburbs in MA, if that helps.

  17. Love this post. XD

    It's nice to see that there's so many others out there that are into "radical" homesteading as well! I switched over to a real foods diet last year, and started DIY-ing almost all of my cleaners (except bar soap, still working on figuring that out – luckily I have access to some natural soaps in a local store).

    Honestly, I didn't even know it was a fad until reading the comments in this post. For me, it was all about trying to find ways to be healthier. At the time, my diseases took a turn for the worse and the meds were not working, so I was willing to try anything else. Heard about a fellow spoonie following a real foods, natural life style with success, so I decided to give it a try as well. Good news is, so far it's helping. I managed to work off a majority of my meds (good bye prednisone!) and I'm still having flares, but no where near as bad as before (only 1 er trip so far. woot woot).

    So are some people jumping on the bandwagon? Maybe. But some may have an invisible illness as well and are just looking for a non-medicinal alternative. =)

    Does anyone have any tips for starting a garden? I really would like to start growing some veggies and herbs this year, but I don't have a clue on where or when to even start.

    • Depends on how deep into it you want to go. My Dad and I gardened together when I was a kid, so I have a concept of where to start.

      I think the biggest thing is to get 1 more plant than what you think you'll need. Even when started, some of your plants will die from factors outside of your control. This means that if your tomato (for example) fails, you have a second planted.

      Depending on how organic you want to grow and the strength of the soil, you may want to add a little bit of potting soil into the bed to give a little boost of nutrients.

    • I has invisible illness too…. and I'm a radical… and I'm just fed up of drudgery and want to work at my own pace far away from people…

      anyway… soap making is super easy… all the conventional methods people use are over-engineered IMO… this is the method I use, it's called room temprature processing.

  18. I think we should be careful throwing around words like "real" food here. its like saying only unmedicated birth is "natural." There is an inherent privilige in even being able to have this discussion that should not be forgotten. Not everyone can afford to do this, and not all urban dwellers are hip progressives who want to raise chickens. There is a real problem of food deserts and food quality that affects many people in this country and instead of decrying people for eating food thats apparently "not real" maybe we should also discuss how to take homesteading out of the private sphere and into the community so everyone can benefit.

    • We must start somewhere. We need community gardens to give people access to wholesome foods. We need education available about real food as communities, because the truth is that more and more of the "food" being sold to us isn't real. Large amounts of the the most inexpensive foods are filled with chemicals created in labs, fillers in meats, etc. All of this is cheap because of government subsidy. People need to know. I don't think anyone is using the term real food to be elitist or anything, it is just an unfortunate truth… Sorry I started to ramble.

    • You could not be more right about how this can quickly become an issue of privilege. That has been one of my great concerns for years, even before I started homesteading myself. I originally envisioned starting an urban agriculture program that would serve as an educational service (and possibly a launchpad for other community-based programs) before I realized that my own sanity was at stake if I stayed where I was.

      I would love to see the eradication of food deserts worldwide. I fear that it's going to be some time until we the people can make the changes to the industrial food system that will bring more than McDonald's and Big Ag to the localities that are currently suffering from the shortages that some of us are admittedly privileged enough to avoid. But I look forward to this very topic becoming a nationwide discussion and cause for action!

    • I also worry that concentrating on organic locally grown fresh heirloom produce detracts from the fact that eating more fruit and veg, even out of season, conventionally farmed, frozen fruit and veg, is good for you. I sometimes see people say that they can't afford to improve their diet because they can't afford organic produce when buying some relatively cheap frozen veg and chucking a handful of it into whatever they're having for dinner would improve their diet much more than switching to organic.

      This was mentioned in an article on Slate this week http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/the_kids/2014/01/organic_vs_conventional_produce_for_kids_you_don_t_need_to_fear_pesticides.html

      • Yes! I am a HUGE fan of frozen veggies as the most realistic way to improve your diet. Open the bag, heat, done. They can't go bad in the fridge if you can't get around to using them right away. They are cheap and easy. Some veggies are better than no veggies. Having a garden or even picking up and using a CSA box takes TIME and effort. In my opinion, they are worth it, but I know not everyone has time, space, desire, etc.

        And…I have mixed feelings about organic versus non-organic. Organic doesn't even mean 100% chemical-free- they still use certain antibiotics and other approved things. (I am looking for an appropriate citation for this, but I can't find one right now.) I also like to look for farms that aren't organic but use good practices like integrated pest management. AND a lot of small farms and things will label their stuff organic at farmer's markets and stuff without actually having USDA certification. So…there are lots of issues. Which is why I stick to any veggie is still better than no veggie.

        • Yes, especially in winter, frozen veggies are a great way to get produce into one's diet. During the normal growing season, we eat a lot more fresh veggies at my house than we do in the winter, as we try to be more conscious of what is in season, but that means that wintertime can be rather limiting in what is available, not to mention, I lose cooking inspiration when I'm stuck eating the same few things every day. Also, having a few bag mixes of veggies that I can throw into a soup or stir fry make certain aspects of my cooking way easier–I can get little bits of multiple veggies where I might only have been able to buy one type at the store (short of spending a ton on a bunch of veggies I might not use up quickly enough–or need to freeze anyway).

          Typically, we don't end up buying organic at home because of the added cost, plus there just aren't as many options where we live outside of the farmer's market, which, when open, has hours that are difficult to swing with work. The CSA we intend to join is certified organic, though. Honestly, one major reason that a lot of farms don't get certified is because of all of the complications of getting certification–lots of hoops to jump through and bureaucratic hurdles. Sure, they're in place to be certain that something that's certified as organic really IS, but it ends up making all that work not worth it for a lot of smaller farms who do use organic practices.

          All the same, I, too, am of the camp that any fruits and veggies are better than none, though I push for fresh or frozen over most commercially canned veggies. (That's as much about taste for me as anything else, though.)

  19. I felt so radical when I got my chickens, but let me tell you, it has been TOUGH a lot of the time. Getting roosters that need to be rehomed. Illnesses. Paying for feed through the months they don't lay. Destroying my garden at every turn. Lots of issues I wouldn't have thought about. Although it hasn't been the pastoral dream I thought it would be, what it has been is a great lesson in the kind of effort and issues around small scale animal food production. Your $5 locally produced free range eggs are really worth something more like $12.

  20. I work in agriculture communications and I have a really solid view of where food comes from and the gains in plant sciences made in the past few decades. Plant science means we have a fighting chance at feeding a growing world. So my interest isn't a rebellion against ag at all (most producers value the environment and love their property and care about animal quality of life) and I'm not a conspiracy theorist prepping for the apocalypse.

    I'm interested in suburban homesteading mostly due to resource efficiency. If you have a freestanding home, then chances are, you also have some land where things grow. That land can grow grass and decorative trees and generally waste water and soil nutrients, or that same land can provide food. Seems like an easy choice to me.

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