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…
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.