The other day, Sophia got a fortune cookie that said, “Don’t start anything new unless you can see how to finish it.” It got me thinking. When we set out on this journey of building a homestead we were pretty clueless. I had to ask myself if before we started this we could see how it was to be finished. And I realized that yes, indeed, we know what we want it to become and how we hope it survives into the future , i.e. how it finishes. But it didn’t take too long to figure out that while we knew the beginning and could see the completed vision in our minds, how to get there was just a bowl of jumbled spaghetti noodles.
What does it mean to be a homesteader? The technical definition of a homestead depends on the context. It used to mean a piece of land, typically out west, given to a family to farm and otherwise cultivate. It is made up a home and outbuildings and land that is used to produce food stuffs. But it has taken on a different meaning these days with a number of connotations not bound to the literal definition. Ideas like “off the grid” or “trade-barter only” operations, or metal working your own tools. milling your own lumber and processing all your own meats.
The reality we find out here in the thick of it is that on one end of the spectrum a homestead can be a plot of land, with or without a permanent home, which is being used to sustain a family unit. It can be one in which electric is self-generated if used at all, water is through spring, well, or pipe and kitchens are a couple of buckets of water and a simple wood fire with granite blocks on top as a stove. Heat is often provided by wood fire and the living space is fairly crowded, especially if it’s a hand-built cabin, large tent or RV. Money flow is negligible, so buying things is often a luxury, instead, these homesteaders often barter for what they need. They sell items from their homestead such as milk and eggs, canned, smoked or dried pantry items, and prepared foods like chili, soups, cookies and cakes. Frequently there is no mortgage as they inherited or outright purchases the land and then improve it piece by piece.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who have decided to become self-sufficient and buy a piece of land complete with home, outbuildings and county services for gas, electric and water. They often start with a small garden, maybe a few chickens, and learn as they go, swapping one practice for another until they reach their goal, whatever that might be. They shop for most items at the store, eat at home or out as time allows, spend a lot of time driving because now they live way out, and might be considering solar. They are more like city folk who have moved to the country.
In between those two groups lie everyone else, in fact, this is where we find ourselves. For many reasons we had to find a place already set up and ready to go. And because of that I think of us as hybrid homesteaders. We are still connected to the grid but the vision is to ultimately generate our own electricity, source our own water, and heat our home all off the grid. But it has to be sustainable and not relay on running to the store to buy a piece or a part. So we are learning electrical and plumbing systems, small engine repair, what we can do without an engine and instead with some elbow grease. We want to remove plastic from our lives and land completely, grow, harvest, forage and trade for everything else. But it is going to take us a few years. Especially when we have drought conditions.
Our homestead is one in which we are transitioning one step at a time from practices that are planet destructive to planet preserving. If enough people do what we are doing we may be able to shift the tide. This was a scary thing to do, but we have faith in the plan and know we were called to this part of the path for a reason, many reasons. You won’t find all the things needed to live off the grid here, not yet, but you will find us right in the middle of the journey and very happy to share with whomever the why and how of what we do.
We are incorporating Cherokee life ways into our every day existence. This group of people lived so successfully and sustainably for over 5,000 years that their life ways are worth learning, living and sharing. Although we are members of the tribe, we were not raised to be Cherokee and have found our way late in life to the everyday learning about what it means to belong to this cultural group and how to pass this knowledge on the younger generations.
Our first greenhouse.
One of the first things we did when we landed here in July of 2021 was to put in a green house. It was a 10 ft by 24 ft green tunnel, absolutely huge. I couldn’t have been more excited especially since it cost only $179. We planted a number of seeds which sprouted right away and some which never sprouted. Our tunnel quickly became a host to many insects very interested in our food. This is when we discovered natural pest discouragement and maintenance. I think we ate 1 meal from it before it was lost to the wind. Based on the reviews we’d read, we weighed it down on the edges, strapped it down with batten tape and it lasted well into late fall and early winter, even through a few wicked storms. We had a small heater and lights in it, all run off the house electric, and we managed to grow some spinach and lettuce, beans and tomatoes – but lost most of them to the bugs. And then the late winter winds started up and we lost the greenhouse. It blew down. But we did salvage the frame.
Here it is 1 year later and the outside garden is mostly done and we are just now planning our next greenhouse. Honestly this should have been done months ago and seeds started but it just didn’t happen. Now is the time even though it will be late Jan before there is food to eat from it…and this one will either be a bonafide structure or the underground type – we are still finalizing the plan.
We learned: no hoop greenhouse up here on the ridge and never throw anything away, repurpose everything.
Till next week!