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©2010 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)
You have a great job in the city, but long to live in the country. Your life is a hectic rat race, but you can’t justify leaving your current lifestyle for a slower paced one. You’re stressed out, pulling your hair out and thinking the grass has got to be greener on the other side. Is homesteading for you? Is it really what you want, or just another daydream? Is there anything you can do to test the waters before cutting the umbilical cord with the modern world? Would you even want to?
Here are 7 tips on how to get started on a self-reliant lifestyle without changing jobs, buying 40 acres in the wilderness or upsetting your family’s current lifestyle (well, not too much…).
- Grow Something. Plant an herb in a pot on the windowsill, or start a terrarium. Garlic in a hanging pot in the kitchen. Start a tomato plant in a container on the porch. Start a worm farm in your basement. A few hens or rabbits in the backyard are good for beginners. Coturnix Quail in a backyard hutch, or even pigeons are also easy to raise. I have always been able to grow green beans, tomatoes and peppers everywhere we have moved, even if nothing else in the garden survived.
- Enjoy the fruits of your labor. What if you only grow a few tomatoes? Then learn how to dehydrate them and use them in your favorite sun-dried tomato recipe. The worms make rich soil to add to containers or the garden. Rabbits can go into the stewpot, saving you money at the supermarket or a side income selling the young ones. Hens can provide eggs most of the year. The Coturnix Quail reproduce quickly and can easily be put up in the freezer. Squab (young pigeon) can be turned into gourmet meals for little expense. We have always enjoyed green beans grown in our garden and frozen for the winter. One year when we were moving, I cleaned out the freezer and found the last bag of garden green beans at the bottom. I was on cloud nine and my friends helping us move thought we were crazy. But, that’s part of the satisfaction of a little bit of a self-reliant lifestyle. My friends just didn’t know how much better these green beans tasted compared to the store-bought canned ones they were used to.
- Read. There are many books on self-reliance and homesteading topics. Read stories of how other homesteaders paved the way. Several magazines feature how-to articles on every skill level and on homesteaders that are making it happen. Countryside, Backwoods Home, Urban Farmer, and Mother Earth News are great places to start. Movies can also be inspiring. As a child (ok, I’ll admit it, early adulthood too), I watched The Wilderness Family countless times. I know, it’s corny, but it kept the dream alive! In 2002, my kids and I watched Frontier House, part documentary and part reality programming, it documented 3 families and as they tried to live exclusively the homestead lifestyle in Montana according to what was available in 1882. It is great for making your family think how they would handle similar problems that were encountered. It also shows how much we’ve lost as we depend on modern life.
- Stock up your storage pantry. You don’t have to buy out Sam’s Club, just add a few extra items every time you go shopping and store it back. Make sure they are items you use and rotate them. Good staples to store are beans, brown rice, lard, amaranth, lentils, grains and canned fruits and vegetables. If you’ve ever lost power for any length of time because of storms, you will appreciate those few staples that can pull you through a few days to a few weeks before normal life returns. One year, I bought a 50 lb bag of pinto beans and canned them. I made pork with beans, beef stew with beans, chili, plain beans, etc. Home canned goods have always been one of our staples. Just heat and serve and its delicious!
- Learn skills. Dehydrating, freezing and canning food is easy once you learn the basics. And it saves you money, once you have your jars and canning equipment. Some communities have classes that teach you how to preserve your own food. Here is a website that also shows you how: National Center for Home Food Preservation Learn woodworking by starting with a birdhouse, then work your way up to a dog house, rabbit hutch, chicken coop and garden shed. These are the same skills you’ll use if you decide to build a house. I learned how to spin wool and weave through a few lessons and then learned the rest through books and online sources. We have built everything from birdhouses to barns.
- Talk to people. Get together with neighbors, farmers and others that are on the self-sufficient path and ask questions. Visit their homesteads to see if it feels like something you would want to do. Offer to help on some of their projects in exchange for teaching you a skill. Reenactments like Rendezvous, Society for Creative Anachronism and homesteading schools and classes are few places to watch others and learn. We used to visit a Rendezvous every year and learned about campfire cooking, teepees, how to start a fire with flint and steel and tanning hides and furs.
- Just Do It. Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the time to learn the skills and work out the kinks, before you have to rely on that skill, like a garden. It is a time of learning. Just start with one thing and go from there. When I got into weaving, my first project was a dishcloth. The only yarn I had was thick cotton, so not thinking, I just warped the loom and started weaving. I wove about 3 of them on that warp before I realized how thick this cloth was. I finished them anyway, and today they are the ones I reach for when I pour boiling water from my favorite teapot with the broken spout.
To become totally self-sufficient—having to buy nothing and depending on no one—is something very few people actually achieve. In fact, history shows we have always traded and bartered between ourselves. Self-reliance is more of a journey in life, an enduring lifestyle and a satisfying one at that.