Could You Homestead?

Besides being financially independent, could you grow all of your own food too?

I think I could – I grew up on a farm and spent most of my life (it seemed anyways as a teenager) doing chores, baling hay, and generally being kept busy.  Otherwise who knows what kind of fun I could have gotten up to living 15 km away from anyone I knew.  I read a book last year titled “Self Sufficient Life and How to Live it” by John Seymour.  In the book, he not only provides the benefits of being self-sufficient food-wise, but also provides a scalable operation that shows how to set up your farm from 1-50 acres.

With our household becoming more interested in food and where it comes from it would seem like a good fit to grow our own – not only would I know exactly where my food came from, but I could control each and every aspect of inputs to it’s growth, or (in the case of animals) what kind of feed and care they receive.

Maybe I’m a little paranoid from reading too many post-apocalyptic stories in the last few months (for example: The Last Man; The Book of Ember; I Am Legend), but there are very few people (relative to say 100 years ago) that are able to grow their own food.  I’m wondering what will happen to food prices with ever-increasing energy prices on the horizon.  How much would food prices go up if fuel costs increase to $200 per barrel?

I can see some potential problems with homesteading:

  • Can’t really leave the farm:  This is one of the reasons why I don’t have a dog – we’re never home.  If you have cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens it’s difficult to schedule a week’s vacation in the sun when your animals need fed somewhere in Southern Ontario.  A farm would really be a drag on vacations and essentially tethers you at home.
  • Poor growing years: If you experience poor yields, you still have to eat, meaning you may have put a significant amount of time (and possibly money) into a crop and end up with nothing to show for it – might as well have lived in the city.
  • Opportunity Cost:  The trade-off between such things as buying land and spending time growing food may work out less than just living in the city and buying food.

In the end, there are some significant draw-backs to doing it all yourself, but at some point I may freak myself out enough worrying about how I’ll eat in 20 years to take the plunge.  I think I have been away from the farm long enough to romanticize how rewarding working for your food is, but there is a certain level of satisfaction at the end of a day of building pasture fences knowing that you have just done something that is going to help feed you in the future.

Have you ever thought of homesteading?  Could you do it, if necessary?  Would it be worth the extra work?

13 thoughts on “Could You Homestead?”

  1. Dave,

    That is an interesting idea. I don’t think I could homestead it pre se. But my wife and I have grown a garden in the past and plan on doing it again this year.

    For me the biggest benefit of growing my own food is how much better it tastes then the store bought stuff. I can remember when I was a kid, I thought that I would never “waste” my time growing a garden, when I could just go down to the store and buy whatever I wanted or needed.


  2. Homesteading does not have to involve animals. Scott and Helen Nearing were vegans; they didn’t use animals at all, and even built their own stone structures themselves.

    You could provide some of your food with a garden, but even if you provided most or all of your food, if you don’t have animals, you can take a vacation. You couldn’t take a long vacation during the growing season, although probably a few days would be OK, but then why would you want to? It’s summertime! But during the gray, cold winter, you could take a nice long vacation south. Any food you have preserved via canning or freezing should be fine, provided you don’t turn your electricity off while you’re gone.

  3. We read that book a couple of years ago and decided we’d need to build up some serious skills before we could attempt that.

    This year we are getting involved in a community garden so we’ll see how that goes.

    Historically our crops haven’t been anything to write home about. Because of that, I have developed a healthy level of respect for people who seem to be able to grow anything.

  4. Homesteading is a little bit nutty. Very popular idea among extreme right wing Americans.

    I think the notion of homesteading comes from our memories of watching Little House on the Prairies. The reality is that to be self-sufficient you need to work your a$$ off and have lots of kids to help you out.

    Yes, it might be “simpler” but it won’t be the least bit fun.

  5. I’ve read a few books about folks having done that sort of thing…common denominator? They all write books about it; presumably to make a few extra bucks to help pay off the land. If they don’t write books, they go on the lecture tour as motivational bullshit artists.
    There is a reason most people get off the land and work in the city.

  6. I’m curious. If this is supposed to be a healthier choice, why is it that when people primarily relied on the land for food that they had a shorter lifespan than people do today whom almost exclusively survive as a consumer of store bought goods?

  7. @ Rocky – I agree, on a per-hour basis (depending on what you value your time at) it would probably be cheaper to go buy the food at the store, it does taste better minutes rather than weeks out of the ground.

    @ Veganprimate – Living in Canada, that makes sense – stick around to “farm” during the good weather and get away when it’s nasty outside.

    @ Middle Way – I think that gardening is a learned skill, probably something I should have paid more attention to when I was younger 🙂

    @ Mike – I will agree there are some nutty homesteaders, at the same time, I’m not sure how much food you eat – but I’m pretty sure that a family of two wouldn’t require a significant amount of work (if you have a pile of kids you have to feed them, along with yourself).

    @ Fred – So you’re saying that it’s impossible to do this? I think it’s more then possible, given the appropriate amount of time (say an hour or two a day) and land-base. There was a time when most people grew their own food, now I’m not sure the average person would be able to tell you where most of their food came from in a grocery store.

    @ Adam – When most people relied on the land for food they also didn’t have the health advantages we do now – infant mortality was a huge problem, along with disease, unclean water….

    You’re telling me that people in the past would have lived longer had they had the modern convenience of “Cheetos” and pop-tarts? I think the opposite is true. If people in the past ate what they grew and had the advantages that we have now they would probably easily outlive us (on average).

    The diet that most people choose out of a store is ridiculous and super-processed compared to stuff that they grew which was probably organic and very nutrient rich.

  8. Seymour’s book is great. I am proud to say that we grow some of our own food. Our farm is in Midwestern Ontario, featuring gardens as well as keeping laying hens(fresh eggs for breakfast every day!), turkeys, rabbits, and beef cattle to help feed our family and many others. I would argue that the authors and speakers Fred speaks of probably do it more to help other people than to ever get rich off of it. Living in the country is just a different way of life. Think being a handyman around the house times 100 acres, there is definitely some work involved.

  9. We’ve been growing a garden for the last few years now. I treat gardening as a hobbit rather than a food supply, so in some regards I don’t want to homestead. I like having some self sufficient skills, but I don’t feel the need to do it full time.


  10. Dave, you yourself indicated there are some significant drawbacks…I was merely pointing out that most folk who do this sort of thing need an extra source of income to make it work.

    Jordan, the folks I speak of did it for the money, it’s the only way they can afford their land.

  11. We’ve been thinking about it and will start on a small scale this year. My wife and I watched this video a while back, and thought I’d share it with your readers. Yes it is easier to do it in sunny suburban Pasadena California versus here in Ottawa, ON, but it’s still worth a try. My in laws have a very large garden and the food tastes better and we’re assured we are not eating genetically modified foods. I’ll check out the above mentioned books as well. Anyway, enjoy the video.

  12. @ Charles – That’s a great video. I think it would be difficult to get the same yields in Ottawa, but for 4 to 6 months there should be adequate growth to provide the majority of vegetables you need.

    Good luck!

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