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Although Americans were living off the land centuries earlier, the phrase “homesteading” was coined in the mid-1800s when president Lincoln passed the Homestead Act. Under the Homestead Act, settlers were incentivized to migrate West to settle land through sustainable farming along with animal husbandry.
There are numerous diaries by the folks who “traveled West” and the hardships of simple homesteading they endured. If you were a homesteader in the 1800s, you didn’t have access to modern medicine. Instead, you would have had to familiarize yourself with a healing herbs list. A grocery store visit was for flour, coffee and sugar only. You would have had to learn to grow your own linen and wool, and then knit, spin and weave it into clothes. Your feet (or a horse’s) were the only source of transportation in the “good old days.” Dig your own well, do your own blacksmithing and face starvation in the winter when you’ve had a bad crop year.
Homesteading today looks much different than it did more than 150 years ago. But drawing on a rich homestead heritage, a modern homesteader still strives for self-sustaining living. Homesteaders have a reverence for nature, enjoy creative leisure, and strive to create community cohesion and a nurturing environment for family life.
There as many different ways to be a homesteader as there are definitions of the term. Urban homesteaders tend gardens, preserve food, and raise livestock and poultry on small plots, often just a stone’s throw from a city center. Country-dwelling homesteaders run farmsteads measuring in the tens or hundreds of acres. On these homesteads, you’ll find numerous herds of livestock and several garden plots. These homesteaders often make their living or supplement their income through their homesteading land and activities.
Some homesteaders prefer off-grid living, opting to harness the power of renewable energy and run off-grid water systems. Others simply look to reduce their carbon footprint while staying on grid. With either approach, all homesteaders agree learning ways of conserving water, reducing energy consumption and decreasing waste are all worthy pursuits.
Whatever your homestead looks like today, applaud yourself for choosing the path of self-reliant living.