069: The homesteader label – how it helps, how it doesn’t
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You’re doing a few/some/all of the homesteady things, right? Then why does your aunt/brother/neighbor think you’re not doing enough? Let’s dig into how the homesteader label can help, how it can hurt, and how to respond if someone says you’re not really a homesteader.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
Sometimes the topic for my podcasts or blog post come directly from my listeners or readers — such is the case with this email I received from a listener named Amber after a frustrating conversation at a family get together. Read Amber’s email below. Maybe you can identify with it or have had a similar experience:
“Dear Farmish Amy,
I don’t really feel very farmish, but I want to be farmish. I’m 32 and live alone in a little house on a couple acres with a dog and two cats. I don’t have chickens yet but I’m working on it. I cook from scratch as much as possible and last year learned to can tomato sauce. I have a super tiny garden. I hang my clothes out on the line. I DIY whatever possible. I’ve learned to knit. I am just now trying to make sourdough starter for the first time and I’m also considering trying to do kombucha.
I’m writing because of something a relative just said to me. She said someday if I ever moved to a bigger place in the country I’d be a big girl homesteader, and the conversation that followed made it feel like she was implying that right now, everything I’m doing is pretend or not enough. I know you have talked about urban homesteaders, and I have many urban homesteader friends, but I’m actually not urban, I’m out of the city on a couple acres.
I thought I was on the right path, but now I can’t help feeling like there is more to do and more to add. Is there something that defines a person as a homesteader? Is my aunt right? Am I just playing pretend? If so, at what point is it no longer pretend and can I consider myself an actual homesteader?
Thanks for your podcast, so glad to have stumbled upon it and I’m binging my way through all your episodes.
Oh, friend. What you are doing is very real. You’re the one weeding the garden. You’re the one cleaning up the tomato splotches from canning. And anyone who says you’re just pretending needs to come help you do some work.
But this whole homesteader label thing. It always gets me wondering…
The homesteader label – does it help us…or not?
What is the big deal with this label?
To be honest, this homesteader label didn’t exist when we were looking for our farm. I think it’s really something that’s grown out of the internet and social media and people needing to figure out how to group themselves with other like minded people. After all, labels can help when they help you find your people. But labels can also be super restrictive and judgey and not helpful at all.
What do you think defines you as a homesteader? At what point do you feel like you could call yourself a homesteader? Is it right now? Then claim it. Is it when you reach a certain future point you’ve determined in your head? That’s okay, too. But be careful. Because when you dig in to a strict definition of what makes a homesteader, it can get a little complicated.
- Does the fact that I live on five acres with a big red barn mean I’m a homesteader?
- If I didn’t have the big red barn but I had chickens in a lean-to off my garage would that make me a homesteader?
- And if I only had chickens but ate fast food seven days a week, would I still be a homesteader?
- If I can one batch of tomato sauce, am I a homesteader?
- If I bake five loaves of bread a week, does that make me a homesteader?
- Or am I only a homesteader if I have animals?
- But what if I have animals, but I don’t grow vegetables and I don’t cook from scratch and I don’t DIY and I don’t…am I homesteader?
- Was my uncle who raised pigs and chickens and had a 120 acre farm a homesteader? (He would have never said he was a homesteader.)
There are generally three prongs of homesteading: animals, garden, and home. And it’s really fabulous if you can dig into all three of those. But not everyone can. Not everyone enjoys all three of those. And further, it’s not always beneficial, worthwhile, or realistic for everyone to dig into all of those.
People outside of the homesteading community or lifestyle can sometimes have a very off picture of what being inside the homesteading community might look like. From my experience, they generally tend to assume homesteading revolves around Ma Ingalls—and while we all love Ma, that’s not what modern homesteading is.
If you get in with people who want to bake bread or preserve food or grow veggies or have chickens, you’re probably going to end up in a community of people who sorta kinda revolve around this thing called homesteading—even if you’re only doing one of those things I mentioned.
Does hanging out with other people who are learning about homesteading—while doing lots of homesteading things yourself—make you a homesteader?
What are you reaching for with your life as a homesteader?
Back in the day, there were a lot of people who lived “in town” who were cooking from scratch and sewing their own clothes and hanging their laundry on the line who would have never called themselves homesteaders. I sometimes think that what we crave as human beings is to go back to a time that was simpler and it has very little to do with how many chickens you have or whether or not you crocheted your own dishcloths.
But we are human. And if we took the homesteader label and changed it to simple-lifer, people would still have to define it and put boundaries around it and say no, you don’t quite fit or you are the picture of what this label was meant to represent! That’s what humans do.
When my husband and I were first married, most all of this was just called being frugal.
Shopping at a thrift store if you really needed something.
DIYing what you could.
Making your own mixes.
Hanging clothes to dry.
Using scraps of fabric to sew a quilt.
So…you add a few chickens to it and now you’re a homesteader? I mean, I know chickens are pretty powerful, but…
If I’m doing a lot of the same things that I was doing when I lived in town—that was just called cutting corners to get by—but now I do it on five acres with a bunch of outbuildings, now I’m a homesteader? And what if I do none of that, but still have five acres with a bunch of outbuildings. Am I still a homesteader just because I have a barn?
So what about the homesteader label?
Honestly, the homesteader label is the problem. And in all reality, the homesteader label is borrowed from something that doesn’t exist anymore, and if the original homesteaders were here they’d probably laugh at what we call homesteading.
Look to other people for information about how to do things, but don’t try to live the same life as them. If you feel like a failure as a homesteader because you don’t have a big red barn, that’s too bad because there aren’t a lot of big red barns still around. If you feel like a failure as a homesteader because you don’t have a cow, that’s a bummer because there are a lot of people who can’t have a cow, or don’t want a cow. Or for whom it doesn’t make sense to keep a cow.
Goals are great, but stop focusing on what you don’t yet have (or can’t have) and start focusing on the really great things you are doing and add more when you can. If you want. Or don’t. It’s your home.
Call yourself a homesteader if that’s what you feel you are. But don’t let the label of homesteader define you as a person or make you feel that you haven’t arrived where you want to be. Don’t let the homesteader label get in the way of conversations with people who don’t care to understand what it means. This is about living a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled. What it really is, is your life. The life you’re building with the things you’re doing.
And it doesn’t need any other label than that.
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