I get a lot of questions about why we call ourselves Modern Homesteaders. I want to write about why I think this distinction is important this morning. Homesteading is a term that came from staking your claim on land and creating a home there. Modern Homesteading, to me, means staking a claim on your home no matter where it is, and creating a life you love.
What do I mean by this? Most of us in developed countries are extremely divorced from the things that make up a life: food, shelter, energy, health, goods or products. Becoming reconnected to those basic requirements is empowering. I call this body of knowledge "real knowledge." Mike and I realized how little "real knowledge" we had when we moved home to Mississippi.
Our first clue was trying to renovate our house. Between us, we have more hours of post college schooling than three people need. That does not mean we knew how to fix a the most basic of real problems - like a toilet. How can two people with doctoral degrees have been so incredibly useless when it came to something as basic as restoring the place we intended to live?
Our second clue that we were in need of a crash course in real knowledge was our first attempt at a garden. Intellectually we knew we wanted to feed our kids healthy food, and at that time, there was none to be found in our community. This was pre-Kroger health food section, pre- Farmer's Market, pre-any healthy eat out options. We determined that if we wanted healthy food for our family, we would have to grow some ourselves. How hard could it be right? What a disaster our first year was.
Another push in our move toward claiming real knowledge came when Mike wanted to install a solar system. Today, Mississippi Solar is a thriving business, but in 2004 we could not find one person in the entire state who knew how to install a solar energy array on a home. Here we were, sitting in a state that gets more sunlight per year than we can stand, and nobody knew how to harness that energy.
Our final clue came later and had to do with health. Mike works in a medical system that treats disease. The most amazing and frustrating thing is that most of that disease is preventable through diet and lifestyle. We wanted to set up a system in our family that promoted wellness, not waited to go to a different specialist to treat every malady that landed on us. That shift in living required knowledge we had never encountered in all of our schooling. I took some serious retooling.
Modern Homesteading is about reclaiming real knowledge. You don't need 40 acres and a mule to rediscover tools for creating a good life - you don't even need one acre. What you need is an understanding that, while relying on specialists and experts for every facet of our lives may be easier, it comes with a trade-off. When we rely on someone else to meet all our basic needs, we are giving up our power of deciding how those needs will be met.
I want to have a choice in what food my family consumes. Learning to grow your own is Modern Homesteading, but so is shopping at farmers markets, or using a community garden, and so is reading ingredient labels at the store. I do not want to be solely reliant on an outdated energy industry for my power. Installing solar on you house is Modern Homesteading, but so is opting in to the Green Fund at your work or school, and so is turning up your thermostat a few degrees in the summer, and down a few degrees in the winter. I want my family to have some real skills. Modern Homesteading means learning a few useful things from fixing a sink, to cooking from scratch, to using tools, to basic sewing. You don't have to learn everything, but surely we could all learn something. I want my family to focus on wellness so we don't have to rely so heavily on medical specialists and pharmacies. This knowledge requires relearning, thinking critically about what our culture sells us, and taking ownership of our health.
None of these Modern Homesteading skills require land, tools, or even a house. What they require is a recognition that by reconnecting with our basic needs - food, housing, energy, health - we can shape a life we love.