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Tonight, we’re visiting the third house on our house hunt. No, not our house hunt – our homestead hunt. We’re finally getting close to being able to declare our hunt as officially in season, but with that comes the question of what we’re looking for – a homestead. But with that comes the question of, “Why?”
Although society is starting to relax and open up in so many ways, there are still these stereotypes about life and your success in life depending on getting that college degree, getting a well-paying job that provides you with retirement accounts and 401(k)s, settling down and having two kids in a nice neighborhood, and spending your weekends at a furniture mart shopping for bedroom sets. Your food and supplies come from big mart stores that provide convenience and ease, your social media provides inspiration and social status. Your backyard is perfectly groomed and has the occasional flower garden and there’s no point in creating items when you can buy them at a store on sale.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting this or even wanting this – it’s just not for us.
For me, my journey started three years ago when Evan and I first moved in to our current rental home. We were in the middle of the zombie apocalypse craze – with the TV series and movies chronicling the events of a small group of people following some kind of world collapse, there was suddenly this thought:
“Wait, what if this ACTUALLY happened? How WOULD we live?”
It was unsettling to say the least. I can’t even cut firewood (thank goodness I chose a partner significantly more skilled in that arena), much less know how to build shelter that would keep me alive for the night, not even thinking about a zombie attack. It started us thinking about not having the life skills that our grandparents had – keeping livestock, growing and tending crops, using resources on the land, creating the items you need for your survival or day-to-day happiness.
At first, our journey was about being stocked with emergency supplies – stockpiling rope, freeze-dried food, duct tape, portable cookware, propane lanterns, a hatchet, and desalinization straws. I began looking into how to prepare food for long-term storage – dried noodles can only go so far in survival packs. One of my family members joked with us that we were becoming doomsday preppers. As we were growing our stores, I still had a feeling that this wasn’t the right direction – we were missing something. Then, I came across this eye-opening read:
“The Prepper’s Cookbook” by Tess Pennington introduced me to a whole new direction – while you should be preparing for the worst, the worst may not be a zombie apocalypse but a staggering veterinary bill or major car repair. What will you do next week when you’re suddenly at the emergency vet’s office facing the possibility of a $900 bill for an overnight stay to monitor your diabetic cat? (This was us three weeks ago – thankfully, Cattigan is now home and happy.) Suddenly your grocery money goes out the window – so you should be growing, harvesting, and storing the food that you will eat every week rather than bags and bags of cheap noodles and salty flavor packets or cheap, overly-sugared cans of baked beans that no one would want to touch on a good day.
This book helped us count and calculate which foods and how much of them to grow, preserve, and/or purchase for the house. We started keeping bulk dry beans and pasta as well as cans of pickles and diced tomatoes to pull from when we cook. Just last week, we cracked open a can of sauerkraut I made last summer when we were grilling bratwurst during a freak February warm spell. The idea is to be able to sustain your own lives and lifestyle despite any type of emergency – from wrecking your car to a zombie in the garden.
I finally had the right plan.
I was canning from our garden and stocking up on bulk rice and nuts or jars of peanut butter when it went on sale at our co-op. We’d buy bags of potatoes or peppers when they were put in the price-reduced bin and slice and freeze them for later use. I up-cycled this beautiful book shelf and now stock it with supplies like pasta and sugar or boxes of onions – it stays cool and dark in our basement and provides us with a pantry supply of food. Plus, now I don’t have to worry about staring at bare cupboards while planning dinner – I have so many options for soups, chilis, Mexican, roasted vegetables – you name it.
But that wasn’t the end of it – the next step became whether or not we can continue to produce that kind of food on a regular basis and provide for ourselves every day, and not just during times of shortage.
It was time to think big picture and long-term, and this is where we’re doing most of our learning – what did our grandparents do to keep their plants alive during sudden freezes? How did they keep chickens alive while roaming pastures to avoid buying feed all the time (which makes them more expensive than just buying organic eggs at the store)? Before power or even during power outages, how did they keep their house cool in the summer or warm in the winter? While we want to live with the modern conveniences of air conditioning and internet (we are very much a Netflix/Hulu household), we want to reduce our carbon footprint and our dependency on the grid to heat and cool our house or power our cars. Especially in light of recent political events, I want to control where my money is going and how my money is buying my energy if the government won’t protect our environment. This can be a whole conversation on its own – but, for example, we believe whole-heartedly in the sustainability of solar – so let’s invest in solar panels and get our money out of coal power plants.
What’s wonderful is that anyone can do this – my husband has been pouring over this book about finding self-sufficiency on 1/4 acre. It’s been essential to us as we do calculations and come up with ideas for maximizing space and the power of our dollar, and is jam-packed with everything from gardening to canning and dehydrating to soil health and composting, and more.
Rather than 1/4 acre, however, are aiming for 2-3 acres for our future homestead. A homestead of this size gives us the breathing room and space to do so much, from keeping a goat or two to including a cottage for my mother-in-law. I want the space to sew more t-shirt quilts for family or floor cushions (that my cats steal – thanks, guys…) when we’re not outside tending patches of tomatoes or harvesting black beans (Let me digress for a second – black beans are one of the easiest plants to grow and take care of – you literally water it all summer and wait for it to die in the fall before you know you’re ready to harvest – I love ’em!). We can work with a local energy company to at least lease solar panels to power our property and maybe even invest in an electric car. I dream of free-range chickens that provide us with fresh eggs, pest control, and soil maintenance (small amounts of manure but lots of scratching and stirring soil). Over the years we can use crops and crop rotations to improve the soil health of our land so that every vegetable or fruit we grow is bursting with nutrients that are missing from commercial and mass-produced foods – plus, doesn’t farm-fresh just taste better?
We’re big dreamers – I often happily imagine a snowy, Kansas Christmas around a fireplace with our family out on our glowing homestead – but we’re ready to be realistic. We know that to get a piece of heaven so close to our city means that we’ll probably be sacrificing on the quality of house we’ll find to stay in our price range – no 5 bedroom mansion with a 4-car garage and heated barn for us. (We will likely be stuck with a cramped ranch-style home with a scary basement and overgrown property that screams “RUN AWAY” rather than “Future Garden of Eden”.) We’ll be starting small, and our first garden will probably be terrible with very little production on this nasty northeast Kansas clay soil. But every year we’ll plow a few more garden beds by hand, search the internet for second-hand chicken coops, and maybe even save up for a pressure cooker to help with canning or a new patio table to fit more than 3 people out back.
The idea of the American dream is to pull yourself up by your bootstraps – that hard work pays off and gives you the life of which you have always dreamed. We’re unlucky compared to most farmers – we’ve inherited no land and we haven’t hit rich with any lottery ticket to give us a head start. We’re going to be moving forward with the love and support of our family and it’s going to take time, and we’re okay with that. We’re building the Epperson Homestead from scratch – and every little thing I learn how to fix or make means I am that much more proud and invested in my home. We’re getting back to our roots – valuing the work our hands can do, cherishing the seedlings that sprout in the plant tray on my bookshelf, reading and expanding our knowledge and imagination, putting the importance back on happy animals and happy soil that, in turn, only make us healthier and stronger.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this quote to ruminate over as we all dream of spring and greener things:
“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ” -Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”
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