The idea of homesteading may elicit images of people spreading out into uncharted and wild lands. This was where the term was coined, but homesteaders don't have to pull up stakes and venture into the wilderness. Instead, modern homesteading can be done wherever you live right now. How can that be? Below are some ideas on how you, too, can be a homesteader.
What Is the Original Homesteading?
The United States began as 13 colonies that proliferated over the next century. The government acquired all the land spanning the two oceans. Even though the land area grew, most people still lived within the confines of the original colonies. Throughout the 1800s, the country was divided over how best to encourage proper settlement of the western region.
This was one of the main stresses leading up to the Civil War in 1861. To incentivize people to move westward and cultivate the land, the government wanted to allow people to settle land at little to no cost to them. The South was against this, as it meant farmers would move West and be in competition. These new states would become "free states" where slavery was also not allowed.
Once the South seceded, the Senate passed the Homestead Act of 1862. It allowed anyone who headed a family to stake a claim to up to 160 acres of public land. If the family then developed that land for six years, the property was deeded to them for a small administrative fee. If a family wanted to expedite the land-ownership process, the Homestead Act allowed for the purchase of the property after six months of development at the purchase price of $1.25 per acre.
At the conclusion of the Civil War, there were roughly 15,000 homestead claims. By the time the Homestead Act was abolished in 1976, some 1.6 million families had claimed nearly 10 percent of all government-held lands accounting for about 420,000 square miles of territory.
The main purpose of the Homestead Act of 1862 was to urge citizens in overcrowded urban areas to farm the virgin lands of the west. These people became known as homesteaders. While the concept was great, the implementation did not necessarily yield the results the government wanted. Many people in overcrowded cities didn't have the skills or general knowledge to farm. Those people who didn't anticipate the difficulty of homesteading didn't succeed, and their land claims fell into the hands of prospectors.
Other homesteaders, however, took this government-funded opportunity and made a successful life for themselves. They built a self-sufficient and sustaining lifestyle free from the overcrowding, crime and disease that ran rampant in the cities. Homesteaders were able to grow and raise their own food, build their own homes, generate electricity and eventually, some even began selling their crops and livestock to other people for a profit.
What Is Modern Homesteading?
In 1976, Congress repealed the Homestead Act of 1862 in the contiguous 48 states. Alaska was the only state where homesteading was still legal a decade later. The original homesteaders persevered in sometimes-harsh conditions and paved the way for people of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds to take a leap and continue the pursuit of a self-sufficient and prosperous lifestyle.
The idea of being independent of others to supply necessities is the foundation of a modern-day homesteader. A self-sufficient lifestyle can come in all different variations, with the primary focus being sustainment. Surely as a person living in 2018, you can't reasonably pick up, move out to the forest and shut the world out; it just isn't entirely feasible. You can, however, make some small adjustments and choices that add up to significant steps towards being more self-sufficient.
How Do You Get Started?
If the idea of being more independent and giving modern homesteading a shot is something that intrigues you, there are a few things you should know before you dive in headfirst. First, you can start right where you are now. There isn't a requirement to move thousands of miles away and give up all your possessions to do it. Start small in your backyard or on your rooftop with a vegetable garden. If you keep at it and work hard, you will eventually grow enough to sustain you and your family without having to step into a store again. Not only would you save money in the long-run, but you would also know exactly where and how your food was grown.
How Do You Succeed as a Modern Homesteader?
If you want to become a modern homesteader, below are five ways to become successful:
1. Start Saving
One way to start the journey to modern homesteading is to figure out ways to conserve. This includes energy, food, and waste products.
2. Create an Energy Map
There are energy drains in your home that if plugged, will not only save you money, but conserve energy along the way. Alternative energy might also be a great way to get started on the road to self-sufficiency. Solar energy is more feasible with the advent of foldable solar panels.
3. Food Conservation
Food is one of our most significant investments month after month. Growing your own is a great way to start homesteading.
If you live in a place with public transportation, giving up a vehicle would be one way to conserve energy and become more independent. Gone would be the need for fossil fuels. Walking or biking would be the true way to cut the cord when it comes to transportation.
Co-ops come in all different varieties. The most popular are food and clothing co-ops. This is a community of people with the same goal of becoming more self-sufficient and environmentally mindful. If your garden yields enough food, you could trade with someone in your co-op for hand-sewn sweaters and shawls for the winter.
Modern homesteading no longer means you need to move far away. You can achieve independence and self-sufficiency through a variety of ways wherever you live right now. All it takes to be a homesteader is an adventurous spirit and the desire to be free of some of the constraints of modern society.