You envision this perfect homestead, chock full of adorable animals, lush gardens and delicious meals at the end of a long day on the farmstead. It’s human to think the grass is greener on the other side, to think that the simple way of life is the ticket to a happy life, but experience has shown that people get many things wrong about homesteading. Here is my list of 5 things most people get wrong:
Growing all your own food
You hear this time and time again, “I’m going to grow all my own food!” The tough pill to swallow for many first time homesteaders is that you simply can’t do it all. Talk to any seasoned homesteader and they’ll tell you they can meet many of their needs, but not all of them. Common things are items that can’t be grown in your climate, or that require special equipment to process or things that aren’t cost effective.
Some examples: For me in my climate, North Carolina, its very difficult to grow good citrus without a lot of headache. Another example, is flour. Flour is possible for you to grow and process with about 2,000 square feet per person for a year’s worth of flour. But, I can buy the same amount of flour for much less. I took a look at my local big box, and a name brand organic flour costs $1.22 a pound!
The truth is you will never be able to learn the intricacies of every plant, animal and farm. Good, and even great, farmers have bad crop years. You can grow a sense of community by growing and trading a crop that you’re good at.
Homesteading isn’t an inexpensive way of living
While some cost savings can be had, I attribute most of the cost savings to a mental shift in how you use money. A lot of homesteaders keep deep pantries to take advantage of sales when they buy. Most homesteaders are DIYers when it comes to fixing things, they buy used, and other cost-saving behaviors. The truth is, you can adopt these habits now, in the city, and save big. When it comes to homesteading, the cost savings is negligible because you need land, equipment, materials and feed.
An example: University of Wyoming did a study on raising your own beef vs buying retail. The difference? You save $235 dollars on that meat per cow. But if you factor in time and say you, on average, spent 5 minutes tending that cow per day (very low if we are realistic), average time to butchering is around 2 years, that’s 60.8 hours of time ($3.86 per hour). The average hourly wage in the US is around $24 per hour, that means I could work a side gig for a week and eclipse that: 10 hours vs 2 years of work and not able to take a vacation.
It’s a lot harder than you think
You may have dabbled with things here and there, but until you take the leap you don’t understand what its truly like. I remember the first year I went from two 4×8 beds to 1/3 acre; from 64 square feet to 14,500 square feet. With the growth I added a few labor saving items: timer drip irrigation, a standup broad fork and push precision seeder.
That summer was one of the hardest gardening years of my life. Everything was brought to another level of labor and when something went wrong, it went wrong in a big way. Even the good things were tough. I remember one day harvesting 350 lbs of produce in July. It was 95 degrees and so humid the air felt thick. I got it all harvested, washed, processed and stored, then collapsed on my couch and didn’t wake up until the next morning.
You’ll probably still need a job off the homestead
There are a lot of costs that you can offset by running a homestead. You can barter, trade, and earn money from your wares, but its very difficult to go cold turkey from a steady paycheck. This isn’t to say it’s not possible, but its very, very difficult. Take it from me, someone who made the leap from full time traditional to self employment, it’s hard. It took me about 5 years to fully make the leap.
One of the biggest advantages to homesteading with a job is health insurance and a retirement plan. I’m going to avoid the politics on this, but right now for just me at the cheapest health plan available ($7,500 deductible), I pay $5,400 a year as a young healthy guy with no medications. My self-employed friends with families are paying around $23,000 a year for the same plan that I have.
So, if you have two adults in your household, there are advantages to having at least one of them working a traditional job.
You think independence will be great – you’re wrong, it’s awesome!
I have had conversations with friends who live what most would call a “typical” life, and they try to understand what it’s like to live outside the norm. You try to explain it and you try to share what it’s really like and how clear it has become to you. The movie The Matrix tries to explain it with the blue pill or red pill metaphor, but until you actually take that blue pill and your eyes are opened, you cannot possibly grasp the gravity of your old life. It’s absolutely true.
I don’t even know how to put it into words, how profoundly different my life is now that I’ve taken that leap. I’ve become self-employed, live in a tiny house and living a life on my terms!
- What surprises have you found in your own journey?
- What appeals to you about homesteading?