The New American Homesteaders: has the trend hit a peak?

I read a few things over the weekend that indicated that there are people who think that the strong trend towards homesteading that has been so popular in America during the past few years, has hit its peak.  Is it losing popularity as modern-day homesteaders encounter difficulties, setbacks, or even disaster?  Last year’s drought might have done it for me, if I weren’t so fond of this lifestyle and our little place in the country.  But if we would have hung up our straw hats, say, and moved to a neat little place in town, after last year’s awful experience, we would have missed out on this year . . . and this year has been gloriously fruitful.


Peaches recently picked from one of our trees are almost too pretty to eat! Almost . . .









The homesteading passion runs pretty strongly in my veins, for good reason. My own grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Young, got their start in farming when their parents took advantage of cheap farm land in Nebraska around the turn of the century. Many pioneers to this area got their start because of the Homestead Act of 1862, when the government gave away tracts of land to anybody crazy enough to move out to this untamed (and still populated by natives, not all of them friendly) Nebraska territory.

My mom grew up in a family of modest means, and her mother (my Grandma Kuehner) I remember was very thrifty and conscious of using food that grew wild all around her. I thought it was pretty nifty, when we were kids visiting her, that she regularly cooked wild foods such as dandelions, wild herbs, milkweeds, lambs’ quarters, and so on.  I thought it was creative of her, but she was just doing what she had learned to do as a bride of a very poor Lutheran pastor husband, I would imagine:  feed her family as healthy as she could without spending much money.  Or any money, some months.  She raised a garden every year, and planted fruit trees (which bore plenty of fruit, too!) from seeds saved from the fruit that she and her family ate.

Now that’s frugal. Even the seeds didn’t go to waste.

My grandparents on both sides were living the homesteading life way before it became a popular trend.  Before there were bloggers to share ideas and methods and struggles and successes.  Before there was electricity and running water everywhere, for pete’s sake.  Nearly everybody was a homesteader in those early days of the settling of our country.

My own Mom and Dad still live their lives this way:  though they getting close to their 80th birthdays, they still split and haul all their own firewood, and they produce and preserve large quantities of their own food.  It really bothers my mom to walk past a neighbor’s fruit tree and see rotting fruit on the ground beneath it.  It could be canned, or frozen, or dried, or made into pies.  I especially like the pie option.  Apple fritters are delightful, too.

Ooooh.  Apple cider donuts! (Mommmm . . . .!) I’ve known this lifestyle for as long as I can remember.  Why, we (reluctantly) played host to a very large catfish in our bathtub for weeks, just so Dad could fillet the thing and Mom could tuck those fillets away in our freezer, for wintertime eating.  Of course that’s another story.

Little Mack is holding one of the Cornish Cross roosters, which weighed in--dressed--right at 8 lbs.  My son decided it was the End of the Line for his bangs, and he chopped them off.

Little Mack is holding one of the Cornish Cross roosters which we raised this year.  The largest ones weighed in–dressed–right at 8 lbs. By the way, my son decided it was the End of the Line for his bangs, and he chopped them off. Not with my blessing, either.

The “Homesteading” movement in my family is very strong and always has been.  I don’t think it’ll ever go out of style with my people.  There is just something so elementally satisfying with putting up your own tomatoes in jars for use during the cold winter, compared to just buying them (an inferior product, at that) from the grocery store.  It’s worth the work, in my opinion, to raise your own chickens for the freezer (at least now and then!) instead of just buying them from the store.

I’ve heard my dad say time and time again that many of the current (and numerous) ills of today’s society are a result of people going to work for a paycheck, but having nothing in their hands to show for their day’s work.

I think he makes a valid point.

If you grow even a small garden and at the end of the season, have squirreled away packets in your freezer of the extra precious vegetables or herbs or fruits that you grew; if you do some picking at an orchard and can jars of apple pie filling; if you gathered up a neighbor’s unwanted pear harvest and made pear butter; if you shopped at the farmer’s market and bought enough winter squash to store in your pantry for later in the season; the homesteading trend is still alive and well, in my book, and I’m happy that it’s so.

While the original homesteaders butchered their own meat and raised their own vegetables because they had to, the modern-day homesteaders do these tasks because they want to.  Perhaps because they are tired of the grocery store food offerings, or are not sure they trust the food supply, or maybe because they’ve tired of the toll that technology has taken on their lives, and maybe what it has taken away from them:  a basic satisfaction for what they’ve produced, after a day’s hard work.

I read some tales of current homesteaders that made me chuckle, and I think you’d enjoy them, too, Gentle Reader.  Take a moment and read about the guy who shot a wild boar and carefully squirreled away over a hundred pounds of it in his freezer, only to find out that it tasted like, in one friend’s opinion, “a combination of overcooked liver and pancakes.”  Or the lady who, tired of picking snails off her plants, decided that they were no different from the overpriced escargot that she ate at the French restaurant, so she braised them in butter and ate them.  Or the guy who wanted to grow figs more than anything, so he planted a fig tree . . . only to grub it out when it became too big and invasive and too productive for him and his wife to handle any longer.

I found these stories on a blog that I like to visit, called “Food and Wine” . . . and I’m sure that you will enjoy reading them, too.  They are short and entertaining and have nice little graphics accompanying them that I admire.  And that’s something, isn’t it? You can find them right here.

What do you think? Do you think the trend of homesteading has reached its peak?



23 thoughts on “The New American Homesteaders: has the trend hit a peak?

  1. Chef William

    My wife and I have always enjoyed having our hands in the soil. Planting our own crops and enjoying the rewards of both eating some and giving some to the needed that have more people to feed than food to feed them with. We are already planning the next garden, which we will be starting in mid-September. What I see when I look around is that homesteading comes from working the soil when we are small children. Planting our first tomato or squash and watching it grow and then eating the fruit of our labor. If we want homesteading to last, we must teach our children and grandchildren that it is ok to get your hands dirty when you work the soil and plant food to be enjoyed later. Once it’s in the blood, it’s there for life.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I agree, Chef. I think that’s why I love to get my hands in the garden soil, and my kids (who always helped with the garden, although sometimes reluctantly of course) love to garden, too. It really is a contagious obsession, to grow your own food.

  2. Francene Stanley

    I love this post. It’s one of your best. I’m interested in the way people lived long ago, and your family in particular. The homesteading trend might save society if something should happen in the future to wipe away technology. 😉 (A pet theory of mine.)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      I share you views in this topic. If society as we know it collapses, I figure it will be to our advantage to know how to gut a deer, how to grow and preserve tomatoes, and how to bake our own bread.

  3. Courtney

    I always love your posts. They provide me so much food for thought. I love the idea being homesteading, and I think it could do amazing things for our culture and way of life.

  4. Gillie

    Apparently you can eat the garden snail, though you do need to clean it out first (keep them in buckets and feed fresh greens then starve for 24 hours before you cook them). They are becoming quite popular in the UK (well relatively speaking!). My favourite freezer filling moment was when my husband rang me at 8.35am whilst I was on the school run and asked if I knew how to skin and gut a deer. It was roadkill and still warm. We brought it home, but I didn’t gut it fast enough (it is a lot bigger than a rabbit!) and in the end we kept some for our dogs and donated the rest to the local kennels.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      That’s remarkable–we had a similar situation. Except in our case, it was late at night when we killed our deer (accident!) with our Suburban and the sheriff deputy (whom we called to report it) gutted the deer for us, by the lights of his cruiser. We hauled it to the processor the next day and had a nice amount of venison for the freezer.

  5. Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.

    I had a few employees when I lived in Charlottesville. (OK, I had a lot of employees, but I’m only talking about a few here.) Who loved working for our second shift, the one that started at 2 and went until 8. That way they could work their farms till noon or so- and then insure they had enough money- for the bad years, for getting more land, or for their kids to go to college- by working for us. Oh, and the health insurance for their families didn’t hurt one bit, either.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Lots of farmers here in the Midwest used to work day jobs in the city, and then return home to work their farms at night. I think that has changed a bit, though, with the “corn and soy bubble” and many farmers are now actually making money on their GMO crops.

  6. Carolina HeartStrings

    I’m not sure if it’s hit a peak. I guess that is up to the folks who gather and analyze that sort of thing. Perhaps you are the better gauge of that by chatting with those you network with. To me it is very appealing but circumstances probably prevent many people from up and just getting started. I think on a small scale it is something I’d incorporate as I (hopefully) change some of my lifestyle over the next few years. I would love to TRY growing some of my own produce and I keep going on about wanting a goat. This is due to some Youtube video of a girl frolicking with some baby ones that were just too cute. Now I am thinking cheese….

  7. Alana (@RamblinGarden)

    How wonderful that you posted this the same day that my husband and I visited the land in Arkansas where we homesteaded for 4 years in the early 1980’s, another period of homesteading popularity which died down. So….your post was very thoughtful and I enjoyed your sharing of some of your family history. I’m also glad you didn’t give up! The post was a bit long for my attention span tonight, and I plan to settle down with it later this week.

  8. Carol W.

    Given the destruction that is now irreversible in our environment I truly believe learning and apply homesteading skills is not only optional but a necessity. Even urban homesteading matters so much. These skills were handed down by those who would’ve perished without them and we’re all fortunate enough to have their lessons and legacy to learn from. Life may begin with water but it is only sustained by seeds.

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Carol, I quite agree. I feel so sad about the way we’ve harmed our environment. I remember when I was a kid how many times I stepped on honeybees in the clover in our yard. Our yard now is full of clover, but I rarely see a honeybee. That’s only one thing that makes me sad. There are so many more. 🙁 But we can stage our own quiet revolution in our backyards and our small farms, and hope that it catches on. And you’d better believe that I’m teaching my kiddos how to raise chickens, grow their own food, and how to take care of themselves.

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