What’s Old is New Again
You don’t have to have 40 acres and a mule anymore to be a homesteader. Now it’s as simple as growing your own herbs in a windowsill or small garden.
As more and more people desire a connection to what they are putting in and on their bodies, a new trend has emerged—modern homesteading. This way of life can range from living completely off the grid to putting more sustainable practices into place in an effort to be more self-reliant. Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, there are steps you can take toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle.
At Moss Mountain Farm, we grow our own organic vegetables, raise heritage poultry, make all-natural cleaning products and use well water, among other green practices. I’m not giving up my washing machine or Internet anytime soon, and you don’t have to either. That’s the beauty of this movement. You can take on as few or as many traditional practices as you want.
To go from living with modern conveniences to being completely self-reliant will be overwhelming. So think about things you really care about. Maybe it’s where your food comes from or a concern about chemicals in cleaning or personal care products. Whatever the case may be, there’s a way to incorporate more natural-living practices into your everyday life.
Some good first steps to consider:
1) Grow your food. An increased concern about GMOs and pesticides has led more and more people to go organic and even grow their own food. And, over time, organic gardening can be more cost-effective that buying organic produce from the grocery store or market.
You should start small. You can grow edibles in containers or a raised bed. Herbs are a good place to start and most of them will thrive indoors. Roma tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, squash and carrots all grow well in containers. So do blueberries. Start with young plants that have already been grown out a little, then you won’t have to worry about getting seeds started.
Raised beds are also are great for first-time gardeners. With a raised bed you can create the right soil mixture. This is especially helpful when the soil around your house isn’t ideal. Also, by raising the soil in a wooden frame above the surface of the ground, it will actually warm up sooner in the spring. Seeds tend to germinate faster and roots will be stimulated to grow. In the fall, you can cover the bed when temperatures drop and extend the growing season a little longer.
2) Raise backyard chickens. My fascination with chickens started at a young age and it continues today. At the farm, Poultryville now houses over 60 breeds of heritage poultry. Even if you live in a neighborhood with a modest backyard, having a small flock is a worthwhile investment. Before you jump in, make sure to check municipal codes for rules on raising chickens in your neighborhood.
When pressed to recommend a “starter chicken” for those who are new to raising poultry and want a friendly, docile breed that are more like pets, I usually suggest buff orpingtons. They’re a beautiful golden colored chicken with an easy-going disposition and are good producers of medium to large brown eggs.
Free-range hens tend to lay eggs that have a richer flavor and many more nutrients than most store-bought eggs, with twice the omega 3s, vitamin E and four to six times as much vitamin D. I love having a constant supply of fresh eggs, and I’m sure you’ll get hooked too.
3) Make your own household cleaners. My attitude on this is if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be using it. Making your own cleaners is easy, environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Many times you have most ingredients lying around the house already.
For an all-purpose cleaner with a lemon scent, take an empty spray 32-ounce spray bottle and fill it with 2 cups of water, 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide and ¼ cup of lemon juice (I like to use the bottled version so you don’t have any pulp in it).
Another cleaner option is one that uses vinegar, a great disinfectant. In a 32-ounce spray bottle, add 1 tablespoon of dish washing liquid followed by 4 tablespoons of white vinegar, 2 tablespoons of Borax and 4 cups of warm water. Before using, make sure it’s well mixed. Your kitchen will be clean in no time.
Set yourself up for success and take steps toward modern homesteading one at a time. Before you know it, whether you’re in a city apartment, suburban home or farm, you’ll experience the joy of a more natural, sustainable lifestyle.
P. Allen Smith is an author, television host and conservationist with a passion for American style. His show “Garden Home” airs on public television. Check your local listings for “Garden Style.” Smith uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, as an epicenter for promoting the local food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry breeds. He created his farm to serve as a place of inspiration, education and conservation and provides visitors from around the country with tours of his property, which may be booked at pallensmith.com/tours.