Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What is Homesteading?

Prosperous Homesteading has been out for a little over a week now and has been selling extremely well. But based on the feedback so far, the concept of “homesteading,” as defined in this very practical book, needs to be better explained. Yes, you can register your house as a “homestead” to shield it from foreclosure or to lower your taxes; would you then be homesteading? No.

Homesteading is not a hobby, a business or an individual pursuit; it is the main activity of a family. It is an essential “lifehack”—a way to get around the strictures imposed on us by a crumbling society that is set in its ways and incapable of even considering absolutely essential changes. It is about insulating yourself and your family from the vagaries of a system that is running amok, and about regaining a viable future and peace of mind.

A little over a decade ago I stumbled on another lifehack: seasteading. We sold the house and the car, moved onto a sailboat and sailed off. This has allowed me to quit the corporate job and to devote the bulk of my time to doing research, writing and generally enjoying life. The sailboat, as a lifehack, has allowed my family to break out of the “iron triangle” of house—car—job by which much of the population is enslaved.

Although seasteading has allowed us to drastically reduce our expenses, and has given us a lot of options, as a solution it is incomplete: we still require an external income, and in a precarious economic environment such dependencies are not to be taken lightly. Homesteading solves this problem, by making the homestead produce everything the family needs, including the surplus wealth needed to maintain it and to buy the few things that have to be bought.

So, what is “homesteading”? It is most certainly not gardening. Most people who garden still shop for food, while prosperous homesteaders grow everything they eat with the exception of those things that can be purchased in bulk much more cheaply than they can grow them, such as grains (to be milled on the homestead as needed, because stockpiling flour doesn’t work), and items that the homestead cannot produce, such as salt and spare parts. Other exceptions include luxuries such as olive oil, coffee and tea.

Homesteading is not farming, because farmers generally produce some number of cash crops that they sell instead of concentrating on producing everything they use and cutting out shopping for food. Farming is a highly regulated activity; homesteading is hardly regulated at all. It is possible to operate a business from a homestead (and this is often a good idea); but it is a terrible idea to treat a homestead as a business.

So, what is homesteading? It is the activity of finding and slashing every umbilical cord that binds you to the outside, debt-based economy. It is the process of eliminating just about every expense by making the homestead provide food, water, fuel and, last but not least, capital. It is the accumulation of capital, in the form of farmland and livestock, that allows a homestead to pass the homesteading legacy on to the future generations—to the children born on the homestead.

To prosper as a homesteading family, expenditures must be redirected from things that don’t produce and don’t last to things that do. Bills for cable television, mortgage, insurance, fossil fuels and numerous labor-saving devices, comforts and luxuries are eliminated outright. Electric and water bills are either pared down or eliminated (depending on the local situation). Expenses for nonproductive assets, such as shelter (a.k.a. the house) are slashed. Instead, money is redirected toward productive assets: land, livestock, tools and implements.

Some people who commented on last week’s announcement have asked a reasonable question: What about community? Yes, community is very important, and it was precisely the presence of the surrounding community of prosperous homesteaders that has allowed Jeffers and his family to find a way to prosper as well. Thus it can be said that a prosperous homestead requires prosperous homesteading neighbors. Strong families make strong communities. To survive, communities must be intergenerational and make an explicit goal of providing for their children. In essence, a homesteading community is nothing more than the extended family.


Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Wonderfully practical strain of useful advice about coping effectively with what's happening to the world, that your efforts are producing at the moment, Dmitry; through your publishing work, and through your direct personal example as well, of course. The survivors of the upcoming population-overshoot shakeout should be grateful for your efforts. Congratulations. Keep going!

Unknown said...

"A surprising number of people who are considering becoming cruisers are also considering becoming subsistence farmers. The 20-acre spread in Idaho or Kentucky where you can grow a crop of organic alfalfa and free-range chickens while you enjoy the good life living off the land has a similar attraction as the cruising ketch with a crop of free-range barnacles on the hull. Thus, the farming fantasy is much the same as the cruising fantasy, and the appeal of returning to a simple life is identical. My advice to anyone who would ask is always the same: If you need to get your money out of your investment, go for the farm every time."

Jim Trefethen, The Cruising Life

Roberto said...

Perhaps the best sea hack for ocean-steading permanence is a dedicated cargo hold for trading purposes. It essentially means a true nomadic existence but, as one astute analyst posited awhile back: F = A+M ...... freedom equals anonymity plus mobility. True sea gypsydom.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Excellent post. Gardeners calling themselves homesteaders has been a pet peeve of mine for years. I prefer the term 'productive household' for a family who raises at least their own produce, and maybe some meat and eggs. When we first came to B.C. in 1970 land could still be had for little money under an old homesteaders act. A homestead was when you had to cut down trees in order to grow grass for the sheep to eat before you could have wool to knit a sweater.

Meanwhile, even though they fall far short of the self sufficiency ideal, I dare say the many young families striving to return productivity to the household are at least on the right track and well ahead of the game. If nothing else they can make do with one income and look after their own children. It is a far cry from being totally free of 'the system', but at least there is a bit of a buffer and some elasticity. As for the generational thing.....Nice idea but good luck controlling the next generation. Necessity may take care of that in the near future. Meanwhile, children raised in a productive household have at least acquired some skills that may come in handy in time of collapse. My offspring is solidly urban, but they will make use of the urban food forest and come home with wild mushrooms and blackberries.

Mark said...

Joel Salidin's take on farming today notes the problem of young folks acquiring land, and capitol, and suggests to possibility of a mobile infrastructure and renting, say, 2 acres and raising 50 pigs to net about $20,000 a year. He has a system he worked out over 20 years, which in that time, added 8" of topsoil to that 2 acres. Not exactly homesteading, but a decent stepping stone. (check YouTube)

A neighbor has a pick you own berry farm, also grows currents. He decided long ago not to grow commodities, and has volunteered to watch when I get a pair of Gurnseys. That may be in the future - depends on the timing. In the meantime, I'm building a small row-sail boat, and learning sailmaking and repair with "The Sailmakers Apprentice", for fun as a woodworker. (I live inland)

Freeing one's mind from the iron triangle of wage slavery is an extended process. There are so many fronts to work on, takes practicing stuff that requires practice and mistakes. You have been helpful to many - I enjoy your writing, and thanks for the blog.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this follow up post! Sorry if I sounded contrarian last week, I think I commented before breakfast.

I like your definition of homesteading and I am attempting to prepare for something similar, although the idea of a Quidnon mixed with permaculture over broad coastal areas is also tantalizing. However, presently I am trying very hard to settle near my own immediate family - perhaps on the same large property - but my parents can't decide where to retire, so I am suck in limbo (I am 27 in Pittsburgh, they 56 in central MD).

In the meantime I'm learning permaculture which, as Geoff Lawton teaches it, is very much about self-sufficiently living on a landbase without degrading it, and while following the 3 ethics.

Don Stewart said...

Review of The World Ending Fire, Essays by Wendell Berry, Edited by Paul Kingsnorth

This book has just been published in Britain. I have not seen any mention of it in the US. Wendell Berry has lived on or close to the family farm in Kentucky for nearly a century. He was a member of the Southern Agrarians back in the 1930s. A quote from the review:

'If there is an argument against Berry’s icy anti-corporatism it is simultaneously practical – what works well in Kentucky may not solve the food problems of an overpopulated planet – and philosophical. It’s all very well railing against consumer materialism, but, as Orwell once pointed out in a slightly different context, consumer materialism is about all the western world’s poorer classes have got left.'

Some of us who read Mr. Orlov have internalized the message that a lot of people are going to die...but we are a tiny minority. And so you see the desperation for something else, anything else, on the part of The Guardian reviewer. Similarly, the plight of the poor. A wonderful new book by Tim Wu is The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads. It is about the business of aggregating attention (eyeballs) and then monetizing it somehow...typically with advertising. The book begins with religious indoctrination and the government propaganda first perfected by the British in WWI, and moves quickly through the subject of additional sophistication in propaganda. But its main theme is commercial hijacking of attention. A quote: 'Over the coming century, the most vital human resource in need of conservation and protection is likely to be our own consciousness and mental space.' Sounds like something Mr. Orlov could have written.

The book concludes on a somewhat hopeful note, pointing to the rise of 'ad free' content, particularly that which is enabled by Apple software. Ad-blockers have been likened to 'starving babies' by the media. Yet those with money to spend are re-invigorating the 'pay TV' meme which was thought to be dead. Which raises the same specter George Orwell foresaw in terms of the plight of the poor. When the educated and the well-to-do have all abandoned advertising supported content, such content as a part of consumer materialism will be all that the poor have left.

Separately, I told a friend who is in the process of writing a gardening book that working with plants and animals is a wonderful antidote to the 'always wired' ways of the Attention Merchants.

Don Stewart

Gordon said...

What about dachas? I assumed they were more like gardens than homesteads as defined above. In your earlier writings you suggested they were immensely helpful during the Soviet collapse. Was that only because the collapse was temporary?

Also, you once wrote about the rural Russian villagers who grew potatoes in their backyards and sat on the their porches and weren't affected by the collapse. Were they homesteaders technically, or something else?

Dmitry Orlov said...

Gordon -

A dacha is good to have in an emergency. It's a base for growing food through gardening and also for hunting and gathering. But a dacha is not a homestead because it only functions during the summer and lacks LIVESTOCK.

Don Stewart -

I am quite fed up with people who keep bringing up "the problems of an overpopulated planet" as if they are going to solve them. Please solve your own problems, and if you succeed, then tell us how you did it.

Mark -

I like Joel Salatin, but he is a farmer. There is a chapter in Jeffers' book called "NO FARMING!" Homesteading is not farming, so Joel's example isn't relevant. I tried to read his book "Everything I want to do is illegal" and found it deeply depressing. Why on earth would anyone want to attempt what's been made impossible? There are lots of people who try to somehow hack the system, as a sign of their superior virtue, I suppose. Waste of time.

Slo Mo said...

Dachas were mostly a stop-gap measure for the times when food supply in the cities collapses and it takes a few months to sort things out. Nobody seriously planned to go back to subsistence farming because growing 2000 cals x 365 days x 4 people (typical family) per season on 0.15 acres (typical dacha lot) in Russian climate is unrealistic.
Russian villagers grow potatoes and raise pigs, so they might agree with Dmitry and call themselves homesteaders. I just want to point out that they also have day jobs at industrial collective farms and growing your own wheat is unheard of. Also, since it's understood that they are severely underpaid they are allowed to take advantage of some common land to make hay and use collective farm equipment for personal needs.


Charles Epting Vansant said...

Just finished this book! What a pleasant surprise. I was expecting something very different.

Practical, informative, and worthwhile from the beginning to the end. If I were a young man this would be first on my list of resource books.

Jef said...

One can make a very reasonable income by spearfishing and selling your catch at the closest town or village either for money or barter for needed goods. You can also live very healthy life and eat well this way.

I have done this in Mexico freediving (worked just OK), using a hooka (my personal favorite), and with tanks. With tanks you can really bring in larger fish and greater quantities but there is also a lot of complexity involved.