by Muhammed Al-Refai
A counterculture with a focus on self-sustenance, self-reliance, and lifestyles in harmony with the land and local communities has been steadily brewing. This counterculture is best embodied by modern homesteading, which encompasses a wide range of alternative lifestyles marked by principles such as growing your own food, being a good steward of the land, and keeping strong ties with your local community to help each other build a better life for generations to come.
The homesteading counterculture has expanded due to even bigger paradigm-shifting events: the COVID pandemic, disruptions in supply chains, the beat of war drums, and murmurs of recessions and food shortages. But this way of life has been here since the founding of the USA, as it was embodied in the lifestyle of homesteading pioneers.
Homesteading versus the Status Quo
Justin Rhodes is one of many people who walk the talk of the homesteading lifestyle, and he teaches others how to homestead with his family-friendly YouTube channel. He shows over two million monthly viewers how he and his family grow their own vegetables, raise their own meat, and live intimately with their land. Justin is an advocate of permaculture, a sustainable approach to land management that focuses on nourishing the environment using the processes of natural ecosystems. The focus is on working with the land instead of fighting against it, as is common in conventional agricultural practices.
To the agricultural conglomerates of the world, this is a dangerous movement on multiple fronts. Justin and other leaders like him are enlightening us to an alternative method of farming, a method that goes against everything the industry lobbyists have worked for. Genetically modified and patented seeds, pesticide-soaked plants, and nutrient-depleted soils may be the status quo, but are bad choices nonetheless.
What’s America’s largest crop today? Grass! There are 40 million acres of lawn in the continental USA. What would happen if ten percent of Americans stopped watering and manicuring their lawns and instead used their land for growing food or raising animals for their families and community?
Plenty of gardeners produce more zucchini than they know what to do with, and backyard chicken owners often produce more eggs than they can eat. Imagine if three million more Americans started keeping chickens in their backyard. How would factory farmers fare with millions of eggs being freely (or cheaply) given from one neighbor to another?
A New Culture
Growing your own food is only one part of this new movement. To assume this steady-state lifestyle, new values and priorities must be set. This means adopting a whole new cultural outlook of distancing oneself from senseless spending and the dysfunctional reliance on one-tap technological solutions.
Homesteading is a multi-generational marathon, not a sprint. It’s disciplined, thoughtful action that favors the long-term health of the land, the community, and the environment to create a sustainable lifestyle that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Following are the key values and intentions of homesteaders:
Produce it yourself — Many people are first drawn to homesteading for food security and to gain access to quality meat, dairy, and produce.
Homesteading is a challenging but rewarding lesson in steady-state economics. Producing what you consume on your own property provides a unique opportunity to learn some important economic truths. The trophic base, the limiter of all limiters, is the land. The amount of productive land will ultimately dictate the population of animals raised and how much crop can feasibly be grown.
Homesteaders also learn to turn their household waste into fruitful production. Food scraps? Turn it into compost. Withering plants? Chicken food. Toilet paper rolls? Seed starters. Why discard what can nourish your plants and animals?
For too long, “out of sight” has meant out of mind. Unless you’re driving past the stench from the Tyson’s factory, you don’t think much about where your food comes from. If you’re living on a homestead, putrid smells and toxic chemicals are a front-of-mind problem for you and your progeny.
Sustainability, then, is a generational mindset. You won’t be able to raise multiple generations of crops and animals, and pass down the homestead to your children, if you’re not thinking sustainably.
You want whatever you do to your land to be sustainable. The concept of sustainability has homesteaders turning to natural methods like “do-nothing” farming, permaculture, and rotation of animals and crops in order to ensure optimal health of the land.
Focus on local communities — Communities are essential to a homesteader’s lifestyle. Taking on a homestead is demanding. Animals must be fed, cows must be milked, and plants must be watered. Who’s going to milk your cows when you’re visiting a family member in another state? How will you keep your animals and plants alive when an emergency presents itself?
It’s not so bad being a neighbor to a homesteading family though. They might be producing a dozen extra eggs weekly. Maybe they’ve made too much zucchini bread and canned excess tomato sauce from an exceptionally good harvest. How much more intimate is a gift when it comes directly from your land and becomes a nourishing meal to your neighbor?
Homesteaders can’t do it all on their own. Someone down the road might have a backhoe needed for a small pond. Another might be a welder who can help with a goat stanchion. Another might produce spare compost. A mother might be a brilliant teacher, a father might be a great coach, and yet another person might have an extra outbuilding that can be used as a schoolhouse.
Communities decrease the length of supply chains and increase resilience. National or international supply shocks are less…shocking.
Homeschool — Many homestead communities also tend to favor homeschooling, perhaps because of dissatisfaction with the public school system or needing people at home to tend to the property. This means either teaching your kids yourself or banding with local homeschoolers to educate children.
Invariably, homeschooling means that some parents will opt to drop out of the workforce when pursuing a homestead. For the steady stater, this should be celebrated. A decrease in the workforce will lessen GDP and its ecological footprint. With only one parent garnering a traditional income, consumption and waste decrease as well, while home-grown sustenance increases. In a homeschooled, homesteading society, luxury demand would plummet.
Homeschooling is also a major win for the children who get to spend more time outside in the sun, exploring and learning in nature, getting hands-on practical skills, connecting with their environment, and spending more time with their families. Children will, much like their parents, have a deeper understanding of the resources it takes to run their households, communities, towns, counties, states, and country by being highly connected to the building blocks that underline it all, starting with soil and water.
The counterculture of steady-state homesteading proves to be beneficial on many fronts: for children who get to experience homeschooling and the importance of the land and community; for parents who get to develop and enjoy rich social networks beyond Zoom calls and office buildings; and for the environment itself, keeping it productive for the next seven generations and more.
Muhammed Al-Refai is a journalism intern at CASSE.