What does a homestead mean to you? If I were to have written the definition a year ago, it would say something about a home with land, chickens, gardens...probably a cow. It would be a place where self-sufficiency was the norm, there was always homemade sourdough in the oven, and where canning happened on a regular basis.
Homestead, however, literally means a home, and the land surrounding it. The term originated in 1862, when then-President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. Essentially, this granted any citizen the right to up to 160 acres of public land, so long as they lived on and improved the area.
By this definition, any home that is occupied and being used to further life and growth is a homestead. Any walls that surround a family dedicated to betterment...however that looks for their abilities and resources...is a homestead. Any individual that takes the time and intention to learn a skill or create something that contributes to the family's finances, entertainment, sustenance, or joy is a homesteader.
Lest it seem I'm broadening a definition to assuage the impatience I feel for the chickens and gardens and cows, this idea that "anyone can be a homesteader" was first planted in my mind by someone else. I stumbled upon The Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast, hosted by Jill Winger, in early 2021. I was discouraged by the lack of progress my life seemed to be making. I wanted all the land and all the animals, and my backyard was literally a patio. At the time, even moving felt like years and years away for me. It was demoralizing, and so I was determined to learn as much as I could, even before I had the means to make my dreams a reality. I binged the first season of her podcast as I did chores around my very suburban home.
In her 30th episode, "Why Homesteading Matters", one of the themes she describes is this idea that anyone can be a homesteader, no matter where they are. Homesteading is more of an attitude than anything else. It's the empowerment that comes with providing. That provision might look like basil from a window plant; it might look like milk from the family cow. It can be as big or as little as it has to be. Less than specific physical requirements to fulfill, it's a recognition that we are capable of doing hard, meaningful things.
As I've pondered this idea, I've started to define what my own dreams mean to me. It's easy to think in generic or vague terms about future hopes that feel, at times, unattainable. It's another to think through and pin point the action steps necessary to propel me towards that future.
I think that the attitude I so admire in the homesteaders I follow, listen to, and read, is that air of ownership. Instead of a passive life that pursues ease and convenience, it's a life that embraces the responsibility of being. It embraces ownership over its health, diet, education, and entertainment. It's not a helpless existence; and if areas of helplessness are identified, steps are taken to change. It's doing what you can with what you have, instead of wallowing in all the ways you perceive yourself a victim (ask me if I've ever done this *eyeroll*).
It's not a life that is, necessarily, completely self-sufficient. It's not a life of perfection. It's not a life that is free of mistakes, or devoid of weakness, or brilliantly confident 100% of the time. It IS a life that refuses the cultural norms of stagnation, and always pursues, through tiny stumbles or giant leaps, betterment.
As it turns out, great change was on my horizon back in January of 2021. As this year starts, I'm 1,000-odd miles away from suburban home in Phoenix, Arizona. Where there was a patio, I now have grass. Where there was driving down store-lined roads, there's now long highways lined with farmland and ranches. Where there was an HOA, there is now unrestricted land.
Yet, even though this is a huge step in the Fulfill Farm Dreams direction, I’ve always struggled with imposter syndrome. I feel...smaller?...in all areas of my life, but especially lately, in this one. I can’t call myself a homesteader. I don’t own any animals (I mean, contributing animals…wild puppies and mischievous bunnies and tiny children don’t count). I don’t have a garden. I can’t keep a starter alive to save my ever-lovin’ life. I can’t call what I have a homestead. It’s an uneven fixer upper on an uneven quarter of an acre in a dilapidated little town in Texas. I mean, we have the nice, dreamy, wood-slat fence, but it isn’t even painted white yet.
But, no, I am telling myself. I am a homesteader. And this is my homestead. It’s small now, but each day, I work towards bringing order to the chaos, function to the disrepair, and growth from the weeds. Each day, I can choose to build our bodies (diet), build our minds (nature), build our hearts (connection), build our knowledge (reading), and build our souls (Scripture).
Homesteading, for me, no longer feels like a pie-in-the-sky, maybe-one-of-these-days future. Homesteading is my reality. And this is where I will document how I build it up.