One of the best sustainable living tips I was ever given was to try self-sufficient homesteading! What is a self-sufficient homestead? The answer to this question might differ depending on who you ask. But in general, self-sufficient homesteading is all about producing food, clothing, medicine, etc.
Now, you don't have to go completely off-grid and know how to be 100% self-sufficient! Rather, self-sufficient homesteading can help you break free from a consumer culture driven by fossil fuel based products and single-use items that continue accumulating in our landfills.
By practicing sustainable gardening, managing your waste and water consumption, and considering your energy use in your homestead planning, you can have a self-sufficient homestead and sustainable backyard that can contribute to more sustainable food systems and an eco-friendlier lifestyle for you and your family!
If this sounds like your jam, keep reading for my self-sufficient modern homestead tips!
The Philosophy of Self-Sufficiency
According to Cambridge Dictionary, self-sufficiency is “the quality or state of being able to provide everything you need, especially food, without the help of other people…”.
The concept of self-sufficiency is becoming more popular, and I have to say, I am not surprised! According to the BBC, the entire food system (production, packaging, transportation, and disposal) accounts for 21-37% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes.
What’s equally as concerning is that we are losing biodiversity alarmingly. Our global food system is one of the primary drivers of biodiversity loss. With 7.7 billion mouths to feed, we are increasing our reliance on irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, and many synthetic interventions, all of which negatively impact biodiversity.
We need to take a serious look at how we produce, consume, and dispose of food not to jeopardize future generations' ability to meet their needs… This is the definition of sustainability.
As a bonus, by partially or fully adopting this self-sufficient lifestyle, you will increase your independence, forming a deeper connection with nature while increasing the biodiversity in your space, saving money, and promoting overall sustainability!
Steps to Establish a Self-Sufficient Homestead
Now that we know why sustainable homesteading is so important let’s chat about how you get started!
Step one: Finding the right location
Before you reap the self-sustaining farm benefits, you must find the right location for your homestead. Whether you have one acre or hundreds of acres, you can still start a homestead that supports you and your family.
If you are living in an apartment or working with a smaller space, use your community garden or try sustainable indoor gardening using indoor compost bins, hanging planters, vertical gardens, or any other sustainable gardening practices that lend themselves to smaller spaces.
Step two: Planning the homestead
When planning your homestead, consider what is needed for your self-sufficient homestead.
For example, you will want to assess the soil fertility, water availability, and amount of natural sunlight your homestead will receive. This involves considering the general climate of where you live since the plants you choose to grow will depend on these factors since not every shrub, tree, or flower thrives in every climate.
The USDA has a “Plant Hardiness Zone” map, which can help you determine what plant-growing zone you reside in. You want to select plant varieties that will thrive year-round (this is also sometimes referred to as a “comfort zone”).
While still in the planning phase, you can also look up what plant species are native to your home. The National Wildlife Federation has a handy tool to help you. This way, you can ensure the amount of sun and water your plants receive, and soil fertility will work in your favor. These native plants will be easier to grow without intervention and attract native birds and bees to pollinate your garden.
The last important component to consider when planning your homestead is how you will manage waste. I have many composting and garden recycling ideas here at the Eco Hub (did you know you can reuse and recycle plant pots??).
Step three: Building your homestead
You want to try and build your homestead so that your systems which supply energy, water, and storage, have a small carbon footprint, use what resources are already available to you, and require little intervention on your part. This might include using eco-friendly gardening tools, installing a rainwater collection system like a rain barrel, or making your worm tea from the compost! The possibilities are endless.
Pro tip: Before building anything, check out any municipal by-laws that might prohibit raising animals or making dramatic changes to your outdoor space.
Here is my top self-sufficient homestead checklist!
1. Growing Your Own Food
Growing your food by following the principles of ecological gardening is extremely rewarding and will help save you time and money.
There are many different sustainable gardening methods and tricks to try out here, including introducing companion planting and crop rotation to your space, controlling pests in an eco-friendly and humane way (I will get more into this later), and preserving and storing your food!
2. Raising Livestock
If you decide to raise animals on your homestead, choose ones that will suit your needs and what your space can offer. You will also want to consider the amount of time you can devote to your animals, as some animals will require more socializing and particular housing requirements. For example:
- Dairy cows provide a steady source of fresh milk which can then be resold for extra income. Dairy cows can also be a good source of fertilizer.
- Milking sheep requires less land and produces less waste than cows, so they are a smart option if you start your animal husbandry journey. Milk from milking sheep is also extremely high quality and is jam-packed with nutrients, so many homesteaders use their milk to make cheese and yogurt.
- Like milking sheep, goats don’t require as much space as dairy cows and can still be a good source of milk and dairy products (and meat).
- Chickens are fairly easy to care for since they can be raised in smaller spaces and can be a great source of eggs and meat.
- Bee Keeping has tons of benefits. Who doesn't want free honey? Bees can also help pollinate your garden and promote biodiversity!
3. Water Management
Beyond rainwater harvesting, there are other ways you can conserve water while operating your homestead! For example, you could install a greywater recycling system.
Green Coast states greywater is “domestic wastewater produced from the recycling of laundry, shower, and hand basin water.” This is NOT toilet water! This is water from washing machines, dishwashers, baths, and sinks.
Other ways to conserve and recycle water include…
- Trying Xeriscaping and other water-wise landscaping techniques
- Thawing your frozen meat and other food products without water
- Checking your hose or irrigation systems for any leaks regularly
- Putting your garden on a watering schedule
4. Energy Production
Off-grid energy solutions are the way to go here! This means you want to source renewable energy and harness wind, solar, and hydropower as much as possible. I have seen some homesteaders install solar power systems, put up wind turbines, or use hydroelectric power systems when they had access to a stream or river nearby.
You can also make small changes to your homestead that will help you save energy throughout the day, like installing LED lights, placing lights on a self-timer or motion detection system, washing your clothes in cold water, or installing Energy Star appliances when you're due for an upgrade.
5. Waste Management
Ahhh… waste management. My favorite topic! You can reduce waste on your homestead by composting and recycling when possible.
The first step to composting is familiarizing yourself with the composting facts and knowing what is compostable at home. Green matter from the home that can be composted includes freezer-burnt veggies, coffee grounds, and recently pulled weeds.
Brown matter can be composted, including sticks and twigs around the yard, egg shells, or wood chips.
When green and brown material is combined and left to decompose, your compost will turn into nutrient-rich organic matter known as hummus! Your plants will LOVE this.
Recycling and repurposing what you already have is another important part of homesteading for self-sufficiency. For example, why not recycle extra milk and herbs to make your soap?
Skills Needed for a Self-Sufficient Homestead
Running a self-sufficient off-grid homestead isn’t for everyone. You want to learn as much as possible beforehand, so start your journey with a basic toolkit of skills (if you aren’t a pro in any of these yet, don’t fret - it's a learning journey!).
Some popular skills required for homesteading include knowing about…
- Permaculture and composting
- Gardening and sustainable horticulture
- Animal husbandry and livestock birth
- Canning, vacuum sealing, and baking
- Planning meals seasonally
- Making butter, cheese, and yogurt
- Knitting and hand sewing
- Preserving food
- Making your own cleaning and beauty products
- Basic mechanical knowledge
- Hand washing and line-drying laundry
- Dealing with weeds and saving seeds
Challenges and How to Overcome Them
Even with all these skills, you will still encounter challenges while operating your new homestead. One common obstacle you might run into is dealing with pests.
Pest control on your homestead is a different can of worms (no pun intended). According to ReThinkSurvival, unwanted insects can cause many problems if not properly dealt with, such as…
- Infecting you with diseases
- Bringing bacteria into your home
- Triggering allergy symptoms
- Eating or infecting your crops
A practical solution is to build eco-friendly, pest-repelling planters that will deter bugs, such as a DIY mosquito repellent planter. The fewer chemicals you are exposed to on your homestead, the better.
Another common struggle I see with self-sufficient homesteads is taking on too much too fast. Trust me. I understand the desire to live more sustainably and connect with nature. But don’t make drastic changes to your lifestyle all at once to live the homestead dream. Make small, incremental changes over a long period so you can adapt AND learn new skills while at it.
Case Studies of Successful Self-Sufficient Homesteads
Polyface Farm - Swoope, Virginia, USA
- Polyface Farm, led by Joel Salatin and his family, is an impressive example of a self-sufficient and sustainable farming operation. The farm emphasizes natural and eco-friendly methods, implementing practices like rotational grazing for livestock and using animals to enhance soil fertility. They produce various food products, including beef, pork, poultry, and eggs, and sell directly to consumers and restaurants in their local community.
The Nearings' Homestead - Maine, USA
- Scott and Helen Nearing are considered pioneers in the American homesteading movement. In the 1930s, they moved to rural Vermont and later to Maine, where they built stone homes by hand and lived a self-sufficient lifestyle by growing their food, making their clothes, and utilizing sustainable energy sources. They shared their journey and learnings in the classic book "The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living."
The Dervaes Family - Urban Homestead, Pasadena, California, USA
- The Dervaes Family operates a successful urban homestead on a small plot in Pasadena, California. They have cultivated a significant amount of food on just a 1/10th of an acre plot, including fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The family also keeps chickens and ducks for eggs and bees for honey. Their achievements are an excellent example of urban self-sufficient living.
Karuna Insights - Himalayas, India
- Situated in the Himalayas, this homestead exemplifies sustainable and self-sufficient living. Managed by Dr. Aparna Pallavi, it uses permaculture principles to grow its food. The farm implements water conservation methods and uses solar energy for electricity. Karuna Insights offers workshops to inspire and educate people about self-sufficient homesteading.
Melliodora - Victoria, Australia
- Developed by permaculture co-originator David Holmgren and his partner Su Dennett, Melliodora is a model of how cool-temperate climates can support productive, home-scale permaculture systems. They grow most of their food, generate power, collect water, and manage their wastes in an integrated approach.
Running a homestead that is both self-sufficient and sustainable is SO rewarding. Not only do you connect with nature, but you also save money and learn tons of new skills. Whether your homestead is big or small, I think this is something to be proud of!
If you want to learn more about running a self-sufficient homestead, I recommend checking out others doing it the best.! Here are a few below…
- Mama on the Homestead
- Experimental Homesteader
- Oak Hill Homestead
- JoyBilee Farm
- Country Living in a Cariboo Valley
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