We’ve learned a lot about homesteading and living the homestead life over the past 16 years. Today I want to share some of that with you. If you are looking at moving to a rural setting, dreaming of it or simply respect those who do make that choice, there is always so much to learn. One of the benefits of the lifestyle is that everything changes on a daily basis.
Let me take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. It makes my podcasting life worth it. Thank you so much!
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
I’m not going to say much about the animals this time, except in the context of the rest of the podcast.
I will say that we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of lots of babies on the homestead. I’ll have much more to say about that in the next episode. Cloud and Claire are “bagging up”. That means their udders are toning up and filling with milk and birth is imminent. Cloud’s due date is only three days away and it is seven days for Claire.
We could be seeing baby lambs in just two days. We shall see. They are pasture-bred and the first possible date is in two days. Of course, their actual delivery date is determined by when they actually came into heat and were bred. Was anyone bred on the first day? Who knows. The next two weeks will be fun for lambs.
The 68 quail eggs in the incubator go into “lock down” tomorrow and within two to three days we will hear the peeping of the first hatching babies. Lots and lots of new babies from all sorts of species in the upcoming week.
Garden and Orchard
I’ll briefly mention that the garden is getting cleaned up as I speak and we are nearly ready to plant peas. The 500 strawberry plants have arrived and those will be planted in the next couple of days. It’s the usual spring rush. Babies born and gardens planted.
I have lots of tomato plants growing strong that will be ready for the market in a few weeks. The California Wonder peppers had to be replanted. I also have some hot peppers that are doing well. The herbs are moving along slowly and that is normal. All will be ready for your gardens in May and June.
Work on the creamery is paused as we get the garden going. The dairy inspectors came by today and approved all we have done so far. They also provided new resources for getting the milking parlor up and running. We have a good relationship with these two people and they always provide us with great information.
I want to move on now to my topic of the day. There is much to say and I’m trying to keep this to ½ hour or less.
We’ve Learned a Lot About Homesteading and Operating a Small Business
Every step we take seems to correct some other step that we made previously. Our journey started way back in 2003 when we bought our first piece of property and moved onto that property in 2005. Well, let me back up a little bit. It really started the idea back in 1999 and 2000 when Scott and I first met. We spent hours talking about living the sustainable, homesteading lifestyle. It was a mutual passion to learn to provide as much of our sustenance as possible on our own. And that dream leads to the final point that I will cover today. More on that later.
We Read and Read and Read
There is so much to learn. It’s not like you just put a seed in the ground and it grows. That doesn’t happen. We took a step-by-step approach, learning about one thing, then another, then another. Some people just jump right in and do everything at once. We continued to work outside jobs so that just wasn’t the right move for us. Our method was to learn a lot about one aspect, give it a try, and make other choices based on what we discovered.
We learned about gardening. Raising animals was also a central study. We went from chickens to sheep to milk cows. Other animals were added along the way. Each one involves a learning curve.
First, We Thought About a CSA
While still in the talking and reading stages way back in the early 2000’s we thought about starting a CSA. After we bought our property, we even started a few raised beds just to get our feet wet. In the end, we decided vegetable gardening and CSAs were not for us. Part of that decision was based on the fact that all of our land was on rolling hills. There were no flat places to make gardens large enough to grow the amount of produce needed to sustain a business. Changing the landscape was visually undesirable as well as financially impractical. The work was excessive and not conducive to our aging bodies. We wanted exercise as part of living into our twilight years, but we didn’t want hard labor. Of course, the hard labor can be reduced with equipment. But again, we are talking financial investment. The idea of a CSA just did not make our hearts flutter with anticipation. Growing for ourselves, yes. Growing for profit for others . . . not so much.
For those unfamiliar with the term “CSA”, it is simply an agreement between the farmer and his customers that they will invest in the farm for the year or season and the farmer will produce food for those customers. Each week they pick up the results of what has been farmed. I’m giving a very bare bones view of this process. The farmer has to calculate what they believe they will grow, communicate that to the CSA members so they know what to expect, and then there is the actual growing of the food. Many unfortunate things can happen along the way with a CSA. We participated in one for quite a while when we were commuting from VA to SC every week. We supported a local farm in Beaufort, SC until they went out of business. It was a sad thing. The farm had been in the family for a very long time. The owner and his son were making a last stand with the farm with this CSA. They produced lots of great food. And I believe they were profitable. At least they were profitable enough to stay in business . . . and then the rains came. The floods came.
Disaster Strikes and Ruins a Small Farm
This was back around 2012, 13 or 14. I can’t remember exactly. Some of you may remember when much of South Carolina and North Carolina were under water. It wasn’t a hurricane – at least not directly. No, it was simply rain, rain, rain and the rivers were flooded. The low lands were flooded. Eventually, much of these two states were flooded. Many crops were lost. Many animals were lost as rivers overflowed farms were flooded. Horses, cows, pigs – and many other animals were lost. To be fair, lots of people joined in and saved many. In the end, the losses were too much for our family farm CSA. The farm survived, but many customers were lost.
Non-farmers do not understand or change their mind when they find that a CSA means sharing the risk. You are investing in the farm just as the farmer does. In the end, whatever the farm produces is what you get for your money. And the weather or disease or some other disaster can devastate plants and animals that form the basis of a farmer’s income. Disaster happens. The farm produces nothing or nearly nothing. The farmer takes his losses and keeps going. Many times, CSA members just move on and go back to buying from the grocery store where they can be guaranteed of receiving product for their money. We understood and continued to support our farmer. But too many others did not. The farm continued for another year or so, but ultimately succumbed to the losses from the floods.
The Upside of CSAs
I don’t mean to turn anyone away from this idea. CSAs are great and we have many in our area that are doing very, very well. The resent pandemic has been a boon for many of them. There were times when food shortages were prevalent in the super markets. CSA farms got lots and lots of new customers. Suddenly, the produce from a local farm was more accessible than food from the grocery store. It does work both ways.
I’ll wager that many of you are interested in this lifestyle simply because the food supply chain seems a bit unstable. You want more control over your food supply for you and your family. The pandemic has been quite the motivator for many of you who have been sitting on the fence for quite a few years, putting off fulfilling your dream of self-sufficiency.
You will definitely want to stay tuned and pick up a few more tips and benefit from some of our learning experiences.
Reusable Canning Lids Work
The pandemic also brought shortages for those of us already in the thick of growing our own food. It came in the way of not being able to find the seeds we needed. Canning supplies were, and still are, in short supply or completely unavailable. I’ve picked up extra jars as they became available. Those jars come with lids. But the jars I already have need lids and those are still unavailable. Fortunately for me, I have a large supply of reusable lids. If you haven’t tried, these I say give them a try. I don’t use them for things that I can for the farmers market, but I use them successfully for our own food stores.
The brand I use is Tattler. I bought literally hundreds of these quite a few years back and wasn’t really using them because I had plenty of metal lids. I had used them enough to know that they worked really well. Even though there are lots of reviews out there that say they don’t seal well, I have found them to seal just fine. Sometimes you just go for it and give it a try. I treat them differently than the metal lids.
With the metal lids, you tighten them finger-tight and then don’t tighten them again. Lots of times they come out of the canner quite loose. With the Tattler lids, I tighten them finger tight before putting them in the canner. But I immediately crank the metal ring down tight when I bring them out of the canner. Using this method, I have a 99% seal rate. I will occasionally have one jar that doesn’t seal properly and we eat that veggie with a meal within a few days. But most jars seal just fine.
You will know the jar isn’t sealed by testing the lid about 24 hours after it comes out of the canner. Take off the metal ring and pull up slightly on the edge of the lid. If it comes free, refrigerate that product and use it within the week. You can also try again with that jar if you have another batch ready to go in the canner. Make sure the rim of the jar and the lid and seal are very clean, then give it another go. I don’t usually do that. I’d rather just chalk it up as the occasional failure and just eat it.
The Homestead Garden and/or CSA
Even though a market garden is not the center of our life, gardening is still a part of our homestead. It really does take a lot of veggies to provide for your needs year-round. . . more than you think. What you grow depends on what you and your family want to eat. For instance, I gave up growing lots of lettuce. Scott has always said that he really likes vegetables – and he does. However, he is not a big salad eater. Green beans, asparagus, peas, carrots and so on. Basically, cooked vegetables are the ones he wants. Now I only grow these kinds of vegetables. If I want lettuce – and I do especially this time of year, I buy it from one of the growers at the farmer’s market.
Animals on the Farm
There are lots of things to learn about having animals on the farm. Start with your comfort level. Chickens are a great entry into raising your own animals. And prepare yourself ahead of time for the ultimate end. Those chickens or rabbits or whatever are there for you and your family to eat. Homesteading really gets you in touch with what it takes for humans to survive. There are lots of animal rights activists out there that do not want you to eat meat because an animal has to die. Unfortunately, our evolution as a species has been, and continues to be, dependent upon eating meat and fish. Civilizations evolved by living near the water. Seafood was available. Salt was available. Green things grew near the water. And animals would come to the water to drink and could be harvested for food for our tribal families.
I’ll admit that I have yet to actually kill any of the animals on our homestead. Scott has always done that for us. Or we take the animals to a USDA inspected facility for processing and someone else does all of that part for us. Having said that, I have no doubt that if I was the only one available to do the deed, I would do it. I would say a prayer to God and do it. This is a hard one for many people. Becoming vegetarian is an option I suppose. And perhaps many of you have already made that choice. It’s a valid choice. I don’t believe the entire world will ever be vegetarian. It’s just not sustainable for those living in northern climates. Homesteaders there may have to come to a peaceful place with knowing that animals die so that they can live there. Not everyone can live in the tropics and grow vegetables year-round. And the need for protein still exists. I’m not educated enough to know what it would require for a vegetarian to grow enough beans or grains to fill their needs for protein.
Not Everyone Will Agree with Your Choices
There are those in your circles who will continually ask you “why are you doing this?” Sure, we could have kept on working our very lucrative jobs and buying good quality food from local farmers. We didn’t need to do it ourselves. There are lots of other things we could be doing. Making lots of money, traveling, and so on. I think about that sometimes. But on the other hand, I’ve already done a lot of that. I’ve traveled all over the US and a few places in Europe. I loved it. But then the airline industry went down hill and traveling all the time became more of a hassle and less of an adventure. The biggest driver I think is the inner urge to provide for oneself. To feel the confidence in being able to support your family no matter the circumstances.
In the end, not everyone feels it and they never will. The bottom line is whether it is worth it to you and your family. It’s a lot of work. We all know that. And maybe you get into it and find that it really is more work than you are willing to do. Maybe that call to take several cruises and travel to Europe (or America if you are already in Europe), or travel to some other destination different than your home country – maybe that urges you on. Go with that. You can always live vicariously through and support your homesteading friends by buying their products.
Producing an Income
And that brings up another point. Products. Even the most self-sufficient homestead will need to sell some sort of product to buy things that cannot be produced on the farm. Clothes, paper, books, certain cleaning products, gasoline and so on. We chose to create a small business within our homestead. We don’t really need that much money, but one thing led to another and here we are. We love making cheese. And it has been worth it to us to take even longer to complete the homestead part of our dream while we build the creamery. It was only four years ago that we quit working for others and jumped in full time to live our dream. Up to that point, we were building a little bit at a time.
We built fencing, added animals, learned that growing our own hay was more than we wanted to do, added more animals. And finally, fell in love with our cows. We hit our sweet spot. If we had to do it all again, I think we would still do it in steps before making our final decision on the central theme of our homestead. Deciding to make cheese was huge of course. The cost of the infrastructure is why not many people do it. But that barrier to entry also keeps the competition to a minimum. There are always pros and cons to every choice.
Trust your instincts. Know that you can do far more than you ever thought you could. There are ups and downs. And there are joys and sorrows. I can’t tell you the sorrows of losing lots of animals. Or the sorrow of the farmer I mentioned above that was wiped out by mother nature. But we must try. We must give it our best shot. All of life is a risk. Homesteading is a risk but the inner joy is so worth it for us. Perhaps it will be worth it for you as well.
You Just Can’t Do It All
The last thing I want to mention is what I talked about way back in the beginning. The passion to produce as much of what sustains you as possible. The bottom line is that you simply cannot do it all. You will start in a direction and add lots of stuff only to find out in a very real way that there are only 24 hours in a day. And if you stretch yourself too far, the joy of that homesteading life can turn into drudgery and a chore.
Here are some of the ideas we have either tried or at least talked about but have now fallen by the wayside.
The cashmere goats were brought onto the homestead to provide fiber to make yarn and knitted things. I wanted to make our clothes. Way back in the past I even had flax seeds ready to grow flax for fiber. Both of those things are full time operations. You would grow a small garden and have a few animals for yourself and the rest of your time would be spent on those projects. Would it be worth it? Perhaps it is a long-held dream for some of you. Go for it. For us, it was just another task that needed to be completed that never got done.
One project that has fallen by the wayside but may make a comeback in the future is cutting and stacking wood for the wood stove. For the past two winters, we have simply paid higher prices for electricity in the winter. Scott needed to work on the creamery. We have a wonderful wood stove that can heat our entire house in the winter and save lots on electricity. We shall see how that progresses in the future. It may be that we find someone else who is making wood cutting the center of their homestead operation and we just buy a few cords of wood from them. It will still be much cheaper than electricity.
Let’s see what else have we scrapped. My herbal tincture business. That was a fairly well-defined business. I studied for years, earned my degrees, and practiced my craft. But in the end, marketing more than one business is simply not practical. I still provide the needed herbal medicines for our family, but I no longer try to make it cost efficient. Making my own medicine from natural herbs still fulfills me. It’s great to know that I can take care of some of my medical needs. But in the end, becoming an herbalist that helps the community had to be put aside. It’s a full-time job in and of itself.
Follow Your Dream
I’m sure there are other things but you get the picture. We all start out wanting to do everything. Then reality sets in and we have to pick and choose. Once the creamery is built and our cheese business is in full swing, there are other things that we still want to do that we have not yet done. So as some things fall off, others come into greater focus. We love pork and chicken but have not had the time to master these two animals. Before the creamery we did not have them because they require daily care and we were not here every day. After we came to live here every day, the creamery became the focus of our efforts.
By next year, we will be ready to start these other new adventures that compliment our cheese operation. Both the pigs and chickens will benefit from the spoilage and waste generated by the cheesemaking business.
One really great thing I have learned about the homesteading lifestyle is that there is always something new just around the corner. And more often than not, it is a joyful thing.
That’s about all I have time for today. Next time I’ll have great updates on the wonderful new animal babies on the homestead. We love spring time and new life.
I hope you’ve gotten some ideas to think about as you make your journey. Whether you are already in the process or still thinking about it, keep going, keep dreaming. It’s so worth it. And if it’s not your cup of tea, come visit us and benefit from the great food that we grow for you. We’d love to chat and show you around. Not everyone will be a homesteader. You just be the best YOU that you can imagine. Keep going. Keep dreaming.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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