10 Ways to Start Your Homestead

My homesteading journey began over a decade ago but I didn’t live on my own homestead until just two years go. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to start your homestead, wherever you might be in that journey.

Somewhere in my piles of nostalgic papers there is a drawing I did when I was in the sixth grade. It is a house with apple trees, a chicken coop, a garden, and a big fenced in pasture.

All I really wanted for my future was to someday have a farm. I had it figured out by age 11, that a homestead was going to be a part of my life.

I went to college not positive about what I wanted to do for a career, but knowing I wanted to help people. During those four years I came to understand that food and farming is tied to so may issues in our society. Health of people, health of the environment, welfare of animals, immigration issues, and on and on. This thing that I had always wanted to do, just because I loved the idea of it, turned out to be work that could make a difference in people’s lives.

Ways to Start Your Homestead

I spent years slowly building up my skills and knowledge to equip myself to someday have a small farm. If you are like I was, dreaming about your future homestead, here are ten things you can do to start living that dream now.

1. Learn

There are ENDLESS resources on homesteading and farming. Honestly it gets overwhelming to me still sometimes.

Pick a topic you are interested in and head to the library! I find that books published by Storey are typically good options for sound information.

Elliot Coleman is great for vegetables. So is Ruth Stout. Greg Judy or Gabe Brown and Joel Salatin are wonderful reads for grazing information. Wendell Berry and Gene Logsdon are excellent choices for the real soul of homesteading and farming.

Keep an eye out at thrift stores and library book sales to add to your homesteading library.

2. Pick 1-2 Small Projects and Start Now

No matter where you live there is a homestead type project you can try now. Perhaps you want to learn to preserve food. Maybe you want to grow sprouts on your countertop, create a sourdough starter, mill your own wheat, or spin wool on a spindle. Maybe you have enough yard space for chickens or a small rabbit industry.

A friend of mine has White Rabbit Urban Farm. They have gardens, perennials, and a meat/fiber rabbit business right in the middle of a large city.

cheesemaking rough and tumble farmhouse
Cheesemaking is a great skill you can learn any time!

3. Meet Other Homesteaders

A lot of people get this idea that homesteaders always have the goal of being completely self-sufficient. While I think that is a noble goal, I also think it sounds like an awfully lonely one.

I love being part of a local food economy where farmers and foodies can be part of a community that supports and relies on each other.

If you are living in the area where you plan to have your homestead, start reaching out to other farmers and homesteaders.

A great place to connect with other homesteady types is at farmers markets. Strike up a conversation with local growers and learn more about their farms or homesteads. Share what you are interested in and maybe they or someone they know raises bees, or grows popcorn, etc. They might be a future friend and mentor or be able to connect you with someone else who will.

farming community rough and tumble farmhouse
Andy, a fellow farmer and inspiration along with his bad ass wife Elise came to help us process two lambs.

4. Start a Nest Egg

Homesteading and farming isn’t cheap. If you are able to, start socking away money for your future homestead. Hay costs alone for our farm are around $2500 a year. That averages out to about $208 each month.

If you are a homestead you might just figure that in to your cost of living. As a small farm that hopes to one day provide some income from our enterprises, I will need to figure out a way to have at least that much profit. This likely won’t happen right away, so it is a good idea to have some start up money to keep you running until then.

hayload rough and tumble farmhouse
We will probably haul a thousand pick up loads of hay before I die.

5. Keep an Eye Out for Supplies

If you’ve read my Amish Auction post you have already heard the tale of my getting TWO Earthway Seeders for $15 each. Those puppies normally run over $100.

This last summer on Facebook Swap and Shop I found a beautiful salad spinner, made in France, worth well over $100, for $20.

Am I selling salad at a farmers market? Nope. But someday I know I want to, so investing 20 bucks now will save me $100 in the future.

Watch Craigslist, Swap and Shop, local auctions, etc. for items that you can use on your future homestead. Obviously keep in mind your space limitations. When the day comes you make the homestead plunge you’ll already be well on your way to having the equipment you need.

6. Attend Educational Events

A fabulous way to start gaining knowledge now and meet other homesteaders/farmers is to find a local or regional conference to attend. Around here January-March is conference season and there are a half dozen all within a two hour drive.

My best advice at these events is to put on your introvert hat and strike up a conversation with just about anyone.

The first farm internship I ever had was the result of a conference session. Before starting his session, the speaker always had folks in the audience introduce themselves and say what they have on their farm or homestead.

One gal in the audience said “I raise heritage sheep, chickens, and have a market garden.” At that time those were my top dreams for my homestead. After the session I made a beeline for that lady and introduced myself. Four months later I was living on her farm and helping with lambing season.

In Minnesota and Eastern North Dakota I like to attend the SFA Annual Conference, Northern Plains Sustainable Ag, and if possible the Minnesota Organic Conference.

Conferences often have scholarships for attendees or allow volunteers to attend the event for free.

7. Gain In-Person Experiences on Homesteads or Farms

I spent the better part of my early and mid 20’s working on different farms and gaining new experiences. That way I was able to learn all sorts of farming methods and get to know what type of farming I would like.

If you aren’t an attachment free 20 something, you can still gain these experiences by visiting small farms and homesteads. Your local food directories should be full of farmers you could reach out to.

If you go that route remember that some folks will be all for having you visit, others won’t. Some are going to be VERY busy and just don’t have the time. The vegetable farm I used to work at, from May-Mid August we simply didn’t have time to shoot the breeze with people. After frost? Come on by and share a beer and talk shop.

Be polite and humble if you are cold calling people. I think it is always better to meet folks in person first or through mutual acquaintances if possible.

farm internship rough and tumble farmhouse
This photo is me about ten years ago at my first farming internship. Those shepherd’s crooks are darn handy. Also fact: Aside from those boots I still have and wear all those clothes.

8. Start with Low-Stakes Livestock

If you’ve never owned a goat in your life, maybe don’t go out and buy a $1,000 show quality doe to start.

It’s important to know what to look for and ask about in terms of illness and testing, but beyond that I would be fairly flexible with your first livestock.

A proven doe with a good temperament that is easy to milk might be your best starting place for a year or two. After that time if the goat is still alive and well and you still like goats, THEN invest in breeding stock that you want on your farm or homestead for years to come.

jersey cows rough and tumble farmhouse
My slow building of a micro-herd of registered jerseys.

9. Set Reasonable Goals

You aren’t going to start your homestead over night. Buying 100 acres, building a cabin and a barn and getting a herd of 20 goats, a flock of laying hens, and planting a one acre garden might sound like a good idea. Overall I think it does sound good. Maybe spaced out over the course of 5-10 years.

Be reasonable about your limitations, whether that is physical, financial, skillwise, or time wise. Whenever we have a project that we want to accomplish we run it through a bit of a meter. How much time can we devote to this? Do we have the skills to do this? What will it cost to do this? If we don’t know how to do this or don’t have the time, what is the cost of paying someone to do it for us?

When you’ve visited folks who have been at this for a long time and are on a well established homestead, you have to remember that it took years, DECADES for them to reach where they are.

start your homestead rough and tumble farmhouse
Fencing to keep the damn goats in, well into the evening.

10. Go for it.

I love the saying “to begin, simply begin”. There’s no right or wrong way to dip your toe in the big ol’ homesteading lake. Don’t let the fear of messing up keep you from getting started at all.

Pick one thing, and give it a go. After you get the hang of it, add something else.

Remember there is always more to learn, so it’s not a journey that really has an end. So go forth and start your homestead!

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