First and foremost, I am not a homesteader. I have gardened for years, raised chickens, and kept bees, but that doesn’t make me a homesteader. My husband and I love the taste of July tomatoes right out of the garden, and there really is nothing like a farm fresh egg.  He is an avid hunter and we enjoy the taste of venison throughout the year. We freeze the meat from his excursions and can the vegetables from our garden. But that still doesn’t make us “homesteaders”. Why, heck, we’ve even talked about getting a goat. That said, I do have a keen interest in homesteaders; what they do and how they do it.

So what does it mean to be a homesteader? The term ‘homesteading’ may be familiar, but its usage can cause some confusion as its meaning has changed over the decades. For years, the word referred to a free government land program, and the skills necessary for pioneer living. Today the word homesteading is more apt to refer to “a lifestyle of greater self-sufficiency characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food stuffs, and may or may not also involve the small-scale production of textiles, clothing and craftwork for household use or sale.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!)  So what does that mean exactly? Why am I not in that category?

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several amazing homestead families through my work at the local farmer’s cooperative, by attending the recent Homesteaders of America Conference, and by following their homesteading stories online. No two homesteaders are alike. All live off the land, some have just a few acres and others 10 or 20 or more. Most have some form of small livestock (chickens, ducks, rabbits) for meat or eggs, some have goats, sheep, pigs, and a cow or two, many (but not all) garden, grow fruits, or hunt for food. Some have chosen to live completely off-grid. Not meaning that they are going without the modern convenience of electricity, but choosing to produce their own by way of solar, wind, or water power. Many have turned to homesteading within the last 10 years or so for health reasons, personal convictions or to escape the corporate rat race of modern America.

In essence, these are small farms whose primary goal is not producing food for profit as with traditional farming, but working towards leading a simpler, self-sustaining lifestyle.  Using less energy, eating wholesome local food, involving family in the life of the community, and making wiser choices that will improve the quality of life for family, community and the environment. These folks are not hobbyists, like my husband and me, they are all in. On-purpose living the lifestyle they have chosen for their families. As for me, I will continue to garden, raise chickens, keep bees, and feed my family delicious food. I will continue to learn from these amazing folks that I’ve met, and will continue to meet along the way. I will continue to attend the conferences and follow their stories online. I encourage you to do the same!

Shaun Thomas works at CFC Farm & Home Center in Culpeper. Her degree in Biology paired with her passion for bugs, bees, poultry and organic gardening make her your go-to girl for advice on your farm/farmette/market garden or your everyday home garden.

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