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Living from Scratch: How to Start a Modern Homestead

I started homesteading in 2016 when my then-husband found a small farm on Craigslist (not a joke). We had been traveling musicians for a while and were ready for something different. We were after a living from scratch lifestyle: slow and simple. Something that allowed us to reduce our carbon footprint by getting ‘back to the earth’. Although buying a farm off of Craigslist seemed crazy, it ultimately led to the pioneer roots we were interested in. Long story short, we bought the farm.

How to start a homestead, whether modern or traditional, on land or no land and with no former education on gardening or animal husbandry.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that living a life connected to the land would be a deeply fulfilling and rewarding journey. I learned to do some of the most simple things rooted in traditional homesteading practices to start living from scratch. Still, I incorporated both traditional homesteading methods into my life while continuing to utilize modern conveniences to create a balanced and sustainable lifestyle.

I don’t want to build you a glass castle. It was hard work at times, but the simple truth was that I fell in love with it. Homesteading and homemaking became my entire life. Thus starting what you might call a multilayered love story (with the land), leading to many a new beginning and different perspectives.

Traditional homesteading vs Modern homesteading

There is no right or wrong way to homestead. I believe that as long as the end result is the same, the way you get there doesn’t matter quite as much. The label doesn’t matter

Once you’ve taken the first step and decided to homestead, you’ll have so many decisions on HOW to do it. Some folks enjoy spending time on manual labor and can afford to spend the time, doing all DIY projects, fixing before hiring a fixer, skipping the vet visits and leaning into a more off-grid lifestyle.

When reading about what type of homesteading to decide what style I ultimately wanted to practice, this is what I learned from the internet.

Traditional homesteading relies on manual labor, minimal technology, self-sufficiency through hands-on skills and prioritizing locally-sourced materials. Crop rotation and manual irrigation are common to see, and take root in the local community.

Modern homesteading integrates advanced technologies focused on efficiency and sustainability. Utilizing solar energy is considered a more modern homesteading approach, and more folks utilize modern veterinary practices and communication facilitated through smart devices and social media. By combining traditional wisdom with contemporary tools, you have the opportunity to create a more sustainable and interconnected homesteading lifestyle.

Are you a traditional or modern homesteader?

I follow plenty of homesteaders on social media, and it’s safe to say that those folks living this kind of life are practicing a more modern homesteading. The most traditional homesteaders are likely not even on social media! What it boils down to is both styles of homesteading share the fundamental goal of self-sufficiency and sustainable living, and both styles differ in their approaches and integration of technology.

BUT HERE IS THE THING. It doesn’t matter, and “modern” homesteading is just an evolved version of “traditional” homesteading. Modern homesteaders are still putting in the manual labor, even if they’ve utilized Google spreadsheets and online garden planners to track their crops instead of pen and paper. To say that traditional homesteaders care more about locally sourced materials and taking root in the community is, honestly, insulting.

I have built rabbit hutches, modified hen houses, practiced crop rotation and watered my garden beds by hand, in addition to drip irrigation. I also am active on social media, have never utilized the vet for issues and plan to utilize solar energy one day.

Some people’s faith brings them to homesteading, others just yearn for a slower, simpler way of life. Some are born into it and love their current situation, deciding to stay close to family members and continue the tradition. All of these reasons for homesteading are acceptable. 

How do I start a homestead today?

Great question! Let’s look at the most down-to-earth tips and practical advice for starting a homestead. 

First step, and I bet you’ve heard it before, but get off Instagram! Not completely, of course, but know that the beautiful homesteads you see on Instagram didn’t just happen overnight. There were hours of manual labor and love and patience, and sometimes money, dedicated to them. Patience – you can get there, also, if that’s what your goal is!

Next, get a few great homesteading books to have on hand. One of my favorite books for beginners is written by a fellow homesteader and blogger, Lisa Lombardo, called The Beginner’s Guide to Backyard Homesteading. You can read my review of her book here

You don’t have to have herds of livestock or a large, rustic kitchen filled with a mason jar shelf and an amazing family tale of how your farmhouse was gifted to you through the generations to be a homesteader. Even a makeshift kitchen is good enough to create and execute delicious recipes in (ask me how I know).

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1. Identify your personal goals and objectives

My best suggestion is to define your vision, and then align your vision with your current lifestyle. Don’t just try to jump into the deep end and do a complete overhaul of your lifestyle, because you are more likely to burnout and just give up. 

For example, I have a creative mother who knows the power of cooking. Nights at our house were like a global table adventure as she went on her own cooking adventure to prepare the best from scratch meals for us of all kinds. Falafels and hummus, chili, stir fry. No region of the world was off limits! So I knew that food was going to be top of my priorities. 

I knew I’d love to mill and grow my own grain one day, but that was so overwhelming to think about because I had never even made a loaf of bread before homesteading! Years later, I’ve made more loaves of bread than I can imagine and I STILL have not grown or milled my grain, and that is fine.

Start small; start slow.

Make a list of the things you want to try, and then put them in order from easiest to most difficult. Always keep the goal of implementing sustainable practices in mind early on for long-term achievement. 

Have a separate list of immediate needs that must be met. For example, if you are starting with livestock you’ll need fencing, water sources and infrastructure to house them. If you’re starting with gardens, gathering the material for raised beds or deciding how to cultivate the soil for in-ground gardening will be a top priority. 

Everyone’s lists will look different. As your small farm grows and you move forward from your previous phase, you’ll start focusing on longer-term tasks such as expanding cultivation areas, and integrating technology for efficiency (think drip watering systems, hoop gardens, etc.). Reassess regularly and adjust your priorities as needed.

If you want fresh eggs, you’ll need some kind of chicken coop safe enough for your flock. 

If you want to learn to make your first-ever homemade apple pie, you don’t have to plant an apple tree before making the pie. Buy a bag of apples from the grocery store, learn to make the pie and plant that apple tree. Not only have you learned a new skill, but in the years to come, you’ll never buy apples again.

2. Choose the right location FOR YOU

When choosing a location for your homestead, put heavy consideration into the lifestyle you’re currently living, the lifestyle you want to live and is achievable (along with a timeline and realistic budget). If you’re tied to a commuting 9-5 way of working, or can’t just jump all in and go off the grid, then you’ll need to look for land that is more urban and less rural. 

Maybe you want to have access to urban amenities, but like to be more secluded to stay away as much as possible. Consider your family unit, and what type of support system you want or require and start searching for land!

A few things to keep in mind when looking for land, assuming you’re starting totally from scratch:

  • Climate and Soil Quality
    I began homesteading in Florida and the weather got warmer and warmer each year, making it hard to grow anything without hoop frames on the gardens. The soil was just sand in my yard, so raised beds were required unless I wanted to put the time and money into mending the soil. 

    Now I’m in Kentucky and the winters are much colder, bringing freezing temperatures, snow and ice. I prefer this, but it poses different challenges for gardening and farming than Florida did. The soil quality is better than sand, but plenty of gravel and rock in some areas. 

    Learn about the different gardening methods and if you want to deal with extreme heat or cold weather and take it from there. 
  • Access to water
    This is a big one! Living from scratch doesn’t mean you have to go without, and access to water doesn’t mean beachfront property. It’s the difference between relying on a rain catchment system, well water or city-provided water. I recently saw a charming cabin in the woods for sale on 80-ish acres, but you had to collect your water from the local fire department or have efficient, and sufficient, rainwater catchment. In addition, you would have to make sure that water won’t freeze in the winter. 

    Personally, that type of property is not for me. Consider your water access when looking for property, and how it will affect your day-to-day operations both inside the home and on the farm for your crops and livestock.
  • Local zone regulations
    This is a big one! Some counties require permits to add structures, like a henhouse, to your land. Other areas don’t allow you to own farm animals, especially if you buy land with an HOA. Call the county extension office and ask what their restrictions are, if any. You might not want cattle or swine now, but what if you do in the future? Thing long and short term and make sure to ask thorough questions. 

3. Start with the basics and essential skills

I had such a lack of basic and essential homesteading skills when I started homesteading that, years later, I wrote an eBook on it called The Ultimate Homesteading Basics Book

(You can buy it now, or come back here February 19-24, 2024 and enter the Living From Scratch Giveaway for a chance to get if FOR FREE along with more than 15 other resources!)

When I started farming and living from scratch, I was terrified of chickens. I asked a friend how I was supposed to get the eggs because I couldn’t imagine reaching into the nesting box and grabbing eggs from under a protective broody hen. Now, years later, I’ve helped people buy chicks, I’ve gifted my chickens to others along the way and taught a few how to butcher chickens and handle them with confidence. 

A few basic skills you are likely to learn when you begin living from scratch:

  • Gardening techniques and crop management
    • Crop rotation and companion planting
    • Different gardening techniques that will work best on your plot of land
  • Basic Cooking and Meal Planning
    • Cooking from scratch to cut costs
    • Utilize homegrown produce and meat
  • Community building and communication
    • Visit your local farm stores (Whether that is Tractor Supply, Rural King or a small business). New doors open when you take part in your community.
    • Find your favorite blogs and follow them closely – bonus points if they are also farming in your area!
  • Animal husbandry
    • Learning about general animal care for feed and health management
    • Best breeding practices for specific livestock

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Skills you will develop along the way:

  • Water Management
    • Rainwater harvesting, irrigation techniques and water conservation practices
    • Learning efficient ways to use water for you gardens and livestock (like if you have a pond on your property)
  • Mechanical/equipment maintenance
    • Not a requirement, but you might develop the ability to troubleshoot basic equipment. I once changed the spark plugs and oil on my lawn mower!
    • What tools work best for certain projects . I was terrified of power tools, built eventually built rabbit hutches and modified hen houses!)
  • Carpentry and DIY Projects
    • Eventually you, too, will be building hutches or simple shoe stands or jewelry holders if you never have before. The homesteading lifestyle just requires a little DIY by nature.
    • The world of DIY is never-ending when living from scratch, and it heavily involves homemaking. Canning, dehydrating and other food preservation methods will eventually slide into your life, as well.

Encouragement and a little extra something

Embrace living from scratch with the most mindful lifestyle you can obtain and maintain naturally. Practice gratitude and incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine. Reflect often on the things you’ve learned, lost and look forward to. You’ll naturally foster an appreciation for nature, if you don’t already have it. 

Fast forward to where I am now? In 2021, my then-husband and I parted ways. Homesteading was a long term commitment for me, but I also needed a fresh start. I moved to Eastern Kentucky to contribute to a farm here and dig deeper into the made-from-scratch living. But I still managed to struggle with my new life. 

I was working a full-time job in the public relations field while contributing to someone else’s homestead. It was all increasingly demanding in their own ways. Some of which I enjoyed, and others I did not. Eventually, I became a mom which added a new layer.

I also met an incredible man, who is now my husband and father of my firstborn son. He, too, was beginning to homestead and was open to taking a more modern approach than I had previously considered. There was no right question to ask when it came to all the different tangible ways to homestead. 

Building a modern homestead

Now, I’m on a new journey full of new opportunities. My husband and I live a happy life with a more modern approach to homesteading. And many new-age homesteaders are taking the modern approach.

We plan to embrace and incorporate modern technology into our farm. The objective is to automate certain jobs to reduce time put into tedious tasks and, hopefully, reduce our environmental impact. It’s important to note that automating jobs and reducing your environmental impact is not only a modern homesteading thing. It all started traditionally.

We’re looking into eco-friendly ways of construction (straw bale housing) and plan to integrate solar panels as a renewable energy source. The next step is to create a new game plan, as I did many years ago for my homestead in Florida, and make this little slice of heaven ours. 

How are you homesteading? 

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Did you miss the Living from Scratch Giveaway?

The giveaway is officially CLOSED! But don’t worry! There will be another one in the Fall and I’ll be sure to tell you about it.

In the meantime, feel free to check out the main giveaway page and look at all the different bloggers that participate in these giveaways to provide FREE resources, guides, etc. right to your inbox. See y’all in the fall!

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