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Modern Homesteading – Lessons Learned So Far (Part I)

by Victoria Gazeley

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This rural living gig is still fairly new to us.

We’ve been living in our little cabin in the woods for almost two years.  After growing up in the country, 22 years living in the city and then 6 months in temporary digs while we renovated our 80+ year-old heritage log cabin, I finally moved my son and I onto our little piece of paradise in April of 2008.  And with grand plans to ‘live off the land’, at least to some degree, we began our journey into modern homesteading.

I arrived on the property with a bit of knowledge from when we were kids (a bit about native food plants, a smidge about wildlife), but my rural living experience was pretty limited.  While I grew up in a rural community, it was in a subdivision – might as well have been a suburb of a major city, as it wasn’t the same thing as living on a rural property at all.  Sure we had black bears wandering through the yard at night, but we didn’t worry about them eating our food supply for the next winter.

So what have we learned in our almost two years under the towering hemlock and alder?  Two words – A LOT!  Here are five of the most notable:

  1. People are more than willing to share their skills and knowledge. I’m constantly amazed by how willing people with skills and experience are to share them with those who don’t.  I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some of the most generous mentors, who have spent hours online, in the garden and over tea with me, sharing their time and knowledge.  For this, I am so incredibly grateful.  I’ll bet there are lots of people like this in your area, or alternately, on the forums at publications like motherearthnews.com, grit.com, and by mid-2011, modernhomesteading.ca Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to ask questions and look like you don’t know what you’re doing – because you probably don’t.  And that’s OK.
  2. If you don’t have the stomach for traps, you’ll have mice for roommates. I just can’t do it – trap and kill little creatures.  I just don’t have the heart for it (or maybe I have too much of a heart?).  Of course, that means we have to live with some very tiny little roommates at certain times of the year.  And we go through a lot of vinegar and essential oils in disinfecting the kitchen.  But mice are great story subjects, so I think we’ll keep one or two.  Now, if you can’t stand the thought of mice in your house, you’ll need to invest in either some humane traps (and send the little mice to certain death anyway in a new territory), some regular traps (ick), or a cat.  I’ve heard that having rats will ensure there are no mice (rats for pets, anyone?), but I’m not sure we’ll test that theory out quite yet.  If we do, I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out.  Lesson learned:  there are some ‘country’ things I just won’t do, no matter how many people tell me I should.
  3. The power will go out right when you need it most. It never happens when I have no deadlines, or when I’m away from the house.  Such is life and work in the country.  What I’ve learned from this is to always have a dependable, charged up laptop (and now my iPhone) available so I can bug out to a coffee shop with wireless access in town and still get work done during a power outage.  That is, if the cafe still has power – which they usually do, as we’re on different electrical distribution lines.  Lesson learned:  always have alternative means of getting your job done.
  4. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and then do nothing. I’m the queen of taking on ‘more than I can chew’, as they say.  I want to do everything, but there are simply not enough hours in the day.  So this past year I spent a lot of time and money with a coach who has helped me tremendously in finally realizing I can’t do everything (nor should I try), and how to avoid getting distracted by ‘shiny things’… most of the time, anyway.  Lesson learned: don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to admit you can’t do it all.  It’s better to get a few things on your self-sufficiency list completed than none at all.
  5. Trying to go it alone is just plain dumb. This sort of sums up all of the above lessons.  I’m an individualist – I love working on my own, spending time on my own.  I love the quiet contemplation of it.  It’s part of why I moved us to a rural property – I love the peace.  But I’m here to tell you that you can’t – can NOT – become self-sufficient by yourself.  It’s sort of counter-intuitive, needing other people in order to be self-sufficient, but it couldn’t be more true.  Or more important to realize.  If you try to go it alone, you’ll likely end up crazy (on the west coast they call it ‘going bush’), lonely, or just plain exhausted.  Don’t do it.  Lesson learned: community is critical for self-sufficiency success… and much more fun!

It’s been quite the journey so far – and we haven’t even started with livestock yet.  I’m sure that will add a whole other dimension to our experience and many more lessons learned.

And honestly, I can’t wait…

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Revised on January 13, 2011