Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why Are You Interested in Homesteading? Problems With Food Production

One thing I didn’t mention in the introductory post to this series was where the idea for the series originated.  I’m sure, like most blogs or other places that discuss homesteading and related topics, the primary focus here will be on the how of homesteading.  Recently, I read a post in Homesteading Today that got me thinking about the why.

The poster asked about a book called Enough! A Critique of Capitalist Democracy and a Guide to Understanding the New Normal by Jerome D. Belanger.  The discussion led me to a good article written by the author explaining the book, which I now want to read.  It also made writing out my current reasons why seem like a good idea so I have something to compare after the book.

Anyway, today is the first of the more in depth posts, and our topic today is food production. Up until recently, I didn’t give much thought to food production and the impacts it has on the animals, the environment, and our health.  Some recent documentaries have made me stop and think much more deeply about this, and I don’t like what I see.

Raising beef in the modern factory farm is a major environmental issue.  Pollution from the cattle’s waste products pollutes nearby water sources, and the methane produced by these cattle is the largest worldwide source of greenhouse gasses released into the environment.

It also uses up a considerable amount of farmed food resources, using many more calories of food than it creates, with corn and other grain as a major ingredient.  The corn provides another greenhouse gas whammy because it is one of the most petroleum intensive farm products.

Going further, the grain is not the cattle’s natural diet, so it fattens them up faster and makes the meat produced fattier.  It also causes digestive issues for them and makes them susceptible to bacteria like e. coli, which then goes on to infect people.  Not only that, but the nutrients they need are not available in this feed, so the meat does not give the nutritional value it would if the cattle were grass fed exclusively.

Moving one step forward in the production line, the meat producers operate in a manner that is at best questionable from a legal standpoint.  As for the product they distribute, any food that has a measurable fecal content seems like a problem to me.  As they say, you don’t shit where you eat.  I’ll take that one step further to say you don’t eat shit.  This seems logical to me.  However, the producers think this is acceptable as long as it is below some legal limit.  I disagree.

Without going into details, the poultry industry isn’t any better, nor is pork production.  Animals are treated cruelly, with no regard to their well-being, and sent through a system that has just as little regard for the end consumer.  Industrial fishing destroys the very habitats they rely on for their livelihood.  People have relied on the sea for food for eons, yet in modern times we destroy it as though there will be no tomorrow.  It is shameful.

The difficulty in changing this system is that the end consumer is only the customer at the end of the process.  The fast food industry needs excessive quantities of meat to satisfy their customers (according to an article on Business Insider, McDonalds serves 75 hamburgers every second), which leads to these factory-like conditions from the farm up.  The only way to make it change is to vote with your wallet.

Opt out – avoid the fast food places completely, and look for alternatives for getting meat.  Look for local sources of grass fed beef, truly free range chickens and their eggs, and other meats.  Learn to hunt, or buy meat from a local hunter or butcher if you can find one who sells wild game.  If enough people go this route, the system will have no choice but to change.

When it comes to plant foods, a major issue is the chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and such used in their production.  Also, the monoculture environment they grow in, miles of nothing but one crop, is very unnatural and has a direct impact on the local ecosystem.  I believe this is a primary factor in the current honeybee collapse, which I see as a canary in the mineshaft.  The entire system is unhealthy, and it’s killing us.

I could go on for pages with all of the issues in the food system, but I won’t.  But I don’t trust the system, and I want to get out of it as much as possible.  That means growing my own food primarily.  It also means find local farmers who are willing to be open about their operation for things I can’t or don’t produce.  By opting out I’m hoping I can make a difference.  I’m certain it will make a difference in at least my own life.  I would certainly recommend that you consider your options here as well.

Why Are You Interested in Homesteading?

It’s a simple question, really.  But just because a question is simple doesn’t mean that the answer will be equally simple.  In this case, this simple question can have a very complex answer, and one that is different for each person.   I do suspect, though, that most of the answers to this question would contain similar themes.

Part of this complexity comes from the movement itself.  In the 19th century, homesteaders moved out to remote areas and staked a claim by farming and improving land, and after a period of time this land was given to them free by the government.  In the early 20th century, during the depression, many people moved back to more self-sustaining ways by necessity, though I’m not sure this “movement” had a formal name.

In the 1960s came the back to the land movement, where people moved into communal farms or otherwise moved back to living on (and off of) the land.  This is where I understand the modern movement has its roots.  In the 1980s, during some difficult economic times, the term homesteading came back into fashion, and now in the second decade of the 21st century the movement is growing.

For me, the modern term homesteading encompasses many things, but primarily a movement back to living a more sustainable lifestyle that embraces whole, non-processed foods, often grown or raised at the home.  It also embraces simplicity, self-sufficiency, and so many other things.

But when I think of homesteading, I also think of survivalism and prepping.  While these may not really be the same thing, the skills and attitudes definitely seem to cross over significantly, and many of my reasons for wanting to live this lifestyle come directly out of these two camps.  While this may not fit into your definition of homesteading, this is the starting point for the answer to the title question.

By way of introduction, below is a list of some of the reasons I came up with while writing this.  I’ve put a brief explanation with each, and in future posts I will go over these in much more detail.

  • Food Security – if I have the food growing in my yard and sitting in canning jars in my pantry, I don’t need to wonder where my food will come from
  • Food Safety – for our homestead we are embracing organic growing methods which will help prevent bacterial contamination common in factory farm foods due to their methods
  • Food Production (from factory farm to fast food) – speaking of factory farms, they pollute the land with chemicals, feed animals unhealthy diets, raise these animals in unhealthy conditions, and generally seem unconcerned about the health and wellbeing of their customers or the earth.  And so many of these techniques are there to meet the excessive needs of the fast food industry.  This is a system I have a hard time supporting.
  • Becoming Debt Free – nothing is so freeing as not being a slave to debt.  I’m not there, and I’m sure it will not be an easy road, but it will be worth the price.
  • Health (reduce stress, more exercise, better food) – living my previously chosen lifestyle has been killing me, slowly at first, but it started accelerating after I hit 40.  I’m expecting homesteading to help me live my newly chosen lifestyle with less stress, more movement, and healthier food choices.
  • Simplicity – Growing food, preparing food from scratch, tending to the house, gardens, animals, and family.  These are the simple things, and that is what I want.
  • Sustainability/Environmentalism – I’ve always had environmentalist tendencies.  I just haven’t always acted on the things I knew to be the right thing to do.  I want to live a more sustainable lifestyle that generates minimal garbage and consists mainly of things I can reuse or otherwise recycle.
  • Self-sufficiency – while I don’t ever expect to be completely self-sufficient, I very much like the idea that I can greatly reduce the need to rely on others in the ways I do now.  I don’t know any of the people I rely on, and that makes it hard to trust the reliability.
  • Education – I love to learn new things, and living on a homestead is going to put me in a position where I will need to learn many new things to get by, particularly old-fashioned skills that are dying today.
  • Get Out Of The System – this is one of my primary motivations.  I don’t like the system, and I don’t trust the system.  I used to think this system could be changed for the better from within, but now I believe that the only way it will change is by people opting out, which is what I want to do.

Upcoming posts in this category will go into these in greater depth.  Hopefully what’s here has gotten you thinking some about why you are interested in homesteading.

Composting Complications

I had plans this weekend to get the materials I needed to build a compost bin in the backyard.  I had a plan sketched out, and went to Home Depot to get the materials.  Unfortunately, that’s as far as I got.

Apparently, the Home Depot near me doesn’t carry any cedar boards.  The lumber guy there told me the only choice I had for rot resistant would be pressure treated, which I do not want.

One of the biggest reasons I want to grow my own food is to know what goes into growing it.  I want to grow using only organic and natural methods, which means I need compost.  It also means no pressure treated wood in the compost bin.

The guy at Home Depot told me I’d need to go to a lumber yard, and I took him at his word.  I started looking for lumber yards, but there aren’t many of them around that I could find.  It wasn’t until this afternoon, when it was too late to do anything this weekend, that I thought about checking Lowes.

I looked online, and it looks like they may have them.  I’ll have to check it out and maybe this will now be a project for next weekend.

Beyond the outside, traditional compost bin, I also have a Bokashi bin for which I have most of what I need.  I bought two 5 gallon buckets and a screw-on top.  I need something to use for the inside lid, and I need to get some Bokashi bran, and that should be all set.

I’d like to get that started as soon as possible, so maybe I’ll order some bran tomorrow, and see if I can’t find something for the inside lid soon.  I think there’s a thrift store down on Front St, so I’ll give that a try.

Goodness, There Is An Awful Lot To Learn!

We have a plan, and it’s a good one.  We decided that Tennessee is the state we want to settle in and buy our perfect land for our homestead.  We are working toward creating an income stream that will provide for us when we move so we don’t have to worry about both of our jobs coming with us.  I could write an entire post about the plan, but that’s not what this is about.

While we’re working the plan and preparing to move, we’re starting to learn the skills we are going to need on the homestead.  No need to wait until we’re there to start living a more sustainable lifestyle, right?  Of course not.  So we’re gardening – we started this year and are planning an expansion for next year.  And we’re composting.  (OK, we’re preparing to compost.  I’ve got most of what I need for a Bokashi compost bin and I’ll get the rest this weekend, along with the materials I need to build an outdoor compost bin.  Better late than never.)

Even with all of that, I’ve found that there is something that takes up enormous amounts of time, and it never really ends.  Learning.  I’m reading or watching everything I can find about garden planning, plants, how, what and when to plant, what to do in shady areas, how to improve the soil, how to compost.  The list seems to be endless.  I’ve purchased a few books and borrowed some from the library, but by far most of the information has come from online sources.

So I thought it might be nice to share a few of the sites that have quickly become favorites.  Be careful, some of these have so much to offer they can become enormous time-sucks, and before you know it you’ve spent hours there.  Not that the time is wasted, that’s really more of a warning to visit them when you have the time to spare.
This forum is by far my favorite site right now.  I can spend hours reading post after post.  It seems like a fairly civil community, and there are lots of people with a lot of different experience.  If you join (or are already a member), drop me a note.  I go by the handle “Headin’ South” there.
This is a well established site run by a woman named Jill who has a lot of good stuff to share.  She’s been homesteading with her family for a while and has lots of interesting experiences to share.  She also has a love for essential oils.  Good site for getting an idea what homestead life is like as well as for some good recipes.  Also, once a week she has post to share links of other homesteading sites and she sometimes has guest bloggers, both of which can help you find lots of other good resources.
This site is a great inspiration to me while I’m still living here in NJ.  These folks live on property comparable to the one I’m in now (their land is a bit bigger, but they’re feeding four and we’re only two).  They’re in an urban/suburban setting, like me.  And they grow 99% of their own produce, which is exceptional.  This should be inspirational to anyone living in a place they consider less than ideal for homesteading.
This was a very interesting documentary showing a gardening technique that seems to be gaining a lot of popularity in recent years.  With information available now showing that tilling disrupts life living in the soil that is beneficial to the plants, it is becoming more popular for organic growers to grow food without tilling.  Square food gardening technique created by Mel Bartholomew is very similar and has been around for some time now.
These two links I lumped together because they are both from the same group.  John Jeavons is the creator of what he calls biointensive farming, which is a method of sustainable agriculture.  Even if you don’t follow all of his methods, you’re likely to pick up a lot of good tips.

I hope you enjoy those.  I’ve also been researching aquaponics and vertical gardening techniques to try to make the most of this small space here.  Nothing on these fronts to share yet, but maybe soon.