Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Homestead without a Homestead

This is a follow up to a blog a few days ago about how we chose where we are going.

I've searched around and found a few other sites/blogs that chronicle families attempting homesteading.  There's something very different between them and us - we have nothing.  I do have a job that I can do online, but we have no way of just up and purchasing a place.

We bought a house in Florida in 2007.  Think about what happened in the following years and how we had to sell that home... and I use "sell" loosely.  We practically paid them to take it.  And let me say, I tamed that jungle around the house and loved every minute, and a jungle it was.  Vines, including and especially blackbriar, were everywhere.  I loved that house, but we moved from there for a good reason and we're happy we did.  I can't say that I would have been as clearheaded there as I am now about the need to do what we are doing.  I needed to leave, but that's another story. 

So our credit is shot.  I'm also in grad school, which means our costs this past year have really jumped up and we have been slipping into debt.  So, how are we going to homestead with nothing?

Homesteading broke is actually the historical norm.  Look up the history of homesteading, and you'll see that it usually begins with a family with nothing.  And they grow their lives slowly, not googling and hasty home hounding.  They knew what they were after and worked with what they had.  We have very little, but not nothing.

I grew up working with my hands whenever I was out of school.  I spent a lot of time on equipment and working with land, though not agriculture.  So, I do have some experience and I am eager and ready to return to it and aware of what it takes.  I also have a degree in horticulture.  But let me say, these things are helpful, but you are capable of learning.  Having come from the good ol' boy south, I know that many country folk can send a certain scoff the way of someone trying to get to the land - like no one can make it, and those sorry city-slickers don't know what they're doing or what they're getting in to.  Ignore it.  I've lived in the city now for years and city folk reverse the same line on backwood rednecks.  Everyone creates a certain insider/outsider mentality and likes to think they are living a life they are particularly suited to.  And while I do agree with Belloc that it takes more to make a college boy a farmer than vice-verca, it is doable.  You can do it.  Be humble, but go.

So being the inside-trader of humility that I am, I found a place for us to stay where we can work in exchange for housing by humbly asking.  But I'd like to speak a bit about how we did it.  Each time I've explained our situation to someone they quickly let me know that it sounds perfect.  It does.  It wont be, but its really good.

So here's how you do it.  Stop googling.  If you're reading this blog you're probably somewhat interested in getting to the land.  Or at least you like to talk about it.  The thing is, there's a lot of people on the internet talking, and many of them are stranded in suburbia dreaming of the country.  But herein lies a true difference between country life and city life - in the country everyone talks to everyone, even their neighbor!  And I'm not talking the "How ya doin'?...  Good, see ya" talk that you do when you take out your trash, but the stop and listen, joke and soak kind of talking.  Country folk know what's going down, and google don't.  Get a hold of a few of them and you can get the whole picture, even unique opportunities like old farmhouses empty and longing for a family. 

So you can message board and blog scroll until you're red-eyed and regretting how late you stayed up, but what you need to do is pick up the phone.  Visit a place.  Talk to people.  Tell them your situation and what you're looking for.  I did find where we're going online, but I know I wouldn't find a place to stay and learn (something I had in mind).  So I visited twice, wrote down numbers, sat around at the coffee shop (which is a very different place than the trust-fund hipster joint of the city), and then followed up.  I shook hands, made eye contact and told the story.  I complimented their town and asked about it.  Instantly I was not an outsider coming to shut myself up in a gated community on their granddads old farm, but I was a new friend looking for help.  Small town people are eager to help. Ask.

What I did was visited, followed up with calls and emails (they do use the computer, they just don't post everything in a searchable calendar) and talked with real living people.  I also visited farmers, asked about the area and what they thought of my idea.  To the right is a picture of my daughter and I feeding a cow on a farm we visited (this is not where we're moving to, but a place we visited nonetheless).

I might arrive and it isn't as great as it seems.  But by talking my way there with real living human beings, I already have a safety net of a community excited for us to be there.  I have a back up, and its not an IRA.

So the advice I would give, if you're serious about this, is to get offline right now (especially if its late and you know you should be sleeping anyway), write down what you're after, call or visit communities you're considering, and talk with people.  You'll be amazed at what opens up when you take a step, unplugged.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm just going to say right now that I'd like a signed copy of the book that you write about the first year on the farm. I won't reveal my name here but I'll remind you of the giant beanbag chair in the corner and the holy smokes with the captains...