There is a rising discussion on what is a real homesteader today. Will this short snippet give any real resolve, probably not, but let it be just another view point on this subject.
There is a strong sense that in order to be a “Real” homesteader you have to go completely off the grid. The feeling is unless you are totally off grid you cannot and do not represent what it means to be a homesteader. Then there is the sense that anything one does, no matter where you live can qualify as a homesteader.
When one looks at the Homestead Act of 1862, it was about the government expanding its footprint by giving the poor, the opportunity to settle this new territory. Like most government programs, it did not benefit the intended individuals it was designed to. This was due to the fact that these individuals could not afford what was ultimately required.
Those that were able to take advantage of the Homestead Act ended up being those with the financial means such as ranchers, railroads, miners, lumbermen and land speculators. Of the total 500 million acres that was made available between 1862 and 1904, homesteaders only acquired about 80 million of those acres.
So just who were predominately the early homesteaders?
It was people that could afford to move to a more isolated place and develop it for their betterment. This meant, that if you moved to your 160 acre parcel(s) and could not afford to develop the land in the allotted time, you would lose it.
How does this affect the idea behind the homestead movement today?
In some ways, just like the homesteaders of 1862, the modern homesteader, must have the financial means to make things happen. How that happens, is as varied as the people that made it happen nearly 160 years ago. This means that in some cases you used very primitive tools, from the simple shovel and hoe to the most advanced items of the day.
When the Homestead Act of 1862 was implemented, it was the year that agriculture started to see major changes in the way things were done. By 1862, we were moving from hand power to horses doing more of the work. By 1865, they were using teams of horses pulling gang plows to work the land and by 1868, steam tractors were being tried out.
Our ancestors faced the same choice that modern day homesteaders do; do we use the simple tools of our ancestors from the 1600’s and 1700’s or do we use what is becoming available to make life easier today. Most of them opted to use what made life easier, just like the most homesteaders today.
Why is that?
I think the answer is two-fold. The first part of the answer is; most of us do not like to work harder than we have to. In reality, if you had the choice to dig a hole that was six foot deep with a wooden handle shovel or a mechanical back hoe of some sort, I am sure that most of us would quickly gravitate to the back hoe. The other reason I think, is related to this, fewer people liked the idea of hard work so there is fewer people to do the work to be accomplished which leads to the necessity of the more modern advancement of tools.
So in today’s culture who is right when it comes to what is homesteading?
I think the answer is both.
For most people today, homesteading is about living a life that they find freeing in the place that they chose to live. For me personally, a homestead is somewhere between 20 – 40 acres, depending on the land and what I want to raise. Getting more than what I need, would entail more work that what I am capable of properly managing, while anything less is too confining. To someone else, anything less than 10,000 acres would be too small and conversely to someone else, 10,000 square feet would be overwhelming.
What should we take away from this modern homestead movement?
If we were to look back on the original homestead movement in 1862, it was to create communities in the vastness of the open plains. In many ways today, despite all the people around us, we ultimately are a vastness of people like the grass in the open prairies. I think it is time we take the vastness of people that surrounds us, no matter where we live and once again start to build communities. Take the emptiness that so many people feel and start to connect.
How that community is established will depend on where you are starting at. In an urban setting, it can start on a patio where you grow herbs for neighbors in an apartment complex, or maybe it’s a square foot garden at a vacant lot in the neighborhood or maybe it’s an open field in the middle of nowhere. The point here is, let your homestead be a place where people can come together to learn and grow with one another. That I think is what “REAL” Homesteading is all about.