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What would life be like if you had to give up homesteading? Whether it be an unforeseen circumstance or a life change, there are times in life when one season ends and another begins.
Such was the case for a dear friend of mine, Donna, several years ago.
Donna was the ultimate homesteader! I learned so much from her. Donna and I met in home school circles, and we connected right away when we discovered that we had adoption and homesteading in common.
However, as life may have it, Donna went through some difficult times in recent years and consequently left her homestead for suburban life. I thought it would be interesting to speak with her about her experiences and glean some wisdom from her.
Donna lived the homestead lifestyle with chickens, goats, horses and gardening for 8 years. Today, she resides in the suburbs with her children and new husband. Donna’s days are filled with work, school, and suburban life. Let’s find out more!
Donna, welcome and thank you for taking the time to share with us today!
Thank you so much for inviting me!
Would you share a little about the last 10 years or so of your life? How has homesteading fit into that time period?
We purchased a home in a rural area in 2005. We had 6 acres, a neglected orchard, and a cabin by our creek. The house needed some maintenance and repair, along with new bedrooms to accommodate our 7 children (few houses on the market come with 6 plus bedrooms.)
Over time, I added chicken houses, fencing and a run-in shelter for horses. I rescued a mare and her colt for $200 and later added a miniature horse to the menagerie.
I shared ownership of a goat with a neighbor across the street to allow me to get the benefits of milking in exchange for labor and shared feed expenses.
My marriage came to an end in 2013 due to my husband’s addiction to opioids. The time for the homestead was over and I moved my kids to the burbs to get them into a good school system (I had home-schooled all of my children prior to this).
Did you grow up in a farm-type environment? Did your parents/grandparents garden/can?
I think I spent a great deal of adulthood trying to return to the rural settings where my parents had chosen to raise us.
During my childhood, we lived on two different farms, one in Indiana and one in Kentucky. I bought my first horse in Kentucky from a neighbor when I was 12 (he cost $50) and have had a horse obsession probably for the rest of my life.
In Indiana, my mom grew and canned EVERYTHING, and she and my dad also quickly realized that a second garden dedicated to pumpkins, decorative squash, Indian corn, and popcorn could earn some income.
Every autumn they would display pumpkins, corn shocks, and decorative crops for sale on our front lawn and porch. My mom told me recently that she ended up having return customers every year and built relationships with neighbors in the area thanks to that sale. They earned about $3,ooo per year during one month selling these items!
Where did you learn homesteading skills?
From my parents and from reading everything I could find! I used to subscribe to a homesteading magazine as well, but don’t remember the name of it.
Why were you drawn to homesteading? What benefits did it bring to your life?
I was definitely drawn to it pretty much my whole life. Our first home was a small place in town that we could afford, but the goal for years was to get out into the country. I was so happy to get the kids out of town as well. I can’t say enough the difference in lifestyle it gave us with hours spent playing around at the creek, in the fields, and riding horses in a nearby state park. I cherish those years and will always carry those chapters of my life close to my heart!
What goals did you have for your homestead?
I wanted us to raise as much of our own meat and food as possible organically and humanely. I also wanted to earn side incomes and had a lot of ideas about earning money in the future, but never really was able to get much of anything off the ground.
Did you earn income from your homestead? How?
I sold free-range eggs. I had a lot of ideas that could have generated more income in the future, but the marriage was deteriorating during much of that time and I really couldn’t do those things without the help of a committed partner.
Had I stayed and things gone well, my ideas included:
-Salvaging our orchard and producing apple cider
-Boarding a couple of extra horses for side income (workload really wouldn’t have changed much if I had added a couple of horses to the daily routine)
-More efficient production of free-range eggs and chicken meat
Were you provided some of your family’s food from the homestead?
During the summer we ate out of our garden daily and I took great pride in that.
We also started every day with goat milk, yogurt and free-range eggs included in our breakfast. I was amazed how productive our little gardens could be and worked in them daily. It was a passion for me and a way to unwind.
What was your water situation? Well? City water?
We had well water and I was very satisfied with free water.
Did you provide heat for your home? What was your source of fuel?
We used a wood stove and pellet stoves in various parts of the house. I took a lot of pride in our self-sufficiency, but would have liked a back-up source. There were some COLD mornings getting up and getting the house warm with a fire. Heating a home with wood takes a lot of constant work and the cycle is never done. The best thing you can do is prep as much as possible in the good weather for the bad weather that you know will be coming.
How is your life different today?
I’m living in the suburbs in a newer development. I’m working and going to school full-time to finish my degree, so yeah, life is COMPLETELY different now, and that’s just fine. As I get older, I question how long I could have kept it up in the best of circumstances.
Do you miss homesteading? Would you return to it if you could?
Yes and no. Sometimes I miss the country and sometimes I REALLY miss my horses. But I choose not to spend a whole lot of time looking backwards. Life is like a book that’s always moving forward. I love the chapters I spent home-schooling my kids. I love the chapters when I was homesteading. But the current chapters are full of good times and excitement too.
As for returning, maybe.
My current husband and I kick around retirement dreams of different scenarios. One of those scenarios might be returning to the country. But I want to focus on the here and now because one thing I’ve learned for sure is that we can’t alter the past and we can’t count on what the future holds, so we had better get the best of every moment in the right now!
What would you do differently, knowing what you know now, if you started to homestead again?
Get to know your property really well before you plant a garden or build structures. You may not realize where the best drainage is, which parts of the property have the best sunlight for your garden, or the fact that that one corner floods every spring until you’ve been there a couple of years.
Also, get your outbuildings and fencing done correctly before you get large animals. They are hard on your fences if you don’t set them up well in advance. I highly recommend electric fencing strung along any kind of fencing you have for horses as they will work to destroy it systematically if you don’t.
I also learned to keep a summer pasture and winter pasture to protect the grass I wanted them on in the summer.
Build your chicken houses with an emphasis on ease of cleaning. A clean house for the chickens keeps your chickens warm and eggs easy to keep track of.
Do you implement your homesteading experience into your home now?
I grow a little garden wherever I live. I’ve learned some other skills involved in maintaining our yard that I’ve brought to our landscaping here in our neighborhood.
What would you say to someone who is just beginning the homesteading journey?
When in doubt, start small. Smaller garden, smaller animals and smaller experimental projects are much easier to maintain and experience success!