Take The First Steps Toward Your Self-sufficiency Goal.
The world is a scary place; perhaps more today than at any time in our history. We’re facing issues on multiple fronts that range from a global pandemic to global warming and political leaders whose motives and abilities increasingly come into question.
So, how are we to respond?
Well, simply, we need to take matters into our own hands. While some people might head for the hills to their secret hideouts, many don’t have the means or skill set to do that.
If you’re in the latter group, all is not lost. In this article, I’ll be discussing a few things you can do to make your home a “mini homestead.”
Change Your Attitude
Survival and prepping are all about staying alive by ensuring you have food, water, shelter and are able to create fire and, possibly, electricity. Contrary to the tired stereotype, survival and prepping don’t rely solely on stocking up on firearms and ammunition. In order to be self-reliant, you need to get out of the mindset of “someone else will do it”, because nobody will do it for you.
You have to think about, and work toward, self-sufficiency—or at least something close to it. Raise your own food by starting a garden and/or perhaps getting a few chickens. Prepare yourself for the need to harvest your own food on both the practical and mental levels. For example, those animals you plan to raise are to feed your family, not be your pets. If you and your family can’t make that distinction, don’t raise livestock.
Learn to use the materials you have on hand to make items you need. Conserve water and energy. Think smart: Leverage the things at your disposal and get out of the mindset of relying on consumerism and plastic money. Once you’ve done this, you’ll come to realize that you don’t need half the stuff you have in order to survive.
Homesteading, even on a small scale, can be a full-time job; and there are no days off. There’s always something that needs to be done. Make sure you’re prepared for this level of commitment. Also make sure your family is prepared for this significant lifestyle change. Managing all this work is a team effort. Sure, it can be fun having a few head of livestock or a dozen chickens, until you have to venture out in a blizzard to take care of them.
Make a Plan
After deciding to be a survivor by becoming more self-sufficient, you need to come up with a plan. Understand both your own limitations (money, time, space and capabilities) and those that involve the regulations in place for where you live.
You aren’t going to be able to do what a person with 100 acres of land can do. Local zoning and other restrictions might forbid you from having livestock of any kind (including chickens). You have to take this into consideration at the outset.
Set your priorities and start small, because it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and lose focus. Remember: You’re changing your lifestyle and habits, and both are best done gradually.
Whether you like it or not, money will be an issue. There never seems to be enough of it, but there are things you can do to stretch every dollar. You’ll need supplies of all sorts to get started. However, you might already have some of what you need on hand. Take stock of your tools and materials before you go out and purchase more. Can something you already have be made to work for something else? This is all part of being a homesteader: Adapt, improvise and overcome.
Your plan should focus on food, water, shelter and power, but it should also include emergency measures that deal with applicable risks such as drought, flooding, food shortages and power outages. Over time, every successful homesteader develops plans for dealing with possible scenarios for where they live and situations they might face. While you can’t plan for every possible circumstance, you can be ready to adapt when things happen. When times are good, always prepare for when they’re not: Continuously monitor food, water and fuel for cooking and staying warm. Don’t get caught short.
In this day and age, many people have public water sources, even in areas some consider “rural.” This often gives people a false sense of security.
“I don’t need to worry about water!” is something I hear often when people water their lawns and wash their cars during a drought. No water supply is infinite, especially when you’re not in control of the source. Whether you’re on public water or have a well, you always need to be concerned about your supply, especially during a drought.
Drought is a very real and visible thing—and not just in the western and high plains parts of the country (although it’s more pronounced there). Drought is a natural occurrence; yet, the current massive drought is partly our own doing. There’s a direct correlation between our use of carbon-based fuels, deforestation and improper water usage and the water shortages we’re facing.
Thinking about our mini homestead, which is intended to help us survive all types of adversity, what can we do to combat this threat?
Our misuse of water is a great place to start. Here are a few things we can do on our mini homesteads to improve our efficient use of this resource.
Stop watering your lawn. If you can’t eat it, it’s a waste of water, so consider replacing grass with plants that you can benefit from. Consolidate your laundry loads and only wash when you have a full load. Use water-saving appliances such as low-flow toilets and shower heads. And, does your vehicle really need to be washed twice—or even once—a week?
According to a U.S. Water Supply and Distribution factsheet published by the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, community water systems delivered an average of 96,000 gallons to each residential connection in 2006. That’s almost too much to comprehend! Think about how much water we pour down the drain when we wash dishes and clothes, brush our teeth and take baths and showers. This “gray water” is dirty, but it’s not dangerous. Just think of the areas where this water can be used. If you use biodegradable or environmentally safe detergents, you should be all set to use this water in your garden.
The drains from your sinks, tubs and showers, dishwasher and clothes washer can be piped to either water your garden or routed into a catchment system to be used later. I use the water from my dehumidifiers to water my garden. Be creative with the assets you have.
Collect water from natural sources (rain and snow) in any suitable containers. That water can be stored in clean, food-grade, 5-gallon containers and empty plastic jugs and processed for drinking, cooking and hygiene needs. Rain and snowmelt off your roof can be collected in cisterns hooked up to the gutters on your home. These cisterns can be as simple as large plastic drums. Alternatively, this water can be stored in water-containment ponds designed to provide water for irrigating gardens, growing fish and watering livestock.
Being self-sufficient on the mini homestead means doing whatever you can to provide food for your family—ideally, without going to the grocery store very often. As with everything else, it’ll require some work on your end, but you’ll be surprised to see the benefits even a small garden can provide.
Using the current COVID-19 pandemic as an example—as well as motivation—just look at what happened to the food supplies in grocery stores. Meat of all types was often in short supply, and what was available was often priced out of the reach of most people. The same was also true with fruit, vegetables and other foods that can be grown or made at home. The more you can do on your own homestead, the better off you’ll be.
Provide Your Own
Start a garden, raise livestock if you can, hunt, fish and forage. Besides a garden, plant fruit and nut trees. Remember that what you can provide for yourself is one less thing you need to rely on others for.
If you have to purchase fresh foods, buy them when they’re on sale and preserve them for later use. Investing in a chest freezer will save you money in the long run. Dehydrating and canning are other great methods of preserving food. Learning the canning process isn’t difficult.
Work With Your Neighbors
Survival is a team effort. Trade surplus vegetables and fruit with your friends and neighbors. Join with others to purchase meat in bulk; say, an entire animal. Above all, share information and build a network of mutual support.
Power grids go down, and areas often have “brown-outs” during peak usage times. In serious cases, outages can last weeks, or longer. No electricity means no fuel for generators or vehicles, along with everything they provide access to. You must be prepared to deal with this. However, even if you have uninterrupted power, there are things you can do to cut down on your usage and perhaps even get off the grid.
Cut your energy use by simply turning off lights and electronics when they’re not in use. Replace inefficient old light bulbs with new LED bulbs. Replace appliances with energy-saving or manual models. Use rechargeable tools and devices that can be powered by solar or other sources of electricity. Walk or bike when you can, saving the fuel for your generator and other pieces of essential homestead equipment.
Solar power generators are more cost effective than ever, and wind turbines can work 24/7. These can replace or supplement your current power source. Even portable solar panels can be enough to keep phones and computers charged.
No homestead should ever be without a generator of some sort. Make sure it’s large enough to keep vital devices running and that you have plenty of fuel on standby.
Every family’s needs and homestead are unique. You’ll adjust your plan as your needs change. The homestead is always fluid, so you need to adapt to the challenges and opportunities as they arise. Remember to pace yourself, and consider each change as a single step in the right direction.
Setting up a mini homestead is hard work, and it will take some outlay of money, depending on your plan. Along the way, you’ll need tools, building supplies, seed, animal feed (if you have animals) and a host of other things.
- Tools. Check out yard sales and estate sales. You can usually pick up tools and other items for very little money.
- Building Supplies. Yard sales could be fruitful, but they’re hit and miss for building items. Check out lumber yards for scraps and seconds. Construction sites are good places to pick up reclaimed lumber and other materials (just ask for permission). Wooden pallets are often available for the asking. Big box stores are good places for purchasing nails and screws in bulk, and builder’s surplus stores are loaded with bargains.
- Animal Food and Seed. Check your local sources for reputable and economical options. Two good national sources are Tractor Supply and Blue Seal.
Every area is different and faces different needs and issues. Your local and state agencies (agriculture, conservation, co-ops, colleges and others) are all great places to start. They can give you information about what grows best in your area, as well as conservation rules and regulations, tax breaks and other logistical information you’ll find helpful.
American Survival Guide
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.