This Home on the Range series celebrates all kinds of homesteaders, from urban rooftop gardeners to rural ranches and farms, from beekeepers to goat herders, from container gardeners to egg gatherers. All are welcome.
To kick off the series, today’s feature will be from Chandelle who blogs at Chicken-tender.com. I hope you enjoy hearing her story and seeing her homestead!
What led you to become a traditional, urban, or suburban homesteader?
I never saw a real farm or had any concept of where food was grown until I was in my early 20s, but I knew I wanted to grow something of my own from the time I was in grade school. For a long time I had no idea what that entailed; it was a nebulous concept that came from an intuitive place.
Over the years my passion for this way of life has become more concrete. When I came out of college I was frustrated to realize that I knew nothing of practical value. I was incredibly skilled at filling in little bubbles with a #2 pencil, but as far as providing for my own basic needs, I was completely helpless and dependent on invisible others. I also found most of the “work” expected of my generation to be one-dimensional and too often destructive. I wanted to be a part of something that requires my whole being, serves my community, and supports the living systems of the Earth. I found that I was happiest with my hands in the soil, so food production came naturally.
What do you love about your homestead?
My homestead is in its infancy. My partner and I both work full-time (and then some), so most of our homesteading is done in the evenings, on the weekends, and during the summer. As a result our homestead is developing slowly. My garden is just barely coming along, because it’s such intense and time-consuming labor.
So for now I’d say that my favorite thing about our homestead is actually its location. We rent a tiny one-room cabin on a huge amount of undeveloped acreage. This place constantly takes my breath away with its beauty. Land is very expensive in Northern California and we could never afford to buy a place like this, so I feel blessed and thankful to have the opportunity to live here. It brings me so much pleasure to watch my chickens pecking around under those rolling hills, and to see the endless wildness that exists beyond the edges of my garden.
What would you change?
I wouldn’t change anything, necessarily, since we’re just starting out here. But some plans are on hold, mostly because of fencing. The land here is grazed by cattle, so we have to put up electric fencing around anything we grow, which is our primary financial challenge. I would love to plant more perennials and put in a small orchard, but they will have to wait.
I’d also like to have a more hospitable garden environment. Right now our efforts are purely utilitarian, but eventually I would love to have a garden table and chairs, and birdhouses, and trellises for vining plants, and flowers, and magical play areas for the children.
What new skills have you learned and how have you applied them?
The primary skills I’ve learned are related to animals. I know how to raise a chicken from egg to slaughter, and I apply this knowledge every day. Digging a garden bed, mucking a coop, checking a bird for mites, building nest boxes from scrap material, identifying useful weeds – I do these things every day, but they all break down to one single skill, and that is knowing when something has to be done, and then doing it. Knowing and attending to this fact is probably the greatest skill a homesteader can have. So much about this work is not particularly pleasurable. It’s dirty and exhausting and painful and stressful. But it has to be done. And when it has to be done, it can’t wait.
Quite a few homesteader skills are not related to the actual raising of plants or animals, but what you do with them when their life is over. I’m a child of industrial mechanization and it’s a steep learning curve to regain these ancient skills. Sadly I have lost meat to rot because I simply did not know how to handle a whole animal. Because I had a hand in raising that animal, the waste of it is very obvious and shameful. You might pull up a huge amount of cabbage, and you raised that plant from seed and you feel very proud of yourself… but what now? Are you going to stuff those cabbages into a box of sawdust? Are you going to turn them into sauerkraut, buckets and buckets of it? Or are you going to let them rot? This is a daily self-argument for a homesteader!
What skills would you like to learn?
I have a list as long as my arm of skills I need. Where to begin?
Even though we don’t eat a whole bunch of ’em, I’d love to learn to grow storage foods, like beans and corn. There are so many amazing, gorgeous varieties that are falling out of use, and I’d love to be a part of the efforts to conserve them. But I also have the practical desire to grow feed for our animals. I don’t think a homestead can be considered sustainable if it’s dependent on large corporate monocrops for animal feed.
I’m excited to learn about bees, and I need some better carpentry skills. Or rather, any carpentry skills! And on the business side of things, I’m eager to reach out to the community with a small “whole diet” CSA program.
What animals or plants do you have?
I have eighteen layers, a mix of Barred Rocks, Americaunas, Turkens, New Hampshire/Rhode Island Reds, and Speckled Sussex (my favorite!), plus two Americauna roosters. My partner raises rabbits, four does and a buck, plus their assorted babies, usually around 30 at a time. In the next year or so we hope to add a few sheep, and we should be getting beehives soon.
I am just beginning to develop the garden – six beds so far with perhaps ten more to go. For now I’m raising peas, greens, lettuce, and herbs. I just planted Christmas lima beans and Tongues of Fire beans. For the rest of the year I’m planning to grow more beans (fresh and dry), carrots, corn (mostly dry), cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, summer and winter squash, and watermelon – several varieties of each – plus a big patch of perennial medicinal herbs.
What makes you happy with your life as a homesteader?
There’s really nothing about this that doesn’t make me happy. Sometimes, as I said, it is exhausting work, even defeating, but that’s just part of it.
This work is very challenging for me because I’ve always been a bit obsessive about cleanliness and avoiding clutter. As a homesteader I have to deal with being dirty almost constantly, and clutter? Well. In my garden right now are several tools that were not put back in their proper place, three or four tarps that were just balled up and tossed aside, and a giant pile of bee box supers that look ready for a funeral pyre. If you don’t like dirty, this is not the work for you. And I don’t mean dirty as in dirt. I mean that sometimes you have to get down into the manure-soaked straw to pick up eggs. That is just the way of things. It is not pretty. It is not camera-ready. But it is authentic, and that’s what I want most for my life.
This work focuses my hands and my heart so my mind can be quiet. It allows me to be a whole person and to feel that I am, in some small way, in service to life itself. It eases my mind about death and gives me a thousand opportunities each day to be thankful for the gift of being alive. And when I see my children in the garden, or collecting eggs, my heart feels so full. Somehow, despite my desert city upbringing, I was just made for conjuring green things out of the ground and scooping manure out of a coop. I can’t imagine another way of living.
Thank you Chandelle for such an incredibly moving and authentic representation of your homesteading experience. Here are some photos of her incredible place!
Wow! That is away from it all!
There is a lot of work to be done.
They sure do!
Aren’t they beautiful?
Oh my! Aren’t they lovely and oh so fresh!
These are the cute ones!
What is a Real Food Homesteader?
A Real Food Homesteader is someone who cares about the earth, the soil and the animals that give us food. You don’t have to have acres of prairie land to be a homesteader. You can be an urban or suburban homesteader with a tiny plot of land, a rooftop garden in a city, or a community garden. You could also be a more traditional homesteader who is concerned about organic, sustainable methods of farming or gardening, who supports pasture raised animals.
Real Food Homesteaders don’t use genetically modified seeds. They don’t use poisons on the plants and soil. They don’t feed poisoned grains to their animals.
They cook traditionally with raw dairy from grassfed animals and eggs from chickens on pasture. They shun processed vegetable oils like margarine and other processed foods. They try to buy as little packaged food as possible — growing and preserving their own instead.
Are you a person like this? Do you have an urban, suburban or rural homestead? Please share it with us.
Send your answers to Jill at Real Food Forager dot com and 5 – 6 of your best photos sized 450 – 550 with captions.