When you think of a “homestead” you may think of a remote cabin on forty acres deep in the woods, hours away from civilization and miles from the nearest neighbor. The reality is, many of us are homesteading on far smaller properties and much closer to urban areas.
There are definite advantages to “suburban homesteading” as it’s sometimes called and I thought I’d go over a few of them, from my own experience.
Back in the late nineties we joined my older sister to live in the Kootenai, a very remote area of northern Montana, near the Canadian border. Much like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons nearby us now, it is unbelievably beautiful and pristine.
We spent most of an entire year at the edge of an Amish community and got to know several non-Amish, or English as they’re called, who, like her, chose to live “off the grid” up there.
There were people of all types, from all different walks of life there who had migrated for one reason or another up to the Kootenai. Some were militia, some were aging hippies (like my sister) and one was even a bank robber who had done his time and went up there to get away. He wasn’t the only ex con, either. We met the driver of the getaway car who was convicted of the Nancy Kerrigan knee-bashing scandal that had rocked the Olympics a few years earlier. He was up there with his family trying to escape the media and his past.
The house we rented together was an old Amish barn that had been converted into a home, and it was definitely not held to the same standard as any other home we’d live in at that point. It had a wood stove for both heat and cooking and the bottom level had no foundation under the floorboards whatsoever. It was huge, probably 4,000 square feet or more, and while it was incredibly charming, it was drafty and cold and definitely felt like a barn conversion.
We didn’t mind, at first, because it was one of the nicer homes in the area and it was just so exciting for us to go from living our whole lives near the bay area of California and then in Spokane, Washington to living so remotely.
It was like a dream.
We loved the beauty of the forest and the mountains there and spent our days exploring, fishing and hunting. We chopped firewood and grew a garden. We loved watching the wild turkeys migrate through each day and really enjoyed seeing the moose gather in the evenings at a nearby lake but after a few months we realized that raising a young family in such a remote part of the country was definitely not for us.
We had a nice savings to draw from to live on but it would soon run out and we’d need to find proper work. There were few jobs to be had. Most of our neighbors (who weren’t Amish) were there trying to make a living off the land, selling firewood or extras from the gardens and livestock. Many were just living a very hand-to-mouth subsistence lifestyle in small cabins or trailers and it was hard.
It was by choice, of course, and we respected that, but as we got to know them we realized that many of them were struggling just to keep warm in winter, to grow a few crops, and to buy basic supplies to keep their lifestyle going. Many of them just weren’t happy and their kids weren’t happy. In fact, there were a few who were quite miserable and there was a lot of adult and teen alcoholism and drug use happening in the community.
Just before winter set in, we moved down to the Kalispell area to take jobs and settle into a more normal, suburban life with our little family. Within a few weeks of us saying goodbye to the Kootenai, the house we had been sharing with my sister burned to the ground. The old wood stove had caught fire inside the wall and because it was an old barn and not up to code like a normal house, it went up in minutes and she lost everything.
We would have, too, had we stayed!
That was a real wake up call for us and we were so thankful that we had left when we did. Eventually we would make our way down here to Southeast Idaho where we bought the home we are in now and are very happy with our choice to live a more suburban homesteading lifestyle.
Here’s why it works for us.
There is work nearby.
My husband is able to work and make a good living for us here and there are plenty of jobs for me, as well, if I were able to go back to work. This means we have health insurance (which I need because I have a chronic illness) and we have the security of having a regular paycheck rather than relying on living “off the land” which is not as easy as it sounds.
There is medical care nearby.
Another huge benefit to living on a suburban homestead is that we have access to medical care. My rare disease, mastocytosis, can cause severe, life threatening symptoms and I need to be able to get to an emergency room immediately if I am stung by a wasp or bee.
Everyday accidents can happen, too, especially when you are doing things like working with livestock or farm equipment, and being able to get to a doctor in an emergency is important. Just being able to go for regular checkups or to see a dentist or eyecare specialist without having to drive for hours is nice, too.
There are neighbors nearby.
Up in the Kootenai, many of our neighbors were so far away and while we did see them, it wasn’t a daily thing and sometimes it was only when we’d run into one another at the small feed store or tiny grocery store hours away. It could be a week or more between seeing neighbors even though they were just up the road so it felt very isolated and lonely. Here, we are in a subdivision outside of a much larger town, on one acre lots with livestock rights and the neighbors are always nearby (but just far enough away to not be a bother). There is a school within walking distance and we are just a short drive into town.
No more long drives.
We only take long drives now by choice, not necessity. Within twenty minutes we can be in Idaho Falls which has everything we need (and more) and it doesn’t cost us a small fortune in fuel to go there and back like it did up in northern Montana. We also have a lot more choice and can access supplies for our little homestead without having to take up most of our day doing so.
Easy access to supplies.
This is huge for us. Not only can we get what we need like feed for the chickens and gardening supplies, but we have a lot more choice. We can visit several different nurseries, a few farmer’s markets, and as we work toward being as self-sustaining as possible, we have more than one source for our everyday needs. We can also order online and have things delivered within days instead of weeks.
We don’t have to be entirely self-sustaining.
While our goal is to eventually be able to provide for ourselves as much as possible from our land, we are realistic about the realities of doing so in a modern world. Going “off grid” is possible, to a point, but you will always be tied into the modern world in some way. Solar panels break down, batteries need replacing, etc. We are slowly working toward being independent as far as a SHTF scenario, but we are content with being on the power grid and sharing a community well. We like having the best of both worlds and only relying on our back up generator should we need it.
Each year we get closer and closer to reaching our goals and we feel pretty good about where we are at this point. We are not too far off from where we envisioned being when we bought this house. Not just geographically speaking, but overall with what we’ve built as far as a homesteading lifestyle. We aren’t looking to live completely detached from modern society ever again and we don’t ever plan to make a living solely selling eggs, chickens or extras from our gardens but it is nice to know we can supplement our lifestyle that way. It’s nice have a balance between city living and remote living.
We’ve lived both extremes and this feels right for us.