Author Topic: Has anyone transitioned from city dweller to homesteader? Tell me your story!  (Read 7851 times)

Penelope Vandergast

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My parents were from St Louis, but I grew up in the 1970s-1980s out in the country 8 miles from a town of 1300 in southwestern Wisconsin. We had a zillion animals (sheep, ducks, geese, goats...) and a HUGE 1-acre organic garden. That, combined with my dad's hunting and fishing, and the 100 chickens we raised for eggs and meat every year, provided most of our food.

Spiritually (for lack of a better word) I loved it  -- I am an introverted nature person, so it was very meaningful for me to be out in the country. Socially and culturally, on the other hand, it SUCKED. Especially after age 12 or so. Very conservative (as in hidebound, fearful and resentful of outsiders, which was anyone who didn't have 3 generations in the cemetery). Doing well in school made you a weirdo. Being interested in things like music, reading and art made you an even weirder weirdo.

Few people with degrees beyond high school. Antiquated ideas about gender. Racism of both the nasty and the clueless variety. Little interest or awareness (in fact, sometimes outright hostility) toward anything that wasn't local and rural, and then only if it fit certain pre-existing categories. Lots of fear and resentment toward anything "different." My friends' parents were afraid to let them go with me to movies in the college town 40 miles away because it was a "big city" of 200K people. (Yes, you had to drive 40 miles to see most movies.) I knew people who had literally never been out of the county. Not country, the county. Who had never been on an airplane. I mean, nice people, but. After a while, and after you weren't a little kid anymore, it could be hard to find something to talk about. Nutty evangelical churches. The local restaurants today have the same menu they did 35 years ago, and the songs on the jukebox are the same too.

No jobs except the local factory, the fast food places out on the highway, in tourism, or in the school district. I know people who commuted 40-60 miles to work each way, every day. For decades. (My dad was one of them. He worked FT on top of all the self-sufficiency projects, which my mom had to deal with on top of taking care of 2 kids. She canned like 300 pounds of tomatoes every year and was the one who initiated the divorce. I ate amazingly well as a kid, though...)

There was a small (much larger now) artsy-hippie-bohemian component to the area, which did help--especially the one restaurant-cafe where they all hung out and which was the only place within 30 miles where you could get vegetarian food or hear music that wasn't country or classic rock -- but basically every one of them came from outside. And after a while you could see that they were a pretty monocultural group too.

Kids started drinking until they puked in 8th grade and it seemed like every year a couple of teenagers were killed in alcohol-related car crashes. Nothing, nothing, nothing for teenagers to do but drive around getting wasted or going to parties 20 miles out in the country and getting wasted there. One high school with 300 kids -- and if you didn't like it, you were stuck. There was literally noplace else to go.

I'd say maybe 30% of my class went to college -- including technical school or community college -- and half of those dropped out.

And if you were LGBTQ, FORGET IT. At that time especially, there was no chance for a teenager to even come close to being out. Years later I discovered via Facebook that probably half the people I hung out with most in high school were gay, and every one of them had gotten the hell out the minute they could. Today it's probably marginally better, but I know at least one person with a trans kid who moved away a few years ago because it was clear that life as that kid was going to be intolerable in that town.

I still miss where I grew up a lot, and dream about having a little place in the country myself sometimes, but a few years ago I stayed in my old town for a couple of nights and left thinking, with utter conviction, that you could not pay me a million dollars to move back there again. (I spent 20 years in NYC and Boston, where I did always have a garden. In Boston especially.)

And again, this is actually a fairly cultured place for a small rural area. (Like, they have a BOOKSTORE now, and it's a good one.) This is a place I MISS -- the nature part, at least. I mean, I'd maybe do a vacation cabin or something, but I would NEVER make my kids be teenagers in a place like that. Never.

Younger kids can love it, especially if they are very good at entertaining themselves (which I was -- even today I can happily spend days on end alone doing projects and hanging out in the woods). My brother did not love it. At all. He would have much preferred to live in a neighborhood with a lot of kids to play with, and he was very lonesome a lot of the time. He has zero nostalgia for where we grew up.

I do wish my older kid could have lived in the country for a while, as he would have really liked it. I will not be at all surprised if he ends up doing some sort of rural thing for a while when he leaves home. The younger one, though, I think is probably more like my brother.

Oh, and as many people have mentioned, doing the self-sufficient thing is a HUGE VAST AND UNENDING amount of work. I never did that much as a kid, but it eventually broke up my parents' marriage, and I am sure they are not the only ones. (I am thinking in particular of an idealistic couple that moved out there to start an organic CSA farm. They had three kids, did the total back-to-the land thing, and had a gorgeous property. Within about 8 years they were broke and divorced and went out of business. So. The quality of your relationship is very important.)

There is also violence. You also have to be willing to do things like shoot or otherwise end the lives of injured livestock. Kill bunnies and chickens and deer and cut them into pieces (if you eat meat). Dogs and cats can get hit by cars, or shot by idiots. You will see roadkill constantly.

Because you have to drive.absolutely.everywhere. Not just for food or the post office. Kids taking music or swim lessons? On a sports team? Want to see a movie? Hang out with friends? Drive, drive, drive.

In other parts of the country, the rural culture is probably way better than where I grew up -- New England has a lot more interesting things going on (like in Western MA's Pioneer Valley or parts of VT, where you can live in the woods and then drive into town to catch the Amtrak to NYC or Boston), so if that's where you are looking then maybe it would not be so bad. The West Coast is probably not bad either. But just keep in mind that someday your kids are going to be 15 years old. What will life be like for them?


Imma

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... I had to help kill our rabbits when we had a myxo infection)

Oof, that must have sucked. That disease scares me, and there's engineering stronger forms of it in AUS/NZ to try and fix the feral rabbit problem. I hope they realize how dangerous that is for the rest of the world if they do release it. It's showed up on the west coast of the US in isolated spots. Sincerely hope it never gets closer.

I know rabbits aren't native to Australia and they're doing a lot of damage, but releasing modified stronger forms of an illness as bad as this is going to do a lot of damage worldwide. In the 80s a more deadly strain reached Europe and since the 90s rabbit populations are decreasing. In southern Europe, predators are dying because of it. And because the strain modifies, it's impossible to completely protect domesticated rabbits by vaccination.

For me, my worst farming memories are the infectious diseases. Myxo was very bad because all those sweet bunnies got infected and died even though we battled so fiercely against it (it is spread by flies and mosquitos, we had a strict system of quarantine) . We narrowly escaped food & mouth, swine fever, bird flu and Newcastle disease, but I remember the fear we had. We drew a 10km circle around our place on the map (animals in a circle of 10km around the infected farm would be culled) and put it next to the TV so we could look up the exact location of every new case.

MrsDinero

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I will say they aren't exactly cheap.  We bought ours, already laying, for $10-$12/bird.  We go through a 30lbs non-organic feed bag every 3-4 weeks ($15-20/bag).  The cracked corn bag lasts a lot longer because you don't give them as much. 

We can eat about 18-24 eggs a week, either as a meal or as an ingredient in other dishes.  That said we were buying top shelf organic eggs, then we were buying eggs from a local farm before getting them.  The organic eggs were expensive ($4.89/dozen).  The local farm charged $2.50/dozen, but if you got there after 11am they were sold out.  Sometimes they were sold out immediately after opening their door.  We got chickens as a learning experience but also as a reliable source of eggs.  This week I have collected about 15 eggs.  I haven't calculated the break even point for us, but it doesn't really matter, we are doing it from a "knowing where our food comes from" point of view, not a MMM point of view.

Wow, that's really expensive for conventional feed! I pay $9.50 for a 50lb bag. My cost per dozen is currently $2.50 after 18 months, but that's with some of the birds only laying for a bit and of course the coop needs to amortize, so the numbers are going down even with them in heavy molt after the cold spell we had here.

Had a similar experience with a few of the local farms selling out super fast.

I'm sorry I had to look it up to verify.  We are paying $15.49 for a 50lbs bag.  Still more expensive that what you are paying though.  This is what we buy:

https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/nutrena-naturewise-layer-16-pellets-50-lb

Thegoblinchief

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I will say they aren't exactly cheap.  We bought ours, already laying, for $10-$12/bird.  We go through a 30lbs non-organic feed bag every 3-4 weeks ($15-20/bag).  The cracked corn bag lasts a lot longer because you don't give them as much. 

We can eat about 18-24 eggs a week, either as a meal or as an ingredient in other dishes.  That said we were buying top shelf organic eggs, then we were buying eggs from a local farm before getting them.  The organic eggs were expensive ($4.89/dozen).  The local farm charged $2.50/dozen, but if you got there after 11am they were sold out.  Sometimes they were sold out immediately after opening their door.  We got chickens as a learning experience but also as a reliable source of eggs.  This week I have collected about 15 eggs.  I haven't calculated the break even point for us, but it doesn't really matter, we are doing it from a "knowing where our food comes from" point of view, not a MMM point of view.

Wow, that's really expensive for conventional feed! I pay $9.50 for a 50lb bag. My cost per dozen is currently $2.50 after 18 months, but that's with some of the birds only laying for a bit and of course the coop needs to amortize, so the numbers are going down even with them in heavy molt after the cold spell we had here.

Had a similar experience with a few of the local farms selling out super fast.

I'm sorry I had to look it up to verify.  We are paying $15.49 for a 50lbs bag.  Still more expensive that what you are paying though.  This is what we buy:

https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/nutrena-naturewise-layer-16-pellets-50-lb

Okay thatís a bit more reasonable :)

homestead neohio

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PTF and read later.  There are more homesteader and rural living folks here than I thought...

Trifele

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We homestead currently, and prior to this we lived in a city.  While in the city we 'urban homesteaded.'   We kept the front yard as grass to keep up appearances/make the neighbors happy. We unfortunately were in a somewhat fussy neighborhood where that mattered.  Some of our neighbors were 'Chem-Lawn' types.  Over the years we dug dandelions and improved our front lawn with compost to the point where it was super lush, had a good root system, and was full of worms and bugs.  When the drought came, our lawn stayed green and weathered it well, while some of the neighbors' chem lawns, with their shallow root systems and sick soil, died.  We got a lot of questions after that from the neighbors about what we were doing, and strangely I look back on our LAWN as one of the best things we did at that city place!  I feel like we educated some people a bit.  At our city place we also had a huge kitchen garden in the back where we grew 20 different things, perennial fruit trees and bushes, and chickens.  We canned and froze loads of produce.  We had a seriously awesome compost system.  You really don't need much space to accomplish a lot.

Then we moved to a country place on 6 acres, and we are totally loving it! It was an easy transition for us. One funny story.  A couple weeks after we moved in, our downstairs toilet backed up.  We snaked it, but couldn't fix the problem.  Turns out our 9 year old son had found a cool white pipe sticking up out of the grass, had unscrewed the top, and dumped a bunch of sticks and rocks down it.   Having grown up in a city he had no idea what a cleanout pipe is.  DH had to dig out an 8 foot trench to cut away pipe and get at all the clogs.  DS's punishment was to watch the entire repair job, and to pay for the replacement pipe out of his allowance  (about $8).  He now has a very thorough understanding of how septic systems work. :)

At our new place we still do a big kitchen garden, and we have a bigger flock of chickens.  We are lucky there were some existing nut and fruit trees and perennial fruit/veg plantings.  We've spent our first two years here adding to those. Our property is about 40% woods and 60% open/pasture/orchard.  We are still figuring things out in terms of how much we want to mow, and managing various trees.  We have the space, fencing, and facilities to add goats or even a small cow, but I doubt we will take that leap.  As much as we love our place, we also like to travel.  Chickens are easy peasy, and you can ask a neighbor to look in on them, but finding someone to look after 4 legged livestock is a bit harder I think.   

We constantly have projects in the works.  Right now we are finishing some serious reconstruction/improvements on our house, and we will probably add solar in the not-too-distant future.  I am pretty far down the road learning about beekeeping, and hope to take that plunge in the next year or two.  I have some half-baked ideas for a greenhouse with water-based thermal mass.  DH has some half-baked plans to build a tiny house on the opposite corner of the property which could be rented out, or lived in by our kids when they are older.  Always something to do, or dream about. :)

EDITED to add:  Another new project this year will be bench grafting and budding apple trees.  We have an outstanding old tree that we would love to propagate.  There is a LOT to learn, and I am trying to find someone local who may be able to advise us.  Otherwise, we will just try to educate ourselves, and then give it a whirl.  I found a cheap local source for rootstock, so good there.  Very excited about that project.     
« Last Edit: January 31, 2018, 05:55:13 AM by Trifele »

chaskavitch

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@Trifele Your little homestead sounds like exactly what we want - big big garden, woods, some fruit trees, more chickens than we have currently, bees, a giant greenhouse, and a mother-in-law house that could be rented or actually lived in by one of our mothers, if they need it.  And MAYBE a cow, some goats, or sheep for wool, after a few years of learning how to do everything else well and efficiently.

I'm glad to know your urban homestead experience translated well.  I'm trying to be more effective in preserving and canning our produce, and figuring out how best to grow different crops, but we still have a lot of produce waste that ends up as chicken food.  Chickens ARE ridiculously easy.  I feel like they're the cats of the livestock world - give them some extra food and water, make sure they're safe, and you can totally leave them alone for the weekend.

Thegoblinchief

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@Trifele Your little homestead sounds like exactly what we want - big big garden, woods, some fruit trees, more chickens than we have currently, bees, a giant greenhouse, and a mother-in-law house that could be rented or actually lived in by one of our mothers, if they need it.  And MAYBE a cow, some goats, or sheep for wool, after a few years of learning how to do everything else well and efficiently.

I'm glad to know your urban homestead experience translated well.  I'm trying to be more effective in preserving and canning our produce, and figuring out how best to grow different crops, but we still have a lot of produce waste that ends up as chicken food.  Chickens ARE ridiculously easy.  I feel like they're the cats of the livestock world - give them some extra food and water, make sure they're safe, and you can totally leave them alone for the weekend.

A metric that professional livestock farmers use that I think also applies to homesteaders is to reach at least 70-80% proficiency with a given animal (or scale of that animal) before adding a new animal or heavily ramping up the size of a given animal herd/flock.

Totally agree with you on chickens!

On the food preservation, weíve got a food preservation thread stickied in the gauntlet section that may help. I donít feel too bad about food waste anymore, though, since so much of it can be fed either to the chickens or to other livestock. In my case, rabbits, but the ultimate garbage disposal would be pigs, followed by goats.

chaskavitch

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@Trifele Your little homestead sounds like exactly what we want - big big garden, woods, some fruit trees, more chickens than we have currently, bees, a giant greenhouse, and a mother-in-law house that could be rented or actually lived in by one of our mothers, if they need it.  And MAYBE a cow, some goats, or sheep for wool, after a few years of learning how to do everything else well and efficiently.

I'm glad to know your urban homestead experience translated well.  I'm trying to be more effective in preserving and canning our produce, and figuring out how best to grow different crops, but we still have a lot of produce waste that ends up as chicken food.  Chickens ARE ridiculously easy.  I feel like they're the cats of the livestock world - give them some extra food and water, make sure they're safe, and you can totally leave them alone for the weekend.

A metric that professional livestock farmers use that I think also applies to homesteaders is to reach at least 70-80% proficiency with a given animal (or scale of that animal) before adding a new animal or heavily ramping up the size of a given animal herd/flock.

Totally agree with you on chickens!

On the food preservation, weíve got a food preservation thread stickied in the gauntlet section that may help. I donít feel too bad about food waste anymore, though, since so much of it can be fed either to the chickens or to other livestock. In my case, rabbits, but the ultimate garbage disposal would be pigs, followed by goats.

Oh, thanks for the thread recommendation!  I'll go find that.

If things don't go to the chickens, they usually go to the compost, so it isn't too awful.  I just hate that I lose so many things to the back of the fridge because I assume my husband ate them, when really they're buried.

merlin7676

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I think it will be far more work than you can realistically do on weekends. 

At the risk of getting a face punch on here, my husband and I have a condo that we live at in the city during the week (since our jobs are here) and is our primary residence.  But 3 1/2 years ago we did buy a house near the ocean as a weekend/vacation/retirement home. It's a single family 2bed, 1/2 bath, 954 sq feet cabin on a double lot.

Even going there every weekend, we have a hard time keeping up with it.  We dreamed at the time of spending weekends at the beach (3 blocks away), drinking sangria on the patio, BBQ's ect.
The cold reality of that is we hardly ever have time when we're down there for that sort of activity. 
We leave work on Friday and drive there which sadly with traffic takes longer than I care to admit on here.

Which only leaves saturday to do everything that needs done.  Lawn and garden care, house maintenance, upgrades (it is a fixer upper so we did realize that going into it). By saturday evening we're so tired it's basically eat dinner and veg a bit on the couch before bed. Then on Sunday we may have a few hours in the morning time to get some small stuff done before we have to drive back to the city so we can go to work on Monday morning.

Disclaimer:  We did buy this before we gained all the financial knowledge we have now.  It was kinda of stupid but we do love it there and is our "retreat" plus we've made a lot of great and wonderful friends. That being said, we do have a realtor coming on Saturday to do a house assessment and we're probably going to put it on the market as we've decided it's not suitable for retirement for a variety of reasons.  So it's basically just a money and time suck at this point.

newgirl

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Yes, after reading all these stories I realize it's not going to be realistic to think we could develop a small homestead on weekends/vacations, even if we gave ourselves a lot of years to do it. I'm shifting my thinking to looking for a more traditional home on a large lot where we could have a garden, plant some fruit and nut trees, and perhaps eventually have rabbits or chickens. An earlier poster is right, you can do a lot with a small space if you plan it out well.

I'm looking into zoning requirements and animal laws for a few areas a bit further west of the city than we already are, as possible targeted areas for a property search. I've also decided that I don't want to be super rural with school age children. I have no appetite for home schooling, and I don't want to sentence my kid(s) to a long commute to school every day any more than I would want to have a long work commute. So the advantage of staying suburban is that we'd still have access to all the schools and the busing.