Homesteading vs. Farming

We consider ourselves a “homestead” farm, meaning that we live on our land and do our best to feed ourselves as well as sell to others. This a choice that has tradeoffs; the more time, effort, and resources we spend on home production and preservation, the less we are able to sell at market. We know excellent farmers who have made the choice to focus on their business, not putting up much food for winter, eating processed or premade food, happy to purchase most of their food from others so they can grow more for market or CSA. For various reasons, we’ve chosen a different path.

Part of the decision for us is the principle of self-sufficiency. I like to know that, if nothing else, I’ve provided for my household. Every bit of food I grow, produce, and preserve is something I don’t have to buy or search for at the whims of larger factors such as world markets, contamination scares, or weather. Part of the decision relates to being serious cooks and foodies. We’re very selective about our food and cooking, and like so many people, find that the very best ingredients are those you grow yourself and have absolute control over. While there are certainly products out there that other folks produce better (we can’t compete with the truly excellent cheese from nearby Goatsbeard Farm), there’s a real value to doing something yourself. It is an almost religious principle for us that we use little to no processed products; just about everything is made from scratch in our household, even mustard, and we’re working to cultivate more and more raw materials like dried beans, grains, dent corn, and spices. There’s also the practical benefit that grocery shopping becomes less urgent or necessary. We always have a wide variety of food available; at any given time, even in winter, we could be shut off from the world and be able to eat comfortably, diversely, and healthily for weeks if not months. Finally, I feel that being so intimately involved with our food makes us better farmers and salespeople.

The downside, of course, is that our strong focus on homesteading interferes with our business. For example, managing dairy goats and poultry for our own use takes a significant amount of time each day and week that could otherwise be spent growing more produce for market (and income). Even if those choices save us money over purchasing dairy, eggs, and meat, they do interfere with market production, and we do actually have to earn SOME profit down the road. I don’t expect the day to return when I can send in a basket of potatoes and a few chickens to the tax collector. Every time I can or freeze fruit, vegetables, broth, meat, and so on, that’s time I’m not earning money. As a specific example, starting the dairy goats this spring resulted in my not having the time to properly fence, prepare, and maintain our larger field, where we’d intended to grow a wide variety of drying beans. That crop failed, costing us money and time we’d prefer to have back. So learning to balance the demands of our do-it-ourselves principles and the realities of profitable market farming is an ongoing process for us.

So why am I writing about this now? I spent part of a rainy afternoon going through our chest freezer, emptying it out for a light defrosting, and cataloguing its contents. During the busy summer, we tend to just throw things in there without writing them down, so it was utterly chaotic and unrecorded. I wanted to know what we’d put up so far, so we’d know what we still needed. It’s a thrill to read through the long, diverse list of food available to us this winter, knowing its quality and source, and the income we won’t need to spend on it. Here’s the list (all amounts in quarts):

Peaches: 3
Strawberries: 14
Blueberries: 13
Strawberry ice: 3
Cherry pie filling: 3
Blackberries: 6
Blueberry sauce: 2

Winter squash: 4
Beet greens: 1
Peas: 2
Spinach: 2
Tat Soi: 3
Green beans: 7
Corn: 3
Okra: 1

Chicken broth: 6
Goat broth: 2
Veggie broth: 3
Zucchini soup: 2
Ricotta cheese: 2

This does not include the tomatoes, pickles, sauces, and more that we’ll be canning, the rounds of cheese aging in the basement, the jams and preserves already canned, the goats and chickens yet to be butchered for winter meat, and the fall vegetables just now starting to grow. It also doesn’t include the next month’s worth of additions to the list above, especially okra, corn, beans, and broth. But perhaps you get the idea. Being a homestead farm, for us, means respecting and living the self-sufficiency and independance that traditional American farms valued; my great-grandparents would recognize exactly what we’re doing here. And no matter what happens in the economy or the world, we have a stable base from which to support ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Homesteading vs. Farming

  1. Good for you. Isn’t it a wonderful feeling to know you are taking care of yourself and your family and eating wholesome? You grow it and you harvest it and you eat it. Keep homesteading.

  2. just catching up with reading your amazing blog — i seem to have fallen several months behind :)i really loved this post and really any post that lays out your beliefs, principles and ideas and how you are putting them into daily action…when you wrote “Being a homestead farm, for us, means respecting and living the self-sufficiency and independance that traditional American farms valued; my great-grandparents would recognize exactly what we’re doing here.” i did find it ironic, in a purely amusing way, that more than likely your great-grandparents and the traditional American farms you harken back to likely didn’t have a chest freezer to prepare all their goods for winter… :)i note that my grandparents, who were homesteaders themselves in Italy, still practice much of the lifestyle you describe… i guess you could call it urban homesteading if that is allowed! i note that like you between canning and such, they have adopted a chest freezer, something they didn’t have in Italy… now it means their favourite homemade sausage can be frozen and cooked in winter instead of only hung and cured for cold weather consumption… still though, i see them season and cure large chunks of pork fat, all hanging with pretty red pepper flake stains in their cantina (cold cellar in Italian) which they then use to flavour their sugo (sauce eaten with either pasta, rice or other carbs) throughout the year…i am ultimately glad to hear that your homesteading does include modern amenities such as a chest freezer… if I ever try to do what you are doing I am happy to know I won’t be trying to figure out how to dry, cure and store everything without the convenience of electrified refrigeration/freezing!