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Self sufficient homesteading tips for the long haul, but also a plan for going from homestead dreams or beginning to living out your homestead life in less than 5 years. I’m happy to have Anna from The House and Homestead back on the show. The last time she was on the show, episode 131, we talked about transitioning from the city life to a homesteader. She and her family have continued their journey towards self-sustainability and fostering relationships in their community.
Her story is one of success in learning homesteading skills even though they’re not on their ideal property. It truly reinforces that you should start where you are doing what you can with what you have.
Listen in below to the full podcast, Episode #206 Self Sufficient Homesteading Tips for the Long Haul of the Pioneering Today Podcast, where we don’t just inspire you, but give you the clear steps to create the homegrown garden, pantry, kitchen and life you want for your family and homestead.
Melissa: Anna, welcome back to The Pioneering Today Podcast. Last time you were on we talked about your transition from apartment living with having no homesteading skills to beginning your homesteading journey. It’s been, what, four or five years to be where you’re at today? I think it’s really inspiring. I want to break it down so that people can see that while you might not be in a position where you’re living on your ideal homestead right now, but you can make it happen by starting where you’re at, and in some instances, a lot faster than you might think.
How many years has it been since starting your homesteading journey?
Anna: It’s actually been four years since we really go into it, which is when we made our move out of the city and actually dove in an started gardening, canning, and DIYing all these things that we do today. We did start doing some things while living in the apartment but it’s really been four years since we’ve really dove in.
M: To recap for those who haven’t listened previously, you guys moved from the apartment and then moved to a rental property, correct?
A: Yeah. We used to live in Vancouver, in the city and moved to Vancouver Island four years ago. It was all planted out for a few years and we made the move and ended up on a piece of rental property that was about an acre. We had space to put in a garden. It wasn’t huge since we didn’t own the property but we did get the owner’s permission to put in a small garden with some raised beds. It was an old farm house which lent itself to doing all these old pioneering type things. It was kind of inspirational that way because we had this massive under the stairs pantry that we got to store all of our canned goods. That’s where we really got our start.
Just over a year ago we bought our first property and that’s where we are today.
M: I love that you guys, despite renting, didn’t let that stop you from doing what you could, where you were at. My husband and I rented for about the first seven years of our marriage. We lived in a 1974 single wide trailer and rented and we did the same thing – we had permission and put in a small vegetable garden. We didn’t put in any fruit trees or any of those types of more permanent crops until we moved onto the property that we have now.
Even if you’re in a rental there’s still quite a bit that you can do. Obviously get permission before doing anything like putting in a garden, but I think most landlords would be happy to let you do some of that.
I’m jealous that you had a farmhouse and that pantry.
A: it was a blessing and a curse. It was a beautiful place and absolutely like my dream place when we moved in. But, of course, having a hundred year old comes with all sorts of problems as well. We had all sorts of rat problems and it was freezing in the winter and boiling hot in the summer because there was no insulation. And things were always breaking down. So there were issues that came with it. It really taught us to be resilient and resourceful. It was a really pivotal moment – the three years that we lived there.
Like you mentioned, we didn’t put in any perennial plants or anything like that. But with it being an old farm house on this old property there was an established apple tree, an established cherry tree, and a huge established grape vine that we got 30 bottles of homemade wine from one year. So there was some stuff in place that gave us a little bit of a head start, which was awesome.
M: I so agree with you, there’s always pros and cons to any situation. Learning from hard times or when you have to get really scrappy, those are the times you learn so much. Being a homesteader resiliency is such a key thing in living in this lifestyle.
You now have your own property, right? Talk to me how you did that. How did you save up in order to purchase it or what does that look like? I know for a lot of people that’s there dream to move from a rental or the city and actually purchase their homestead.
A: Yes, It was always our dream to own our own place and we wanted specifically a space to have a garden and do some of these things that we want to do as far as homesteading is concerned. We had our eye on properties in this area since we moved to this area just so we knew what was out there. That’s how we actually decided on the area that we live in now. We started looking at different areas at what types of properties were available in different areas of our province before we even decided to move out of the city. We knew first and foremost what type of property and what type of a community we were looking for.
Even so, renting was a means to an end. We knew this was the area we wanted to be in because it’s a really great rural farming community with lots of farmer’s markets and local food scene. The community is very supportive of farmers and homesteaders. We first chose the area and rented a few years before we were ready to buy our own place. I think it’s important to be said again because I think sometimes it feels like it’s all or nothing, but you can take it one step at a time, move to where you want to be first, even if it means your renting, or it’s not your ideal property and then level up as you go.
That’s what we did. At the time we had another baby on the way and we knew we couldn’t stay at that old farm house. There wasn’t enough space, the owner’s wanted to move there eventually so we knew our time was limited and we needed to start looking. But we weren’t at the point where we could afford our dream property yet. We talk all the time about our dream homestead one day. I mean, several acres, a big house…we’ve got all these dreams that we talk about all the time and we certainly were not anywhere close to that when we decided to buy last year.
We were ready for some type of starter home and that as long as we had certain things, like space to garden and other things on our list that we wanted to make sure we had in our space, even if it wasn’t our dream place so that would could continue building our skills and living this kind of lifestyle. When my husband started looking around at what was available and at what we could afford, he found a perfect little quarter acre property. In the end we actually downsized from the acre lot that were were on, but the property that we found, despite being a quarter of the size, was laid out in such a way that it was exactly what were were looking for.
There was already a huge fenced garden area, although nothing had been done to it in 10 years. We had to completely overhaul it this year. There was a greenhouse, an established hazelnut tree, a few established perennial food plants and things like that around the property.
Another thing that we really wanted was space that we could convert into a rental suite because one of our ultimate goals is to become as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible through our property. Not only through producing our own food and things like that, but that also means trying to earn an income from our property wherever possible. One of the things we wanted to be able to do to help us with our mortgage was to be able to rent out a space.
There was a garage on this property that we got the approval to convert into a rental suite. When all those things fell into place, we knew this was the perfect spot for us.
M: I completely agree with what you said about living in the area that you want to buy, and renting is a great way to do that to make sure before you jump in and purchase a property. Especially if it’s an area that you’re not familiar with. There’s nothing like going through all the different seasons to really understand the climate and the community; things that you don’t really get when you’re just visiting a place.
Another great point is that you looked at the property from a different perspective; looking at the existing infrastructure like the fencing and greenhouse that you mentioned. That could literally be thousands of dollars if you had to put that in.
A: It can be expensive if you’re starting from scratch.
We were talking the other day about how a lot of people in our area have established fruit trees on their property. There’s actually a volunteer program that I’m a part of. It goes around and helps to glean (harvest excess) fruit or vegetables that people don’t want out of their gardens or orchards. It then gets distributed amongst the community. A lot of people own or rent these properties with fruit trees that are dropping like crazy and many of them don’t want to have to deal with it. Like having a fruit tree on their property is a hindrance rather than a blessing.
Which just baffles me because how could that be a bad thing? But it just depends, right? Homesteaders do see it in a different way. I consider these hazelnut trees a value add on our property, but if that’s not what you’re into, I guess it can be a pain to deal with it every year.
M: We have a gleaners club here and they do the same thing with volunteer hours going around to different local farms and areas. It can be a great way to get local produce and save some money. It’s a fabulous program.
It’s sad to see these abandoned fields that nobody’s using anymore, that used to be a farm or small orchards and stuff and the families just have a different mindset. Plus there are more people working outside the home than ever before and just not taking advantage and so there are all these old orchards that are just fallow, but they’re still producing.
When we have pigs, we go to them when we could see nobody harvesting. We’d get landowners permission to grab what was on the ground for our livestock. I’d sift through to see if there was any that was good enough for us to keep but most of it went to the pigs.
I’m always a bit saddened to look at all this food and nobody’s doing anything with it.
A: Yeah, and then these people go buy it from the store. I actually know someone who has a few apple tress on their property and when I was there they had a bag of store-bought apples sitting on the counter. I don’t get it.
This year we went back to our old property because we know the owners. The one that’s living there has absolutely no interest in dealing with the apples tree which has more fruit on it than I’ve ever seen. And they’re all just going to waste. He gave us permission to take as many as we could carry. We went over with two big boxes and we hardly even touched the tree there were so many good ones on the ground. That tree is just still so full.
It just breaks my heart when I see this. I know the cost of food at the grocery store. I know how many people in the community don’t have enough to eat and there’s all this food, just literally growing on trees going to waste. I think sometimes people forget where our food comes from and forget that it does grow on trees in a lot of cases. And that we need to take advantage of that wherever we can.
M: I agree. I think a lot of the time people see it but assume that because it’s not your property so you’re not going to get it. I’m not advocating to just go and take it, because that would be stealing. But if you see it, ask the homeowner. We’ve never been told no, especially when the signs are there that nobody’s really harvesting this food. I think you’ll be surprised at how many will give you the okay.
A: Yeah, and it’s a blessing to so many people because they don’t want to have to deal with it.
We have a lot of online groups on Facebook and stuff in our area that people are able to exchange information or obtain and exchange help with picking crops, such as one person with an apple tree will help a person with a pear tree pick the fruit and vice versa.
These groups come under several different types:
Having that kind of online resource is a great place to look into if you want to get involved with gleaning or something like that. Find a local Facebook group in your area. I found that’s been a great source of information and great resource for me to get connected with people who don’t mind you coming in harvesting some of what they have growing.
M: Being The Pioneering Today podcast we focus on the old traditional skill sets, but we are blessed that we live in this modern era because it does allow us to help one another. I’ve found the same thing that local Facebook groups can be a great way to exchange information and resources so it’s definitely not something to overlook.
You mentioned earlier using your property and home to create a sustainable model and not with just producing your own food. But you’re looking at it to actually help produce and income by creating that rental property above the garage. I know here you have to have a permit to have more than one dwelling on a piece of property. Walk us through how you’re doing that and your longer term vision. Are you planning even further down the road to keep your current house, because I know you said it’s not your dream homestead, as a rental or flipping it?
A: When we moved here there was a detached garage that we converted into a time home. I’m not going to sugar coat it, it wasn’t easy because we did it all the legal way, which is a lot of red tape and extra money. But we wanted to do it the right way off the bat because it would increase the value of our property in the end. Plus we could ask more for rent for it because it’s all up to code and these different things. We did the very tedious, legal way but it was worth it in the end.
Now we have an amazing renter who is into similar things. She’s asked if she can put her own little gardens out in the front. With our permission, she’s planted a whole bunch of mint to try to get rid of the weeds.
One of the biggest blessings is that he is a handyman like no other. He can build or fix or pretty much do anything with his hands. That has helped a lot with homesteading. He’s built us woodsheds and installed wood stoves and built a hatch for our rabbits, put in rain barrels, and all sorts of different things. He basically built the rent unit from residing it, gutting it and doing the interior. That’s been a huge help.
Of course, as homesteaders, we always like to do as much as we can ourselves rather than having to outsource it or hire it out. He’s honestly my number one resource when it comes to that type of stuff. For the rental we did pretty much all of it ourselves except for any kind of electrical or certain things that we couldn’t by law do. It took us a year and it was not easy. Like I said, there was a lot of red tape. It was a lot of extra expense doing it the legal way and we went through a job loss at the same time.
He lost his job out of the blue 10 days before Christmas last year for no reason. That set us back; it’s not been an easy year. It’s been a struggle, but through it all, we’ve had this mindset that we’re just going to keep going and the only we we have is forward. We’re just going to keep pushing and believe that somehow we’re going to make it. And we have. Sometimes I look around and wonder how we did it. But here we are, and we did it.
In the long-term, our dream is to have a large enough property where we can have some livestock as well. Technically on a quarter acre where we are now, you’re not supposed to have any livestock on anything less than an acre, even though we are just outside the city and rurally zoned. Our neighbors behind us have an acre and have chickens and have had pigs. They even had a cow in their front yard for a couple months.
That’s what I love about this community. There are so many people around here with that type of mindset that we feel we fit right in.
We’re not technically supposed to have any livestock, but we’ve talked to the neighbors and they seem open to it. We’re thinking we’re going to get some chickens next year anyway. As long as we don’t have a rooster we don’t think it’s going to bother anyone. So that’s the next step. But we don’t have the space for other things that I’d love to have like goats, more fowl birds, ducks geese, and things like that. At some point we want to expand our garden.
So at some point we do want more space. But our plan is that, realistically, we’ll be her for the next five, or probably like 10, years. So we’re going to make this work while we can. Then hopefully one day that ultimate dream would be to keep this property and have two house to rent out. That would essentially supply us with a lot of our income. We’ll have to see how that goes. We may have to sell in order to buy a new. We’ll see down the road.
M: I love that your thinking long-term. So much of today’s society wants things instantly. With homesteading though it teaches you that most things don’t come easy and they don’t happen instantly. I like that you got that. You’re looking at it from a very realistic standpoint.
I also love that you talked to your neighbors. One, because your being a good neighbor because that is key. If you’ve ever lived anywhere where you had bad neighbors, you know how much that can affect so many different things. It’s such an important thing not to overlook and to keep those relationships really well.
In this instance you’re going to be able to do something that you might otherwise not be able to do.
A: The other thing that’s so important about community, and I think it sometimes gets overlooked with homesteading because we’re all about self-reliance…we want to be able to do everything ourselves and it’s just not possible. to do everything yourself. I’ve found that having a community, whether it’s been online or the local community is so, so helpful. Probably above anything else because you’re able to exchange information. I’ve learned everything I know about homesteading is from other people in the last few years. I didn’t start out with any of this.
I’ve learned a ton through The Pioneering Today Academy and reading blogs. The online world is great for that, but also people in the local community. I’m going on a foraging trip to learn how to forage for mushrooms this fall. Having someone local to teach foraging for mushrooms is key to learning the right stuff.
Community is so important to exchange knowledge but also physical resources and stuff too. For example, our neighbors have chickens and we’ve exchanged some of our vegetable starts for eggs. Other neighbors take care of our property and our animals while we’re away and we gift them things that we grow and make here on our little homestead.
It’s important to remember that self-reliance is not all about closing yourself off to the rest of the world and trying to do everything yourself. It’s just not possible. So finding a good community, whether it’s your local community or online where you have that exchange of good and information is such a blessing when you’re living this lifestyle.
M: I completely agree. If you look back at the pioneers they were very much about community. They had barn and house raisings. They would have harvest parties where the threshers would go from one farm to the next. There was really a sense of community and they did rely on one another.
A: Yeah, look at the Amish communities. We have an Amish community close to where we live as well. They do everything as one large community and it’s amazing at what they are able to accomplish. I saw recently saw on the news or somewhere where a there was an Amish community that moved a house like with their hands and they were saying that it wasn’t even the biggest house they’d moved. It’s just amazing what people can do when they work together to achieve a goal. I’m always in awe of the communities that they’ve been able to create and what they’re able to do with no technology, with none of the modern conveniences that we have.
M: Yeah, someday I’d like to immerse myself and visit with an old world Mennonite or Amish community.
I know one of the biggest things that I hear from members within The Pioneering Today Academy is that we have a group where we an share stuff with each other and provide support.
I feel like even in more mainstream society that the traditional skills such as fermenting food, sourdough, and even canning are gaining a deeper awareness. Like more people are wanting to know about it or at least know what the terms mean and what they are. I think as a whole, homesteading is, I hate to use the word trending, but I do.
A: So having a bit of a revival.
M: Yeah, that’s the perfect word for it. It’s having a revival. But even if you don’t have that in your physical community, just the ability to find an online group and source can be really great. If you can find people locally too, I think that’s the best of both worlds. There can be a lot of bartering and sharing like you were saying.
We have neighbors that we do that with. One does plumbing and electricity so we’re able to share. They’ve come and helped us and then we’ve all gone and helped another neighbor with a new roof on their house. There are definite ways of being a good neighbor and just facilitating the joy of getting to know people and helping one another. Being able to share those skill sets really can enhance your community. Community can often be overlooked when we’re talking about homesteading as you said, but it’s really a very important and integral part of it.
A: Absolutely. I’m so happy with where we live. I love the community we live in and it’s a stark contrast to when we lived in the city. For some people the city just floats their boat. It was not for me. I didn’t like it there. We still go back and visit family and friends but I only last a couple days. It just doesn’t align with my soul.
I don’t think we could have chosen a better area to live. The farm market here is one of the best. When we’re talking about community, it’s been a great resource for us, not only to get fresh fruits and vegetables that we don’t grow ourselves, but getting to know them and gain knowledge from them as well.
M: I remember you saying that was one of the reasons why you actually looked at that area to begin with because it did have a lot of growing and farm agriculture there.
A: Yeah, it was.
What you said earlier, you’re right, take your time. Maybe rent, if you can for a bit, just to make sure the area is the right fit for you. Before we rented we had decided already because we’d done a lot of research and I just knew and I had never been here. We did decide that when we got married that we would have a honeymoon here. So that’s what we did. We toured the area, checked out the local food scene and the countryside. Went to all the local farm markets and restaurants and sampled all the local stuff. And just fell in love and knew we were making the right decision.
It wasn’t all overnight though, we went home, back to the city. I had another year of school. It was a process but we knew our patience, planning and hard work would pay off. We moved a year later and then three years later we bought our property. It’s still a work in progress. We’ve done a lot of work over the past year and it’s nowhere near finished. There are some things that I wish I could snap my fingers and have it done already. There are something that take time though.
My husband wanted to get chickens this year and we had all this other stuff going one with finishing this rental and other stuff. I decided we had to slow down and do one thing at a time because if you overwhelm yourself too much, then it all falls apart. We’re trying to build on our skills and build on our model of sustainability on our property, just one step at a time so that it truly is sustainable in the end.
Every year, every season we do a little bit more, learn a little bit more, get a little bit better and get a little bit more self sufficient.
M: That’s exactly what we’ve done. Homesteading is a journey. I think too often we look at where other people are at and wish we were there and begin to compare ourselves feeling like we’re not doing enough. But it’s important to remember it is a long-term journey and you don’t want to burn out because it’s hard work. There’s no sugar coating it. It is wonderful but you are putting in work. There’s no way around it. You learn tips and tricks as you gain experience that can make things easier and save you time, but flat out, there is hard work involved.
If you don’t pace yourself you will reach burnout. We decided not to do meat chickens or raise pigs this year because we needed a break from it and we had enough in the freezer to take us through. I think it’s really important that you evaluate that.
Back in the day, for the most part, this is all they did. Their whole life consisted around producing and raising food, keeping up the farm, and putting up food. There wasn’t working the day jobs and other stuff most of us have. I still work a day job, but it’s not for someone else. It’s recording this podcast, stuff for the academy, writing books, and everything. So I’m still working, not just putting up food and growing. My husband works outside the home. I know most families, that’s what they’re doing. So it’s important that we pace ourselves and realize that.
A: Yeah, interesting you say that because we’ve both been building our own businesses at home as well. I have my blog that I’ve been working on and my husband has his own handyman services business that he basically decided to start after he lost his job. It fits into our self-sufficiency, sustainability models. It’s really about a lifestyle. We want to be able to live life on our own terms and on our own schedule. Whether it’s earning an income of our property for this rental suite or producing some of our own food, or having our own businesses where we set our own rules and everything. It doesn’t mean we work any less. We probably work 10 times harder thane we’ve ever worked.
We want it to be able to do that was something for us rather than for someone else. This year I’ve relaunched my website and just launched a brand new magazine on September 1st…right in the middle of harvest season. I’ve got 30 pounds of apples that have been sitting on my table for a week that I’ve just not been able to get to yet. And we have broccoli out in the garden that is just a little too far gone. And there are other things, and I just can’t keep up with everything. I have to remember, so what. There may be a few less jars of food and a few more apples went bad or whatever it was, but I have to. I just can’t do it all.
I have to prioritize certain things too. Building this business is part of our self-sufficiency goal so that’s where the focus just had to be right now. We’re only human, we can only do so much. Having some failures, crops that go a little too far or weeds taking over your garden, that’s okay. Sometimes that happens and you learn more about how to manage it better the next seasons. You always have the next season, the next year to try things a little differently.
Every year we learn a bit more about how to do things a little better and how to be more productive the following year. Some things I’ve learned this year:
M: I think that’s something that all canners do, but it’s not widely shared. After spending the entire day canning and prepping homegrown organic food you’re totally exhausted. So it’s either takeout Chinese or pizza or something for dinner. By the time 6 o’clock rolls around, you pull out that last jar of food from the canner and get the kitchen cleaned up, the last thing you want to do is make dinner.
A: That is exactly what I mean by giving yourself grace. We’re only human. And you’re right, we have so much more going on nowadays than, like Ma Ingalls had back in the day where this was her entire life. Doing this stuff all day long. We have a whole bunch of other obligations that we’re trying to balance. During those times when things are a bit nutty I just say to myself, it’s ok. What lesson can I take out of this?
We have all sorts of things go wrong all the time, but every time we have something go wrong, we try to turn it around and look at it like a learning experience. For example, we’ve struggled with growing tomatoes. We’ve tried growing them in buckets and other things. We get blossom end rot. We take notes and keep trying. This year, we put all our knowledge and learning experiences together and we have a bumper crop. We’d done things wrong but learned from them and applied that knowledge to gain success. Practice makes perfect.
M: Tell us about your magazine. It’s a great homesteading resource that you’re doing for free. Where can people find out about it?
A: It just launched in September. It’s called the House and Homestead Modern Homesteading magazine. It’s a short monthly magazine that goes out to subscribers each month and has a seasonal theme to it. So it’s something timely and that can help others on their homesteading journey. The September issue was on preparedness because September is National Preparedness Month.
The October theme is all gardening, talking about what we need to do in the fall to prepare our garden for a successful season next year. November will be all about natural medicine for cold and flu season. Marlene Addleman from the Herbal Academy will be sharing some of her cold and flu remedies. There are some really cool things in the works that I’m super excited to be sharing with people.
Be sure to sign up for the House and Homestead Modern Homesteading magazine here.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.