Why Homestead? The Case for Being Old-Fashioned on Purpose

July 18, 2019 Updated: July 18, 2019

The familiar buzz of my iPhone reverberated through my pocket, and my hand instinctively fished the thin rectangle from my coat. My thumb swiped to answer the call before my brain could even register what was happening. I heard the voice of a friend, and we fell into our usual banter. 

It’s an unremarkable scene that plays out millions of times per day in a society run by these incredible pocket computers. But instead of lounging in a hipster coffee shop or strolling through the mall as I nonchalantly chatted about the week’s events, I was sitting under my 1,200-pound Brown Swiss milk cow, squeezing streams of frothy, golden milk into a stainless steel bucket and dodging a swinging tail and impatient foot stomps, with my phone wedged between my ear and shoulder.

There are few times my life feels as paradoxical as when I’m milking my cow and talking on one of our world’s most powerful pieces of technology at the same time.  

According to some definitions, I’m a millennial. Born in 1985, I fall in the early side of the category, according to some, and in a smaller pre-millennial subset (called Xennials), according to others. But regardless of my official generational labeling, my penchant for old-fashioned skills and homegrown food makes me rather unusual for my age group.  

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The author in her homestead kitchen. (Courtesy of Jill Winger)

A Life of Intentionality

I live with my husband, Christian, on a 67-acre homestead on the wide-open prairies of rural Wyoming. Along with our three children, we raise beef cattle, dairy cows, chickens, and as many vegetables as our short summers will allow. Considering that Christian and I both grew up as city kids, our lifestyle choices have raised more than a few eyebrows over the years. 

Homesteading, an all-encompassing term for folks who yearn for increased self-sufficiency and more natural food options, has shifted from merely occupying the fringes of rural communities to infiltrating suburban backyards and apartment balconies from coast to coast. While the idea of keeping backyard chickens and hoarding Mason jars may strike some as a bizarre, this movement, which prizes timeless skills and old-fashioned practices, is resonating with our modern society in a profound way. 

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Fresh produce from the garden. (Jill Winger)

However, when we personally plunged ourselves into this lifestyle 10 years ago, we weren’t even aware that homesteading was a “movement”; we just knew we couldn’t stomach the thought of dutifully joining the rat race in an effort to fit in. We found ourselves craving the notion of a life rich with intentionality and purpose, and while we didn’t know exactly what that would look like, we decided that purchasing a local 100-year-old, tumble-down farmstead as our first home would be a logical first step (even though friends and family tended to disagree). 

As we moved into our new home and sorted through the piles of old car parts and crumbling fence lines left by the previous residents, our vision slowly became more clear: We would make our newly acquired property productive by growing vegetables and beef to feed our family and offset our ever-bursting budget. It felt like a simple, yet noble plan.

But before long, that humble spark of an idea rapidly turned into a roaring flame, as I become enamored with the intricacies of composting, keeping chickens, and growing vegetables. As thrilling as it was to build the inaugural compost piles and drive home from town with chickens squawking in a crate in the backseat, there was one particular aspect of our new lifestyle that kept me coming back for more; I couldn’t ignore the sense of intoxication and deep satisfaction that would engulf me whenever I learned a new skill.

The first time I made a batch of from-scratch tortillas? I was on top of the world. 

The moment when I brought in the first eggs from our humble flock of hens? Utter ecstasy. 

The evening when we sat down to a meal grown entirely on our property, from the seeds we planted and the animals we had raised? I walked on air for at least 24 hours afterward. 

In my fervor to restore our farmstead to its former glory, I inadvertently stumbled upon the reason the homesteading movement is growing by leaps and bounds each day. 

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Farm-fresh eggs. (Jill Winger)

Remembering Our Roots

As quaint as it may seem at first glance, this intentionally old-fashioned lifestyle deeply fulfills an intrinsic craving in the human spirit: the desire to grow, to produce, to make things, to create. 

In a world of apps, buttons, and gadgets, our lives are easier than ever. And while I am far from a Luddite (I run online businesses that require my laptop and phone to be my near-constant companions), I wholeheartedly subscribe to the belief that, in our race to make our lives as push-button as possible, we’ve left some crucial components back on the farm

In the name of convenience, we substitute homemade meals for fast food and just-add-water dinners. In the name of productivity, we spend our days and weeks under artificial lighting and forego precious moments to soak in nature and plunge our hands into the soil. And in the name of efficiency, we opt for buttons and apps and rarely allow ourselves to experience the utter joy that accompanies the process of creating with one’s own hands. 

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Growing your own food cultivates an incredible sense of pride. (Jill Winger)

Our world spins faster and faster, yet feels shallower than ever before, and it’s no mystery to me why more and more folks are looking backward as a way to move forward. 

We’re drawn to planting tomatoes in buckets on the deck because deep inside, something is satisfied as we sift the soil between our fingers. 

We mash heads of cabbage so we can experience the magic of fermentation first hand, as the juicy bits transform themselves into tangy sauerkraut.

We spend hours learning to make the perfect loaf of crusty sourdough bread, not because the bakery down the street doesn’t have fine loaves, but rather because we seek the thrill that floods our souls as we pull the steaming loaf from the oven. 

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The satisfaction of baking your own bread can’t be store-bought. (Jill Winger)

Homesteading is more than the sum of its parts. These old-fashioned skills are the very fiber of our human existence, and have been for millennia. And even in our age of technology, they promise to provide us with the deep, lasting satisfaction that accompanies a job well done. They cannot be forgotten, because if they were, we would forget a vital part of ourselves in the process.

So the next time you feel an inexplicable urge to bake, sauté, simmer, grow, craft, or knead, follow it. See where it leads.

At the very least, you’ll end up with a crusty loaf of bread or steaming pot of soup on your table. And at the most? You may find yourself with a flock of chickens pecking in the backyard and a new sort of delight in your soul. 

Jill Winger is the founder of ThePrairieHomestead.com, where she helps folks who are uninspired with modern life learn how to grow their own food and master old-fashioned skills.

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