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For many folks, their ultimate dream might be owning land for a permaculture homestead, but it’s not always possible right away.

This was exactly our case. We knew the lifestyle appealed to us, so we wanted to find a way to start homesteading before even buying land.

start homesteading

Garden view on our first homestead

Too often people think that they will feel happy or feel they have made it when they finally have that thing, or get there (wherever there is). Now, I am not downplaying desires and dreams, but adding some reality to the human condition of wanting.

So when you are dreaming of having your own homestead, know that you can start right now, if you haven’t already.

Homesteading means different things to different people and it’s definition can change over time, as you change.

That is why you can be an urban homesteader or a suburban homestead. You might not be able to holistically graze livestock on your 1/4 acre lot but you can grow food, practice permaculture, make your own goods and more.

Today.

Start Where You Are

Our homestead journey started off in a regular-looking home, just outside the downtown area of our small mountain town.

We fell in love with this location after seeing all the small farms, homesteads and permaculture scene and decided it was a good place to start. Beth had been living downtown in a large city for the past few years, so she wasn’t ready to be out in the boonies just yet.

beginning homestead

Starting a garden at our rental in town

We compromised, and found a cute house on about a 1/4 acre of land, complete with a wood stove, clawfoot tub and a few fruit trees.

It was far from the rural homestead dream, but it was a perfect start in the right direction.

While living there, one day a week I worked on an organic farm. Lots of time was spent learning different food preservation skills, like canning, to store all the food we got from the farm.

We built a funny little chicken coop and kept 6 chickens in the backyard. It was here we got to have our first small garden and start to learn about growing our own food.

Even though it was a regular home (nothing special about it) we learned there was still so much homesteading we could do.

Plus, with each project that was completed or event we attended, the more opportunities to learn essential skills unfolded.

Making soup from our veggies

The local organic garden store held classes where we learned some great tips. There was a seed exchange where local farmers shared seeds from what they grew. I helped a friend with a broken leg tend to his sheep. It was the first winter I had the opportunity to split our own firewood and heat with wood.

Homesteading is all about doing what you can, wherever you are.

And we were quick learners, plowing through relevant books, and gaining lots of hands-on experience.

It’s no surprise that after a short amount of time, we started finding that this location was limiting for us – both because it was a rental and the desire to experience homesteading on a bigger scale. Our vision included at least several acres, livestock and more, which this rental could not provide. We wanted to take another step closer to our big homestead vision.

Maybe this is you too.

One Foot In Front of the Other

It was decided, it was time to move – but to where, and how?

While it was not possible to purchase our own place at that time, we were ready get farming on a larger scale, but still not sure exactly what to look for.

We scoured Craigslist for anything and everything that sounded promising. Our list of must-haves, and like-to-haves was not short, but I think our biggest asset was entertaining all the options and scenarios to getting what we wanted.

It wasn’t easy to stay positive though, when several leads came up short of expectations or were too expensive.

Often, I felt pretty defeated and believed we wouldn’t be able to find something, but Beth was great at pushing me to open my mind to all kind of possibilities. We looked into some unconventional living situations, helping us to get clear as to what we could and what we wanted to experience.

One scenario in consideration was renting a piece of bare land that had solar, water and a large garden established – but no dwelling. We would have needed to bring an RV or trailer on-site, but everything else was already in place.

While this was an enticing option, and a fraction of the cost of the rent we were paying, we found an opportunity that topped this…

Homesteading Overnight

I like to say we started homesteading overnight, because it really did feel like it.

One day we were living in our in-town house and the next day we lived on a full-fledged homestead.

Our new digs included a 450sq ft cabin on a 5 acre property, 1/2 acre garden, dozens of fruit trees, blueberries, goji-berries, chickens and more.

new homestead

View of our cabin from the garden

Did I mention it was RENT FREE?

How did we make this happen?

It was a work-trade opportunity on a small organic homestead.

In exchange for rent and any food we grew, we worked a set number of hours each week – doing everything from starting seedlings to helping install a full solar system. We helped manage the land, tend the garden, butcher chickens, build swales, tractor work and got to start practicing permaculture wherever we could.

Our cabin shared the land with a main house, whose owners just happened to be an integral part of the organic farming movement back in the 70’s. This older hippie couple had deep roots in the community and shared their homestead knowledge with us like we were their grandkids.

It was a dream come true for us.

For a while we forgot our desire to own a homestead, because we were living our dream on someone else dime!

homestead solar install

Installing a solar array on the homestead

Trust me when I say this is actually a pretty sweet place to be when look back to this time, because it’s it’s hard to afford everything a homestead needs at times. Knowing someone else is footing the bill for new projects, repairs, etc makes learning these skills a whole lot easier.

But alas, as we began to grow in our experiences, so did our desire to have the control of our land and it’s projects.

We had graduated to being capable and sufficient at running our own show. We were now reasonably seasoned homesteaders.

However, during the two years we were there, this amazing opportunity allowed us to save all the money we would have spent on rent, utilities and food, in addition to giving us the confidence to make the leap onto our own land.

All that we had learned showed us we were excited about this lifestyle, and we wanted MORE.

It was time to take this knowledge and take it one step further, push the boundaries more and become even more self-sufficient.

After our time on this old hippie homestead we bought our own raw land. Read about how we turned raw land into a permaculture homestead.

How Can You Start Your Homestead Overnight?

permaculture chicken homestead

Our backyard coop serving us on our homestead today

When we lived in town and were beginning to learn homesteading, we built a chicken coop in the backyard. That derelict coop is STILL with us years later and has seen life on 3 homesteads now. If that is not proof that our homestead started one day years ago, I don’t know what is.

So how do you start a homestead overnight?

You start right where you are, doing something new, or something different.

While it is possible to stumbled onto a homestead as we did, for many, it might be some time before that can even happen. It’s all about recognizing that you can do many sustainable homesteading activities where you are, right now. Even if you live in an apartment – you can grow veggies on your balcony. You can volunteer on a local farm and can the discarded veggies. The list of examples go on and on.

We decided to build a coop and keep 6 chickens.

If I could offer one thing to everyone out there wishing, dreaming, thinking they would like to live a different life out on the land – it would be this question:

What small step are you going to take towards your homestead dream?

Tell me about it in the comments below!


About Bret James

I am homesteader and permaculture practitioner farming on 30 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my fiancée and son. My experience comes from an education in permaculture and what I have ground truthed on the land.

12 Comments

  • elizabeth says:

    Silly me, there’s a course right here. See? I’m new to this.

    Well, I’m inspired because what I read in this page was very insightful and that inspires me to take the course.

  • Elizabeth says:

    This is the first site about homestead where I the story I read makes me believe that perhaps I can do it too, and I already learned a thing or two. Thanks for all the insights you offered.

    I’ve been a city girl all my life and the smallest city I lived is Las Vegas but I so wanted to have a taste of a natural living, with natural food without relying on health food stores, more oxygen (I have plants galore and people think they are out of Vegas when they enter my house, still, no veggies or edibles …huh…I finally have plants and flowers…so I was thinking, the place needs tobe closer to Vegas but there’s no such a place..and …I read about Sierra Nevada Mountains..Would that be an imposition to ask more about the place…perhaps a local broker…or a web site.

    I saw a few clips from a Permaculture guru, and to be honest, I didn’t learn even one thing, or one concept…just the camera showing all the goddies this guy have accumulated from his permaculture skills and because of that I decided not to take the class. So, my question would be: how do we learn permaculture? CAn we still use it, say on a two acres? Since I never planted, I don’t think I could handle 30 acres. I have plants now, and because it is so hot here (besides chemtrails) sprinklers are not enough, I water the plants about every hour and spray water on their leaves.

    I’d love to hear more about Sierra Nevada Mountains because I live in Vegas. Do you have chemtrails there too/
    Thank you so much for your time and courtesy reading my note,
    Liz

    • Bret James says:

      Hey Elizabeth – all great comments and questions. I too came from the city and you can have any hybrid lifestyle between nature and city. Permaculture can be applied to any size of a place including a townhouse.For example, if you are growing food out back in a natural way, you are taking a burden off the petroleum based food system and doing permaculture. You certainly don’t need 30 acres to live sustainably 🙂

      I would recommend traveling through the Sierra Nevada mts and checking them out then finding a local relator (I don’t know of any for the whole area in general).

  • dawn says:

    is there a good way to find work exchange deals like what you found? i am thinking there is a website that helps people with property find people who want to garden/homestead… do you know of it?

  • Megan says:

    In the same vein as Rebecca and making things happen for myself, I think this is also pointing me towards being intentional about what I am doing. In so many ways I have experimented with growing food for years, but then I run out of steam, or don’t plan for the harvest and wind up losing it. I wound up with more tomato plants than I planned on this year, and I am trying out using straw bales from last fall to help keep moisture in, but I can go ahead and start planning out what I need on hand to be able to can the produce that comes from them, and the peach tree that is looking awesome this year so far. Thank you!

    • Bret James says:

      Hey Megan! This also makes me think of the permaculture principle, use small and steady solutions, which is to say that sometimes success is achieved not by trying to do it all but to do one thing completely. I know when life gets too busy all the small things fall through the cracks and I loose sight of those things, like the tomatoes. So that balance is key, at least for me, and not over-doing to tend the things that are already. Like you said, intention 🙂

  • Angela says:

    Thanks for putting this into perspective

  • Rebecca says:

    What struck me was the point that my homestead can start today. I think that falls into the category of making the things I want to happen myself.

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