Homesteading – What Is It?

by Suzan Ferreira

Homesteading. A word with broad meanings depending on who you speak with. A word with historical meaning that is fast becoming popular once more. No longer is homesteading associated only with the 1800’s Homesteading Act. Living a modern-day homesteading lifestyle now encompasses so much more.

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According to the U.S. National Park Service, the homestead Act of 1862 is “recognized as one of the most revolutionary concepts for distributing public land in American history”. This legislation would transfer a whopping 10% of US land to individuals…that translates as 270 million acres!

Eligibility for this “free” land consisted of being 21 years old, paying a filing fee, and “proving up”(keeping the land). Proving up was a matter of settling the land for a five year period; building a home, making improvements and farming it.

This act remained viable until its repeal in 1976 with an addendum for settling Alaska until it’s repeal in 1986.


What is the exact definition of the word “homesteading”? According to Wikipedia homesteading is:

Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and may also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. “


The keyword here is self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is probably the biggest reason why most choose to endeavor on the homesteading path. It certainly was for us. The need to know and teach our young daughter where our food comes from, how it was grown, and what it consists of. That a carrot doesn’t come from a plastic bag. The need to remove ourselves from the mindset of mass consumerism, knowing we can take care of ourselves no matter what.


Curious as to what other homesteaders like myself think what the definition of homesteading is, we reached out to a couple of our friends. Here are their thoughts on what homesteading means to them.

Lisa, from The Self Sufficient HomeAcre describes what homesteading means to her in the following manner;

“With all of the modern conveniences and distractions surrounding us today, many people feel a strong desire to return to a more simple way of life. Ditching the artificial and embracing our natural world just feels right!  It soothes our mind and body to know where our food comes from and breathe in deeply, tasting the fresh air. Watching the sun rise and set and living in harmony with the seasons brings a feeling of peace and joy that we all desire, but few seem to achieve. You don’t have to live off-grid in the wilderness to be a homesteader. You can reduce your waste, cook from scratch, make your own bath & body products, and live a more natural lifestyle no matter where you are.  I grew up on a farm and have been a homesteader on urban, suburban, and rural properties most of my life. These experiences have shaped who I am and how I live my life!”

Teri, a fellow New Englander, from the Homestead Honey describes homesteading for her in the following way;

“The definition of modern homesteading is quite personal – Homesteading for me likely looks very different than it looks for you (and homesteading for me, now, looks very different than it did 5 years ago!). For instance, 5 years ago, my family was living in a tiny house in rural Northeast Missouri, without any electricity or running water! We were building an off grid homestead from scratch, working from home, homeschooling our kids, and raising Jersey cows in addition to growing a large percentage of our food.  Today, we live in a rental in Vermont, grow a big garden and raise chickens, my husband works off-site, and our kids attend a local Waldorf school. But we continue to embody the homesteading lifestyle. At the core of homesteading is a mindset.  A desire to make and do, to collaborate and create community, to learn and grow. It is my belief that homesteading can happen anywhere. It’s just a matter of adapting a can-do homesteader’s mindset, and growing your skill set to live your version of a more simple, sustainable life.”

Why We Should DIY - Getting To The Root Of It wide view of vegetable garden


Over 16 years ago, we began the journey to living a sustainable, homesteading lifestyle. Why? It all began with my diagnosis of EBV when turning 38 years old. Through my efforts to heal, our lives turned more toward living an organic lifestyle, and a self-sustaining one at that.

Becoming self-sustaining is about the connection to the earth and how we treat it. It’s about loving ourselves and being mindful not only of what we consume but also how that product was produced and at what cost to the earth, the environment, and our physical bodies. It became evident very quickly that in order to lead a self-sufficient lifestyle we would need to make changes. And big changes.

Making a move, building our home from the ground up, educating ourselves (with a few wonderful mentors along the way) on growing, & preserving almost 90% of our organically raised & produced food stores, raising hens for eggs, and broilers and pig for meat, and sourcing locally the additional 10% needed were all instituted here on the farm. As our tagline states….”one season at a time”.


Fast forward a few decades from the original Homestead Act, you will find a movement of individuals that realize homesteading can be accomplished anywhere. No matter your living circumstance, apartment, city, urban, or a sprawling piece of acreage, we all have the ability to institute homesteading skills into our lives.

In many ways, modern homesteaders have it easy compared to that of our ancestors. Today we can still be a homesteader and have a working indoor toilet if you choose. Just sayin’ 🙂 We can supplement & purchase from our local farmers market any additional food we weren’t successful in growing ourselves. We can install and use alternative energy sources such as solar or wind to allow for off-grid living.

The ease of gaining information and education on homesteading is accessible to all. Look at the information just on this site alone that could be used to begin your process!

There is no stereotypical homesteader in modern-day. You can live virtually anywhere and still homestead. The type of homesteader you want to become, or already are, is totally up to you!


Living in an apartment with no land to speak of? Think about gardening on a small-scale level and grow fruits, vegetables, or herbs in containers or pots. Have access to a balcony or rooftop? Even better! Add a small greenhouse to extend your growing season(s)!

Grow vertically! Small spaces can be converted into big growing areas if the light is correct! If not, check out the grow light options below as well! Here are a few vertical ideas…

Not into purchasing one? Get into the homesteading mindset and think about DIY’ing your own! Repurpose or upcycle items and create one. Think pallets that you can find for free, or what about using wooden shutters used on windows, or old gates. Anything that you can “hang” a pot on.

What about grow light options to extend your indoor growing season year-round or maybe just shed additional light on an area that may be lacking? Many systems are available from a simple single grow lamp like below to larger systems;

Look for a local community garden get your hands dirty and learn from one another while reaping the benefits of what you grow! Learn to preserve food in season by freezing, canning, dehydrating, fermenting, & storing. Take a look at how you can make an amazing Salsa For Canning or how about simple ways to Preserve Fresh Herbs or how to Ferment In Mason Jars for inspiration!

Check your city ordinances for small scale husbandry laws & regulations. If allowable, consider a couple laying hens or possibly rabbit to grow if you have access to outdoor space.

Learn to cook from scratch by buying in bulk. Create your pantry mixes and staples such as pancake & cookie mixes, and even home herbal remedies such as our Fire Cider & Its Many Benefits or Elderberry Tincture. Be sure to stop by our Natural Living section here for a complete list of home & herbal remedies you can easily make yourself.

Learn to compost! Yes, you heard correctly 🙂 Composting is available anywhere…from odorless composting systems such as a Bokashi system or larger systems such as those below. Look into a curbside pickup service or talk to your local farmers market farmer and see about dropping your compostable items off. Keep an eye out for our upcoming article and ebook on simple composting!


Are you located in an urban or suburban area? One that may have a small amount of land, back or front yard that can be utilized? The same opportunities are available to you as an apartment homestead…only on a slightly larger scale! Again, look to your town/city ordinances for keeping small livestock; chickens, rabbits, ducks, and maybe even a goat!


To be considered a small scale homestead or larger, typically you would have access to 2+ acres. This larger space affords endless opportunities for homesteading. We are located on roughly 7 acres and consider ourselves to be a smaller scale homestead.

We presently have a large veggie garden along with several raised bed areas, separate herb garden, small orchard (apples, plums, pears), berry patch (black and red raspberries, and elderberries), grapevines, bee apiary, laying hens, and husbandry (pig, chicken, & turkeys).

The one downside of a smaller scale farm is that we cannot grow our own feed source (grain/hay) to feed any animals during the winter months. The larger-scale homestead will offer complete sustainability for feeding and raising livestock (milking cows, beef cows, horses, etc).


As stated, homesteading can be accomplished no matter where you live, from small spaces to large. Before you begin your endeavors, we highly suggest considering the following and setting a few goals:

  • What are my food goals? Do I want to grow the majority of my food or learn how to grow only a few items?
  • Can money be saved on purchasing food items? How?
  • Do I want to raise animals? Is it allowed where I live?
  • Continually ask yourself prior to purchasing, is this something I can or learn to make myself?

Beginning with these simple questions will hopefully allow you to set a few goals (begin with 1 or 2), institute them, and then on to the next!


Begin small no matter where you live. Homesteading can be overwhelming! No matter if you envision yourself completely disconnected from mass consumerism and living a completely self-sustaining and self-sufficient lifestyle, take it slow.

Take 1 or 2 of the high priority goals on your list and seek out mentors. Gather advice from sites such as this one. Look at YouTube how-to videos. Make a plan. There is a large learning curve to each aspect of homesteading, and burnout is real! By giving yourself the time and permission to fail…yes, fail, you will learn what works for you, and create success.


Taking the time to define and outline a few initial goals will save time in the long run, avoid mistakes, and set you up with a strong foundation.

  • Define Goals – How does homesteading look for you? Are you looking to supplement or hoping to completely become self-reliant? What does that look like?
  • Take Stock – Look over your available spaces, lot, or acreage that you are presently working with. Make note of layout, and what’s available to work with. Where are your buildings positioned, how you would like your ultimate space(s) to flow, and what purpose doe each space have are all good questions to consider. Do you know where you want your garden to be positioned realizing that full sun for vegetable gardening is ultimately best?
  • Prioritize Realistic Goals – Order your goals by importance to you, meaning begin with what you are passionate about and love. Focus on your top couple of goals and begin planning with those goals in mind. Do you need to educate yourself? What does that look like?
  • Plan – Based on your initial goals, what type of equipment, materials, and supplies will you need? What will be the daily tasks needed to be accomplished in order to reach those goals?
  • Begin – Don’t hesitate! Begin with that you love first, master those, and then expand to the next!
Homesteading - What Is It pin for Pinterest


Call the necessary skills needed to homestead what you like, old-fashioned, vintage, or just plain old, it is certain that you will need to learn a few. The list below is just a few that we have learned along the way.


In the beginning stages of setting up a property for homesteading, we highly recommend you invest the time and energy on outlaying the infrastructure needed to accomplish the many daily tasks with as much ease and convenience as possible.

Thinking about the following infrastructure could mean complete success or immediate failure. A few to focus on are;

  • Shelters – Do you need outdoor shelters? Already have them? Where are or would be placed? What are they best used for?
  • Water – Do you need to install water lines for easy access to barns, outbuildings, or gardens? How would they need to be installed (dependent on warm or cold climate living).
  • Paths & Walkways – Do you have easy access for farm vehicles (tractors, carts etc)?
  • Fences – Do you need to install any fences? What type (powered or no)?
  • Storage – Do you have convenient storage for your gardening and farm equipment? Feed storage?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to homesteading. Do what you feel is right for you. Embrace it, enjoy it. Realize that the “simple” life is not so simple at times! It can be physically & emotionally draining. At the same time, the rewards in living this sustainable lifestyle are plenty.

Do you already homestead? Join the conversation and let us know how!

Love, Light, & Laughter ~

Signature of Suzan from It's My Sustainable Life

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T.M. Brown January 12, 2020 - 3:27 pm

I have to admit that, prior to reading this post, I didn’t have as firm a grasp on the definition of homesteading. This piece is great!

Barbara at Mantel and Table January 9, 2020 - 9:36 pm

Hi Suzan! I just found you through your Super Bowl Snack post on Thursday Favorite Things, and I’m so glad I did! Homesteading has always been a dream, and this is just the motivation and resource I need to move closer to it. Plus I love your writing and photography! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and expertise – I’ll definitely be back!

Suzan Ferreira January 11, 2020 - 12:06 pm

Thank you, Barbara! I’m so glad you are enjoying the content and hope you can incorporate a bit the “homesteading life” into yours 🙂

Lisa Lombardo December 30, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Thank you for sharing with us on Farm Fresh Tuesdays! I can’t wait to see what you’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks!

Tara December 26, 2019 - 6:17 pm

I love the idea of homesteading and I suppose we do it on a small scale basis…we have a HUGE garden, organic free range chickens, bees, etc. I love all the information you provided!

Suzan Ferreira December 27, 2019 - 10:40 am

I would say you are definitely a homesteader 🙂

Cindy December 26, 2019 - 2:24 am

Great post! I live in the city with a small yard. However I have a homesteading mindset! I grow vegetables, herbs and flowers. Lots to ponder!

Suzan Ferreira December 26, 2019 - 10:42 am

Thank you, Cindy! You definitely are a homesteader 🙂

Beatriz Herrera December 22, 2019 - 7:11 pm

Your information is so helpful. I been wanting to so this with my kids!

Carrie Beaton December 20, 2019 - 2:38 am

Such a cool way to live. I don’t think I could do it, but it would be something to aspire to!

Suzan Ferreira December 20, 2019 - 11:55 am

It definitely is not a lifestyle everyone wants to live. The beauty is, anyone can incorporate small ways to live more intentionally in how it suits them. Thanks so much for your honesty & reading!

Charlene December 19, 2019 - 10:34 pm

So much great info! We used to have a homestead and I long for the day we can do so again!

Lina December 19, 2019 - 12:25 am

My parents are so good at homesteading. I know I did not get it from them. This is something to aspire to.

Tracy December 18, 2019 - 6:52 pm

So much great information! I have a few raised garden beds, but really want to expand this year and designate a compost site. I’d love to start an indoor herb garden too.

Suzan Ferreira December 19, 2019 - 11:12 am

Hope you can! Be sure to stop back for our composting for beginners article coming soon.

Noelle Collins December 18, 2019 - 2:15 am

My Grandparents had huge gardens and fruit trees. I used to help my Grandpa out in the garden, and I wished that I would have paid more attention to everything he was doing when he was planting and harvesting his crops! We don’t have much land, but I would at least like to have a garden someday. We do frequent our local farmers market and buy raw honey from a local beekeeper in the Summer.

Suzan Ferreira December 18, 2019 - 2:09 pm

Hi Noelle~
Thank you for reading! The memories created in the garden are always so vibrant. Hopefully, you will be able to continue gardening in some manner soon.

Lisa December 18, 2019 - 12:24 am

Had never heard of this…thank you for sharing!

Maria Gustafsson December 18, 2019 - 12:14 am

I think my best friend would happily live this way, and it would be perfect for her. Me, well I’ll visit from the city!

Suzan Ferreira December 18, 2019 - 2:11 pm

That’s the beauty of modern homesteading…you can incorporate some into any lifestyle. Thank you for reading Maria!

Katherine Wolfe December 17, 2019 - 10:45 pm

Thanks for this info. Homesteading is a term I hear a lot in my homeschool groups but I never really took the time to totally understand it. Your info has been very helpful!

Suzan Ferreira December 18, 2019 - 2:11 pm

So glad you found it useful Katherine!

Christina Furnival December 17, 2019 - 8:39 pm

I didn’t realize that was what homesteading truly means! We are composting but aren’t growing our own food yet!

Jill DeMasi December 17, 2019 - 6:07 pm

This kind of lifestyle is definitely one to aspire to. Thanks for sharing!

Kyndall Bennett December 17, 2019 - 4:19 pm

I think my fiance might be interested in this! He grew up more around farm animals and I think he misses more of the countryside. ❤

Holly December 17, 2019 - 5:30 am

Great tips and information. We have a homestead act in AZ that protects your home and property. What you are sharing here is a wonderful way of life that we all need to learn more about! Thank you!

angela December 17, 2019 - 4:57 am

Being a city girl this is something outside my comfort zone. I am now trying to brainstorm to challenge myself to see what I can do here!

Suzan Ferreira December 17, 2019 - 2:25 pm

Many of the suggestions for apartment or urban living would be a good fit for you for sure. Thanks for stopping by, Angela!

Tricia Snow December 17, 2019 - 3:47 am

We always wanted to do some type of homestead but now we have decided we are too old to do what we wanted. I would still want to do something on a smaller scale.

Suzan Ferreira December 17, 2019 - 2:26 pm

Never too old to incorporate some of the techniques. You will consider yourself a homesteader in no time 🙂

Brianna December 17, 2019 - 2:47 am

This is so educational! I didn’t know about this concept prior to reading this post. I admire your choice of living. I love to garden but I have not made a lifestyle of it. I do my very best to be a minimalist because I agree that mass consumerism is not the greatest or the happiest way to live. Thank you for this post.

Jen December 17, 2019 - 12:35 am

I love that you point out that homesteading can be done regardless of where you live! Your posts are always so informative thank you!

Lisa December 16, 2019 - 11:13 pm

I do have a desire to homestead more! I have enough land to plant a garden but haven’t. I think I will this year!

Suzan Ferreira December 17, 2019 - 2:28 pm

Yay! I look forward to hearing about your endeavors!

Cynthia December 16, 2019 - 9:41 pm

This is so interesting and such a great read. I love the take away that there is not just one way to do homesteading!

Lora December 16, 2019 - 9:37 pm

What an abundance of great information! This makes me want to look more into growing at least some herbs at my place. I would lvoe to grow produce but my townhouse is not condusive to growing anything.

Heather December 16, 2019 - 8:42 pm

Great information. I could definitely see myself doing a couple of these things. Something to strive for in 2020.

jen December 16, 2019 - 5:29 pm

Love this article! Love it! Love the thought of anyone can do it even in a city apartment

Marilyn Lesniak December 16, 2019 - 4:34 pm

Thank you for sharing at #ThursdayFavoriteThings. Pinned and shared. Have a lovely week. I hope to see you at next week’s party too! Happy Holiday!

Rebecca Hastings December 13, 2019 - 11:58 am

This is so interesting! I always find the idea of homesteading intriguing. I don’t think we are practically going to be full time here. But you’ve given me ideas to think about how to incorporate some of these ideas into our lives!

Suzan Ferreira December 13, 2019 - 1:37 pm

Yay! Hope you can give 1 or 2 a try. Any questions, let me know. Thanks so much for reading, Rebecca!

Lisa Lombardo December 13, 2019 - 12:32 am

I really enjoyed reading your take on homesteading, Suzan…and Teri’s too! Living sustainably is very important to me and I commend you on sharing so much wonderful information with others through your blog! Thanks for the chance to share my thoughts!

Suzan Ferreira December 13, 2019 - 11:13 am

Thank you, Lisa, for your continued support!

Lisa notes December 12, 2019 - 7:28 pm

I’ve not thought of homesteading in so many different ways. Thanks for showing that it’s not just one stereotypical way of doing it, but it can be done anywhere.

Linda S December 12, 2019 - 2:19 pm

This was so interesting to read through! Homesteading really is a very personal thing, and can look so different from one family to another. You’ve given me much to ponder and consider – thank you!

Suzan Ferreira December 12, 2019 - 2:33 pm

Thank you, Linda, for taking the time to read…and ponder 🙂


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