By Lee Warren, Executive Director of Asheville’s Organic Growers School
How do you create a regional reality based upon self-reliance and sustainability? One homesteader at a time.
With Asheville on the #1 places to visit lists and the #1 places to move lists, we all have the distinct experience of meeting people new to our region every day.
They come from all over and seem to all be in love with our mountain home. In my world, many of these people move to Western North Carolina because of the connection to local food and the desire to be involved in some way in the world of food production, sustainable living, and natural connections. And they are not disappointed. Our region is rich with tailgate markets, engaged organic farmers, never-ending do-it-yourself workshops on everything from fermentation to fire-starting, and, best of all, a community of like-minded friends.
Recently, Organic Growers School hosted a day-long workshop called “Homestead Dreams,” which is an entry level class designed to help folks incorporate their dreams of self-reliance and sustainability into their actual lives. It’s an opportunity to enter an exploration of a land-based life. We don’t qualify or quantify those terms, and anyone can sign up. Whether folks are urban or rural; interested in renewable energy, green building, or growing food; have little experience or a lot—the entire spectrum of folks is welcome.
So my loose definition of homesteading is “to live a lifestyle that is moving towards self-sufficiency.” Among the 20 participants in the workshop, 100% of them plan to homestead, and this is what they hope to do:
Herbs, dairy, and aquaculture.
Small intensive gardening, including chickens and bees.
Small acreage to augment groceries and sell a little.
Hand-made body products, gardening, and a few animals.
Peaceful place in the country with rainwater catchment.
A quarter-acre of garden and animals, involving collaboration with neighbors.
We love teaching this class. It’s so wonderful to be around passionate folks who yearn for a more full connection to their food, to the land, and to authentic community. Right up front, the participants learn that growing, preserving, building, and tending the land is a lost art—in fact, so lost that many of us don’t even have parents or grandparents who remember these skills. With that much loss of oral tradition and land-based wisdom, these skills need to be learned anew.
By helping people define their skills and resources, map out their homestead, talk to their classmates, and hear from experienced growers, they also become educated about characteristics of the natural world in Western North Carolina, including average rainfall, temperatures, slope, vegetation, wind patterns, and how to increase their observation skills and land literacy.
Of the participants in the 2017 class, 55% said that having the right piece of land is their biggest barrier to homesteading, while 44% mentioned the challenge of buying equipment and tools, and 30% mentioned the need for ongoing support and the need for off-land income which might delay their endeavors.
Our entire region should therefore benefit through this increased land-literacy and community building on the part of its inhabitants.
I know the journey from city and suburban dwelling to a self-sufficient life will be fraught with many lessons and probably none-too-few mistakes. I also know that as we educate, inspire, and support the average person in re-engaging with the traditions of homesteading, the following outcomes are likely as additional benefits:
1. Enhanced personal food security, self-reliance, and empowerment.
2.Expansion of interest into other areas of sustainability starting with food production, processing, and storage, and moving on to renewable energy, natural building, and more.
3.Increased environmental stewardship, nature and ecological awareness, best land use practices, attention to water and soil quality, focus on local food, conservation-mindedness, and overall appreciation for the web of life.
Our entire region should therefore benefit through this increased land-literacy and community building on the part of its inhabitants, subsequently leading to regional interdependence, community resilience, and local food sovereignty (where the eaters make the decisions on all parts of the food life cycle). And ultimately, we see this helping to establish Western North Carolina as a region committed to regional food systems, small-scale sustainable agriculture, and a food- and growing-literate population.
It’s exciting to help create this reality, one homesteader at a time.
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