Remembering the Heroes of the Homestead
By Anita B. Stone, The Homesteader’s Bits and Pieces
If given a choice of lifestyles, homesteading would be my number one pick because there is a self-sufficiency and reliance on growing, harvesting and preserving our food. The reliance of not depending on someone else to sustain my family has become a popular choice with many of us. The Homestead Act, which dates back to 1862 (and is no longer in effect), impacted our world. What began as an agricultural way of life, including home food preservation, small-scale production of textiles, clothing and craftworks, has come full circle.
Fast forward more than 150 years to modern-day homesteaders, progressing to the use of renewable energy, including solar electricity, wind power and even invented DIY cars—anything to make our lives easier and less costly. We are not defined by whether we live in the city or the country, but by lifestyle. We have returned back-to-the-land as healthy homesteaders, using familiar techniques in a 21st century mindset. We continue to grow, harvest and preserve food. We insist on self-sufficiency and sustainability.
It might have all started with one of the Seven Wonders of the World—the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or history-makers such as George Washington’s row cropping, McCormick’s reaper and Thomas Jefferson’s homestead methods. We don’t have to search far to find unsung homestead heroes we follow today.
For example, J. Rodale was a pioneer, whose organic methods are recognized by the USDA. We have become a community of both conventional and organic gardening.
So we give kudos to pioneers like Rodale who introduced us to organic farming. It has been proven that yields can surpass conventional crops, even during drought. All we need is to maintain healthy soil. In comparison, homesteaders using organic gardening methods will realize an increase in healthy living. More information about how to maintain healthy soil can be found by reading The Manifesto of Organic Farming from the Rodale Institute.
Agronomist George McKibben stated, “If we resist the will to till, we may find out how positive the soil responds with its own set of microorganisms and nutrients.” The no-till gardening method is widely used today and has been labeled as the greatest single contribution in decreasing soil erosion.
Engineer Mel Bartholomew, set out to find the perfect vegetable garden and popularized a grid-like framework for what he called “square foot gardening.” He calmed his frustration with weeding and watering rows of vegetables in his backyard by applying his engineering expertise and constructed a 12-foot-by-12-foot subdivided plot, which introduced a concept to horticulturists and a book. He is known to have said, “I garden with a salad bowl in mind, not a wheelbarrow.” Ironically, his first book, Square Foot Gardening, was published by Rodale Press. Bartholomew and his sister established the Square Food Gardening Foundation and started planting programs at nursing homes, schools, community gardens and added nutrition education.
I would be remiss if no mention was made of Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This proves that homesteading arises in any size garden, from a castle to a tiny house. The Biltmore legacy stands out in everyone’s mind, with 8,000 acres that established the first forestry education program in the United States and introduced Victorian landscaping; a form of homesteading.
The Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, Nebraska, has saved a piece of history by preserving a representation of the things homesteaders needed to survive: food, housing and water.
There are many homesteaders who invent and use their own methods of farming. You only have to look in kitchens and backyards to discover new and unique ideas to improve, preserve and treasure the homestead.
Anita Stone is an expert gardener who writes frequently for Countryside magazine. Ask her questions by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line, “Anita’s Row.”
Originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.