Since we found out we will be going to the Good Life Center this summer, I have turned my thoughts to the concept of homesteading. I’ve known about homesteading for some time, but I really never researched the specifics. I believe Ron and I were close to homesteading when we lived in Shiny Tiny, but I don’t think we were true homesteaders.
So, what does it mean to be a homesteader? What is involved in the process? Can anyone homestead or do you have to go to the woods like Thoreau and be a hermit?
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines homestead as “the home and adjoining land occupied by a family,” or “an ancestral home,” or “a tract of land acquired from U.S. public lands by filing a record and living on and cultivating the tract.” The last definition is what I’m going to talk about in this post.
The Homestead Act of 1862, “enacted during the Civil War in 1862, provided that any adult citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. government could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land. Claimants were required to live on and “improve” their plot by cultivating the land. After five years on the land, the original filer was entitled to the property, free and clear, except for a small registration fee. Title could also be acquired after only a six-month residency and trivial improvements, provided the claimant paid the government $1.25 per acre. After the Civil War, Union soldiers could deduct the time they had served from the residency requirements.”1
I am not going to go into my feelings about what we did to the native Americans, but I will stop to remind you, dear reader, that they were here first.
I wondered who took advantage of this opportunity. Here are some stats:
270 millions acres
settled by nearly four million homesteaders
across 30 states over 123 years2
I also wondered if this Act is still in effect. The answer to that is NO.
The Homestead Act was officially repealed by the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, though a ten-year extension allowed homesteading in Alaska until 1986.3
It seems that the desire to homestead dropped off during the Great Depression when many people turned away from farming.
So, what does homesteading mean today?
One idea that I have been finding in many readings is that homesteading is a lifestyle–a frame of mind. It is the desire to be self-sufficient and do as much as you can yourselves to supply your basic needs. I also found out that homesteading is vastly different from “prepping.” Yes, I had to look that one up, too. That is the act of preparing for an apocalypses (survivalists).
When I think of homesteading, calm emotions come over me. That is very different from the survivalists’ views. I’d rather live my life in peace, harmony, and ignorant bliss than stress, worry, and constant vigilance. OK–that’s another soap box.
I’m back on the ground where I can feel the dirt and plan for the next growing season. That’s where I’ll stay and continue to consider the philosophies and practices of homesteading.
See you in the next post!