When I first started Greenimalist, I began with lifestyle changes that were compatible with life in the modern city. On one hand, I am amazed at how far I have come towards lowering my impact while living in the city. At the same time, however, I have always felt stifled by life in the urban jungle. Without land of my own, I could never take Greenimalist to the next level. In a small apartment, it can be a challenge to make compost, start a vegetable garden, or even test out a solar oven (we didn’t have a sunny patio for the cooker to sit on). Hsinya and I have wanted to raise poultry for several months now, but we have always hesitated to raise them indoors. A lack of space, combined with uncooperative neighbors and landlords, has made it difficult to experiment with Greenimalist living. For this reason, I had been planning to buy land of my own someday. In the meantime, however, I had little recourse but to watch other homesteaders with envy.
All this changed last week when my aunt offered me a chance to start a garden in her vacant country-house. Located in a rural farming town, this unoccupied house has a backyard over half an acre in size — plenty of undeveloped land for experiments in self-sufficiency. I was essentially given free reign to experiment with any project related to homesteading, such as organic gardening, setting up off-grid solar panels, collecting rainwater in barrels, and composting chicken poop. I could hardly contain my excitement.
I had very few expectations for the house itself. In fact, I was fully expecting to live in a low-tech, off-grid primitive shelter, more resembling a log cabin than a house. In a strange way, the idea of roughing it in the countryside seemed almost enjoyable. To my surprise, the country house was modern and luxurious for a homestead — it had electricity, refrigeration, natural gas, and indoor plumbing. I could, in fact, sign up for broadband Internet at any time — so much for roughing it. After a quick reflection, however, I concluded this was probably better anyhow. I should be concentrating my efforts on gardening for now, not on how to build an off-grid shelter.
The backyard also far exceeded my expectations. There was plenty of fertile land for subsistence farming. Having never been sprayed with pesticides, the soil was teeming with a healthy ecosystem of insects and microbial life. (In fact, some pests from this ecosystem ate my pumpkin seedlings last night.) Trees dotted the backyard, and underneath the leaf litter, there were rich layers of humus perfect for gardening. The land was definitely excellent for gardening.
Without hesitation, I knew I wanted to stay. Sure, there were minor flaws — hordes of virulent mosquitoes, the lingering smell of cow manure — but I couldn’t pass up the offer. That very night, I packed all my minimalist possessions, took the bus to the countryside, picked up the house keys, and became the new tenant.
This is a big step forward for me in my journey towards a more sustainable and natural lifestyle. As always, Greenimalist will still be about simple, green living: shopping less, owning fewer possessions, conserving natural resources, and protecting the environment. Since many of us will continue to live in the city or suburbs, I’ll definitely keep writing tips for green living in the cities. However, I’m excited about the latest saga of my Greenimalist adventure: low-impact self-sufficiency on a country homestead.
Why I Want to Homestead
Homesteading is the most ecologically-sound lifestyle possible. Unlike the modern, consumer lifestyle, homesteading is gentle on the land, good for your health, low on stress, and very cheap. It does require plenty of patience and hard work, but that’s a small price for sustainability, independence, and a healthier way of living.
A More Wholesome Life
Healthy food is difficult to find nowadays. Most supermarkets are filled with junky, processed food. Even the fresh food section is contaminated with the poisonous pesticides used by conventional farms. These toxins harm the earth, the farmer, and your health. Only unprocessed, organic food is truly wholesome. Growing my own food is one way to ensure that I will have plenty of fresh and nutritious food year-round, even in towns that don’t sell organic food.
Ultimately, I want my home to be the nucleus of a sustainable family life. A good homestead provides a retreat from all the unhealthy stressors of modernity. It’s a place to get away from traffic, smog, cigarette smoking, pesticides, and synthetic food. When we have kids, we want them to have a wholesome childhood — free from potato chips and video games.
By homesteading, I also plan to save money. Not only does growing my own food help save thousands of dollars each year, but a house in the woods represents a huge savings compared to a house in the suburbs or city. Undeveloped rural land is much cheaper than urban land; I can buy acres of land for just a few thousand dollars. If I learn how to build my own house, I can also save on housing construction costs. My goal is to continue working online while ruthlessly cutting expenses to build up savings.
I don’t expect to be totally self-sufficient this year. Instead, I plan to use this opportunity as more of a learning experience. This country house will be a sandbox for self-sufficiency experiments, including organic farming, permaculture, country living skills, and alternative energy.
Our first goal is to produce all of our own vegetables by the end of this year. I’ll also experiment with growing quickly maturing fruits like melons and strawberries, as well as rice and beans by the end of the year.
Our second goal is related to the first: we will try to process all the food we eat on the homestead. Hsinya will make everything we eat (e.g. soymilk, cheese, bread, and soy sauce) right on the country house. We experimented with some of these ideas before, but having more space allows us to process on a larger scale.
Our Homesteading Principles
Obviously, we’re not going to be using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers on our homestead. Not only do these poisons harm the soil, they also poison the farmers that use them. Organic agriculture, however, means much more than just abstaining from chemicals. Growing food organically is also about cultivating a richer ecosystem for the farm through building fertile soil.
As I homestead, I hope to strengthen the ecosystem in our backyard. Unlike modern farms, which destroy the soil over time with chemicals, I’m hoping to actually increase the amount of topsoil over time. I plan to compost kitchen scraps, mulch the soil, practice companion planting, sow cover crops, plant fruit and fodder trees, and encourage beneficial insects. Farming organically is like buying carbon offsets, only better: instead of paying someone to plant a tree for me, I’ll plant my own apple tree and harvest the literal fruits of my labor. It actually pays financially to make a positive impact on the environment, because it improves the fertility of each year’s harvest.
I will try to avoid shopping — not even for farming supplies. Whenever possible, I want to live off the land and be totally self-sufficient. My main motivation is to save money: it’s expensive to rent rotary tillers, import compost, and buy lumber. Many aspiring homesteaders fail because they waste too much money buying expensive farm mansions loaded with fancy appliances and equipment. Such a facade is not true self-sufficiency; even worse, it is outrageously expensive.
Whenever possible, I will opt for low-tech, simple tools on my homestead. So far, all my gardening tools require human labor rather than gasoline or electricity. It may be tempting to use high-tech machines for homesteading, but there are often cheaper, more sustainable solutions. When I lived in the city, for example, I discovered that bicycling was more cost-effective than driving. This homestead will give more opportunities to explore appropriate technology for self-sufficient living.
We’ll keep you updated on our homesteading as we learn from our mistakes. I hope these articles help provide a candid look at one ordinary couple’s journey towards self-sufficiency. Until then, our homestead awaits.