When we began homesteading 16 years ago, our loosely articulated goal was “self-sufficiency.” We aimed to grow as much of our own food as possible, with our own hands, our own tools, and our own time.
However, when we had children, and subsequently moved onto our own 10 acres of raw land, we re-evaluated this goal. I don’t think it was a conscious decision, but rather one born out of necessity – we landed in a new place, with only a few friends, and a daunting task of creating shelter, water, and food infrastructure. We were in an incredibly vulnerable position that forced us to ask for help (something we are very, very bad at!), and receive it gracefully.
We moved to what I like to refer to as an “intentional neighborhood.” Seven families/communities live within walking distance, and other close friends are a short drive away. While we each have the desire to remain autonomous about many land-based decisions, there is a degree of inter-connectedness, and a desire to build a strong homesteading community, that is intentional.
The prevailing attitude in the community is this: When you are abundant, give. When you are in need, receive. A simple, yet profound concept that has far reaching implications. No one expects you to “return the favor,” rather the gift is given in pure generosity, with the only expectation being that you receive it in the spirit it is given.
When my husband was diagnosed with cancer a week after we moved to Missouri, the community gave. Food arrived at our door, friends offered to watch our children, our neighbors gave us a monetary donation to cover the cost of some medical tests. When I badly injured my back two summers ago, our good friend, an acupuncturist, offered low-cost sessions to help me heal. When neighbors face building deadlines, work-parties are called.
Building a Strong Homesteading Community
Our community is not perfect. We have conflict, ups and downs, and miscommunication – sometimes lots of miscommunication! But we continue to ask, “Does self-sufficiency truly serve our needs, or should we be instead striving for community-sufficiency?” I’ll be honest – this is a very challenging notion for me. I’m naturally independent and self-sufficient, and my husband even more so! Our default is to simply do it all ourselves because it often feels easier.
Building a strong homesteading community requires vulnerability, trust, communication, clear boundaries, and a constant re-addressing the simple question, “How can we become MORE interdependent?” I feel grateful that we moved to a community that is asking these questions and creating community-sufficiency in the following ways:
When I asked our good friend John, a pastured meat farmer, what he was planning on doing with the extraordinary amounts of produce his garden was growing, his response was: “I am growing enough food for three families. It was an intentional decision so I can share with our friends.”
There are also many coordinated efforts to source quality food, from participation in a bulk food club, to organizing a raw milk pick up, to creating a local food café.
There are also smaller efforts, like selling milk and eggs to neighbors, co-raising animals for meat (such as the pigs we co-raised with our neighbors this summer), and sharing abundant harvests.
Members of our community have organized work parties as opportunities to connect with neighbors and make for light work. A few successful models have been:
- Work party “teams,” where four families rotate each month helping at one another’s homes.
- Rotating work parties, on set days, where anyone can request a work party, and the entire community knows to expect a work party every week on Thursdays.
- An individual homestead has set work party days, for instance, every Wednesday. Our neighbors do quite well with this model, advertising to the local community, university students, and service groups.
There are many informal and spontaneous shared meals in this community that values food and connection. There are also periods where it makes sense to schedule shared meals. In the summer months, one family opens their home to a weekly potluck. Every Tuesday night, while the weather permits, anyone is welcome to attend. In the winter months, a smaller group of families often gathers on Friday nights to celebrate and share meals. We also have seasonal gatherings such as a “gross food potluck” for Halloween, and a Thanksgiving feast featuring local, organic, home-grown food.
We have shared schooling in a variety of ways. When we first arrived in Missouri, I helped organize a weekly mixed ages Waldorf-inspired kindergarten. 7-13 children attended our Friday morning school, and the parents shared responsibility for snack, circle time, story, and seasonal activities.
When our oldest children became First Graders, we shifted our attention to their homeschooling, and one of my neighbors and I (the mama of my daughter’s best friend) decided to share homeschooling. We each teach a four-week block, and then switch. Last year she taught all of the Language Arts blocks, and I taught Math; this year we’re splitting things up a bit more so we can each experience the different subjects.
We’ve also had community members offer their service to our children, which is a huge blessing. One community member taught nature classes each week in the middle of winter! The kids bundled up in their snowsuits, went tromping through the woods, and had a great time! Another neighbor taught a natural dyeing class and welcomed the children’s participation. Currently, I’m teaching a month-long musical theater block and staging a kids’ musical!
Tools and Equipment
For the most part, each homestead maintains a well-stocked tool shed, simply because we use tools day in and day out. But larger items are often shared, borrowed, or rented. For instance, when we owned a large 4-wheel drive truck, neighbors used it, and contributed .50 cents per mile towards the truck’s upkeep and gas. We have a small hand-built trailer that is occasionally borrowed by neighbors for apple picking. In return, we are traded a large box of apples.
This kind of sharing can be casual and organic, or it can be part of a formal agreement or cost-share. When we lived in Oregon, we co-owned a gorgeous cider press with 3 other families. Since we only used the press a few times a year, it made sense to share the investment with others.
This may be one of the most important components of creating a strong homesteading community! As busy homesteaders, it’s so easy to work, work, work, but creating opportunities for fun is a vital part of building community. I feel fortunate to live near some pretty fun people, as I tend to get sucked into work and can turn overly serious! One of our neighbors has a particular knack for crazy, zany gatherings such as Sled Fest or this year’s favorite, Maze Days (snow was brushed off a frozen pond to create a giant maze. We ice skated around and played a game of tag within the maze. It was great fun for kids and adults!). Some of our neighbors gather for board games, some play soccer on a YMCA league, I really enjoy Craft Night. In the summer months, I love impromptu pond parties.
Homesteading is hard work. But we can support and strengthen our homesteading community by cultivating interdependence, as best as we’re able.
I’d love to hear how others are creating community sufficiency. What has worked for you (or didn’t work)?
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