What is homesteading? How one family lives off the land
Tucked away in the mountains of Washington state, on a five-acre lot, ducks and geese mill about. Goats are milked twice a day. A rooster crows.
These animals belong to Elizabeth Kirk, her husband and her kids – “homesteaders,” they’re called, aka people who lead simpler lifestyles akin to farmers with a focus on sustainable living. The hashtag “homesteading” has 2.1 billion views on TikTok, evidence that people are fascinated by those like Kirk.
“There is such a disconnect with the food system these days, and we just really wanted to teach our kids that chickens don’t actually have nuggets,” Kirk says. “That’s not a part of the chicken. So we just wanted to teach our kids about where food really comes from and be closer to what we’re eating. And we like to garden. We love animals.”
Is she different from a “trad wife,” a group of women lambasted for their traditional conservative values? Not in the sense of acting “old-fashioned,” but homesteading goes far beyond typical homemaking.
“It just gives us a sense of pride knowing that we’re eating something that we grew and we put the work into it,” she says.
What homesteading looks like
The family tends to chickens, goats (with names like Pearl and River), a cow, ducks, geese and a turkey, among other animals. “Once you get one chicken, it’s all over from there, like an addiction,” she says.
A typical day includes many a morning and evening chore. They let the chickens and ducks out for the day and make sure all eat and drink water. That they’re comfortable.
They milk their goats twice a day and collect about two gallons. That goes toward making goat milk soap to sell online, as well as toward yogurt, cheese and smoothies for the kids. While the family eats eggs that the chickens lay, any extras are sold to their local community, among other animal products like turkeys around Thanksgiving.
“Everything on the homestead has a purpose,” Kirk says. “Nothing’s really just a pet.”
Why might someone be into homesteading? “People who are into homesteading often find that they get a sense of control,” says Amy Morin, psychotherapist and the host of the Mentally Stronger with Therapist Amy Morin podcast. “They can control the vegetables that they grow, the food that they eat. And after the pandemic, that was really important for a lot of people who felt like they lost control over so many things.” For others, it’s about family values and focusing more on family time and sustainable living instead of making money.
Kirk resisted making a TikTok page but has enjoyed sharing her life with others; she doesn’t make much money off it, she clarifies, just by selling products produced on the farm.
‘A simpler life’
Don’t confuse homesteading with farming and ranching; homesteading is mainly about providing for the family unit as opposed to a commercial endeavor.
Kirk and her family didn’t always live this way. She used to work a standard 9 a.m. to. 5 p.m. job as a vault teller at a bank. As her kids aged, she found herself wanting to be at home with them more – which eventually led to a total lifestyle change over the last six years. They saved and waited and took the plunge away from the city and into hardcore country life.
Many fled the city for the country especially post-COVID. “A lot of people figured out that maybe the things they thought were gonna make them happy actually don’t make them happy,” Morin says.
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So, you want to homestead
If this lifestyle sounds appealing to you, take a beat. Think about what it really means.
It may look like a cozy, simple life, but “what we don’t see is the fact that you have to get up and do it every day just like you would a job,” Morin says.
The lifestyle isn’t easy by any means. Long days, no vacation, unending stress come with the job. It’s like anything on social media. Morin adds: “It’s important to remember that the content you see is probably the romanticized version and the very best of somebody’s day and the grandest things about their life. And you don’t see the other things like how the weather affects their garden or how a natural disaster could affect everything or their struggle to pay the bills.”
Kirk adds: “People think the work is really easy and you just have these cute animals, but it’s really hard some days. We can wake up in the morning and there could be a death on the homestead and it takes a lot out of you. It makes it for a hard day.”
That said, her favorite part is all the animals. She loves knowing where her food came from and that it had a proper life before it became food.
They’ve had to give up parts of their life for homesteading; family and friend gatherings are trickier to attend. Who would watch all the animals?
But one thing’s for sure. Kirk is not looking back: “It’s like being on call 24/7, but it is so rewarding and so fulfilling and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I could not go back to city life, even if you paid me.”
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