I grew up jealous of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her life on the prairie seemed so much more interesting than my own. When I was little I obsessed over the different ways I could find self-sufficiency in the wilderness for my 11 year old self. I adored Island of the Blue Dolphins and constructed my own mini civilization of Teepees I built from cane poles I found in a ditch. Living off the fat of the land has never been painted as a glamorous, care-free existence. It’s hard, it’s a lot of work, and it’s alienating. Yet there’s something so freeing in finding yourself attuned to nature by being dependent on it. Thoreau and the rest of his Transcendentalist troupe had it right.
Maybe this is why this scrappy, natural existence is so appealing to millennials. The Homesteading movement is enjoying an increase in popularity, and it’s no wonder why millennials are busting out their trowels and brushing up on their compost skills.
The homesteading movement is all about “living genuine” and meeting all your most basic needs yourself. Homesteaders raise their own livestock for slaughter or milk, grow their own produce, forage for their own herbal medicine, and sew their own clothes. While some homesteaders delve themselves completely into the self-sufficient life style and produce their own solar powered energy through DIY solar panels. While some part-time homesteaders have a window box full of fresh herbs and help out on a farm on the weekends, the movement ranges from the fully committed to the partially interested. Homesteading started piquing interest way back in 2007 and continues to gain traction through urban gardens, pickling, and canning; to some extent even the wildly popular tiny house movement plays on the “less is more” concept.
A lifestyle focused on simplicity and hard-work seems to strangely appeal to a generation that’s portrayed as lazy. Time and time again, millennials have been told that they’re entitled, dependent brats that can’t do anything for themselves. Perhaps this is a reaction to that stereotype.
Millennials are also said to be more concerned about the environment and sustainability than previous generations. We also care where our food comes from; most of the time when we eat we have no idea where our food originated. When what grows or grazes in your yard ends up on your plate, it removes a lot of mystery and probably a lot of chemicals. Homesteading is all about DIY simplicity and sustainability. When you’re producing everything from your own eggs to your own cleaning products, a lot of harsh chemicals and resources are cut out of the equation—not to mention a lot of money.
Millennials have been looking at a tanked economy and piles of student debt; so to us, money matters. It’s not exactly a totally free way of living, but it can definitely be a cheaper alternative. Even if it’s just raising your own vegetables, it cuts down trips to the grocery store and gives you more power over what’s in your fridge and what’s in your wallet.
We’re coming up with our own version of the American Dream. While for some of us that can mean raising our own goats, it shows that millennials embody empowerment and the concept of taking ownership over our lives.
All homesteaders don’t live hand to mouth in an existence totally removed from civilization. However, the lifestyle does call for some removal from the quick pace and busy lifestyles warranted by technology. It seems like we’re constantly on the move, and I believe a lot of our exhaustion comes from constantly trying to keep pace with the information in this digital age.
It’s both an addiction and an annoyance to have to keep up constantly with what’s happening in social media and in the news. In any political cartoon nowadays, it’s always some joke or other about “kids these days” being sucked up in their phones. Many of us millennials are looking to shed that tech-obsessed image and break out of the prison from within those tiny screens. Going off the grid for even a few hours a weekend to work some land would provide a large sense of freedom. Sometimes it takes living on a homestead miles outside of the city and canning your own vegetables to escape those Candy Crush requests.
It seems as though a lot controls our lives, from technology to debt, and the idea of taking control of our own lives through taking control of the food we eat to how we live offers a huge amount of freedom.
We’re obsessed with nostalgia. While much of our nostalgia is indulged by revisiting the TV shows we watched as kids, it’s the larger, overall idea of simpler times that truly draws us in. Homesteading reminds us of simpler times when life seemed slower, more deliberate, and when we had more control. Maybe there’s more similarities to the Oregon Trail games we played as kids, but this time we don’t have to necessarily worry about our entire family dying of dysentery or failing to ford a river.