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A lesson in homesteading with Connie Cao
By Connie Cao
Since moving into my own home, I’ve been curiously learning to grow my own fruit and veggies, making my own sourdough bread, kombucha, water kefir, and learning to preserve and dehydrate produce from my garden. I’ve taken up sewing and knitting, composting and DIY. In short, I’ve been dreaming of creating a little urban homestead. A place where we can learn to live in harmony with nature, and be self-sufficient in a slower and more simple, sustainable way of living.
It seems that the term homesteading originated from USA, derived from the 1862 Homestead Act, where 160-acre blocks of unsettled, public land were given as part of a program to encourage national expansion. Recipients of land were required to agree to cultivate and farm their land. After five years, a small registration fee would entitle them to ownership of that land.
Since then, homesteading has evolved to become a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. This translates to incorporating activities such as gardening, composting, raising animals, preserving and generally making and doing things yourself with less reliance on external sources. Such a way of living is a bit simpler and more intentional, honouring the seasons and gifts of nature.
I suppose I grew up in a household where my family practised many aspects of a slower, more sustainable way of living. My parents migrated from China to Australia in the late 1980s and brought with them traditional practices and ways of living that they experienced back overseas.
My mum cooked with mostly whole foods and made many dishes from scratch. She made her own pickled vegetables and preserved meats. My dad was really handy around the home and was always saving scrap wood just in case it could be repurposed into something useful a decade down the track. Together they were pretty much self-sufficient in a way that was inspired by old times.
When I moved out of home, I too was inspired by these ways. If you’ve ever been interested in picking up a few homesteading projects, here are some tips to get you started:
There are so many different areas you could begin your homesteading journey in, so it can definitely feel overwhelming to start. Choose an area you’re passionate about or most drawn to first, whether it be making your own soap, drying your own herbs, or learning to compost. You don’t have to do it all, and especially not all at once.
Lots of people enjoy beginning with growing their own food; and establishing a garden is a hugely beneficial activity. Gardening can both provide you with knowledge to grow your own food, but also additional intangible benefits such as improving your health through exercise, and mental wellbeing.
That said, gardening doesn’t have to be large-scale affair. If you’re on a smaller block or renting, considering growing in containers. Lots of veggies and even fruit trees do well in pots and a bonus is that you can transport them if you move. If you’re in an apartment, consider windowsill herbs or grow vertically on a balcony. You’d be surprised to see what you can fit in when you get creative with your use of space.
One of the biggest contributors to landfill waste is food scraps which can easily be diverted from the bin via composting. Anyone can compost and there are many composting systems to suit various living arrangements. Look into Bokashi bins for smaller spaces and download the ShareWaste app to connect with someone local who would be happy to accept your Bokashi waste.
The simple act of sorting your waste into separate bins can inspire a gentle daily reminder to be conscious of the things you consume and the waste they produce and motivate you to audit other areas of waste that goes into your landfill bin.
As wonderful as it would be to be truly self-sufficient, I do feel that engaging with and building a more resilient local community around you is just as important. A local community garden, or sustainability group is a fabulous way to connect with others and there are often plenty around. Chances are, members of the group will have similar interests. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is hugely motivating and inspiring. Meeting up is a great chance to chat to others and learn from each other, make friends, and help each other out.
Being self-sufficient has a lot to do with DIY. Whether it be sewing and repairing your own clothes, learning to knit your own winter jumpers or making your own dried tea leaves from the garden. Consider picking up a DIY related hobby you’re interested in to learn at home.
There’s no such thing as the perfect homestead. The idea of homesteading is based more on lifestyle choices and should fit your personal circumstances. If you don’t have space to grow food, don’t fret. Consider joining a local food co-op or similar. These groups often offer direct-from-farm seasonal food and veg boxes so that you can support a local farm, or bulk-buy dried goods that are package-free. If you can’t stand the idea of sewing, but love making bread, you can always have a friend help you out in return for a fresh loaf of bread.
My personal homesteading journey is a continual one. I am perpetually learning through the projects I undertake to create a more self-sufficient, sustainable way of living. Through my curiosity, I’ve also become more confident, as you learn some incredibly practical skills for daily living. Connecting through nature has also given me a deeper, appreciation of this planet’s precious resources and helped our little household focus on eating seasonally. I hope you too, can experience some of the beauty of this way of living.
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