What is homesteading: A 'hard but appealing' lifestyle?

8:30 pm on 21 May 2024
Homesteading is about growing and storing your own food without having to rely on mainstream supermarkets.

Homesteading is about growing and storing your own food without having to rely on mainstream supermarkets. Photo: 123RF

Fancy growing your own kai and living a life of self-sufficiency?

Homesteading is gaining traction in Aotearoa - but what exactly is this lifestyle being adopted by a growing number of Kiwis? Michael Andrew, publisher, editor and owner of NZ Lifestyle Block magazine, breaks it down.

What is homesteading?

Homesteading is a catch-all term that refers to self-sufficiency or self-reliance, Andrew explains.

"It's this idea that we can grow our food, store our own food, generate our own energy from our properties or within our communities without reliance on mainstream channels like supermarkets and energy companies. It's basically a movement of people that's growing in New Zealand, that sees people living on their own land and closing the loops so they can rely on their own resources as much as possible."

Why are Kiwis interested?

Andrew says an interest in homesteading has grown post-Covid-19.

"I would say the last few years have seen a real concentration of attention on homesteading. The term itself has gradually disseminated, it's become more commonplace, whereas prior to Covid it was a bit more niche. But this lifestyle has always been around. New Zealand has always had a large contingent of people living this way, but it's become more publicised now, I suppose because of recent economic disruptions.

"It's all made the idea of growing your own food, being self-reliant, so much more of a reassuring notion for people that they won't be affected by an empty supermarket shelf because they've got enough food in their pantries or larders to see them through tough times.

"It makes people feel secure so if there's an event like Covid-19 or the Hawke's Bay / Napier floods, which put a lot of people in really precarious situations, they'll have enough resources to feed their families and share with their communities."

Vegetable garden

Growing your own food gives children a realistic appreciation of the true cost of food, Andrew says. Photo: 123RF

What are the benefits of homesteading?

Homesteading encourages sustainable practices, Andrew says.

"We have a huge food crisis and food wastage problem in New Zealand. When people know what goes into making it, they have a lot more respect for it and it will go a long way in helping people reduce food waste and this idea that food can be taken for granted.

You can even get the young ones involved: "When kids are connected to where their food comes from, that thinking disseminates outwards. When you buy something from the store that's come here all the way from another country, across the sea, in a packet, you don't really have that insight of the effort that went into growing it. But when you teach kids those values, through the production of food on your own land, you can really impart a lot of wisdom. It gives them a realistic appreciation of the true cost of food".

Where did homesteading originate?

Homesteading can be tied to many lifestyles around the world, including to indigenous practices in Aotearoa. The term 'homesteading', however, found its origins in 1960s America, when theorist Ralph Barsodi explored more self-reliant ways of living post-Great Depression.

Homesteading grew in prominence again in the 1990s and 2000s, as interest in urban homemaking and agricultural practices grew.

Preserved veges at Luke and Deborah Halford's homestead.

Preserved veges at the house of Kiwi homesteaders Luke and Deborah Halford. Photo: RNZ / Luka Forman

Do you need a big plot of land to become a homesteader?

Off-grid living is a part of it, Andrew says - "but it isn't dependent on people living rurally or having big plots of land".

"New Zealand has a lot of people who live rurally and for a lot of people who live far away from supermarkets and from town, growing your own food is a fact of life. But I've covered many people who live urban, on small quarter-acre sections or less, that are proficient homesteaders and have huge stores of preserves and food that they've grown themselves from their land."

So what does it take?

You might not need acres of space to do it, but you do need time.

"It's not easy, that's the thing. It's actually really hard to do and takes a lot of time and commitment to harvest bucket-loads of plums and preserve them over a hot stove all night long, especially if you've got family, you've really got to commit to the lifestyle and make it a thing. But people do, and they reap the rewards of it because they get to enjoy their own food much of the year, and they save money too. It's a beautiful way to live, it's hard, but it's appealing."

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