The modern era’s version of “homesteading” looks quite different from those who settled centuries ago, but is not without its own challenges and relevance. In a world of same-day Amazon shipping and Wal-Mart superstores, some families are choosing to live differently. It is not as easy to live a step outside the fast-paced world, but the satisfaction and self-reliance is irreplaceable.
“If your heart is in the place of being more self-sufficient, doing things on your own more, living a simpler lifestyle, and relearning the skills generations are forgetting now – that’s what defines a homesteader,” says Colorado native, Meghan Gates.
Gates now resides in Oklahoma with her husband, Cody, on their commercial cattle operation. The couple are also raising two young daughters whilst Gates seeks out innovative, natural ways to feed and care for her family. For her, the heart of homesteading lies in the kitchen. Gates makes her own bread, cans produce from her garden, ferments vegetables, and makes her own tea and kombucha.
The Oklahoma prairie, which can be hot and windy in the summertime, provides its own obstacles to her vegetable production. Anything that is lacking from her own garden, she can supplement with a trip to the local farmer’s market. While foraging does not yield much in her environment, Gates has a medicinal herbs section in her garden. Luckily, being cattle ranchers, beef is a staple in their household. Other forms of meat include the meat chickens that she raises, along with the deer meat from her husband’s hunting. Gates also has laying hens and a steady supply of eggs, as well as a milk cow for her family’s dairy needs.
Gates did not grow up in the ranching or homesteading lifestyle, getting only glimpses of it when she left the suburbs to visit her grandparents’ small cattle operation. “My fondest childhood memories are from the ranch,” she said. Now, she can pass on the passion for a simple life to her two daughters. “I honestly can’t imagine a better childhood than what my girls are experiencing right now,” she said.
For anyone looking to get started homesteading, Gates offers the advice to start small. Making a sourdough starter and bread, fermenting sauerkraut, baking things from scratch while being less reliant on mixes or pre-packaged goods, making one’s own granola bars, and learning to mend clothes are all simple ways to begin. “Even if you don’t enjoy sewing, mending clothes usually doesn’t take very long, takes little skill, and saves you money,” she said.
For those who do not own land, small, indoor “gardens” are still possible, along with the use of public gardening spaces. For those who do own a small amount of land, there are infinite possibilities for planting a garden.
The first type of animal Gates suggests starting with is a batch of laying hens. “Laying hens are so easy. They’re pretty low cost and the reward is quick. Eggs are so good for you. It grows your confidence as far as jumping into raising other animals, as well,” she said.
Diversifying her income, Gates has created an online shop for t-shirts and their homeraised beef. She also offers online courses to help others learn to homestead. She is currently creating her second cookbook.
“I really think that it’s less about the things you have or the skills you have and more about the mindset. Homesteading really encompasses so many different skills. I think that you can spend your entire life learning new things, getting deeper, and more purist if you want to.”
Courses, cookbook, and beef offered by Meghan Gates can be found at http://www.goodhandle.net.
A few states away, Tiffany Hutchinson homesteads near the base of the Absaroka Mountains. Her husband works for the Hoodoo Ranch in Cody, Wyoming, and the couple raise their four sons in the western lifestyle.
Hutchinson, like Gates, did not grow up on a ranch. Now that she and her husband live a half-hour from town and can foster independence through homesteading, it is a key motivator for her. “My biggest thing is, I like to be self-reliant. I just want to be able to take care of my family without relying on everybody else,” she said.
A no-till garden is Hutchinson’s pride and joy. The method yields the most amount of food with the least amount of work. “It’s nearly effortless,” she said.
Her garden used to be a field. It was mowed, the sagebrush was removed, and the foundation was set. The process for establishing a no-till garden is as follows: lay down four layers of newspaper, followed by six inches of compost or aged manure, then six inches of wood chips. “The first year or two your stuff is slightly stunted, but after that, my yields of my stuff have gotten bigger and bigger every year,” said Hutchinson.
She claims that the number of weeds picked yearly would not even fill a five-gallon bucket. The garden can thrive with little weeding and even days without watering. With her busy lifestyle, working as a part-time landscaper, helping with ranch work and brandings, and mothering her four boys, it is the ideal method of gardening.
Even in the high elevation near the mountain, Hutchinson’s garden is successful. For whatever reason, the no-till method does not even require the rotation of crops, as her section of corn – known to need yearly rotation – continues to yield more each year.
To complement her yearly vegetable harvest, Hutchinson has also mastered the art of using her root cellar for food storage. When they moved into their house in 2014, the cellar had not been used since the 1930’s. after cleaning it out, she now has the use of a traditional, 12×32′ space to preserve a food supply. “It’s a lost art,” she said.
During the Covid lockdowns, she was well-equipped to provide for her family without running to town (with the exception of having a massive toilet paper supply, she joked).
The Hutchinsons, besides consuming their regular supply of beef, have also raised and butchered hogs, Cornish hens, and broad breasted turkeys.
Hutchinson also possesses the skills of a master seamstress. She used to make her husband’s band collared shirts, which the other cowboys would try to trade him out of at brandings. She also made fleece sweaters in the buckaroo style. Sewing is not her favorite part of homesteading, but she is grateful to have the knowledge. Never one to have a “town job,” Hutchinson helps where she can on the ranch alongside her boys and husband, landscapes, and sells candid western photography through her business, Wyoming Life Photography.
Like Gates, Hutchinson hopes to instill the values of their western and traditional lifestyle in their boys. “I see so many people in today’s world that are so dependent on other people and the government. I hate that. I want to teach my kids to be the way me and [my husband,] Craig are: You work hard, you take care of yourself so you can take care of your friends and neighbors around you.”