Broadly defined, homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foodstuffs, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. Pursued in different ways around the world — and in different historical eras — homesteading is generally differentiated from rural village or commune living by isolation (either socially or physically) of the homestead. Use of the term in the United States dates back to the Homestead Act (1862) and before. In sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in nations formerly controlled by the British Empire, a homestead is the household compound for a single extended family. In the UK, the term 'smallholder' is the rough equivalent of 'homesteader'.
As historical governmental policy
Historically, homesteading has been used by governmental entities (engaged in national expansion) to help populate and make habitable what were previously little-desired areas; especially in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Guided by legal Homestead principles, many of these "Homestead acts" were instituted in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to drive the populating of specific, national areas; with most being discontinued after a set time-frame or goal were achieved. Renewed interest in homesteading was brought about by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's program of Subsistence Homesteading in the 1930s and 1940s.
The attractiveness of back-to-the-land movements dates from the Roman era, and has been noted in Asian poetry and philosophy tracts as well. The ideas of modern homesteading proponents, such as Ralph Borsodi, gained in popularity in the 1960s in the United States. Self-sufficiency movements in the 1990s and 2000s began to apply the concept to urban and suburban settings, known as urban homesteading. According to author John Seymour, "urban homesteading" incorporates small-scale, sustainable agriculture and homemaking.
As economic choice
In homesteading, social and government support systems are frequently eschewed in favor of self-reliance and relative deprivation, in order to maximize independence and self-determination. The degree of independence occurs along a spectrum, with many homesteaders creating foodstuffs or crafts to appeal to high-end niche markets in order to meet financial needs. Other homesteaders come to the lifestyle following successful careers which provide the funding for land, housing, taxes, and specialized equipment such as solar panels, farm equipment and electricity generators.
Modern government regulation - in the form of building codes, food safety codes, zoning regulations, minimum wage and social security for occasional labor, and town council restrictions on landscaping and animal keeping - has increased the marginal cost of home production of food. This, combined with the delayed rewards of creating a viable agriculture site, increase the difficulty of establishing a self-sufficient homestead from scratch, particularly for those of limited income.
Actual financial savings from adopting a homesteading lifestyle appear most closely related to lower material living standards and conservation of purchased resources (such as electricity, fertilizer, water, and foodstuffs) rather than lower costs of living. Economies of scale in modern agriculture and opportunity cost of manual labor prevent home-raised food from being an economical choice. However, many homesteaders express deep satisfaction with their standard of living and feel that their lifestyle is healthier and more rewarding than more conventional patterns of living.
- Cannon, Brian Q., “Homesteading Remembered: A Sesquicentennial Perspective,” Agricultural History, 87 (Winter 2013), 1–29.
- Heritage Homesteaders - Homesteading and Self-Sufficiency in the Modern World
- Homestead.org - The Homesteader's Free Library
- State of Alaska Land Offerings and Remote Recreation Cabins Staking Program
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture - Homesteading
- Punk Rock Homesteading
- VelaCreations - Guides to homesteading in the modern age