A 12-Step Program for 2013
By Ashley English
Photo by Tim Robison
With each New Year, we’re given the opportunity to wash the metaphorical slate clean and reinvent ourselves in any way we see fit. For some, this self-renewal manifests in a vow to floss every night, or cut back on soda consumption, or eat yogurt every morning.
For increasingly many, though, the stakes have been driven a little deeper. Self-improvement evidences in an intention to learn to can jars of strawberry jam, or keep a flock of laying hens, or steward a hive of honeybees, or butcher a hog. The interest in homesteading skills — both large (going whole hog) and small (crafting a homemade condiment for the morning toast) — grows and grows.
Trends indicate that even more people will undertake this meaningful lifestyle shift in 2013.
So just how does a person go from consumer to producer, from jam-jar buyer to jam-pot stirrer? From egg-carton purchaser to egg-nesting-box gatherer?
Perhaps you’re interested in adding some homesteading skills to your 2013 repertoire but haven’t a clue how to make that happen. I’m here today with 12 tips, one for every month of the New Year, to guide you in your journey. My suggestions, time-honed and originating from years spent on a serious homesteading learning curve, will go far towards moving you from mozzarella lover to mozzarella maker, from vine-ripened tomato eater to tomato grower. Here’s to a New Year, a new you, and a new set of do-it-yourself skills.
1) Find mentors. Seek out people in your area already doing what you're interested in learning. They'll likely be willing to share some of their wisdom with you — they’ve been an invaluable part of my own homesteading learning curve.
2) Take classes. There's nothing like real-world, hands-on experience to make you comfortable with a skill you're trying to learn. From classes at A-B Tech to those at area stores such as Small Terrain and The Dry Goods Shop (both on Haywood Road in West Asheville) and Eagledove Greenhouse on Swannanoa River Road, opportunities abound.
3) Read books. They’re being published in every imaginable area of homesteading. Read as much as you can before you start, so that you're not reinventing the wheel.
4) Seek out like-minded friends. A buddy interested in learning how to keep chickens or preserve food will be invaluable, in terms of sharing information and sharing labor. Many hands make for light work, and if you happen to be fond of the person you’re extracting honey or making cheese with, well, all the better.
5) Appropriate existing materials. It's likely you already have many items on hand that can be given new life. A shed becomes a chicken coop, a stock pot becomes a water-bath canner. Work with what you’ve got, and you needn’t break the bank to get cracking on a new hobby.
6) Start slowly. Trying to take on an entire farm when all you've ever done before is keep a container of basil on your fire escape can overwhelm anyone. Start with one or two skills at time, and build up slowly.
7) Dress the part. Many homesteading skills can be messy, or dirty, or chilly, or otherwise hazardous to nice garments. Consider the task at hand and dress appropriately.
8) Write it down. A journal to chronicle mistakes and successes, as well as a calendar to keep reminders of when to plant peas or order firewood will go far towards helping you reach your ultimate goals.
9) Don't beat yourself up. Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't become discouraged if it takes a while to have the pantry, garden, orchard, or animals of your dreams. Slow and steady really does win the race.
10) Choose your battles. Focus on the skills you really want to learn. If you feel like you should be making your own butter, but don't really like the entire process, don't do it. If you don't enjoy it, support local purveyors who do.
11) Use the Internet. Any time you have a question (and, believe me, you’ll definitely have questions), pose it in a search engine. You’ll find a wealth of forums on which to solicit loads of feedback from similarly inquisitive, and impassioned, folks.
12) Stop and smell the roses. It’s terribly easy to get caught up in thinking about all you haven’t yet accomplished or completed or learned. Don’t go there. Instead, remember to focus on what’s right in front of you, giving you enjoyment and happiness this very moment, since, really, it’s the only moment we’ve truly got any guarantee on.