Small town Beaver, Pennsylvania, home of Garrison Day
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Homesteading in Appalachia, Then and Now

Growing up on a farm in Kentucky, hard work was an inherent part of my childhood. I remember the drudgery of summer garden work. Snapping string beans, husking corn, and my mother canning everything just as her mother had done before her. Endless jars of beans, potatoes, peppers, relish, pickles, jams, pawpaws, and homemade salsas filled our cabinets and pantry. We stacked and stuffed the deep freeze with corn, berries, and the remains of the lone annual cow.

While we were hardly “homesteading” in the traditional definition of the word, we were doing our best at a sustainable level. Now confined to urban box gardening and working on a laptop, I feel a sense of nostalgia for that lifestyle. I don’t think it’s just me, though; there’s a reason so many of my peers have moved toward modern homesteading. 

Modern Homesteading

Once upon a time, most folks provided for their families with little help from the outside world. Today I see the convergence of traditional homesteading practices (particularly in Appalachia) with modern conveniences like the internet and dishwashers.

I know homesteaders who blog about their homesteading experience, who make just as much writing as they do farming. I see homesteading bloggers who teach others how to practice social homesteading, avoiding the typical isolation of generations past.

The way I see it, modern homesteading is more about the attitude and mindset than the hard, fast specifics. It’s an “If I can do it myself, I’ll do it myself.” attitude. Self-sustainment requires an extremely dedicated work ethic. It’s a love for the land that inspires good stewardship. It’s an innate joy found in nourishing your food before it nourishes you, from seed to plate. If you grew up in Appalachia, you probably have a mindset of self-reliance ingrained from childhood.

Organic: Fad or Commitment to Responsible Sustainability

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If you grew up on a farm like me, you may not see that lifestyle as a viable alternative. It takes a lot of time and commitment to maintain even a small homestead and the work isn’t easy. Most of us just want to provide for our families in the easiest way possible and hopefully be able to send our kid to college or maybe travel. This economic truth led to an abandonment of the traditional homestead but the trends in sustainable living may change things.

Public concerns about the environment and personal health have renewed the interest in organic foods. They are in high demand and their popularity is growing quickly. Farmer’s markets, local produce stands, and other individual vendors are as popular as ever, and organic food is well represented.

According to the USDA’s 2016 Certified Organic Survey, organic sales nationwide are up 23 percent. One of the states leading the charge? Pennsylvania. More people are considering homesteading thanks to the insights and education provided by groups like Pennsylvania Certified Organic. New generations are learning that they can enjoy a self-sustaining, healthy lifestyle as a homesteader and still earn a living. Just like in centuries past, these new homesteaders will teach their children this way of life, and so on. It could be the beginning of a sort of homesteading renaissance!

Is Homesteading for You?

The modern homestead in Appalachia is like a concoction of necessity and viability. The Appalachian heritage provides the work ethic and mindset needed for success  The current technology, ideas, and research of modern generations can make homesteading a smart economic choice. The only other thing needed to ensure the stability of modern homesteading is public support and an individual commitment to sustainable living.

Do you agree? What’s been your experience as a homesteader growing up or as an adult today?  Where do you see the future of homesteading headed? Let us know by commenting below or on Facebook or Twitter!