“If you could start your Homestead over, completely from scratch, and you had a hypothetical budget of 100k USD in your pocket, how would you plan and prioritize?”
- What kind of priorities would you have or reconsider?
- What kind of power would you use?
- In what ways would you use this nest egg first?
- How would you do your planning again, if you had the option?
@thetreeoflife asks us this hypothetical question as she and her partner mentally and practically prepare to make their homestead move.
I am so excited to dig in and think about the aspects of this question this morning as I enjoy a cup of coffee by the woodstove.
Ini and I started off with a much smaller “nest egg” and if we had had 100k, I am not quite sure we would do much differently. First I’ll walk you all through some of our thought processes, what we liked about that and also things we may shift or do in different orders.
First off, make land a priority regarding how you use your nest egg. Think about what your dreams are (for us it was perennial food forestry ultimately) and tailor your vision and land choice toward what is important to you. Maybe you want land for raising livestock or extensive gardening, maybe a certain slope orientation is important to you. Take some time to really consider what your priorities are and your long term visions and as you go about finding land, see if you can literally imagine your dreams unfolding there.
For us, we chose Missouri because of its longish growing season (zone 6b), large amounts of rainfall (over 50 inches annually), prevalence of springs and aquifers (one of the highest concentrations in the country), lack of building codes and relatively inexpensive land prices.
In exchange, we live in Trump country and it can get a little bit “backwards” here or feel like it’s outside of time. There is little progressive politics and we are 45 minutes in every direction from a city large enough for a legit food store with organic bulk produce. We do a lot of ordering online. Consider for yourself what your limits are. 20 minutes from such a town? How do your specific dreams mingle with location and community aspects? We have a small progressive community around us that mostly satisfies us, but at times we wish we had larger social circles.
I think for any budget, land takes up a large part of that. And I think it should. It’s the key asset you’re investing in when creating a homestead.
I also wouldn’t be afraid to choose a place and land you really love (consider the long term taxes though) if it’s a bit more expensive. After all, you can’t change your place as easily as you can make more money or tear down or build a building.
For us it was ideal to find a place without an existing home. A structure such as a barn or outbuilding was okay, but we knew we wanted to build our own natural home. We didn’t have any building experience so we didn’t start off right away building a home and I think that was a good move. We built our humanure composting building first- this allowed us to practice our building styles, gain experience and have a home for our poop! We would do it again this way.
Permaculture asks us to Observe before we act and this is wise. We waited a year living on the land before we cut trees, established long term garden plans, built buildings, etc. And I love that we did that; I’d recommend it.
To this effect, we purchased a yurt and easily erected that from the start to take the pressure off of the home aspect. 3 years in and we are finally in the position (financially, energetically, stress levels wise, we have a lot of the other foundations of the homestead worked out and are far along on our food forests) to build a “true home”. We have a great relationship and understanding of our place, the sun & wind patterns, and generally how things feel on the land. We feel equipped to choose a home site. It’s good to wait.
If I could do it again, I would still do it this way. Set aside part of your budget for a beginner home that perhaps can be used in the future for travel, guests, etc. RVs or trailers are popular options. We enjoyed living in the yurt for the first year. There are a lot of options depending on your lifestyle and how you’re truly okay to live for the first few years. In this way, you can really get a piece of land that you like and not pay for someone else’s (dream?) home. By purchasing a tiny home or a house on wheels (or building one?), you’re saving your budget for land, water & power, good foundational elements.
You can always work outside the homestead to make more money to fund a future home and perhaps you’ll have more know-how and be more prepared in the future to build it anyway. I know our building skills have increased enough that we feel excited and (mostly) equipped to build!
Water, no matter how you slice it, is a priority. We got a well ¾ of the way through our first year on the land. Before that we pumped water from a well into 5 gal jugs from a gracious neighbor and also got water at times from our spring.
Prioritize water on your land. Our land has a spring and a perennially spring fed creek (that has only gone dry, according to locals, about once in 100 years). This was really important to us as food growing is a top priority- to always have water moving around us. It was also really economical to dig a well and that was a plan all along. Make sure it wont cost another $20,000 to dig a well. Get a quote. Definitely put water in the budget.
We still don’t have hot, running water year round. It can definitely be a bummer, but it’s also something we’ve worked with (and are very excited about for our future home!). Depending on your needs, maybe this would work for you, or perhaps you need running water right away. Either way, make sure you have abundant water on your land. Water issues are a real bummer in any homesteading vision.
We lived our first 2 years on the land without power. Our land was a raw piece of land without grid tie (and we liked it that way- power companies often get right-of-way for 10 feet on either side of the power line and we didn’t want to grant them that right to cut down trees, etc). It was interesting, to say the least, living without power for the first 2 years. Both of us were raised in homes with ample electricity haha and we got a taste for how people around the world live without it. It was character building!
We charged batteries at the library, at autozone, at friends’ houses when we’d come over for dinner. We used solar rechargeable lights and certainly weren’t tempted to stay up super late into the night on the dark, cold winter nights. Do I regret it? Absolutely not- it was a good experience to have as a modern human, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Know your limits and priorities.
Ultimately, in our second year, we set up a solar system and are happily bringing in and storing via batteries more of the sun’s energy than we can use in a day. We have a freezer, run all appliances and work tools, and are content with this amount of energy. We didn’t even have a generator in the beginning and that would’ve made life easier.
If you are going to plan to build a solar system later on, or budget for it from the beginning, many solar places will happily talk you through what components you need and you can get quotes from various places before you ever buy. That’s definitely a good route and I never regret not going grid tied (we don’t have any incentives to do so either in the state of Missouri and there are no federal or state kick backs). Now we have paid for 10 years of energy needs up front, have no energy bills, feel great about taking in the sun’s energy and are literally empowered that we did it all ourselves.
Looking back, I suppose the first 3 years on the land have been about laying foundations, of both skill sets, business (regarding our Permaculture plantings and future nursery ideas), power, water, etc. I think it’s wise to start slow and small instead of jumping into a large vision. Move into the place first. Spend a full 4 seasons there. Let the land talk to you. Let your dreams mingle with your place, its people, wildlife, energetics and the specific piece of land you’re on.
I believe in collaboration and synchronicity and that we aren’t only here to establish our dreams on a blank slate (there is no such thing), but to interact with the web of life of which we find ourselves a part. We aren’t humans with a green backdrop, so as you think about establishing yourself somewhere, leave room for that somewhere to establish you.
Things we haven’t done yet that we wish we had done earlier
Finalize the roof catchments systems.
We have built 3 structures (5 if you include high tunnels) and are not set up yet to catch and make full use of rainwater. Some roofing material we have built with was reused and galvanized metal and therefore not suitable for many uses due to zinc content. Our solar shed was roofed with new baked on enameled metal which is perhaps the best roofing option for rain catchment. We have yet to set up the appropriate system to collect, store and distribute water. It’s on the list…
Lay out water lines.
We have also yet to bury pipes to create a permanent irrigation and water distribution system. We have plans to lay pipes and hydrants for easy access to irrigate and other uses. Our water systems are still in the development phase and while we are grateful for what we have, we are also looking forward to an even more complete system.
Chip brushy trees
Much of the 3 acres that we are bringing into cultivation was cleared 7-10 years ago. The resulting growth is woody shrubs and small diameter trees. In clearing space to plant perennial food crops, we have had to remove a lot of biomass. Some of which has been burned to return minerals to the soil, and some has been made into biochar.
This has been a little labor intensive and the jury is still out on the effects of biochar. In retrospect it would have been great to have had a wood chipper onsite to turn all that biomass into easy to apply mulch to feed the soil that feeds our plants. We will arrange for this on future clearings and are excited to see how many wood chips we get.
This is our answer after 3 years on the land, ask us again in a decade…