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Homesteading Without Land

Homesteading Without Land

Homesteading is something I have personally dreamed of for most of my life, but I’ve never been able to achieve it in full scale. I had children young, and became the sole provider for a large family for many years. I’m married to a working man, now. His paycheck is extremely helpful, but it’s not enough to get us out of debt.

I got behind in taxes when my formerly decent income dropped to nearly nothing due to changes at the company I do most of my contract work for. Debt mounted into the six figure range from medical bills alone because one of my children came down with a near-fatal auto-immune condition that required multiple hospitalizations. Even if I bought property now, the government would just take it to satisfy my massive tax debt, or the hospital would take it to satisfy my daughter’s hospital bills.

I can’t count on inheriting property, even though I am an only child. My paternal grandfather had originally left his 11 acre homestead and cabin to me in his will. Then he got remarried, sold it, and moved across the country. She inherited the new place, and her kids will get it. My paternal grandmother willed her home and one acre on the lake to my dad, whose work history has been sketchy and who now lives on $600 per month from Social Security and will likely lose the home because he can’t pay the $1800 per year property taxes, and the house is falling apart because he can’t afford to take care of it. My other grandparents owned 100 combined acres. My aunt inherited the 45 acres and the house they lived on, and with no family of her own (she never married) she’s willed it to her church. My mother and their younger sister jointly inherited the other 55 acres, which they are just sitting on. My mother’s husband will inherit her half, and my two cousins will likely inherit the other half.

All this land in my family, and I will probably receive nothing, even though I am the only one in the family who even cares about land. I’m the only one who has ever dreamed of owning a farm. I’m the only one with a large family. My cousin has one daughter and inherited a home on the bay in Panama City. Her brother has no children and inherited his paternal grandmother’s house.

I’m not telling you all this to say, “poor me”. I’m not whining. I may be discouraged, but I don’t feel entitled. If anything, it’s just made me realize how strong I’ve had to become.

I’m telling you all this to let you know that if you dream of homesteading, you shouldn’t give up. I’m making little strides toward it all the time. Despite everything, I’m doing all I can to make this dream a reality. You should, too.

I started by planting some lettuce and radishes in cheap plastic window boxes. Then I happened upon a rental property that has a couple of nut trees, a muscadine vine, a small fenced back yard, and about half an acre. Although the back yard isn’t sunny, we’ve raised some lettuce, radishes, herbs, and sorrel back there in containers. My son, who is 18, loves gardening, and he’s even tried growing corn, beans, and squash back there, but sadly there just wasn’t enough sun and the crops produced very little.

In the front yard, we’ve grown some jalapeños, tomatoes, squash, okra, kale, and more herbs. But the front yard is a very steep hill, so we can only grow in the patch by the garage and along the side of the driveway near the top.

Next spring, we’ll be getting some chickens. Several of our neighbors have small flocks, and one even sells eggs. Since we have a fenced yard, having a few chickens seems like a great way to move a little further toward our goal.

My next step is to approach my aunt and ask her if she’d be willing to let us plant some things on her property. I might not inherit it, but I’m hoping she’ll at least let me make use of some of it. Most of it has grown into forest now, because she doesn’t have the ability to keep the meadows that were once there bush hogged. But there’s still a sizable area that is open and sunny–enough to plant enough food for the whole family if we manage it correctly, and we’ll gladly share the crops with her in exchange for use of the land.

I would approach my father with the same offer on his one acre, but he lives over 30 minutes away and we only have one car, so getting there to tend the crops would be difficult. My aunt lives only 5 minutes from us.

The 55 acres jointly owned by my mother and aunt is almost entirely forest. They’ve placed it into a conservation program that reduces their tax debt, but only allows for specific uses of the property. It’s only 5 minutes from us, too, but I’m not sure what we could legally do there, or even if they would allow us to use it. I’m pretty sure my cousin goes deer hunting there, and they’ve said we can go hiking there anytime we want, but I really don’t know the legalities of farming there.

We’re also constantly on the lookout for another rental property with more land, but this has been an uphill battle. Most landlords are finicky about their property, because they want to keep it looking as good as possible for future tenants, which is certainly understandable. The few places in our area with acreage that the landlord specifically says allows farming and gardens are usually in the $1800-$2800 per month range–far, far outside our budget. I guess farming is indeed a popular “hobby” for the wealthy these days.

All we really want is a rustic cabin large enough for our family and a few acres to farm, along with a water source. But that’s what a lot of people want, and they usually have a lot more money than we do. So we have no choice but to keep at it like we are–farming what little bit of property we have, maybe raising a few chickens, and looking for a partnership with someone who does have property.

Baby steps.

Until then, I’m working hard, saving every penny I can possibly manage to hopefully someday pay off all these tax debts and medical bills. Maybe someday we can own property that won’t be taken away. Right now, we’d just be happy to rent two acres with a stream and a doublewide.

Anyone know of a farm for rent? 😉

Don’t give up on your dreams. Even if you live in an apartment, you can plant some lettuce and herbs on your balcony. You might even be lucky enough to have full sun for a tomato plant or two. Or you could try to get your town to start a community garden, or ask a family member to use their land. You might even find someone willing to let you farm their land in exchange for part of what you produce.

Remember, baby steps. But don’t give up!

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