Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Building A Local Homesteading Community: How We Did It

Often I mention my local homesteading community group in my posts (click this link to read my original post). A lot has happened in the last year or two, so I thought an update was in order along with some more detailed information about how we organized and found each other.

Honestly, I only started with the idea that I wanted to occasionally sit around and talk my heart out with other like-minded homesteaders. Were there any out there? Would anyone be interested? How would we add one more thing into our already maxed out lives? 

Seems like it was providential... a wave that we all jumped on and have been riding ever since.

The First Meeting

I wasn't really sure who would be interested in a homesteading group, so I set a date and called every single person I knew that had a vegetable garden, chickens, and anything that remotely resembled homesteading. Next I called every friend that had ever expressed an interest in learning how to ___________. (Fill in the blank with any number of things, from soapmaking to bread baking).

About 12-14 people showed up that night and I had no agenda. All I did was give a little opening statement that went something like this...

"I asked you all here tonight because in some way you've shown an interest in homesteading. I'd like to organize us together for the purpose of sharing ideas, learning from each other, and working together to change any local zoning codes that aren't homestead-friendly. I have no idea how this is going to look or if anyone is even interested, but I'd like to hear your ideas and what you'd like in a group, if anything."

That's all it took... they were off and running!

It was immediately obvious that a monthly meeting was NOT their idea of a good solution. But some creative out-of-the-box thinker suggested a google or yahoo group that would link us all together via emails. Someone could start a "thread" at anytime, on any homesteading topic, and everyone would get the email and see everyone else's email response. Those only wanting occasional emails could adjust their setting on the group page. And after leaving me their email address, a cup of coffee or tea and a treat, everyone went home.

How Our Group Grew

From the original 12-14 that attended, only about 4-6 people really got on board. But that was enough. Once I sent them an invite to the group, they were able to invite their friends as well. Through multiplication, word spread and more and more joined the google group we set up.

When I mentioned the group on my blog, a wonderful homesteader who had been reading realized I was in the same town where she and her family were relocating. An email or two later and she was a part of our group.

An article in our local city magazine has generated a couple more members, as well as a few recommendations from an organic farmer who has willing spread the word.

At this point, our group has about 10 VERY active members and another 10 fairly active. In addition, there's probably another 20 that are part of the group but not active at the moment for various reasons ranging from a move, health problems of family members, etc.

What We Do

First and foremost, we share ideas with each other and ask questions which usually someone in the group can answer. Everything from what to do about broody chickens to copper requirements and analysis of local alfalfa. You would be AMAZED if I listed them all! And I can't begin to tell you how much I've learned from this fabulous group of serious homesteaders.

We often group together to split orders for feed, sourdough starters, canning jars, chicks... you name it! And depending on what area of the mountains we live in, we've worked together to change at least one zoning law on chickens (with much success I might add!).

Occasionally we get together to see one another face to face. This typically looks like a pot luck with some topic of discussion, a guest speaker (recently we had someone from the county Land and Range Management Office) or a DVD (like Backyard Food Production). We've had "parties" to butcher chickens, make soap, learn how to spin wool into thread, and can produce.

In addition, we've had several sub-groups form: a beekeeping group, smaller gardening groups based on where everyone lives in the mountains, and a swap exchange that meets monthly (where we trade food we've grown or products we've made).

We've also started taking "field trips", like the one several members attended at a Lavender farm about an hour away. During our private tour we learned a lot of valuable information from the farmer; which lavender varieties are best for various uses and how to propagate lavender plants.

What We Didn't Anticipate

While we all expected to get help from others in the group, I think we were all caught off guard and surprised to find such like-minded kindred spirits who understood where we were coming from and would listen as we talked about chicken feed formulations, edible wild plants on our property, and problems with kefir.

The care and support that has developed is amazing! When a mountain fire threatened the home of one of our members, everyone else in the group was on stand by to help her evacuate her animals and house them for as long as necessary. When another member was suddenly relocated, members took animals and food for their family while they packed up. Another member had a daughter in the hospital for 3 weeks and members rallied to put in her vegetable garden so that it was ready and growing when they returned home. And I can't tell you the number of times members have rushed to help with kidding, beekeeping emergencies, and a host of other things!

Why This Has Worked So Well

I think the reason this homesteading group has worked so well is that we're extremely flexible. We really have no rules, no dues, no officers, and no expectations of one another. This is so contrary to how things usually work in our society where rules seem so necessary. Perhaps I'm just blessed to have such a wonderful group of women around here that understand mutual respect for others, but I can't discount the thought that homesteading builds this kind of character.

Anyone who has tried to make a go of homesteading seriously, will quickly realize that no man (or woman) is an island unto themselves. We were created by God to live in community and that is where we will find our souls most satisfied. Yes, there are times that I'm less active in the group than at other times because of life circumstances. But there are other times when I'm in there pulling the load along with several friends. This is how it should be. Grace, respect, support, understanding, patience, forgiveness, ... love.

Who knew we'd see it so beautifully illustrated in a group gathered to share homesteading ideas? To all those in my local group... Thank you!!!!!


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