So what makes me call myself a homesteader, rather than just a gardener?  Are the principles we're talking about reproducible?  Why would someone embrace this lifestyle?

Well, my answers have been a decade in the making.  As I arrived in north Georgia, I already had some chickens - as a matter of fact, my flock laid their very first egg the week we arrived here.  (I took that as a very good sign)  Within a year, I had my first garden beds and enjoyed a fabulous crop that first summer!

As I shopped for groceries, I was noting that I only purchased dairy, pasta, bread and meat to feed our large and very hungry sweet family.  I did not do year round gardening at the time - let's blame that on football season - but I did have veggies in the freezer to pull from.

As time went on, things became more clear.  Given a good plan, I could provide most of the food for my family from my own back yard.  Organic, natural food.  Pesticide-free food.  Grass fed meat.  Pastured eggs. Maybe even dairy.

I'm really not a "the world's coming to an end" kind of gal and I'm not preparing for the zombie apocalypse, but I do feel more secure knowing where my food is coming from and knowing how it is raised, whether animal or vegetable.  I'm definitely on board with pastured  meat of any kind and wild caught seafood.  The more I read, the less I like wheat and corn as a food for any animal.

How handy that I switched to low carbohydrate diet!  Things really came into focus then!  So here is my take on the FOUR LEVELS OF HOMESTEADING  for you to ponder:

Have a year round garden.  Eat seasonally from your garden and enjoy fresh veggies and herbs. You can even grow the herb stevia and make a sweetener for your tea at home!

You will need to purchase all of your meat and eggs, all of your dairy and what I'm calling 'foundation groceries'

Add hens to your repertoire. You will have more eggs than you need (maybe) and may be able to sell some eggs to friends. A standard back yard can easily support a few hens and most municipalities are allowing 5 birds even in city limits.

You will still need to purchase your meat, dairy and foundation groceries.

Add animals for meat.  The choices include beef cows, goats, chickens for meat, turkeys, pigs and fish.

This is a pretty major commitment and it is probably best to ramp up slowly.  If you have the land, it changes the pasture from a chore (something simply to mow) to an asset (food).

You will still need to purchase dairy and foundation groceries.

Add at least 2 goats or one cow for dairy.  The commitment here is the daily chore of milking and processing the milk.  As a low carb kind of gal, I don't drink glasses of milk anymore.  But I do enjoy cream, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, mozzarella and basically any other cheese I have ever come in contact with.

I'm still on the fence with this one, but you guys will be the first to know.

A person at level four only purchases foundation groceries (listed for a low carb lifestyle):
oils - canola, coconut and olive
vinegar - for pickling and salad dressings
coffee & tea - because I'm not into deprivation
nuts - almonds, pecans and peanut butter (simply because I'm not interested in raising enough peanuts for Mr. Maven)
flours - coconut, flax seed meal, almond meal, xanthum gum (for thickening sauces)
condiments - mustard
spices - salt, pepper, coconut, cinnamon, cocoa  (you can make your own chili powder, paprika, cajun seasoning, and use fresh or dried herbs you have grown)

Now, I'm not there yet. And I'm not telling you that's where you need to be.  But it is great 'food' for thought (sometimes I embarrass myself).  The best help to your budget is by far the garden.  A one time set up and seeds give you a healthy hobby and delicious food.  Everyone I know who has chickens enjoys them.  For us, the cows have been a huge learning curve, but a welcome addition.  I'm planning for 2 spring pigs (not named Charlotte or Wilbur) and we regularly pick up wild caught seafood when we travel to the coast.

Homesteading keeps you young - not just because of the healthy food, but because there's always a whole lot more to learn, to think about and to challenge you.  Take the plunge on level one - I don't think you will every regret it.

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