Have you ever wanted to leave the rat race? Perhaps buy a few acres in the country. Maybe raise some chickens and produce your own food. Today I am posting an interview with someone who is living the dream, Anna Hess.
I asked her to answer a few questions over email after she announced that the paperback version of The Weekend Homesteader is now available for preorder. She graciously agreed to the interview.
You are a blogger that has achieved a book deal, are you familiar with Seth Godin’s writings and his post about gatekeepers?
I’m glad you brought up the issue of artistic gatekeepers because I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about that very issue. Although I hadn’t read Seth Godin’s writings until you pointed me toward him, I agree that we’ve reached a point where authors can bypass the gatekeepers and pick ourselves.
Authors are currently able to sell our words to the world with no startup costs by listing ebooks on Amazon. (Or elsewhere, but my experience has shown that Amazon is a good market for new authors.) Rather than spending all of our energy sending query letters to agents and publishers, we can simply write what we want to write, put it out there, and see whether the public finds our words inspiring.
The downside of the gatekeeper-less world is that you have to be willing to promote your own work if you want it to make enough of an initial impact to allow your ebook to gain momentum and sell itself. Even after signing on with a publisher, you’ll be expected to create a facebook page, blog, twitter account, or other internet presence to keep readers engaged. As a self-published author, those steps are even more imperative.
If you’re an aspiring author but don’t think you have the time or energy to write a whole ebook now, I’d recommend starting by building an internet presence. Not only will you prime the pump to increase your eventual work’s exposure, you’ll meet lots of like-minded people so you’re not writing in a vacuum. You may even decide that this “disadvantage” of a gatekeeper-less artistic world actually benefits your life and your creativity.
You write almost every day, what motivates you to write your blog and your book?
Even though our blog is extremely valuable in helping us sell our ebooks, our new paperback, and our chicken waterers, that’s not why we write every day. Instead, my husband and I blog because we love to.
I inherited a terrible memory, so a blog post is my way of summing up the most important facets of my life for later recall. It’s also a way of shaping my own world — even if I’m having a terrible day, if I can spin the story so that it’s funny instead of depressing, I go to bed happy.
I also like to keep my mind engaged, so our blog does double duty helping me make sense of the books and websites I read. If I can sum up the most important concepts so that our readers understand and are inspired, I generally increase my own understanding.
And then there’s the social aspect. We live way out in the woods and have few like-minded neighbors, so we get a lot out of tossing around ideas with other homesteaders on the blog. On a more personal note, our close friends and family appreciate hearing about our lives, and we enjoy reading their comments.
I consider my books to be the more polished, thought-out version of the blog. Once an idea has gotten so big it billows out past the attention span of a blog reader, I turn the idea into a book. Books have all the benefits of blog posts, but I also try to focus on the reader more — they’re my way of giving back to the homesteading community. (And, on a more selfish side, of making a bit of cash to fund our homesteading experiments.)
What makes a house a homestead?
Here’s the blurb I include in my book defining homesteading:
“Homesteading” used to mean hacking a livelihood out of the wilderness, building a log cabin and living off the sweat of your brow. Modern homesteading is a bit different.
Homesteaders now live in high rises and nice suburban neighborhoods as well as in areas where supplies have to be helicoptered in. Many homesteaders spend forty hours a week working at a desk job, or are homemakers busy ferrying their kids from music lessons to soccer practice.
To folks over the age of fifty, I usually describe homesteading this way: “Remember the back-to-the-land movement of the sixties and seventies? Homesteading is the same thing…without the drugs and free love.”
Modern homesteaders want to provide their families with a better life than they could afford if they had to pay cash for the trappings. They’re willing to start where they are and use sweat equity to grow nutritious, delicious food, create sustainable heat from locally grown wood, and use free organic matter to rebuild the soil. Most of all, homesteaders want to be healthy, happy, and cheerfully self-sufficient.
The only thing I’d add is homesteading is all about the state of mind and path, not necessarily the destination. If you’re trying to be more self-sufficient and want to be a homesteader, you are one, even if you still buy firewood and some food from the store (like we do).
Where did you first learn about permaculture? Have you taken or considered taking a permaculture design course?
I stumbled across the word “permaculture” on a blog about five years ago. Since then, I’ve been reading widely, focusing not just on books that use the term permaculture, but also on those (often older) texts that help me understand the ecology of a farm.
I’ve never taken a permaculture design course, mostly because I was already so deeply rooted on my own farm when I learned about the concept that I didn’t want to leave for any length of time. But the fact that most permaculture courses are held far away also turned me off.
Unless a course is offered next door, you’re going to have to follow up with a lot of experimentation to tweak theories to match your homestead. For example, I got excited when reading about swales, but soon discovered they were the worst possible idea for our waterlogged clay soil.
On the other hand, it’s true that many permaculture skills are best learned hands on. Luckily, you don’t have to take an entire permaculture course to learn to grow your own food and become more self-sufficient. In the U.S., your local extension agent may be able to hook you up with free or cheap courses on gardening (ask about the Master Gardener program), grafting, beekeeping, and much more. Weekend Homesteader includes a chapter on finding local mentors and points you in other helpful directions.
In the end, I recommend that folks interested in permaculture read widely, try out all kinds of wacky ideas, and then throw out the ones that don’t work where you’re at. If you’re lucky enough to have a permaculture course offered within a hundred miles or so of your front door (and if you can afford it), you should definitely enroll, but don’t feel like you can’t learn permaculture using the self study option. You might take longer to achieve your goals, but your homestead will be more vibrant and self-sufficient for the extra attention.
Becoming part of the food chain has been a slow, spiritual awakening for
both me and my husband. When we first moved to the farm, I was nearly a vegetarian, but Mark has always been quite carnivorous. Hunting the deer that had been marauding through our vegetables was only the latest of a series of events that began with learning to slaughter chickens at a friends’ farm, progressed through a tutorial on turkey butchering, marinated during home study chicken killing days, and finally gelled into the hunting expedition you refer to. The process was disturbing at first, but we soon learned that the meat tastes better if we’re personally involved in an animal’s life and demise.
Part of our meat-eating journey has been realizing that animals are part of a healthy, organic farm just like they’re part of every wild ecosystem. I used to blindly believe the statistics put forth by the soybean industry, which claims that our earth could feed more people if we were all vegetarians. However, I soon realized that we’d have to farm an area five times as large if we fertilized our garden with cover crops alone instead of with manure. Meanwhile, I discovered that I could “stack” chickens under fruit trees and get two types of harvest from the same land area. That’s why I’ve completely changed my tune and recommend that earth-conscious eaters include homegrown meat in their diets.