“Homesteading” has become a buzzword all over the internet and to many, it may seem to be a relatively new idea, or at least a recent revival of an old concept. However, this seemingly new movement has deep roots and a large following that continues to grow daily. In central Texas, homesteading has been on the rise.
So exactly where did homesteading come from? Depending on how far you dig, most would point to the early history of the United States, when the Homesteading Act of 1862 was enacted by President Abraham Lincoln, allowing pioneers to claim a certain amount of land as long as they used the area they claimed to make a subsistence living off of the land. This meant pasturing various livestock, growing crops, harvesting trees for building purposes, and establishing a home and eventually outbuildings for the homestead such as barns, silos, and root cellars. This program was used to allow people to move out of the cities and into the “Wild West” of the United States, solving overcrowding in the cities (and all the food/housing shortages that went with it), as well as populating the rest of the land the United States government owned.
While it is nearly impossible to find similar types of laws today, there is still a growing movement towards becoming more self-sufficient, cutting living costs, simplifying lifestyles, and producing one’s own food and other goods. The movement has grown especially in the past 8 years due to the rise of social media and the availability of information via the internet. The factors leading to the resurgence of homesteading in recent times are quite varied.
The people who have joined the homesteading movement in the US in the last 20 years or so come from nearly every walk of life and from a broad spectrum of political, social, religious, and economic camps. There are people who desire to be independent of the government for supplying electricity and other types of energy, or on the food industry for supplying quality food. There are others who simply wish to get back to the land and work with their hands in what is viewed as a technology crazed culture. Some are concerned with the environmental consequences of the industrialized, modern lifestyle and wish to reduce their own personal impact by producing their own food and energy sources. Some wish to escape the so-called rat-race and lead a quiet, simple life. Others do so out of strong social, environmental and/or religious convictions in opposition to popular culture. And for some, its the mere challenge of learning to produce one’s basic needs with their own two hands and know-how.
There are several factors that have influenced the shape of the current homesteading movement:
–>The DIY Trend: The DIY movement has moved beyond arts and crafts to producing furniture, clothing, housing (such as tiny houses), and health and beauty products.
–>The “Know Your Farmer” Trend: Fear and mistrust of the quality of the food industry as a result of media exposure of many of the large agricultural corporations as well as concern over the pollution created from transporting food and other products from all corners of the globe has led many to choose to only eat from farms near them. As a result, the number of farmers markets, CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and handcrafted markets has grown countrywide. This has created an opportunity for homesteaders to have a market for the goods they produce in addition to producing for their own consumption.
–>The Real Food Trend: The growing demand for organic, non-GMO and locally-produced food. This includes heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables instead of genetically modified varieties, produce, and grains grown without the use of pesticides and harmful fertilizers, and small, privately owned farms. The emphasis is on avoiding processed, mass produced food with artificial preservatives and instead processing ones own foods from quality ingredients.
–>The Happy Cow Trend: The demand for grass-fed, organic meat as well as a high quality of life for farm animals. Related to the “Know your Farmer” trend and the exposure of questionable practices within the beef, pork, dairy and poultry industries, many have convictions about the treatment of animals or simply want to avoid the antibiotics, corn-based diet and risk of disease that seems to be more likely from large feed lots and chicken farms. Many homesteaders choose to raise their own animals for eggs, dairy and meat and very often sell off the extra at local markets.
–>The Off-Grid Trend: Off-gridders, as they are sometimes known, are individuals who choose to make their own sources of energy and to have their own sources of water and waste elimination. Definitions of being off-grid range in extremity, but most agree that it means having at least most of one’s electricity powered through solar, hydro or wind sources instead of being on the “electricity grid”. There are many reasons for doing this, whether it be the desire for nearly free energy, or simply not trusting the power grid infrastructure and wanting to be self-sufficient in case of disaster.
Whatever the trend or reasoning that motivates someone to become a homesteader, there is no denying that the movement has a large range of subscribers and that it will most likely continue to grow. There are many places that one can homestead, however, some places are superior to others for many reasons.
So why Central Texas for a homestead? What makes Central Texas especially suited for homesteading? There are many factors involved in deciding where to start a homestead. The first consideration is the availability of affordable, arable land for gardening and raising animals. Though Austin, San Antonio and Houston are less than three hours at most from each other, there is plenty of land between the three that is affordable, with typically good soil for gardening and grazing livestock. In most parts of the country, land that is close to metropolitan areas are fairly expensive, making it prohibitive for homesteading. This is not generally the case with land in Central Texas.
Though water can be a challenge in parts of Texas, central Texas generally has reliable water sources from rivers, aquifers and good rainfall. Perhaps one of the best reasons Central Texas is suited to homesteading is the double growing season due to the abundant sunshine and subtropical climate ((East of I-35 is the general boundary for the subtropical climate). Another reason that Central Texas is suited for homesteading is the proximity to urban markets. Those who garden or raise livestock are near enough to any number of large and small markets for selling their goods and have the option of selling at different markets throughout the week if desired, as well as a larger market for a CSA if a homesteader decided against using farmer’s markets to sell goods.
Another perk to homesteading in Central Texas is the Agriculture exemption. This tax valuation allows qualifying land to be taxed at a lower percentage than its regular market value. Whether it is pasture land for livestock or poultry, crops or orchards, the land may qualify for this exemption of sorts. The exact requirements differ from county to county so it is worth doing some research.
These are only a few of the perks of homesteading on Central Texas land, and there are many who have already begun to carve out a more self-sufficient lifestyle on their own plot of beautiful Texas land. Whether you are new to the idea of homesteading, or already have some experience under your belt, Central Texas is a great option for beginning the adventure of becoming more self-sufficient.