There is a tremendous learning curve to many country living ventures. You will make mistakes. However, as you build your experience, you can ease the process by taking advantage of the expertise of others. Even as you do gain experience in your chosen projects, keep seeking out more knowledge for fresh insight and inspiration. Here are our recommendations for how to learn homesteading, farming, and ranching.
Knowledge is power. Books and other types of reading materials have preserved the knowledge of great thinkers and doers for all time. Therefore, no matter how busy we are, it behooves us to continue to expand our knowledge by taking time to read.
And it is also a good idea to read widely and diversely. It is amazing the unique connections we can make if we feed our minds an array of varied material. Joel Salatin talks about this in his excellent book, Your Successful Farm Business. Besides the obvious titles on sustainable agriculture, he reads everything from religion to business to history to self-help. And even in the agriculture realm he reads the conventional literature.
Because you will only have time to read so many books in your lifetime, you will want to customize your list, of course. There is no point in wasting time even on meaty books that are simply as dry as dust to you. The objective is to take in a wide range of perspectives in two key areas:
- Topics of general interest.
- Topics directly related to the enterprises and projects you envision.
We would also recommend reading from a variety of eras, as well. Obviously you will want to keep up with the latest developments in your field, so quality blogs, periodicals, and best-sellers are great. But there is much to be gained from reading older books. Public domain works often contain nuggets of know-how that have been lost in more recent times.
Do hit the foundational books in your niche (the classics, so to speak) for insight on current perspectives. But keep in mind that as you gain experience you will likely form your own opinion as to which authors were the most knowledgeable.
Seeing is Believing
As useful as books are, some skills are easiest to learn when seen, especially DIY skills. There is a tremendous difference between reading an article on fitting a collar to a horse, even if that article includes photos, and watching a video of someone actually demonstrating the process on a live horse. With this in mind, include some videos and in-person demonstrations in your mix of material to observe.
But choose your sources carefully. The real experts are the ones who have put in the time, made the mistakes, and ultimately succeeded. They know how to learn homesteading and farming skills, because they have already done it themselves. They are the ones to emulate.
In the end, however, there is no substitute for actually getting your hands dirty. What you read and watch will take on new meaning as you immerse yourself in the process.
But there are ways you can gain experience while minimizing the risk. If you have a relative already involved in farming and country living, ask if he or she would be willing to mentor you; even if you have a completely different philosophical approach, you can still learn much in the way of practical skills if you are willing. A quality apprenticeship program is another option. Also, if you purchase livestock, the seller might be willing to consult with you if you are respectful of his time (that includes offering to pay for the consultation).
Barring these mentoring options, you may be able to find a workshop or similar event that will teach you skills you want to learn. Sustainable agriculture organizations host many such events, but don’t discount what you can learn from your extension service, either—these folks usually have a pretty good handle on local conditions that have to be accounted for.
And another tip for making the most of your learning experience—take notes. Find a system for filing away information that you want to remember, whether that is a journal of daily observations or a notebook of tips you can refer to later.
If you want to learn homesteading skills, the most important thing you can do is to be willing and eager to learn.
Approach the world of country living with your eyes and ears wide open. Even if you don’t live on a farm, you can start learning right now. Pay attention to nature’s cycle, how one season transitions into the next. When a friend or relative drops a hint on gardening, listen closely. Take notes on every relevant article you happen to encounter.
And above all, ask questions. Ask questions about how to build things at the hardware store. Ask the producer at your local farmers’ market for advice on cooking, or even where to buy seeds and livestock. When a question occurs to you at home, do a quick Internet search. Not everything you read or hear will fit your needs and circumstances, but it may point you in the right direction.
Taking the Next Step
If you have any bent toward perfectionism, you may find it difficult to move past this stage to the daunting next step of actually getting started. But move you must if you want to see your dreams become a reality. It does not help you to learn about homesteading if you do not use that knowledge. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes—they are part of the learning process.
Once you have a plan and a rough idea of what is required to launch your country living project, it is time to act.