Our 2012 Homesteaders of the Year: Living the Good Life Through Modern Homesteading


These seven families offer inspiring examples of modern homesteading, including a dedication to building self-reliant communities in both rural and urban settings.

Dirt Road

The word “homesteading” may conjure images of families lined up in front of a sod house, a mule hitched to a plow working the fields in the background. Such pioneers truly labored for their livelihood, sweating to construct homes, produce food, haul water and raise animals. Modern homesteading doesn’t fit that description, but those who choose it have the same can-do attitude and have found new ways of living the good life.

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Last fall, when MOTHER EARTH NEWS called for nominations for our 2012 Homesteaders of the Year contest, we never could’ve predicted the variety of do-it-yourselfers we’d hear about. From families on 100-plus acres in rural Canada to couples in tiny homes on one-third-acre plots in a bustling metropolis, all kinds of self-reliant folks from across North America were nominated.

The nominees have incredible green thumbs — growing large veggie gardens and tending orchards. For most, food preservation is a constant activity — freezing, dehydrating, canning and storing food in a root cellar. Many of these modern homesteaders supplement their gardens with local products and raise poultry and livestock for eggs, meat, dairy and manure.

A big part of self-reliance for many of the nominees involves energy efficiency. Remodels and upgrades to turn an old house into a more energy-efficient home were common, as were hand-built homes powered by renewable energy sources.

One of the most inspiring qualities of nearly all the nominees is their dedication to building more self-reliant communities. Many modern homesteaders share their passion with neighbors by teaching classes, volunteering, giving tours of their homes and gardens, or even just by living the good life their own way — setting an example for neighbors, friends and family.

Choosing only one Homesteader of the Year proved too daunting, so we chose three winners and four runners-up. Our overall favorites are showcased here, and you can find more modern homesteaders and their stories online in Star 2012 Modern Homesteaders. 

Living the Good Life With a Hand-Built Home

Our first family hails from Meco, N.Y., and was nominated by Dan Gibson, chief coordinator of Our Energy Independence Community, an online hub for information on reducing energy use. Throughout several years traveling the Northeast in this position, Gibson has visited many off-grid homes. Of the winning family, Gibson wrote, “I know of only one family that has been living off the grid for more than a decade and built their home from timbers harvested, milled and joined on their property (by themselves).” Jim Strickland, a carpenter, and Laurie Freeman, a biology teacher at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, first met in 1982. Laurie recalls that in their first conversation, the two discussed alternative building — you could say it was the “foundation” of their relationship. Even before Jim and Laurie moved into their current off-grid home, they lived in a hand-built barn that was also unconnected to the grid. In April 2000, the couple paid their last utility bill.