Old-Fashioned Homesteading Is the New Feminist Career

Old-Fashioned Homesteading Is the New Feminist Career

Money MicFollowing the great debate and controversy sparked by our Money Mic about whether the CARD Act hurts women, we bring you another Money Mic essay on a controversial or thought-provoking topic.

The views expressed here are those of the essayist and not the LearnVest staff, but we look forward to opening the floor to debate and discussion, so tell us what you think.

Today, Shannon Hayes, author of Radical Homemakers, tells us about what it means to be a homesteader—like a stay-at-home mom of the Little House on the Prairie generation—and why she feels it gives her more independence than ever before.

When I eschewed a conventional career path, it wasn’t because I didn’t care about dollars and cents.

To the contrary: From the time I could multiply and divide, my grandfather taught me all about concepts like compound interest and the rule of 72. By the time I was old enough to legally drink, I’d started my own investment portfolio, studied amortization tables in my downtime and argued my way into a full assistanceship for grad school by explaining to my professors that borrowing money for a graduate degree would essentially result in diminishing marginal returns on my total educational investment.

The “independence” of careers isn’t independence at all. It requires couples to uproot themselves from their community support networks and to take on excessive expenses for housing, childcare and education.

My Decision to Become a Homesteader Was About Money

My decision to stop interviewing for jobs and help out on my family’s farm was just as much about money as it was about following my heart. As I scrutinized the salary and benefits of my most attractive job opportunity—one where both my husband and I could be employed—I ran the numbers. With my potential salary, we could move away from our rustic (cheap-to-keep) cabin and family farm, get a new house and own two cars to get to work. I then subtracted commuting costs, mortgage payments, professional wardrobes, taxes and the costs of buying rather than producing our own food from our gross potential income.

While the initial income looked big, once all those expenses were removed, the final number was
only $10,000 more than what we could generate if we stayed home. We hadn’t started a family yet, so we didn't figure in childcare or education costs—but those would surely tip the scales. It was a bit of a shock. Part of me had really wanted the validation that comes with a professional title. I wanted to ride on the coattails of my mother’s generation, to take advantage of my right to work and have it all. But having it all proved to be a myth. It made more financial sense to work on the family farm.

Why the “Independence” of a Career Isn’t Really Independence

The “independence” of his-and-her careers isn’t independence at all. It means increased reliance on an external employer who typically requires couples to uproot themselves from support networks in their home communities and to take on excessive expenses for housing, childcare and education. Yes, each partner has his or her own independent source of money. But the increased cost of living makes them doubly dependent on external employers who don't share the same legal responsibilities to employees as marital partners do to each other.

I studied this issue in earnest from 2007 to 2010. Many of my peers in the workforce suffered during the subprime mortgage crisis, but my husband and I slowly inched ahead (despite our comparatively low income). There were several factors:

  1. We were living the life we dreamed about together: deep in lush, green hills and forests with no alarm clock, punch card or commuter traffic to take away from our daily bliss. This reduced many of the conventional strains on our marriage.
  2. As homesteaders, we operated our home on a different set of rules. In conventional American culture, the household is a unit of consumption. It consumes things like food, clothing, electricity, entertainment, education and more. In order to do so, the household must have money. Instead, our household became a unit of production. We have been able to produce most of our own food, electricity (solar), entertainment and a lot of our own health care and education. Many of our other needs are met through barter and exchange with family and community members. We don’t think it’s truly possible to produce everything we need, so we’ve simply increased our self-reliance to the point that we produce more than we consume, freeing us to live according to our earth-centered values.

No Matter Where You Live …

True, coming from a family farm, we’re in the minority. But I’ve traversed the country and interviewed numerous radicals who have been able to thrive on a single income or less by following the simple premise of producing more than they consume –in the city, in the country and in the suburbs.

The Breadwinning Woman

Does breaking with tradition affect relationships?

Sometimes the woman works and the man stays home. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Many start by growing a few tomatoes and taking care of their kids instead of paying for daycare … and wind up with extensive gardens, food preservation skills and innovative eco-friendly home businesses that provide financial independence and creative challenges. I’ve seen the lifestyle succeed with everyone from married couples to single moms, from 20-somethings to 70-somethings.

This way of life doesn’t look anything like the now-conventional dual-career American household—the clothes are more tattered and the fingernails are dirtier. But the smiles are more frequent, and the happiness is enduring.

Further Reading

Is An At-Home Mom The Only Real Mom? Study Says Otherwise

Turning Stay-At-Home Into A Work Status


Shannon Hayes writes and works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York. She is the author of Radical Homemakers, The Farmer and the Grill and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook.  To learn more about the radical homemaking lifestyle, visit radicalhomemakers.com, or follow Hayes’ blog at Yes! Magazine.


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