Women throughout the Sky Valley have found a new social forum where they can share their experiences with homesteading and help each other grow.
Six months ago, Shirel Smith decided to create the Homesteading Women of Monroe, Washington Facebook group. Around 120 members have since joined, sharing frustrations, experiences, and resources, and asking questions in a safe space. Many have met in person at local gatherings.
The obvious interest is indicative of a movement many are beginning to identify with, she said.
“A lot of men are cool with it, but when the women get together, they are more open,” Smith said. “...Some of the men are in this life because their women are in this life.”
Smith began her own transition from city to country living around 13 years ago. She bought her own land and drew up 2-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year plans for her property. Slowly gardening, chickens, turkeys, goats, pigs and sheep all became a part of daily life on the small farm. Right now, roughly 50 percent of the meat she consumes at home she raises herself; she hopes to one day be entirely self sufficient.
“They get fed, they get pampered, they get petted, they get named,” she said. “To me, that was the big thing.”
Smith said her animals “have a lot more freedom,” and they “interact with people who are fond of them and who they are fond of.” They know exactly what the animal ate, so Smith knows exactly what she is eating, she said.
A lamb she recently butchered was the “most incredibly tender lamb I have ever eaten in my life,” she said. “It was like butter. You could eat it with a fork; you didn’t need a knife, and that is how fresh it was.”
Leah “Sparrow” Houghton, core instructor at Alderleaf Wilderness College, said modern homesteading is a fairly different concept than the traditional image of pioneering families that live in isolation, using large livestock to plough fields, and traveling days to get to the nearest town. It has become more about, “people are starting to do small things for themselves,” she said.
“The homesteading movement is about being less reliant on systems that people are slowly starting to realize are not sustainable, and lots of times not even ethical,” she said.
Houghton said homesteading could mean raising chickens, canning and fermenting foods, washing clothes by hand, and using solar panels for electricity. It can mean being completely off the grid, or accomplishing a few small subsistence projects on a regular basis, in urban, suburban or rural settings, she said.
Smith’s neighbor Meredith Zuberer said she has rotated between various practices for the past 14 years on her property, less than 20 minutes outside of Monroe. Right now, she and her husband keep a small flock of chickens, to fertilize her garden.
In the past, the couple has kept llamas for land clearing and ducks for consumption, and Zuberer hopes they will have pigs one day. They grow and raise “things we will actually eat,” Zuberer said. By late summer their kitchen is often cluttered with bags of dried beans, local meats, peppers and tomatoes grown in their backyard, and simmering water baths to jar the large batches of chili, pickles, jellies and jams they will feast on all winter, she said.
“I love the family time involved,” Zuberer said. “...Trying times would be days like today; I am not a fan of the windstorms.”
Zuberer said she has had to shoot raccoons that come after her ducks, and is currently contending with a coyote crawling around, “the size of a German shepherd. He’s not afraid of anything.”
The experience can seem tough, and sometimes it is, but it may not be as challenging as many people think, Houghton said.
“We live on just shy of an acre, so every bit of our lot has a purpose,” said Courtney Lewis, who moved onto her plot with her boyfriend in 2015. “For food, we have 800 square feet of garden space, whose fertile soil is generated by the chickens and ducks we raise for eggs, and rabbits — colony-style —for meat.”
The couple taps the big-leaf maple trees in their backyard for sap, use solar panels to offset 75 percent of their electric bill, and are working on a system to collect rain water.
Butchering has been one of the more emotionally charged parts of the experience, Lewis said. The couple usually keeps the fact that they eat rabbit on a regular basis quiet, because they have received negative reactions.
“Here’s the thing — anybody who enjoys butchering is whacked,” Smith said.
The homesteaders do what they can to mitigate the downsides for everyone involved. Lewis said she purchased a Hopper Popper, which kills the animal instantly. And that is half the point, she said, to make sure the food they eat had a good, stress-free life.
“We are able to make incredible use of our land, and in exchange we are physically and mentally very happy, healthy people,” she said.