As the farming population gets older, rural communities are struggling to keep themselves vibrant. Now, a growing stream of wannabe homesteaders are actively looking for patches of ground to call their own, plant their roots, and become involved locally — growing their own food and feeding others from their land.
Transitioning from city dweller to rural resident takes more than just the capital (although the capital, of course, is increasingly substantial).
Often these new arrivals have tremendous passion to succeed, but lack skills that were once a given on every farm.
Seeing this gap, Adrienne Percy wanted to bridge it and help people from all walks of life, bringing back the knowledge and tools critical to anyone with homesteading aspirations.
Percy worked for many years as a journalist, covering a wide range of rural and agricultural stories before working in the grain sector.
In time, however, she learned that her passion lay in connecting people with the food skills they needed to live happy, vibrant and fulfilling lives.
After many years teaching traditional food skills (such as fermentation) to hundreds of people around the world, Percy launched Traditional Foods Teacher Training, inviting those with similar passions to learn and share these skills with others.
Percy, her husband, Trevor, and their two young children (aged 6 and 9) live on a 320-acre homestead called “Nourished Roots” located near Fraserwood in Manitoba’s Interlake region, close to Gimli. In addition to teaching traditional foods classes, Percy blogs about the family’s farm life.
Last June, Adrienne and Trevor, along with friends, Kris and Mike Antonius, hosted the first ever DIY (Do It Yourself) Homesteader Festival on their farm.
The festival drew over 350 people who selected from more than 27 workshops hosted over the course of the day.
About the farm and the festival, Percy says, “It’s a salve for the over-city’ed, over-technology’ed soul. It’s a place where you’ll feel your lungs expand and your pulse slow down… and the stars shine impossibly bright in the dark night sky.”
Though the family has a large homestead, they don’t yet sell any of their produce, although they do plan to add goats and rabbits to their farm mix soon. “My husband Trevor and I, and our children, steward the farm,” says Percy. “We have a flock of laying hens to supply our egg needs and a large vegetable garden. We also do a tremendous amount of foraging out here. The bush here is an absolute goldmine of food and medicine.”
The commodities they do currently offer are information, education and a good dose of inspiration.
“We chose to move out to the country so we could grow our own food, ensuring our children grow up with some of those vital skills, and share what we learn with others.”
Percy is aware of many others who share this same dream, and she personally knows families who are seeking farm property to purchase and others who have already made the same leap that
Percy and her family have. “The people I speak to tell me they’re looking to reconnect,” says Percy. “Many speak of feeling it’s time for a change, but they also don’t know where to start. That was part of the reason we came up with the DIY Homesteader Festival concept.”
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The festival bridges the divide between those who have already walked the path (i.e. “currently practising essential or sacred healing and food skills”) and those still considering taking the first step.
“These are folks who yearn to dig their hands into the earth, to experience fresh eggs, to make their own medicine, and to be able to preserve a bountiful harvest,” Percy says.
Before the Percys made the leap to homestead living, the bulk of their knowledge was in the realm of food — what is good quality, sustainable food and how to preserve and prepare it. “We liked puttering in our backyard vegetable gardens and had taken a workshop on backyard chickens.”
Percy had just completed a two-week permaculture intensive through the Harvest Moon Society when she came across the land she and her family now occupy.
When they first made the leap to homestead life, the Percys found it to be a very steep learning curve, experiencing their share of joys and tears.
“Our first year on the farm taught us the importance of patience and good design,” says Percy.
“Where and how things are located and built can make all the difference between feeling like things are flowing or feeling completely overwhelmed.”
The Percys were happy to have moved onto a property that had neighbours and nearby homesteaders and farmers who were happy to share their experience — something they found to be crucial for a positive transition. “We love the community here,” says Percy. “They’re amazing — both the folks with deep roots and the newbies.” Whether the Percys needed to borrow a pound of butter or to find out where to buy hay, they have found their neighbours to be both helpful and supportive.
“There is also a strong online community of small farmers or wannabe small farmers, which is an incredible resource,” says Percy. “I guess that’s why we often call ourselves ‘modern homesteaders,’ because we’re just as likely to seek answers from our online community as we are to call up our neighbours who live just down the road.”
The Percys have also been enjoying the strong support they received for the DIY Homesteader Festival and the local RM council (comprised of several farmers).
“We all have something to learn from each other,” says Percy. “Our family would be just as likely to learn something really important from someone with a large farm operation as we would from someone living on an eco-farm or homesteading.”
For now, the Percys plan to continue homesteading, perhaps adding new ideas and experiences to the operation each year — whether that be with an orchard, growing some grain or running cattle.
“Our dream is to share this with others by offering classes and workshops,” says Percy. Over the past year, they have run classes on building a cob (earth) oven, wild foraging for food, and reclaiming traditional food skills (like fat rendering and fermentation).
“We know so many people who are an amazing wealth of experience. We’d love to connect those teachers with folks wanting to learn, and also to continue offering our own classes, like Traditional Wisdom, Modern Kitchen.
Looking ahead, Percy says, “You may see a fantastic workshop space and cabins out here, so we can accommodate those wanting to reclaim important traditional skills in food and farming. What could be better than a farm retreat, where you get to dig your hands into the soil and breathe the freshest country air you can imagine?”
For more information about, visit the DIY Homesteader Festival website.