Often times, when us new homesteaders are reading blog posts by very skilled, advanced homesteaders — we just assume they have been birthed with all the talents in the world, coming out bearing an ax in one hand, flowers in the other. They know how to chop wood, how to build a house, how to birth a calf, how to can anything and everything, how to make homemade soap, salve, milk goats, raise poultry, and so on.
These are all skills I would like to acquire but I was neither birthed with an ax nor flowers. But most homesteaders I have talked to, didn’t know a thing before they bought their acreage. They didn’t know what they wanted to do with their land, they didn’t know building codes, and animal husbandry was last on the list because keeping goldfish alive for more than a week was success before the homestead.
And the secret is that we all NEED good mentors. Genuine people who can show us the ropes.
There are plenty of videos out there on YouTube and whatnot to show you how to do anything. But there isn’t someone standing over your shoulder telling you if you actually did it right.
So I thought I would write a post about where to find mentors because no one is an expert at EVERYTHING. Though I know some will try and convince you otherwise.
And we’re definitely new at this whole homesteading thing. I mean I’ve only canned 4 jars of homemade applesauce. I got two unripened tomatoes and three green beans from our garden last summer. And we’ve tried chicks, turkeys, and pigeons but none have seemed to stick like our little Lionhead bunnies. So clearly we need help.
But where do all these generous and kind people come from? Where are they hiding out? Not everyone is willing to offer their Saturdays up to help with labor intensive work, or any kind of work for that matter.
We are lucky though. We have come across quite a few blessed souls with the gifts to turn earth into food and animal husbandry into a simple endeavor.
Talk to local growers at Farmer’s Markets.
Not only are some of these people willing to offer a few tips, they might even offer to have you come out on their farm or homestead to help and see how things are done because there is always more produce to be picked and they could use the extra set of hands.
These people are a wealth of knowledge. You know they are producing large amounts of food with their methods and it tastes good! Every little tip helps.
And the best part is that they are local! They aren’t from a million miles away just here for the weekend visiting family. They know the climate. They know what crops grow best. Best times to sow and plant. Growing conditions for each plant. Someone from Montana will definitely have a different method of growing produce than someone from Texas, or even Florida.
You certainly can find out what zone you’re in by looking at books or a quick Google search, but these people know what grows best in a 25 mile radius. If you’re having trouble with a certain crop, try finding a good looking version of it down at the FM. Ask them for tips.
I will warn you though, some people don’t like to give out more information than necessary. They don’t know why you are asking all these questions. Are you trying to take over their farm? Are you judging their methods? Are you trying to build your own business and create a competitive environment? Don’t be upset by disgruntled farmers. Some are so set in their ways and sometimes it’s okay not to give all the juicy secrets.
Volunteer at local gardening events and co ops.
There will of course be amazing people at these events. They love gardening and want to share their secrets of the underground world with everyone. Some are just waiting to be asked the questions.
Gardening is somewhat of a lost art. Clearly it hasn’t been lost in my genes because it was never there to begin with. But I’m learning.
Connecting with others who have the same interests can often lead to hidden knowledge. Some may even offer to show you their garden or help you start one of your own.
Become friends with your elders and your parents friends.
So this one seems a little weird, right? That’s awkward. But really it’s not. These people are packed with information. The Beard’s grandma is turning 89 in a couple days and she grew up canning, cooking, and using a wood burning stove. The stories she has for us.
The Beard’s aunt and uncle own 30 acres just outside of our town. They have taught us gardening techniques, have supplied plenty of tools and plant clippings, and have taught us a little about keeping chickens for eggs. And they helped us build our first wedding tables (hence our current business) and taught us how to flip houses (an invaluable asset).
And on the other side of the family, The Beard’s uncle owns a massive garden right in the middle of town. He is the one who cursed us with our obsession of rabbits. He took us to our first animal swap meet and it gave us a sugar rush like a 6 year old in a candy store. He has given us tomatoes, peppers, a GIANT pumpkin, garlic, onions, and crazy amazing seedlings.
His aunt has also curated my love of houseplants and is teaching me how to sew. Straight lines are my speed right now. I learned how to thread the sew machine (actually harder than it seems) and I made my first ‘curved’ project that The Beard laughed at because it was supposed to be a Christmas stocking that turned into an elf shoe. Like I said, I’m clearly still learning. I’m hoping in the future I’ll be able to make our own children’s clothing. But I have a long way before I get there.
So we’re still in the learning stage big time. And it doesn’t help that our house doesn’t have an outside spigot. So last year’s hauling of water pails wasn’t good enough.
With time comes mastery. Or so we’re at least hoping.
The Beard’s father’s former co-worker (if you can follow that) has helped us out tremendously. He actually reached out to us and wanted to pass on his woodworking knowledge to us. And how lucky we were! This man knows it all. Bowl making, saw mill cutting, cabinetry, etc. He taught us how to use our first planer, taught The Beard how to make a bowl (he has supplied me with many wooden bowls that are to die for), and he let us watch how his portable saw mill works. Oh and free firewood because he just needed it gone. You can never have enough firewood my friends! Not to mention his wife’s Peach Rum Jam is literally my soul on toast. You can call me Pavlov’s dog right now. (And she even gave us her recipe!) Can you believe that? Most family recipes are kept secret. We thanked our lucky stars.
So now I’m just over here all TAKE TAKE TAKE! Where’s the give, give, give?
This is the biggest part of your mentor relationship. You can’t be a bad friend and just take everything and not offer anything in return.
And I’m not even talking monetary donations. We are all born with certain skills. Whatever you can give, give that.
For us, it’s many different things because we are constantly learning. Maybe it’s a table for The Beard’s uncle who supplied us with gardening, produce, and our love for rabbits. Or some fresh baked Pumpkin cupcakes (minus the pumpkin because I forgot) for The Beard’s uncle for helping me build our beautiful wedding tables. Or maybe it’s offering a working hand to them on the farm.
You may not have much to offer at first, but gain the skills and your offerings will be abundant. And some things aren’t even tangible. Maybe someone needs a young gun who can lift a few heavy things because homesteading is back breaking work. Or some enjoy your company with a cup of tea or coffee. Or maybe it’s the promise that you will offer your newly acquired skills in times of need.
But what I’m saying is that homesteading is hard work. And it takes a lot of knowledge to make your homegrown world go round. And sometimes it takes a lot of man power. You need to find people who will support you and help you learn. In return, you need to cherish these people. They are your future success. Love them. Thank them. And repay the favor. Let them guide you, but don’t take advantage of them.
And the learning never stops. We always need to keep finding mentors. Like when I want to make my own cheese, or soap, or build an indoor outhouse. I need people who can teach us what they know. But we also learn to value them. Because otherwise we would be spending a lot of money on things we don’t know and still won’t know after the money is all gone.
How do you find good mentors for your homestead?