Homesteading is the dream for many people. I know we’ve always been curious – simple living, self-sufficiency, a greener lifestyle.
Wikipedia defines it as a lifestyle of self-sufficiency, characterized by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and . . . the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craftwork for household use or sale. This didn’t clarify much. We wanted to learn more – the ups and downs, the dos and don’ts, and most of all, how to start. So we called our friend Chantel Johnson, of Off Grid In Color. She describes the homestead as the foundation of living: the way back to nature, a point of reference, and the source of wisdom. In our interview with Chantel, she explains her homesteading journey as taking control of her basic needs and monitoring her health and environment. Her mission is to lead others to greater self-sufficiency through farm raised food, birth coaching, and community outreach. She shares with us some of the challenges she faced as a homesteader, the importance of community, and tips on how to get started on your own homesteading journey.
1. Tell us about yourself. How long have you been living off-grid and homesteading? What inspired you to become a homesteader?
I’m a city gal gone country! I’ve been homesteading and living off-grid-ish for about two years. I say off-grid-ish because in my current setup the water supply is provided by a well using traditional power. There were previous places where I was 100% self-sufficient.
“I WAS DEPRESSED, UNHAPPY”
I was born and raised in Chicago. I overcame barriers that many poor and people of color face in under-served and under-resourced communities. After high school, I won a scholarship to Carleton College, one of the best liberal arts schools in the country. It was there I discovered the educational gap between the “rich and poor,” as well as the surface level impacts of racism and sexism. But that did not stop me from persevering and graduating with honors. Unsure of my next move, I spent two years serving in AmeriCorps. Later I obtained my masters degree in social work from the University of Washington.
In 2014, prior to my graduation, my youngest brother was shot several times in Chicago. It rocked my world. Later that year I decided to move to North Carolina where I got a job working for a research company. I hated it, but I did not understand why. I did all the “right things” – what I thought society expected of me. I “made it” out of the hood. I went to school, worked hard, acquired two degrees, and landed a decent job. For what? I was depressed, unhappy.
In August of 2015, my brother died from the complications of his shooting. That was the last straw. I began considering the influences that played into my brother’s death – such as lack of quality jobs, the closing of schools, and poor access to nutritious foods. It was well known that my brother was involved in gang and drug activity, but that lifestyle becomes an easy choice when your basic needs are not met in your community. This is a common occurrence in many poor black and brown communities.
“…THE EARTH PROVIDES EVERYTHING WE NEED TO THRIVE! THE SUN RISES FOR LIGHT AND ENERGY. THE RAIN PROVIDES WATER. THE SOIL IS OUR SOURCE TO GROW FOOD”
My journey as a homesteader came from a desire to take control of my basic needs. To free myself from the influences of the government and corporations. This gave me the power to monitor my health and environment.
You see, the earth provides everything we need to thrive! The sun rises for light and energy. The rain provides water. The soil is our source to grow food.
2. Tell us about your homestead.
My homestead is a sanctuary for health and wellness. I follow basic minimalism principles and simple living practices. My home is a tiny house on wheels and I own very little material things. The homestead is a place where a person can come heal, rejuvenate, and nurture their body, mind, and soul. I facilitate this by providing natural farm-raised goods, holistic doula services, and meaningful community outreach.
“MY HOME IS A TINY HOUSE ON WHEELS AND I OWN VERY LITTLE MATERIAL THINGS”
I primarily raise pigs! I just love these creatures, their eyes are so human-like. They are very large, but sweet and friendly. My pigs are raised in the woods where they have plenty space to roam. They are rotated every month to a new plot of land where they have access to new bugs and greenery. A few times a year I raise chickens for meat. During the holidays I raise turkeys. I also have a small flock of egg layers. All my poultry are pasture-raised with plenty space, and rotated often. The animals are all given non-GMO feed, love, and hugs… when they let me! I invite you to come out and visit!
3. What are some of the products/produce you sell? Do you carry any labels or certifications?
The only produce I sell are microgreens – I just love them! They’re what I consider a fast food delicacy! Microgreens are any leafy green herb or plant that you can eat before they get their “true leaves.” I mainly grow sunflowers, peas, radish, and arugula.
I follow organic methods in all my farming enterprises – non-GMO and organic seeds and organic soil. But I do not carry any labels. For small farmers, or in my case, a tiny farmer, it’s not financially feasible to obtain those certifications. I’m very transparent with how things are done at the homestead and I invite people out all the time.
“THEY’RE WHAT I CONSIDER A FAST FOOD DELICACY”
I started my homestead journey by making my own body and household goods. Now I’m selling body butter and laundry soap – using all-natural, basic, and simple ingredients. I primarily sell the farm-raised goods at the farmers market in Rowan County, NC. My body and home goods can be purchased online at offgridincolor.com
4. Walk us through a typical day at your homestead.
Most days at the homestead start with the sound of the rooster’s crow – usually around 5am, sometimes earlier. As my body begins to awaken and my mind starts to wander, I take a few moments to breathe and set the tone for the day. After centering myself, I check a few messages and walk out into my home (outside) and begin singing to the animals.
“I WALK OUT INTO MY HOME (OUTSIDE) AND BEGIN SINGING TO THE ANIMALS”
Depending on the day of the week, I rotate the egg layers to a new spot, move the pigs, and clean the animal’s feeders and waterers. Once complete, I give the animals feed and clean water – I often add apple cider vinegar to keep their immune systems strong. I also add herbs such as garlic and oregano to their feed. Then I plant microgreens and make more body and home products. After I complete my chores, I move on to planning events and networking with the community in some meaningful way.
Throughout the day I try to find time for rest, stillness, and reflection. Homesteading/farming is very labor intensive and can be taxing on the mind, body and soul. Self-care is crucial. Overall, I love what I do!
5. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a homesteader or living off grid? How have you overcome them?
Homesteading ain’t easy! While many days are lovely and peaceful, some are chaotic and labor intensive. My biggest challenge has been land. I’ve moved five times since the start of my homesteading journey. Each placed I’ve lived has presented its own set of challenges – from strained relationships to racism. Some of the most difficult homesteads were the ones with very limited or no basic technology or tools.
“I BEGAN WALKING AIMLESSLY AROUND THE HOMESTEAD CRYING”
At my last homestead location, I had to jump down to the creek to get water for the animals and garden. It was hard. One day, after feeling the pain in my knees from climbing in and out of the creek, I decided to use a battery powered water pump to get water to a holding tank. I stretched hoses out from the creek to the animals (five – 50 foot hoses), and connected the water pump and battery. The pumped started but no water came out. I began walking aimlessly around the homestead crying! I did everything right! I couldn’t understand why it did not work. All I wanted was to get water to the animals. Sometimes the simplest things cause the greatest pain.
When difficulty arises, I try to embrace it and acknowledge that this challenging situation is occurring and I do not like it. Next, I usually try to figure it out myself or ask for help. Although I’ve moved a lot, I understand my talents and what I’m not good at. One day I will have my own land, and from these experiences I know what I want, desire and require from it.
6. For someone who wants to become a homesteader, what is your most important piece of advice?
Get started now. To homestead is to live a life of self-sufficiency. There are a number of ways to pursue that now. I’m constantly amazed at all I’ve accomplished without owning my own land and moving several times. If I had waited until I was ready to buy land, I’d still be at a depressing research job trying to find a way out.
“NOW I RAISE PIGS AND CHICKENS, PLAN EVENTS, AND LIVE MY BEST LIFE”
Take small steps. Ask yourself these questions: What do I want to do? What am I good at? What are my areas of weakness? Who can I collaborate with? What is my budget?
I started by making my own body and home products while living in a townhome in a city. Now I raise pigs and chickens, plan events, and live my best life. Don’t wait until all your ducks are in a row (pun intended). Address your fears, let go of the excuses, get your squad (community support) and DO IT NOW!
7. Any future plans for your homestead?
In the short-term, my plans are to keep growing and building the brand of Off Grid In Color. There is so much I want to do, but it’s best that I become an expert at what I’m good at – and that’s raising pigs, growing microgreens, birthing babies, and showing others how to live more self-sufficiently.
My long-term plan is to build a homestead – a sanctuary for health and wellness. A place where individuals and groups can shop for their food needs and home and body care essentials. I want to create a retreat, a home away from home for others to enjoy and learn a few important sustainability and self-sufficiency skills along the way.
8. Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you and your homestead?
It might seem like I’m doing a lot with Off Grid In Color, and to some degree I am, but I am not doing it by myself. I simply cannot. I can’t stress enough the importance of building your squad, having people invested in your vision through action, and supporting the work of others within your community. It’s all about respectful boundary setting and meaningful give and take. Read that last sentence again slowly.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT RESPECTFUL BOUNDARY SETTING AND MEANINGFUL GIVE AND TAKE”
To have respectful boundary setting and meaningful give and take relationships with your community of supporters, you must have it for YOURSELF. It all starts and ends with you. When you homestead and/or live off-grid, you have to make some tough decisions. That goes back to the beginning. Figuring out how to start teaches you a lot about yourself! Boundaries will be tested, endurance with be challenged, creativity will be tapped. But in the end, your homestead sanctuary will be over-flowing with a carefully crafted environment that cares for you and others in profound ways.
Peace, love, and healthy living!