“Homesteading is really cool because you literally do something completely different every day,” said Lori Jorgeson, a full-time homesteader in Forestville.
Homesteading, a self-sufficient lifestyle that usually includes subsistence agriculture, home preservation of foods, zero-waste living, and sometimes renewable energy sources, is something a number of Door County residents do.
Beyond the benefits of fresh food and cost savings, gardening can benefit emotional and physical health, according the National Library of Medicine.
There is work involved in maintaining a garden, said Soirsce Moriarty, a homesteader in Sturgeon Bay. Moriarty and others in Door County are urban homesteaders, meaning they live in town or have smaller plots of land.
“I try to pick one thing every day to do a little bit, but I also enjoy it,” Moriarty said.
Homesteading first became a prominent part of America in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln passed the Homestead Act, allowing Americans to purchase land cheaply and become self-sufficient.
It was a revolutionary concept for distributing public land. The law turned over vast amounts of the public domain to private citizens, according to the US National Park Service.
Homesteading today, however, has evolved into many more things.
“Homesteading is an investment in one’s own health and the knowledge of where food comes from,” said Rachel Olson, an urban homesteader in Fish Creek. It can be anything from a garden in someone’s backyard in the city, to having acres with livestock in the country.
Moriarty has a simple definition: if “you’re cooking or raising and growing things that you eat, and trying to be more mindful about where that comes from, and trying to do more about yourself, I think you qualify as a homesteader,” she said.
One benefit of homesteading and growing one’s own food is the added nutritional value of the produce. Studies show that produce in a store has less nutritional value than produce freshly grown and eaten. A vegetable harvested from your garden and eaten the same day will have higher nutritional content than an identical vegetable that has spent several days or weeks sitting in storage, transport, and store displays, according to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.
That’s one of the reasons Moriarty began homesteading and growing a garden. Moriarty said she wanted to “have more control of the food source and knowing exactly what we put in our bodies.”
Homesteading also doesn’t necessarily require a big monetary outlay. “There’s obviously up-front investments,” said Moriarty. “Every year has been like adding a little bit more. So it’s like you don’t really feel the costs.”
While there might be some initial expenses, in the long run, homesteading may save money. “You’re producing enough food to feed your family,” said Jorgenson. “That’s a huge savings…you’re keeping that money in the pool, instead of having to go out and buy groceries.”
For some, there is even potential to make profit. “I have made more than I’ve put into it,” said Moriarty.
“Being able to actually sell a little bit of it and make a little bit of an income, that’s even better,” said Jorgenson. “Not only are you saving a ton of money that you keep in the bank, you’re actually adding to the pot.”
In 2023, the average garden of 600 square feet yields $600 of produce each year, according to data compiled by the website Garden Pals.
Nor does it have to take up a lot of time, according to Moriarty. “I tried to do just a little bit every day, feed the chickens every day. That’s a daily maintenance thing that takes probably about 15 minutes every day,” she said.
But it is a commitment, Jorgenson explained. “If you choose to be a homesteader you have to understand that you have to be pretty much present here quite a bit,” she said.
Jorgenson said it depends on the size and scale of one’s homestead, whether it’s simply potted plants or something more involved, such as chickens and a large garden. “You just have to scale it to what time you have available,” she said.
Homesteading doesn’t just happen in the country. Moriarty and Jorgenson consider themselves urban homesteaders. “I think the only thing is, if you’re in town, you have to be extra careful about not offending the neighbors with sounds or smells and stuff like that,” said Moriarty, who has chickens. “In the country, you just have space.”
As an urban homesteader with a limited area, Jorgenson is working to maximize space, she explained. “As we’re running out of room here, like putting more stuff and more stuff and running out of room, I’m trying to figure out how to grow things upwards,” she said.
Moriarty said homesteading can be flexible in terms of the amount of space someone has.
“I think anyone could do it. Up to a certain scale—you obviously have to be able to have a backyard,” said Moriarty. “I started by growing herbs in pots, so to an extent, whatever you have access to, I think anyone can homestead, at least a little.”
Olson, in Fish Creek, said beginning to homestead carefully, in terms of financial commitment, is the smart way to go.
“My advice for a beginning homesteader would be start small,” Olson said. “Nothing great happens overnight and, financially speaking, slow and steady wins the race.”
“The setup can be where people run into funding problems. Starting small spreads that cost over time,” she added.
Moriarty agreed. “We started really small,” she said. “And it was every year just, oh, let’s add one more thing.”
Homesteading can be anything from an orchard to a few potted plants on someone’s porch. The benefits outweigh the cost, Door County homesteaders said.
Homesteading, in whatever that looks like for each individual, is financially and emotionally beneficial for each family, they said. “I think anybody that wants to do it could do it,” said Olson. “It’s all about determination.”