They may be packing up mini-vans and trucks, not covered wagons, but a new wave of homesteaders is striking out in search of a nearly lost way of life
But earlier this month, the Interlake farm just south of Fraserwood hosted 350 people seeking to escape the consumer trappings of modern life during Manitoba’s first-ever DIY Homesteader Festival.
“I’m going to go so far as to call this a movement,” said Adrienne Percy. “People are ready to re-skill. They’re not really satisfied with putting their healing and their food in the hands of corporations anymore. They want to take some responsibility for their life.”
Percy and friend Kris Antonius, are co-founders of the one-day ‘do it yourself’ festival, which they hope will become an annual event.
Percy said more and more people are interested in learning the skills — a.k.a ‘re-skilling’ — their grandparents and great-grandparents took for granted.
Skills such as cooking from scratch, raising chickens and goats, carpentry, canning, preserving, soap making, hunting and fishing, and natural remedies.
Meeting like-minded individuals is part of the festival’s appeal, said attendee Caleigh Christie.
“It just feels good to do these things for yourself, it’s a really healthy and smart way of living, and it’s fun, empowering and stimulating,” said the 24-year-old, who is currently building a straw-bale cabin with her father near Falcon Lake.
The recent graduate doesn’t know if she will ever live entirely off the grid, but is looking into solar power options, something that was hotly discussed during festival workshops.
“I’ve really been getting into a more hands-on style of life (and) getting out of living in your head like you do in university,” said Christie.
One workshop that drew her attention was on wilderness survival, or (depending on your viewpoint) budget camping.
“It was awesome. Such creative… useful stuff that really opens your mind to other ideas, other uses for things. Now I’m thinking, why did I throw out all that baling twine? I’m an idiot,” Christie said laughing.
Workshop leader Dwayne Logan began by showing attendees how to make fire without matches or a lighter.
“One of the big things for me was learning how to make fire from nothing, just from sticks, and that really severed that cord to society,” said Logan, who conducts survival seminars across the province. “I could really live in the bush after that, I could cook my own food, make my own tools, I could preserve.”
You don’t need thousands of dollars’ worth of gear and equipment to go camping or engage in outdoor pursuits such as fishing, he said.
“It’s much more attainable,” he said, demonstrating what he called a “hobo fishing reel” made out of an old pop can and a spool of wire.
More than money
The growing interest in learning the do-it-yourself skills of earlier generations isn’t just about saving a few bucks, said Logan.
“I think it’s a dissatisfaction with our lives often, or at least with the society around us,” he said. “We want something more positive for ourselves, our kids and our communities. We want to eat healthy food that looks like food and that we know where it came from. We want to participate in life.”
That’s the real driver behind local food, farmers’ markets, and community-supported agriculture, said Antonius.
“People just really want to reconnect with where their food comes from, whether they’re growing it themselves on the patio balcony… or actually being the farmer and growing their food themselves in their backyard or on a farm,” she said.
The beekeeping workshop was also a hit.
“It’s really accessible, you don’t need a ton of land and it’s something where you can learn easily,” said Christopher Kirouac of Bee Project Apiaries. “It’s hard to get a cow and learn that, it’s a little more daunting. With the bees, you can really see their life cycle in one year, and that’s a neat experience, especially for children.”
Not every festival attendee will be ready to keep bees, harvest wild plants or take up canning, said Percy, but the event will have gotten them thinking about the way they live.
“I think we’re totally moving from this out-of-the-box culture to one where people want to dig their hands into the earth, they want to take responsibility for their own healing, and they want to tread a little more lightly on the earth recognizing there are some pretty big impacts to the way that we’re living now,” she said.