Homegrown & Handmade:
A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living

by Deborah Niemann

New Society Publishers, 2011. ISBN 978-0-865-71702-2.
Reviewed by Laura Strathman Hulka
Posted on 04/18/2012

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Creative Life; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Being a full-fledged farmer or fully self-sufficient is not possible for most of us who live an urban or suburban life. Yet creating a modern homestead is not a role-playing game, but an effort to do what we can to lessen our dependency on modern conveniences. Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living gives you the tools needed to create a lifestyle that honors the planet, helps you eat healthy foods, and lessens your dependency on global resources.

From the introduction (where Niemann lays out the process that led to their becoming homesteaders in 2002) to the afterward (where she encourages readers to do whatever they can to be more self-sufficient), this book will give you the information you need to live your own homestead dreams.

Each section includes help with planning, resources, recipes (or patterns!) and a step-by-step overview of each topic. Niemann starts out with "The Sustainable Garden" and then moves through "The Backyard Orchard," "The Backyard Poultry Flock," "The Home Dairy," and the "The Home Fiber Flock." Certainly the first three topics are within the reach of most readers, even if they don't have acreage or a "homestead," per se.

But if you are like me—leery of creating a herd of goats or even a cow or two, or didn't know how to accomplish the basics of homegrown to table—this book gives great ideas and encouragement in creating a viable homestead, wherever you live. The chapters on Home Fiber Flocks are fascinating and full of patterns, ideas and nudges to lead you down the garden path of creativity from production and creation. And the Home Dairy chapters break the process down to manageable bites and may give you a longing for fresh milk you never knew you had!

The ideas are practical: "...it is perfectly acceptable (perhaps preferable) to start small and let your garden grow in size as your knowledge and enthusiasm grows." The techniques are doable: "...try what works well for so many of us gardeners who can't be bothered with details—composting." And the recipes (Creamy Heirloom Tomato Soup, Quick Quiche, Easy Mozzarella and more,) are hands-on and well written. If you are dreamin of homesteading or hoping to take yourself off the grid, Niemann can provide you with the know-how you need and the steps to take to achieve as much or as little as you want in your own recreation of paradise.

Remember, homesteaders are not always laid-back hippie types or rabid survivalists. In fact, they rarely are! Instead, the current homestead movement is about lessening our carbon footprint, using fewer fossil fuels, and knowing about the health and care the animals and plants that grace our tables receive. Niemann was once a novice too, slowly becoming aware of "organic big business" and discovering that the only way to be sure that the food on her table was sustainably grown, humanely killed, and free of additives and growth hormones was to oversee it herself. She doesn't preach, but rather encourages and provides a tantalizing picture of the cycle of life and the inspiring way to be a compassionate omnivore.

As a mantra, Niemann espouses MORE self-reliant living, a way to take whatever steps we can to create a lifestyle that embraces both the homesteaders of the 19th century and the current search for personal and spiritual nourishment. Once you have eaten an egg from your own chickens, rich in vitamins and coming straight from the hen with a gloriously orangy yolk, you may wonder how you ever lived without homesteading in your life!

Read an excerpt from this book.

Deborah Niemann is a homesteader, writer, and self-sufficiency expert. In 2002, she relocated her family from the suburbs of Chicago to a 32 acre parcel on a creek "in the middle of nowhere." A speaker and workshop leader, Deborah presents extensively on topics including soapmaking, breadbaking, cheesemaking, composting and homeschooling. Visit her website.

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