Generational Homesteading

RuthAnn & Elvin Zimmerman, Live in North east Iowa on 21 acres with our 7 children. They have lived on their acreage for 20 years now.

They have a couple different breeds of cows for milk and beef, Mangalitsa hogs, chickens and 2 Donkeys.


RuthAnns husband works full time but finds time to to the ‘heavy lifting’ of the homestead while her and the children do the day to day chores of the animals and in the summer in their 8000 sq feet garden planting, weeding and harvesting.


Their oldest child, Kristina, is married and lives near by, and their other children still live at home, ages 18,13,11,8,5,4.

My mom is here in Iowa for a visit from over 1000 miles away..  2 weeks ago my husband’s parents visited us from Pennsylvania as well.


My mom and my in-laws are in their 70’s, and I’ve realized that visiting with them every chance I get is important, because the day will come, just like it did with my grandparents, where I wish I could sit and visit with them, ask them questions about growing up in the 50’s and 60s. 


What was it like raising a family of 9 in the 70s, 80s and 90s? And although My siblings and I have many memories of growing up on the homestead/farm with a small business on the property to keep us all busy, My mom’s perspective is the one I’d like to hear now. Visiting with her about the ancestors in my family tree that she personally has met, has been so interesting!!


What were they like as a mother? What did they do for a living? My mom replied with, ‘Well they farmed, they may have sold some eggs and milk but mostly they farmed.’


‘They raised their own food and sold the extra.. If they had more land they sold the extra grain they didn’t need for their own animals.’   


‘They may have kept an extra cow or two and sold the calves they didn’t need for their personal use.’ 

When my grandparents and great grandparents were raising their families they raised their own food. Mostly because that’s what they HAD to do because there was limited access to fresh and preserved food for a large family unless you grew/raised and processed/preserved it yourself.


They were dependent on the community around them. Neighbors would come to help process your meat, neighbors would share their milk when your cow was dry, in return you’d share your extra when it was your season of bounty! 


Mothers rarely worked outside the home, (still don’t in the Old Order Mennonite and Amish communities,) because keeping a garden and a home and preserving all the food and then cooking from scratch and sewing all the clothes and quilts was a full time job!! That was my grandparents era.. in the 1920s. 

Fast forward to the 70s and 80s and 90s  when my parents were raising my 8 siblings and I. The economy was booming, the pressure to raise all your own food wasn’t as great because everything was available for purchase! You could buy milk, cheese, butter any day of the week! You could buy canned vegetables, fresh vegetables, you could even buy complete meals from the freezer isles!! 


Gardens grew smaller as all homes started installing electricity, enabling refrigerators and freezers to be in every home.  As pantry shelves filled with store bought, canned foods and packaged baked goods and ‘instant’ meals,  mothers started doing much less ‘from scratch.’ They raised a whole generation on lunchables, cake mixes,  processed cheese products and freezer meals. 


The automatic washer and dryer, microwave and crock pots and factory made clothes made it possible for mothers to work outside of the home and still keep house, leaving many of America’s kids to be raised by daycares and staying home alone eating microwave meals. 


These are the kids who are all grown up and are homesteading today!! 


When I shared with my mom just how many families are interested in the homesteading way of life, just how many of you are learning to grow your own food and  preserve your own harvest for the first time she was amazed!! 


I asked our parents what they think our grandparents would say about today’s modern homestead movement. 

They said that they think our grandparents wouldn’t understand our desire to work so hard when we don’t HAVE to.


They’d wonder why we milk a cow when you can buy all the dairy from the store? Why grow a large garden when you can go to farmers market and buy boxes of fruit and veggies?


But then I asked, ‘What do YOU think of the modern homestead movement?’ 

‘I think it’s inspired by parents who are reading labels on the food they buy and deciding that those ingredients aren’t ok for their family’s health. Those parents are doubting the FDAs approval of chemicals used and taking their family’s health into their own hands, the modern day homesteaders want better for their family than the typical ‘American dream.’

Today’s modern homesteaders aren’t afraid of hard work and learning new things, and even though they have many modern conveniences that our grandparents and great grandparents didn’t have they have missed a whole generation of skills. Regaining those skills and being conscious about passing those skills on to their children makes them pioneers in the modern day homesteading world despite the conveniences they have access too!! 

Todays modern homesteaders are valuing physical labor, up with the sunrise, home grown, home preserved foods, health and acquired skills over the possession of material wealth. 


So this is me, who hasn’t missed a generation of skills, Who has never lived on less than 5 acres, (those 5 acres were a rented property for 9 mo as newly weds) this is me, who has never lived one season of life without a garden. This is me who didn’t know you can buy pre-made piecrust until I was in my upper 30s. 


This is me telling you how extremely amazed and proud I am of those of you who are brand new to homesteading!! You inspire me daily!!!! 

Your willingness to try and fail, your ability to research something and dive in, your resilience, that’s what inspires me!! 


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