Your neighbor just asked you how she can get started keeping chickens in her backyard and you find yourself giving an hour-long lecture. After which, you offer to help her find chicks, build a small coop, and raise mealworms together. Wait, did you just become a homestead mentor and teacher?! Uh-huh, and it doesn’t stop there; here are 3 practical ways to become a homestead mentor!
There have been so many people who have truly inspired and educated me on my homesteading journey, from teachers to gardeners to groups of friends just getting together and sharing what we’ve learned. Each one became my homestead mentor.
The Need for Each of Use to Become a Homestead Mentor
Once you’ve benefited from that kind of open sharing, you can more readily understand the urgent need for more of it in our homestead communities. Many people in our times are looking to break away from a modern, dependent lifestyle to create a more stable, hands-on approach to day to day living.
While this is a great goal, the reality is that very few of us grew up this way; the lifestyle of self-sufficiency that was normal for my great-grandparents was in many ways lost by the time my grandparents were raising their children in the 1950’s.
That’s not to say that the “greatest generation” hadn’t earned a rest and a bit of ease after fighting two terrible world wars, and then other conflicts that followed hard on their heels. However, the skill sets that were vital during the Great Depression and the war years were replaced by store-bought bread and bottled ketchup.
Some of us desperately desire to revive homemade bread and home-grown ketchup but we just don’t know where to begin. Enter you, the homestead mentor.
In permaculture, we operate under three main ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Return the Surplus (sometimes called Fair Share). There’s a huge emphasis on open sharing of knowledge, technique, labor, and surplus goods/energy/time.
These three ideals work together to produce homes and homesteads that are created by people who truly care about all their stewardships, including their fellow man.
The truth is, we need to help each other because we all need help! It’s what we do and who are. The homestead community is made up of all us normal people just being who we are and what we need to be for each other.
I Don’t Know Enough to Become a Homestead Mentor!
The first thing you need to wad up and throw in the trash bin right now, is the idea that you don’t have anything worth sharing. We touched on this idea in the Taking and Teaching section in the Homestead Community chapter of our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead. If you don’t have a copy, you can pick that up below.
Bottom line, believe me, at whatever phase of your progress you’re in, you’ve got plenty to share. Even if you’re only beginning, I guarantee there is at least one thing you’ve mastered which you can teach to others.
An Example From My Life
One day, I was talking along with someone about butchering my hens for stewing once they’d aged out of egg production. The lady’s eyes got big and she said, “Is THAT what you do with them?! I was wondering! So, how do you do that? Where did you learn?”
Her questions made me stop and think:
- What did I used to think happened to aged-out hens?
- Where did I learn to butcher a chicken?
- When did I start thinking of that as a normal part of my year?
I realized that, while I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about butchering a chicken, I knew enough to teach her where to begin and how to learn more.
It was great to witness her excitement and i was thrilled to think of how much time I was saving her by telling her about my favorite resources for chicken education. I also offered to show her in a hands-on way when she was ready to try harvesting a chicken herself.
The truth is, my husband and I had to learn that part on our own. We just practiced until we knew more than when we started out. We would have loved to have someone show us what to do!
What is a Homestead Mentor?
A mentor is a(n):
- experienced & trusted adviser
- a coach
The best mentors expect their students to do the work but are there to act as a guide. Good mentors will show their students what they’ve learned through their own experience, including their mistakes.
If you desire to be an effective mentor, keep these things in mind:
- The student does the hard work of learning. At no time should a mentor assume responsibility for the student’s work, his success, or failure.
- A good mentor is involved, passionate, and personable but it is up to the student to pursue his own vision and success.
- The best mentors share their own experiences. Tell a story and you’ve taught a principle much better than with lecturing!
- A quality mentor is not aloof and untouchable; rather, she’s right there with you being honest about her successes as well as her failures.
Our homestead flops make some of the best lessons we could ever pass on as homestead mentors!
…Then there was that time I forgot dinner in the solar ovens during that rain storm and we didn’t eat until 10pm.
…Or there was the time I neglected to water 100 tomato transplants and they all died. Yay me, a real-life homesteader!
3 Ways to Become a Homestead Mentor
Every time we share ourselves, every time we take the time, it makes a difference for good. To that end, the following are some ideas for getting started on your journey to becoming a homestead mentor.
#1 – Become a Homestead Mentor with Tours
One of the easiest ways to lend a hand to aspiring homesteaders is to give garden and/or homestead tours. Why?
Because one of the first myths we need to dispel for the newbie homesteader is that homesteading looks like the cover of a magazine. It doesn’t. Homesteading involves dirt and poop and hands-on work.
It is important to maintain our homesteads with healthy systems and rotations to control smell, mess and poor health – and you can show people that! However, the reality is that most of us are homesteading while living busy, parallel lives that don’t allow for a lot of fluff on the homestead.
Plus, “cutesy” requires its own budget and some of us don’t have the funds to make our homesteads look just so. Others of us aren’t the fancy type. I plant daffodils with the herbs to deter deer and figure I’ve done my fashionable landscaping for the year.
Don’t wait for your homestead to look picturesque before you invite people to share in it as a work in progress. I always tell people that if they want to feel better about their own gardens, they can come visit mine anytime! Let’s not show off for each other because that’s a waste of time and is stupidly prideful.
The Benefit to You of Providing Tours
Providing scheduled tours does one more important thing in that it provides people an appropriate time and place to contact you and view your homestead. Once you have a homestead or small farm, many people will prevail upon you to give them tours or to allow them to stop by and visit at any time that’s convenient for them.
Most people really aren’t trying to be rude, they just don’t have a realistic understanding of how busy you are on the land and in your home. When people who want to drop by, especially in the spring when baby animals are being born, you can politely direct them to your tour schedule and explain that you are unavailable outside of those times.
My friend Jessica has some compelling reasons for would-be tourists to think about before showing up unannounced at a homestead. Read it here – My Homestead: Why You Can’t Come Unannounced.
Logistics of Farm Tours
We have A LOT of information on dealing with the logistics of farm tours (especially for kids, which is the group we prefer) in our article below. It comes complete with advice, cautions, a scavenger hunt download – the works!
You can also read more in the Homestead Community section of The Do It Yourself Homestead.
Be organized and kind about how you open up your homestead, but also be judicious. How often and to whom you open up your homestead is completely up to you. In short, be generous, but be safe.
#2 – Host a Seed or Food Swap
Swaps are a great way to offload extras from the harvest season and give you an opportunity to trade for the things you need. They are also relaxed atmospheres where a lot of teaching and helping can take place.
If you’ve come with 100 watermelon seeds or extra watermelons to swap with people, they’re going have questions about how you grew so many! Come prepared with answers to the questions you used to ask before you got so good at growing watermelons.
You can even prepare a simple information sheet with your tips and tricks for watermelon growing or seed saving. And voila, you’ve just become a homestead mentor!!
To Organize a Swap in 7 Easy Steps
- Pick a venue that is large enough for people, tables, produce, chairs, and has a good parking lot. “Large enough” is relative, of course. Maybe you’re only inviting your neighbors and your back yard is big enough.
- Issue invitations via email. If you want a larger group, look to social media, word of mouth, announcement on public boards at the health food store and garden center. Ask for an RSVP even though few people will respond. At least you’ll have some idea of who will be there.
- Get there early to set up your own table and materials so that everyone has a template from which to set up their own areas.
- Plan for food, drinks, and a bonfire (if the season permits and it’s legal where you are). People are more apt to open up to others when there’s food and fun.
- Watch for the timid; they’ll be there. Maybe it’s their first swap and they’re not sure what to do. Or maybe they have a lot to share but are shy about opening up. Bring an extra person to man your swap table while you circulate the crowd giving encouragement to those who need it.
- Arrange with a local food bank, church, or other non-profit to absorb any surplus that wasn’t swapped. We never want to waste!
- Thank everyone for coming and pick a date for the next season, or next year!
Maybe you will decide to take it one step further and organize a seed saving group in your area. What a blessing that will be!
—>>>Read this article for details on How to Start a Seed Saving Group – Step by Step<<<—
#3 – Volunteer as a Mentor at Farms, Farm Groups, and Historic Farms
Volunteering your time for Future Farmers of America, living history, or any farm-focus educational experience in your area is not only a good way of sharing your knowledge, but it’s just plain fun for you.
Our family once lived in a city that had a “Farm Town” venue which exposed and educated children to the value of farm animals, how they behave, and why they’re raised. It also included was a garden area where children could participate in after school programs with hands-on, mentored gardening.
Volunteering at such places only need take a few hours of your time but the rewards are hard to quantify as you end up touching so many people over the course of your volunteering.
I spent a lot of hours hosting tours at a community garden as part of my certification hours in my master gardening program. It was so inspiring to see people get a closer look at how natural systems operate. We had great conversations about growing our own food, planting trees where possible, and healthy living.
I loved the symbiotic relationship that developed between myself and the tour attendees. We were both learning and teaching together, and sharing experiences. Again, it’s hard to quantify the value of such moments, but you can certainly feel that they have value.
Other Ideas for Becoming a Homestead Mentor
There are a myriad of ways you can find mentoring opportunities. You don’t even have to leave your home if you’d like to:
- learn how to give online classes
- host a live garden video on your favorite social media channel
- write articles for your favorite homesteading magazine
- start a homesteading blog
What about your own ideas and experiences as a homestead mentor? I’d love to have you share those below in the comments section.
Become a Homestead Mentor Challenge
It’s great to talk about quality goals for ourselves but it’s even better to do something about those goals. In the spirit of doing something to become a homestead mentor, I issue the following challenge.
In your homestead journal, begin to make a list of ways you can share your homestead with the community. You may choose to interact and give back in different ways each year, so make a long list if you’d like.
Some ideas might include:
- host a garden for homeschool kids
- plant a free pumpkin patch for families with loved ones at your local extended care facility
- host a class on butchering for the hard-core homesteaders you know
- lead a simple backyard chicken keeping class for the newbie homesteaders
- an informal canning competition or bake-off with the elderly ladies in your congregation
Just brainstorm – your homestead journal is a place to let your brain empty itself of all the neat ideas you have rumbling around in there.
Once you have a list:
- Conscientiously/prayerfully choose one activity to focus on in the next six months.
- Schedule it on the calendar.
- Set to work figuring out who can help you execute your goal.
- Gather any necessary supplies.
- Report back to your homestead journal on your progress and preparations.
- Get it done.
And don’t forget the most important step – have fun sharing what you’ve learned and helping others!!