I was in a bookstore a few weeks ago and came across this beautiful book, The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess. I thought it would be a great title for Mom Prepares readers and promptly bought a copy to giveaway (more on that in a few weeks) then set about pondering how we might get an interview with Anna. Turns out, all we had to do was ask and I’m so glad we did. I’ve laughed, felt empathy, and learned new things just reading her interview and I know you will too!
Introducing Anna Hess…
Tell us a little about your own journey and what led you to author this book?
My husband and I have been homesteading on 58 acres for the last six years, and we made all kinds of crazy mistakes at the beginning. We tried to tackle huge projects (like training a pair of mules) during our first year, while overlooking smaller projects (like attracting wild bees) that would have greatly improved our homestead with little effort. My goal with The Weekend Homesteader is to help other beginning homesteaders skip over our mistakes and head straight for the good stuff in a way that won’t break the bank or their backs.
Of all the chapters in your book, which is your favorite, and why?
My favorite chapter is “Drying food”, which explains how to dehydrate peaches and tomatoes using only a car and some cookie sheets. (You can use most of the same information to dry food in a dehydrator as well.) Part of the reason I like the chapter is that dried fruits and tomatoes are winter candy for me and my husband, but I also love being able to point out no-cost ways of getting started with homesteading adventures.
Have you ever raised any exotic animals or plants?
Except for those ill-fated mules, we’ve just kept chickens and honeybees. But I love playing with plants of all types, and have had great success with dwarf Meyer lemons (a houseplant that will fruit in a sunny window during the winter) and with figs (not really hardy here, but manageable if you wrap them carefully for the winter).
What is your favorite time of the year?
I told my mother-in-law last week, “This is my favorite time of year,” and she laughed at me. “You say that spring, summer, fall, and winter!” she replied.
She’s right — the more I’ve gotten in tune with our land, the more I cherish winter days writing in front of the wood stove just as much as summer days in the garden. Strawberry season might be slightly ahead of all the other months, though, since homegrown strawberries are my favorite fruits.
What blogs/sites in your niche do you enjoy reading?
I read nearly a hundred blogs, but my favorites are:
Throwback at Trapper Creek — Stunning photos and fascinating information about grazing and milking cows. (We don’t have much pasture yet, so Throwback at Trapper Creek helps prevent me from jumping on the large-animal bandwagon too soon.)
Sugar Mountain Farm Blog — More vicarious pasturing (pigs this time) and beautiful photos.
Milkwood — An Australian couple making a living from their farm through permaculture courses, internships, and a market garden.
Although it sounds crazy, I also enjoy reading my own blog (www.waldeneffect.org) because my husband and I write there together. I hit the refresh button repeatedly around 4 pm every day, waiting to see what our day looked like through his eyes. It’s always similar to my own experience, but subtly different.
Do you see yourself publishing any more books in the farming/gardening/self-sufficency niche?
Publishing a book on paper was a bit of a fluke, with the publisher contacting me rather than vice versa, so I’m waiting to see how The Weekend Homesteader does before pursuing another print book. But I have several ebooks on Amazon, ideas for dozens more, and a new one — Trailersteading: Voluntary Simplicity in a Mobile Home — coming out as an ebook next week. Writing ebooks is the way I clarify my thoughts on big picture projects, so I’ll definitely keep writing.
You can find The Weekend Homesteader: A Twelve-Month Guide to Self-Sufficiency on Amazon.com!
What have been your biggest successes?
I look at our farm as a learning experience. So while my husband would probably say our biggest successes are growing all of our own vegetables or making a living with our microbusiness and writing, I tend to think of things like developing a chicken pasture system that creates brilliantly orange yolks or figuring out how to grow fruit trees in a topsoil-less swamp. In the long run, our farm is a work in progress, and every little success opens avenues for further exploration that will (hopefully) lead to the ultimate goal of creating a healthy ecosystem growing all the nutrient-dense food we can eat.
Do you have any embarrassing failure stories to share?
My husband Mark headed to a nearby garage one day with a hole in the gas tank, and before he knew it, the mechanic had talked him into the idea that a mule would never break down. Luckily, the mechanic had a pair on hand, complete with tack, that we could have for only $400.
Neither Mark nor I had ever worked with mules or horses, but the animals seemed like a good fit for our homestead and the price was right. Unfortunately, we had barely a tenth of an acre of pasture, and the rain stopped falling nearly as soon as we brought our new mules home.
All summer, we had to buy hay. But there was a shortage across the region due to a drought, so we were stuck calling feed stores and rushing half a mile up the road after three bales. When we got home, Mark had to haul those bales on his back for a third of a mile from where we park the cars to the house because we were only just learning to harness the “working” mules and our driveway was too swampy to drive on (despite the drought).
Eventually, we sold the mules at a loss, but they were a very useful learning experience. We figured out that farming is a lot like plating food at Thanksgiving dinner — it’s best to start small even though everything looks so good!
If you could offer Mom Prepares readers one piece of advice towards becoming self-sufficient, what would it be?
Start small, but start now. It’s easy to think you have to grow all your own food, chop your firewood, build a green home, go off the grid, and make a living without a job all in one go, but self-sufficiency should be fun. If you focus on what you’re passionate about and keep taking baby steps, you’ll eventually get where you want to go.