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Free Land – Are you Ready to Try Homesteading?

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Self-reliance is an appealing alternative in today’s economic reality…

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy.com Posted Oct 3, 2011

homesteadingThe bright lights and fast action of city living may be losing some appeal to the growing number of people today who are out of work and short on funds. It’s an uneasy feeling to set our fate in the hands of a job interviewer, or to risk our last bit of savings on new skills training for a job that may never materialize. The future seems uncertain, and trust in the systems in place to ensure our welfare seems to be eroding.

My wife and I felt this way when we were young, even though times were better back then, and so in 1980 we moved to a rural area to try our hand at homesteading. It turned out to be a great move for us. We’ve raised a family and found security and independence which, in today’s economic climate, seem especially appealing. I would think many young people today might benefit similarly.

Since the 1920’s  there has been a trend of people migrating from rural areas to cities in search of job opportunities and living standards which feature convenience, access to educational opportunities, more diverse economic activity, and more social alternatives. For nearly a century this migration has served peoples’ needs, and even today many rural communities are seeing an exodus of residents in search of a better life.

Today, many rural communities are looking for ways to reverse the trend in depopulation. The intention of bringing residents back to rural communities is to stimulate and help sustain local economies and institutions, and in some parts of the country, free land is offered as an enticement to prospective new residents.

Homestead Living has Changed

Modern homesteaders have more lifestyle choices and income opportunities than their pioneer forebears. There is a wealth of information available today to help people experience the benefits of self-reliance without suffering the setbacks of greenhorn homesteading mistakes. Gardening and farming know-how is easy to come by thanks to rural agricultural extension services, library-by-mail programs and of course the internet.

Job opportunities in remote areas, thanks to the internet, have improved greatly. Online businesses can be inexpensive to set up, and since the cost of living in rural areas is lower than living in town, the requirements for a successful online business are lower. One of my neighbors, for example, has a small website which provides information about wood cookstoves, with a link to suppliers who provide referral fees on sales. The business may only bring in a few thousand dollars per year, but this covers about half of the annual homestead fixed expenses.

The isolation of rural living is also mitigated by internet access to social networks. Whatever niche captures your interest, there will be a forum online with like-minded individuals sharing ideas and providing social stimulation. Online friends are no substitute for a close neighbor, but modern homesteaders can maintain a social discourse, and good mental balance, thanks to modern wireless technology.

So where is the free land?

Alaska

The Department of Natural Resources is directed by the state constitution to sell land for settlement and private ownership. There is a Remote Recreational Cabin Sites program where an applicant is allowed to stake a parcel of land in a designated remote staking area for recreational use. The parcels are leased for a limited length of time and purchased at fair market value after the completion of a survey and appraisal. There are no building or “prove-up” requirements required with this program.

Iowa

Manilla – The Manilla Economic Development Corporation offers 15 new single family lots in the New Sunrise Addition Phase II at no cost to qualified individuals or entities that build a new single family residence subject to certain conditions. More info.

Kansas

Several communities in Kansas are offering free land and other incentives to attract new residents. The goal is to help rural areas sustain and grow economically. Look for opportunities in Atwood, Ellsworth County, Mankato, Marquette, and Washington. For a list of communities which offer free land in Kansas, click here.

Maine

Camden – The city of Camden, Maine, is offering 3.5 acres to anyone willing to bring jobs to this tourist town. Visit for more information.

Nebraska

Beatrice – The city of Beatrice has passed “the Homestead Act of 2010,” a plan to give away city land to anyone willing to build a home there and live in it for three years. This has been a successful program, and the last free lot of this initial offering was given away in January of this year. However, if this region interests you, it may be worth contacting municipal authorities in Beatrice to learn of future offerings, or if any of the assigned parcels have fallen through and are up for offer.

Other towns in Nebraska which are offering free land and incentives for new residents include Callaway, Central City, Curtis, Elwood, Giltner, Kenesaw and Loup City. Contact municipal offices in these towns for details on their land offerings.

Ohio

Dayton – Dayton is following the example of Beatrice, Nebraska, and charging would-be homesteaders only nominal fees for homesteading land.

Where else is there free land?

Opportunities for free land are available to those willing to think ‘outside the box’ and take a chance on an adventurous new lifestyle. If you can narrow down your search to a specific region that appeals to you, here are a few suggestions which may yield good results:

Look for care-taking opportunities.

As any homesteader knows, rural homes and properties need to be lived in or they will deteriorate rapidly. Roofs need frequent repair, homes need to be heated in winter to prevent mould and rot taking over, fences need attention, water lines need draining in freeze-ups, and the list goes on. But the life situations of many rural landholders may change. People get old and move to assisted living, but may want to retain their homestead for future occupants.

One of my friends care-takes a magnificent waterfront property with garden and orchard, and is even paid $1500 per month for his efforts. The owner, due to financial misdeeds, will be spending the next 15 years in prison. My friend was thinking out of the box when he found this opportunity!

Care-taking someone else’s property has the secondary advantage of letting you try out the homesteading lifestyle to see if it suits you. When a homestead is already developed, you can learn what works and what mistakes to avoid, and apply this knowledge to your future homestead as it develops.

Look for cooperative opportunities

The mention of the word ‘cooperative’ may stir anti-socialism sentiments among the paranoid and uninformed, but I have been living in a land co-op for 31 years and the experience has been most rewarding. In fact, I owe my homestead lifestyle to the co-op model, since my wife and I could never have afforded the collective land we share with others.

Cooperative living arrangements are nothing new, although land co-ops are not as common as housing co-ops which proliferate in cities and towns. But friends can pool their resources and look for land which can accommodate multiple dwellings. Shared orchard and garden space can make food production practical when more hands are available. In our co-op, some of us specialize in growing certain crops which we share with others in exchange for a share of their specialty crop. It makes the gardening process much easier when you can focus on a few crops rather than trying to produce the many crops which provide a varied diet.

Perhaps the biggest concern in land co-ops is the matter of equity. Homes built on co-ops do not build equity the way homes on private lots do. (Or used to!) It is not easy to sell a home on co-op land, since the buyer needs to be accepted by the other group members. You won’t be able to take out a home equity loan. This can be a good thing though, looking back over the past few years, since these loans have put many people financially “under water”.

Approach holders of large parcels

A group of 6 friends in Oregon approached an older man with 160 acres of land, and made a proposition to him. If he would let them put an organic garden on a piece of his land, they would share the harvest with him. After the first season, the owner grew fond of the company of young people, and offered to let them park their bus beside the garden. The relationship grew and blossomed, and today the landowner has given 5 acres to the young group to build their homestead cooperatively. The landowner benefits by feeling a part of the sustainability movement, and by sharing ideas and knowledge with young people. The young people benefit by having free land, of course, but they also enjoy the benefit of an older person’s experience and perspective.

People’s life situations change over time, and opportunities arise for those who seek them out. If you’re feeling insecure living in the city, or if the notion of self-reliance appeals to you, homesteading can provide a feeling of independence and some measure of control over your life.

Homesteading may seem old-fashioned to many, but we think there’s going to be a lot more interest in this way of living as the global economy continues to unwind.
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  • intelq

    It is not necessary to give up all modern conveniences to reduce your carbon footprint when you utilize alternative energy and green building techniques. Passive solar design coupled with straw bale, cob, cordwood, or earthbag construction can yield an efficient, comfortable, and green built structure for your homestead. Solar panels and wind turbines are tried and true forms of alternative energy, but new technologies such as geothermal, micro hydro, and bio-diesel offer additional flexibility to power your off grid homestead.

  • http://www.professorlocs.com Alease Michelle

    Thank you for sharing the homestead alternative. I never knew this existed. This is a good alternative for people that are looking for rural living and getting back to green living. I appreciated the wealth of information shared on this article.

  • quintessencecreations

    It's interesting how people find ways that work in hard times. I personally like living a little more in the rural areas, but not too far off the beaten path. I love the last story of the 6 people wanting to grow organic garden and how it blossomed into something more.

  • sole sister

    My cousin caretakes a lovely waterfront property for wealthy owners who use the property only two weeks per year. He and his wife vacate the property for this time, but otherwise enjoy the place as if it were theirs. And they are paid for their service! They have maintained this arrangement for about 15 years.
    The examples in the above article may get some people thinking.

  • Rosalind Hildred

    Self-reliance also happens in spades if there is $100 or less available to spend. My partner dropped his lifestyle as engineer( as well as professor of mechanical engineering), among other things, expecting to succumb from Hodgekin's lymphoma. He started with a backpack, hammock and blanket, a change of clothes and a pocket knife, knowing that at the end of the day he would be no worse off. He walked many miles to where he could put up a shelter for $25.00 (plastic $19.99, screws $4.65, scrounged mill scrap and a few borrowed hand tools.) A couple of work trades and he had an old seat to sleep on, a broken fishing rod, and a little wood stove. Nine years later when we got together, he owned little more, but he had life and freedom.
    I, after working myself through university and realizing what else it was going to take to survive in 'the system', started nearly 40 years ago with an army tent and a change of clothes for myself and two kids, and no more else than I could carry on my back. Total collected in welfare for single mother with children making a total relocation and lifestyle change, $260.00 over the first two months. I learned to cook beans and forage for wild greens, and thank god for clams.
    Today, I am more than proud of my 'boys', pleased to have my highly intelligent and entertaining lover, and happy with my humble abode. Neither of us collect any kind of financial assistence, although I must admit, I'm looking forward to the OAP next year!
    The scariest part was that first decision.

    • Greg Seaman

      "The scariest part was that first decision. "

      Thanks Rosalind, this is a good point that's missing from the article.

    • Douglas

      What a wonderful and interesting tale. I write short stories and truly thought that I was reading a manuscript. I left a job in the south with a $75,000.00 salary and moved to the woods of Maine for one year until moving to another homestead. Rosalind, I wish you well strong lady…

  • Jenna

    Your artice interests me. I think the isolation factor is the main reason we haven't moved to a more rural place but as you say, co-ops and land sharing can involve other like minded friends. I also like some of the comments and want to learn more about people who tried this and how it worked for them.

  • http://socialsecuritydisabilityadvocates.blogspot.com Sta. Monica Attorney

    Your article is very encouraging. Thank you for this one.

    The key thought of your write-up is “Go out of your shell.” It’s time to expand and explore. Have the confidence to start a new one on Homesteading.

  • Austin

    Free land? Where do i sign up?! In all seriousness, this is a great article with a lot of information about homesteading. I've heard of it, but now i know what it actually is. Thanks!

  • ej95815

    Jenna's point about the isolation factor is what would scare me the most. Especially with children. I would love to give it a try for, say, a 3 year period. I think it would be a great way to live. As with most people I think the free land would be a necessity since you certainly wouldn't be making enough $$ to pay any sort of monthly payment for the land.

  • tranatlivg

    Your earth friendly homestead site is valuable advice for natural sustain able living Earth easy business natural living and products is a valuable resource for the novice and experienced in transition,I've been researching on this subject daily, and will advocate speaking.Natural housing materials also include industrial hemp is a gradual growth industry,many people are starting over from scratch, the many options of materials available ,it is a lot to learn and to adapt.I've been looking for over two years and partner volunteer with a sustain able organization, there is no free land or crown land available for free in Canada to my knowledge.I volunteered near Ottawa to learn about homesteading organic farming with all chores, including shoveling horse manure that was a reality awakening with no monetary pay ,the experience room and board is hard work. I came close to injuring my back, is a great learning experience.I'm still on the grid and in a country suburb and a renter.I came here because it is quiet and peaceful with access to a wooded area and a Lake and Farmers Market seasonal.
    You are aware of any free land opportunity in Canada,please let me know.I also wrote to my local Habitat for Humanity head office in Canada their criteria is the family must have a good credit rating what about people whom have lost their jobs lay offs,become ill ,stress leave from the system, and are good decent people with values about helping individuals in service to others while learning to help themselves and no income,low income,differently abled families ,individuals to have their own land, independent homestead green sustainable housing as earth ships for example and received no response.For many,life is becoming unsustainable and exploitations of resources of the elite are transitioning easy they have the money,gold all earth extractions with real estate and resources with seed vaults and underground cities even to do so, the past few days of demonstration protests prove this change is needed world wide and there are people that prefer to transition to affordable basic solutions with decent fair standards .Humanity is going in this direction it's not quite there yet.

  • http://www.paristic.fr Misley

    It’s interesting how people find ways that work in hard times. I personally like living a little more in the rural areas, but not too far off the beaten path.

  • http://www.blogsdb.com Francis

    Many of those who live and work in urban places go back to rural areas when they retire. Living in the rural area brings less stress, but of course we have to earn for a living. And the internet is one good example, online business such as blogging can be a good source of income, a good niche can be related to what rural area we live, we can choose farming, animals, etc. as good niche.

  • Polish translations

    I’ve Master’s Degree in Agriculture and always said that with your own land you are self sufficient, land feeds you and you don’t have to work for anybody like slave.

    • kelly

      I really agree with your response . Its nice to see thay sombody else has yhe same views that we live in a modern day of slavery and blinded by benefits. A mother can not stay within the home anymore to even raise chidlren because there is a demand for both parents to work in order to “provide”. I hope that there is new light for a new type of lving where people work with nature instead of wasting resources taking from the environment and never giving back. The world would be a great place without money and politics. Just people helping people.

      • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

        I hear you Kelly. Our basic “needs” seem to just keep growing.

        • 605591aa

          But basic needs aren’t a BMW SUV for mom and dad. The most expensive everything and raise your kids to think they’re better than their peers while buying them everything. My wife, myself, and 2 children live in Oregon and exist on $1203 a month and live quite well. Its just what you think is basic needs and stick to it so as to exist without any help from anyone or the government for sure.

          • Bo Spurlock

            My income is nearly exact same. Im researching homesteaders act trying to find land to do such. I live in south point ohio and live well myself. Im a disabled veteran of iraq wars and would like to make afresh start in the wilderness. If any info please share.

      • Richard Beasley

        I totally agree with Kelly, as individuals within this new society we have become dissected and cloistered to feed the needs of corporations. Their plan is to pay us such meager wages that we will be held in chains for the rest of our lives. We soon forget how to care for one another and selflessness is soon forgotten.
        I miss the smell of fresh dirt in the spring, and ,the ability to see only nature before my eyes. We were made to live in a caring compassionate community but that is now almost completely gone. If can not even be found in a Church which was to be its very foundation. Everything and I mean everything revolves around money, If there is a problem not understood look their first, it truly is the root of all evil.
        We are controlled by it in all ways, if you are wealthy it gives great but false pride, it dulls the mind to compassion creating a host of other personal issues never seen, .If a person is without it they are torchured with depression, self doubt and fail to see their true value. Yet only in a community that has matured in self sufficiency is able to heal from the corruption caused by competition for monetary gain. Yet I am sure that when recovery takes place love will become the new wealth, and it will grow if we work for it. I feel strongly that it is the only true wealth and this wealth can never die or washes away with time.. Like monetary wealth it does not just happen; both have a beginning however the difference is love has no end. Plainly said, those that love can never die, the question for myself is how do grow love in a wealth driven world when all my energy is spent in bondage to it. Why do we fear it so when it is the greatest power, why trade it for a weaker one just because of fear. I do fear as well, I am just willing to write about it.
        One last thing, we must not confine love to our nuclear family, that is just too easy, so easy it teaches us almost nothing, it must be moved into our community with the same vigor this is primarily what I have been writing about.
        Thank you, Rich

    • J.J. McCampbell

      The job of farming is no cakewalk, and not everybody is cut out for it. You have to have the right land, you have to make the right crop choices. Are you going to eat meat? Raise and process it yourself? Barter for it? Get paid by the government not to grow certain crops? There was much uncertainty over weather and crop prices. It’s why the small, self sufficient farm has become a rarity these days. All that being said, I would do it in a heartbeat, being self sufficient would be it’s own reward.

    • Lloyd

      I don’t agree that working for someone in a business makes you a slave if your paid. “you are where you are because that is where you really want to be whether they admit it or not” earl nightingale

  • Tenby Cottages

    Interesting ideas. There’s modern alternatives so you don’t have to give up all mod-cons. I’m looking at ecospaces at the moment that come with solar panels. Hoping to live on a plot of land when i’m old in one living as a homestead.

  • Guest4656

    There is no homesteading land in Dayton. I have lived in Dayton all my life. You would have to get out of the county to homestead. Also Dayton has some of the highest crime rates in the country. Dayton also has some of the highest property taxes in the country. A $45,000 house pays $1,500-$2,000 per year in property taxes.

    My advice is stay away from Dayton.

    • FEDUPAmerican1

      not true about crime, i live in Dayton and the crime rate is not some of the highest in country.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    It is do-able, the main requirement is intention.

  • FreeSpirit

    I would like to find free land in British Columbia, Canada. Anyone know of anything?

    • adniram

      I was looking for the same thing. Have you learned anything new?

  • KimandJoe Walsh

    I love the co-op idea and am thinking that multiple family members will too. It might be a great long term plan for us.

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      The co-op model has worked well for us for over 35 years. If you have questions as you move forward, feel free to email me with your questions.

  • potato

    FREE LAND for positive productive people to use to do cool things……There is 21 acres of land in TN that people are free to use and live on. The land is there to help those that want to help others. So if you have something that you want to do but need land to do it, now you have land…..there is a 9 acre field two creeks a pond a spring box and a well ….there is no house but lots of good camping and anyone’s
    welcome to build a dwelling…I would like to see this land turn into a community of people that not only helps each other but others to and a place where travelers can go for rest, resources and learning or a home base if they need one. I want to grow enough food to eat, sell, and give to disaster relief and gatherings…..we have big plans to do awesome things and even though we have already accomplished a lot we have a lot more to do. What we need is building materials so we can finish the barn, build more shelter for travelers, a roadside farm stand, a green house and other things . Homesteading supplies to help us live off the grid. and a tractor so we can grow so much more food…..we really want a tractor!!. Money……ya we need money and people that want to work on projects. especially next spring. There is so much we can do if we work together. Come on out, this is a big project and we need all the help we can get…….. if you do come out you should be willing to make conscious effort to get along with others and be respectful. this is not land that people can do any thing they want this is not a party squat. there is a core crew that helps govern and keep the land on track. others are encouraged to have input and if you prove yourself to be down you will become core crew. there is no max size for core crew.

    http://www.Shutupandgrowit.org

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      I like your project, your attitude and your web page. This sounds like a great opportunity for the right person(s). Maybe you can write an article about how things are progressing – we might want to post it in our blog for others to draw inspiration from.

    • Angelia Stewart

      Who do my husband and I talk to about this .

    • John Curbo

      Potato my email is jcurbojr@yahoo.com. Please email me if at all possible. I live in Tn. and am interested in helping. I have a lot to offer. Thanks

    • Elaine Kelly

      I know people who need land to camp or live in RV’s…. those of us who have been exposed to Highly Toxic Mold are without homes. Is there any possibility for a section of land used to house people who are trying to recover and need a place to stay ?

  • Charlotte Travis

    MeadowLark in Colorado does not have homesteading anymore, sent emails & it came back as address unknow, I check to email address twice, my husband & want to do this but hit dead ends everytime

  • Tim Coy

    Could ya’ll use a blacksmith ? My family has been considering something like this for a while now.

  • Sovereignty

    Thanks for sharing this article, it’s inspiring me to keep walking down this alterative path. Three years ago my husband and I set off into the unknown after giving away our belongings. We have been volunteering on farms, retreat centers, and communities across the country.
    I feel deeply that it is time to come into a new way of living, one that is more in alignment with my truth. I’m working to reawaken the earth-honoring traditions that have been trampled under the frenzy of mindless capitalism.
    My idea is to start creating cultural healing centers across the land to teach regenerative farming practices and holistic healing techniques. Check out this link for more info on the vision and feel free to contact me if you have any insights into how to get this idea going!
    http://www.imcallingmyselfout.com/#!cultural-healing-centers/cwl

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Of course some income is needed regardless of the lifestyle. We made end meet doing odd jobs, selling crafts, starting a small business, doing more odd jobs, and then starting this website. In small communities where people know each other, there’s also a lot of sharing, trading, bartering that helps make ends meet. Where ther’s a will there’s a way.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Again, interesting comments Trish. You might be interested in developing your thoughts into a New Year’s message to send to blogs of your choosing for posting.

    • Trish House

      Good Idea! Thanks Greg.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Hmm. Thought I replied to this. The most promising developments I see locally are similar to the vision you express. You could expand your ideas into a longer article that I think would be worth submitting to any environmental-themed blogs of your choosing.

    • Trish House

      You did reply nicely, but this comment got stuck in the “waiting for approval” queue so our wires crossed. Sorry.

      • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

        No problem Trish. Your comments are always welcome.

  • Monty C

    The sky-fairy? really? Living off the grid is a reality – not some delusion of grandeur.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Listen up folks – Opportunity is knocking!

    Thanks Pam.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Interesting comment Trish. And the lifestyle you describe keeps people in contact with nature. My concern is that as urbanization increases so does our collective detachment from nature and the values it teaches us.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Sorry if a comment was deleted. It may be I thought my reply to your other comment would address both. Feel free to resubmit your comment if you feel it has been overlooked.

  • Trish House

    Thanks Greg.

Blog > Preparedness > Free Land – Are you Ready to Try Homesteading?