Mother Earth News’ 2012 Homesteaders of The Year

July 31, 2012

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Have you ever crashed a realtor’s open house — not because you were a buyer, but just so you could see what the owners have done with the house? That’s kind of how we feel when we read about the three Mother Earth News 2012 Homesteaders of The Year. We want to stop by each of these homes, just so we can learn everything about what they’re doing!

Fitting enough, the awards are part of the larger International Homesteading Education Month this September when everyone can participate in the joys of learning — and teaching — such skills. Read the homesteaders’ stories in the full article — and definitely check out the photos (as far as we’re concerned, there can never be enough photos.) A note to all of the finalists, runners-up and nominees: We’d love to stop by next time we’re in town!

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Community house-raising!

Jim and Laurie hand-built their timber-frame straw bale home. The frame is set upon a one-of-a kind foundation built from stone found nearby. Gathering 126 friends and neighbors, the couple hosted an old-fashioned house-raising. In a notebook the couple kept as a remembrance of the day’s events, the first comment from a volunteer was, “Amazing! Everything fits!” It truly is amazing, considering the home was built primarily with hand tools, aided only by a chain saw and portable sawmill. The walls were built of straw bale and plaster, and a greenhouse atrium — along with all the windows and doors — were finished with recycled glass.


The first of the finalists, Jim Strickland and Laurie Freeman, live off-grid in Meco, N.Y. They hand-built their home with recycled materials and timber harvested, milled and joined on their property. Relying on solar energy, Strickland and Freeman paid their last utility bill in 2000. They raise chickens, keep bees, tend a large food garden and store excess harvests in a root cellar.

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Jim Strickland and Laurie Freeman’s off-grid homestead.

The second of the finalists, Mark Boyd and Charlyn Ellis, turned one-tenth of an acre in Corvallis, Ore., into a productive homestead, complete with a vegetable garden, a chicken coop, beehive and an energy-efficient house. They diligently reduce, reuse and recycle – to the extent that they only need to have their trash picked up twice a year. They keep a blog called 21st Street Urban Homestead.

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Mark Boyd and Charlyn Ellis’ 21st Street Urban Homestead.

The couple’s self-reliance extends from the garden into the kitchen. From fresh cheese to homemade yogurt made with local milk to grinding local flour for bread-baking, home cooking is integrated into their everyday activities. Eating seasonally and valuing the local foodscape brings about an appreciation noted by many nominees. For Charlyn, ‘It makes our food feel more special, knowing that each item has a season’.


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Alan Steinberg, Barbara Heller and daughter Rebecca Heller-Steinberg live in Afton, NY.

The third (but not least) finalists, Alan Steinberg, Barbara Heller and daughter Rebecca Heller-Steinberg renovated an 1850s house into an energy-efficient, self-reliant homestead in Afton, N.Y. Besides growing their own food, each family member works to strengthen local food connections and shares their knowledge and skills with the Afton and Binghamton communities.

Alan and Barbara have outfitted the property with several large gardens. Foods preserved from their harvests keep the family eating well throughout the year. Alan created an 8-foot deer fence to protect the family’s homegrown food supply and a mobile hoop house to extend their garden’s production into cooler months. “We won’t eat fresh tomatoes out of season — it’s just not fresh if it’s not out of the garden,” Barbara says. What the couple doesn’t grow is purchased from local farmers markets and a local food subscription service started by their daughter.”



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“The path to self-reliance can be just as rewarding as the ultimate goal.
This is one of many lessons learned by our 2012 Homesteaders of the Year.”

Click through to see more about the four runners-up and the Mother Earth News editors’ Star Homesteader favorites!

Tags: Building Community, Buildings, Urban Design