Homesteading is a way of living your life with the goal of being more self-sufficient. In Rhinelander, there is a Homesteading Club that meets at least once a month.
Mackenzie Martin has the story.
The origin of homesteading comes from the Homestead Act of 1862 where land was given to families in an effort to encourage western migration, but some say it stands in for more of a mindset today.
Still, when you ask a room full of people at a Homesteading Club meeting what homesteading is and why they’re here, you get a couple of different answers:
“We’re interested in growing some things in the garden,” says Tom LaDue. “This is our first year at it so we’re kind of new.”
“I don’t have a good definition of homesteading,” says Mike Haasl. “But it’s living a little closer to nature, or Laura Ingalls Wilder with appliances.”
“For me, driving me for homesteading is being more self-reliant for starters,” says Kim Singleton. “Knowing where my food is coming from is ginormous.”
Mike Haasl is the one who started the Homesteading Club in June of 2017 and they’ve been meeting at least once a month since. Though homesteading has a lot to do with self-sufficiency, the idea behind the club is to share resources and build a community for homesteaders in the Northwoods.
“More often than not, we try and get a presenter in to talk about something,” says Haasl. “Past topics have been things like gardening and root cellars and composting and food preservation. All the sorts of things Laura Ingalls Wilder used to do, or Pa and Ma I guess.”
In addition to the monthly meetings, they also try and have as many workshops as they can, things that are more hands on than their typical presentation.
“Some of the best events I think is we did an apple tree grafting workshop last April and everyone got to graft as many trees as they wanted,” says Haasl. “There’s a local orchardist who has hundreds of apple varieties so we were able to graft 500 year old apple varieties and go home with bizarre trees like Finkenwerder Herbstprinz.”
Haasl says in the 21st century, there are more resources than ever before, making homesteading a lot easier for beginners today.
“We have power equipment, which is nice,” he says. “But then we’ve got the power of YouTube and the internet. You can learn anything you need to online. Back in the day, everyone knew it because their parents and grandparents told them and everyone in town knew how to do this stuff. Now very few people do but somebody out there somewhere in YouTube land does know and so we can learn from there and spread it amongst ourselves."
Haasl says they're building community and sharing resources among eachother.
“At last night’s meeting, a club member brought in some sunchokes and everybody got to bring some home to plant," he says. "Where else are you going to find native local sunchokes to plant?”
There’s a big mix of people in the club. Some are beginners at everything, others have mastered one thing and are looking to learn more. Some say they like heating their home with firewood to save money, while others say they keep chickens and make their own maple syrup because it keeps them busy and helps them stay active.
"You can see something come from what you're doing," says Kim Singleton. "It's very satisfying."
“It does seem like there’s more homesteader types around here,” says Mike Haasl. “We just moved here four years ago and the number of people you meet just in the seed department at Menards... who have large gardens, who are canning, who are doing all of this stuff, growing fruit trees. I came from Madison by way of Appleton and in those cities, people might have a small garden in their backyard, maybe, but up here it seems like it kept going from grandparents to parents to kids and it’s just more of a way of life here. It’s great.”
The Homesteading Club in Rhinelander meets on the second Thursday of the month at 6:00 p.m. There is no charge to be in the club and all meetings are completely open to the public.
The next meeting of the homesteading club is on Thursday, December 13th, at 6:00 p.m. at the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office in Rhinelander. Jamie Cline from Trig’s Smokehouse will be presenting about sausage and meat preserving.
You can reach out to the Homesteading Club by emailing Mike Haasl: email@example.com
This story is part of our We Live Up Here series, where we tell the stories of the people and culture of northern Wisconsin. The photo of the maple syrup operation above was taken by the WI DNR and can be found here. Music for this story came from Blue Dot Sessions.
This story was funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.