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Homesteading vs Farming- What’s the Difference?

I’ve always considered us to have a small farm, maybe even calling it a hobby farm. Recently, especially on social media people are claiming to be “homesteaders”. So what’s the difference? What would we classify our operation as?

First of all, if you try and look up the definition of homesteading you come up with many different definitions, the word appears to have many meanings depending on where you are looking. Per the Cambridge English Dictionary- a homesteader is: “someone who goes to live and grow crops on land given by the government.” The word homestead more than likely came about in the 1800s when the federal government was granting free land to settlers, encouraging families to go west and settle. The Homestead act of 1862 opened up one million acres of land, settlers were given 160 acres and long as they lived and tilled the land for at least 5 years. Homesteading by the true definition came to an end in the lower 48 states in 1976. According to this definition, no one today is really a true homesteader. What would be todays “modern homesteaders”?

Modern homesteading usually refers to a self-sufficient lifestyle. It could range as being completely off grid with essentially no reliance on the outside, to someone who is just trying to grow as much as their own food as possible.

What’s the difference between a farm and a homestead?

A farm usually refers to a business with focus on profits and efficiency. Typically, a farm focuses on one aspect: raising animals, dairy farming, grain farming, vegetable farming or fish farming. Some farms will have two or more operations running at once, but typically have one focus. Farms usually are operations that are focused on making a monetary profit as their source of income. Farms generally mass produce a single product for sale and work on becoming efficient in order to make a profit.

A homestead is a home on land used to provide food and income to a family using sustainable methods. A homestead is usually more diverse, focusing on multiple ways to feed and sustain their family. Homesteading generally takes sustainability more seriously than most farms. The land they are living on is the land they plan on staying on, maintaining the health of the land is of upmost importance. In a homestead you are investing in sustainability, in things around you and your land, and yourself. It has to work for you on a personal level, not a commercial level. Looking at it for personal gain, not necessarily monetary gain.

Are all homesteads farms and can a farm be a homestead?

Since the definition of a homestead is pretty vague, anyone could consider themselves a homestead. Some farms could consider themselves a homestead if they are very focused on sustainability but also are trying to make a profit from their land. But all farms would not be considered homesteads.

Could we call ourselves a homestead?

Our small operation seems to cross over between both definitions. We raise animals for our use and for profit but our income does not solely rely on our farm income. The income we make from the sale of our animals and meat really just help maintain our way of life, we do not make enough money on our farm sales to sustain our farming operation. Our incomes from out side of the farm are what we rely on for our monetary needs. We are a very diverse farm including multiple animals, raising hay to for our animal feed, raising all of our own meat that we consume, gardening and canning, raising fruit trees and berries, raising bees for honey and tapping maple trees for syrup. I make our own soap from our goats milk and for some time we were milking a cow for most of our dairy needs. We still need to buy groceries, products for around our house, animal feed and lots of other materials.

Moving into more sustainability practices has been a struggle since there are not a lot of mentors in our area. Luckily with YouTube and social media it is easier to find people trying to live the lifestyle we are. Most farms in our area are not focused on sustainability. Many gardeners still rely on commercial pest management, chemicals and herbicides. It is often “easier” to just use a commercial spray or just use “Roundup” to take care of errant weeds. Even though sustainability and organic practices are all the rage on social media, trying to use these practices when all you were ever taught was conventional methods can be difficult.


I would consider us more a homestead than a farm. Even though we still rely on Walmart and the grocery store for some of our foods, I have been working on being more self-sufficient. Sure, it would be easier and most times cheaper to just go and buy it from the store. But I enjoy the satisfaction of doing for myself and not solely relying on others for my needs. I’m sure I could be more self sufficient but I am a work in progress!

I will continue to consider ourselves a homesteading farm. A little of both but hopefully combining the best of each and continue to live our life as much off the land as we can.

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