Food independence through modern homesteading in N.J.

When thinking of homesteading, some people might picture an American pioneer heading west in a covered wagon in search of free land and a new life.

That was true 200 years ago, but the 21st century has its own “modern homesteaders” dedicated to a philosophy of food independence and self-reliant living.

Sarah Kirby follows a modern homesteading lifestyle at her home in Medford.

“To me, the concept of homesteading is simply making the effort to become more self-reliant,” she said. “I wanted to practice skills like growing our own food, canning and bee keeping to make honey. Skills that are slowly being forgotten as time goes by.”

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She became inspired to practice modern homesteading after reading the book “The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!”

Kirby has joined a growing number of people who are raising their own chemical-free and antibiotic-free livestock and garden produce.

“Even if you live in an apartment you can grow a few tomatoes on your patio and can them for use throughout the winter,” Kirby says. “You don’t need 25 acres and a barn to be an urban or modern homesteader.”

Sarah Kirby, husband Chaz and their three children live on an acre of land in suburban Medford. They have a large garden, chickens that provide eggs and two goats that provide milk and a substantial amount of fertilizer. The goats also help by eating poison ivy and other weeds that grow along the property’s fences. Composting and rainwater collection are priorities and eventually the family hopes to produce more fruit.

“My least favorite part of our modern homesteading lifestyle is the hours,” Kirby admits. “Like having a new baby, no matter how tired, you still have to care for the animals and garden.”

Through their homesteading network, they may sometimes trade responsibilities. “If we want to go away for a weekend there is surely a member of the group who would care for our animals and I would do the same for them.”

Kirby says modern homesteaders are motivated to practice increased self-sufficiency by a variety of factors, including a desire for fresher, unprocessed food for health and economic reasons. She and her husband not only practice modern homesteading, they also help others get started. Kirby’s husband is the fifth generation of his family to work at Kirby Bros. Feed Store, which has been around for more than 135 years. A modern homesteading group has even been formed from within their customer base.

“We wanted to form a network of people interested in old and new ways of gardening, preserving food, making natural remedies, raising animals and composting, she said. Meetings take place once a month and are open to all and free of charge.

The Kirby family also plans to operate a farm market for the first time this summer.

A big bonus of the lifestyle for Kirby, aside from healthy, delicious meals, is the connection to family. “We work together,” she said. “My husband’s parents, Jan and Chuck Kirby, have helped us learn, grow and expand by sharing their knowledge. When grandparents, parents and kids spend time weeding a garden together, they learn a great deal about each other from the conversations that take place while busy working,” said Kirby.

Kirby has experienced several personal benefits since embracing her homesteading lifestyle.

“My husband and I feel better and more healthy,” she says. “Our kids seem to feel better overall too.”

Kirby says she has also lost weight, which she believes is due to her healthier diet paired with the physical activity that goes with taking care of crops and animals.

“There is always something new to learn. You keep chickens so you have fresh eggs. The chickens lead to manure. The manure leads to a bigger garden and more produce. The leftovers go back to feed the chickens. The process is a great circle.”


Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey.  They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and anything else that tickles their taste buds.

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