Homesteading with Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the Head of Freedom Farm Academy & Community Development at Food Forest Abundance. He also has expertise in permaculture, as well as homesteading. This is an interview with Chelsea Boissonneault to get to know Michael a little bit more 🙂
How did you come into the world of permaculture?
I actually had been practicing it without knowing that I had. I always knew that nature had the solutions to all of our problems. The idea of permaculture was purely logical to me, I just did not realize it had a name until I read it.
Paul Gautschi was one of the first people I read about when it came to permaculture. I loved his slant. He showed that growing food is divinely inspired, and that it doesn’t need external inputs. Sepp Holzer was another person that I read about that really confirmed what I knew intrinsically all along about permaculture and its principles. Something that they made clear to me is that we should be eating what is in season where we live. That is the way of nature, our environment grows what we need at different times of the year. So instead of eating imported foods, eat what is in season and change it up as per the seasons. Of course, growing the foods in season over buying from grocery stores is the best option of them all, offering greater nutrient density and fewer pollutants.
How and when did you expand into homesteading?
Permaculture came after homesteading for me actually. I saw what was going on in the world and always felt like a bit of an outlier. The system is set up so that we have to pay to be alive and extracts energy, life, and creativity out of people for the most part.
Then in 2008, I saw the even bigger picture, which cemented the idea in my mind that the system’s power is derived from all of us. If they are destroying the world due to our dependence on them, then the solution is simply to take that power back and become independent of them. Since that realization, I have been obsessed with being a part of the change and the solution, which is to take responsibility for ourselves and live a more self-reliant lifestyle. To live in the world but not of it, and that doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the modern amenities either.
I started on my journey of eating plant-based 6 years ago. And, after learning about the nutrient deficiency and toxicity of most of the foods available at the store, it was natural to want to stop depending on that food and to start growing our own. When I am asked how much land one needs to be able to grow all their own food if they are plant-based, the answer is on average 2 acres for a family of 4. This differs of course depending on what they want to and like to eat plant-wise. The best bang for your buck is to choose calorie crops, they will yield more calories in a smaller space. This would be foods such as potatoes, corn, rice, beans, and the higher carbohydrate type foods mostly.
If you could only have 1-3 types of animals on your land what would they be?
Often people think because I eat plant-based that I would not support having animals on my homestead or in my designs, but animals are an integral part of the ecosystem. They offer so many functions, apart from possibly eating them or their product, such as pest control, soil fertility, composting, and early warning systems.
My first choice if I was only to choose one animal would be ducks. They provide many of the functions that chickens do, but they are more resistant to predators. They also produce a lot of manure relative to their inputs. It feels like for every cup of food they produce two cups of manure! Chickens also have a habit of scratching which ducks do not, so they are more gentle than chickens in a food forest. Lastly, they can even yield more eggs than many laying hens.
Chickens are a close second place for me though. Laying hens provide nitrogen-rich manure which increases the soil’s fertility. They also keep pest populations down, as they are great at munching on ticks and grasshoppers, among other common garden nuisances. And of course, they yield eggs which, even if you are plant-based, are useful to feed to your other animals such as livestock dogs, or you can even sell them.
Horses are high up there for me as well for an animal to have on a homestead. They are strong animals that can be used as transportation if needed. They can also be put to work on the homestead pulling logs and such…not to mention they’re beautiful to watch!
Then, if I was to choose a fourth animal it would be sheep. Mostly for their wool, as wool is an amazing fabric that is fire-resistant, and unique in that it still retains its ability to provide insulation and keep you warm even when it gets wet.
Then a few more purposes of other animals worth mentioning are:
Pigs – They are great to eat foods other animals will not eat, as well they root and help the soil by creating areas for new plant colonization. They also help spread seeds.
Goats – They are browsers and help control over-growth.
Geese – They are great with chickens as they have natural protective instincts and help keep the chickens safe from aerial predators.
Llamas – They also have very natural protective instincts and can keep predators such as coyotes away better than most dogs surprisingly
When somebody wants to start homesteading what are the steps to start?
I tend to answer this question coming from a survival approach. If your health is good and you are able to undergo a journey such as starting a homestead, I would start with your shelter. Then once your shelter is in place I would focus on the water systems. You want to have ample water available, with multiple sources. Relying on a single source of water is risky sometimes. Maybe there is a creek running through your property you can pump water from, hopefully, you can dig a well and also have a water catchment system in place.
Then I would focus on your food systems. Starting with your annual garden, in order to get some food to eat right away. Then I would go into your perennials, which will produce more food for you over the long-term, requiring less inputs and maintenance while steadily increasing in yield and abundance.
After the food systems are in place I would focus on integrating the animals onto your homestead, focusing on ones that will serve multiple functions and that your land can easily support without requiring external inputs.
Then, is it a good idea to look at your energy systems. Like water systems, it is a good idea to have multiple sources of energy to be better prepared. Between solar, wind, water, and the grid, you can incorporate as many as possible for your land.
At this time you will also want to look into food preservation and storage systems to be able to store your harvest to provide calories throughout the year, even during the off-season. This can also serve as a buffer in case of drought or other factors such as major storms that can impact your ability to obtain a yield..
What do you love most about helping people become self-sufficient?
I love seeing that spark reignited in people, the one the system tends to beat down over time without one knowing. Homesteading can seem overwhelming, mostly due to the fact that as a whole we have forgotten how to do it, it is not taught to us anymore and we rarely know others who are doing it themselves.
When you reveal to someone that they CAN do it and show them how then they stop feeding the enemy. When one stops giving their power away, when they reclaim their power, they can come back to realize what their purpose truly is. Mankind is meant to be stewards of our lands, and when you inspire others to remember this, it truly is a gift. The beauty is, that when someone is catalyzed and begins taking action in their own life, they naturally want to spread this awareness to others and there will be a trickling-out effect naturally. I always encourage people to learn it, live it, and teach it to others.
What is involved in the homesteading consultation process?
We at Food Forest Abundance are here to help you to start your homesteading journey, no matter what your current situation is. We look at what you have and help you make steps toward becoming more self-reliant. Even in an apartment building in a larger city, it is possible to make steps towards relying less on the system. In an apartment, you can typically grow microgreens indoors, have a compost system, and a balcony container garden.
What is it like working with Food Forest Abundance?
This is a 2 part answer. On one hand, I love the ability to channel my personal passion into a professional one. This allows me to share what I love and at the same time help others to start their own journey. On the other hand, I absolutely love the connections I am constantly making through Food Forest Abundance and the world of like-minded people that we attract naturally. They give me hope and inspiration that I am not alone and that our future is bright indeed. We’re like a tribe, here to support each other with all our amazing energy and unique skill sets.