How to (not) be a middle-class homesteader

Homesteading means living a self-sufficient lifestyle, with little help from others. Can you be a homesteader in a Cape Town suburb? Sort of…

Wrapping a present for my mother’s birthday, I remarked to assembled family members: “We are now full members of the middle classes.”

That’s because I was not in fact wrapping the present. I was placing it in a gift bag and topping it with a carefully scrunched-up piece of tissue paper. Because that, dear reader, is how you do presents in the Cape Town middle classes. A present encased in paper held down with sticky tape is a very rare thing these days, and much-missed, at least by me.

(Also – it is silently expected that you will be using a gift bag in which you were yourself given a gift: recycling is also a Middle Class Thing. I often wonder if anyone ever buys a new one.)

READ: How to fail at being middle-class

My middle-class moment was short-lived.

“Mom,” said Jack. “What do you mean middle class? We are homesteaders.”

Now, I associate homesteading with reality television programmes about people living deep in the United States or Canadian wilderness, complete with shotguns and slightly manic gleams in their eyes.

“What do you mean, homesteaders?” I countered.

Look around you, he said, listing our compost bins, the vegetable beds which have slowly taken over the garden, the rain water tanks, the way we don’t use pesticides, the make-do-and-mend decades-old clothes we wear, the quilt-making, the Dover stove we can fire up if the national grid fails (not to mention the modest box of non-perishable foods that we have stashed away. Because national grid)…

I conceded he had a point.

Why don’t we just go the whole hog, he said, and go get a small farm? I got a manic gleam in my eye as I realised that meant I could keep chickens (I aspire to keep chickens).

But then reality set in. “What about the dishwasher and the washing machine?” I am fairly sure homesteaders aren’t allowed to have those, I said. Jack, full of bravado, asserted that we could do without them. I wasn’t so sure.

But dear reader, I have it on the best authority that modern appliances might be possible. The weekend after our homesteading conversation, I attended a workshop on Bokashi & Korean Natural Farming (are you seeing the thread here?)

The workshop was run by two inspiring young people – Codi Marais and Neo Dudley from GROA who have various businesses and projects in the field of organic gardening and permaculture (see one of them here). I told the group my story about homesteading and Codi ventured the opinion that if we used organic-friendly products in our washing machine dishwasher, we would still be in the homesteading fold.

And indeed, just this week, we have acquired a beehive courtesy of @jackkeepsbees. I am sure that ups our homesteading credentials considerably.

On the other hand, we have also just acquired an air fryer, courtesy of a special deal at our favourite supermarket chain. Air fryers are the latest middle-class must-have, so those credentials are also on the rise.

What to do?

Perhaps if I defy all the niceties and wrap presents in paper and sellotape, my inherent unsuitability as a member of the middle classes will remain evident. And I could get chickens as well!

 Main picture: freestocks, Unsplash

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