Although the Homestead Act, passed in 1862, is no longer in force, many people continue to pursue homesteading as a way of life in which they seek to live as independent and self-reliant as possible.
Almost 20 years ago, Jack Dody and his wife, Marilou, of Rush, Colo., began homesteading on the plains of eastern Colorado.
From that experience, they formed the Christian Homesteaders Association to help others interested in homesteading. They felt that homesteading is compatible with Christian living, which includes being fiscally responsible, relying on and caring for one another, homeschooling, and “tending the garden,” thereby becoming better stewards of the environment.
They became associated with Equip International in Marion, N.C., an organization that provides training courses and preparation for people interested in missions and ministry.
They help Christian missionaries to design housing for themselves and the people they serve. Their missionary trainees have gone to more than 100 countries around the world.
Jack Dody, the son of Glenn Dody, a Marion High School graduate, is the grandson of Harry and Edna Dody, who lived in the Youngtown community.
Jack’s father was a career military man. As the family moved back and forth across the country with his dad’s career, Jack often spent time at his grandparents’ farm. When he was in the fourth grade, his father was sent to a remote assignment on the Bering Sea.
During that year, the family lived in El Dorado. Again, Jack spent a lot of time in Marion. He loved the farm. It meant freedom for a young boy. He learned to shoot a gun, fish, and enjoy the outdoors. He also got a sense of how hard his grandparents worked.
His grandfather had provided for six children on 80 acres. Through the Dust Bowl and the Depression, the family always had plenty to eat. No one had much money, but they had good health and good food.
When Jack began spending time on the farm, it had already wound down to a small operation. His grandfather raised a few hogs and milked 13 cows. His grandmother had a large garden and raised chickens.
As they grew older, these activities were curtailed. Harry worked for Dr. Earl Woods, a veterinarian in Marion for many years.
When Jack attended Ottawa University from 1971 through 1973, he took his family to spend weekends at the farm. By this time, he was interested in “alternative” housing.
It was, at first, a very practical endeavor. He was realizing, as a young parent, that providing the basics for his family was challenging and becoming more difficult. He knew there had to be a way to provide for his family without working three jobs.
As it turned out, he and his wife, Marilou, did work hard in Colorado Springs through a tough recession from 1982 to 1992. His thoughts about the difficulties of providing for family were confirmed. There had to be a better way.
All that he had seen on the farm came to mind. His grandparents didn’t have much money, but they did have some peace of mind and fresh air and good work.
The more he thought about it, the more sense life on the farm made, and the less sense his own life made. Also, as an adult, he could see that the system of banks and mortgages, utility companies, and industrial farming based on fossil fuels was not a model that could last.
He had always been fascinated by “alternative” lifestyle models, but was turned off by communal living. He realized that faith in Christ, personal freedom, and responsibility were the only true foundations of happiness. So the homestead concept made sense to him.
Homesteading, as many people understand it, started with Thomas Jefferson, who died in 1826. Jefferson believed that America could be built and expanded by citizen farmers.
Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the government provided 160 acres of free land. If the farmer improved the property with a home and five years of labor, he received a deed to the property.
Jefferson was right. The West was won by farming families. The farmer became the foundation upon which the greatest economy ever known was built.
The Homestead Act was in place until the 1920s. The last land to be homesteaded was near Jack’s present home in eastern Colorado.
Today, homesteading refers to a lifestyle. There is no more free land. The homesteader pays for his land and usually works to grow some of his food. Some homesteaders have livestock.
Most modern homesteaders also work “in town” to help provide what they need. The goal is to be as self-reliant as possible. Some homesteaders live “off the grid,” creating their own electricity and building their own homes.
The Dodys live off the grid. They make electricity with photovoltaic panels and a wind charger. They built their passive-solar house to receive 75 percent of their heat from the sun. The other 25 percent comes from firewood.
They harvest rainwater and recycle it. They have a sawdust-composting toilet, and use the compost to build up the soil and increase garden yields.
They realized the concepts that make their house efficient also work for the poor in emerging nations. Everyone wants a comfortable, safe home, clean water, decent food, and basic sanitation.
For more information on homesteading, visit the Web site: www.christianhomesteaders.org. It provides free access to “The Noah Project,” a handbook on designing a homestead. It also includes writings and other training manuals.