Several years ago I began seeing YouTube videos made by hippie-type people showing their small “off-grid”, “sustainable farming”, “organic farming”, “tiny-home” homesteads. My recollection is that most of these YouTubers lived in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, with a few in southern states and on the east coast.
Initially, most of these YouTubers appeared to be hippie men in their 30s-60s, who had considerable experience and knowledge in both homebuilding and farming. About half of the time, these men were accompanied by healthy, energetic women who also possessed practical skills and knowledge.
To sum up, it was evident that these homesteaders had spent at least ten years working in the construction trades, gaining knowledge, experience, equipment, expertise, and money. These people had been planning for at least ten years making a transition from normal urban, suburban, or rural living, to remote, self-sufficient, homestead living.
These people found affordable property, that was suitable for what they wanted to do, and in the quickest, cheapest way possible, they created an access track, cleared a spot for their home, put in a water-well, built a shed for their tools and materials, and began building a small, rough finished home before a winter freeze set in.
In the coming months and years these homesteaders made videos showing how they heated their home; how they stored firewood, water, and food; how they used solar panels, batteries, and generators to provide electricity; how they prepared the ground, planted, fertilized, harvested crops; how they repaired broken equipment; how they dealt with unexpected emergencies.
The amount of work, hardship, suffering, misery, fear, exasperation, and becoming overwhelmed was visible. Some aspects of this life were enviable, much of it was not.
Like everything in life, once someone comes up with an idea, “Copycats” are sure to follow. “Copycats” are one thing, “Posers” and “Fakes” are something else. Like 18 year olds at a party, saying that they are going to “law school” or “medical school” with terrible grades that could never get in, young people with no money, no work experience, no construction experience, no farming experience would say that they were going to “live off-grid” and build a “tiny-house” because it sounded like a cool thing to do, it impressed woke liberal people.
The young “Van-Life” people on YouTube, who had bought an old used van for $1,500, spent a couple of months and another $1,500 to convert it for travel, made videos of their van build and travels. After a year or so their YouTube content became predictable, repetitive, and stale. Even the “Van-Life” YouTubers who had pristine car-show vans that they did not actually stay in, $3K high-def camera drones, swimsuit model companions in Bikinis, and nude video thumb-nails, their content got old.
Some of these young “Van-Life” YouTubers switched over to “Off-Grid”, “Sustainable Farming”, “Tiny-Home” lifestyle videos at about the same time. It’s clear that there is a very large conservative audience for “Preppers” and “Prepping”, and a very large liberal “woke” audience for “Off-Grid”, “Sustainable Farming”, “Organic Farming”, “Tiny-Home” living, that YouTubers began to “fake” to become popular.
Some of the “Van-Life” YouTubers were fake and not real to me, and to others who actually lived in their car, van, converted bus, or small camper. Twice during the North Dakota Oil Boom from 2007-2014, for a period totaling about ten months, I lived in either my truck bed camper, or my 7’x14′ utility trailer in areas that were not campgrounds. Hiding, urinating in bottles, pooping in 5 gallon buckets, wash cloth baths, truck stop showers, below freezing cold, constantly worrying about vehicle getting towed away, stolen, or breaking down, is not fun, exciting, and glamorous as portrayed by fake Van-Lifers who don’t actually live in their van.
Not long after watching some of the very young, single-women homesteaders on YouTube, I became suspicious, because what they were saying and doing was not adding up. They were too young to have had the work experience, or enough money saved up to purchase the property that they were living on, nor were they currently employed which would have been necessary for them to obtain a loan from a bank. The more that I researched some of these YouTube homesteaders, the more I learned that the story they were telling was not the truth.
When I wrote a couple of blog post articles about this discrepancy between what some of the YouTube homesteaders were showing and saying, versus the the truth that they deliberately left out, most of their viewers responded, “So what…, who cares…, it doesn’t make any difference…, it doesn’t matter…, it’s entertaining.., you are just jealous.”
I think that it’s very important not to lead young people, unwitting people, low-intelligence people, and low-information people into believing that “off-grid”, “sustainable-farming”, “organic farming”, “tiny-home” living is a life of leisure, fun, do-what-you-want, when-you-want. 20%-30% of the comments from women, especially young women were, “I want to do this too.., I want to live like this too…” So these videos actually WERE leading people to believe that they were a model, template, and guide for what other people could do.
The easiest way to point out the REAL MODEL of what “off-grid”, “sustainable farming”, “organic farming”, “tiny-home” living looks like, is to look at the history of subsistence farming, share-cropping, and homesteading that occurred in the U.S. from its founding through the 1930s.
To cover it briefly, in the best of times:
The father, mother, and children woke up at 5 a.m. to each do their assigned chores. The mother would add wood to the pot-bellied stove, get the fire going, begin cooking breakfast. The father and children would begin watering and feeding livestock such as chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits, cows, and horses. Gathering eggs, milking cows. Eat breakfast at 6:00 a.m. The kids would get ready for school, maybe get horses saddled or wagon ready if school was too far to walk.
After breakfast, the father would work all day long, plowing fields, chopping firewood, fixing fences, repairing harness or plow, shoeing horses, carrying water to troughs, killing and butchering an animal, preserving animal meat. The mother would clean house, cook lunch, cook dinner, wash clothes, hang laundry, take in laundry, mend clothes, make clothes.
This same routine would be followed six days per week, year after year, only interrupted by someone getting sick, injured, killed, dying, a tornado, hail storm, fire, or blizzard.
In a previous blog post article about six months ago, I wrote that I had found in an online archive of digitally scanned historic records, a copy of a book titled “Standard Atlas Of Hettinger County North Dakota 1917” that was created by a publisher that made these reference books for states in the U.S. This reference book contained up-to-date maps of the United States, the state of North Dakota, and Hettinger County, including very detailed Township plats showing the names of families that had been granted 160-acre homesteads following the 1860s Homestead Acts.
Looking at these Township plats for Hettinger County North Dakota in 1917, I could see that at that time, more than half of the Township sections had not been homesteaded yet. In 1917, on the plat map for Hettinger County, the official “cities” were Bentley, Burt, Havelock, Mott, New England, Regent, and Watrous. At this present time now, Bentley, Burt, Havelock, and Watrous no longer exist at all, nor do the old towns of De Sart, Pierce, Whetstone Butte, and Daglum.
To be clear about what I am trying to illustrate with this information from the old Hettinger County North Dakota Atlas, at the absolute peak of homesteading in the early 1900s, more than half of the land in western North Dakota had not been homesteaded, and from the 1920s onward the number of farm families steadily declined. In this area of North Dakota, there were no new towns created whatsoever at all, just the complete vanishing of Bentley, Burt, Daglum, De Sart, Havelock, Pierce, Watrous, and Whetstone Butte. Why? Because homesteading was a tremendous amount of work, and very difficult in comparison to modern life in urban areas.
To illustrate this with pictures, I am going to show some photographs of “abandoned” homesteads from the Facebook Group “Abandoned Dakotas Images”:
These images shown above, are intended to illustrate that even when an entire family of immigrants from Europe came to North Dakota to homestead 160-acres of free land following the 1860s Homestead Acts, and their lives depended on succeeding at farming, either in the first, second, or third generation on their land, it was just too much work, too difficult to continue farming.
Please note that these photographs shared from the Facebook Group “Abandoned Dakotas Images” use the word “abandoned”, the land is still owned by the family members who continue to pay property taxes and visit their family property. These family members would be just as mad at someone coming onto their land uninvited, as you would be if someone came into your house or your apartment.