Going off the grid and homesteading may seem like an unreachable dream for those of us who spend most of our time living in fast-paced, tightly-packed cities like light-speed sardines. Finding land in a city is like hunting for a needle in the world’s largest haystack, but once you escape from the hustle and bustle and move beyond the suburbs, the possibilities are endless.
If homesteading and living off-the-grid is a personal goal for you, finding land is one of the first steps. What do you need to know to find land for your homestead? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.
Remember the Four Basic Needs
First, let’s look at the basic needs you’ll have to address on your farmstead. We’re not talking about food, water and shelter — those are a given. We’re talking about the four basic things you’ll need to manage a homestead effectively and get the most from rural living. Those are a home, a pasture for your livestock, an area for a farm or garden and a water source.
Depending on the property you buy, you may already have a home or at least a structure on hand that’s ready for you to move in. If that suits your needs, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, then you’ve got your work cut out for you. Farming and raising livestock are both enormous parts of homesteading, so you’ll also want adequate spaces for both.
You will also need to secure a water source, especially if your new property is far enough away from civilization that you won’t be able to utilize the local water grid. Wells and cisterns are good choices for those who are fairly new to the homestead life. Even tapping into naturally occurring water sources can be an option you’ll want to explore once you’ve secured your homestead property.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. You may want an area for building a greenhouse or hydroponics garden instead of a traditional farm. You may need to clear an entire field for solar panels to generate off-grid electricity. There are all sorts of possibilities when creating a self-sustaining home, and it all comes down to what you need to create the perfect homestead to support yourself and your family.
This sounds simple enough but all of these requirements have one thing in common — the necessity of finding the perfect property to build your dream homestead.
Research the Property’s History
Even if no one has lived in a particular area for a significant amount of time, every stretch of land in the country has a history. Take a close look at any areas you’re considering for your homestead. Are they prone to severe weather conditions or disasters like wildfires and flooding? What about potential problems with ownership claims or companies claiming land or lumber rights?
Depending on where you’re planning to build your homestead, you may have to go a little bit old-school with your research, sorting through physical paperwork in code enforcement and building offices. Some of it may have been converted to digital records, but for the most part, these documents will probably be cluttering up an office somewhere.
You might even find information on your property by visiting the local library and checking out the local history section. Leaf through some historical newspapers and see what you can find. Heading to the library and checking out other uncommon avenues of information can be an especially fruitful search if you’re living on a historic property. You can find properties older than 50 years by looking through enumeration districts and city directories.
Deal With Wooded Spaces
Much of the land you’ll be dealing with may be entirely undeveloped. If so, that means you’ll need to take steps to clear and level wooded spaces to build your home, fields and pastures. While you can take on each section of your property with hand tools, it’s faster and more efficient to rent some heavy equipment that can make the job easier.
A skid-steer with brush cutting or mulching attachments can take on just about everything except for large trees. That includes everything from fence lines and water to rocks, small trees and brush that will impede your ability to build your homestead. Having various attachments on hand makes it easier to switch between jobs quickly and easily while avoiding damage to your machine.
If you’re not sure about your ability to handle a piece of heavy equipment like a skid steer, consider taking a safety course or hiring a professional to clear the property for you. Never compromise safety for convenience.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration offers free training for how to manage heavy equipment safely, as well as many other online courses. Though these courses are targeted to people within the construction industry, these lessons can still be helpful for anyone looking to operate heavy machinery on their own.
Secure a Water Source
If you’re not tapped into local utilities, you’ll have to secure a source of water for your property. To start, you can use trucked in or stored water, but you’ll need a renewable option for the long term, especially if you’re planning to support crops, livestock or both.
You’ve got numerous different options to choose from, depending on where you’re located and what amount of water you’ll need daily. The average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water per day in a regular household.
If you don’t have access to a water grid, the first option is to drill a well. Other possibilities include collecting rainwater in cisterns or tapping into local water features like rivers and lakes if they’re on your property. Make sure you check with local government offices to ensure tapping into local waterways is legal for keeping your crops and livestock watered.
Rainwater collection can be another option for those living in areas where it’s legal. If you go this route, you’ll need to consider things like how you’ll purify your water if you decide to use it for drinking. This solution better serves as a supplement to another water source, as you likely won’t get a reliably continuous water flow unless your region is known for downpours. Still, it can be resourceful to implement on a homestead, even if for no other reason than as a backup.
Ensure Service and Supply Availability
For many, homesteading means getting away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. However, there are plenty of aspects of modern life that we still rely on, from medicine to emergency responders, which means you may still want to be able to utilize specific local services even after your homestead becomes self-sustaining. If so, you may want to choose a location closer to them.
While a lack of these services might not be a deal-breaker when choosing land for your homestead, being aware of their availability can play an enormous role in your decision. If access to quick medical care is important due to preexisting conditions for someone in your household, you may wish to select a property closer to civilization. You may also want to brush up on your first-aid skills for non-emergency situations.
Consider If Internet Access Is a Concern
So much of the modern world relies on fast, low-latency internet connections. Will that be a concern for your homestead? While you don’t generally expect to find a smart house on the prairie, having internet access is valuable for education and employment, as well as overall convenience.
In the near future, as Starlink’s global internet network becomes available, this won’t be as big of a concern. Starlink’s goal is to deliver high-speed, low-latency internet to the entire planet through a network of 12,000 cube-satellites in low-earth orbit. The network is expected to be finished by 2027.
Until then, you may have various options for obtaining internet in a rural area depending on where you live and what’s available there. Fixed-wireless internet connections provide connectivity to a single location and offer high speeds too, although large structures and tall trees can obscure signal activity. Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) broadband is also a solution, but network quality might fluctuate when using this provider.
Look for Free Land Opportunities
Buying land is expensive, but you don’t always have to open your wallet to find the perfect stretch of land for homesteading. In an effort to bring new people to otherwise remote areas, many states offer free land for homesteaders in return for building a house on it and staying for a while.
The exact requirements may vary from state to state or even from region to region, but the general idea remains the same — come, build and stay a while. Be sure you understand the obligations and requirements before you sign up for any free land deal. There may be fees, deposits and assessments that you don’t anticipate or forget to consider.
The idea behind these offers is usually to help the populations of these remote areas grow, bring more money into the local economy while putting otherwise empty stretches of land to good use.
The practice dates back to the 1800s, when the federal government would grant stretches of land to settlers to encourage them to move out West. While it isn’t as easy to find free land as it used to be, there are still opportunities available to those willing to look for them.
Talk to Locals in Your Desired Area
Sometimes, the best information about an area doesn’t come from official channels. If you want to know the ins and outs of a region, the best place to get your information is from the people living in the area. Knock on doors or talk to people in the town square or local restaurants — whatever is available.
If you’ve found an area you like, this is also a good way to learn who your neighbors are and whether you’ll fit in with the neighborhood you’ve chosen. It might sound simple, but sometimes a conversation can teach you everything you need to know about living in an area. The people who’ve been living there the longest can tell you most, if not all, you’d need to know to make a successful life wherever you’re putting down your roots.
Make Your Offer
Once you’ve found the perfect place to start building your homestead, the next step is simply to make an offer. In this case, buying land is no different than buying a house in the suburbs or a condo in the city. Figure out who owns the property and make an offer. In very remote areas, you may find that your dream homestead property belongs to the bank or the local city rather than to an individual or family.
You may not even need the entire property available, depending on your needs. If 100 acres is available and you only need 25, talk to the owner to see if they’ll be willing to split it into smaller sections to better accommodate your needs.
Hard Work But Worth It in the End
Once you have your new homestead property, you’ve already completed a significant chunk of the process. All that’s left now is to start building and turning the land into something that will serve you well for decades to come.
Building a homestead isn’t easy. It’s a lot of hard work, and you’ll be tweaking and customizing it for quite a while to get the perfect result. But in the end, every minute you spend working on your homestead will be worth it.
Jane is the editor-in-chief of Environment.co. She is passionate about sustainability, gardening and homesteading.