My lack of familiarity with these terms prompted me to do some research (as any good noob should do), and I found that there was a veritable treasure-trove of info to be found on the topic. At first glance, there seems to be a number of similarities between the two: both groups put a great deal of focus on self-sufficiency and off-grid living, but the differentiating factor seems to be the driving force behind said focus.
The homesteaders seem drawn to this self-sufficiency because they wish to live more holistically with the world around them; having first-hand experience with their food sources—be that through organic gardens, animal husbandry, or backyard chicken coops—and revisiting the home industry of their forebears. Many of them spin their own yarn, sew their own clothes, and make cheese from the milk given by a few goats or sheep that they keep on a small plot of land. They save their seeds, sew quilts from old clothes, and spend weekends canning and preserving food so they have a hearty bounty to draw from over the winter months.
In comparison, preppers seem to be a more paranoid lot, and their drive towards self-sufficiency isn’t born of a desire to get back to the land, but is rather in preparation for whatever apocalypse is just around the corner. These folks are getting ready for when shit hits the fan, and you can be sure they’ll be well prepared when it does. Many have several years’ supply of canned goods, dried staples, and water in their cellars, along with an arsenal of weapons to fend off the inevitable zombie-like hoards that’ll come after their food and supplies when everything goes to hell. If they do grow any food around their property, it’s hidden in the woods and camouflaged so that invaders won’t realize it’s a food crop, and the razor wire around it will dissuade any trespassers from taking it.
I found it difficult to believe the prepping mindset until I discovered a show on the National Geographic channel entitled “Doomsday Preppers”. In it, viewers are introduced to several families who are making solid action plans, bunkers, and survival kits for what they believe is the inevitable end of the world — whether that arrives via EMP attack by terrorists/extra terrestrials, pandemics, war, societal collapse, or a nuclear incident. This type of preparedness is a far cry from the homesteaders whose blogs I’ve been reading—the ones who mulch their sustainable permaculture gardens with compost they’ve nurtured themselves; who sing to their goats as they milk them and treasure each bite of homemade cheese because they know how precious it is.
Though both groups are very knowledgeable about self-reliance, the major difference between them seems to be that one side is putting down roots and nurturing the land and its denizens in preparation for a brighter future, while the other is battening down hatches and bracing for future onslaught. As one woman stated in an online forum, “Homesteaders build: home is a nest. Preppers evade: home is a bunker.” Both groups might be seen as extremist by the general populace, who’d decry homesteaders as dirt-munching hippie Luddites, and preppers as paranoid, unstable crazies, but are their lifestyles really so bizarre? In a world where economic stability is a fairytale and store-bought foods are toxic, it’s understandable that many would wish to grow their own food, and have solid survival plans “just in case”.
There may be a fine line between being paranoid and being prepared, but who are we to say where those boundaries are? I think of people who survived disasters likeHurricane Katrina because they’d stockpiled food and water ahead of time to get them through a “What if?” scenario — what if these folks aren’t driven so much by paranoia as by some intuition about what might be around the corner? In any case, the two groups could probably benefit from one another’s skills: some preppers could take a cue from the homesteaders as far as industry is concerned, while some homesteaders might feel more secure if they put some of the preppers’ defensive precautions into effect. In fact, we could all learn a lesson from both sides: being a bit more self-sufficient and having both a solid first aid kit and a week’s worth of food and water just in case wouldn’t do anyone any harm.
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