Surprised with hope: An afternoon with the hosts

Start with bright October sunshine and blue skies. Add in over 5,000 attendees, including about 150 vendors and their wares, 50 speakers and several hundred children.

Throw in a few dogs, a few chickens and goats, eager volunteers, lots of smiles and laughter, the smell of popcorn, freshly brewed coffee and hand soap, and you’ve got a picture of the 2022 Homesteaders of America (HOA) Conference. Warren County Fairgrounds in Front Royal, Virginia.

After passing grassy parking lots jammed with hundreds of cars, vans, and trucks, you enter a wide, flat area lined with vendor tents, paths lined with veteran and hobbyist hosts, and picnic table pavilions. the weight of your feet, eating, talking with friends and strangers.

Those who have attended previous conferences – this year is the fourth event – ​​renew friendships and newcomers find themselves engaging in conversation with perfect strangers. For conference speakers, the sprawling building is filled with people seeking advice on everything from working dogs to living a non-toxic life, practical food storage, composting or keeping a honey bee colony. And right from the start, people you’ve never met in your life smile or nod at you, as if you were friends passing each other on the streets of a small town.

In a colorful 52-page guide to the conference, founder Amy Fewell writes, “Our goal here at HOA is to help you in any way we can, while also making an impact in our country and beyond. To be a voice and a light where there was no voice for this community and way of life.”

Believe me, there is a voice for this community now, and you can hear it loud and clear this afternoon.

Various activities are planned for children, from learning how to milk a cow to raising rabbits. (Courtesy of Homesteaders of America)
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A young child is holding a chick. (Courtesy of Homesteaders of America)

Sharing and Learning

Salespeople play a key role in helping those new to the homesteading concept and increasing the knowledge and skills of veterans. Some sell their goods directly here, while others, especially those offering larger items such as electric fences or farm equipment, hand out brochures about their products or take orders for delivery. All of these people clearly know their stuff.

For example, Mrs. Crow, the woman who runs the booth at Bee Guy Supplies, takes me through the reasons why she sells special hives for carpenter bees, explaining that these bees don’t make honey, but they help open certain flowers. for honey bees. Her husband, Brian Crowe, who owns the company in Londonderry, Ohio, first became interested in beekeeping 14 years ago. He gave a lecture on bees at a garden club, became fascinated by the subject and became friends with the speaker, and has been eight years running the farm, which now has 40 hives. He and his family run a shop selling honey and beekeeping supplies in the area. On the third Thursday of every month, Bee Guy hosts a seminar where different beekeepers share information and teach others about beekeeping. Anyone can participate.

In addition, the family raises quail and chickens and rabbits for meat and eggs.

“Everybody shares,” says Ms. Crow. “And they want others to learn.”

This was true for every salesperson I spoke to that day.

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Home economics skills are wide and wide ranging from gardening to beekeeping. (Biba Kayewich)

Written Words

Others share in different ways.

Jeremy Kroening is an editorial assistant at Homestead Living Magazine online. “About 80 percent of our articles are ‘how-to’ pieces,” he says, “and the rest are about the homeowner lifestyle.”

He says the site has seen a surge in traffic over the past few years due to COVID-19, with many people particularly interested in healthy living and growing their own food. Although he lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife, Amanda (a professional knitter), and their three daughters, ages 9, 7, and 6, Jeremy isn’t content with editing a home economics magazine. The family bought an empty plot of land next to their property in the city, where they planted a 20-foot by 20-foot vegetable garden. They hope to someday add fruit trees and a chicken coop.

“For many people, the most attractive thing about homesteading is the connection with the natural world,” he told me. “As for me, I think it’s important that we better understand how to care for each other and the world we live in.”

Like Jeremy Kroening, other vendors promote magazines and websites and sell books on all kinds of topics, including guides to major disasters.

Community

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Homesteading offers a connection to nature, family and the wider community. (Biba Kayewich)

Most conference attendees come looking for wisdom and technical skills to take home with them, but Angie and Steve Helton of Paintsville, Kentucky, were there for another reason.

Both husband and wife have been involved in the household since they grew up on farms for a long time. Steve says they were also interested because of “the quality of the food and the independence”. Their three children, two daughters and a son, are all out of school and working as nurses, and the couple began making plans to buy their own farm.

Then, as with so many, COVID-19 hit and derailed those plans. Steve contracted the virus, and although he felt little effect, he later contracted pneumonia. He was hospitalized from September 2021 to March 2022 and spent most of his time breathing through a trach tube. Originally not expected to live, he pulled through and today feels and looks healthy, but their dreams of owning a home have been put on hold for now.

If so, I wonder what brought them to Front Royal?

“We came to experience community,” Angie said. They attended other conferences — which they described as the biggest ever, with more vendor booths and people — and drove from Kentucky to connect with friends they had made earlier.

“Everybody here has something in common,” Steve said.

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A group of friends at a conference. (Courtesy of Homesteaders of America)
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Adults also enjoyed the many hands-on demonstrations. (Courtesy of Homesteaders of America)

Taking Personal Responsibility

During my visit, I was fortunate enough to attend part of a lecture by Wyoming resident Jill Winger, founder of The Prairie Homestead, an online site with over 1 million visits per month. He told his audience that we live in a time and place where many people are looking for the easy way out, and that “our culture is biased against effort, equating difficulty with evil.” The responsibilities that come with home ownership, he said, are the antidote to this relationship.

After explaining that “taking responsibility is what life is all about,” Winger also reminded his audience that homeowners “take action that makes a big difference” and have a “bigger sphere of influence than they realize.” Others see what we are doing and want to join us.

In an article included in the program, Winger also addresses the idea of ​​”ease” in our culture. She writes, “When you’re a homeowner, homeschooling parent, or business owner, the buck stops with you. And as tempting as it may seem to shirk responsibility, it’s not the answer. Not for me, not for you.” He ends his short essay: “So, the next time you find yourself saying, ‘I’d like to do something about someone…’, Friend, think that someone might be you.”

This self-assured, can-do code is about as good a summary of the homesteading philosophy as we’re going to find.

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Speakers at the National Homeowners of America Conference in Front Royal on October 7 and 8, 2022, from The Prairie Homestead, Va., pictured in the center. Jill Winger (with long blonde hair) spoke on “More Masonic Banks: How Home Economics Can Reclaim Our Culture. (Courtesy of Homesteaders of America)

Count Me In… But Count Me In

Unlike all these people, I have no desire to raise chickens, plant large gardens, or milk cows, although I strongly identified with Winger’s point about responsibility. My wife and I homeschooled our kids and for most of my life I’ve run small businesses – fix those small businesses.

But despite my lack of interest in hosting, I would return in a heartbeat for next year’s conference. Here’s why.

Walking through this village of vendor tents, I saw several women wearing crucifixes around their necks. Two elementary school girls in headscarves were hopping towards an ice cream shop. Black boys and white boys played touch football on a nearby field. Old and young mingled together, and in one of the shelters I saw several men and women sitting, who were clearly strangers to each other, but who were about to become friends.

The only word of politics I heard all afternoon came from a young chicken seller with a beard and ponytail. I missed the first part of his conversation with the customer, but as I passed by, he pointed to a T-shirt for sale on the wall of the tent and said, “This is my political philosophy.” The T-shirt read “Free Distance”.

I felt light while walking through those fairs. Here, men, women and children from all walks of life learned, shared and had fun. The bitter disagreements we read about every day on the internet were nowhere to be found in this crowd. They were united by a common interest and goal, a desire for everything to grow and flourish.

Here, as I walked to my car, I thought, America is as it should be.

This is America as it could be.

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