326-An Introduction to Modern Homesteading, with Jill Winger

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Modern homesteading has surged in popularity since the onset of the pandemic in 2020, which triggered in many people a desire to become more self-sufficient and closer to the land that sustains us. To discuss this phenomenon, the benefits of homesteading and how to get started, joining me on the podcast this week is Jill Winger, creator of The Prairie Homestead, a go-to source for homesteading information.

Jill lives in southeast Wyoming, where she has been promoting modern homesteading for more than a decade. The Prairie Homestead is one of the original modern homesteading blogs, and she also produces videos as well as the “Old-Fashioned on Purpose” podcast. She published “The Prairie Homestead Cookbook” in 2019, and her upcoming book, now available for preorder, is “Old-Fashioned on Purpose: Cultivating a Slower, More Joyful Life.”


Jill Winger is the founder of The Prairie Homestead, a long-standing modern homesteading blog.

Jill Winger is the founder of The Prairie Homestead, a long-standing modern homesteading blog. (Photo Credit: Lindsay Linton Buk)


Jill grew up in northern Idaho and recalls yearning for something deeper and more purposeful from a very young age. She was a “typical ’90s child,” raised conventionally. “It was just a very standard childhood,” she says. “But I was a weirdo from the start, honestly. I had these strange proclivities towards farm life, and I used to push a wheelbarrow around our little backyard pretending I was mucking stalls.”

Throughout her childhood and into young adulthood, horses were a part of her life, and she saw horses as a way to break out of the norm. At age 18, when everyone was pushing her to go to college and get a bachelor’s degree, she wanted something different. She found a college in Wyoming that offered equine studies, where she could follow her passion and satisfy everyone else who wanted to see her attend college.

While in college, she met her husband, Christian, and when it came time for them to buy a house, neither wanted a little house in town with a picket fence and a minivan. She also had a couple of horses at that point and wanted to have them live on her property rather than be boarded elsewhere. They found an old farmhouse that no one else wanted, and they bought it in 2008. “It was incredibly cheap because it was a disaster,” she says, “but it had land, and I wanted land since I was a little girl.”

Jill thought of how she could make the land productive — so they could create and produce instead of just consume. That’s when the tenet of homesteading became her guiding light, she says. “Ultimately, buying the farmhouse, fixing it up, learning how to make the land productive, learning how to become more connected to the land is what took us on this path to where we are today.” 

A Shift Toward Homesteading

COVID was a trigger for many people to begin modern homesteading. People suddenly facing isolation and uncertainty tried gardening, food preservation or raising chickens for the first time, or perhaps all of these homesteading practices and more. 

Jill says she could write a book on the cultural shift toward homesteading. It was already starting prior to COVID, and the pandemic just accelerated it, she says.

Jill and Christian began creating modern homesteading content not long after purchasing their home, and by 2015 Christian quit his job so they could both focus on content creation full-time. Then in 2020, when talk of COVID started swirling, Jill turned to her husband and told him she didn’t think they would have an income anymore.

“I don’t think people are going to care about baking bread and planting gardens when they’re worried about catching a virus,” she recalls thinking back then.

She thought no one would watch YouTube videos on homesteading when they were trying to survive in big cities. She admits that, in hindsight, that’s hilarious. Because the opposite proved to be true. People craved content about self-sufficiency and becoming closer to the land.

Jill believes we all have remnants implanted in us that explain these desires, and people started to discover them during the pandemic. “As humans, we are wired to be more connected to our natural environment than we are in our modern culture,” she says. “And I think it’s just really easy for us to ignore that with the hustle and bustle and the busyness of our modern lives.”

Society inadvertently disconnects us and teaches us to stop listening to the parts of our bodies that seek out soil, want to be near plants and want to be connected to our natural environments, she says. When everything shut down during the onset of the pandemic, people had the chance to be still and listen more, she says. 

“Whenever you look at history, whenever society becomes tumultuous, we go back to the land,” Jill says, noting that that happened during the Great Depression and when things were shaky during the 1970s.

“As rough of an era as the pandemic was, this was a really beautiful side effect that came out of it,” she says.


Cows at The Prairie Homestead

Jill raises cattle on The Prairie Homestead. (Courtesy of The Prairie Homestead)


Jill says a lot of people in her niche like to say “I wish I was born 200 years ago,” and she has said it herself in the past, but she says if she is being honest, she doesn’t really feel that way. “With the opportunities we have in front of us in this era, it’s one of the best,” she says, pointing to running water and hot showers as a couple of her favorite modern amenities. But she also loves the ability to weave the past into the present.

“I like the internet. I like connecting with people. I like producing content,” she says. “I also love turning it all off and going outside and being connected to the natural world.”

Jill combines the conveniences of life with a simpler life. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and that’s a way of life that can be applicable for anybody.

Jill writes in her book that consumerism is a modern invention. It came around in the 1920s and peaked after World War II — a concerted effort by big business and corporations to get people to buy things they technically don’t need. She says it boosted the economy and kept factories rolling, but people assume this world we live in today, where you go to work to make a living so you can buy a whole bunch of things on the weekend — then rinse and repeat the following week — is a modern notion.

Jill says she still buys things, just like everyone else, but she encourages everyone to think about how they can bring back the idea of production, beyond what they may do in their everyday jobs.

“When you start to create that awareness, there’s a ripple effect that happens,” she says. “Number one, you start to feel better because humans are wired to use our hands and create things. So whether you’re making a batch of biscuits or you’re planting some basil in your backyard, you will feel a physical shift in your body when you start to incorporate that back in. It’s also going to make you more aware of how you’re spending your money and what you’re buying and how you’re buying it.”

She says that when you become more aware of what you are consuming, you will naturally become more eco-friendly.


The Prairie Homestead

Canning and other forms of food preservation are easy ways to get into homesteading. (Courtesy of The Prairie Homestead)


 Food Is Everything

There are so many ways to enter the avenue of homesteading through food, Jill says. 

People with land might garden or keep animals for eggs, milk and meat. Jill says that even people who live in apartments can cook like a homesteader: baking bread, fermenting sauerkraut, canning tomatoes, etc. 

“Food gives you that act of creation,” she says. “It’s helping your body be healthier. You start to understand the world around you, and there’s all these domino effects that happen — and it’s just really beautiful.”

There are countertop devices that enable anyone to grow their salads themselves, and even that little thing — controlling how at least some of your food is grown — can make you feel more alive and healthier. When you have the opportunity for an outdoor garden, you can explore growing all sorts of varieties of crops that you’d never find in your local grocery store. It’s freeing and empowering.

Anxiety and Modern Life

Jill says depression and anxiety are modern ailments that come with being sedentary. “We’re not outside. We have these lifestyle diseases that are really affecting us,” she says.

Everybody can tell, inherently, that something is off and there are some missing pieces, she says, adding, “I’m not saying that my path, this is the only path. There are lots of different answers.”

Jill often asks, who were we before progress took over, before industrialism told us who to be, what to buy and how to live?

“Those questions are good to sit with no matter where you are,” she says.


Windmill in the yard

A break from modernity can relieve anxiety. (Courtesy of The Prairie Homestead)


Unplug to Connect

As Jill and I record our conversation, I am on my annual August sabbatical, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect to chat with Jill.  During this time, I’m not checking messages or posting on social media. I work on my garden and reset, recover and rejuvenate. Just a week in and I can feel an unbelievable transformation. I know not everyone is fortunate to be self-employed and able to do that, but if you ever have the opportunity to do it, try it and you’ll never go back. It is life-changing. 

Jill writes about the value of unplugging in her book, in a chapter titled “Unplug to Connect.” She says taking breaks from technology is crucial because of all the modern stresses that come with constantly being connected.

Easy Steps Toward Homesteading

Jill doesn’t recommend going “whole hog” on homesteading right away. The first baby step she recommends is going to your kitchen and thinking about what you’re eating and what ingredients you’re buying. And then, perhaps, rather than buying enchilada sauce and taco seasoning next time you’re at the grocery store, consider if you could make your own instead. 

“I know that sounds maybe elemental,” Jill says. “Maybe that sounds like, ‘Why is that going to change anything?’ But it will. And I know if I can get you to take some of those little steps, you’re going to start getting a dopamine hit. When you’re making things in the kitchen, your brain’s going to reward you for doing that, and it’s going to become more enjoyable, and it’ll kind of get that snowball rolling.”

Making bread is another avenue into homesteading. 

“If you’re not gluten-sensitive and you like bread, that’s a really rewarding one,” Jill says. “There’s something about bread that we humans just love. It just smells good. It feels good. It looks good. Sometimes it crackles when it comes out of the oven. It just gets all the five senses covered.”

If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, try fermentation. 

“You’ll start to learn about bacteria and how it’s not all bad. It actually really can be a beautiful thing,” Jill says. 

The next step is to grow something. It can start as simply as a pot on the windowsill with some seeds. You can grow salad greens or microgreens with a kit that includes a grow light, put out containers on a patio or make a raised bed or in-ground garden in your yard.

“There are so many ways to grow things,” Jill says. “It tastes good, it’s healthier and it gets you connected to the soil.”

Building your community is another aspect of homesteading that Jill says is often overlooked but just as old-fashioned as baking sourdough bread. 

“The connections you’re making on Facebook are nice, but they’re not the same as face-to-face,” Jill says. “So get into your local communities. Our local communities, whether you’re in a tiny town like I am, or you’re in a bigger city, they are screaming for human connection. They need people to be active. They need people who care about civic engagement. There are plenty of people who are lonely, lonely, lonely — and we just need to be reconnected in that way.”

Preparing food from scratch, growing and building community are Jill’s three pillars of modern homesteading.


Poundcake ingredients

Baking from scratch is a form of homesteading that feels very rewarding. (Courtesy of The Prairie Homestead)


Modern Homesteading and Struggle

Homesteading isn’t without its struggles. Crops can fail, animals may die and even when things work out like you hope, it can still be a great deal of work.

In the age of social media, there are many influencers who post their beautiful farm-based lives, and every photo is like a fairytale, Jill says. “They’re so aesthetically pleasing and aspirational. That’s great, but that also neglects to give you the full story.”

The fact is, there are a lot of hardships, she says, though she feels that humans are also wired for challenge — they crave it.

“My theory is part of this modern malaise that we’re experiencing as a culture is because, thanks to industrialism and all these amazing pieces of technology we have, we have just invented the struggle right out of our life,” she says.

In the absence of meaningful challenges, people’s brains make little things out to be mountains to overcome, she says. These are the “first-world problems” you may have heard jokes about. 

Homesteading provides those meaningful challenges and opportunities to enjoy the satisfaction of overcoming them.


Brickle rooster

Modern homesteading has its struggles, including everything that can go wrong when raising animals, which ca get sick, have accidents or fall prey to predators. (Courtesy of The Prairie Homestead)


If you haven’t already listened to my conversation with Jill Winger on modern homesteading, you can scroll to the top of the page and click the Play icon in the green bar under the page title to do so now.

Do you practice modern homesteading? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.

Episode 168: Preserving Your Harvest with No Special Equipment, with Theresa Loe

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

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joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

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Growing a Greener World® 

GGW Episode 204: City Homesteading and Preserving the Harvest

GGW Episode 508: Abundant Harvest

GGW Episode 523: Modern Homesteading


Old-Fashioned on Purpose Podcast

The Prairie Homestead on Facebook

Jill Winger on Instagram: @jill.winger

Jill Winger on Twitter: @homesteader

Jill Winger – Old-Fashioned on Purpose on YouTube

The Prairie Homestead Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Heritage Cooking in Any Kitchen” by Jill Winger

 “Old-Fashioned on Purpose: Cultivating a Slower, More Joyful Life” by Jill Winger

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Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. These companies are either Brand Partners of and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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