Information about the School of Homesteading

By Maynard and Sally Kaufman,  1973

     The purpose of the School of Homesteading is to provide a place where young
people who are serious about learning the arts and skills of low-technology subsistence
farming can participate in the life and work of a diversified farm as they also learn about
what they are doing.  The School of Homesteading is thus a place where theory and
practice can come together.  This kind of integration is also characteristic of
homesteading, for in it production and consumption, way of life and means of livelihood,
similarly come together.  On a more general level, homesteading is a way of deepening
one's ecological awareness as it facilitates the integration of human beings in their natural

     The idea of a School of Homesteading is an effort on the part of our family to
share the knowledge and skills of low-technology farming with others who desire to
explore the possibility of living closer to the land.  Our family consists of Maynard and
Sally and six children:  Mary Michal, 21, Nathan, 17, Conrad, 10, Adrian, 7, Jonathan,
18, who goes to Western and is therefore an occasional weekend "visitor", and Karl, 14,
who lives with us part of the summer.  For eight years we lived on a 30 acre farm outside
of Kalamazoo while Maynard taught in the religion Department at WMU.  Our small
gardens grew to large ones, cattle and pigs joined the rabbits and chickens, as we tried to
provide as many necessities for ourselves as possible.  We gradually tried to eliminate the
credit card and monthly payments, and generally to phase ourselves out of the franticness
of a consumer society.  Since many of the students we met over the years have expressed
a strong desire to learn how to live on the land, we gradually evolved the idea of a School
of Homesteading as a means of making that possible.

     Our attitude toward the idea of homesteading as a form of protest against the
waste and destruction of the prevailing economic system has been very nicely expressed
by Wendell Berry.  He argues that protest should be more that a sporadic gesture--that it
should become a way of life:

    "To make public protests against an evil, and yet live in dependence on and in
support of the way of life that is the source of the evil, is an obvious contradiction
and a dangerous one.  If one disagrees with the nomadism and violence of our
society, then one is under an obligation to take up some permanent dwelling place
and cultivate the possibility of peace and harmlessness is it.  If one deplores the
destructiveness and wastefulness of the economy as one is able:  to be
economically independent of exploitive industries, to learn to need less, to waste
less, to make things last, to give up meaningless luxuries, to understand and resist
the language of salesmen and public relations experts, to see through attractive
packages, to refuse to purchase fashion or glamour or prestige.  If one feels
endangered by meaninglessness, then one is under an obligation to refuse
meaningless pleasure and to resist meaningless work, and to give up the moral
comfort and excuses of the mentality of specialization.
    On way to do this--the way I understand--is to reject the dependencies and
artificial needs of urban life, and to go into the countryside and make a home
there in the fullest and most permanent sense: that is, live on and use and preserve
and learn from and enrich and enjoy the land."  (From The Long-Legged House,
page 89.)

    Thus, in addition to being a form of protest, homesteading is a constructive alternative to
urban life and strains and tensions which it imposes on persons, society, and the

Location of the School of Homesteading

     As we thought about a place for the School of Homesteading we concluded that it
should be on a special kind of old farm, fully diversified in every respect, raising as many
kinds of animals and plants as possible, furnished with tools and equipment representing
different levels of technological complexity, and large enough to support and house our
family and ten to fifteen students.  With these things in mind we have obtained and
moved on a 100 acre farm just north of Bangor, Michigan.  It has an eleven room brick
house three quarter mile north of the blinker light at M43 and Center Street in Bangor.
Another five room house and a barn fit for remodeling will eventually provide housing
for students.  There are two other large barns and four smaller buildings for housing
animals and equipment.  The land contains about 75 acres of fields and pastures which
are reputed to be fertile and productive.  The Black River at the back of the land winds
throughout about 25 acres of woods, much of which is swampy.  There are two or three
shallow ponds, one of which we hope to have deepened for swimming and fish.

Residence at the School of Homesteading

     Students at the School of Homesteading are expected to live on the farm and to
consider their residency a full time occupation.  For the first year of the School's
operation we propose a term of about seven and a half months--from late in April until
about mid December.  In order to allow time for reading and reflection we hope to keep
the normal work week to 20 or 30 hours.  During emergencies or peak harvest times a
more full time schedule would of course be required.  Sundays would be free time except
for the time spent on household tasks or barnyard chores by those whose turn it is to do
the necessary daily work.

     Students at the school must be at least 18 years old.  Couples are welcome but at
this time there are no facilities for children.  We think there should be an equal number
of men and women, other things being equal, but no attempt will be made to arbitrarily
divide activities between sexes.  With two extra rooms in the main house and about three
rooms in the small house, we expect there will be room for not more than  ten students
during this first year.

    Since land is expensive and since its acquisition often requires the cooperative
efforts of a group, the School of Homesteading will serve as a tentative experience in
group living.  There will be schedules, worked out by mutual agreement in view of the
necessities of farm life, and regular hours for meals and barnyard chores will be
maintained.  The main meals of the day will be shared in the big house.  Everyone will
participate in cooking and cleaning.

Money Matters

     Since the farm is organized for maximum diversity in order to facilitate learning
experiences rather than to make money, and since there are expenses connected with
supporting the students (special insurance, more for food, higher electric, water, and gas
bills, etc.) an entrance fee of 300 dollars will be required of each student at the beginning
of the term.  Of this entrance fee, 75 dollars is non-refundable.  The remaining $225 can
be refunded to students at a rate of $2 a day during the second half of the term.  Those
who must leave during the first half of the term, may have the $225 refunded only after
one dollar per day in residence has been deducted.  Students receive no “profits” in cash
or produce during or after their term in residence.  Just as they will eat much of the
previous year’s produce, so their produce will be consumed by the next year’s class.
Students must have resources to provide for their own clothing, spending money and
routine medical needs.  Insurance for hospitalization in case of accidents on the farm will
be provided by the school of Homesteading.  Free use of automobiles will not be

     Since Maynard will continue to teach at WMU on a half-time, half-salary, basis
(during the winter semester only) and thus remain on its faculty, the School of
Homesteading has informal relationships with people in the University.  But it is a
private venture,  with no formal relationship to or financial dependence on the University.  Arrangements can be made, however, for students to obtain up to eight hours of credit per semester for their learning experience at the School of Homesteading.

Learning Activities at the School

     The curriculum” to be offered by the School of Homesteading should include the
full range of agricultural activities and whatever low-level technology and skills are
appropriate to the means of the young subsistence homesteader.  Since homesteading in
our time usually means the rehabilitation of abandoned farms, the homesteader needs to
be skilled in various kinds of repair work.  Thus everyone would be required to
participate in the basic things, such as some building and repairing projects, planting and
tending of gardens and orchards with organic methods, caring for livestock, milking, and
preservation and preparation of home-grown foods.  other activities, such as butchering a
steer, propagating fruit trees by grafting, making cheese, tanning hides, or helping a sow
deliver her pigs, might be regarded as “electives” for those who choose to participate.
There are also times, as when a crop needs to be harvested without delay, that everyone
would have to help for “overtime” periods.  It must be emphasized that the whole group
will be living on a functioning farm, and unless it is productive it will not support close
to twenty persons.  The “Curriculum” simply consist of the various things done at various

     A library of relevant agricultural journals and homesteading periodicals, as well
as new and old books on farming, gardening, and animal husbandry will be available to
students.  Some of the educational resources at Western Michigan University might be
available to the School.  Some tours to other organic farms and orchards, or other places,
might be arranged.

     The following outline of leaning activities includes some of the skills and areas of
study that ought to be included in a School of Homesteading.  No attempt has been made
to mention or list the social, spiritual or aesthetic aspects of the learning experience at the
School.  Various arts and crafts which “fit in” or can be supported by farm life and
produce might also have been listed.  On the other hand, some of the activities listed in
the outline may have to be postponed due to lack of time or resources.  And, of course,
some of the activities will be new experiences for everyone, including the "teachers”.

By Maynard and Sally Kaufman

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