Homesteading 101 Workshop Series

We’ve had a variety of workshops over the last year, but we’d like to focus our classes on the mission of the institute: helping individuals and communities house, clothe, and feed themselves without fossil fuels. While Wisconsin has at least a dozen folk schools teaching everything from timber framing to fiber arts, most are at least three hours north of the Madison area. Furthermore, only the Driftless Folk School has a focus on self-sufficiency skills. To fill this gap, we hope to offer affordable classes on practical, approachable skills within comfortable driving distance of Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. You don’t have to be a homesteader to take advantage of the knowledge gleaned from these classes; even in urban areas, people can grow food as well as maintain and improve their existing infrastructure in ecologically sound ways.

Why Homesteading Skills?

Homesteading has been around since the origin of agriculture and sedentism, 7,000–10,000 years ago. In essence, it involves some degree of self-sufficiency in shelter, clothing, and food, which is why these skills are applicable to the mission of the institute. At times of economic difficulties, “back to the land” movements have been a reaction against the difficulties a market economy has in keeping everyone’s needs met. These ideas were popular during the Great Depression, the counter-culture of the 1960s, and to a lesser extent, after the recent recession. In the future, it may not be a financial downturn that causes people to look to the land for their subsistence — the loss of cheap and abundant fossil fuels may indeed be the impetus.

Homesteading was encouraged by governments seeking to populate new areas, and this history has engendered an ethos of rugged individualism and self-sufficiency in the United States — often through films and fiction extolling the virtues of homesteaders moving farther west. We all know the history of homesteading and colonization in North America are more complicated than this portrayal, and homesteading today does not have to be done in isolation. Indeed, many solutions to problems related to sustainability are best addressed through community efforts. For example, it is impractical for each household to have a biodigester to turn compost and manure into a natural-gas equivalent, but a community digester is an ideal solution for a neighborhood to reduce its methane emissions and reliance on external fuel sources. We will be offering classes on skills adaptable for individuals, households, and small communities.

Do You Have Skills to Share?

Are you a homesteader or have skills applicable to this focus? If so, please consider sharing your knowledge with eager students at one of our workshops. We can help with all the logistics; you only need to know your subject area and have an idea for a practical, hands-on way to communicate it.

If you’d like to teach a course with us, send us an email at with your name, contact info, a 2–4 sentence description of the course, your qualifications, some possible dates, and suggested price. Also please note what type of facilities you’d need on hand (e.g., work benches, chairs, outdoor space, and audio/visual set ups). Once we’ve got the details hammered out, the institute staff will promote the workshop on local social networks, take reservations and fees, and get everything set up for the course. If you’d prefer to teach the class on your own turf, that is possible. Please mention that in your pitch.

On the day of the class, you come out, teach the course, and head home with 75 percent of the registration fees after covering direct costs, which include supplies for the workshop and overhead ($20–40 for insurance depending on the nature of the workshop and $10 towards advertising). For example, if you teach a class on tying flies for fishing to 15 people and the fee is $20 per person, which includes $5 worth of tying supplies, you’d head home with $146.25: (($20 × 15) – ($5 × 15) – $20 – $10) × 0.75 = $146.25. If you buy the supplies, you get reimbursed, of course. We offer discounted registration fees to our members, but that comes out of our 25 percent, as does the reservation system fees, permanent class infrastructure (buildings, chairs, tables, etc.), and hours our staff puts in to advertise, manage reservations, and prepare the workshop space.


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