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‘Putting down your iPhone and picking up a shovel’

Homesteading festival Saturday

September 27, 2012
By CHRIS KNIGHT - Senior Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

PAUL SMITHS - The growing homesteading movement in the North Country and across the U.S. will be showcased Saturday when the Paul Smith's College VIC hosts a day-long series of lectures and hands-on workshops geared for those looking to be more self-sufficient.

The Adirondack Rural Skills and Homesteading Festival, which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., includes sessions on using draft horses to plow a field, raising chickens, making butter and canning.

"It's about acquiring the skills that have largely been lost, what I consider the lost arts," said Paul Smith's College Professor Brett McLeod, who's organizing the festival. "It's about learning from past generations. There's sort of this attitude I run into about these antiquated skills, and 'Why do we need them? We've got technology.' Technology is seen as this panacea that will take care of us. For me, it's about putting down your iPhone and picking up a shovel."

Article Photos

Joe Orifice of Paul Smith’s College takes a turn plowing with the school’s horses.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Smith’s College)

The event is one of hundreds happening across the country as part of International Homesteading Education Month, sponsored by Mother Earth News and Grit magazine. (Full disclosure: Mother Earth News and Grit are owned by Ogden Newspapers, the same company that owns the Enterprise.) It comes at a time of renewed interest, both nationally and here in the North Country, in living more simply and sustainbly.

"This is what I call the neo-homesteading movement; it hasn't been this big since the 1970s," said McLeod, who wrote his dissertation on trends in rural populations. "There's been this resurgence in basically all rural skills. The motivations for people doing it, some of them are the same as in the 1960s and 1970s, things like self-reliance and being able to provide food that you know where it came from."

McLeod said homesteading has traditionally been associated with what he described as the myth of rugged individualism. The neo-homesteading movement, he said, is more of a community movement.

"That's one of the biggest differences between then and now," he said. "It's not saying that everyone has to go and butcher chickens, but it's saying that if someone in your community has that skill set, and someone else is good at gardening and someone else is really proficient with a chain saw, there's an ability to weave together what I call a more durable landscape. This is part of making more durable communities."

Paul Smith's College faculty, staff and students, as well as representatives of area organizations will put on Saturday's lectures and workshops. There will be ongoing events throughout the day on topics like cider pressing, butter making and splitting wood. There are also events scheduled for specific times on low-impact logging (featuring the college's draft horse club), bow-drill fire making, antique farm tractor operation and longbow construction, to name a few.

The feature presenter, cordwood builder Rob Roy of West Chazy, will speak at 1 p.m. about the keys to a sustainable life. The Adirondack Farmers' Market will take place throughout the day. The Adirondack North Country Association is also using the event as one of its public meetings for a grant-funded effort to develop a Homegrown Sustainability Plan for the North Country.

The festival is being run in conjunction with an open house on the college's campus, which is adjacent to the VIC. McLeod said the college wants to show prospective students that it's not just "talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

"Homesteading as a theme works for this," McLeod said, "because if we're doing low-impact horse logging, that speaks to our forestry students, and if we're doing local food cooking demonstrations, that speaks to our culinary students, and talking about mortgage-free living speaks to our business students. It's a good common platform to address these academic ideas in the context of the real world."

The cost to attend the event is a suggested donation of $5 per person or $10 per vehicle, McLeod said.

For a full schedule, visit


Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or



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