Hi! I’m the Homestead Hacker, an elder computer geek and coffee roaster. I’m trying to homestead more and live a simpler life. I want this site to be part of an online community to share knowledge. Tech, coffee roasting, and homesteading may seem like a weird intersection. But at the same time, these are pervasive in most of our daily lives: Smart phone in our pocket, coffee in our cups, and maybe not homesteading but definitely eating food that was grown… somewhere, by somebody.
Many of you probably wouldn’t categorize me as a homesteader. For most people, the word ‘homesteader’ has come to evoke the image of grizzled or hippie folks who live in a log cabin, produce (or hunt for) all of their own food and meat… basically, farmers as farmers used to be before the industrialization of agriculture here in the States.
“homesteader” isn’t that binary. You can go all in, or you can just dabble. A homestead doesn’t have to be a farm- it can be any dwelling where a family sustains itself and makes some of their own stuff. Homesteaders by my definition will use less external inputs than average households. Homesteads come in many sizes, from an urban apartment with plants growing in windows, to a suburban house with a tiny lawn, all the way to a full-blown 100-acre farm with barns and ponds. My homestead is a house on a 1-acre lot in a suburban neighborhood. My half-acre fenced-in backyard serves as the “farm”, with a fruit orchard, annual beds, chickens, and lots of other things, which I’ll share with you another time.
One trait that all homesteaders share is a sense of independence or at least a desire for independence. Most value local community, and many loathe centralization. Nearly all of us share a child-like curiosity about how the natural ecosystem of the Earth works, and what our place in that ecosystem should look like. Most of us are system thinkers. We are an interesting and diverse crowd, and I can’t wait to hear about yall’s homesteads soon!
Computers have provided me a decent hobby and career, but food is my real jam. Always has been. I have to start this out talking about two women in my life who laid this foundation, and showed me how love can be expressed (and felt) through food. Ask my mom and she will tell you, she is a Betty Crocker homemaker of tomorrow award winning “chef”. From the time I could stand on a chair to reach the kitchen counter, cooking was one of the main ways mom and I “played” together, and she laid down all the basics for me.
My mom was great friends with her mother, and we lived in the same neighborhood in the small town of Goldsboro, NC. Home of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, which brought my grandparents there after WW2, and my father there when he was a one-striper. When my mom worked, and before I started school, I spent most weekdays at my grandparent’s house. They didn’t call themselves homesteaders, but they were frugal and DIY’ers, and their generation was the last one who called “organic food” simply “food”. They took joy in working hard on their yard and garden, canning vegetables, chopping firewood, building sheds, etc. This was just what they did, it wasn’t intentional homesteading, but it taught me of the resilience and abundance of food that this lifestyle brought. It took me some time to reflect back and see that even more importantly, it brought love and joy through shared moments massaging nature’s canvas together.
Grandma had a wedding catering business. Back then no one was talking about food fusion, but that’s what she was doing- mixing her European baking background with southern US regional favorites. I can still smell the butter in the sheet cakes, and taste the light and crispy profiteroles filled with chicken salad! Also the cheese stars (not straws, but stars because… ‘murca!) with tons of real sharp cheddar cheese, and just a hint of spicy cayenne. Then there were the home made “after dinner” thin mints, which were sheer genius, using otherwise wasted surplus cake icing and simply adding mint flavor, and pressing into quarter-sized flattened dollops to dry on wax paper. I remember sneaking these out of the back of the pantry, where she had to hide them from me. The crown jewel of Hors d’oeuvres were her roasted pecans. There were two versions- a sweet and a savory and both involved liberal amounts of butter. We ate these at nearly every special family occasion, and they melted in your mouth, and I can taste them right. now.
Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard had a fruit and nut orchard with a quarter-acre annual garden in the middle. Blueberries, pecans, corn, and tomatoes were the staples, but they grew it all, way too much variety to list. Those wedding guests who enjoyed my Grandma’s pecans at so many wedding receptions appreciated these simple nuts being elevated to such a high level of deliciousness. They could taste the love (aka butter) but most of them had no idea (largely because my grandmother was the most humble person I’ve ever met) the depths of that labor of love– she had two mature, prolific pecan trees in the backyard. She gathered them mostly herself (and with the family’s help from time to time). She harvested and hand-processed so daggone many pecans that even after using them for her bustling business, our family was rolling in them. Our freezers were full of them for decades!
As I grew up and got into computers as a hobby, then professionally, this passion for making and growing food swelled. In the small amount of personal time I had available with a demanding tech career, I became a serial food “deep diver”… I get interested in a food, then learn everything I can about it, including where to get the “best version” of it, and how to prepare it with the most love possible. Then the techie in me wants to optimize all aspects of it- not just flavor, but economics and other angles too. Making it myself at home and it tasting twice as good for half the price of store-bought is epic win. Sometimes, it’s best to use store-bought so as not to recreate the wheel, but sometimes you just have to grow it or make it yourself. Tomatoes are a great example of something worth growing yourself because fresh tomatoes raised with love simply taste so much better! This phenomenon pertains to some foods, and not so much to others. My homestead is what allows me to do all of the things that I can do better myself.
So, my food journey (mixed with a love for nature, some personal beliefs about sustainability, and a general loathing of what society has become) led me to want to live a homestead lifestyle. The reality is that I have a wonderful family to make proud and support, and this currently requires me to be plugged into society to work and socialize amongst fellow humans. Left to my own devices though, I’m a bit of a hermit and all I really want to do is have a humble abode on a few acres at the end of a long country road, down a long driveway through the woods. I want my family to grow and make a lot of our own stuff. In the meantime, my various suburban residences have provided an outlet for that need for most of my adult life: from growing coconuts, bananas, and citrus in my yard when I lived in South Florida, to brewing beer and growing oyster mushrooms when I lived in a condo with no yard, I found a way to live the lifestyle in some form or fashion. Those few years where I had no yard allowed time for lots of research and learning about sustainable agriculture, permaculture, and other neat stuff I realized that I wanted more of in my life. Somewhere along the way, I started getting serious about drinking good coffee and discovered that I could roast my own. Fresh coffee turned out to be one of those things I could do way better AND cheaper myself, so it stuck. But that’s another blog post.
While I still work in computers, we have a lot going on at our current homestead. A couple of years ago, I convinced my wife to move out a bit more into “the country”. I am working on turning my backyard into something like my grandparents, with a permaculture twist. We have a hugelkulture with blueberries, various fruit and nut trees, an herb spiral, several annual beds, and chickens. And some other cool stuff… including grills. Grills are always going to be a big part of my homestead. I love the flavors and aromas you can only get from cooking over an open flame outdoors. Being born and raised in Eastern NC, I learned my way around some BBQ pig. I have a Kamodo smoker and a couple of propane grills. There isn’t much better than a pretty day on the homestead, sharing beverages with friends and family on the deck while I man the grill. I have some cool grilling gadgets and bring a technical “hacker” mindset to cooking over fire. What if there was a way to… roast coffee on a grill?