When sisters April Root  and Emma Duff started the Rochester Homesteading & Self Sufficiency Facebook Group a couple years ago, they envisioned it as a small community page where like-minded people could help one another. The women wanted to garden and raise animals in order to eat healthy and know where their food comes from. They searched the internet, watched online videos and read a lot. “We had questions and nowhere to turn except online,” says April. “We decided a local Facebook page would be a great way to find answers to our own questions from local folk who’ve done it themselves.” Local experience can be an important factor when you are talking about farming.

They grew up in rural Rochester where their parents farmed near Gate. April and Emma were both drawn to the self-sufficient lifestyle, reflecting their upbringing, once they had families of their own. “For me it’s about family. Whatever I’m doing, my kids are right there doing it with me,” says Emma.

April and Melissa Lowery first became acquainted through the Facebook group. When they met in person, “We had an instant bond,” says Melissa. That bond was cemented when the women discovered the Lowery’s bought April and Emma’s childhood home in Gate. Melissa has stepped in to help with online administration. She moderates posts and manages membership requests.

For a while they limited the homesteading group to those who live near Rochester. Now with growing interest in the subject and the ability to live-stream videos, they have opened membership to larger areas. Currently people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho can join. “We’re getting 20 requests a day,” says Melissa. “There are over 1,700 members so far.”

Rochester Homesteading and Self sufficiency
Rochester Homesteading and Self-sufficiency Group founders Emma Duff, April Root and Melissa Lowery administer a Facebook Group to share skills and organize two fairs a year. Photo courtesy: Rochester Homesteading Group

“We thought we would get maybe a couple dozen people to join and share recipes, maybe some information on raising chickens, and then it has just exploded,” explains Emma. “It’s awesome.”

“Our rules are simple,” suggests April, “keep the topics related to homesteading and living the self-sufficient dream, and be kind.”

Many skills that used to be routine household and farming chores are no longer commonly practiced. So the group learns from one another. April has taught candle-making and crochet, and she learned how to make her own laundry soap from a friend in the group. What they learn from each other helps people economize by producing a lot of their own food and household goods.

The group started out asking questions and sharing information through posts on their Facebook page. Then a few people offered hands-on classes in their kitchens and barns for things like canning or processing chickens. Melissa recently did a live-feed video class on beekeeping, showing how the queens function and what pollen looks like. Live-stream classes are interactive. “Someone can ask a question and it will show up on my screen,” says Melissa. She can answer it right away, so people get a classroom experience without leaving home. The video is then available for others to watch later.

Rochester Homesteading and Self sufficiency
Learning how to milk a goat is one of the many skills the Homesteading group demonstrates online and at their fairs. Photo courtesy: Rochester Homesteading Group

Emma shared her adventure breeding a pig. Through her posts, pictures and videos, the group was able to follow the process from artificial insemination through pregnancy. Then Emma did a live-feed video of the birth, so members could tune-in and experience the whole process with her.

Along with administering the group the three women and their families have worked together to put on spring and fall “Homesteading Fairs” held at the Gate Schoolhouse each May and September. April organizes demonstrations on a variety of topics like pasture management, forging and goat milking. “At these demos we’ve had 50 people watching, learning and asking questions,” says April. Melissa seeks out local vendors to sell a variety of handmade wares. Emma is in charge of finding food vendors and running cooking contests. So far she has challenged people to make the best chili, pies and pulled pork. Winners get “vendor bucks” to spend at the fair.

They estimate around 400 people attended the fair this last September. “It was a zoo,” Melissa says.

“Relationships are formed and faces put to names,” says April of the fairs because the point is to bring the community together in person and make new connections. Fairs are open to anyone. You do not have to belong to the Facebook group to attend.

Rochester Homesteading and Self sufficiency
Local Boy Scouts worked the forge all day during the faire for attendees to come and watch. Photo courtesy: Rochester Homesteading Group

An offshoot of the Rochester homesteading group has just formed in McCleary. “It’s a hit so far, and the conversations are on point,” says April. Her advice for others seeking to form a group to learn new skills is this: “I just say, ‘keep it simple.’ After all, aren’t we all searching for a simpler life?”

April asked members for their thoughts on the group:

Shelby Barkoff says, “My husband and myself only moved to the area in May and knew no one. I’ve met a number of people in this group. I’ve been able to find local providers for a lot grocery items. I really like the feeling of buying or trading with my neighbors. Plus the homesteading fair was super cool!

Mary Smiley Gilbreath comments, “This group makes me feel like I’m part of a healthy community. No drama on Facebook unless you see mama goats in labor. There’s my kind of drama.”

From the numerous responses it is clear the value of this online page goes well beyond information on a screen. They have built a community except people do not necessarily live next door to one another.  To learn more, follow the Rochester Homesteading & Self Sufficiency Facebook Group.

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