Pioneer Culture: Living off the Land

By Holly Giles | DIY

living off the land and laura ingalls wilder

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Pioneer Culture: Living off the land

In our fourth post in this series, we talk about the idea of living off the land. What did that look like 100 years ago and can that be achieved today?

After she got married, Laura partnered with Almanzo in everything they did, even in business. She could run the farm. And she was also the treasurer of the farm association. Isn’t that cool? Almanzo became ill early in their marriage. It is speculation whether he had a stroke or was stricken with polio. So, Laura stepped up to all the manly chores in those days.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Now, Laura was a visionary for her time. She had very progressive thinking for a pioneer farm girl of her period. What we call the suburbs today, she saw as a small farm community where more could be produced at home with greater social interaction. She was very much in favor of progress that preserved nature’s beauty but gave us better methods of work and living.

Almanzo Wilder

Even then, Laura and Almanzo gardened for their own food but sold the extra. They raised hens and sold the eggs and butchered their own chickens. Also, they planted an orchard and sold the apples. Almanzo timbered out some of the extra acreages on their land. They did whatever they could come up with to live off the land and have the land provide for them financially.

living off the land and gardening in your backyard

Current culture

Let’s look at this from the perspective of 2023. Most of us don’t live on rural farmland, but no matter where you live, you can still look at it as how you can “live off the land” and what you already have at your disposal.

Let’s start with the basics like gardening. Anyone can garden. Gardening can be from a 1-acre plot down to a pot on your back porch with cherry tomatoes, salad greens, or herbs for spaghetti night. That is living off the land. If you have never gardened before, just grow ONE thing. That’s all you have to do. It’s that simple, and there are so many resources out there on the internet that will help you do it. Gardening has become very popular!

living off the land and fishing for dinner

Gathering food

Fishing, too. Fishing is a great family activity today and can teach a skill simultaneously. But you know what? In Laura’s time, fishing was less of a hobby and more about producing food. My grandfather was an avid fisherman for food and sport. He had four boys to raise on a small salary, so he found other opportunities to make money or find food. And fishing was one of them.

And don’t forget hunting. Bear with me; we are getting to technology soon. Florida has an excellent program through Florida Fish and Wildlife to teach generational skills of hunting all kinds of game. Especially if you have never experienced it before but want to with your kids. FWC hosts hunts for Deer, turkey, duck, hogs, and gators. 

living off the land and bow hunting for deer

Hunt wild game

Now, you may be like me. I’m a “meat-comes-in-a-nicely-wrapped-package-at-the-grocery-store” kinda girl. I never wanted to be part of the process of “getting my own meat” and definitely not part of processing the meat, because I may as well become vegetarian if I witness that!

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Yet my sons were born with a passion to learn those skills, so we found opportunities for them to learn from other people. In turn, as a family, we have learned where I meat comes from. I have been on hunts with them and turned my kitchen into a meatpacking plant when they come home with a deer. Now, 90% of our meat is harvested by my 16- and 13-year-old sons. I would never have imagined that for my family. Ever. Yet, we were open to helping our sons learn more about their interests, which happened naturally.

living off the land and processing venison in your kitchen

Our homestead

We do raise chickens in our suburban neighborhood too, but when they stopped laying eggs, they became lawn ornaments. I am too tenderhearted to put them in the stew pot. So, I now run an old lady home for wayward chickens.

Okay, if I lost you at the hunting, bear with me: living off the land can have a different look from our culture today. And that’s fine. As homeschool parents, one or both parents need to work. Those kids still eat a lot of food, at least in my house. So let’s look at the idea of living off the land as a home business.

living off the land work from home

Home businesses

Business models like Mary Kay, Thirty-One, Young Living, and Pampered Chef exist. Do we have any Pampered Chef consultants out there? I was one about twenty years ago! There are so many different kinds of these programs available. So if makeup isn’t your thing, look into essential oils. And if essential oils aren’t your thing, look into food products. And if food products aren’t your thing, look into cooking utensils and containers! I can’t tell you how many different options you have there.

Some people may also be interested in running a full-fledged, home-based business. You could provide childcare, sell baked goods or products where you’re in contact with people, sew, run errands…so many different things.

And then there are online jobs that parents can do from home whenever it’s most convenient. I’m referring to things like doing virtual assistance work, bookkeeping, marketing, and so many online jobs I can’t list. This is a modern-day way to live off the land like Laura and her family.

Home-based businesses are rapidly growing, especially in the homeschool community. The opportunity for another income stream is attractive and often necessary to make ends meet. However, beyond the financial possibilities, I want to share with you the idea of teaching your children valuable life skills by building a home business.

Our family’s journey in creating The Giles Frontier has taken many turns over the last 12 years to end up where we are today. It started with eight chickens and an 11-year-old with a budding entrepreneurial spirit. Yes, we sold eggs because we didn’t realize eight chickens in a suburban neighborhood would produce more eggs than we could hold in our refrigerator. I just told my husband that it was an unwritten rule that all homeschoolers must have chickens to have the whole home education experience. We had no idea what we were getting into! Are there any chicken-loving families out there? You know what I’m talking about.

living off the land and making a tote bag from feed sacks


Here’s another thing. Have you ever seen how cute the feed bags are for farm animals? You need to go into a feed store and check it out. Laura Ingalls Wilder herself would have come up with this idea, I know it.

Long story short, I saved the empty feed bags in the garage, hoping to find a good use for them before my husband threatened to throw them away. After a bit of research, I found a pattern for tote bags and gave it a try. They were adorable. So, I knew I wanted the boys to learn to sew at some point, and it might as well be on these bags. Together the three of us made feed sack totes.

And then, we sold them at a little church bazaar, and the response was amazing so we upped our game and went big-time at a large craft show. We opened an Etsy store and sold bags all over the country. Now, we did not get rich and couldn’t retire selling feed sack totes, but what we did do was learn about business, working together, customer service, and geography, AND I taught my boys a life skill of sewing that will serve them well in their life.


Learning those skills inspired my oldest son Grayson to start a lawn care business at age 11. He started that business using what he learned with the feed sack project. Now, at age 16, he has built his business up to 15 monthly accounts that have him well on his way to expanding opportunities. He studies business, marketing, and entrepreneurial programs to grow that business.

Oh, and the lawn business is a family affair, too. My husband works for Grayson on Mondays, and Grant, our youngest, also works for him. They are truly living off the land and learning all together.

Living closer to forces of nature causes people to rise above small annoyances and discomforts and be content.

Laura once said, “Living closer to forces of nature causes people to rise above small annoyances and discomforts and be content.” This would apply to living simply, using what you have, working hard, and living off the land. When you can get your hands dirty in making a living, all the extras are unnecessary.

living off the land quote from laura ingalls wilder


living off land and laura ingalls wilder


About the Author

Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.

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