The atmosphere was like no other, as the crowd of people walked through the gates to find their classroom areas to start the morning. When a group of people who aim for food and healthcare freedom come together, it doesn’t matter what the size is, the atmosphere literally buzzes. There is an experience that happens like no other. If you were there, you get it. If you weren’t there, I really hope you get to experience it one day.
There were homesteaders and future homesteaders of every kind. But the main goal was this—”How can we learn to be more self-sufficient in a world that screams dependency?” And also, “Show me how. Teach me so that I can be confident in what you’re speaking about. Encourage us so that we know we can do this.”
And that’s exactly what we did at the very first Learn How to Homestead in a Weekend event at Rory Feek’s family homestead (Hardison Mill Homestead) in Columbia, TN this past weekend.
In 2018 Rory reached out to me about becoming a speaker for the annual Homesteaders of America (HoA) event in Virginia. What he and I may not have realized is that something greater was on the horizon—a new HoA event right on the family farm in Tennessee (Hardison Mill Homestead). We knew it had to be different because we only had a certain amount of room to work with the first year. I, for one, didn’t realize just how different, and amazing, it would all be.
About 350 homesteaders attended the event—tickets sold-out in just 4 days a few months back. We had emails and phone calls for months—people trying to get into the sold out event. But we just didn’t have the room. We knew it was truly going to be something special.
The Learn How to Homestead in a Weekend event was a small, intimate learning experience. This allowed us to have 2-hour lectures (instead of our usual 1-hour), hands-on demos, and even live entertainment. When I say hands-on, I mean it. The first day we had attendees butchering 40 broiler chickens right alongside Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm. Not just the evisceration process, but the entire process.
On Saturday evening, we BBQ’d those chickens from McMurray Hatchery that had been raised on Hardison Mill Homestead for eight weeks, and served them up for dinner to our attendees while they listened to live music written and sung by some incredible well-known songwriters. A big thank you to songwriters Wynn Varble, Brice Long, and Kerry Kurt Phillips for an incredible evening to close out the event.
A big BIG shoutout to our A/V friend, Richard. Guys, he works our events every year, and it would not sound or look as amazing as it does without him. There was no exception this year. Also, thanks to Casey, the Homestead Hall A/V friend, as well! He worked the event so efficiently, and made it extra beautiful! It’s so nice to have audio and video workers who know what they are doing, are diligent in their work, and who you can absolutely depend on.
Rewinding to Friday—the day started off grand and chaotic, just what we’re used to at HoA events. But once everyone was through the gates and moving, everything went seamlessly. A huge thank you goes out to the Hardison Mill Homestead crew, as they coached us through the layout of the property, helped park vehicles, and truly helped us plan this entire event. We couldn’t have done it without their dedication and unconditional help. Planning an event from a state away isn’t easy. These guys and gals truly made the event go off without a hitch. They opened their doors, and their arms, to our team and the HoA community. Give them a big round of applause and a pat on the back the next time you see them.
Throughout the weekend, attendees visited speaker tents, got their hands dirty (especially right in the garden with Melissa K. Norris!), and visited vendor and sponsor booths. Our vendors and sponsors are incredibly intentional with our events. They believe in this lifestyle more than you could ever imagine, and it shined brightly through the weekend. Every single vendor had a group of people at their tent every time I walked by. They took the time to answer any and all questions that attendees had. They dove deeper into their questions, not just about their products or services, but about homesteading. HoA sponsors and vendors are not just there for business, they are there for the community. They are there to encourage you, to inspire you, and to be inspired themselves. Check out the TN sponsors at the bottom of this blog post or learn more about them on our sponsor page.
Our volunteers worked tirelessly throughout the weekend. They are truly the heartbeat of HoA. Many volunteers even came back for a second or third shift. Some dedicated individuals even worked all weekend long without ever really sitting down. Many were pushed out of their comfort zone, and they thrived. Whatever little or big bit you pitched in, please know that this event could not have happened without you, our volunteers. Volunteers really make the entire event happen. There are only so many of us main team members, but there are so many helping hands that come alongside us each and every year and event.
I say it often, but I have learned this saying to be true, now more than ever. Homesteading takes a village—you just have to be intentional about who’s in your village. These HoA events take a village. A village of individuals who come from all different backgrounds and beliefs, but who come together because we have the same goal and belief—homesteading. Simple living. Basic skills. A life of freedom—true freedom. We are intentional about our village, and our village is intentional about us.
On Friday evening Rory Feek had a time of stories and songs from the homestead inside of the Hardison Mill Homestead Hall. Friends, let me tell you, there was something that happened during that time that was like no other throughout the event. Hearing someone share their story while also taking the time to answer questions, share encouragement and struggles, and truly connect with the audience— it was refreshing. It brought a dynamic to our HoA events that we’ve never experienced before, and I’m so happy we did. We look forward to hosting a similar time like this at the 2021 Virginia HoA Event.
One of the most special things that took place during the TN HoA event was our Kidsteader classes. This is the first time we’ve really intentionally sat down and put together a schedule for our Kidsteaders. We were able to do this because we only sold 50 Kidsteader tickets. The kids had such a fun time, our teachers and volunteers had an amazing time, and it warmed all of our hearts. We truly believe in investing in the next generation of homesteaders. These little experiences that we give them will stay with them for a lifetime.
A huge thank you to all of our helpers and teachers. Thank you to Ms. Rebecca, the lead teacher of the One-Room-Schoolhouse, for opening up your school and your heart to our team and kiddos. Thank you to Ms. Molly, another teacher at the schoolhouse, who also helped in more ways than we could’ve imagined. The kids enjoyed morning chores with farmer Dalton, learning about the possibilities of sticks with Ms. Clare from Ferntop Nature Preschool, and even more from our amazing speakers and team members that joined in and gave their own Kidsteader classes.
We do intend to have our Kidsteader classes at the VA event, however, they will be a little bit different since there are literally hundreds of kids at our VA event. Be on the lookout for more information as the event comes closer.
The Sheads Family lead us in the National Anthem and a beautiful prayer on Saturday morning during opening ceremony. We always try to have an opening ceremony on both days for all of our events. But this year, they took it to a whole new level. We really enjoyed this talented group of volunteers and friends!
There are not enough words to offer about the weekend we all had. In fact, the experience was more than words could describe. I am thankful for every single one of you. For the team members who worked endlessly, the volunteers who worked just as hard, the Hardison Mill Homestead and Schoolhouse team who were gracious and amazing, the speakers and entertainers who rocked the house with their kindness and knowledge, the sponsors and vendors who were intentional about connection and education. All of you, every single one of you, made this event what it was. Your heart, your graciousness, your love for this community—this is why Homesteaders of America is what it is. It’s by homesteaders, for homesteaders—and in this TN event, it truly showed.
We have a lot of folks asking about events for 2022. Rory’s team and I rode around this beautiful farm that Rory and his family get to call home. But the reality is that, this farm felt like home to a lot of other homesteaders while they were there, too. We speculated, combined ideas, and even dreamed big. And we think you’re going to enjoy what we, hopefully, put together for you guys in 2022. You’ll just have to wait and see!
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to every single one of you. Whether you were a speaker, volunteer, attendee, sponsor, vendor, team member, friend, or acquaintance—you truly are the reason this movement is alive and, well, moving. We hope to see you again in October, and if not, we’ll see you next year!