Hank and Karen Will live the homesteading lifestyle they write about in their book, Plowing with Pigs and Other Creative, Low-Budget Homestead Solutions, on their patch of land, Prairie Turnip Farm, located in central Osage County.
Jeremy Gaston | Managing Editor
Oscar (Hank) and Karen Hill are more than at home on their acreage in central Osage County, they’re at farm and at business.
The Wills have adopted a means of living known as homesteading, characterized by self-sufficiency and utilizing the home as the center for production. The couple, who each write and edit for related periodicals, have co-authored Plowing with Pigs, a collection of “creative, low budget homesteading solutions.”
“There’s something in the book for everybody,” Hank said. “We deal with small scale to large scale gardening, as well as poultry, which is sort of exploding in urban and rural back yards. Karen has some great chapters on putting a pantry together – what kind of things to stock when cooking from scratch.
“The over-arching theme for the book is really, if you don’t want to buy everything, here are some ways you can do some really cool stuff and not go into debt, and in some cases, provide cash flow,” Hank added.
The Wills feel homesteading was popularized primarily by necessity.
“When the economy faltered heavily, and folks were getting laid off and the only jobs were low-paying jobs, it suddenly became a point of security for people to let somebody be home and turn the house and homestead back into a production center, instead of just a consumption center,” Hank said. “More importantly, they can create real value in providing good, healthy food from scratch, growing fruits and vegetables, and if you have space, raising poultry and livestock.
“It’s even probably more important for people with children in daycare,” Hank said. “You take the daycare bill away and all of a sudden, leaving somebody at home has a gigantic amount of dollar value in terms of outlay that you don’t need to make.
“I think that’s a point of security,” Hank said. “When folks feel insecure, they tend to pull back and look for ways to take care of themselves. That was part of our motivation, to try and encourage folks to consider the value in their own skills and energy use.”
The Wills’ book certainly speaks more to homeowners with at least a little land to consider more involved gardening and basic livestock, such as chickens and, in conjunction with the book’s namesake, pigs.
The first section of the book is dedicated to partnering with domestic animals – chickens for eggs, meat, insect control; pigs for working dirt, food, lard; and goats and sheep for converting your lawn into usable by-products while
reducing the need to mow.
The Wills focus on low budget solutions at their home and land, dubbed Prairie Turnip Farm. Part of the book focuses on thing like utilizing the materials available, from homemade fencing to re-purposing items for furniture.
“Looking around, seeing what you’ve got and making the most of it,” Karen said. “Turning that into something with your own two hands instead of running out and buying everything you want or need.”
Homesteading certainly includes some gardening and light agriculture, covered in the third section of the book, which includes grain production and cooking from scratch. Karen takes this a step further with a home-based artisan bread baking business. She serves a customer base built from mailing lists and the web, and delivers directly. It’s another way the Wills earn their living, a focus of the last section of the book.
“Obviously, you need some cash flow in this life,” Hank said.
The Wills also earn a bit of income from raising extra livestock.
“We have lambs, some cattle,” Hank said. “We’ll take one for ourselves, but we’ll have a few to sell. It winds up being way more demand than we can supply. We offer it for a fair price that works. Between that, Karen’s bread and the writing we do, it’s not bad.”
Karen enjoys the relaxed pace of working at home, and cooking for a limited customer base.
“We’ve had people ask if we want to grow it,” Hank said. “Like Karen says, it’s at a place where we like it.”
“Once you open a bakery, it takes all the fun out of it,” Karen said.
Hank and Karen each come from writing backgrounds. Hank is a former biology professor, with a background farming in South Dakota, and has been a proponent of free-range livestock since the early 90s, or “before it was cool.” He is currently the editor-in-chief for Grit Magazine, which is based in Topeka, a rural magazine that allow him to write about how he lives.
“It’s sort of the perfect gig,” Hank said.
He took the job and moved to rural Osage County in April 2007.
“It’s close enough to Topeka that it’s not a grinding commute,” Hank said. “It’s a fairly isolated area.”
“It’s off the beaten path,” Karen said.
They met as editors covering a John Deere event, and married a few years later. Karen is the editor of Heirloom Gardener magazine, and has authored a book on the subject.
Hank and Karen are the kind of relaxed speakers that could finish each other’s sentences, but wait to add to it instead. They speak from the same place, which is useful when writing a book together.
The Wills enjoy the lighter pace of country living, and enjoy living in a county with little traffic and no stoplights.
“We wrote that in our book,” Karen said. “I just love that,” Hank added.
They make their own entertainment, and find joy in the little things.
“Being content with what we need, and finding joy in your daily efforts,” Hank said. “We chuckle at some of our friends. We can’t remember the last time we went to a movie. We do go out to dinner every now and then. At the end of the day, sometimes we’ll build a campfire out back, sit and have some nice cheese and bread, and a glass of wine. Sometimes, there’s great fascination in just watching the chickens.”