Homesteading in Upper Peninsula Michigan
With its wide open spaces, physical beauty and history of self-sufficient homesteaders, Michigan's Upper Peninsula can be a haven for modern day homesteaders. Those who choose to homestead in the U.P. should be well-prepared with an ample shelter, heat,and a year's supply of water and food before they go. The region's low cost of living is partly due to a declining population and dearth of employment opportunities. Homesteaders rely largely on self-employment and tourist industry jobs to augment incomes. Long, cold, snowy winters and a short, 85-day growing season can make homesteading in Michigan's U.P. a challenge.
Find property to homestead if you don't already own it. Work through a local real estate agency. Even if you own a mortgage-free property, you'll have to pay local and state property taxes that are assessed twice a year on the market value of your property.
Visit your local government hall to get copies of local building and land use ordinances. These will tell you whether you can camp on your land while building a structure, what types of structures are allowed in your community, what rules govern water supply and septic fields and what fees or licenses are associated with living off your land. Even if you build your own cabin, you may need to buy an occupancy permit before you can move into it.
Make sure that your shelter is compatible with the U.P.'s long, harsh winters. Like some U.P. homesteaders, you may choose to attach a south-facing greenhouse to your shelter to extend the growing season. Many homesteaders also install solar panels, wind turbines and other sources of alternative energy.
Food and Water
Maintain a good, sturdy set of tools and implements, such as shovels, hoes, rakes, saws and awls to prepare your homestead garden and fences. The U.P.'s short growing season leads many homesteaders to focus on cool-weather crops, such as turnips, potatoes and spinach, to fill their root cellars alongside home-canned and dried items, such as corn, tomatoes, beans and squash.
Keep a root cellar under your shelter. This will reduce your refrigeration needs and give you a place to safely store quantities of nutritious fruits and vegetables that you'll need during the U.P.'s long winters.
Raise poultry and livestock for eggs, milk, cheese and meat. Start with a flock of free-range chickens and a pair of goats. Homesteaders in Michigan's U.P. frequently barter with their neighbors to provide diversity to their menus.
Hunt and fish for a portion of your food. Wedged between three Great Lakes, Michigan's U.P. is well-known for its rich natural stocks of fresh fish and game. Buy hunting and fishing licenses. Hunt and fish only what's in season to avoid legal conflicts.
Dig a well on your homestead as soon as you arrive. Fresh water is plentiful, but most rural communities in Michigan's U.P. don't provide municipal water services. Install a hand-pump as back-up in case your power supply fails for an extended period.
Prepare for winter all year long. Many homesteaders use wood-burning heat and cook-stoves to take advantage of the huge supply of wood in Michigan's U.P. Keeping a wood-stove supplied with tinder, kindling and fuel enough for six or seven months of winter is a year-round task.
Insulate your shelter. Keep bales of straw tucked against the foundation to discourage leaks. Cover your windows inside with plastic, then cover the plastic with window quilts. You can lift the quilts on sunny days to let the sunlight add warmth.
Close off rooms that you don't need during the winter. Hang heavy blankets or quilts across areas that don't have doors.
Kate Sheridan is a freelance writer, researcher, blogger, reporter and photographer whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and trade publications for over 35 years. She attended Oakland University and The University of Michigan, beginning her journalism career as an intern at the "Rochester Eccentric." She's received honors from the Michigan Press Association, American Marketing Association and the State of Michigan Department of Commerce.
- riverfront homestead image by Scott Patterson from Fotolia.com