When you aspire to do as much as possible with your own hands as you construct a sustainable, on-the-land life, every day can seem like an exercise in skills envy. Whether it’s adding a new animal to the farm, building a coop, installing solar panels, or growing the perfect butterbean, it’s good to have a little expert advice.
Thankfully, modern-day homesteaders benefit from the wisdom offered beyond those that simply share a property line. No matter where they reside, they have access to online courses that teach people how to live more self-sufficiently, offering solutions and ideas to both the novice and the veteran who are too busy or live too remotely to attend hands-on workshops and courses. “I was teaching courses at my homestead, and my homestead is located in the boonies,” says Marblemount Homestead blogger Corina Sahlin, founder and instructor of an online cheesemaking course. “I have readers from all over the world, and they obviously can’t travel to my homestead.”
From cheesemaking to foraging for herbal plants and designing a permaculture garden, online courses abound to assist those seeking ways to improve their skill set. “Online students can work at their own pace, and absorb information slowly,” says Heather Jo Flores, one of the instructors of an online permaculture design certificate program.
Consider adding one of these courses to your fall to-do list.
1. Permaculture Design Certificate
Who offers it: Permaculture Women’s Guild, an international organization of women committed to sustainable and organic living
How much it costs: $750 to $950, based on household income
How long it takes: 72 hours for Permaculture Design Certificate; 114 hours for an additional Advanced Certificate in Social Systems Design
Certified through the Permaculture Association and taught by a women-led faculty of 40 permaculture teachers worldwide, the Permaculture Design Certificate course covers everything you need to know about designing a backyard garden or homestead based on permaculture, a system that mirrors a natural ecosystem. From videos, reading materials, and hands-on homework, master skills such as creating your own forest garden and choosing livestock and pollinators that will help sustain it. The course also includes one-on-one coaching with a faculty mentor who will give feedback on your permaculture garden or homestead design, says Heather Jo Flores. “The online courses I teach and organize all encourage students to find local mentors as well,” she says. “But the mentorship/student relationships we are cultivating online are creating a solid global network that can only enhance those local relationships, and by extension, our movement as a whole.”
2. Fermented Foods Mastery
Who offers it: Udemy, an online learning platform that features video courses taught by experts worldwide
How much it costs: $59.99
How long it takes: 1.5 hours of video
Fermented foods recently entered the ranks of trendy edibles and continue to attract legions of superfans. In fact, a tech-based restaurant management platform called Upserve labeled it a top restaurant trend, citing consumption of fermented foods increased 149% in 2018. But with this Fermented Foods Mastery video class led by Kale Brock, an exercise and holistic lifestyle coach and health writer, you can skip the restaurant and make your own sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and coconut yogurt. The class explores the fundamentals of fermentation — the ancient art of food preservation — and explains how to ferment food safely. Students also receive downloadable resources such as shopping lists, factsheets on probiotics, an ebook copy of The Art Of Probiotic Nutrition by Brock, and access to an exclusive Facebook group for support and tips.
3. Summer Foraging Workshop
Who offers it: Floranella, an herbalism and aromatherapy school in the Pacific Northwest started by urban homesteaders Erin and Jon Stewart
How much it costs: $99
How long it takes: At your own pace
The Summer Foraging Workshop class taught by certified aromatherapist and herbalist Erin Stewart helps you maximize all the earth has to offer by teaching you how to harvest plants and use them in your own kitchen for a range of purposes. Stewart, who started this class out of a passion for making herbal medicines at home, offers unlimited access to videos that show how to safely identify, forage for, and make handcrafted remedies from 12 common wild herbs grown throughout the United States such as stinging nettles, mint, selfheal, and red clover. This digital workshop also comes with an e-book on summer foraging and three-month-long access to Stewart for questions that arise as you begin your foraging journey.
4. Starting at Square One
Who teaches it: Cornell Small Farms, a program through the Cornell Cooperative Extension that teaches people how to start their own farm business
How much it costs: $195 to $295, based on household income
How long it takes: Six weeks
If you want to expand your homestead and start making extra cash from it, Cornell Small Farms offers a beginner class titled Starting at Square One for people across the United States who are interested in launching their own farm business and getting their home-grown produce into the market. Through online discussions, readings, and assignments, participants will write their own farm start-up plans while learning how to find and evaluate farmland, and how to choose what to grow. Weekly webinars feature real farmers who share stories from their first year of growing and answer questions in real time. “We really try to strike a balance between helping them take off those rose-colored glasses and get a very realistic picture on just how challenging it is on how it is to start a farm,” says Erica Frenay, the online course manager and one of the class instructors. She adds that course payment provides students with unlimited and unending access to the content.
5. Aquaponics Revealed: Create your own Fish-Powered Garden
Who offers it: Urban Farm U, an online education platform that teaches people how to sustainably grow and raise food in urban communities
How much it costs: $97
How long it takes: Seven weeks
Aquaponics, or growing plants using water and fish instead of soil, has been called the future of farming, but it can also be adapted to your backyard garden. Chad Hudspeth, founder of Endless Food Systems, a company that makes aquaponics kits, and Greg Peterson, founder of Urban Farm, developed this online course titled Aquaponics Revealed: Create your own Fish-Powered Garden to introduce a simple way of recreating aquaponics systems at home using fish tanks, filters, and grow beds. The seven pre-recorded classes detail which plants and fish grow best in aquaponics, how to test water quality and pH levels, and how to control for bugs and insects. You also receive feedback on your system from other aquaponics users on the private class Facebook group and participate in live Q&A sessions with experienced aquaponics gardeners. “I like to give them as many tools as possible,” Hudspeth says.
6. Online Cheesemaking Workshop
Who offers it: Long-time German homesteader Corina Sahlin, who runs the blog Marblemount Homestead
How much it costs: $49
How long it takes: At your own pace
Instead of buying expensive cheese from the grocery store, try your hand at making some in your kitchen with this online cheesemaking workshop led by Corina Sahlin, who has been teaching people how to make cheese for more than a decade. Through e-books and videos, Sahlin walks you through each step of making Chévre, Gouda, Cabra al Vino, and even Greek yogurt. “Cheesemaking can be a science and that’s why I believe in giving people background, not to overwhelm them, but to understand the basic concepts,” Sahlin says. “And then for me, it is really important to make it fun.” Bonus: You don’t need to own cows, goats, or cheese presses for this course. Students receive access to a private Facebook group to share triumphs and failures with each other.
7. Online Hide Tanning Class
Who offers it: Wild Abundance, a company that offers classes and consultations in self-sufficiency and off-grid living
How much it costs: $297
How long it takes: At your own pace
To make sure that nothing goes to waste after harvesting deer, Natalie Bogwalker, the founder and director of Wild Abundance, developed the Online Hide Tanning Class to teach others to become competent hide tanners. “It is a really versatile material that can be used and tailored,” Bogwalker says. “You can do a lot with buckskin, and it is really functional and beautiful.” While hide-tanning takes years of practice to perfect, this video-based program gives a step-by-step crash course on everything from brain tanning — tanning hide using animal brains to make the leather softer — to smoking the hide. Students also learn how to sew with buckskin and construct a medicine bag. And if you don’t have access to deer hide, you can order it from Wild Abundance for $65.