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Friday, April 16, 2021

The Founder of Homestead and Chill Shares Her Best Gardening Advice

Deanna spoke exclusively with Green Living about the journey of her brand, the beauty in reconnecting with your backyard, and her very best gardening advice.

Take one look at the Homestead and Chill Instagram page, and it’s immediately clear that at least in terms of modern homestead influencing, no one is doing it quite like Deanna—the founder and creative mind behind the lifestyle site, Homestead and Chill, which she manages alongside her husband, Aaron.

The couple purchased their San Luis Obispo County-based homestead in 2013, and since then, have poured their hearts into the space—working tirelessly to nourish the land and build a proper home, all while trying to implement their own sustainable living practices into the process too.

Their refreshing approach to “living well” has visibly resonated with audiences that are both familiar and unfamiliar with conscious living—whether it’s tips for composting, a guide for how to develop your home into a personal sanctuary, or even just providing information on the basics of capturing and reusing rain water, Homestead and Chill has guidance on it all. And in due time, has also amassed an engaged digital audience, with their Instagram alone boasting over 200 thousand followers and counting.

Green Living had the opportunity to connect exclusively with Deanna about the journey of her brand, the beauty in reconnecting with your backyard, and her very best advice for avid gardeners. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

homestead-and-chill
Photo courtesy of the Homestead and Chill Instagram.

To start off, walk us through the beginnings of Homestead and Chill. When did you realize you wanted to launch the website and brand?

It definitely evolved over time. Without even knowing it, I was working towards starting a blog for many years before it officially happened! Back in 2013, I began sharing photos and stories of our urban homestead on Instagram—mostly as a personal photo journal to document the transformation of our space, garden projects and harvests, and plenty of backyard chicken shenanigans. As folks expressed more and more curiosity in our lifestyle, my content evolved to share more garden tips, recipes, and tutorials. However, it is quite challenging to share adequately detailed information on Insta, and without a real way to sort, save, or search posts, it was even more difficult for folks to find and utilize all the tips I was sharing!

I had toyed with the idea of starting a website to share information in a more organized, accessible and useful way—but I didn’t have enough free time, and was having far too much fun gardening when I wasn’t at work! Yet as the years went by, I grew increasingly uninspired with my “real job” and began daydreaming of ways to garden for a living, or do something related at least. Then in late 2018, a good friend of mine (and fellow blogger) sat me down to give me a much-needed heart-to-heart and firm push: that I HAD to start a blog. She gave me some great insight into running a website, and I honestly had no idea you could make a decent career out of blogging! The dots all started to connect then. I’ve always loved writing, photography, gardening, and teaching others about sustainable living, and to think that I could do all that for a living myself? It sounded like a dream come true. Homestead and Chill launched just a few months later in January 2019, and I haven’t looked back! Both my husband and I have poured our hearts and souls into our brand and community, and our dreams of doing this full time are closer than ever!

Also, the name is so incredible. How did you come up with it?

Haha, why thank you! My childhood best friend Joanna actually came up with the name! She is absolutely hilarious, great with marketing, and totally hit the nail on the head. “Homestead and Chill” perfectly embodies everything we envisioned for our brand’s ethos: To help teach people to garden, learn basic homesteading skills, and get deeper in tune with nature, plants, and real food (even if they don’t have land!) for the betterment of their health and the planet—but in a fun, approachable, and even quirky space and manner. For us, this way of living is just as much about tending to your mind, body and soul as it is about growing food—which is where the “chill” comes in.

homestead-and-chill
Photo courtesy of the Homestead and Chill Instagram.

Have you always been passionate about gardening and living a more conscious lifestyle? Or was that something you leaned into more as the brand evolved?

I studied Environmental Studies both in undergrad and graduate school, so I’ve been interested in sustainable living for quite some time now—well over a decade! A huge part of [my] college career was working as an environmental advocate, leading other students and connecting with folks in the community to increase interest and awareness about a variety of environmental issues—so that aspect has definitely spilled over into the mission of Homestead and Chill as well! I started my first modest little garden, worm compost bin, and began tinkering around with preserving food back in 2007. Yet it wasn’t until we bought our first home in 2013 that we really dug in deep—with the chickens, fruit trees, dozens of raised garden beds, becoming a certified wildlife habitat and monarch way-station, and everything else we have going on here now. This lifestyle in itself pushes you to continually learn: like, if you plant 10 tomato plants, you better figure out how to preserve them by the end of the season! Or, if you adopt a flock of chickens, you’re bound to learn how to help them when they get sick. Running a gardening website and Instagram page also pushes me to continually learn and try new things, to be able to keep sharing fresh ideas with our community too! There is always something new to learn in the garden, which is one of the things I love about it most.

The pandemic has inspired a lot of people to reconnect with their backyards and take advantage of the resources available just outside of their own home. Have you noticed more people turning to Homestead and Chill for advice about how to transition their life to live more sustainably? Is it fulfilling knowing that your work essentially inspires and guides people on how to live better?

Absolutely, on all accounts. One of the few incredible, positive things that has come out of the challenging times of this pandemic is a huge increased interest in gardening, self-sufficiency, and finding more ways to enjoy time at home. One of my favorite things (and honestly what keeps us going!) is the feedback and touching stories we hear from folks who we’ve inspired to grow their first garden, start baking sourdough from scratch, plant flowers for pollinators, or even use our site as part of homeschooling lessons—like about monarch butterflies or compost worms! We are honored to help folks on this journey, and very excited to see it grow!

homestead-and-chill
Photo courtesy of the Homestead and Chill Instagram.

What is your best advice for gardeners looking to preserve their harvest and avoid food waste?

Gardeners definitely need to learn to get comfortable and creative in the kitchen! I joke around that sometimes it feels like we spend more time inside preparing and preserving food than we do outdoors growing it! To use as much fresh produce as possible, plan meals and recipes around what is ready to harvest in the garden, rather than trying to “force” those veggies into a meal plan that doesn’t already take them into account. Get comfortable improvising or modifying recipes to incorporate seasonal vegetables too!

For any excess, I encourage folks to experiment with a variety of different food preservation methods to see what they like best! We personally love to ferment, dehydrate, and freeze our bounty—and do very little canning anymore. For example, we turn cabbage and other greens into homemade sauerkraut full of probiotics, or transform carrots, radishes, and green beans into lacto-fermented “pickles.” Chili peppers, onions, garlic, and herbs can be dried and ground into seasonings powder. We also dehydrate tomatoes (hello “sun-dried” tomatoes!) and fruit. We freeze our tomato sauce, though it could be canned too. Another thing we love to do is make big batches of soup with seasonal garden goodies and then freeze it in quart size portions: potato leek, butternut squash sage, roasted carrot and sweet potato, or “the kitchen sink” type soups with a variety of mixed veggies. Pesto is another favorite freezer-friendly idea, which can be made with kale, arugula, fava bean greens, carrot greens, all sorts of things—not just basil! We share all these recipes and more on the blog.

Last but not least, if something doesn’t end up being used, compost it! Homemade compost is one of the primary ways we feed our garden soil, so I don’t consider that a “waste.”

fresh-fruit
Photo courtesy of the Homestead and Chill Instagram.

Looking ahead, what does the future of Homestead and Chill look like? How would you like to see this incredible brand evolve more?

Well… we recently let the cat out of the bag: that we’re currently on the hunt for a new home with more land! We will always cherish our first garden and the memories of building Homestead and Chill here, but this was never intended to be our forever home. I think it will be really fun, educational, and hopefully inspiring for our community to come along with us as we document the transformation of a new property into a sustainable homestead. I hope to share more tutorials on YouTube too, which we’ve only dipped our toes into so far. With a larger property, our goal is to be able to grow even more goodies for ourselves, perhaps sell produce locally or start a farm stand, and create more offerings for our online shop that incorporate organic homegrown ingredients—like loose leaf tea, herbal tinctures, seasonings, and more botanical body care products like our current lavender and calendula salves. If we can find the right space, I would absolutely love to host in-person workshops, events, or even an immersive farmstay kind of experience! I’ve also been approached to write books, but haven’t had the time for that venture just yet. Who knows… the possibilities are endless!

To learn more, visit www.homesteadandchill.com.

Keep up with all of Green Living‘s original content online and on social media.

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