The Strange Allure Of Pioneer Living

Making staples from scratch has since become second nature. While we spoke, Elliott picked kale to garnish the eggs; after breakfast she seamlessly transitioned to baking bread, marinating a leg of a lamb she’d butchered last fall, tidying up with homemade cleaning products, and washing the dishes, which she enjoys doing by hand. “It forces me to slow down a bit, which I appreciate,” she said. Meanwhile, her husband fed animals, chased down a stray lamb, and repaired the fence through which it had escaped.

Their activities echoed scenes on other homesteading blogs: men hammering and sawing, wives cooking and caring for children. At a time when women are advocating for more equitable treatment, was Elliott’s shift toward traditional gender roles deliberate? “It’s kind of just the natural form of things in this lifestyle,” she said. She is a devout follower of Reformed Presbyterianism, a sect of Protestantism that views the Bible as the literal word of God, and she believes that men and women “were designed with specific roles.” “We’ve spent so much time and energy fighting that,” she told me. “And I don’t think that makes people happier.” She tends to her crops in makeup and false lashes; after tidying up the kitchen, she disappeared to apply lipstick and concealer.

Although homesteading sites tend to celebrate the cult of domesticity—Elliott has a post commending the modest femininity of long skirts from the Edwardian era—the offline reality is more complicated: Like many young women who’ve amassed large online followings by documenting their lives as homemakers, she is her family’s breadwinner. In 2014, a fellow blogger recruited her to sell essential oils for doTerra, a multilevel marketing company whose logo is plastered across homesteading sites. Within a year, her business was so profitable that Stuart quit his job; Elliott now makes $500,000 a year selling to fellow “oilers.” Her blog, which helps her recruit customers and salespeople, is heavy on suggestions for using oils. In one 10-day period on Instagram, she demonstrated how geranium oil could heal a duck’s infected foot, how lemongrass could repel pests, and how Roman chamomile and rosemary had cured her son’s hives.

Instagramming from a haven established to escape technology’s frenzied pace may seem incongruous, but Elliott insists that social media provide advice and moral support, which are lacking in the isolated areas where many homesteaders settle. “Most people still don’t live this way. You’re kind of the odd man out,” she said, adding that she’d met her best friends, who all live in different states, through their blogs. “If I have a problem with my cow I have one local person I can call that would know what’s up. If I go online, I can ask 10.”

The rest of Elliott’s day elapsed in a series of chores: weeding, picking spinach for lunch, cleaning up after the chickens, weeding some more, feeding the pigs, weeding again. She rejects the idea that success should involve anything more than maintaining a home. “We live in a culture that’s very epic. Everything needs to be epic and awesome … Living a very average life? That’s seen as you not living up to your potential. And I really fight against that. I think the everyday is the point of our life,” she said. “It’s okay to be in the kitchen working with a baby on your hip. That isn’t a regressive thing; it is an intentional thing.”

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