This homesteader shares their story of creating an Alaska homestead in a hand-built cabin, includes crops to grow, information on public domain subsistence homesteading and foraging opportunities when living off the land in Alaska. Find out how one Homesteader built a cabin and created his own Alaska homestead over at motherearthnews.com.
Learn about a reader who moves to an Alaska homestead to start a new life in a hand-built cabin.
Homesteading in Alaska, the pamphlets will tell you, is finished. Gone. And it's true, in the sense that the government will no longer “give” you a tract of wilderness for an Alaskan homestead under the old Homestead Act. But the older, more traditional way of getting back to the land (i.e., subsistence farming on public domain acreage) is still very much alive and well here in the 49th state and I guess we ought to know. We know, because we're creating an Alaska homestead of our own.
Don't get me wrong, a homesteading in Alaska isn't an easy — or a particularly romantic — way of life. To make it up here the way we're making it, you have to work hard and forgo a good many “frills” (such as electricity and forced-air heating). But public domain subsistence homesteading is as viable in Alaska today as it was even before the Russians owned this land. In fact, it's probably easier now to make it here (thanks to some of the less obtrusive tools of technology) than ever before in history.
The typical subsistence setup is very basic. Ours centers around a compact one-room cabin made of squared-on-three-sides logs that we simply stacked and spiked together. Construction of the dwelling was uncomplicated and took minimal planning. Because of its low ceiling, our cabin requires comparatively little wood to heat it during severe winter weather. For light, we use a gas lantern.
Our inside furnishings can best be described as “simple”. The cupboards, for instance, are neatly disguised as discarded gasoline boxes. Bunk beds are built right into the lodge's walls and our “closets” consist of nails driven into those same log walls. (Anything extra is stored in cardboard boxes under the beds or put outside in the cache.) The cabin's windows are plastic film attached loosely so that — in cold weather, when the “panes” shrink — the plastic won't crack. (For storm windows, we merely add another layer of the film.)
We pack our water in from nearby Kuskokwim River, which — so far, at least — is still pure enough to drink. (All told, there are probably less than 100 people living on the 100 miles of river above us.)
As you may or may not know, farming isn't western Alaska's strong suit. Cabbage does seem to thrive here, but the vegetable has rather limited recipe possibilities. Potatoes also do well in the Alaskan climate and have received most of our attention thus far. At that, our potatoes were only the size of walnuts and were few and far between our first year up here. The crop was more bountiful this past season however (even if the harvested spuds did later freeze on the floor of our cabin).
Wild berries are our main source of fruit and jam and agooduk (Eskimo ice cream). The hills around the Kuskokwim are bristling with blueberries, blackberries, redberries, and salmonberries (all of which can be stored right through the winter) . . . and further on down-river — on the flood plains — raspberries, rose hips, and cranberries thrive. (Your only competition for this bounty are the black bears.)