Being a woman on the homestead can be challenging if you don't know other homesteaders. The Ladies Homestead Gathering aims to make things easier by offering support and help, its founders explain in this Q&A.
This article is part of our Farming Women and Women in Homesteading series. Read the introductory article and find links to many more profiles here.
Cyndi Ball has often wondered if she was born in the wrong era. “I should have been in the pioneer days,” she says. Though she doesn’t have a farming background, Ball has always felt a deep desire to live close to the land. She grew up in New England and spent the first decade-plus of her marriage in Seattle and Central California.
In December 2009, Ball, along with her husband and six children, moved across the country to Statham, Georgia, and set up camp at the Lazy B Farm.
“I thought, finally! It’s an agricultural state, I’ll find someone to mentor me and I’ll really make this thing go,” she says of her homesteading dreams. “Not so. It was very, very lonely for me.”
Eventually, Ball—an educator by trade and a self-proclaimed "book taught farmer"—began reaching out to women homesteaders, inviting them to Lazy B to share her passion for everything from soap making to beekeeping. As women came through, she recognized the same loneliness she’d felt, and began to think about creating a more formal support system for women homesteaders.
“There was a tug at my heart, and I thought, ‘I’m home schooling, I’m running these classes and the farm, there’s no way I can do anything more than that.’ But I couldn’t let it go because I knew how lonely I was,” she says.
So, in December 2010, she posted a notice on her Facebook page, inviting women with an interest in homesteading to gather at Lazy B at the end of January.
“I had 20-plus women show up that night,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, now what am I going to do?’”
What she did was launch the first chapter of the Ladies Homestead Gathering. The women continued to meet once a month, and at the end of the year, went away together on a retreat.
“That’s when the unity and friendship started to grow,” says Ball. “I realized it wasn’t so much about education, it was really about the community.”
In 2013, two years after that initial meeting at the Lazy B, Ladies Homestead Gathering (LHG) became an official nonprofit. It now has about 20 chapters across the country where farming women and women homesteaders gather to share their successes and challenges, teach and learn new skills, and enjoy the camaraderie of people who understand.
Ball offers a smooch to a favorite cow.
We hopped on a conference call with Ball and Trina Reynolds, LHG national board member and director of education and events, to talk about the homesteading life and why they think LHG has resonated so deeply with women homesteaders across the country.
Q: Cyndi, you’ve said you don’t have a farming background. What was your first experience with the homesteading lifestyle?
Cyndi Ball: My second-oldest daughter is highly sensitive to chemicals and coloring in skincare products. When I would use regular soap or baby soap on her, she would break out in hives and cry—it would burn. Because of that I started making my own soaps. Then we went through a period where we didn’t have health insurance, so I really got into medicinal herbs and being proactive in the way we were treating illnesses. It was little by little.
Q: How did you connect with Trina?
CB: She was in Dawsonville, Georgia, on the other side of the state. She’d drive two hours to come over to our gathering in Statham because that was the only one at the time. She approached me and said, “I really want to start a chapter where I am.”
We had the interest meeting, and I was blown away by her! She was just exuberant, tons of energy, leadership qualities out the wazoo; she’s amazing. She did a phenomenal job with the Dawsonville group. When they moved to Virginia [in 2015], she started a chapter up there.
Q: Trina, what initially attracted you to homesteading and LHG?
Trina Reynolds: I came to homesteading some of the same ways Cyndi did. I have a boy, my youngest, if he eats food coloring or preservatives he is a crazy man, so we started making some things from scratch and trying to clean up our diet. My grandpa was a chicken farmer in New York and I always wanted to have chickens. We finally got to a place in Georgia where I could have birds, so we started raising chickens and it’s amazing. I was talking to one of our mutual friends and she said, “With LHG, I feel like I’ve gotten a college degree from all the things people help you learn while you’re exploring.”
Q: What about LHG resonates so much with women?
TR: I think it’s because we all live such disconnected lives. People want to be connected, and they want to know somebody knows who they are. … It’s hard to put it to words. I can talk about spurring a rooster and in a lot of circles they’d go, “What are you even talking about? Why would you do that?” When you talk to the other ladies at LHG, you don’t get that shock and horror, their first words are, “Will you teach me how to do that?”
CB: I liken it to when you first go to college, that freshman year. It’s a little scary and new and there are a lot of unknowns. Typically the friends you make that freshman year, there’s this bond that’s really tight that you don’t experience at any other time of your life. I find that same kind of thing happening with these women because they have the support and encouragement of an entire group of women, there’s this bond that happens. We’re there for the victories and we never call them a failure because if you’ve learned something it’s not a failure. Because you’re experiencing those kinds of things together, it deepens and strengthens that bond. … The other thing I love about our chapters is we have all ages—from the young 20s up into the 70s, and that coming together to share wisdom and life experience has been amazing to watch.
Q: What does it mean to be a homesteader in 2016?
CB: One of the misnomers about homesteading is people think they have to have so many acres in order to be a homesteader, or be able to be self-sufficient. Trina and I both started in our homes making our own bread, our own medicines and soaps. We say homesteading is an attitude of “I can do it,” an attitude of sustainability, an attitude of thinking outside the box. It’s not the land. It’s the knowledge and how you use it.
Q: What do women bring to farming that’s unique?
TR: Passion. It’s a passion to learn and share what we’ve learned and help other people to be able to do what they want to do.
CB: When I teach beekeeping, the men want to go into the hives and conquer the bees, and they’re the ones that seem to get stung. The women, I find, are slower, much more gentle and aware of where that bee is before they put their tool in. I see it when I work with women in farming, too. I think there are a lot of innate characteristics of women that help them to be better farmers.
Q: What does the future look like for LHG?
CB: My dream is to get to a point where there isn’t a woman who says, “I wish so badly I had this,” but that there is a chapter close enough to every woman who wants it. And, I would love to take it internationally.
LHG held their national conference in Asheville, North Carolina, in October 2016. For more information about next year’s gathering as well as regional chapters and events, visit ladieshomesteadgathering.org.
All photos courtesy of Cyndi Ball.