Real Estate

Local farm teaches residents how to live off the land or at least make their own micro beer and cheese

Hidden Villa's Homesteading Day helps people become self-reliant

Think of the word "homesteading" and instantly images of wide-open prairies, orchards and farm life come to mind. But along the Midpeninsula, where real estate is at a premium and not everyone has multiple acres of vacant land on their property, homesteading is often a much simpler activity.

Homesteading simply can be engaging in something like fermenting beer, cheesemaking, caring for chickens or saving a little money by growing a garden and preserving some food, said Blair Thompson, Hidden Villa's Animal Husbandry Manager. These are all types of inexpensive and non-space consuming ways to start participating in the homesteading movement, which focuses on helping people become self-reliant.

"You just need to have some interest in the skills of building and creating a home ... but it doesn't have to mean you own a home or an acre and are going to have a massive garden," Thompson said.

While homesteading has been gaining local steam among everyone from students to angel investors, not everyone is familiar with the concept or has the skills.

In an effort to make homesteading accessible to everyone, Hidden Villa farm in Los Altos Hills hosts an annual Homesteading Day that gives residents an upclose look at everything from beer brewing and sheep-dog herding to food preservation, backyard chicken care, composting, fruit-tree pruning and fiber arts through hands-on demonstrations.

This year's second annual Homesteading Day will be held on Saturday, April 27, and will include experts on sheep-shearing, beekeeping, soapmaking, seed saving and cider-making.

"Being able to do (something) yourself is something people get really excited about, and that's a big part of this event for us," Thompson said. "These are the skills that people have used to sustain civilization, in a way, and build our nation from the very beginning. It's exciting to see that coming around in a more technology-savvy area because I think it connects people to things that are essentially human and make us who we are."

Thompson said the key is to find an activity that you enjoy.

"You have to enjoy doing it because any of these things take time," he said.

You might be a little disappointed with brewing your first round of micro beer, for example, but as you get into it and have fun with it, you can create flavors that only you can make because it will be in the flavors and styles you want.

"Once you're good at making your own, you can do it for cents. It's all practice," he said.

Alternately, housing livestock or chickens will require a considerable amount of startup capital, but it, too, can lead to an overall cost savings for animal owners. Thompson said what each person is able to do will be based on what their city allows them to have on their property, and regulations will vary between each city.

In Palo Alto, for example, permits are required to keep horses, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks and turkeys, and written permission must be obtained from neighbors for a homeowner to own hens.

The most important thing to remember is that anyone, whether they live in an RV or on a ranch, can participate in the homesteading movement, he said.

"I think folks in our area have jobs that aren't physically connected to their bodies, and I think being able to do something that has a little bit more of a tangible reality that you can see and touch and taste is really important for people," Thompson said.

Melissa McKenzie is a freelance writer for the Weekly. She can be emailed at

Hidden Villa Homesteading Day

When: Saturday, April 27, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: All-day pass $30/person; Sheep shearing (morning only) $20/person; Homesteading (afternoon only) $15/person. Children under 2 are free.

Info: For more information or to register, go to

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