The Homestead Education Center in Starkville is a non-profit organization, retreat center and community resource, but it was once home to Mike and Alison Buehler and their three children. The Buehlers eventually decided that the home was too large for their family of five, so they moved across the lake to a smaller space. Instead of selling the home, they turned it into a community resource that has been serving families in the Golden Triangle for more than three years.
“We’d really gotten into sustainable living—learning how to grow our own food and gardening and solar panels. We wanted it to be used by the community, so we thought if we could figure out a way to keep it and do some educational things with it, we would,” Buehler said.
For many, homesteading seems like an extremist hobby, but for the Buehler family, it is a simple lifestyle choice. When they moved from Knoxville, Tenn., to Mike’s hometown of Starkville ten years ago, they were surprised to find few farmers’ markets still operating and virtually no organic food options.
“It was kind of out of necessity. We just wanted to feed our family healthy food. We thought, ‘well, if we can’t find it in the store, then surely we can learn how to grow a garden. We thought it’d be easier than it was, but over time, we learned how to do these things,” she said. “My husband is very into alternative energy and technologies, and it didn’t make any sense to him to be paying the electric bill we did when the sun shines 320 days a year in Mississippi, so we put up solar panels and he drives an electric car. They’re out there, but they aren’t here.”
They continue to pay for the home by renting it out for game weekends and family reunions, and programming is provided by membership dues. The Homestead hosts events, retreats and workshops that center around health, wellness, personal growth and arts and literature. Typical scheduling is one big event each month of the academic year with smaller events scattered between them.
“It’s all the things that I want to go to myself and so I find teachers and bring them here to teach those things,” said Buehler. “Whatever I’m interested in that year becomes the theme. This year’s theme is ‘Finding Your Purpose.’”
Their holistic programming ranges from natural cleaners workshops to marriage retreats to nature hikes for children and everything in between. Their approach is to provide resources that empower members to make better choices for their health of their bodies, minds and relationships.
For homesteading enthusiasts outside of the Starkville area, there is a Virtual Homestead on the website with web resources on gardening, cooking real food and how-to videos on topics like growing mushrooms, making yogurt and culturing vegetables.
While The Homestead is Buehler’s full-time gig, she also is a published author. Recently, she has published two books: Rethinking Women’s Health: A Guide to Wellness and The Healing Touch, which teaches children how to make a difference in the world around them instead of being afraid of things they see on the news.
The Homestead has the perfect set-up for creating community and hands-on experiences. The grounds feature a lake, pool, gardens, orchards, solar panels, greywater run-off and acres of nature for hiking and exploring. It’s also home to goats, chickens, bees and two farm dogs who are quick to greet you when you arrive.
A self-proclaimed member of the “radical middle,” Buehler does not shun modern technology or medicine, but believes in a simple natural living that good for the body, environment and pocketbook.
Her best health tip is to support local farmers, and start a farmers’ market if your community does not already have one. The benefits for patrons, farmers and the economy are unrivaled. She also encourages trading in any sugary or processed drinks for water.
“There’s no reason everyone in Mississippi can’t eat well,” she said. “I think we are kind of bringing that back. Two generations back, everyone knew how to do this.”
Story by Carmen Cristo // Photos and video by Lauren Wood