Homesteading 101

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Homesteading 101

A growing number of Catholics find homesteading blends faith, family, and community.

Winter 2023 | Jessica Walker

In This Article

It was a sunny Saturday, and school was in session. Except the classes being offered at Steubenville’s Four Seasons Community Center wouldn’t be found in an academic course catalog.

One group was processing a pig. Another, sawing wood and hammering together a timber frame for a smokehouse. Still others were learning how to can vegetables and make their own cheese. Even kids were throwing clay on pottery wheels.

For the 100-plus attendees, The Healing Land’s inaugural Skills Workshop Weekend this past September was more than an opportunity to learn a new skill. It was a chance to connect with the growing Catholic homesteading community.

Good Stewards

“Traditionally, homesteading is about the family growing and producing what it needs to sustain itself,” says Johanna (McKeegan ’07) Burke, one of the co-founders of The Healing Land, a nonprofit dedicated to providing ongoing education and mentorship in regenerative farm practices and homesteading skills. “God calls us in Genesis to be good stewards of the earth, and that’s what The Healing Land became, a way we can teach this stewardship to others.”

The seeds for what would become The Healing Land were planted three years ago. Johanna’s husband, Brian ’07, served as a Navy physician, and the couple spent over a decade moving their family around the country. So, in 2019, they bought five acres outside of Steubenville to put down roots. Hoping to cultivate their land, they sought out mentors and found the Doughertys. Shawn Dougherty, a former Franciscan University drama professor, and his wife, Beth, have been farming in eastern Ohio for over 25 years.

“Our practices are not only using the land to produce an abundance of food, but it’s also improving the land itself,” Shawn says. “If you’re feeding your family and your soil is improving, your farm is improving.”

Seeking to connect with other homesteaders in the area, the families began hosting farm walks where they could learn, pray, and just enjoy time together. The group steadily grew. In fall 2021, the idea to host a conference came up.

By the following April, The Healing Land held its first conference, drawing attendees from 20 states. Franciscan alum Terry McKeegan ’99 came on board with the Burkes and Doughertys to help plan the event.

“The conference sold out quickly, and then we got requests for all these different workshops,” he says. “We have so many local experts in this field who are eager to share their knowledge.”

Life Lessons

Interest in homesteading is on the rise. Some are drawn to the self-sufficiency. Others want to raise their own food, creating a far healthier product than anything found on a grocery store’s shelves. But even more than that, those who try homesteading find it provides a holistic lifestyle that blends caring for the land with faith and family.


“I have not understood Scripture like I have since I’ve been homesteading.”


For the Doughertys, every day has an almost monastic rhythm, bringing to life ora et labora (pray and work). They wake at five o’clock in the morning to milk their cows. It might be an early start to the day, but it’s so they have time to do the chores before 7:15 a.m. daily Mass. Even the dairy process itself illuminates a beautiful pattern to creation: Sunlight grows the grass the cows eat, and the cows produce the milk that feeds the family with cheese, sour cream, and more.

Homesteading 101

“We feel like we have rediscovered the pattern God created, a land flowing with milk and honey,” Shawn says.

“I have not understood Scripture like I have since I’ve been homesteading,” adds Johanna. “Even with gardening, it takes faith to put a seed in the ground and depend on it for your family’s sustenance.”

Life on the land also provides practical lessons for even the youngest family members. For the Burkes, homeschooling their six young children has included plenty of what they call “farm schooling.”

“They’re raising the animals, learning how to care for them, and discovering what each animal’s purpose is,” Johanna says. “My kids are absorbing their education so much more through the application that naturally comes on the farm.”

The Doughertys have already seen the fruit of homesteading in their adult children’s lives. Their son Luke Dougherty ’08 is a member of The Healing Land and teaches butchering, while other family members lend their talents to workshops from chicken processing to carpentry.

Educating the next generation is an important motivator for The Healing Land, but homesteading can be for anybody with a desire to learn. Shawn and Beth often speak at national homesteading events, and a piece of advice they give is to “just jump in.”

“Sometimes, we get this notion that if you haven’t been doing this all your life, then you can’t do it at age 20, 40, or 60, but that’s not true,” Shawn says. “These are skills you can learn. Put in a garden or begin raising some food, and the process will start to inform you. Attending a conference is also a great way to start, and then find a mentor to walk with you.”

Learn more at thehealingland.com.

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