This article has been adapted from an interview that originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. To read the full interview and access the full issue, you can subscribe right here.

– – – – –

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed with trying to manage everything that comes along with a homesteading lifestyle, Carolyn Thomas of Homesteading Family is one of those homesteaders who makes it look easy.

A wife and mother to 11 children, Carolyn and her family live on 40 acres in Idaho where they grow most of their own food. She also homeschools their children, runs a business from home and manages to preserve much of the food that her family eats throughout the year using multiple food preservation methods including canning, fermenting, root cellaring, dehydrating and freeze drying.

Both Carolyn and her husband Josh grew up in the city and had no experience homesteading when they first started out. But as young parents with a rapidly expanding family and a desire to provide healthy, whole foods for their children even on a tight budget, they realized the need to learn how to cultivate and prepare food themselves as store-bought options were too expensive.

Living a healthy lifestyle was very important to us. Once we had our first child, we started looking at the whole world differently. That made us become really intentional and serious about our health and what we were eating,” says Carolyn.

Now, years later, their family life on the homestead looks a lot different than it did for either Carolyn or Josh growing up. “We’ve got 11 kids on 40 acres in Northern Idaho. We grow almost all of our own meat, aside from occasionally purchasing some salmon. We provide pretty much all of our own dairy, including hard cheeses, and I would say about 75% of our own fruit and vegetables. We also provide a good percentage of our own medicine, because we grow our own herbs for herbal medicine.”

Needless to say, Carolyn has learned a fair bit about homestead management over the years, and she’s sharing her best kept “secrets” right here!

Carolyn Thomas homestead pantry.

Homestead Management Tip #1: Establish Systems That Work For YOU

If you’ve ever found yourself trying to do “all the things” associated with homesteading, you know it can all feel pretty overwhelming and even impossible to keep up with at times. But Carolyn and her family are living proof that the most important things can get done and you can have a pantry and home stocked with healthy, nutritious foods and essentials if you know what to focus on and invest time establishing systems that will pay you back and then some over time.

“We have a very systematized homestead, which is something I love to teach about.”

Part of developing these systems is in the acceptance and honoring of the season of life you’re currently in. “It changes over the years based on the ages of the kids. What you can get done when you have two very young children differs from what you can get done when you have several teenagers in the house,” explains Carolyn. “We decided to involve the kids as early on as we possibly could. And let me tell you, that has paid dividends over the years because before long, you’ve got 7 and 8-year-olds making bread all by themselves. They can take care of the animals, change flat tires on the car…they become so capable, just because you slow down and let them work alongside you.”

“As they get older, what we’ve found is that it’s really important to have systems in place so that everybody knows exactly what needs to be done and when, so Mom and Dad don’t always need to give directions. We have a very systematized homestead, which is something I love to teach about.”

Carolyn Thomas canning food.

Homestead Management Tip #2: Prioritize Your Food Preservation

Homesteading in Northern Idaho means that a lot of focus must be placed on food preservation, since the garden won’t grow for at least half of the year. And with 13 mouths to feed, Carolyn has had to become very intentional with what she chooses to preserve.

“In order to make something worth preserving, it really has to take the place of something we’d buy at the grocery store. It’s easy to do a lot of those fancy condiments, jams, and pie fillings, and you don’t really have much to show for it in the end,” Carolyn says.

In order to make something worth preserving, it really has to take the place of something we’d buy at the grocery store.”

“It really comes down to what we need. When you think about surviving, you really have to think about your calorie crops like root crops, beans, squash and corn. Those are really the things that will feed you substantially if you have to depend on them. Of course, meat is really important, too.  Those are the things that actually go on your dinner plate: meat, vegetables, and some sort of starch.  So that’s really where my focus goes: Preserving meals, meats, and calorie crops. Second, I focus on healthy vegetables, and then finally comes the fruit pie fillings and the jams; Those are kind of the extras.”

Food preservation is a pretty broad topic, however. There are countless ways to preserve – canning, root cellaring, dehydrating, fermenting, and even freeze-drying, just to name a few.  With so many options, how can a person choose what makes the most sense for them?

“We use all different methods of food preservation. I’m constantly asking myself what makes this more practical and doable. For example, as much as I love pressure canning and enjoy pressure-canned meals, it’s a lot of work. When you can take vegetables and stash them in a crate in a cool space, that’s a whole lot of time you didn’t have to spend in the kitchen pressure canning. We have to take things to a really practical level,” Carolyn explains. “If I’m going to go through the trouble of pressure canning, it’s going to be full meals that will save me time later.  I’m not going to spend the time unless it’s going to save me time somewhere else down the road.”

Living in an environment that fluctuates so much with the seasons, the weather also has to be taken into consideration. There are times when the garden is producing like crazy, and there are months on end where nothing will grow at all.

My goal is to have a lifestyle of living prepared, but doing it seasonally. I don’t mind having extra food, but for the most part, I’m looking at preserving enough to get through this year, with a little bit of backup, just in case,” Carolyn says. “It’s really about choosing your battles with the time you have and knowing what you can preserve quickly during really busy times.”

Carolyn Thomas homestead pantry.

Homestead Management Tip #3: Start Small and Work Your Way Up

While all of this homestead management and food preservation stuff may sound great, it can still feel overwhelming knowing where to begin. When it comes to food preservation, Carolyn says “I really recommend that people start with water-bath canning, which I know seems counter-intuitive to all we’ve been talking about because it goes back to pickles and jams and jellies. But as far as gaining the skill of preserving, it’s a wonderful skill to start with.”

“Another good one to start with is fermenting, which has almost no requirement for special equipment. And one thing I love about fermentation is that your food actually gets healthier while it’s being preserved, while with every other food storage method, the nutrition declines over time,” says Carolyn. “If you learn those two things to start, you can begin to develop a “preserver’s mindset,” and you can get around to learning the other skills as you go.”

This approach is just as true for the garden, the barnyard or the home as it is for the pantry: Start small and focus on one skill at a time, and in time a life of self-reliance can run like a well-oiled machine, while still allowing for a life full of doing, learning and growing together.

If you’re interested in learning more about homestead management, food preservation or any of the other many homesteading skills Carolyn specializes in, check out her online courses right here.

Carolyn Thomas and Josh Thomas.

– – – – –

This article has been adapted from an interview that originally appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine. To read the full interview and access the full issue, you can subscribe right here.

To learn more about Carolyn and her family, you can check out the Blog, YouTube Channel, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

* All photos accompanying this article provided by Carolyn Thomas and