One of my favourite books on homesteading and simple living is The Simple Life and How to Live It, by John Seymour, who was often called "The father of self-sufficiency." Sprinkled within that text are fascinating excerpts from an earlier book he wrote, entitled The Fat of the Land, in which he told the personal story of the homestead he and his wife created back in the 1950s on a rented property in the UK.
The Fat of the Land seems to be difficult to come across--print runs are few and of limited quantity--but last year I did find a new copy on Amazon. I enjoyed reading it very much. While some of the information is dated, and while many of the British terms Seymour used were incomprehensible to me (those pertaining to money and measurement especially), overall I did get a lot out this book.
I liked the way Seymour showed how their homestead grew gradually over time. When he and his wife first moved into their remote cottage, which they rented for a mere 25 pounds per year, they had been living for several years on a boat. They wanted to settle down because they already had one child and planned to have more. But they hadn't planned on creating a homestead in the least--it just evolved over time, as one thing led to another.
For example, they started out by getting some ducks and geese to save money on meat. Then, a cow, because it was too much work to walk a mile every morning to the nearest neighbour to pick up their milk. They then had more milk than their young family could use, so they purchased pigs to consume the excess milk--then, with all the manure from the cow and pigs they decided to increase their gardening. Then, because they then had so much land under cultivation, they bought a horse to help with the work. And of course then they needed to improve their grassland for the horse...and so on.
I liked the way he showed that while producing your own food is an economical, healthy, and satisfying thing to do, it does take a lot of hard physical work. He doesn't gloss over the amount of work that goes into a homestead, or romanticize anything about this kind of life. In fact sometimes he is rather blunt about various elements of country living. But he is enthusiastic about fresh air, unadulterated food, and hard work as an effective means to achieve good health to an old age. (And in fact, Seymour did live to the age of 90, staying active until shortly before his death.)
There is a section at the back, written for a later edition, where he gives specific advice for those wanting to start their own homestead. He is not optimistic here that many of us can do it with rising land prices, and praises the idea of communal living.
Overall, I think The Fat of the Land is a worthwhile read for those starting on their own homestead, or just dreaming of it. It will give the reader a good understanding of the way plants and animals on a small family homestead exist interdependently as part of a whole, and will also perhaps diffuse some of the overly romantic notions a few of us have about life in the country.