By STEVEN NALLEY
Allison Buehler wants to remind Starkville of a time when Mississippians were self-made men and women.
“Two generations ago, everybody knew how to grow a garden, how to prepare food, how to preserve food (and) how to create home goods like soap and clothes,” Buehler said. “Everybody had backyard chickens, and people were a lot more self-sufficient. They didn’t have to depend on people with specific skills for all their needs. My generation, we don’t know anything.”
Buehler is launching the Mississippi Modern Homestead Center Dec. 15 at 402 Lake Valley Drive to teach locals and visitors the skills their ancestors used to maintain self-sufficiency.
Once opened, the center will host classes in cooking, woodworking, sewing, canning, medicinal herbs, emergency home preparation, beekeeping and more. A series of day camps for children is in the works, she said, and so is a storytelling festival in association with the Mississippi Fine Arts Council planned for fall 2013.
“We can sleep up to 20, so we’re hoping youth groups and religious organizations will make use of the center as well,” Buehler said. “I hope it’s something that’s really special for the Golden Triangle area that would attract people from all over the state. I think it will help tourism. It’s a good place to showcase a lot of Mississippi heritage and history.”
In the more immediate future, Buehler said, while the bulk of the center’s classes will begin in January, the center will host two events on opening day. The first is a Starkville Homemade Holiday Bazaar from 9 a.m. to noon, where all items are handcrafted, and the second will be an open house from 3-5 p.m., she said.
“The teachers will be doing demonstrations (at the open house), and people can come and have a cup of hot cider,” Buehler said.
Marion Sansing said she plans to teach cooking and fermentation classes at the center, helping students learn to cook locally-grown foods or foods they grow themselves. This approach is healthier in the long run, she said, because the human body is built to digest natural goods better than it digests the preservatives used to give grocery store food a long shelf life.
“I think in the current economy and in the overall outlook of things, it’s good for people to get back to basics and learn skills again (to become) self-sufficient,” Sansing said. “There are several books where you can learn how to ferment things. (I learned it) just practicing it in my home kitchen. There’s several people in Mississippi we talk to, and they say, ‘Oh yeah, my grandma used to do that.’”
Buehler said the center was formerly her residence, and the idea for the center came about when she and her husband pursued self-sufficiency techniques on their own. Guests would come to visit their home and their gardens, she said, and while they did host informal workshops, many people asked them to begin teaching in a more formal capacity.
“There’s a real hunger right now for getting back to the basics,” Buehler said. “There’s an interest in reconnecting with traditions that a lot of Mississippians had that are fading traditions.”
One reason for that interest Buehler said she sees is a desire to prepare for emergencies, brought on by the impact of dangerous hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy. Other prospective students are concerned about American fiscal insecurity, she said, and they want to be able to take care of themselves in the event the government becomes unable to take care of them.
“And, it’s a more satisfying way to live,” Buehler said. “People are disconnected, and they’re looking for that sense of reconnection.”
Many of the techniques taught at the center may come from generations past, but Buehler said her goal is not necessarily to take Starkville back to a time before electricity. Rather, she said she encourages people to use energy wisely in conjunction with homesteading techniques, which is why she has dubbed it a “modern homestead center.”
“We have solar panels,” Buehler said. “We’re not talking about abandoning your technology.”