RuthAnn Zimmerman didn’t realize her sequestered way of life was trending online until after searching the hashtag “homesteading” on Instagram. Soon afterward, hashtag homesteading found her.
Born a Mennonite Pennsylvanian—riding horse and buggies, the whole deal—she and her husband, Elvin, inherited a formidable survivalist skillset atypical of most Americans today, worthy of any apocalypse-bound, patriot prepper.
In 2000, six months after getting married, they bought their 20 acres in northeast Iowa, as an upstanding couple were expected to do. “It was just a cultural thing to do after you get married, to buy your property and start raising a family,” she told The Epoch Times. “At that time, we were just doing what was culturally expected from us.”
But that changed when they became born-again Christians and chose to co-mingle with mainstream society—to some extent.
So, they uprooted from the conformity of Mennonite life and planted one foot squarely in the modern world (hence the Instagram account). “It definitely took some time for us to learn to manage all the technology,” she said, adding that they have been living between two worlds for the past 15 years. “And in doing so we started looking back and embracing our heritage.”
They found benefits in both ways of life: while keeping as much of the modern world at bay as possible, they draw wonder from new experiences. Yet there is much to appreciate in tradition, as more Americans are now realizing. “I didn’t even know that homesteading was trendy—it’s just the way we live—until a friend pointed out,” said RuthAnn. “‘Hey, you should use the hashtag homesteading.’ And that was in 2020.
“So I started tapping into that hashtag and discovered that people are very, very hungry for simple living, and for the homesteading lifestyle, and to be more self-sufficient.
“And that’s kind of how I ended up where I am today.”
A Blogging Ex-Mennonite Survivalist Homesteader on Instagram
Since starting her Instagram, RuthAnn has garnered 65,000 eager followers seeking her true, gritty, homegrown homesteading experience. She began sharing her family’s simple yet fascinating life adventures. Living on their 8,000-square-foot acreage, the couple, now in their early 40s, and their seven kids, ranging in age from 6 to 21, can feed themselves independently for well over a year. But the farm doesn’t pay for itself. Elvin is a foreman at a local equipment manufacturing plant, while RuthAnn buffers costs by working on the homestead.
They have a big garden, a 4-acre pasture for cows and pigs that provide meat, 12 fruit trees, turkeys, a chicken house, and a converted barn. In the garden, they grow tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, raspberries, strawberries, peppers, and onions—the things that grow in northern Iowa. Getting their first milk cow in 2014 was a defining moment, she said, “where you realize that you’re one hundred percent committed to the lifestyle.” The animals get no injections—obviously (the Zimmermans were Mennonites after all). The cattle come to the barn for snacks of grain whenever they want. The meat is the epitome of what nature intended.
“Pasture-raised chicken tastes nothing like what you get at the store,” RuthAnn said. “I don’t even think chicken from the grocery store, when I’m cooking, it does not smell like chicken to me. That’s not what my mind says chicken smells like.”
The benefits are clear, yet a homestead does not run itself. RuthAnn and the kids are up at 6 a.m. to tackle chores. “Two of the kids and I head outdoors to the animals right away,” she said. “Me and one of the kids will milk the cow, while the other child does the other chores, to take out the chickens. And the other three children are in the house making breakfast, packing lunches, and doing laundry. And then, yes, during the summertime when the kids aren’t attending school, the garden is our main focus, because that is what will feed us all winter long.”
Their goals are modest, she said: “to live a simple, quiet life and have our family here, day in and day out, working on the land.”
Freedom is Important to an Ex-Mennonite Homesteader
Like countless Americans today, the Zimmermans have seen skyrocketing costs at the grocery store and government overreach in all aspects of people’s lives, so they appreciate the freedom self-sufficiency affords. Raised a Mennonite, RuthAnn says it isn’t fear that drives them, but something rooted in spirituality.
“Our primary purpose is to spread the Gospel,” she said. “And if we start to lose little bits and pieces of freedom without noticing or caring, it won’t be long until that ultimate freedom—the freedom of religion—is gone too.
“Hungry people are easily controlled, and hungry people that aren’t sure how they’re going to feed their families might make decisions that are not God-honoring, because of their desperate need for supply.
“So it’s very important to me that we can raise our family in a way where they will hopefully never find themselves in a compromising position where they might not be able to honor God because they didn’t have the skills to provide in a way that they should have.”
RuthAnn added, “Our goals are, number one, to raise our children with all the skills that they need to be a blessing to the [next] generation, and to be good givers of society and not the takers.”
Like other Americans, the couple have “strong political viewpoints,” she said. As parents, they’re worried for future generations about what’s coming down the pipe. “But [politics] doesn’t define our day-to-day living,” she said. “We know that the battle’s already been won [in Heaven]. We know that God is on the throne, regardless who’s in the office here on Earth.”
Living with one foot in the modern world, RuthAnn shares her homesteading journey to “empower people” to take the next step in becoming more self-sufficient. People in the big city can also become less dependent on the “fragile system.” “Looking at the mainstream American, for instance, they’re all buying boxed mac and cheese or a chicken alfredo in a box,” she said. “If the shelves are empty of that, do you know how to just buy flour and eggs and make your own pasta? There’s always a less traveled road that has less dependencies.”
Nevertheless, straddling two cultures has drawbacks. The kids aren’t homeschooled. They attend Christian private school but often spend more time doing chores than their friends, who enjoy after-school football and extracurricular activities. Sometimes, the family feel out of step with the world; freedom has its costs.
Does RuthAnn miss being a Mennonite?
“I miss the community. I miss the culture. I don’t miss the religious oppression,” she said. “But in the homesteading community on Instagram, I have found a community that I love every bit as much as I love my Mennonite community.”