After watching several different homesteading content creators such as Roots and Refuge, The Whispering Willow Farm, and The Honeystead for a few years, I’ve realized that these creators all have some similar digital infrastructure needs. In addition to a video content platform, they make use of personal websites, online courses, newsletter subscriptions, community spaces in social media, and online stores to sell merch and other physical products.
Most of the creators that we follow are already established and have tools for these different needs. However, I know that some of these creators aren’t necessarily the most happy with the services that they are currently using and there’s a lot more creators that are just starting and might not have the same resources.
Free and Open Source digital infrastructure is a passion of mine. I think we can truly change the world by embracing Open Source tools because they give you more personal control over your digital infrastructure and how it works. Open Source projects are also less polluted by profit motive as they are created by people who are passionate about the tool itself instead of seeing it as a product to sell. Since Open Source projects are by definition allow you to review all of the code used in that tool, it’s a lot harder (though not impossible) for someone to add something sneaky and harmful.
That being said, I understand that Open Source software can be incredibly intimidating, especially for those who haven’t worked in Tech. Heck, it’s still intimidating for me a lot of the time and I’ve been doing this for the last decade and a half. That’s why I want to focus on an Open Source ecosystem that I find to be reasonably user friendly – WordPress.
Now, as a disclaimer, I work for WordPress VIP, a subsidiary of Automattic who also owns and operates WordPress.com. These are products built on top of WordPress (the software) but Automattic does not own WordPress (the software). Yes, it’s confusing – I don’t disagree. That being said, I work at Automattic because I love WordPress and have been working with it since college – I’m not suggesting WordPress as a solution because I work for Automattic. It is possible to do most of what I will be covering without touching Automattic at all.
WordPress and You
I think most people think of WordPress as an easy way to create small personal websites and blogs – which it is! WordPress is a great platform for creating websites and blogs of all sizes. This blog is powered by WordPress as is rootsandrefuge.com but so are a lot of massive news sites and other Enterprise-level sites. WordPress powers about 40% of sites on the internet at this time, so it’s very likely that many sites you visit are run on WordPress and you don’t even know that.
Why does that matter? I bring this up because I think it illustrates that WordPress is extremely flexible and can do a lot more things than people generally think of. With the use of plugins created by the community, the number of things that you can do with WordPress seems endless.
But let’s start with some of the most basic features of WordPress – websites and blogs.
Websites and Blogs
Every content creator can benefit from a website that they own and manage. It gives you a space where you can express yourself in so many ways that you aren’t able to just on social platforms and it gives you a way to link all of your social platforms together. It’s an important marketing tool for building and establishing your brand as well.
Having a blog is important for similar reasons. You can express yourself through a personal blog so much more freely than you’re capable of on social platforms alone. You can add photos and videos to create rich content or you can keep things fairly simple and straightforward. You can use your blog to announce new things and to direct people to things that you care about – whether that be your own content, other people that you want to promote, or just cool things you found on the internet and want to share.
I think most people are familiar with those use cases. However, websites can be so much more too!
WordPress has a built-in concept of user roles and private content. This can be used for all sorts of things, including gating content behind a subscription, but I’ve found it most useful in my personal life to coordinate with personal stakeholders in my life on things that I don’t necessarily want to be public information at this time.
For instance, my partner and I just started our own homestead this year and have been struggling to figure out our budget situation. My mom offered to help us figure it out, so I started creating private posts each month doing budget analysis over the previous month. It takes a decent bit of manual work but since I can copy the post from the last month, it gives me a pretty big head start for the current month’s analysis. Additionally, since my mom and partner are both subscribed to the website, when I post a new budget analysis post, they both get a notification, allowing us to discuss the analysis together.
Another thing that I’ve been trying to build out are templates to help me and my partner with garden planning. Ashe does a lot of their planning on paper which I think is pretty important, especially when initially planning things. However, I’m interested in taking these notes and turning them into an online format so that we can view them on our phones wherever we are and to be able to have supplementary information available when we create garden videos.
I’m still working on figuring out different templates and systems, so I don’t have a lot to show at this time. I think it will take me a couple garden seasons before I really have our personal templates nailed down. However, I have created a few things that I think will be helpful for this year already.
Using the built-in Timeline Block, I was able to take Ashe’s notes about when we needed to do things in the garden and create our 2023 Garden Timeline which gives us a look at what we have coming up at a glance. As timelines shift, I can edit this page and I can link to additional resources such as blogs or videos we create relating to these tasks or plant profiles and recipes for each of the plants we list.
Speaking of recipes, my mom recently found a box of family recipes and scanned them into an electronic format and sent to me. WordPress has a fairly good taxonomy system, allowing you group content using different categories and tags, so I’ve been entering all of those recipes into a recipe category on our homestead website and using tags to call out special ingredients such as shredded coconut. As we continue to build out our recipes, we’ll be able to use these ingredient tags to link our garden plans, our plant profiles, and our recipes. This way when I sit down with a ton of cucumbers from our harvest, I’ll be able to look at the cucumber tag to figure out what we can do with our bounty.
WordPress also has the ability to schedule posts. While this is often used to create content in bulk and schedule it out, I’ve been experimenting with using this scheduling to create a newsletter for our own internal use. I’ve been creating a bunch of posts to go out every Sunday morning to give me a heads-up of what I need to prepare each week. Here’s a preview of what I should receive this upcoming Sunday.
What’s beautiful about this to me is that I can continue to add onto the post as things change before it’s sent, helping me be extra prepared for the week ahead. But once the post is posted, it doesn’t stop being useful. As I go through the tasks on this weekly list, I can update the post with pictures, video, or anything else I want so that I can look back on this week and see not only what we planned to do, but also what we managed to accomplish. I think this will help us start planning next year as we’ll have a record to review.
I’m sure there are so many other ways that I can use this website to help in our garden planning too, even if I don’t know all of them yet. I’ve been thinking about how to represent our different growing spaces online so that we can illustrate where things are planted at what time while also giving us and other people a better visual understanding of our property. I’d really love to take some decent drone shots of the property and turn it into an illustrative map too at some point. However, I’m still figuring all of that out.
Let’s step away from the basic features of websites and blogging, though, so we can take a look at how WordPress can be extended with plugins to do more work for us.
Honestly, being able to create newsletters is not extending WordPress very far. At a very basic level, an email newsletter is nothing more than a glorified blog. WordPress has a built in way for people for people to subscribe to your blog through WordPress, email, or RSS. You can even subscribe to specific categories or tags so you can allow people to subscribe to your newsletter without subscribing to other types of content that you produce.
That being said, if you already have a newsletter that you produce and distribute through a tool like MailChimp which has newsletter specific tools, there are a bunch of Newsletter plugins that you can use to integrate your existing newsletter with your website in different ways.
Personally, I stick with the built-in subscription option because I don’t need advanced tools and I’d prefer to keep things simple. It’s easier to troubleshoot when things go wrong.
Creating a Community
Many content creators have communities on their different social media profiles. You might have one community on YouTube, another on Instagram, another on TikTok, and yet another on Facebook. In addition to being hell to manage across a number of different platforms, I also think that the way social media designs communities is inherently toxic and exploitative.
At a very basic level, these content platforms structure personal interactions the same way that they structure content. There’s one big person in the spotlight, surrounded by a bunch of tiny people who kind of talk to one another. It’s inherently hierarchical and designed to be parasocial while placing barriers in the way of letting the community interact with each other.
Before the rise of social media, most online communities were on private message boards and forums. While not devoid of hierarchy by any means (especially when moderators get a big head), the design of forums and message boards tend to be shaped in a way that is more flat. Original posts tend to be about the same size as replies to that post, making people feel a bit more equal.
Additionally, forums in particular generally have a bit of categorical structure, allowing you to separate the different types of posts in a way that makes sense for what you’re looking for out of that interaction, making it more active than passive. Instead of being fed a stream of content by the algorithm, you go to a forum with a purpose and can narrow down what you see by that purpose. If you want to be social, you go to social categories. If you need gardening advice, you go to the Garden Advice category.
BuddyPress is a highly customizable forum plugin for WordPress that allows you to create a community on your own personal website. While it takes more effort to set up, you can make it exactly as you want. You design the look, create the categories, and make it as public or private as you want it.
In Jess’s recent video, Why I like off-season content (Obvious Solutions to Lessen Obstacles) | VLOG, she talked about wanting to create a community where people could share knowledge and skills with each other in a more functional format. Personally, I think this would be an excellent use for an online forum as you could create a category specifically for people to ask and offer help of various kinds and it would be easier to see at a glance where you fit in that structure and what knowledge is available.
As a disclaimer, this is an area where I have less experience and is part of my future investigation plans. If you are interested in experimenting with me, let me know and I’d love to collaborate.
To the purpose of sharing knowledge, I’ve seen that more and more content creators are also starting to create and sell courses using different tools. I’ve seen a lot of people using Teachable, and just about as many people complaining about how it works. I’d like to offer up an alternative.
In the same way that WordPress has plugins that allow you to create online forums for people to connect and learn from each other, there are a bunch of Learning Management System (LMS) plugins available on the WordPress plugin directory. Automattic maintains one that I’m personally interested in learning more about called Sensei LMS which is what we’ve been using for some internal trainings.
I’m willing to bet that these plugins are just as powerful as anything that you might get from Teachable or any other separate tooling but by making it a part of your website, you can provide more value to people who are already hanging out on your site to be a part of the community or to read your blog. Additionally, if you have a payment system set up for an online store, you can generally use the same payments infrastructure for your courses as you do for your store, keeping more of your digital income in one place.
Whether you’re selling merch to support your content creation or selling physical goods from your homestead, having an online store is super useful. The most well-known ecommerce platform for WordPress is WooCommerce which is also maintained by Automattic at this time. WooCommerce is deeply customizable and able to be integrated with a number of other services depending on what you need.
Of course, WooCommerce is not the only ecommerce platform available on the WordPress plugin directory. However, it was so well known even before being acquired by Automattic that many of the ecommerce plugins available are ways to extend WooCommerce instead of competing with it. It probably also helps that WooCommerce is still open source software that allows people to get started using it for free, so there’s not too much to compete with.
I don’t know about y’all, but I’m personally tired of having my internet experience being curated largely by huge corporations. I think the tools exist to create digital spaces of our own where we can curate the experiences for our visitors and for ourselves. We just have to learn how to use them.
If you’re interested in learning more and experimenting with me, please let me know! If there’s significant interest, I’d love to make some more videos on this topic that are a bit more granular and how-to in nature to start making these tools more accessible for the homesteading community.
I think that together, we can make something great.
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