At the Elliott homestead, breakfast looks like a scene from generations ago.
On a May morning, Shaye’s kitchen buzzed with activity. Her husband Stuart took a break from morning chores to ground home-roasted coffee beans with a hand-crank. A golden-crusted frittata and a bottle of raw milk sat on butcher-block countertops. Pastel-colored eggs were piled high in a wooden bucket.
Their children — ages 3 to 8 — changed out of their pajamas, while Shaye loaded a dishwasher with handmade plates and mugs. A dozen sheep and their cow, CeCe, grazed the pastures outside.
“When we moved to this farm three years ago, there was a barn and this house,” Stu said, referring to the 108-year-old rambler they gutted to studs. “Everything else we put in — the garden, the greenhouse, the coop, the pastures.”
The Elliotts are homesteaders. A two-acre farm supports their family yearround with organic vegetables, fruit, livestock and dairy. Under a creed of self-sufficiency, they cultivate most of what they consume.
Their lifestyle revives long-forgotten skills from pioneer days. The Elliotts churn butter and make yogurt from raw milk. They keep four sheep and the cow yearround, then butcher lambs and other livestock in autumn. They bake bread, make wine, craft medicine from plants and preserve the gardens’ bounty.
Unlike the farmers and orchardists whose many acres surround their Malaga plot, the Elliotts don’t sell what they produce. At least, not in a traditional way.
Shaye authors one of the leading homesteading blogs nationwide. More than 100,000 readers a month devour their lifestyle through blog posts, videos and recipes on their website, “The Elliott Homestead.”
Their main income is by selling DoTerra essential oils online, which allowed Stuart to quit his job three years ago. Recently, they added a subscription-based cooking community.
They also published four books about cooking and homesteading, three of which are distributed commercially at stores like Costco and Target.
Life wasn’t always like this. Nearly 10 years ago, they juggled part-time jobs and college. Their lifestyle was more mainstream with no connection to the food they ate. Two things changed everything — a book and a baby.
“It really started with baby food,” Shaye said. “I wanted to grow my own. It clicked back into this motherly, homemaker part of me that I hadn’t explored before. Something like cooking supper all of a sudden became exciting.”
She was inspired by a library book, “The Balanced Plate.” The vegan cookbook put her on a path to adopt a new lifestyle, one that considered well-sourced food as the foundation of well-being.
When their daughter, Georgia, turned 6 months old, Shaye became a stay-at-home mom and started the blog as a creative outlet. Then, she wrote about food politics, new motherhood, and learning how to grow her own and connect with local producers.
“I considered what we had a homestead, even when it wasn’t a homestead,” Shaye said. “It was a house, and a plan, and a fresh loaf of bread. It was a mindset of ‘I want to cultivate this home. I want this to become a hub.’”
Scraping by with three children on Stuart’s teaching salary, Shaye tried to monetize the blog with advertising spots, which earned $40 a month.
“At that time, $40 was a lot,” Shaye said. “It just snowballed from there.”
Around 2014, they started using the blog to sell DoTerra products. They self-published their first cookbook and sold it to thousands online. Within two years, the extra income allowed them to purchase their home on two acres in Malaga.
Meanwhile, their online audience grew exponentially, but so did the scrutiny. Through trial and error, Shaye began to steer away from personal topics like politics, healthcare and parenting, opting instead for home decor, cooking, farming and gardening.
“I think a lot of bloggers write about what will get the most people to click, and what gets people clicking is divisiveness,” Shaye said. “I wanted the website to become a place where people felt fed and nourished and encouraged.”
National magazines, including The Atlantic last fall, wrote profiles about The Elliotts as the poster family for the homesteading movement.
A production company asked them to film a TV pilot for Food Network. But after six years of broadcasting their life online, the TV pilot was “the first moment of ‘this is really weird, this shouldn’t be happening,’” Shaye said.
Shaye knew it was a gamble. The appeal of a homestead cooking show was narrow at best. She resisted the network’s recommendation to use white sugar, white flour and store-bought butter cubes to attract a wider audience.
“In hindsight, I think they made the right call, because we do cook differently than the average American family,” Shaye said. “They weren’t quite ready for that, and that’s OK.”
Since then, The Elliotts have turned down interview requests from national media. Shaye hired an assistant to help with DoTerra, emails and comment moderation. Shaye still writes and photographs blog posts and recipes, and Stuart films it all. And, that’s enough.
“Over time, I’ve learned to keep it in balance, to use that space and not let it use me,” Shaye said.
This spring was the first time in a while that Shaye felt settled and grounded. The bones of the homestead are built. Her kids are all out of diapers and sleeping through the night. Her website is freshly rebuilt.
“We’re stepping out of our teen years,” she said. “We know who we are now. We know the types of things we want to write about it. We know the things that resonate with our readers, and that’s what we want to concentrate on.”