One L.A. Family’s Decision to Live Off the Food Grid

A Q&A with Claremont-based homesteader pros the Kostiuks

In our November issue’s Food Lovers Guide, we showcased the epic Sunday Baguette spread of fanatical homesteaders, the Kostiuk family. From their backyard-smoked (in a homemade smoker) organic bacon procured from their local pig share to their home-brewed beer, it’s clear that this family of five—overseen by Daniel and his wife, Caroline—takes their food-based lifestyle seriously. We wanted to find out more about the and their decision to live well off the grid. Here, they share how you, too, can easily be a food rebel:

Why do you guys choose to live off the grid?
Daniel: It wasn’t intentional—it was more like a progression. It really started more after we had kids. We wanted a better quality of life for them. Not just the generic stamped lifestyle where everybody eats the same things and watches the same things and does the same things. It also doesn’t hurt that the pesticide and GMO-free farm where we get most of our food from, Amy’s Farm, is only a 10-minute drive away. That has to do a lot with it. And we love knowing where our food comes from. I even have the key to the farm, so, I can go in there anytime I want. The sad thing is that this breed of local farmer is going away. One needs to come up with a million dollars to buy the land so he can designate it exclusively to grow pesticide free, GMO-free foods. It’s not easy—it is a lot easier to go to Wal-Mart and buy your food and clothes.

Caroline: For me it really is all about the taste of the food that is freshly harvested from the farm. The first time I had raw milk from Amy’s, it reminded me of the way that milk tasted when I was raised in the Philippines. I wanted my kids to have that memory too.

How did your tradition of the Sunday Baguette start?
Daniel: I have baked at home since I was 15 years old, and I’ve always been intrigued by baguettes. So after a while I started making baguettes at home and then every single Sunday morning for my family. Then, we just started calling it Sunday Baguette and begab eating it simply with house made jams and butter with coffee and tea. It just progressed after that. It’s not like we planned it—it just happened.

What drives the family’s committed DIY attitude, from milking your own cow to canning your own feijoada to making your own booze?
Daniel: We are ingredient-based people—we read labels. If I go to the store and see a fish rub or meat rub and I look at the label, there’s always so much salt. Because of a past health scare, salt is a big thing for me. And then, if you go to a health store and you do find the perfect rub that you can peacefully eat, it’ll be at least three times the price. So, I’m kind of forced to make everything. Affordability has a lot to do with it. But it’s also the quality, I can whip up a better quality version of whatever is on the shelf for a lot less. Since we always want to feed our kids better stuff. Except for our middle son Andre—he likes junk. You can quote me on that.

Andre: Thanks!

What do you hope to teach your three boys?
Honestly, I don’t expect to teach them anything. I’ve seen too many parents raise their children hoping that they grow up to be something that they are not. So, the only thing that I can expect is that they learn to do good and be good. They can figure out what they want for their own life. I give them my opinion and that’s it. Except for Andre, he does what he wants.

Andre: Thanks!

Is it expensive to eat and live the way you do?
Yes and no. If you’re going to eat organic steak every day of the week, then yes, it is going to be expensive. We made a decision to stop eating a lot of meat. We still eat meat, but only good meat, meaning local and grass fed, and less of it. The fact that we buy in bulk helps, too. For example, we buy a whole pig instead of a pork chop package. That way, no matter the cut, it’ll cost $3 a pound. We also shop for food as if it were a yard sale. We don’t have one place to shop. We hop around to different markets—that is our way of spending a family date night. We go to that Armenian place and then that Mexican place and so on. It’s kind of like a game, and it keeps the table interesting. Now, if I had the money. it’d be grass-fed steak every night.

Do you think anybody can live this way?
Of course anybody can do it, if your values are geared that way. We don’t have cable, we watch Netflix, and we entertain ourselves with our food. The other day Caroline had to bake cakes so I helped her make them instead of watching a movie. I can see foodies doing that. The thing is, a lot of people just like to open a package and take their chances. We do, too, but everything in moderation. We have burgers and fries and onion rings fast food nights. We have junk food moments. But maybe just once a month, if that. Though, we won’t buy burgers out because they taste like shit. Absolutely though, anybody can do it, if they want to. It’s just a matter of wanting to become more aware and interactive with your own life. Because when you’re making your own things, you’re making it for you. I even make my own mustache wax, since I wanted something scentless.

Caroline: I remember that one time when our oldest son Iori said he wanted to be a farmer at four years old.

Daniel: Yup, that moment really started our farming craze. Had he not done that, I don’t know if we would be where we are now.

Do you have any beginner tips for someone who is interested in living like this?
Look and assess at how you live now. Start becoming more aware of the things that you eat and consume. It can get as serious as choosing to only use plant-based cotton instead of artificially made polyester. I think with kids, you need to change your lifestyle. You owe it to them.

Anything else that you would like to tell the burgeoning homesteaders out there?
Caroline: Go back to basics.

Daniel: It takes effort. Everybody says to save the earth and environment. But they’re only preaching it, not doing it. We’re doing it. You can do that too. Remember, that we came down from the trees not that long ago. And when your hands are on the cow, you are feeling the earth. I’m not against technology in any way, but we also have to be rooted with the foods that eat. It grounds us.

The Kostiuks were featured among our 25 L.A. “Food Lovers” in our November, 2014 Food Lovers Guide on newsstands now.