Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
With so much depressing news coming at us from every direction, what a joy to read fellow Mother Earth News blogger Jenna Woginrich’s latest book, “One Woman Farm,” a yearlong peek into this gutsy, young homesteader’s life.
Partly because of Jenna’s delightful style in a subject I’m immensely interested in, I read the entire book in one sitting – a rare feat for me. Also, the book is filled with drawings by artist Emma Dibben, which gives the work a feel of a children’s storybook. Yet, Jenna’s writing is deep, philosophical and true to her heart.
Jenna chronicles the first year, month by month, on her very own Washington County, New York farmstead (Cold Antler Farm), a 6½ acre dream come true for the previous apartment-dwelling cubicle inmate.
As with most of my reading, I started “One Woman Farm” at bedtime and told myself, “I’ll just read until the April chapter and then turn out the light.” Well, April became June and then August. There was no point quitting then, since the book begins and ends in October, Jenna’s favorite month. I now have a greater appreciation myself for the “Days of Grace” month before the snow flies.
The morning after my reading marathon, I could hardly wait to run out to my own garden to ready it for winter, previously a gloomy task. Yanking up dead marigolds and tomato vines just seems wrong somehow. But, as I cut down brown asparagus stalks and piled leaves in our biggest raised bed, I kept thinking of Jenna’s book, and even brought it out to the garden with me.
After weeks of reading about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, our government shutdown, economic collapse, global warming, Syria, extreme storms, China’s air pollution and genetically modified organisms in the news, I was beginning to feel hopeless, even losing interest in gardening (unheard of for me!). Jenna’s little book changed my perspective to one of appreciation for all we have now, for next season with even more growing space and for a bug-free October day with dirt-covered hands and knees.
The book will likely attract more women readers than men, but I still hollered out passages to Darren in the other room, usually starting with “Aw, listen to what this little gal says here about …” For example, here’s her description of buying her farm:
“I acquired the place through a combination of luck and pure, unadulterated stubbornness. It took a few months of paying off credit cards, pinching pennies, and eating pasta every night, plus a kind and savvy real estate broker, a special USDA program, and a Hail Mary book deal. But I made an offer, and it was accepted.”
Boy, could I relate to that. Although Darren and I were living in the country in 2008, we longed for a place where we could be totally self-sufficient. We had no debt, but, like many working couples, also had no savings. We dared to dream anyway, and less than a year later after selling every unnecessary stick of furniture and heirloom we had on eBay, we found our rustic Ozark paradise.
Jenna didn’t have to go into detail about the naysayers she likely faced when she resigned from a secure job with health insurance and two weeks’ vacation every year. We had them, too. Just like Jenna, we walked away and never looked back. I only wish I’d have had Jenna’s gumption 25 years ago to abandon the rat race. Jenna said thinking of her past life is like reading an obituary.
With the fresh enthusiasm of a youngster, Jenna describes her first milk goat and the toned forearms, delicious milk and chèvre cheese she gained from Bonita, a critter that was too ornery for a neighbor’s liking. Born into a middle class family in the city, Jenna is unafraid to ask questions as she learns entirely new tasks like gardening, animal husbandry and to heat with firewood.
“With my brand-new hoe I pull apart the earth and discover black loam and earthworms underneath,” Jenna writes.
My newest hoe is probably 15 years old, so reading about Jenna’s excitement about such mundane things as soil and hay was exhilarating, just the shot in the arm I needed. By the end of the October-to-October year, Jenna was tending to a hog, rabbits, chickens, geese, goats, sheep, two ponies and three dogs that are all fed before she eats breakfast. As a former farm girl, I understand the time and care required to tend such a menagerie. I love how she describes the cacophony greeting her each morning, particularly after a night of worrying about making this month’s mortgage payment:
“The roosters crow, the chickens strut and coo, Bonita stands up on her metal fence, rolling her head and crying for grain, the pig in the barn snorts, and while the rabbits are quiet in their cages, I know they need their water bottles refilled and they’re waiting for morning pellets. It is a circus and a symphony, and it does not allow self-pity or concern about anything that isn’t happening right now to make 50 animals content.”
I happened upon “One Woman Farm” at our little, local library and since discovered this is Jenna’s fourth book. I’ve already placed an inter-library order for her others and look forward to their arrival. I can already envision comfy nights with a cup of steamy hibiscus tea and the woodstove glowing with “Barnheart” in my hands.
Thank you, Miss Woginrich, for the reminder to savor each day. For more photos of us wrapping up the gardens for the year, see our blog. For more about Jenna’s adventures, visit her Cold Antler Farm blog.
Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.