My Introduction to the Self-Reliant Life

After helping out on a New Mexico farm one summer, I learned to be more self-reliant and created my first business.

self reliant - girl with chicken

Treska first began learning the ins and outs of life on a self-reliant homestead in the Sangre de Cristo foothills of New Mexico.


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My name is Treska and I am 13 years old. I live in New Mexico, in a little town nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, along the Rio Grande. This year, I decided that I wanted to be home-schooled. I had a few reasons for this, one of them being that I wanted to stay near my garden. It was important to me to watch my squash plants bloom, and I wanted to harvest all the dark green, tender zucchinis hiding under their gigantic, silver-speckled leaves.

A Hands-on Introduction to Farming

In the summer of 2008, I worked on a little farm about 5 minutes away from my house. The farmer who I worked for, Jeff, was really great and patient with me. He showed me how to do everything and answered all of my questions. At the farm, I did everything from weeding to cutting lettuce heads. I harvested garlic, spinach, radishes, and peas. I even helped Jeff sell his produce at the farmers market at the end of the week. When I was working at the farm, something really clicked. Maybe it was finding out how much I could do myself and seeing how things worked, and just being self-reliant. I felt like I could do this kind of work forever.

I find farming gratifying and fulfilling. I called myself “the protector,” while tearing out the weeds around newly transplanted tomato plants, and felt proud when I lugged in two huge jack-o’-lantern pumpkins from outside. This was farming to me, and I loved it with all my heart.

One day Jeff took me and four other employees to visit Gemini Farm, a six-acre farm located about one hour southeast of Taos, in a tiny town called Las Trampas. Gemini Farm has about one acre of potatoes, four hothouses for tomatoes, and rotation beds of greens, radishes, carrots, and many other crops. It also has about 20 goats, a handful of cats, and two donkeys named Jake and Major who do all of their plowing and help them harvest potatoes and other root vegetables.

When we arrived, after successfully finding their almost-invisible dirt road, Teague, the oldest of the two brothers who live at Gemini, was sitting on an Amish plow seat in a jungle of hanging rows of garlic, making a garlic braid. This was my first introduction to what living off the land is really like. The brothers said they had only gone to the grocery store once that month, and that was just for toothpaste and olive oil.

Later that day, I met Jennie, who had been living and working at Gemini Farm for about a year. I liked her right away. She asked me if I wanted to take a ride with her on one of the donkeys. I had never even seen a donkey up-close before, much less ever ridden one, but it seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up. I was hoisted up into the seat, and we set off into the sunset, with me on Major and Jennie atop Jake. We crossed the creek, which serves as one of the main water sources for Gemini farm, and headed off toward the brilliant green goat pastures. The heat from Major’s body was lovely, and when we stopped for a bit, I lay down on his back and felt his sides rise and fall under me as the sun went down.

Nurturing the Garden and the Farmer

In 2008, I had a garden that was wildly successful. I would come in barefoot from my garden with my arms full of zucchini, pots bursting full of kale and chard, and a fistful of green beans in my hand. I had planted arugula, onions, kale, chard, cherry tomatoes, green beans, squash, corn, and scarlet runner beans. Plus, there were morning glories, marigolds, and several wildflowers blooming all around the edges.

Every morning, without fail, I would wake up and visit my garden in my pajamas. I would sit in my garden and whisper to my seeds. I’d encourage them and water them. When my seeds sprouted and became seedlings, I crooned to them and plucked the weeds out from around their fragile stems. As my seedlings grew and I watched their vines tumble in curlicues from under their great, dark green leaves, I praised them and told them I was looking forward to squash and round, yellow pumpkins. I loved my garden, and my garden loved me back.

From Veggies to Chickens

In September, when my garden was still producing lots of squash but the nights were getting cold, my family and I decided to get chickens. It seemed appropriate that farmers should have chickens and fresh eggs. So, together with our close friend and neighbor Marcy, we ordered 24 day-old chicks that came via the mail in a little box studded with holes.

Going to the post office to pick up the chicks was one of the most exciting moments of my life so far. When we walked in, I could hear them chirping. It was exactly that sound of an “entire kindergarten in a shoebox,” which Barbara Kingsolver states so accurately in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I remember picking up the box and hearing the scrabbling of 48 little feet trying to get a bit of grip on the cardboard floor. We waited until we got home to open the box.

There stood 24 chicks, all of them the size of a toddler’s fist. The cheeping stopped abruptly. Twenty-four pairs of eyes stared up at us, and we stared back. We decided that they would live in a large dog kennel with straw, grain, a water feeder and a heating lamp. We put the chicks in and they seemed happy with the situation, running all over the place and cheeping ferociously. That night we covered the kennel with a blanket, and they all fell into a deep sleep within minutes. They snuggled together, and the light reflecting off the straw made it seem very cozy in there.

We had other adventures with our chicks. We enjoyed watching them grow, and when they got bigger, we gradually began taking them outside. We watched them run around and catch bugs and take dust baths. When they were 2 months old they moved into a large coop down the road. They recently laid their first eggs. We have lost only five chickens, and our three roosters do synchronized crowing. All in all, our chickens are truly wonderful!

Farmer and Entrepreneur

I am planning on having a seedling business, for which I will start seedlings inside about two months before planting season. The seeds that I have ordered from Johnny’s Selected Seed Co. are ‘Genovese’ basil, ‘Valencia’ tomatoes, ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.

After I became inspired by the idea of having a seedling business, I read anything that I could get my hands on about seeds. I learned what varieties work best where, what treatment each seed should be given and all about certain types of seeds. I learned (from books and MOTHER EARTH NEWS) that heirloom varieties of all sorts are steadily and rapidly disappearing from our grocery stores, gardens, and lives. I found this to be alarming and sad. I decided that the least I could do to help was to plant heirloom seeds. The ‘Valencia’ and ‘Brandywine’ tomatoes are heirlooms.

I am going to have 980 seedlings in my house, and I’m looking forward to the learning experience. I’ll be able to apply the techniques I learn to later gardening experiences. To me, there is no such thing as an “expert farmer.” But what any skilled farmer needs is a set of eyes, a pair of hands, and a willingness to learn.

I am very excited to be embarking on this great farming project. We will be growing our own food and thus becoming part of the cycle of food and life. There is a lot of learning that needs to be done and I am looking forward to it. I am thankful for my community of friends and family that is helping make this incredible project happen, and to my pumpkin plants for blooming and giving me the courage to continue.

Share Your Story With MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Nobody knows more about the joys and challenges of wiser living than those of you who already are pursuing the dream. Tell us about your experiences with the self-reliant life, and your story may be published! Submit your firsthand report (1,500 to 2,000) words, with photos, to MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

lori howerter
9/11/2009 5:46:48 PM

Treska, I am new to the self sufficient lifestyle, recently married a man who has spent his life living this way. I am, for the first time in my life, learning to love growing my own food. I invite you to view my families blog on this subject. You are well on your way to living a happy, self sufficient life, you have the passion for it, and that is the most important thing.

8/22/2009 12:00:51 AM

Treska - Thank you so much for reminding me to whisper to my seeds. Such a sweet and basic thing, something I did when younger (about your age) but somehow forgot as time and life rolled on by. Your essay is an inspiration and a blessing to all who read it. You have a beautiful spirit, and I wish you all the very best. Catherine

seth t
8/20/2009 4:52:22 PM

What an amazing essay. What an amazing young person. Excellent work, in so many ways. Thank you for this piece, and your love of the land.

8/19/2009 11:27:56 AM

Treska, you do my heart good! Our almost 13 year old has been doing many of the things you are doing, and I emailed her your story so she would know that there are other girls out there like her. Keep up the great work and thank you Mother Earth News for sharing the story of such inspiring young person. MC, we found a local CSA with a volunteer program where we work for half our share. We also have an Organic Learning Farm where we are volunteering as hen house helpers and at their farmers market. So, don't be afraid to inquire. Most CSAs are very kid friendly and just may welcome the extra hands if they happen to be short-handed. It never hurts to ask and who knows you may find and opening for next season. Our family is interested in organic farming, so while still living in the suburbs we are trying to make use of the local opportunities to increase our learning. These experiences are just increasing our desire to have our own land. Makes the waiting harder though.

8/19/2009 11:19:43 AM

Treska...much wisdom for such a young have found the love and miracle of a garden is have the innocence of just jumping right in doing it right or wrong and learning from the experience...why do we sometimes lose this when we get have inspired me to do something I've thought about for five years...just scared to do it...why? possible failure? I'll do it now...if it works GREAT, if not, hey I'm learning...never too old to learn! Thanks, Treska....

jennifer steele
8/13/2009 9:16:15 PM

MC, Please do go and talk to some of those smale scale farmers in your area. I can just about guarantee that they will not laugh at you. Those of us who love the country and its way of life, almost always love to share it with people who haven't had it, esp children. As long a your kids are well behaved, they will be well recieved.

debra jarrell
8/12/2009 1:16:48 PM

Treska, I was so impressed with your story. It reminds me of the series of dolls from American Girl. You should present yourself to that company. Your name is unique as well as your story. It would be nice to see your life being shared in a bigger way. In this day and time we have many who homeschool. Not to mention the importance of living green. I read your story several times. I just bought some land myself. I was somewhat lost as to where to start. Your story encouraged me to dive in.:) Most important is that my 5 grandsons age 3-11 are not too young to experience this adventure with me.God bless you young lady. Keep us informed in your adventure.

lisa rizer
8/4/2009 3:39:12 PM

Hello! I just finished reading Treska Lydia Stein's article "My Introduction to Self-Reliance". Wow! This thirteen year old girl just reinvigorated my own passion for my garden and self reliance. It was very much needed. I spent yesterday in a bit of a bad mood because I let the pressures of my garden get to me. I am doing it pretty much alone and EVERYTHING needs attention right now. The zukes are crazy of course and the herbs I harvest for medicine want to be harvested. The purple potato hay-style bed was ready to be pulled apart -- revealing the delicacies within (these beauties mashed are an exquisite blue). I let the much larger cuke harvest than I was prepared for get to me. I was canning and pickling into the wee hours and was a bit grumpy. Treska just refocused me with her pure love of the plants and of the miracle of growing her own food. You speak for me as well, Treska. I just need a reminder now and then! In solidarity, Lisa Rizer Fieldbrook, CA

the herbangardener
8/3/2009 11:42:33 PM

Treska, You sound just like me when I was as old as you are now. I absolutely loved my gardens, and my seed collection was immense. I used to trade seeds over the forums...wonder if they even still do that! Sounds as though you have a paradise going! And I love your idea of a seed start business! YEAH! Best of luck to you! Remember...Once a gardener, always a gardener! :-) Cheers, The Herbangardener

8/3/2009 10:07:02 PM

I want my kids to have experiences like this. I think the fact that he never did is a lot of the reason DH is the way he is-- incompetent about farm work and disdainful of it if he has to struggle to learn. It is important to me that my kids do not turn out that way. There are a lot of local small-scale farmers. There is a CSA not too far away. Do you guys really think some of those people might want our help??? I'm scared to ask. Afraid they'll laugh at me and then I'll have to listen to them make fun every time I come off the mountain. Can somebody that doesn't know much and her brood of kids actually be good for something???

7/9/2009 2:04:50 PM

Congratuations Treska - you seem like a very bright and enthusiastic young woman. You may find it hard to believe, but I think you'll find that the "magic" of growing and caring for your own food does not lose its' novelty over time. I think all of us, from urban kitchen gardener to full-blown off the grid homesteader, can identify on some level with the excitement and joy you are experiencing. Keep reading, studying, and experimenting and you'll go far.