Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Why Homestead?

7/30/2008 4:39:35 PM

Tags: Cold Antler Farm, homesteading, farming, eggs, garden, sheep

Jenna WoginrichIf you knew me growing up you’d probably be surprised to find out that after a perfectly normal suburban childhood, I ended up standing in a chicken coop at 5 a.m. ankle-deep in straw and chicken poo.

After all, that was never the plan. I grew up in the complacency of small town America. We had a fine house with a beautiful back yard, neighborhood friends, and wonderbread sandwiches. Once a year near Halloween, my parents would take us three kids to a small family farm with a pumpkin patch. I’m fairly certain that annual trip was the closest I ever got to the farmlife.

Now, 26 and on my own in rural Vermont — things have changed. Bread comes from my oven — not plastic bags with twist ties. Eggs come from the chicken coop — not a styrofoam container. And vegetables come from the garden not the produce section (though technically, the garden is the produce section of the property, but you know what I mean.) My life went from an urban design job in the city to the path of an apprentice shepherd. While I still have a 9-5 job, my weekends are spent at sheepdog clinics and lambing seminars. The dream is to raise lambs up here in the gambols of Vermont. And the road to that reality is a lot different than the one I’ve been trained for in college. (They don’t teach you how to pull out an inverted lamb from a stubborn ewe in typography classes, just a heads up for any designers-turning-farmers out there.) Anyway,  I’ve been sweating, tilling, and stepping in random feces for a few years now and whenever someone who knew me before all paths lead to sheep runs into me, they always ask me the same question.

Why?

Why would a perfectly normal middle class gal, who had a nice city job, and a pleasant apartment pick up her life and shake it till trowels and feed sacks fell out? Why spend a year learning to raise chickens and keep bees and nearly pass out of heat stroke in the garden when eggs, honey, and broccoli are all for sale at the grocery store for less than the cost of that hoe in your blistered hands?

There are a lot of canned answers to this and you know them already. As fellow homesteaders (or friends there of) you get the whole “homegrown-satisfaction-quality-of-life-green-living” bit. All those reasons ring true for me too, but there’s something else writhing below those surface answers. Something deeper that makes me smile in the garden or laugh from my belly in the bird yard.

It’s the honesty of knowing what I do everyday directly helps keep me alive.

It’s that simple.

Gardening, farming, raising animals — these are seen as labor or hobbies to most. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “Farming isn’t my thing” which is always said with flippant arrogance masquerading as either city-slicker inadequacy or self-effacing ambivalence. Which is fine. If it weren’t for people not wanting to farm, farmers wouldn’t have any business in the first place. But here’s the thing. If you ever ate anything that had to be raised, slaughtered, or planted — farming is definitely your thing. Actually, It’s the only thing.

We can sit on the porch and talk all day about philosophy and religion and what people want. But the conversation about what the human animal needs is pretty short — food, shelter, water, protection. While I love the literature, art, and amazing questions people ask about ‘what we want’. I find true peace and purpose taking control of what I need.

Raising and growing your own is more than a lifestyle — it is life. Contrary to popular belief there is nothing altruistic about it. Homesteading is the most self-involved way to live. But it’s exactly how most animals do live, and there’s no logical reason for any of us to think we have the world figured out better than anything else stumbling around the planet. Animals live a wild life of procuring food and creating life. The shepherd with a lamb in his arms is no different than the wolf with a lamb in his jaws. Two animals with food being the center of their present lives. I love that so much about farming, you just can’t know.

So I suppose that is why I homestead. The correctness of survival. The wildness of understanding basic needs. It all draws me in and keeps the bit between my teeth. It lets me feel more a part of the world in the most basic sense. Thanks to the egg, garden, and lamb — I too can gain all the satisfaction I need from being in charge of my own life. You know, there’s a reason eating a salad you grew yourself tastes so good, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask that wolf.

Jenna Woginrich is the author of the forthcoming book,  Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, from Storey Publishing. Visit her Web site at coldantlerfarm.blogspot.com.



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Wes_1
10/30/2008 9:33:29 PM
Jenna, I just read through all your writtings on Mother Earth News. It really brought a smile to my face to read about you leaving the city to pursue the rural farm life. My wife and I have been doing that for 4 years now. We are loving the counrty, gardening and our little flock of chickens. We are not in the debat stage of what to acquire next. We are in a wonderful rural area that has lots to offer locally. You are an inspiration. Keep it up.

Paul Gardener
10/6/2008 5:18:15 PM
Jenna, So wonderfully put! I couldn't agree more with you. My wife and I have our dreams of having some land one day too, but know ful well that there are many skills we'd have to have before making a good run of it anyway. In that vain we've decided to learn and build as many skills as we can on our suburban 1/4 acre in the mean time. It's a learning and growing process and it's a lot of hard work, but the rewards like fresh eggs, sweet juicy tomatoes and healthy foods are well worth the efforts! I look forward to your forthcoming book. It should be great based on your writing here. P~ http://apaetoday.blogspot.com

Teri Treehugger
9/12/2008 1:50:22 PM
I love reading stories about homesteading. I too would love to be able to leave the city and live off the land, but I am not able to at the moment. I recently read an article about a couple homesteading in the city. They have turned their yard into a food garden, put solar panels on the roof and so on. Similarly, I couldn't wait any longer and started a small, edible container garden this year. Next spring I plan to expand and grow more than I did this year. It's not exactly what I'm hoping for, but it is a start. I've realized that any effort towards a self-sustaining existence changes my experience of life. I am looking forward to discovering more of this as I go on. Teri Ottawa

davisonh
9/10/2008 8:20:06 PM
Alright Jenna@!,great to hear from a neighbor across the river.My wife and I picked up and left the cities in the flatlands and headed for the mountains just after we got married 8 years ago(can't believe its been 8 years)She's a city girl too,and I grew up pretty much in the woods down south in Mass.We have 10 ac. here in NH near Keene,and I still have a 9 to 5 job although my wife is trying to find a job telecommuting so she can stay here to do more of pretty much the same thing you are.Yes,you hit the nail right on the head,the honesty of directly doing what it takes to stay alive,and one cannot get more honest than doing that here in New England and although every region is different,the four hard seasons are a challenge.All I can say is good luck with your endeavors,they indeed are well worth it.

Nicole Keyser
9/1/2008 9:48:20 PM
I really like your article. I am 26 now and am in the process of getting started. My husband and I have two little boys and a house on 10 acres of woods. I spent my teenage years growing up on a farm with horses, cows everything! I am now ready to begin homesteading with my family, the only issues being money and a non experienced husband. I want to try raising horses, cows and chickens once we get part of our lot cleared. My goal is to raise the "old timer" breeds. Thank you for a great article! Its nice to see more people are trying this.

William Lumsden_1
8/22/2008 3:02:54 PM
Rich and Cathy: If you would like to discuss homesteading I can be e-mailed at william.lumsden@sympatico.ca William Lumsden

Bianka Van Egmond
8/14/2008 8:22:46 AM
William Lumsden, My boyfriend and I, although in our midtwenties with no indepth financial plan beyond living simply and within our means, aspire to be farmers. I was raised on an Eastern Ontario farm and after obtaining an education and seeing the world, I knew the only place for me was on a farm raising my living. We are currently looking for our place and when we find it hope to build a sustainable homestead. I'd love to hear back from you, and share our ideas with you, bianka.v.e@gmail.com

Bianka Van Egmond
8/14/2008 8:22:21 AM
William Lumsden, My boyfriend and I, although in our midtwenties with no indepth financial plan beyond living simply and within our means, aspire to be farmers. I was raised on an Eastern Ontario farm and after obtaining an education and seeing the world, I knew the only place for me was on a farm raising my living. We are currently looking for our place and when we find it hope to build a sustainable homestead. I'd love to hear back from you, and share our ideas with you, bianka.v.e@gmail.com

William Lumsden_1
8/7/2008 6:02:10 PM
Jenna: Hear is my thoughts on a financial portfolio. Remove any debt,don't waste time with a budget,save and invest in government bonds (not to many governments default) 50% of all net income (OUCH) down size till you reach that point. Pay cash and when the remaining 50% is gone wait till the next payday. Always be on the lookout for opportunities. My mother taught me thrift and it appears it stuck William Lumsden

William Lumsden_1
8/7/2008 4:44:52 PM
Coldantlerfarm: The reason I mention a middle age couple was one-staybility 2-workload.Most young people who want to homestead believe all that is required is a pair of farm overalls and a pitch fork hence the failure in the sixties of the communes and back to the land movements.The reason most farmers are either dissatisfied or in debt asking for goverment handouts is they have forgotten that farming is a way of life not a means to becoming a millonaire.One of the reason I am leaving this property to the land trust is that it can remain as it was when the first rock was removed from the field and the settler though he had died and gone to heaven. On this road many people are selling thier homes in Toronto and duplicating them in the country. two storey, basements, decks, two and a half washrooms etc. Any person with enough drive and imagination can homestead.Have you ever noticed that on any of these so called game shows that when asked what they intend to do with thier winnings the answer is never invest it. enough all ready William Lumsden

Rich-and-Cathy
8/7/2008 4:39:32 PM
Jenna, you are an inspiration of living your dream. I was never so certain of what you know at such a young age. William, I think you have a great heart and love of living simply. My wife and I would love to hear from you on potential to live such a life as Jenna has mentioned. We would love to visit and get to know you and opportunity to live a dream. We have no children and are in our mid 40s. We have little experience and a lot of desire to change. Guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Rich-and-Cathy
8/7/2008 3:54:01 PM
Jenna, you are an inspiration of living your dream. I was never so certain of what you know at such a young age. William, I think you have a great heart and love of living simply. My wife and I would love to hear from you on potential to live such a life as Jenna has mentioned. We would love to visit and get to know you and opportunity to live a dream. We have no children and are in our mid 40s. We have little experience and a lot of desire to change. Guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Blake Bowley
8/7/2008 1:51:14 PM
William Lumsden, My wife and I are currently looking for land around Peterborough, Ontario. We are looking to farm organically and builld an earthship (self-sufficient) home. I am planning to build the home myself where we can raise our 2 year old daughter and future children living off the land. Would love to hear from you. blakebowley@gmail.com

Keri Cady_1
8/7/2008 12:09:26 PM
I think you are not only brave but an inspiration to anyone who would want to live their dream. I am 53 and somewhat homestead. I grow my own vegetables and herbs, Make my own bread from scratch and also make my own lye soap. I also make rugs for my home. If I were younger I would have loved to live like Jenna but I am content where I am.

ColdAntler_2
8/7/2008 11:42:02 AM
William! What an amazing offer, but I'm not middle-aged, or a couple, and have no financial portfolio at all... I don't think I have the resume you are looking for...

William Lumsden_1
8/7/2008 8:09:03 AM
Maryann Welden: It's great to know that you can grasp a concept with just a few basic facts. Here are a few more.This one hundred acres has been chemical and pesticide free for the last thirty one years.Has a mixed bush of twenty acres, a centre lane that runs the full length of the property.Fertile sandy loam that before my ownership produced very good quality brewing hops plus normal farm fare.Finding the right person to enjoy all this is a very hard thing to do. I believe it all boils down to attitude, imagination, work,uncommon sence (if it was common sence there would be a lot more of it around)and desire.Thanks for your thoughts. William Lumsden

Maryann Welden
8/6/2008 10:38:10 PM
William Lumsden, I wish I could take you up on that opportunity of a lifetime but I am a resident of the United States with an elderly father of 77 that I'd never convince to leave. maybe in the future though? This is a very well written article and I so admire the life this smart young woman lives. Mary Welden in Camden, Michigan USA

William Lumsden_1
8/6/2008 4:11:09 PM
Why Homestead? You seem to have the basics down pat and it is a very well writen article. Do you have a sound financial plan in place? I have 100 acres in south eastern Ontario which I am leaving to a land trust and at present looking for an inteligent middle age couple who would like to build a house,and live a full meaning life.I am offering a life time lease at one dollar a year and will supply all the tools and my labour at no charge.For anyone who can do the math this is a great deal.Good luck

Dawn Mitchell_1
8/6/2008 2:15:31 PM
Congratulations! You've learned your lessons-in-life SO much earlier than the majority of us :-) I have had a dream of homesteading for many years, but was never quite able to give up the 8-5 income, but after a trip to Colonial Williamsburg for my 50th birthday (last year) realized that I just HAD to do it! So, here I am 8 months later, on 9 acres with 5 horses, a pig (named Stevie Wonder Houdini Pig), 3 milking goats (2 LaManchas and 1 Nubian) and 2 LaMancha bucks, a Shetland/Jacob cross lamb and a wide selection of chickens - who REALLY like my home-grown tomatoes and watermelons! We're broke. We're ALWAYS broke, but you know what? We have home made bread and jam, fresh eggs, milk and cheese, and will soon have meat in the freezer - and I wouldn't swap it for all the tea in China. Well done for encouraging more people (like us) to get back to basics and revel in the poop !!

Eileen_1
8/6/2008 1:35:24 PM
Your article was wonderful, and very inspiring. My husband and I are thinking about homesteading--or, at least, semi-homesteading. I've never grown a thing in my life; I'm squeamish about lots of things; and sometimes, I admit it, kind of a princess. And yet, I have long fantasized about living off the land, providing for myself, getting back to a simple, basic life. Your account of becoming a homesteader in particular is inspiring for me; as much as it is a dream for me to be truly self-sufficient, I have serious doubts about whether I can hack it. Your article helps me feel encouraged that maybe I really could do it. Thank you.

Emma Dorsey
8/6/2008 1:08:20 PM
My husband and I have started our own homestead just a little over 3 years ago. I am a grandmother at 48 years and keep my granddaughter for my daughter while she works. I am also to primary keeper at the farm. I planted my own garden and keep it going by myself, freezing and preserving all I can to make it through the rest of the seasons. We have chickens, ducks,turkeys and geese so far but have been talking about adding pigs. We have 7 acres of pure paradise as far as we are concerned cause there isn't anything better then fresh blue berries,peaches,pears and squash, green beans,watermelons,beets,pickles,etc. But the fresh eggs and knowing what is in your meat you slaughtered yourself leaves you knowing you will be healtheir for all the hard work you put in now that is a true peace of mind. I to was raised in the city and never in my wildest dreams would I ever think I would be siding in the poo, but man am I happy I do now. If there were only more people that could see this dream we would all be better for it. Thanks for you wonderful article. You give readers a spark of live that may get them going. Emma Dorsey Commerce GA

Moonbeamsbaby
8/6/2008 9:49:35 AM
You go girl... I'm 50, and in looking back, only wish I had had the guts to dive right in and do it like you have. I'm so proud of you!

Joy Shepard_2
8/3/2008 4:16:31 PM
I really like your article. Do you have any advice for a beginner homesteader like myself?

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