From Nomadic Marine Corps Family to Rooted Modern Homesteaders

Reader Contribution by Sean Mitzel
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“Just don’t do things too quickly, take your time, you don’t want to get overwhelmed.” These are the words we have heard over and over from well-meaning friends and family. Maybe they understood a little more than we did, and maybe that’s a good thing — ignorance is bliss!

Making a Radical Life Change

We were making a radical life change and we are not the type of people to ease our way into it, we jump, with both feet, straight into the deep end, and learn under fire. So here we are, on 40 acres in the mountains of Northern Idaho making a go of it.

I spent 24 years in the Marine Corps. My family was accustomed to a nomadic lifestyle, if we didn’t like where we lived, that’s okay, we’d move soon anyway. Gardening? By the time it got established we were taking off across the country (or the world; our last duty station was in Okinawa, Japan). My days were filled with long hours at work meeting “mission requirements,” long deployments fighting wars for reasons that were ambiguous and unclear at best, basically filled with constant uncertainty (don’t count on anything until orders are in your hand). The only exception to that was our steady and predictable income, and with seven children, that income was a real, tangible benefit. But after years of talking about, planning, searching and purchasing our land, we were ready to trade that security for the unknown challenge of becoming homesteaders.

When we moved here to Idaho a few months ago we didn’t come totally unprepared. Neither my wife nor I had grown up on a farm or learned any “homesteading” type skills; we knew that we needed to get an education. This started several years before we made the move, watching videos, reading books, books and more books and discussing ideas with each other. The closest I came to getting a “formal” education was to take Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Design Course. After I discovered permaculture, I knew this had to be our approach to homesteading.

Planning Homestead Goals

We got here in August of 2014 and we hit the ground running! One of the first things we discovered is how useful my business management degree and all my years as a planner in the Marine Corps are to our homestead success. We have very ambitious, lofty goals and the only way for us to meet them is through serious planning. We have homestead annual planning conferences, quarterly planning, mid-term goals, short-term goals, action plans, weekly meetings, assessment periods…you get the picture.

So, what are our goals? Well, one of our long-term goals (August of 2016) is to produce at least 80 percent of our caloric needs on our homestead in a sustainable way (it will continue to produce with very little input), averaged out over any given week. People may think this goal is unattainable, but we disagree. Is it challenging? You bet. Will we be stretched, busy, sweaty, tired, and dirty? Yep! But we’re working for our goals, our objectives, and our family — it doesn’t get any better than that.

For us, though, getting back to the land means more than just growing our own food. It means unplugging from the system that we’ve been entangled in for many years. We have observed for quite a while the dysfunction of the modern American family. They are no longer close-knit, they send their elderly off to die in old folks’ homes, and they can’t depend on each other for support when they need it (that’s what the government is for, right?) We know we can’t fix all of this but we want to attempt to change what we can, at least in our family. We want our kids to learn self-sufficiency. We want to develop a family economy. We want to provide the opportunity for our kids (all seven of them) to be an integral part of our homestead and any businesses that derive from it, should they choose to do so. This is about leaving a legacy.

Homesteading Is About Building Community

One of the other things that we see as a real problem in our modern culture is the loss of community. In a city of millions and all the available social media sites, no one really knows each other. We are virtual strangers with no real connections. To us, homesteading doesn’t mean isolating ourselves on remote property in order to withdraw from the world. We want community. We want to love our neighbors and develop bonds of mutual benefit. We have found that here. We always knew we couldn’t do this alone. We made great efforts to get to know the people around us when we moved to Idaho. We met our neighbors, we found a food co-op, a local raw dairy farmer, a church, and I enrolled in a forestry short course. We plugged in. This helped immensely. The community was glad to help, and they still are. An important trait for a homesteader is humility. Knowing what you do not know and be willing to ask for help.

We are in the very early stages of implementation. We have started our rabbitry, acquired dairy goats, purchased two pigs to be delivered in a few weeks, planted a variety of productive trees and bushes this last fall, have our annual garden mulched and prepped for spring planting, ordered 39 trees for spring and started a podcast to share everything we are learning. We have exciting plans for 2015 filled with an incredible amount of work; we wake up each day thankful for this opportunity. We would love to share our adventures with all of you!

Check out The Courageous Life Podcast.

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