When Homesteading Hurts

Reader Contribution by Carrie Williams Howe
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The prime summer heat was blazing outside and the garden was calling to me. Elderberry branches bent under the weight of heavy ripe berries that the birds were eyeing. Bush beans were growing larger and larger, soon to be too big to enjoy.  The table downstairs was full of garlic that had completed its drying process and was ready to trim and store for the winter.

My husband had taken the kids for a hike, so I had some alone time that I could have spent doing any one of these chores. Instead, I lay down on my bed with a book and felt my tired body sink into the mattress like it had been waiting all week to do so. Truth is, it had been waiting all week for this moment.

You see, I have a chronic disease, maybe a combination of diseases. It is not life-threatening, but will impact the rest of my life. Test results have varied, pain has come and gone, but there is always something making me tired and sore somewhere in my body. There are days when every muscle in my body aches, like I ran a marathon the day before and somehow forgot about it. There are days when migraines hit for no apparent reason, or when I am inexplicably tired.

I don’t think I’m the only homesteader driven to this lifestyle by a need to manage a chronic disease, and I know of many other homesteaders who struggle (I’m thinking of you all today). Many of us, I think, have chosen this lifestyle not despite our ailments, but because of them.

Part of the reason I choose to homestead is because I know that I need and crave movement most of the time. I fully believe that spending time doing a variety of tasks on my homestead that have me standing, bending, pulling, pushing, and lifting is a much better option than sitting at a desk all day.

Homesteading gets me outside into the fresh clean air and offers access to healthier food that we grow ourselves. It offers the chance to experiment with natural solutions to my ailments like honey, elderberry tonic, and homemade salves.

But I also know that there are going to be days when my body can’t deliver on the promises I have made on its behalf. There are going to be days when I can’t pick the elderberries, can’t carry the big harvest basket full of veggies to the house, can’t drum up the energy to make a batch of salve. Those days, I need to listen to my body and find the time to rest.

These are the days that make me realize that homesteading will probably always be a part-time gig for me. I won’t be able to make a living as a farmer or to spend all day doing manual labor to supply all of the resources that our family needs. That’s why I also appreciate my educational credentials and professional experience. These things allow me to choose what I can do on my homestead and what I can earn money to cover by working outside the homestead. The balance is not always easy to achieve, but its an equilibrium with which I am constantly exploring.

I’ve heard people say that you can’t call yourself a homesteader if you’re not completely self-sufficient, if you’re not living off-grid, or if you aren’t raising animals. But I think that homesteading is a lifestyle that comes in a million varieties. On my blog, Homestead How-To, I collaborate with other homesteaders whose talents and skills complement mine. Together, we fill in the blanks, but none of us have to do it all.

Even if I go to an office a few days a week so that I can buy my meat and eggs from someone else or pay for heat to supplement the wood stove, I still have the spirit of a homesteader. As Rockefeller so aptly put it, I live by the mantra: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I may not always have my health, so I do what I can with what I have at the present moment, and it gives me the joy and satisfaction that so many seek from a self-reliant life. Isn’t that all one can really ask for?

Carrie Williams Howe is a blogger aThe Happy Hive Homestead.  She is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston,Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about learning collaboratively. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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