I’ll say up front that I am a huge fan of Jenna Woginrich’s work. I read her blog, Cold Antler Farm, regularly, and her first book, “Made from Scratch” is well-worn and has a place of honor on my bookshelf.
“Barnheart” takes the ideas Woginrich espoused in “Made from Scratch” (growing your own food, keeping animals, making your own clothes, etc.) to a whole new level. In it, Woginrich relates the story of her own journey from a homesteader farming on borrowed land to a full-fledged farmer with acreage in what she calls “Veryork.” Her story is as harrowing (at least to this urban homesteader) as any mystery novel: misunderstandings over livestock, eviction, time running out on finding a home for both farmer and livestock —- these are things that would keep any of us up at night.
Throughout the book, Jenna’s yearning for a place of her own, a place to put down deep, strong roots, is palpable. She calls Barnheart an affliction, and describes it early on in the book:
“It’s a sharp, targeted depression, a sudden overcast feeling that hits you while you’re at work or standing in the grocery store checkout line. It’s a dreamer’s disease, a mix of hope, determination, and grit. It attacks those of us who wish to god that we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses, instead of sitting in front of a computer screen.”
Later on, she says:
“The symptoms are mild at first. You start reading online homesteading forums and shopping at cheese-making supply sites on your lunch break. ….Somehow, somewhere along the way you realize that you’re happiest when you’re weeding the garden or collecting eggs from the henhouse. It’s all downhill from there.”
Sound familiar? I know she described me, to a T.
While Woginrich’s own story is about the struggle to settle down on a piece of land in the country, I read it as an urban homesteader, and was still just as affected. We urban homesteaders likely don’t have a barn, a horse, and a pig or two in our future. But gardens, chickens, maybe some bees? Many of us can do that. If chickens or bees are out of the question, what about rabbits? Rabbit poop is great for the garden. Livestock! Why not become a worm rancher, and raise composting worms for your own use, and maybe to sell to others?
It took me some time to recognize my own particular version of Barnheart for what it was. I believed, as many of us do, that a life in the country was the only way to go. But I live in the Detroit area, and I love it here. I’ve lived here my whole life and realized that the thought of leaving this area for somewhere else felt like leaving part of myself behind — a good, strong part; a part that makes me, ME. So we’re staying. And when I realized that I’ve had my own piece of heaven, my own homestead all this time and just didn’t realize it….I can’t explain how that feels. Maybe the closest thing is the way we felt on Christmas morning as kids, getting amazing gifts we never even could have dreamed of.
Barnheart afflicts all of us who want a more authentic, more complete life. Grow a garden where you are. If your dream is life in the country, go for it. But look at what you already have, too. You may find that the roots you’ve set down are so deep that nothing can tear you away. You’ve been living the good life all along, and there’s nothing but opportunity stretched before you.
Enjoy the ride.