Our desire to homestead stemmed largely from our love of real food and simple living.
I can recall the day the idea first took hold in my mind. I was in bed with a cold, propped up on pillows reading about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in Bon Appetit magazine. I remember thinking “What an amazing concept. I want to do this.”
At that time we had just moved to an older home with a smaller yard, a far cry from the large acreage one would need to in order to pull off something akin to Fearnley’s River Cottage. But the idea continued to grow, and we spent many evenings on our back porch looking out over our tiny vegetable and herb garden thinking: “Wouldn’t it be cool if… ?”
Then, almost overnight, our older neighborhood began to change for the worse. Although we loved the home and had just restored the kitchen, we realized sadly we could not stay there. We've never fit well in the typical suburban neighborhood and in wondering where we should go, our farm daydreams resurfaced once again. We began to do a little research and saw that making that dream a reality was within reach. We located some land in a small rural town we loved, had a small pole barn built and finished out as a home, and made the transition from city life to country living.
We plunged into country living with all the enthusiasm of a new Labrador puppy. Before we had fully moved in — even before our home was fully finished — we had begun the makings of what would eventually become a 3,000 square foot garden. We made plans to sell our produce at the local market. We rebuilt the pond at the front of our property and began work on a chicken coop. We placed an order for eight Rhode Island Red chicks to be picked up the following spring.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of having lived at what we now call Black Fox Homestead. You can read in more in detail about what brought us to the country here, and more about the ups and downs of that first year here. It has been a momentous year for us, one we will never forget, and the most rewarding year of our nearly ten years together. It has also been a year of great change and transition — some changes and transitions smoother than others.
In those months before the move, I wish I could have had someone sit down with me over a cup of tea, someone who had been there and done that, someone who had faced what we were preparing to take on. I wish someone had told me something along these lines… I don’t know how closely I would have listened, but some of this advice might have made those changes and transitions a little bit easier.
1. You don’t have to do it all at once.
I started our homestead with great plans and ambitions.
I wanted my home functional and organized within weeks of moving in. I wanted to start a small business. I wanted to make a quilt. I wanted to start an award winning blog. I wanted a pretty garden. I wanted to can all our own vegetables and sit down every evening to healthy, home cooked comfort food. I wanted to landscape our front yard. I wanted a clothes line. I wanted chickens, I wanted a mini cow, I wanted goats, I wanted a barn cat, I wanted a livestock guardian dog. And I wanted all of that…. yesterday.
With all the opportunities that life in the country offered, I quickly began to feel overwhelmed and teetered on the edge of a burnout.
I wish someone had told me:
Start small. Pace yourself. As you gain knowledge and skill, add a few things at a time. Choose one area, such as canning or chickens, and focus on that. Make long term goals for your homestead. Owning a herd of mini cattle may not be realistic right now — but what is? How can you break that goal down into smaller, achievable steps?
2. Cut yourself a lot of slack.
Homemaking skills were not new to me. We had a nice little potager in our urban backyard that had supplied our kitchen pretty regularly with seasonal herbs and produce.
Homemaking and gardening in the country, however, are quite different. For one thing, our gardening zone changed. Even though we only moved about 40 miles east, the cold seemed colder and the hot seemed hotter. Things that had grown beautifully for me before now seemed to struggle along. I did not anticipate the learning curve; and it was a steep one, one that will take a few seasons to master.
The other thing was the dirt and critters. We seem to deal with a lot of spiders and insects in ways that I hadn’t before. I felt that I would dust and clean one day, only to discover that the spiders had set up housekeeping overnight. With much work to do outside, dirt and debris are frequently tracked into the house.
My stress levels decreased considerably when I finally gave myself permission to cut myself a lot of slack. If worms got to the lettuce (and they did), I’d feed the wormy remains to the chickens and make a note to use floating row covers as protection next time. If the beans didn’t get harvested and frozen (and they didn’t), I’d leave them on the vine to dry and we’d use them for seed. If produce that was harvested went soft before we could eat it, into the compost bin it went. It isn’t the ideal situation that I had in mind, but it works for now — and nothing is wasted.
As far as the house goes, ::sigh:: we just learn to live with a certain amount of dust and cobwebs. There are seasons where I can maintain a routine and keep everything clean and sparkling the way I like it. There are seasons that I can’t. I have to prioritize. When the tomatoes are ripe and needing to be picked and preserved, a clean floor isn’t at the top of my agenda.
3. Life is just different. Give yourself time to get used to it.
Having spent five years in foreign missions, I often experienced culture shock going back and forth between a third world country and the United States. I did not expect this to happen moving just forty miles east from the city in which I had been born — but it did.
Life in the country is different. It just is. People relate differently, things move at a slower pace, the scenery (while charming) is not what you are used to.
Our home in the city was close to downtown. It was not unusual to sip our morning tea watching emergency vehicles and city buses pass by the kitchen window. Now we view the neighbor’s cows and struggle to identify the heavy machinery that slooooooowly travels down the road during harvest season.
Before, the local grocery was within a simple five minute drive (if that) and the shelves were stocked with the kinds of organic, natural brands I liked to use. Here, we have no local grocery. None. The grocery store closest to us is about a twenty minute drive and the organic, natural brands… well, there aren’t many.
The local newspaper is tiny, about the same size as the classified ads section of the larger city paper, and the front page news this past week featured the winners of the annual hay bale decorating competition.
None of this is bad. Simplicity was the goal we were after. We absolutely love our small town without a grocery that decorates hay bales. But all this transition did create a sense of dissonance for which I was not prepared. It took time to adjust.
4. Slow down and take the time to revel in your successes.
I am a doer. There is definitely more Martha in me than Mary. I want to plow though breakfast and laundry so I can get to the garden, and then I want to plow through that. It took me some time to realize that I had forgotten the whole point of us moving to the county in the first place. I had simply brought the rush, rush, hurry, get it done attitude from our city life with me. In my rush and hurry, in my discouragement over a garden that wasn’t growing the way I thought it should, or a house that was more often dirty than clean, I was overlooking some really beautiful things that were happening.
Yes, there were certain things that just weren’t growing as well in the country. But the flip side of that was also true. There were a lot of things we were starting to enjoy from our country garden that I could never get to grow in the city: carrots, cucumbers, zucchini. Each time I was in the garden and harvested something — anything — I would force myself to look at it and take it in. “We planted these seeds, and look what happened!”
My husband took the time to install a clothes line off the back porch. On warm, sunny days I make myself slow down and take out a wicker basket of fresh, damp laundry where I hang it to dry. I try not to see it as a chore but instead take the time to pin each item while watching the scissortail fly catchers, the turtles on the pond, and the wind through the tall grass.
I take pride that here we’ve established our home. A year ago this was nothing but an empty field.
What about you? What obstacles did you face when establishing your homestead? What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
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