Over the last couple of weeks I have become involved in a couple of conversations that have really gotten me thinking deeply about my motivation for living the lifestyle that I do. I was raised on a farm in SW Missouri and, though we weren’t necessarily living to be self-sufficient, we worked hard. We lived a life in the rural Ozarks, raising beef cattle, hogs and chickens. We put up hay, raised an occasional field of oats or wheat, and combined fescue seed on two small farms totaling 180 acres. My mother raised a garden some years for fresh and home canned food, but didn’t necessarily plant a large garden every year to avoid going to the grocery store. I learned to drive a tractor before I could push the clutch without standing on it, and my morning routine almost always included feeding some of the animals before leaving for school in the Fall and Winter. My summers were spent in the hay fields or harvesting seed.
When I married in 1983, I joined a family that was also a farming family that raised their own beef and grew large gardens. My mother-in-law quickly took me under her wing and taught me to both water bath can and pressure can the many fruits and vegetables that were grown or foraged on the farm. One of the things we purchased with money we were given as wedding gifts was pressure canner, and my grandmother gifted me her jelly pot and water bath canner that she no longer used since moving to town. Both my grandfathers grew tomatoes, green beans and peppers in their yards in the city. My husband and his family enjoyed hunting. This was not a sport for them, but was a way to put meat on the table. Their freezers were always full of fish as well as venison and the occasional wild turkey in addition to home raised beef, pork and chicken.
After our children were born, and I finished college, I went to work full time. I was a public school teacher so I still had most the summer months to devote to gardening and we had a garden most years. After a few years, I got caught up in the chaos of working full time, raising children and running a business. I gardened a little here and there, but I didn’t can much. I discovered Aldi’s Supermarket and Sam’s Club and didn’t concern myself with doing for ourselves. I changed careers, and became a paramedic, working away from home 24 and 48 hours at a time. Our children grew up and started families of their own. I tell you all this so that you will understand that I have had many years experience in some elements of the modern homesteading lifestyle, however there are other areas that I knew nothing about just a few years ago. Not only did I not know much about these areas, but I wasn’t concerned about the fact that most of our food came from the stores or that we were spending money on things we did not need or paying someone to do things that we could be doing ourselves much cheaper. There is a time to pay someone for their work, time and expertise, but there is also a time to do for yourself.
A few years ago, as the grandchildren got a bit older, and quality time became more important, Papa and I both felt a pull to get back to basics; back to the way we were raised; back to doing for ourselves, back to healthy eating and healthy living. And so life has progressed on a circular path. We are now the grandparents, the older generation who the children and grand children come to for advice and guidance. They want US to share the “old ways” with them. What lead us back to this point? It was many things and nothing in particular.
- Finances: I began to feel a real financial stress. The more money I made, the more money we spent. We bought on credit, had multiple small loans and a mortgage on the farm. The harder I worked, the more hours I spent away from home, the more hours were necessary to pay the bills. It was time to break that cycle of spending and start a cycle of providing. Providing what we really needed, not spending money to buy what we didn’t need. Our lives were simplified. Unnecessary items were repurposed or given away. Clutter was cleared. Time was created. Not enough, yet, but progress is being made.
- Less Pressure: I began to realize that all the “stuff” we were accumulating was not necessary to a happy life. Life was much more than material things to be collected. Yes, to fit into modern society, there was pressure to own a lot of stuff, but that stuff did not do anything to make my life meaningful. I realized I could do without much of the stuff that surrounded me. In fact, I was much more content when I started getting rid of a lot of the stuff sat around doing nothing but making it harder to keep my house clean as it served no purpose other than collecting dust. I wanted to own less, work less and have more time with family and friends.
- Better health: With age came health concerns. Typical concerns with getting older, gaining weight, and staying in good physical condition were more important to me. I knew that one way to address these concerns was to eat wholesome foods and to do that economically, gardening was an important factor. Raising our own meat, that we new was not laden with steroids, antibiotics and other chemicals was equally important. Avoiding processed foods, eating at home, and avoiding chemicals are all a part of that change in habits.
- Yearning for learning: I have always loved to learn and master something new. Everyday on the homestead teaches me something. But other than daily life lessons, I have learned many new skills. Beekeeping, deep mulch gardening, yogurt and cheese making, rabbit husbandry, incubating eggs, raising quail, rendering lard, curing bacon, making vinegar, herbal remedies and brewing kombucha are just a few of the new things I have learned over the last few years and continue to learn about every day. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know and the more I want to learn. I find great personal satisfaction in accomplishing new things.
- Teaching and helping others: With the recent movement toward “homesteading” and back-to-basics lifestyles, there are a multitude of people that have a desire to learn the skills that I take for granted. By getting back to the lifestyle I know and love, I am also in the position to teach others how to life a life that provides for ones self, and all the benefits that go along with doing it for yourself. No matter what your current situation is, there are ways to become less dependent on others. I can help people learn those ways.
- Need to belong: I’ve never belonged to the “in crowd”. In fact, I spent my high school years desiring to fit into a group of girls that I just never quite fit with. As I started my career in teaching, I was quickly looked upon as a leader, but I didn’t feel like one. I felt removed, isolated and not myself when I was trying so hard to be the right person for the moment. But when I am at home in my garden, with my animals, in my canning kitchen, I feel content. It becomes more clear to me why, when I was 8, my friends were playing with Barbies, while I was making them coordinating outfits. Why I was learning to knit potholders and dishcloths for my Grandma, while my classmates were having slumber parties. Why as a teenager, I was sewing my own clothes and already knew how to knit, crochet, embroidery and loved making gifts for family and friends. Looking back, many of those gifts were a bit cheesy, but they were from the heart, my by own hands with love. I was odd, older than my age, different than others but fit perfectly into this homestead lifestyle. This lifestyle belongs to me, and I belong in it.
- Preparation for hard times: One of the things on the minds of many today is “what if…” Those two words are followed by many things…..”what if our economy collapses?”…”what if our country goes to war?”….”what if we are the victims of terroristic attack?”…”what if the power grid fails for days?”….”what if I lose my job?”… From simple natural disasters to all out apocalypse and everything in between, the questions that have people restless have some validity. Though any of those events will be life altering, it is good to know that I will be able to provide the necessities of survival….food and shelter. When it comes right down to it, food, water and shelter will get you through just about anything. Am I prepared for the apocalypse? No. Do I think it will happen. No. Will I be able to feed my family if a natural disaster takes out our power for two weeks? Absolutely. You can’t prepare for every event, and I refuse to live my life preparing for “doomsday”, but I do plan to be able to take care of my family for a length of time, given an unforeseen incident. Any large event can create hard times, so that is what I prepare for. I can help others learn to do the same.
With all this said, let me be clear that there are as many ways to life this lifestyle as there are people to live it. Everyone’s life is their own. No ones life looks like anyone else’s. There is no right way to live this life, and there is no wrong way, but this is another blog post altogether. I will continue to utilize modern technology to do the basic tasks for my family. I still work a 60 hour a week job, so I still buy some things from the grocery store. I get tired and go out to eat rather than cook. We will hire our solar electric system installed. Due to Papa’s illness last year, we no longer have a milk cow and the fresh dairy items that went with her. I buy raw from a local farmer when I can, but I also stock up on butter when it’s on sale and buy milk in a plastic jug. Does that make me any less a “homesteader”. I think not, and my thoughts about my life are what are important to me. So, disrespect me if you must. Discourage me from doing the best I can with what I have. It won’t hurt me bit and it won’t change my mind. In fact, I will take it as a compliment that my life is so intriguing to you that you must find fault. And for those of you who question whether you are truly a homesteader, of course you are! If you are developing new ways to care for yourself and your family that allow you more independence, then you are absolutely a homesteader. Don’t let anyone tell you differently, or that you are doing it wrong. The original homesteaders set out to find a way to provide a life for their families in a new way, in unchartered territory, with no rules other than to keep doing their best and stay committed for a length of time. That is exactly what I am doing and so are you. Welcome to my life, Homesteader, may we help each other grow through it.