My best friend from childhood recently reentered my life, the girl I climbed trees, built forts, did crafts and discovered the world with. We were like sisters, our friendship extending beyond the reaches of my memory. As teenagers, though, life interrupted and we inexplicably lost touch.
Now, a decade later, we’re rekindling a friendship that feels as soulful and true as if time were irrelevant. Yet, we’re faced with the opportunity to tell the stories of who we’ve become. For me, this has led to surprising introspection. In telling who I am and what I do, I suddenly feel eccentric, out-there, a sentiment accentuated by the outwardly different paths our lives have taken.
My friend asked where this all comes from– the pursuit of self-sufficiency, the desire to build a homestead.
We both grew up running wild through the apple orchards and cow fields of our little country lane in Northern California. My family raised all sorts of pets and livestock on a picturesque hobby farm. I bottle-fed bummer lambs, lazed atop our friendly bull, and joined 4-H. My mom gardened; my dad clipped the piglets’ teeth. I helped with all the castrating and birthing.
But none of it was about self-sufficiency. We didn’t eat any of our animals, and looked the other way as we sold the pigs and calves to those who would. Most of what we did– an enormous undertaking, I now recognize, by my parents– was primarily to enrich my childhood. And it did, tremendously. Unbelievably.
For me, these experiences were unquestionably the spark. It’s what led me to know, always, that I wanted my own children to grow up like I did, although for much of my life that goal seemed nearly unattainable. Yet here we are.
So, a meandering exploration of the question of why has led me to this:
My soul is most fulfilled when I am crafting, cooking, gardening, writing. Homesteading encapsulates the great joys of life, for me. It’s about home— building, enjoying, and being home. It’s about hard work, the kind that invigorates and satisfies. It’s about finding, creating and recognizing beauty.
This pursuit is also very much about food. I care about food, from source to history to nourishment. But I also care about flavor and immediate enjoyment. We have to eat. Food can be such an immense pleasure, why would one want to waste the opportunity to enjoy something? Food should be prepared with care, savored, shared, and discussed. Food deserves time and effort.
To eat a salad of young wild greens just plucked from the cool earth, topped with homemade chutney and vinegar is an act that can yield true joy. For me, it does. To feed and nurture an animal, to see that it’s life is good and death is quick, to dress it and cook it and eat it– these things are important to me. I value them as a part of my life.
For Our Family
Our daughter is a toddler. Yesterday I walked out into our back field with her and noticed her stop, squat and scowl at the ground. Then she glanced at me for approval. She was imitating me, I realized. She sees me scrutinize the earth, examine the mushrooms, the grass, the young mustard greens. She picks a handful of grass and wrinkles her nose as she inhales deeply the green scent. My daughter already is learning the joys of the minute.
I want our children to care about their surroundings, to appreciate the earth and its capacity to provide. I also want them to discover their own joys as I did. My childhood was about freedom, and I learned voraciously– that is what I want for my kids.
I do not want to go to work for someone else each day to earn money to pay someone else to care for my child, my children, someone else to enjoy their childhoods. I would rather not go to work each day to earn money to pay for food and goods. If there’s a way to work for myself, to raise my children and grow our food, then I would like to explore it.
I want our home to be a rich one– rich in creativity and resourcefulness and discovery. As John Seymour writes in The Concise Guide to Self-Sufficiency, “A true home should be the container for reviving real hospitality, true culture and conviviality, real fun, solid comfort, and above all, real civilization.” I couldn’t agree more.
For Our Community
And as John’s Seymour’s mention of hospitality, we want to share our home, our rewards, our experiences with many. Years ago, before California, we regularly cooked and ate with groups of friends and family who relish the food, drink and boisterous company as much as we do. We dream of expanding our Sunday dinners and hosting great cookouts.
Homesteading is not necessarily about total self-sufficiency, but rather freedom from the greater system. Neighbors and comrades are important elements of marvelously productive homesteads as sources of knowledge, support, labor and goods. The more people who can share in the pleasures of hard work and good harvest, the more joy may be dispersed.
For The Earth
The damage we humans are inflicting on the planet is becoming horrifically obvious. Natural resources continue to become scarce as we consume carelessly and excessively. We’re seeing the extinction of wildlife, permanent loss of glaciers, and irreversible pollution of the ocean, soil and groundwater.
So many of us continue to think in the short term, looking at the immediate monetary bottom line. I see it here in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where the next Dust Bowl is imminent as the causes of the original catastrophic event have been repeated almost step for step– just with more chemical pollution. The U.S. Geological Survey calls the Valley the “largest human alteration of the Earth’s surface.”
And we’re polluting our food system. In some cases this affects just the unwitting or indifferent consumer– those who routinely eat processed and “conventionally grown” foods– and in others the entire future, as genetically engineered seed and animals infiltrate the broader ecosystem.
Rather than allowing these pervasive issues to fuel my cynicism, I try to let them fuel my efforts to affect change. On a small scale, this means lightening my carbon footprint, removing myself from the consumer puppet show, and voting with my dollar. If we buy, we buy organic, as much to represent demand and encourage growth of organic industries as for the immediate benefits of a given organic product to us.