Friday, October 1, 2010


The other day I was at Wayside—paying at the register for my morning coffee—and the two men ahead of me in line walked out the front door and scoffed at my truck's tailgate. "Cold Antler Farm!?" they said, with that tone reserved for every out-of-stater who buys land, gets some chickens, and names their backyard. They meant nothing harmful, they were just bemused. I smiled with them. (The fact I own a small farm is still incredulous to even me.) If you're a fourth generation dairy man and grew up on the lap of your dad's John Deere: you might find a Ford Ranger with a magnetic sign on the back...euphemistic. I smiled with them, but it took me a while to get to that point. For some new farmers though it can be downright unsettling: feeing a like a butt of a cosmic joke or a worn stereotype.

It's this experienced-local-vs-new-beginner divide that seems to make many a new farmer or homesteader uncomfortable. After all, if you're fresh from an urban back-lot and are more familiar with hot dog vendor umbrellas than breeds of laying have good reason to feel a little separated from the locals. I have been doing this a few years and I can share this certainty:

Don't. Do not let who you are presently get in the way of who you want to be. Embrace it and let it become part of what's ahead.

When I first moved from Knoxville to Sandpoint, Idaho: it bothered me a lot. I was thriving in a warm and social city in the Southeast. Moving to a frigid logging town of 5,000 was a culture shock, to say the least. Those first months going to the Co-op to buy chicken feed and rabbit pellets felt like a girl acting in the role of "Hopeful Homesteader" on a movie set, and not my real life. It was all so foreign: the lingo, the clothing, the words printed on the feed bags like another language. I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

I realized I had to decide to either be intimidated by the experienced farmers all around me or sidle up next to them and join in. I thought if I smiled, listened more than I spoke, and was polite I could at least learn something by osmosis. It turned out to be true, and slowly over the months I learned facts, stories, remedies, names, and tips the way you slowly pick up the Indian names for yoga poses if you go to enough classes because you're too stubborn to give up. I made close friends with a local sustainable farmer and spent hours at her farm learning the difference between honey bees' careers and pellet vs crumbled layer rations. It all rises to the top if you soak in it long enough.

Moving to the country is not an identity shift, it's a lifestyle change. You're still you regardless of what your zip code states. You can come here and worry that you don't fit in or that the people at Agway won't be friendly, but you're probably underestimating their apathy. You'll be "the new guy" for a while, sure, but that's not a bad thing. It's a clean slate, a chance to start every conversation with a smile. Unless your new neighbors were sorting seed potatoes on the Mayflower: they probably had someone in their lines start out as the new guy too. It's not a bad place to be.

If you want to be a local, then here's how. Move to a new place. Walk outside. Inhale. Exhale. Congratulations, as far as the IRS and post office are concerned: you're a citizen of your new town. It's that easy. If people give you a hard time and purposefully exclude, mock, or ignore a new person based entirely on their virginal status: then so be it. It's more a reflection of their own unhappiness or self-doubt than your character. Bake them a pie. All they can do is push it into your face, which is comic genius.

Belonging is a state of mind. Being part of something outside yourself can only start if you've already made it a part of what's inside you. It doesn't matter if it's your Bible Study class or your first day at a horse auction: communities are communities. When you, just little old you, accept the fact that you're a part of it your entire self relaxes into your new role and everyone else believes it too. Trust me on this one.

As for me, I do yoga among chickens. You haven't even begun to understand balance till a pullet launches and roosts on your Vrksasana. And I say that as a goddamned local of Washington County New York. If that made you cringe, come over and have some pie. We'll deal together.


Blogger Amy McPherson Sirk said...

Excellent advice. Unfortunately I live in a place where you will never be a local unless you were born here. I've decided that within the boundaries of my property line all is right with the world. Inclusion is a luxury we don't all get. I've learned to accept it. In the meantime I sure do grow some lovely produce.

October 1, 2010 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger rachel whetzel said...

I've lived in that place Amy is talking about. Fortunately for me, we moved, and I went outside, and took a breath. :) What kinda pie 'you servin'?

October 1, 2010 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger laura said...

Great Advice, Jenna. It reminds me of something I discovered as an unpopular kid in school. I don't need someone's permission to be who I am. Maybe one day they'll grow up enough to like me. If not, their loss. I've taken that lesson with me from Maryland to Florida and now Virginia. Lead with a smile, then relax and be yourself.

October 1, 2010 at 11:04 PM  
Blogger Fresh Eggs Farm said...

Jenna - thank you for letting all of us feel human. We are so close to being able to get our own "farm"...our little, tiny, baby farm.
So I have a question...we are thinking of having a couple sheep on our property...strictly for wool. Enough to keep me busy with projects...Any suggestions regarding breed? I know to some people that question might be like asking "which kid do you like best?" but any input you can offer would be great.
Or if any other readers have suggestions I'm open to hearing them!

October 1, 2010 at 11:37 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

Good thing I'm bringing pie tomorrow!

October 1, 2010 at 11:43 PM  
Blogger Moose Nugget said...

"Beloning" is such a relative term anyway... I can say for a fact that as a new farmer, I might not belong YET among the seasoned fellas here, but I also sure as shoot don't "belong" in my old Washington DC suburbian neighborhood.
I'm stuck somewhere between lattes at Starbucks at 9:00 am and percolated coffee at the "local farmer" hangout.
My "Little Farm on the Tundra" is mostly accepted by helpful farmers (who also bought a couple acres and named it). I get a handful of bemused grins, the message clearly understated- "We'll see, farmgirl". And only a few nay-sayers who can always one-up me, or point out how "not real" my homestead is. (Ironically, this happens in knitting groups as well- until someone else new comes along, I'm never gonna be a "real" knitter or have enough experience to knit with the big girls.)
The thing is... I'm stubborn. I keep showing up. I share eggs and gluten free coffee cakes. I keep showing up with my very real hand-kniting socks, and keep asking the helpfuls for how-to help.

I might not be an old hand, but I'm a persistent one.

October 1, 2010 at 11:50 PM  
Blogger Infinite Possibilities said...


You are the most awesome chick ever! I just love the way you write and love even more the way you think! AND...I'd love to have you over for pie someday if you're ever in Northern California. :)


October 2, 2010 at 12:02 AM  
Blogger Mud Mama said...

Oh Jenna, I live in a town with 4 last names...and we're those people who bought one of those family's ancestoral first home. Let me tell you, EVERYONE has something to say about EVERYTHING we do here!

But along with the pursed lips and tutting about our fence choices and our piles of building supplies, are those that don't knock (hey its grandma's house still!) and show up in my kitchen with invites to oxen pulls and others who'll drop by with a much needed ladder, and others who'll actually help dig those fence post holes.

Everyone finds their place, even those of us with the strange unpronounceable last names!

WONDERFUL wisdom in this post!

October 2, 2010 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Mama said...

I live on the West Coast. Everyone is new here, no matter if their family came here 10 years ago or one hundred. It's just the West, we're all new. I agree with everything you say. Plant some stuff, bake a pie, go mingle at the market or the sheep show or whatever. What matters is that you are doing what you need to do. It doesn't hurt anyone and in the long run it probably helps a lot more than just you. Stick to your guns, smile a little smile, and keep plugging on. How the heck do they think their ancestors did it?

October 2, 2010 at 1:00 AM  
Blogger SouthernHeart said...

Remember the scene in Baby Boom when Diane Keaton is driving into Vermont with New York plates on her station wagon? The two crusty old fellows sitting on the porch of the local general store check out the plates as she drives by and seem to snort a bit...harumph! If you haven't seen it, you must. It's not a farm but an apple orchard and the byproduct of it she has. GREAT film and I think you'd identify and love it!


October 2, 2010 at 1:11 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

That was a good post, Jenna!

October 2, 2010 at 1:54 AM  
Blogger victorholmes02 said...

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October 2, 2010 at 2:27 AM  
Blogger Louis said...

Now you know how Tasty feels stuck in the pasture while Sal and Maude gossip about him.

But seriously, it's very kind of you to defend the guys who laughed at you, or your farm, or your truck. Well, I think they are jerks.

There are so many aspects of rural life to admire, but the prevalent xenophobia is not one of them. Anyone who has been there less than 30 years is considered some kind of carpetbagger, buying up all the good land and driving up everyone else's property taxes.

I am moving to upstate NY soon, and I expect the same treatment unfortunately.

October 2, 2010 at 2:38 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

Jenna, how beautiful. Thank you for this, I needed to hear it today! I've been talking to someone else about what you wrote, and realised (and this is quite embarrassing) that the reason I don't do musical things at all any more - is because I am surrounded by musicians...

(I'm laughing now, it's so ludicrous!)

So, in the spirit of yourself, I shall take up my flute, take a deep breath, sidle up to some of my friends, and *listen*. And perhaps I'll even bake a pie or two :)

October 2, 2010 at 5:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're bang on, Jenna. It's all about your best shot, and usually, when it comes to 'fitting' in, that's enough.
We live in a similar farming community (island, more like) where everyone knows your name.
Some newbies leave within a few years, stating that the locals are unfriendly and snobby.
Others, like us, are accepted and cared for right away, and I thank the stars every day for our wonderful neighbors, one of them a big dairy farmer who has graced us with his help.
Yes, I've gotten the little 'smiles' that smack of mockery but I am who I am, and those people almost always end up being a friend (relatively speaking, lol).
Great post!

October 2, 2010 at 7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I moved to the country from the city I kept to myself for the most part. I got involved at my kids' school and helped my husband coach soccer, but for the most part kept all my chicken/produce skills to myself. I did what you describe Jenna. I sat back, listened, soaked it all in. Nodded, smiled, impressed the local farm men with my abilities to carry 2 50lb bags of food at the same time and just waited. I waited and soon enough THEY became curious about this new girl on the block. After a few conversations with these local men some of them decided to compliment me on my level of knowledge. It came as a surprise, but it felt GREAT! I just go into things with a "I'll show em" attitude. It all seems to work out. It is the generational difference that is harder to over come around here.

October 2, 2010 at 8:42 AM  
Blogger m said...

Everything about this post resonated with me except one point. Even those on the Mayflower were new to the Americas! Let's not forget the Indigenous peoples were here long before the outsiders barged in.

October 2, 2010 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Stargazer 2 said...

P. S. A Very Happy Seat Weaver!!!

October 2, 2010 at 12:07 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

It just doesn't happen where you live. Last week I got 30 Cornish Jumbo x chicks from Missouri. They were past their 72 hour yolk absorption time by the time I got them in Maine and many were fading fast. I called the hatchery and the girl told me to go to the feed store and get sulpha something or other. I was having a hard time with the accent. She said all the dairy farmers and pig farmers use it so every feed store has it. I told her she didn't understand. This isn't a dairy or pig farm area. This is an area where a lot of people raise their own eggs, turkeys, meat birds and rabbits to avoid the agribusiness meats. There was a pregnant pause and then she said,"Oh,do you have any apple cider vinegar"? to which I replied in the affirmative. She said that would help them. I ended up losing 11 and was told by an organic meat chicken farmer to next time give them molasses in their first water.

October 2, 2010 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Cheryl said...

Crotchety locals! Back in the day I lived in the mountains of Colorado and we (the locals) would call tourists "Gapers". Their mouths gaped open at every view. The sad part is, after 3 years in the mountains I didn't see the mountains anymore.
No matter where you are,
Bloom where you're planted and never stop following your heart!

October 2, 2010 at 2:25 PM  
Blogger leafonatree said...

"Belonging is a state of mind."
Thanks, I needed that.

October 2, 2010 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger April said...

Thank you for this.

October 2, 2010 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

I have the feeling that you're pretty damn good at belonging, no matter where you find yourself.

October 2, 2010 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger The Bunny Girl said...

Sometimes belonging doesn't happen where you are. Living in Orange County, California and deciding you want to farm seem to go together ike oil and water. My house has tons of Hobby Farm Home and Hobby Farm magazines laying around with dog eared pages. Not a lot of people understand it and eventually my husband and I have kept it to ourselves. We hope to belong somewhere, someday but where we are right now we just have to be content to dream.

October 3, 2010 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Sally said...

You are a peach! Keep on keepin' on. You are an inspiration. I love you and your farm.

October 3, 2010 at 8:41 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I married a man who moved around his entire childhood and was always the new kid, and due to various family and life circumstances, I never felt I fit in anywhere either. Until us. I know it sounds romantic and dopey but I think you can create your own world in your house and just be civil and reasonably pleasant to everyone else (who, once you get to know them, usually feel they don't fit in anywhere either, I have discovered). As for snide farmers - meh, they're just jealous of your cool sign :)

October 3, 2010 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

You asked a couple of posts back what people were here for - well, I'm here for posts like this! Not because I'm planning to start a farm, but because I am also trying to take my life in a new direction that involves a steep learning curve and a lot of risk, and I'm inspired by knowing there are other people out there attempting the same thing.

October 4, 2010 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Knute Rife said...

A man moved to a small town with his parents when he was two years old and lived the rest of his 90-odd years there. When he died, they put on his tombstone, "He was almost one of us."

October 7, 2010 at 10:27 PM  

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