Sunday, November 21, 2010

over our heads?

Some one recently put up a review of Made From Scratch on Amazon and pointed out something I never really considered. There are a lot of folks publishing books and blogs on urban homesteading or small-farming adventures right now. From Barbara Kingsolver's family odyssey in rural Virginia to the authors of The Urban Homestead in California. People of all ages, locations, and interests are jumping into their own food production. But what this reviewer wanted to remind folks was that not many of this new crop of homesteaders are single. Certainly few seem to have off-farm jobs. In fact, she couldn't think of another modern homesteader with a book or blog that was going it alone. I thought about this and decided that can't be true, can it? Many of my blog readers are single, many have their own farms. But it does seem like the farmers in the lime light have a spouse or family in the picture.

I guess people assume it's too much? I think it depends on how much you love it though, and how bad you suffer from Barnheart. I don't think my life would suit a lot of people, simply because of the restrictions it puts on the single person. For me, the work of the farm is nothing compared to the social fall out of being a farmer. Dating is hard. Picking up to travel is out of the question. It strains on my family, work, and I no longer belong to a church like I did in Tennessee. But again, the good things about running a farm outweigh the bad ten-to-one. I mean, I think staying late at the office is too much, and yet there are people who practically camp out there. I think twenty minutes of algebra is too much and hard as hell, but there are folks who adore math and made it their careers. Which brings me to this question, which is much more interesting than the single-vs-team aspect of homesteading. Do you think people with no interest in farming are drawn to homesteading because it has become a green trend? Do you think folks who perhaps have no desire to take on that amount of work, and maybe aren't the best suited to country living, are jumping in over their heads? And if they are, do you think a handmade life makes them better people in the end, or just frustrates the hell out of them?

47 Comments:

Blogger Jeremy said...

I think it runs both ways. I had friends who dove in head first, tried to do to many things at once, got frustrated, gave up, and moved to the south west.... FROM VERMONT!
I think alot of people like to romantic idea, but don't appreciate the practical necessities of a farm and livestock.

My wife and I have a half acre lot in Middlebury, Vermont, that is bordered by a large farm and woods. On this 1/2 acre, and some land bartered from the neighbor, we raise 60 chickens and ducks, grow a huge garden that we preserve for the winter, and buck split and stack all of our own firewood for heat. But it is ALOT of work.

I serve on the community garden and energy groups, and when I try to get folks interested in these actual applications, they aren't real keen to try it. People love to talk about these things, but when they actually have to do the work, alot of folks loose interest pretty darn quick.

November 21, 2010 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

You guys should come over some time for brunch, love to meet other homesteaders in the area.

And maybe you're right. But do you think it's the trend (I can't believe raising backyard meat is a trend..) that brings them in?

November 21, 2010 at 9:00 AM  
Blogger farmgirljen said...

I think, like a lot of things, it is the flavor of the month. People are frustrated by things they can't control (like politics) so when they see something that looks positive and like something they can do, some give it a shot. But I agree with Jeremy. I think there are folks out there who get ideas in their heads and jump in without thinking it through. I grew up on a farm and never thought I'd ever go back.
But after meeting my husband (who was a bachelor at age 48 when I met him, so don't give up hope), I've become the typical farm wife in a way. I've been canning, gardening. Hell, I even butcher chickens now (which amuses my parents no end, as when I was younger I would never consider doing such a thing). I do still hold a full-time job, but as I am a teacher, I have time off during the summer to pull off my second job - mowing, weeding, taking care of strawberry beds, raspberries, chickens, helping string electric fence for cattle -- A LOT of work. But I LOVE it! Trend it may be, but only those who are not faint of heart need apply for the long haul, as you have done.
In the 70s there was a back to the land movement which a lot of people tried, and many stuck with it. But a lot more didn't. In our culture, people find the concept of personal sacrifice a pretty tough row to hoe these days, and do really do this, you have to give up a lot, not that I see that as a bad thing. I just read an article in the NY Times about the couple that winnowed down to 100 items and live in a 400 square foot apartment. That's a little much for me, but the idea of living with less and making it more meaningful is something I've rolled around in my head a long time. So downsizing my stuff and picking up my fiddle again after 20+ years are becoming things that make me happier. If this is my trend, then good for me. And I'm glad you talk about these topics, because I think there are a lot of folks out there who are interested and just afraid to move toward this. You show everyone that it can be done and you can be happy doing it. Whether you refer to yourself as a homesteader or a farmer or whatever, I hope this trend becomes more of the norm. I think it would be good for our culture and our country.

November 21, 2010 at 9:16 AM  
Blogger Amy McPherson Sirk said...

I'm also doing this on my own. I recently attended a Local Food Conference where other producers gave presentations about what they do. It all sounded great but they have spouses and an army of sons to help out. I'm doing well to just get my laundry done from week to week. We do what we can and let go of the rest. Farming is work. Its great work and I love it.

November 21, 2010 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Therese T. said...

I definitely think it's a big leap, not a snap-easy choice. My husband and I definitely think that. And the times, they are a-changing, to what end, we do not know, but the more self-sufficient we are, the better, I think. On that end, I don't think you have to be coupled to homestead. You are a prime (and shining) example. However, as you know, farm work is not easy, and in its difficulty, I think it builds community (which we lack right now). So I hope it's not a trend, but some people may be looking at doing it because of all the "cool shows" like The Beekman Boys and all the great books that make it look fun (like Urban Homestead). I still think (and hope) it boils down to looking deep into ourselves and asking if this is right for us, though. And if it is or not, then more power to us, but we the point is coming to that decision, I think.

November 21, 2010 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

This post makes my anxiety level rise as I a single 58 year old woman am headed to Oklahoma to run a 300+ acre 100+ calf cow ranch on my own. But my friend did it on her own when she set it up 7 years ago. So I have an example of some one proceeding me and I have the advantage of her knowledge to keep me going. And I have your example too Jenna.

I am not kidding myself, I know life will be very different from the suburbs of the San Francisco bay and California, but when this is your life's dream to raise something wild and unruly and it makes your heart sing you know that you are divinely guided. As you say "barnheart" is a strong drive not to be ignored.

So I am headed back to my chore of packing to head off to the wild open spaces and a great adventure.

Rosann
SF bay area
California (until I am packed)

November 21, 2010 at 9:41 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I think it's a bit of both. I think a lot of people have turned to homesteading as a green trend. The ones I know who did this were concerned about food safety mostly. It seemed for a while there you couldn't buy anything at the grocery store that was really safe to eat. Sure, for some of them it's romanticism and trendy, and hopefully no animals suffer in the process, but I think a lot of what is in your book are good first steps. And every little bit counts if it is a step in the right direction and done with good intent.
But I think some of us are also trying to preserve our heritage by homesteading. I've met quite a few people twice my age that don't remember how to grow things or raise livestock or never knew how. I grew up that way- my dad this with us as kids- so it's important to me to save that knowledge and make sure my daughter has it.

Another of my friends was inspired by Joel Salatin- she and her husband moved to 16 country acres from the city after he was laid off. Now, as environmentalists and organic farmers, they are doing what they believe in for a living.

I'd love to see a paradigm shift towards homesteading- check out Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes if you haven't read it. It explores this side of things a bit and I think you'd enjoy it.

November 21, 2010 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Just A Gal said...

I probably really don't have a place to say anything here since I don't really "homestead" (i.e. I don't raise livestock, I struggle to garden and bake my own bread, and I have satellite TV). I just wanted to say that I think homesteaders with outside jobs on top of it must be the most motivated people on the planet. You really do, and I mean REALLY do, have to LOVE what you're doing in order to go, go, go 24/7. I could never do it. Kudos to all of you.

November 21, 2010 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Hopeful said...

i think that a lot of people will and are attracted to it because it's either "green" or appears romantic and fashionable. but... those people will be leaving it before too long. it's a lifestyle and you can't committ the time and tremendous work to it (or anything) unless you have a passion for it. i saw this in sailing (i grew up in a family that sailed for months at a time around the pacific ocean) - people would be attracted to the romanticism of it but when they experienced the work and sacrafice of amenities that were involved, their boat was up for sale before too long. time will weed out and like all fashions, i'm sure the trend will move onto something new. but, i think this trend is important, because even if many people don't stick to it as a lifestyle, its popularity has sprung out of a rejection of our agricultural farming methods and quality of food and also materialism, I think. so, in all respects, it's good!

November 21, 2010 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger DebH said...

its in the blood for those who truly love it...it has to be! It has to be the pioneering spirit and the determination of it all to succeed. Plus, its a good thing! I can't think of a single reason why its bad to do! I lost my husband a couple years ago and I want nothing more than to continue our lifestyle...even if I go it alone! I was born this way!

November 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Rachael said...

I have to agree with Heather; I think it's a little bit of both. I look at it this way: with every new idea/trend/ hype (whatever you want to call it) there's a little good and a little bad.

The good: Perhaps this trend will serve to help wake up a comatose generation. We've gone so far beyond what is human, ethical, and down right healthy, and into this sensational belief that food is cheap and right at your doorstep the moment you want it. Oh, and did I mention, you no longer have to work for it? This is what we have created. Most people aren't even aware of where there food comes from let alone what it even is! Let me give you an example.

Recently I participated in an open barn day at the farm we currently board our alpaca. I was one of the two doing a spinning/carding demo for the visitors. In chatting with the other spinner I learned about her farm and how they use it to educate others about farming (I love this idea!) Many vet techs are trained there on large animals and other livestock. One day one of these techs came out to train and took a look at their 'cute' pigs and asked what their names were. They were something like ham and bacon. When the girl heard the name 'bacon' her eyes welled up with tears. She was a devout vegetarian who opposed the cruelty of eating animals, but thought that BACON came from a plant! And now realized that all along the bacon she so loved came from, yes, a pig.

This is just one example of how far removed from our food we've become. So on that note, perhaps the good of this trend will be educating people on where their food came from, what it takes to grow and prepare it, and how they can become involved.

The bad: Yes, some people may go into this romantic idea of farming biting off more than they can chew, let alone swallow. However, I think the "bad" can have it's own good. Now they know that this is more than they can handle or want to invest time or money in. At the same time, it has opened their eyes to the truth about food production and they can look for other alternatives such as supporting a CSA or local farmer.

Either way, if it educates a sleeping population about the current state of our food production (such as factory farming), and makes them think, the outcome (hopefully) is good. If we never try, we never know. We could spend a lot of time analyzing trends, but let's face it, the intentions really are good. It's all a learning experience.

November 21, 2010 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Rachael said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 21, 2010 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Jeremy and Jenny said...

I would say yes the romantic idea of being self sufficient is trendy and drawing a lot of folks to it. and yes a lot of them bite off more than they can chew, I think it might be necessary to do so. And yes it does frustrate the hell out of them and make them give up, but are they better for it? Surely. What has drawn them to farming, the longing for a better life, will remain. They may realize that the work may be too much for them but they will respect those who do make it happen all the more and are more likely to support them. Farming is frustrating no matter how successful you are. Like standing in a field of greens watching a rare august hail shred the living piss out of it or holding a dying animal in your arms and knowing their is nothing you can do. Like you say I think it comes down to how badly you are infected by barnheart. Ultimately the more people that are interested in homesteading, farming, ranching, local and organic food, self sufficiency, etc. the better. and giving it a good old American try is the American way.

November 21, 2010 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Clare said...

I agree with what everyone here has contributed to the subject. From my perspective of being an almost 58 year old single woman who grew up on a large farm, there's one thing I know. You may be born to it, or it may find you, but in my situation I tried city life in an apartment back in the 70's and I about shriveled up and died inside. I couldn't do it. Since that time I always lived where I could walk out into my own property and do the things that make my heart sing. In my instance, it's upping my gardening game to produce food that I enjoy for extended growing seasons. I realize in my own situation that adding animals to my mix would not work well, just because of time commitments as well as the cost/saving ratio that would not balance out. That doesn't keep me from coveting some Kahki Campbell ducks, though!
There is a major disconnect now in our culture about where our food comes from vs. all of the other frivolous social stuff of our era. I maintain that being in touch with nature, in whichever form one chooses, will certainly help to balance out the equation.

Do I homestead? Technically, no. But in comparison to all of my neighbors who do not do many of the sustainable things that I do, then YES!

I also think it depends on your social disposition, if you are cut out for this life. You must be comfortable in your own skin and enjoy spending countless hours in your own company. For while some socializing is good, the work just does not get done if you are away playing when things need tending at home.

Those of us that believe will see that this is not just a trend but a productive way of life.

November 21, 2010 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

I had heard somewhere that Burpee, which saw a 35 percent increase in seed sales in spring 2009, dropped back down significantly the next year, in spring 2010. One theory is that because it was such a cool summer on the eastern seaboard and there was so much tomato blight around, that many first time growers gave up and didn't try a second year. The other theory is that people started it as a fad and after a year of actually doing it, moved on to something else. Farming and any kind of pioneering has always been this way...there is an extremely high attrition rate, as people get in over their heads and find it harder than they thought, or do not prepare and find themselves wiped out when a catastrophe hits (or tomato blight). Or they just discover the farming life is not for them, even in the suburbs, lol. But if only 25 percent make it (and I believe you will be in that 25 percent because it's a passion for you, Jenna) then it's the right 25 percent that stayed in it and that's the most important thing!

November 21, 2010 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Penny said...

I agree with what has been said so far and believe while many may try homesteading (urban included)few will stick with it.

It is work. It is time. It is commitment.

I'm a single farm raised woman living in a small town. I'm in my 50s with a full time job and health issues but I realize what is involved. In my case it is all baby steps. I want everything to be in place before I'm 62 so I have a few more years to to plan and do.

My 2 cents.

November 21, 2010 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

I am 47, married with 2 teenage boys. We live in suburban Atlanta on 3/4 acre in a 'really nice' neighborhood. (One of the older neighbors told me this as I was bringing her fresh tomatoes and backyard chicken eggs. I think she meant I really wasn't fitting in the neighborhood with my garden and chickens....) I have a 'real' job as an accountant and a very busy church work agenda. But I still find time to grow most of my vegetables, a lot of my fruit and we both gather eggs and eat our chickens.
We started down this urban homesteading path years ago with a few tomato plants and 3 green bean teepees and seem to have added on each year.
When people ask me why I do this (and I get this question a lot -- people are very nosy around here), I just tell them that the food just taste better. And it does. But we are healthier for eating my stuff and I am fitter for getting my fanny out of bed each morning and hauling chicken feed, cleaning out roosts and digging in the dirt.
People who jump in with all limbs and think they can immediately start living a homestead life will probably not stick it out since it is a lot of work.
My advice is always, start small. Babysteps. Herbs in a pot. Grow something so that each week you can have something on your plate that you grew. Then try for more often. Eventually, it will just be part of who and what you are. Then, if you want to try chickens, just get 3. Really. I speak from experience. Eat the eggs, compost the manure.
I have no advice on the dating front, Jenna. My poor husband had no idea that he was marrying a want-to-be farmer when he started dating the corporate exec I was at the time. I will say, he was the last person I would have picked but 20 years later, he is still the most wonderful man I could have wished for.

November 21, 2010 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger google@westvon.com said...

And you know, you don't have to do it all or nothing, I think baby steps into homesteading is the way a lot of people go. It's easier to start learning the crafts of homemaking, homesteading and self succifiency, but you don't HAVE to be on acreage to do it. I'm a single mom, and I live on a 1/10 acre mobile home lot and I've done amazing things, lots homemade stuff, and we're learning how to do more. We'd love to move the moby to her own bit of land and it's our goal. But right now, we've farmed 200 pounds of fresh produce, make most of our food from scratch cooking, can, sew, quilt, work at home, homeschool... haha... you can do a lot! And we have a good friend a mile away with a 5 acre spread and chickens so we help her and learn until we can do it our own...

November 21, 2010 at 2:00 PM  
Blogger Gelfling said...

It certainly runs both ways. My fiance and I are pretty dead serious about our homesteading dreams. As we look for a place of our own with enough acreage for some goats, we raise chickens and as much food as space allows in the backyard of our urban apartment. 11 chickens roam free out there, and 5 of those technically belong to our neighbors/landlords/friends who live in the house adjacent to ours and share the yard.
I say "technically" because my fiance and I raised them from chicks and do pretty much all of the day to day care for them. My neighbors occasionally open up the coop to let them out in the morning, and even more rarely gather them from the fig tree and into the coop in the evening.. but they split the cost of feed and get half the eggs. When they first decided they wanted chickens (after falling in love with ours and with their eggs), it was supposed to be an equal share of the work, and they were supposed to join us in their care to learn. But when it came time for rearing chicks, they couldn't create a space in their home safe from dogs and cats, so that became our task. When we needed to trim their flight feathers because they were escaping over the fence into the neighbor's yard, they weren't around. When little Ethel turned out to be a rooster, I was the one connecting with the local chicken owners on message boards trying to find him a good home. Now we're looking into buying a place of our own, and I'm wondering what's going to happen with those birds when we're not here to take responsibility for them. I'm suspecting our friends won't want them anymore after a short time, and we'll end up taking the whole flock with us. But I definitely see this as an example of people getting excited about the idea of raising animals for food, and then becoming discouraged and disinterested when the reality of that responsibility comes home.

November 21, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

Speaking for myself, I hate the farming life. We are doing it because 1) my husband wants to and 2) we don't think the American way of life is sustainable. In fact, we think it's headed for collapse in the next 5-10 years, which means that we won't have a choice if we want to feed ourselves and our family. But if I had my druthers I would be living in Portland or somewhere. I don't like the outdoors, I don't like manual labor, and I don't like shit, all of which are big components of country living.

Anything you like to do isn't work, as you point out.

By the way, I don't know about blogging homesteaders but I think it's much more the rule that small farmers have jobs outside the farm than not. From everything I've read, a small farm does not support most farmers or their families; most have to work for a living.

November 21, 2010 at 2:46 PM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 21, 2010 at 2:48 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

Small farms can be profitable. Not in the industrial agriculture with subsidized crops able to be sold for less than the cost of production because the government / agency pays for X amount of production or whatnot

But a small farmer filling a market demand, finding a need and filling it, adding value to the right product. Knowing where you're selling your product before you produce it unlike the current I'm growing 1000 acres of corn and haul it to the elevator and will take the price they offer.

Raising pigs as an example, you can take $0.25 /lb offered at the feed lot or you can have it inspected, processed and sell the resultant sausage for $3 /lb yourself to coworkers / friends etc. The money I spent on the pigs alone this year (3 pigs) gets me almost 600 lbs processed of meat, averaging at $5/lb which seems to be local grocery store rate (sure as heck not what the farmer is paid for processing, plus profit for all the middle-men and processors) that 600lbs is $3000 worth of meat that I don't have to buy. I'll be eating good for the winter for my 5 or 6 month time investment.

But yes, as small farmers we'll never win trying to compete with industrial ag producing 10,000 acres of a crop and putting it to market. Raise a turkey for coworkers thanksgiving dinners, get some eggs, just about $3 / dozen here every dozen I don't have to buy is that much less I have to earn.

Profits / money saved would be even better had we grown some food for the pigs here or pastured them to turn over the expanded area for the garden but we didn't get the hog panels until after the pigs had gone for processing. If next years pigs come early enough they'll turn over the garden before it's time to plant the garden.

Not a lot of work, twice a day checking food and more often for water during the summer using water-tubs rather than pig watering nipple.

November 21, 2010 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

I really can't speak for anyone else except to say that I believe there is a rising movement for eating veggies grown in your back yard, or raising chickens or baking bread. Personally, all I want is a handmade life and to practice growing food, and making as many things as I can from scratch. I believe in community sufficiency, not self sufficiency. One person can do a lot on their own, but all of the big and small connections with friends and neighbors who help out here and there, make a huge difference.

I am not choosing to make as much of my life myself because its trendy, but if anyone I encounter wants to learn, I gladly share the knowledge I have. I think that if I can live my life mostly doing what I love than I have it made and for me that is something close to homesteading and might evolve more into farming.

Even if it is just a trend for a lot of people, it seems like a positive trend to me. If someone chooses to grow a few tomatoes or bake bread sometimes because they think its trendy, I don't think that is a bad thing. Its creative, not destructive and it might lead to creating and growing even more.

November 21, 2010 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Valerie Willman said...

I don't know. I think that I fall into the category of: starting a backyard chicken flock and ripping up the front yard to start a garden -- I have a husband who is uninterested in those things and kids and dogs and I'm a writer .... and up until recently I was homeschooling my children. So I would say that I went in over my head, but I don't resent the experience, and I'm still doing it, albeit badly. :)

It's trial and error.

I'll keep trying to streamline the garden so the weeding is easier and so that I'm actually eating the types of veggies that I'm growing so that it seems more worthwhile to me.

November 21, 2010 at 3:17 PM  
Blogger becky3086 said...

I haven't really met anyone who is just now trying to be self sufficient. I have been at it for years and am not even close. I will say though that for a while I had kind of slipped away from it and then the present economy made me get serious again. I work part time and it seems like all my time off has me busy with some project or other.
I guess I do this because I love being able to do things myself and because when I was growing up, when my parents had my grandmother's place, they were mostly self sufficient and that was the best time in our lives.

November 21, 2010 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

I am single and have lived on my 3 acre farm for 3 years and have blogged about it for many of that. Yes I believe I have gotten in over my head but how can I go back to the city at this point. The noise and smell? Not growing your own food? I don't think I can even though I sometimes want to. Even you know that sometimes it takes 4 hands to do a job. so some jobs go undone.

November 21, 2010 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Well, we're a family, and we're definitely in over our heads. Husband lost his (farming) job recently and is driving taxis to keep us alive, so I am a single homesteader all of a sudden. It is horrendously hard.
And yes it is a trend. Here in the UK, there is such a trend that a tv series has been made of two truly dreadful 'celebrities' trying to live out a 70s sitcom about urban self sufficiency.
Now I am warning you folks, this show is not fit for homesteader consumption, and I am posting a link only on the understanding that I will not be held responsible for your reactions, and their possible consequences.
Have cider to hand. This truly is the birth of a fad ...
http://bit.ly/d6cXet

November 21, 2010 at 5:53 PM  
Blogger IanH said...

We've been doing this for close to 5 years now on 10 acres of land with the following observations.

1. People look at you as if you're crazy. Subsistence farming? Forget it! We aren't there yet, but are about 50% there. (I need a root cellar!)

2. We sell surplus eggs (lots of them at about a break even price. The feed gives us free eggs and enough to offset the cost, plus meat that we know what is in it. Turkeys are probably a dead loss as people will go to the supermarket and pay $70 for an injected bird, but will not pay $50 for a farm raised one.

3.We don't buy vegetables for half the year, and are working on enlarging the garden each year and finding produce that produces in our Zone 2 climate.

4. Horses are fun, but a high cost item. The carbon footprint that we save by raising chickens and selling eggs is still pretty good as we can buy hay within 5 km, and haul it in the half ton, all 300 bales)

5. Travel is very limited , particularly in the winter because it is hard to find someone to caretake the critters when it is -20C. In the summer, who wants to travel?

6. This would be a losing proposition if it weren't for the pension coming in after 36 years in industry.

7. Should the economy collapse again, we can live for quite a while on our stored food reserves. I pray that it won't come to that, but it doesn't look good out there!

8. The list goes on, but the personal benefits are 75 pounds of the waistline, maintained for 5 years, lots of fresh air and exercise, a greater appreciation for God and His works and critters and the opportunity to show the grandkids where and how food is produced, something that is not taught or generally shown anymore.
I could go on.... and on....

November 21, 2010 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Jackie, that clip was ridiculous, but her sweater was awesome. But her "milk maid" outfit... I would wear that on a date!

November 21, 2010 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Jenna, the thing is ... the comedy series 'The Good Life' (which google, if you haven't seen it) was classic, but it was, of course, a comedy. Now these two unlikely types are supposedly bringing it up to date, and into real life. But it's so unrealistic as to be laughable. Or it would be, except people are taking it at face value, and saying, great, I can keep two goats in my back garden (UK gardens (US:yards) are pretty darned small)with no real problems and ooh yes, lets have a pig in there as well, and we have to wrestle the chickens each night to get them to bed. At this point I turn violent. Which is not typical, for me, really. But I ask you? Really?!!

November 21, 2010 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

they don't know the birds naturally return to their coops and chase them around their garden?

Can you have all the livestock in urban England? Where are they?

November 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

well, you can and you can't. The original series was supposed to be in Surrey, and their annoying but loveable neighbours Margot and Jerry were their 'foil' - in reality of course, they would have reported them to the council for a dozen minor infringements, and they would have been forced to sell their very valuable property and buy a smallholding in Wales for about a tenth its value, which in those days was possible (it isn't now!) The Goods were no urban, but suburban, which has a different meaning here than it does there ... and some people do succeed in a certain level of suburban self sufficiency - but we are top heavy with regulation and paperwork, meaning you can't actually just take a goat for a walk down to the common (even thought the common was preserved for that very purpose, probably a thousand years ago!) because you'd need a movement licence. I know. But Giles and Sue aren't helping!

November 21, 2010 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Absolutly people are on the homesteading band wagon. But is that a bad thing? If they grow a garden, humanly care for a few animals and attempt a sustainable life then leave - it's still better than never having tried. At the very least hopefully the failed farmer walks away with a better understanding of where their food comes from.

November 21, 2010 at 7:32 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Perhaps I don't qualify because I have been married, raised 4 wonderful boys and just received my Medicare card. I raised laying hens,roosters to eat, meat chickens, meat rabbits, turkeys and a good size garden this summer. My freezers are full and the turks to the butcher tomorrow. It feels good to look at all of that produce and meat and know I did it. On top of that, I own and run a boarding kennel with an employee. I also have 3 soon to be 4 German Shepherd dogs 2 of whom are certified for search and rescue in Maine. If the right man came along, I would date and probably get involved but it isn't a must do for me. I'm quite content. You haven't done it all yet so of course you are looking. You will meet the right person one of these days.

November 21, 2010 at 7:38 PM  
Blogger m said...

What I find amusing about this trend is that so many who are doing it now talk like they've invented it. Going back to the land was huge in the 70s and large Victory Gardens in the 1940s. It's like teens and sex. They are the first generation to have discovered it and *really* know what it's all about.

I don't think people are choosing it because it's trendy. It's not like they are picking out sneakers, but because it's a trend, it's in the media more, there are more books being published on it, not to mention blogging, it's an option that doesn't seem crazy--if all these people are doing it, maybe I can too!

November 21, 2010 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I guess I have lived long enough to have seen this all before. I was one of those back to the land hippies. I started a food co-op and a vegetarian eatery in the 70's. It all lasted a few years, but the materialism of the 80's left only a few of us still in the lifestyle of homesteaders.

Today, I see this as being very regional. So many of you write about the great things that are going on in your area, but here, in a agricultural area of central Florida, there is little to no interest in doing things for oneself. People want organic things, but they want to purchase them at the grocery store. I cannot find a single source for grass fed local meat. Most of the farmers in this area sold out when land values skyrocketed here.

I think this will be a short lived trend for most people. There will be a few that will remain, but most will not. Those who walk away because they can't live the life will talk about it when they are middle-aged as a youthful adventure. Those who have to walk away for other reasons, but have Barnheart, will always be trying to return, single or with a partner, young or old.

November 21, 2010 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger novella said...

thank you for the reminder that i am lucky to have my billy, who loves to dumpsterdive more than most things, which makes feeding the pigs and rabbits economically viable, and it's kinda like a date. but you know, it is a weird lifestyle, and a messy one full of mucking out this and that, and a living room filled with beekeeping stuff (we don't have closets). i can't imagine most people would be into it...
hey, but remember that sanford and son's neighbor--juan? jose? had a milk goat. i think about that in the am when bebe's getting on the milkstand.

November 21, 2010 at 11:49 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

I think it all comes down to whether this life is really for you or not. If it is, you'll do it, even all by yourself. I met a woman a couple of hours from me who was in her 50's and lived alone on 40 acres. She keeps horses, donkeys, chickens and ducks, but her main business is wool. She has a pretty sizable flock of sheep and hair goats. She was managing much more on her own than my husband and I managed together, and her (completely awesome) attitude was, "I do as much as I can, whenever I can. Things get done when they get done. If it takes all day, well, it just takes all day.". She made me feel a whole lot better about the workload!

As for whether the trend pulls people in, here's what I'm seeing in my neck of the woods - people who get sucked in by the trendiness of it get a few chickens, and then decide they're too dirty and too much of a commitment, or they have a meltdown the first time one of them dies and they throw in the towel. The people I know that have really gone all in have stuck with it.

November 22, 2010 at 12:29 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

@Jackie - The Good Life was absolutely hilarious! And my husband and I laughed really hard all the way through it, because so many of the things they went through on that show have happened to us as well. I highly recommend it to everyone here!

November 22, 2010 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Just to let you know I read your blog every day - I think it is great! I would love to be a farmer so am living the life through you!

November 22, 2010 at 6:45 AM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

interestingly enough, i find the few people i know that are the closest to living a homesteading life, don't even know what homesteading is. they aren't canning because its cool, gardening because its the in thing, eating local because its the thing to do, or building their own homes to make a point. they do it because they don't have the mentality to do anything else. they are homesteading, without knowing the definition of homestead and with no awareness of books or blogs centered around their way of life.


i think any type of encouragement (be it a local fad movement or not) to link people closer to nature/their environment/food is wonderful, regardless if they do it for a day or a decade, if they pass or if they fail. as long as they leave (or continue) with a grander sense of appreciation for what they have and the ease in which they can get it, its been worthwhile.

November 22, 2010 at 9:45 AM  
Blogger Tamara said...

One of my best friends is a full time nurse at a hospital, but owns a small acreage with goats, chickens, peacocks, a horse, cats and dogs and does it all as a single woman. I know she's not raising sheep as you are, but I think there are probably more single people trying this lifestyle than you realize.

November 22, 2010 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger m said...

I just read this and was reminded of your post: http://thetyee.ca/News/2010/11/19/FarmSchool/?utm_source=mondayheadlines&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=221110

November 24, 2010 at 1:33 AM  
Blogger Heidi said...

I do have a partner in crime, which makes it so that I don't have to have a "real" 9-5 job to support my urban farm. The wage earning is his domain. It's a huge help to be sure and I wouldn't be able to go it alone. But he doesn't help out much with the animals and day to day farm stuff. They are my domain. In fact, if I try to imagine him milking the goat I can't stop laughing. Though I think he'll have to learn so that I can go out of town from time to time.

It may be a trend, but I don't think folks will go too much further than the chicken and bees, at least in an urban setting. Goats in the backyard are not for everyone. It's a load of work. We only have a 1000 square feet and our dwarf goats work great, but with the hectic pace of urban life most folks I imagine wouldn't be able to squeeze it in.

i am now very curious about the updated The Good Life. One of my fav BBC shows.

November 24, 2010 at 5:45 PM  
OpenID ruralaspirations said...

I think any time one is seeking a major change in lifestyle one should start with baby steps. When I wished to "green" my household work I started small - stopped using disposable napkins and paper towels for example. Once using cloth napkins and towels all the time became so normal I didn't think about it, I moved on to the next step. However, the more I did the bigger that next step could be. With our move from the suburbs to a homestead have come some major changes, but again we've been implementing everything in baby steps. We started with two pigs, next year it will be more pigs and some goats. Chickens have been put off for a bit longer. So I think the answer to your question is that anybody who wishes to change their lifestyle should do so in baby steps to avoid getting in over their heads.

November 24, 2010 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Angie said...

Some people certainly get in over their heads. How many of the 70's back-to-the-landers ditched everything to move to the country for the "simply life" only to get burnt out and move to suburbia? The current homesteading movement is bound to see some of the same because there will always be people who don't look past the romantic ideals to see the work involved.

On the other hand, there are people like me - overly cautious. It took years for me to give in to my barnheart because I didn't want to get in over my head.

November 29, 2010 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Janet said...

This post of yours has had me thinking ever since I read it a few days back.

I grew up on what could have been seen as a small Ohio farm. Even back then I was fascinated by all things "Barn" and playing in the dirt. When I made my move to the east coast, I gave up a lot of that and thought I'd never want to go back. Oh, how things change.

I have some hurdles now that I might not have if I had chosen to pursue this way of living a decade or some ago...I'm single, on a steady but fixed income and have some chronic health issues that will affect any future choices I make.

Gosh, I hope this isn't out of my reach given those limitations. For now, I plant my small garden, save my money, learn what I can from those who've gone before me and plan...plan...plan.

December 1, 2010 at 10:59 AM  

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