Monday, January 30, 2012

it is time

So often I get emails from people that I call the "long sighs," they are the laments of frustrated men and women alike who want to start homesteading, but can't. They have a pair of teenagers in highschool and hate to move away from their friends and district. They have a spouse who thinks they are crazy. They are too young, too old, to used to the way things are. Some feel trapped, others feel victimized, and more just feel like they have a million tomorrows ahead of them to make their plans turn real. I am sorry to break it to you, but you don't have five decades, you have a few, no matter what your age is. Time leaps ahead of us all, stealing years and taking lives. Do not wait, to not doubt. Join me on this worn buckboard seat and we'll take this cart to the farm.

As for those of you raking nails across want, but unable to step onto your own acres: here's the thing... You do not need to have a 6.5 acre farm to grow food. You can do it in a 6 x 5 raised bed in a sunny spot in your yard. You don't need a cart pony, or a flock of sheep, or any of this chaos here at Cold Antler to be more self sufficient at all. What you need is a feral mind, a predators grin, and a stubbornness to change how you see the world. Your suburban half-double townhouse may have rules against chickens, so what? Does it have rules against canning? Homebrewing? Stocking up on local farm's good and food? Can you still knit a sweater, plant a container garden off your fire escape, and pick up a banjo? There are plenty of feral people living all over cities and towns, far away from the fields they are called to in spirit and kin. You don't need to own a farm to prepare for hardship, or enjoy a night without television, or spend a day hiking in the forest or train your dog to carry a light pack. Myself, I rented for five years before I got lucky (and it was luck as much as it was will) that landed me this piece of land, tucked into a mountainside on a curve in a mountain road. Your small holding may be waiting for you too, but it may also be waiting inside, as a desire and determination to finally walk into your bookstores knitting circle and ask to be taught. It may be taking that first guitar lesson from a friend. It may be your first three chickens I hand you in April, or a song you hear on a drive home from work that splits open your heart and makes up your mind that this is the year, the blessed year, you put the apartment up for sale and move to a place with a well and a lawn.

Tonight that is all I want to stress. Its an old homily from this well-worn soapbox: start where you are. Dreams are like caged beasts, they need to tended to, fed constantly or they perish. If some part of you wants a herd of goats, and you are reading this on the subway, then you need to order a goat care book and set it on your nightstand and read it every night. You need to email some goat farms a train ride away, or invest with friends in a rental car and get out there and actually milk an Alpine. Workshops, extension classes, phone calls and more. Buy that water bath canning kit and some strawberries (even if they are out of season, to hell with it) and learn to can jam. Get a subscription to a farm magazine, join a National Organization. Hell, I was a member of NEBCA for three years before I owned my own border collie. Just get started, there is no reason to wait any longer and the more you do all you will gain is regret. Trust me.

No more long sighs, okay? You are the only person who can start changing your life. Take the reins and snap that horse cart.

photo of jasper from 468photography.com

44 Comments:

Blogger SWEETHEARTS MOM said...

girl i thought of you today as i pulled out of my driveway. The folks accross the street have a mixed herd of goats and sheep. All of the sheep must have had babies w/in 2 days because the field was full of sets of twins and triplets all of them wagging tails and hopping on springy legs. I knew you would love to see that. you are right. Time flies. If you can't own your own place, become part of a CSA and work on a farm.

January 30, 2012 at 8:50 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Gotta be careful with chickens. They're a gateway drug. Once you find out you can raise chickens successfully and start eating eggs warm from the nest, you start thinking, "well, how about goats? Maybe I could raise goats, and have milk and make cheese." Next thing you know, you look around you, and some sheep are there, and you're on the web, ordering ducklings.Then you stop going to the store because you're growing almost everything you need. Before you know it, you only go the the farmers' market to socialize.

January 30, 2012 at 8:53 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Diane speaks the truth. For me it was literally bread and honey, when I realized I could make bread myself and raise honey I was literally altered forever! and you know what, I know for sure Meg Paska in Brooklyn has both in the middle of the city!

January 30, 2012 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Taryn Kae Wilson said...

Well said!
Love this post.

January 30, 2012 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

well, in some fairness to some of us long sighers, we are planning. Some more seriously than others, but I know I for one am planning and my husband is planning and once he's outta college we're taking us and the kids to a piece of land just as soon as we can buy one. Thanks for the constant reminder that we can do this. We are where we are supposed to be and we know it, but we look forward, sometimes with some sighs, to when where we are supposed to be is on some land.

January 30, 2012 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger Rois said...

Suburban Homesteader here! We live in the 'burbs because that is where we are for now and that has not stopped us one little bit.

January 30, 2012 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger Flartus said...

Your bit about how you rented for five years sent me shooting back through time, when I first read your blog...you were renting, knowing that the landlord and neighbors weren't happy with Finn and the rest of your furry clan, and you were frustrated. You had this dream, and you were damn determined to see it happen, but you were surrounded by naysayers.

And now I look at your blog and see unrelenting joy and the satisfaction of seizing that dream by the tail and holding on like a terrier. No wonder you have such a faithful band following and supporting you. Little did I know how amazing you were when I first read your description of barnheart!

We're one of the places with rules against chickens (dammit!), but our first garden went in the year we moved in. My next goal is not to buy any meat that wasn't raised humanely by one of our many awesome local farmers. Thanks for reminding us that we don't have to scoop manure or harvest our own meat to join the movement.

January 30, 2012 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger georgie said...

Raised bed gardens are the gateway drug. Then you want chickens(next door neighbors and I share), then my neighbor wanted a goat. The neighbor's husband said no way to that idea. Personally, I'd like a burro but no way would City Animal Control okay that. Who knows what the future holds as far as where I will live. Might just be on or near a little farm.

January 30, 2012 at 9:24 PM  
Blogger Roxanne said...

This is a great post Jenna, please have more like this. some of us need to be forever encouraged

January 30, 2012 at 9:27 PM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

Thank you Jenna. :) I've been wallowing in tears and self-pity today, as I learned that I won't be spending my summer at Polyface after all, and I got myself into a mental rut. I kept on thinking, "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?"

Your post has reminded me that it's time to simply get back on the horse and START!!!

CHARGE!!!! ;) This year I'm farmin' 100 acres of land!!! Hurrah!!

January 30, 2012 at 9:31 PM  
Blogger Paulette said...

Thank you, Jenna. Very well said.

January 30, 2012 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger bellananda said...

hahahaha -- did your horse cart whisk you away before you could complete that last word? :D

blessings,
sb in kc

January 30, 2012 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

You got me motivated tonight. I have planted 4 nine packs, one each of cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and lettuce. It was 70 degrees here today (yes in Nebraska in January) so I will take a chance on being able to plant these things in 8-10 weeks.

I cooked beans tonight that I grew last year, and added chard from the freezer. It sure feels good to nourish myself and my family with quality food.

January 30, 2012 at 10:19 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

The hardest part is to start (no matter where you are!) and then you'll get so swept up you can't help but keep moving forward, it's so true!
-Jaime

January 30, 2012 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

That's pretty well what I've done this year. Putting in a small garden. It's probably not enough to feed us, but it's enough to get some practice. We have chickens and raise our own eggs, I've built a compost pile, I'm getting a worm farm together, and I love every minute of it.

January 30, 2012 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger J.D. said...

Dear Jenna,

Wonderful post!

Last year I followed homestead wisdom and began a small garden. The thrill of visiting it each morning and the awe of its daily changes captivated me. That postage stamp garden sustained us with eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes through Christmas.

This year I began vermiculture and began planning the gardens-both verticle and horizontal. March holds the promise of city chicks and fresh eggs. I can't wait.

When you gaze upon your farm and measure your successes, I hope you include all the homesteaders you've encouraged and inspired in that number. I believe those metrics might just plant more joy in your fields.

I've named our little piece of city land "Full Moon Gardens. I trul

January 30, 2012 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Thank you Jenna.

January 30, 2012 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Also, don't be afraid to fail! No one is keeping score, trust me (they don't understand what the hell you're doing anyway). Just jump!

January 30, 2012 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Alisha said...

This is good advice. My first "garden" as an adult was a series of containers on our apartment balcony. I probably had 25-30 pots out there of various sizes. What a feeling to grow my own salad! We still rent, and I have a small plot in the ground suplemented by extra containers. I also started canning last summer with fruits from local farms, that I picked myself. I love the sound of canning lids sealing! This year I am planning it out a bit better to get a better haul. Especially homemade pickles...I really wish I would have canned more of those. It is good advice, start out with what you area able to do, and grow upon that.

January 30, 2012 at 11:41 PM  
Blogger KellyV (Kelly the Fifth) said...

A great post and wonderful comments. To Diane - I don't think I ever I read a better start to a circular story. Time to write that kid's book...for grownups!

January 30, 2012 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger CallieK said...

Hell yes! I live in a dinky apartment in the heart of the biggest city in Canada but I garden, I forage, I can and this week for the first time I made cheese with raw cow's milk. It may not be my dream farm but it's the best I have for now and if I ever get my homestead I'll have some of the skills I'll need already under my belt.

January 31, 2012 at 1:06 AM  
Blogger becky3086 said...

Well, I have been renting for a very long time but am lucky enough to rent from a friend (no don't groan, lol) who doesn't care what we do to the property so I can plant anything I want and have any animals I want. Don't think our own piece of property is ever going to come up as they want credit or money for that and we have neither but it doesn't stop me from trying.

January 31, 2012 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger Buttons said...

Wow excellent post I lived in a three bedroom two bathroom house and had everything. We went to an auction bought a deserted for years farm and went to hell and back trying to hold on to it. That was over thirty years ago. I sit here looking out the window now and am so happy we had the guts to do it. Nothing like it. Only you can make your self happy. You just have to believe it. B

January 31, 2012 at 7:30 AM  
Blogger daisy said...

This is the year...

January 31, 2012 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger Beth of the Rocks said...

And even if you can't garden in the backyard (like me, I have horrible neighbors who are disgusting and made my life he"ck" after I tried and dogs who chew everything up anyway) you can still buy fruit in season on sale and learn to can. Make your own clothes, cook your won food, etc.

But Jenna, you are doing so much! I hope to be at your level someday. (Although not with sheep, with other animals maybe.) It does take a while, and you had to overcome struggles to get there. Kudos to you girl! Someday, maybe, someday...

~Beth

January 31, 2012 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration. I've honestly had the desire for homesteading since I squirreled away my dad's copy of "back to basics" in my bedroom and learned that I could catch fish and pick wild raspberries in the Michigan summer. Although I'm crammed into a tiny apartment without a balcony right now (working toward a Bachelor's degree), I still do what I can- cooking my food from scratch, growing herbs in the window, visiting the farmer's market, learning to sew clothing, and canning/freezing produce. I just signed up with a local campus program that trades garden space for volunteer hours! I'm getting a 10X10 all to myself this summer :)

January 31, 2012 at 9:15 AM  
Blogger reliker said...

We became homesteaders as we just started having babies and my husband started college. It's required tons of sacrifices but has been so rewarding to not only enjoy the lifestyle ourselves but to share it with friends and family who might not otherwise be exposed to it. Long story short, there's no better time than today!
-Rachael from The Rehomesteaders

January 31, 2012 at 9:29 AM  
Blogger Glyndalyn said...

Good post, Jenna. You never make Cold Antler sound like the perfect life. You talk about the mud, work, and time. We have lived on a homestead for a long time and never think too much about the lifstyle. Most everyone in our tiny TN hamlet live as such.

Here on the Phony Farm, we are already planning this year's garden and next winter's wood supply. I received some heirloom squash seeds from Annie's Heirlooms Seeds. Looking forward to trying them.

I encourage everyone interested in "the life" not to give up.

January 31, 2012 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

I so agree with all you have said. And from experience, there is no "right time". There never is. You just jump and there you are. Right where you want to be. Where you have wanted to be all along.

JUST DO IT!!! It doesn't hurt at all. And it's not really scary. It's wonderful. And you do things as you go. You find out what works and what doesn't. AS YOU GO.

But you will never know unless you don't jump. So jump already.

January 31, 2012 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

Thanks :)

January 31, 2012 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Melanie J. said...

::hangs head:: yes, ma'am :)

January 31, 2012 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Ellie, As Always! said...

Apartment renter, community garden plot owner, and apartment rabbit raiser. I may not have my land yet but I'm learning. I now know more rabbit husbandry than I ever did before. (They are pets not livestock - Dutch dwarves are real small.) Anyone, anywhere can learn. I know that for a fact. Books, movies, and local knowledge are practically the most amazing thing ever. We may not have our farm, our pony or an orchard yet but believe me I'm soooo planning, saving, and I'm hungry for it. Cause you gotta be hungry for it...

January 31, 2012 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger ScottS said...

When we lived in Chicago, we tore up the side yard for fruit trees and the front yard for a strawberry patch. The back yard was completely shaded.

Now we live in the sticks with 33 acres, a farm, and a seed company.

Start now. No excuses.

January 31, 2012 at 11:54 AM  
Blogger Jeane said...

Thank you for this post. I've been shy about commenting here but really really admire the realization of your dream. I never realized how much I wanted to be self-sufficient until we bought a house and I was really able to garden. Now I grow about thirty different veggies and herbs a year, and I just started doing some canning last year. My husband has come to anticipate and love the garden produce and specific dishes we only eat when those crops are in season. My daughter loves growing our own pumpkins and this year is planting her own pea patch. I want to have backyard chickens but need to patch some holes in the fence and get some know-how first! My next dream is rabbits and honeybees...

January 31, 2012 at 12:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Great post Jenna! I am one of those who lives in suburbia with a teenage daughter who wouldn't want to move away, and a husband who thinks I'm crazy! But I have made my own jam, frozen a few extra veggies from my small garden, and am learning how to knit. They give me all the support I need to delve into these new adventures, so long as I can do it from where we live now. They don't help so much, but they rave about the homemade jam, and have a good chuckle when I come into the house from the garden in a pair of rainboots and a headlamp on my head, with my sweater pulled up and loaded with carrots and beets! So with your gentle reminders, I am making the best of it and focusing on doing the things I love, regardless of where I live. Thanks for the inspriration!

January 31, 2012 at 1:30 PM  
OpenID gileadgoats said...

You are so right on Jenna! It's been 12 years since I ditched the apt in Brooklyn and moved to VT. 9 years since I bought the farm, and got my first 3 laying hens, 3 years since I got my first angora goats. Right now, I am looking forward to lambing and kidding, wit 4 of my 45 ewes bred and 2 does...can't wait for spring!
No one who knew me back in my city days (myself included) would have ever guessed I had it in me. Nothing beats spinning yarn from your own flock, then knitting that yarn into warm clothing :)

But Diane is right, chickens are the gateway livestock :)

January 31, 2012 at 1:41 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

It's true. I'm living in my parents house, so I have little rein over what I can do to their yard/around the house, but I do what I can. Just made my first batch of homemade shampoo soap two days ago, and gearing up to make my second batch (a body bar for my eczema). It's really exciting learning a new skill and then using the fruits of your labor. Anyone can make soap, all you need is oils and lye!

My boyfriend and I are also in the process of fermenting a batch of ginger beer (and dreaming of brewing our own beer). I have two jars of sourdough starter on the mantle (someday I WILL get bread that rises). He bought a cheese-making kit for me for my birthday (that boy knows me well). We're currently infusing some vodka to make limoncello (from lemons from the backyard!) and have some homemade elderberry/ginger/lemon liqueur next to it.

I pine for a yard that I can grow herbs in to start my own little herbal remedies/lotions/tea/etc. business, but until then I will learn how to make things any way I can.

January 31, 2012 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Got a bucket load of heirloom seeds and six chicks on the way! I'm ready to bring some life back to our tiny half acre suburban yard!

January 31, 2012 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger Hannah said...

Thank you so much for the inspiration. As a result I have finally become a member of the AMerican Livestock Breeds Conservancy depsite the fact that I currently don't have any farm animals. :)

January 31, 2012 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

You are so wise ! This will help people become motivated even if only in a small way. "Baby steps" are alot easier than taking one giant leap !!

February 2, 2012 at 7:37 AM  
Blogger Tiffrz-N-Kidz said...

LOL@ Diane. Chickens ARE the gateway drug! I did just what you say. I picked up the phone and ordered 25 chicks. Once they arrived I had to take care of them. When they got to big to keep inside they went outside. Then the cops got called. Then the For Sale sign went up on the suburban home and the search for acreage began. It started with a phone call to Cackle Hatchery.

February 2, 2012 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Brilliant words. And I can't agree more. I'm not sure how my time will work out with it, but I'm GOING to be working with my mom to get the family's old 40 acres moving forward again after 30 years of ruin. This is the year that I start being a farmer, if only part time.

February 3, 2012 at 8:28 AM  
Blogger farmgirlwanabe said...

Jenna you are a heck of a writer - you put it down so exquisitely and you have already motivated prior to this post - having discovered your blog a few weeks back I started discussions with the farmer that I was buying eggs and chickens from and we are now talking about me buying specific heritage breeds and then me paying for cost while they 'live' on his land as I don't have the land yet - this is so I can get closer to my dream - now I can more and more start to live the dream by first concentrating on finetuning how to make exquisite charcuterie as that's my dream - to have my little farmstand at the farmers markets out here in NE ontario and sell my sausages, bacon etc. while raising and protecting the heritage breeds of pork, poultry and incorprating heritage vegetables in my recipes

you are so right about the 6 X 5 plot - we practice square foot gardening as described by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening - he shows how to maximize space, not just horizontal but vertical too. We all know about how much surface space a squash plant takes up - alot is because of the vines but if you can teach the vines to go up you take advantage of the vertical above the soil surface. We ourselves now plant tomatoes in big hanging bags from our front porch as the area gets full sun throughout the day, my dogs can't get at them (we have a black lab who my husband swears waits just before he is ready to go out and pick the ripest juciest tomatoes. the lab grabs it and eats it for himself) and I just open my front door and pick a tomatoe. I am now thinking up other vertical growing areas I can find around the yard without taking up valuable surface area.

Thanks again Jenna

February 3, 2012 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger famousthecat said...

I love this post! My resolution this year has been to "sweat the small stuff" - in other words, to think about all of the little things we do that make up our bigger, daily (good or bad) habits. I've begun planning out our garden plots, including our first ever early crops of lettuces and spinach, and we have four baby chicks arriving in March! I look forward to reading more and am so excited to have found this blog. :)

February 5, 2012 at 5:17 PM  

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