Friday, May 30, 2014

A Fair Warning

Humankind is not a fan of change. We don't like it historically, personally, or even on the most insignificant scale. I know I don't. I am very happy in my world of animals and the outdoors, incredibly so. I wouldn't want that to change, but that is an extreme example. Most of us aren't happy if the deli is out of mayonnaise and offers mustard instead. We are habitual to a fault. We can't help it. That's because change is usually an unwelcome shake of awareness. It forces us to wake up and no one likes ending a good nap.

If you have Barnheart and it can't be helped you can expect a lot of changes. Choosing to make homesteading a part of your life when it previously wasn't is one hell of a nap shake. Most of us either were raised in (or currently reside in) homes without a grocery store in the backyard. I didn't grow up keeping bees, milking goats, collecting eggs and butchering hogs. Making that my new normal was a 10 on the Richter Scale. Over the next few weeks I'll be writing about the changes I experienced personally, but I'm willing to bet my kailyard that many of you have experienced them as well.

To summarize the essays ahead: farming and rural life changes you. It doesn't just change your clothes, car, and address, it changes everything. It changes how you talk and the words you use—entirely new language and terminology is thrown about as nonchalantly as yesterday's jeans. It changes how you see time and make appointments—2PM on a Tuesday afternoon is free for a nap but you can't travel home for Christmas because a barn roof might collapse or the wood stove needs to be stoked. Clothing becomes a tool—good boots matter more to your healthcare plan than dental insurance. And most of all it changes how other people see you. Leaving what is considered a conventional life for the other side nervous can be seen as reckless, stupid, or insane.

You lose people. Not all people and not the folks who love you, but to those folks who get anxious about stepping in mud at work - acquaintances - you lose them.  You lose them because you go from being this person with a lifestyle they understand and relate to into this other being. You turn from something civilized and comfortable into something wild. What seems like a natural progression towards a dream and a lifestyle you envy is viewed by some as downright crazy. Seemingly overnight you become an unfamiliar creature, pacing the edges of security and conformity. It makes them nervous. Your behavior becomes erratic but your focus turns pin-point sharp. You start to change how you eat. You start talking at dinner parties about butchering pet chickens someday. You stop buying trendy clothes, bars, eating out and being "normal" and find yourself spending weekends at workshops and internships pulling weeds and getting tanner than your coworkers. People get worried about you. They ask you questions but your speech is too confusion now. All you know is you are unable to be content until you are out there. You crave sweat, bonfires, blood, sunlight, sore muscles, and fireflies. You claw to spend time outdoors among animals, other animals, a thought that is slowly starting to keep you up at night...

You're a werewolf, darling. And that is a wondeful monster to be!

Not literally, of course. But to people who knew you before goats milk found its way into your lunchpail feel that way. You don't see it because it is happening to you and you like it. You got a taste of something free, powerful, and raw. No wonder you make those people nervous! And now here you are trying to find your pack among all these sheep. It's hard to see the others wolves through all that wool but we're out there. I promise we are.

And I hope you don't take that metaphor the wrong way. I do not mean you are a mindless horror avatar. I mean that you change. You really do. And you change into something powerful and home in nature so I went with my favorite fictional character. I do realize not everyone likes being compared to such beasts so insert happy creature here.

Anyway - change! That is what this series of posts about how farming has changed me will go. Letters to you, my fellow agricultural lycanthropes. Folks who are expecting the change to take them over and spin their lives on their heads, and it will. I'm going to start by talking about a fitting subject for this introduction: meat. I'm an ex-vegetarian and vegan who went nearly a decade without eating meat for animal rights/spiritual/and ecological reasons and now I butcher my own backyard livestock.

To get started I'd like you to ask me questions about that change. What do you want to know? What are you struggling with, excited about, or stressed out about when it comes to turning animals into food? Does that sentence make you cringe? Why? All respectful comments welcomed and will make the essay better and perhaps start an important conversation. So please, ask.

13 Comments:

Blogger Heather Hamilton said...

We moved to our farmstead 7 months ago. It's a 2+ hr drive 'back home'(aka suburbia) and after recently going back for a friend's baby shower, I was astonished. I now feel out of place. But not in a bad way - I have grown. I don't have this season's coach bag and I don't want one. These are people who don't know the difference between hay and straw. And have to buy their eggs from the grocery store. When they ask about farm life, I tell them the cute stuff first, followed by the more gruesome stuff if they ask more questions. After that, they change the subject lol.
So I get what you're cookin' Jenna. Right there with ya!

May 30, 2014 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Amy Lou said...

Fully smitten with this idea for posts/essays. Change is fierce and wonderful, yes.
So I too have been vegetarian/vegan for about 15 years now. It's all for the animals as the thought of factory farming makes me sad.
But now that I've got my own spit of land, I'm thinking about chickens. And I'm thinking about perhaps someday eating those chickens. I feel like I could do it-with help from blogs/people like yours/you.
But here's the question that's been bobbing around my head for a while. I've heard that Americans' personal refrigeration systems are the biggest users of fossil fuels in the food system (even above chemical fertilizers and trucking) so if one were to want to minimize that use (or if one were to be forced to cut down on that usage for living-off-grid reasons) could one cull one or two chickens at a time? In all the books/blogs I've read there's this thing with "butchering day" where they do up all the birds at once, storing the processed meat in fridges/freezers. I'm just wondering if the birds could run around until it's time for soup? Chickens acting as their own refrigeration, as it were.
Perhaps this is too specific/random a question but I'm nonetheless looking forward to reading about all your werewolf-y change essays. Grrrrr!

May 31, 2014 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger Diane Hovey said...

You wrote a blog some time ago about learning to live without money and I am interested in finding that again. Also, our 21 acre farm is paid for but besides 9 sheep and a small garden, we aren't really using it. We both work full time and I am just ready to get out of the rat race. Any suggestions?

May 31, 2014 at 4:42 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

I'm more of a Direwolf.

May 31, 2014 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Jacquie said...

Goodness gracious woman. Just read Birchthorn it is soooo good. I hope to heavens you're not compromising your ability to publish later by posting on the blog. I didn't realize until the end that I had been holding my breath in parts. You've got to finish this puppy. It is a winner.

May 31, 2014 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger sandalfoot said...

I so admire your spirit and determination, making a go of a life style that not only suits you but is "right". Factory farming is atrocious, barbaric, unhealthy, and unfortunately, much ignored by much of our population. But people such as you are making a difference, and I hope you are being heard. When I was a child (about 60 years ago....), my grandparents, who were immigrants from Belarus, raised everything they ate except for dairy. For that, they bartered with a dairy farmer within close walking distance. They were and continue to be my heroes, in the realm of self-sufficiency. For them it was not really a choice, but the likely option over living in a tenement in Brooklyn (which they did at one time). They had a full garden, every vegetable, and fruits of every sort. Oh, my, those wonderful berries! Their less than 2-acre homestead included cherry, pear, apple, peach, and nut trees. They had bees for honey and pollination, and they had chickens, ducks, geese, and pheasants for eggs, meat, and comfort (feathers for pillows). They raised a pig a year. Grandma pickled, canned, dried, and preserved using every method available to her. (No freezer). Grampa worked as a gardener for a local family, and from there he brought home crabs from the river. We lacked for nothing...nothing of value in a value system I love. Money was scarce but not really missed. So, to address the subject of raising animals for food, it is far kinder and more humane than the alternative of buying it (unless you are fortunate to find and can afford a humane source. By raising your own meat, and sharing your story, you are passing on to yours and future generations the fact that there IS an alternative to factory farming, that you do not have to be vegetarian or vegan to deal with your concern for humane farming. Not to say that being vegetarian or vegan is a bad choice, but its not for everyone, and the alternative road you have taken reinforces the fact that one can eat meat, and animals can live a life (that they otherwise would only know as mass producers under abhorrent conditions). Thank you for doing what you are doing and for sharing your story. I am sure you are making a difference in many lives other than and along with your own.

May 31, 2014 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

To Amy Lou. I pressure can my chicken on butchering day. If you have Cornish Cross hens, they need to be butchered at the same time or they develop health problems. Other large breed chickens can be butchered at any time, but after about 5 months, I've been told they are tough and only good for dumplins or stew. The bones, wing tips, necks etc. make a wonderful broth. If you have the $, there's always solar fridges/freezers.

May 31, 2014 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

Amy Lou - My grandparents had 10 children and lived in rural Pennsylvania. They had no refrigerator. My grandmother kept chickens and when she needed a chicken for dinner, she would go in the backyard and butcher one. When you think about it, refrigeration is a relatively new invention, so chickens must have been butchered "on demand" before there were ways to preserve them.

June 1, 2014 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Calico said...

I would also like to hear about the economics and how a farm can pay the mortgage and you still live comfortably. Although I am sure that word changes meaning after the werewolf transformation.

June 2, 2014 at 12:06 AM  
OpenID thegirlwithahammer said...

I would love to hear abotu the emotional side of raising your own meat animals. A friend and I have raised two steers now, well, we didn't really do much raising. We bought them and them kept them pastured with the lady we bought them from until it was time to butcher them. That we did do ourselves. It's an interesting experience to stand in front of an animal and shoot it in the head. It's weird, it's hard, it's easy, it sucks, it's quick, it makes him into food. I'm both ok with it and not ok with it. And I think I'm ok with that. I don't think I ever want it to be EASY. Anyhow, I'd love to hear about how that process has been for you and maybe see what sort of conversation occurs in the comments.

June 2, 2014 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

No questions here - I'm living much what you're living. And yes - my next-door neighbors, formerly described as "I couldn't have custom-ordered better neighbors," no longer speak to me. Apparently the hens make too much noise in the mornings, and oh, the unbearable stench of rabbit manure was too much for them (not making this up!). Another neighbor, when I commented that these folks are very conventional, commented to me... "So are you. Just not conventional for this century."

I love that.

June 2, 2014 at 7:29 AM  
Blogger Lone Pine Farm said...

I am looking forward to this series of posts!! We bought 40 acres two years ago, and every day the itch to leave my full-time job (at which I am typing this) gets stronger and stronger. I now have an exit strategy, which makes paid employment bearable, but I don't enjoy it as much as I used to. We are feeling the change as well - instead of going to movies, we sit on the deck and discuss what our next animals will be and why; last year, we raised chicks for the first time and slaughtered most of them, and we have a gal on a nest right now cookin' up this year's batch of chicks for the freezer; we are planting seeds, noticing what edibles are already growing around us, and researching pressure cookers.

I greatly appreciate your honesty about all aspects of this life, from the cute (baby goats and Antlerborns!) to the inspirational (Merlin and Italics!) to the difficult (mortgages and midnight fears and breached fences!). Keep on keepin' on - we're right here beside you on this wild ride!

June 2, 2014 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Chris Davis said...

I know this is late, but I wanted to let you know I am really looking forward to these essays. I am just starting out with a "farm," as in we moved to 1.4 acres in November, and in May we got our first animals (non-pet). We have two French angora rabbits (technically my daughter's)that we are raising for fiber and pets to sell, one goat only used for brush (we got him for free), 9 guinea keets and 9 ameraucana chicks, and 48 chicken eggs incubating due on the 11th. I need to hear about how to carry on when your dream animals cost more in medicine than getting them in the first place, when they die even after the medicine, about the wait till you actually have some idea of what you are doing and the wait till the animals give back. I have a husband who is supportive in that "do what you want, dear" way, but doesn't want to hear about it, and 8 kids, most of whom are too young to be much help and the olders are too unenthusiastic for me to want their help. I'm working daily on the garden and animals, and right now it's lonely and hard and the housekeeping is going undone and I'm afraid we look like white trash and sometimes I just wish I could spend the time goofing off online or sleeping in instead of cleaning the brooder, again.
But I want this farm, I really do. I'm just not used to it yet. And I don't know how to juggle it along with everything else I am supposed to do.

June 3, 2014 at 8:19 PM  

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