Friday, January 1, 2010

i'm a homesteader with an iphone

Among modern homesteaders there seems to be a marriage of high tech and low-tech living. This is especially true of folks like me: people who are new to self-sufficiency and have to come to the lifestyle as adults. We've discovered this new/old way to live but still love some of the conveniences we grew up with. We want to weed our organic gardens with our MP3 players in our pockets, ripping out stray blades of grass as the fourth track from a record we just downloaded roars in our ears. We like the ideas of hybrid cars, WiFi in the barn, and popping our hand made mozzarella in the microwave before stretching it. We’ll knit our own clothes while watching a favorite movie on DVD. We’ll plug our sewing machines into the wall socket and spend three hours making a pair of canvas coveralls to help us attain the means to never want for a grid-pumping socket again. It’s a contrarian’s way to live, for sure. Perhaps some would say it’s downright hypocritical. If it is, I don’t care.

You can call me out as much as you want. You can say, “Hey, didn’t you write a whole chapter in your book about playing your own music? What’s with the iPod?” and I will continue to preach the magic and satisfaction of the fiddle and learning old tunes. That doesn’t mean I don’t think every car in America should have a copy of Ok Computer in the dash. I have no qualms with blaring Radiohead on the way to pick up canning jars. You can scoff at my iPhone, but I just found out I can download a program that helps me identify mushrooms and edible wild plants when foraging. This isn’t heresy - this is awesome. Shucks, I think the 21st century may be the greatest time in our collective history to pick up homesteading.

I feel like we’re balancing on an apex of good fortune and good advice, us modern homesteaders. We live in two worlds and have the sense to marry the best of both for a more fulfilling life. We’ve set aside any preferences for easy—allotting a little more time for the tasks that make a home run. If this was 1856 that would mean practically living with an ankle bracelet. In the past homesteaders were under house arrest. Leaving the farm meant something wasn’t being fed, cooked, skinned, weeded or sewn. But today, thanks to the advances in that same technology we can run a small farm, go to our jobs, and then come home and go see a movie. We can do this because have automatic timers on our coop lights and rototillers for our backyard gardens. We can shop online for fabric and fill our pickups with feed sacks. If you want to call this way of living hypocritical, be my guest, but I just call it lucky.

We have the tools to live in modern society and still work, eat, and breathe like the best portions of our past. Before everything got too easy, we may have worn ankle bracelets to our homes—but at least the prison food didn’t have E. Coli and we slept like draft animals because still knew how to lift a scythe or hammer. We don't need to stay within twenty acres of our houses anymore, but even if we chose to we now have high speed internet to build communities and share stories online. To me, my internet connection is as vital as the radio was when it first came out. A way to get news, hear music, share wisdom and learn. I wouldn't want to be so low tech I couldn't be without it, and I say that as someone who still breaks sod with a steel garden hoe.


Blogger Sense of Home Kitchen said...

The best of both worlds, well spoken.

January 1, 2010 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

There is nothing wrong with marrying the old and the new. I'm all for doing as many things by hand as possible. I have a Victorian age treadle Singer sewing machine as there seems to be no point having one that connects to the grid. We have a hand powered coffee grinder and a pestle and mortar because it really doesn't take that long to grind things by hand. Our lawnmower is an old barrel push along and every summer our neighbors try to lend us their electric hedge trimmers as they can't understand us doing it by hand. However I would never do laundry the Victorian way unless I had to. A whole day spent on laundry just seems daft to me!

I agree that now is a great time to be a homesteader.

January 1, 2010 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger annamaria potamiti said...

Quite fascinating, isn't it? I think it would be positively mad not to use all the wonderful time-saving and energy-saving tools on hand right now- anyone who would accuse this for hypocrisy would be having a serious problem of making the best of the world as is-
It sounds to me like you are doing an amazing and clever job of it all!
Annamaria :)

January 1, 2010 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger E said...

You may not care but people in the neighborhoods where these metals are mined and energy is produced most certainly do.

See Earth-Friendly Elements, Mined Destructively

The monster footprint of digital technology

January 1, 2010 at 2:58 PM  
Blogger Sherry Sutherby said...

It's funny the choices we make. We don't have TV/a stove/a microwave or even a fridge. We made the decision just today to stop our phone service. But here I sit in my rustic cordwood and stone office, using an old Dell computer ~ connected to the world.

As for music, I can't blend music and nature. To me, nature is music and I must have my ears to the ground at all times. I shudder to think I will miss a horse whinney or a snort of our bull, or the bleat of a newborn lamb. These things are too precious to me to be outdone by a bass guitar. That's just how I roll... :)

January 1, 2010 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

It's all about balance, right? For me, there are homegrown organic tomatoes prepared for preserving in a very modern food processor. Being finicky about performing harp acoustically, but hauling the thing around in a truck with auto start. We do what we have to do to make our lives go, conserving and spending as we need to.

January 1, 2010 at 4:52 PM  
Blogger CountryCouture said...

While my writing isn't nearly as poetic as yours, my whole blog was created for me to journal our adventure from "Couture" to "Country."

January 1, 2010 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Sylvia said...

My son studied the Dust Bowl in History this past semester. Did you know that some of those homesteading women KILLED themselves because of the stress and isolation? I say, power up the computer and text away. When you feel like you are the only one, life can be overwhelming. When you realize that you are just a mouse click away from an entire community of knowledge, support and encouragement (okay, and a lot of play, too); somehow, life has a way of calming down and becoming manageable again.
Keep that IPhone, Jenna. And for goodness sake, don't give up the Internet connection.

January 1, 2010 at 6:07 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

After learning about voluntary simplicity I've been trying to weed out the unessentials. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to forsake all creature comforts. After all wasn't the point of technological advancements to make life easier? I've learned recently that I simply can't function without a dishwasher(pathetic, I know.)but I have no problem hand shaving bars of octagon to make laundry and hand soap, to save a little cash.

January 1, 2010 at 7:04 PM  
Blogger Farmer's Daughter said...


January 1, 2010 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger bookjunky said...

In the future we won't have a choice. All that "best of both worlds" crap really doesn't match up with reality. It's not sustainable and it's not scalable to the rest of the billions on Planet Earth. You know, our brothers and sisters?

Listen, I like my comforts, too, but at least know that, while it's pleasant, it's not right.

Meanwhile, I applaud your homesteading efforts. At least you do make an effort, which is more than 99.99% of North Americans can claim, and a sincere one, too.

January 1, 2010 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger From the Country Farm said...

I too am a homesteader with modern conveniences, like a digital camera, an F-150, and a refrigerator, (but I've got to have something to keep the fresh raw - gasp- organic goat's milk I got by hand milking my girl this am and just now.) Not to mention to also keep the fresh free range eggs I just collected while doing the evening barn chores. I also weed and till by hand and grow a lot of my own food, I'll be posting the total for 2009 on my blog shortly and I dare anybody to try to take these things, whether it be the old or new things, does having either make me a bad person, or a good one? Well, it's really all about perspective now isn't it?

January 1, 2010 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I'm a product of the modern world, and don't apologize for it. I love the art of cinema, television, literature and music. That said, I understand the selfishness of the western world and it's impossible sustainability. I live like I do, trying to produce some of what I consume because of that understanding.

However I will never bash the modern world, even if I seem to retract from it. It's letting us have this conversation, it's how I pay my rent, it's the penicilin in my fridge.

I think all we can do is try to be less of the problem, and put out all our tiny efforts into one pot for a better world. We can be negative and point fingers and say we're all going down the toilet or we can repair a hole in our sweater and ride our bikes to work with a smile.

I'm all for understanding our responsibilities in the world. But I'm more for positive action than anything else.

January 1, 2010 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

It's funny that those who are condeming the "best of both worlds" life, are doing so while typing from a computer hooked to the internet.

January 1, 2010 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

No worries - I want to live in a yurt as long as it has high speed internet.

January 1, 2010 at 10:35 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

I think there is something powerful about living in "both/and" rather than "either/or." Additionally, innovation has always been welcomed in agriculture - I remember my grandfather installing a CD player in his tractor to make tending the fields more enjoyable. MP3 on.

January 1, 2010 at 10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The luxury of picking and choosing from the old and the new makes us a truly blessed society, indeed. Most people, though, just take whatever is thrown their way, accepting the new for its newness or clinging to the old for its safety. Making decisions like this is part of "mindful living," sustainable in itself and I applaud you for it.

January 2, 2010 at 8:22 AM  
Blogger Sarah Rachelle said...

You are so right to point this out. I've often contemplated about this idea myself. I think the merging of both new and old worlds is an important and valuable thing, especially since it lets each one of us define homesteading for ourselves and how we want to pursue that type of lifestyle. Not everyone would be happy to live without electricity and use an outhouse and they don't have to. That's what is so great about the 21st century - we have choices!

January 2, 2010 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What's the name of that app for the iphone?

January 2, 2010 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Marcia said...

Haven't commented before but love you blog and writings. Do you happen to have a pattern for the knitted cap pictured with the cool pocket?
Thanks, Marcia in Wyoming

January 2, 2010 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

a vermont company is making it! i'll look into it, they just put out their bird guides and they are AMAZING

You overestimate me. That is nothing more then a plain knit "scarf" made long enough to fit around my head, sewn together at the ends and cinched at the top. I knit and purled a little square and sewed it as a pocket.

January 2, 2010 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger HotFlashHomestead said...

One thing I think it's important to mention is that, once you have children, this whole landscape changes. Sure, you want them to know how to soften up the mozzarella in the microwave, but it's also important to teach them how to do it by hand. WiFi in the barn is nice...but if you don't have it, singing a song together is good, too. I guess the bottom line is that while it's nice to have the innovations while they're around, in this day and age it's extremely important to know -- and teach -- the "back to basics" way, too, because some day, our children may have a better life because they learned them.

January 2, 2010 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Abi said...

This is so true Jenna! Greg and I found a very interesting conflict when seeking funding for our egg farm. There were ag lenders who were SO excited about our ideas to incorporate tech. into our farming practices and then ag lenders who were downright threatened, insulted and angry about even the idea of 'farming evolution'.

It's an exciting time to be a young farmer as far as I'm concerned!

January 2, 2010 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Jeff Pierce said...

Gosh, if Dad had only been web savvy he could have found all the different types of seed corn and plantings out there and not just taken what Henry had on hand at the seed and feed store. If only he had an MP3 player and stored all his favorite Johnny Cash and George Jones hits while he laborously plowed identical row after row. If Mom could have downloaded new sewing patterns and tips from Martha Stewart Living. How she would have loved burning new recipes from Foodtv on a CD and trying them in the kitchen. Me? Yeah, I'm a geek who can still run the old FORD 1900 tractor while pulling the mule plow, then later debugg and defrag my DELL laptop. The best of both worlds.

January 2, 2010 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Sherry Sutherby said...

And I will fight kicking and screaming if someone ever takes my outhouse away.

January 2, 2010 at 11:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree with you; while we can work at becoming more skilled and self-sufficient, there is no reason to leave behind all the innovation of the last 150 years.

January 3, 2010 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

Totally agree!

January 5, 2010 at 3:54 PM  
Blogger Jen ( said...

What a wonderful post about something I think about often.

January 8, 2010 at 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

I have had this post sat flagged in my reader for a while now. Wanting to write something inspired to let you know how much I love your blog and particularly this post.

This is so beautifully written, in places its like you are writing about me and my life! Thank you for sharing.

January 19, 2010 at 7:02 PM  
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