Wednesday, April 7, 2010

why homestead?

If you knew me growing up you’d probably be surprised to find out that after a perfectly normal suburban childhood, I ended up standing in a chicken coop at 5 a.m. ankle-deep in straw and chicken poo.

After all, that was never the plan. I grew up in the complacency of small town America. We had a fine house with a beautiful back yard, neighborhood friends, and wonderbread sandwiches. Once a year near Halloween, my parents would take us three kids to a small family farm with a pumpkin patch. I’m fairly certain that annual trip was the closest I ever got to the farmlife.

Now, 26 and on my own in rural Vermont — things have changed. Bread comes from my oven — not plastic bags with twist ties. Eggs come from the chicken coop — not a styrofoam container. And vegetables come from the garden not the produce section (though technically, the garden is the produce section of the property, but you know what I mean.) My life went from an urban design job in the city to the path of an apprentice shepherd. While I still have a 9-5 job, my weekends are spent at sheepdog clinics and lambing seminars. The dream is to raise lambs up here in the gambols of Vermont. And the road to that reality is a lot different than the one I’ve been trained for in college. (They don’t teach you how to pull out an inverted lamb from a stubborn ewe in typography classes, just a heads up for any designers-turning-farmers out there.) Anyway, I’ve been sweating, tilling, and stepping in random feces for a few years now and whenever someone who knew me before all paths lead to sheep runs into me, they always ask me the same question.


Why would a perfectly normal middle class gal, who had a nice city job, and a pleasant apartment pick up her life and shake it till trowels and feed sacks fell out? Why spend a year learning to raise chickens and keep bees and nearly pass out of heat stroke in the garden when eggs, honey, and broccoli are all for sale at the grocery store for less than the cost of that hoe in your blistered hands?

There are a lot of canned answers to this and you know them already. As fellow homesteaders (or friends there of) you get the whole “homegrown-satisfaction-quality-of-life-green-living” bit. All those reasons ring true for me too, but there’s something else writhing below those surface answers. Something deeper that makes me smile in the garden or laugh from my belly in the bird yard.

It’s the honesty of knowing what I do everyday directly helps keep me alive.

It’s that simple.

Gardening, farming, raising animals — these are seen as labor or hobbies to most. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “Farming isn’t my thing” which is always said with flippant arrogance masquerading as either city-slicker inadequacy or self-effacing ambivalence. Which is fine. If it weren’t for people not wanting to farm, farmers wouldn’t have any business in the first place. But here’s the thing. If you ever ate anything that had to be raised, slaughtered, or planted — farming is definitely your thing. Actually, It’s the only thing.

We can sit on the porch and talk all day about philosophy and religion and what people want. But the conversation about what the human animal needs is pretty short — food, shelter, water, protection. While I love the literature, art, and amazing questions people ask about ‘what we want’. I find true peace and purpose taking control of what I need.

Raising and growing your own is more than a lifestyle — it is life. Contrary to popular belief there is nothing altruistic about it. Homesteading is the most self-involved way to live. But it’s exactly how most animals do live, and there’s no logical reason for any of us to think we have the world figured out better than anything else stumbling around the planet. Animals live a wild life of procuring food and creating life. The shepherd with a lamb in his arms is no different than the wolf with a lamb in his jaws. Two animals with food being the center of their present lives. I love that so much about farming, you just can’t know.

So I suppose that is why I homestead. The correctness of survival. The wildness of understanding basic needs. It all draws me in and keeps the bit between my teeth. It lets me feel more a part of the world in the most basic sense. Thanks to the egg, garden, and lamb — I too can gain all the satisfaction I need from being in charge of my own life. You know, there’s a reason eating a salad you grew yourself tastes so good, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask that wolf.

First published on, 2008.


Blogger Nikki said...

Yay Jenna, I do love your writing, but I tell you girl, this lack of a closing on the Jackson farm is really worriting me.
Have you not heard yet?
Perhaps it's time to become the very squeaky wheel here, so we can all roll into your future with you!

April 7, 2010 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree the suspense is killing me! I want you safe and happy with mud you own caked on those boots.

April 7, 2010 at 10:51 PM  
Blogger Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

I couldn't agree more. It may seem like a waste of my time to grow and raise food but I always dine with satisfaction. There is nothing like putting together a meal of foods that you provided for yourself. The only thing better might be sharing that meal with someone you love.

April 7, 2010 at 11:12 PM  
Blogger d said...


I'm attempting to track spring as it moves north across the country by tracking first bloom times, and I could really use your help publicizing my efforts. This is useful for beekeepers, but also for lots of other folks too. I'd really appreciate it if you could take a look and pass the link on, if you find it a worthy effort!

Thanks a ton!

Dr. Dominic Ebacher

April 7, 2010 at 11:16 PM  
Blogger Rabbit said...


and thank you

April 7, 2010 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Rene said...

Very well thought out! I think for me it's all about being involved in every step of the creative process. When I can take a seed, get a plant, grow a tomato, then slice it on my pizza I feel like I've had a hand in every step of the creative process. That's also why I want fiber goats so I can collect their fiber, spin it in to yarn, and make it in to something. Artists are always talking about "complete creative control" and with homesteading you get that.

April 8, 2010 at 1:23 AM  
Blogger Mountain Walker said...

It takes real WORK to make food happen. The sweat of my life to fill my belly is much more satisfying than sitting at a desk filling my belly. I've done them both. It is deeply satisfying on a level that not many people get (or seek) to experience any more. Dirty hands and sore muscles are what remind me that I am alive and that I am capable. Work....It is a worthy task.

April 8, 2010 at 1:47 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Guy: I actually got yelled at for emailing too much, my realtor and broker stopped replying to me. I am very worried and have called everyone from the lawyers to the bank and right now I am just waiting for the clear to close from the USDA. It should be any day now...

April 8, 2010 at 6:34 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

Jenna - I could have written that same post (though not as eloquently!). I was a suburban, wonderbread fed child who visited the occasional farm shop and petting zoo. I grew up and had an urban career after University. Then I planted something in a small raised bed and that was it. Everything changed.

Turns out I never wanted a lifestyle either, just a life. Now I have chickens and sheep, and a small greenhouse. We just closed on 10 acres of land and I'm stepping up to the plate, increasing my flock and investing in a polytunnel. I look at animal poo as potential now, food for the soil.

I'm really happy you've found it too.

April 8, 2010 at 8:05 AM  
Blogger Thistledog said...

Well said, Jenna. As Wendell Berry put it, eating is an agricultural act. There is a powerful "rightness" in embracing the process, work, skills and commitment required to produce our own food, and more people are realizing that every day.

April 8, 2010 at 9:34 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Awww Bylers!!! I still go with your sister every year!!!

April 8, 2010 at 9:42 AM  
Blogger Maria said...

Another wonderful post, Jenna....down here in Southern New England, we are eating dandelions from the back yard and broccoli rabe from the greenhouse!

I'm also wondering about your Jackson farm. I'm hoping you post one day and say "It is mine".

April 8, 2010 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger cpcable said...

So eloquent; I feel the same way. I love reading all that you write here, Jenna, which is why you should check out my blog today...I have something for you! :)

April 8, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

It's the ultimate in homeland security. Whether you lose your job, or get cut off from town by a snowstorm, you know you have the means to survival at hand. Another reason to sleep well at night.

April 8, 2010 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

I couldn't have said it better myself, especially this line:

flippant arrogance masquerading as either city-slicker inadequacy or self-effacing ambivalence.

If I let it get to me, that attitude would make me so angry. People say, "How do you have time to do that? I never could," and I want to say, "My day is 24 hours long, just like yours, and near as I can tell, we both have the same basic faculties. Don't degrade my accomplishments by treating them like some extraordinary feat that is out of the ordinary person's reach."

April 8, 2010 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Tara said...

Joshua - thanks for making that statement. I get those same remarks and have the same follow up thought ALL THE TIME. When someone says "I could never do that" usually it means "I'm afraid to do that" (barring, of course, the occasional person that has a real limitation of some sort, but those are rare). I always think (and sometimes say) "Yes, you can - it's just a matter of chosing to."

April 8, 2010 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

I agree with Flartus that it's the ultimate homeland security. Don't get me wrong; I love getting dirt stuck under my nails, too. But the less I have to buy from the store, and the more I can harvest and store or preserve from my backyard, the better I'll feel about the future. That's why I'm doing it, anyway.

April 8, 2010 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

Here Here Jenna! Well said. Other people might not understand why we have this inate desire to sustain ourselves with our own hands, but the eloquence of your words can definately help convey it! I am copying your article off to my family so perhaps they can start to get it too. Thanks!

April 8, 2010 at 12:50 PM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

Yes. In fact YES. That is exactly "why" we do these things. I tried explaining to the folk at work how happy I was that the farm where my CSA is run is letting me buy a pig and will then show me how to butcher it when the time comes. I have named this pig in my mind (goza after pork dumplings) and I will love it and then be really darn grateful for the meat. The response I got was that I wasn't right in the head. I'll feel even better when it's a pig I've raised on my own land same as I do about the veges I currently get.

Great post hun. Looking forward to the one with the closing date.

April 8, 2010 at 1:59 PM  
Blogger kmfukuda said...

Jenna- I love your writing. You inspire me to do much more than I ever thought I would want to. Thank you.

April 8, 2010 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger Meagan Elliot said...

Amen, Sister! I admire you and the life you've made for yourself. And I thank you for sharing it with all of us.
--Meagan from Duvall, WA

April 8, 2010 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Rene said...

Jenna, I can't believe your realtor would do that. That's a real shame. He should be the one calling you to keep you updated even if there is no news. You signed the paperwork weeks ago so they're really dragging their heels. He's responsible for the process until you've got the keys in your hand. I'll keep on hoping for you. I check here every day to see if it's done yet.

April 8, 2010 at 2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfect as usual, Jenna! I too am a suburban/PB&J kid. We could have been neighbors growing up. I have been stuck in the suburbs with "barnheart" for far too long, a country girl in the city.
Hang in there. We keep praying for you to have your farm. :)

April 8, 2010 at 3:42 PM  
Blogger ShepherdWannabe said...

So much word to this post. THIS is what I want my life to be. One day....

April 8, 2010 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger Sassidy Sparks said...

I think that one is my favorite post. it sums up everything beautifully. Thanks

April 8, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

do YOU really raise your own vegetables through the Vermont (N.E. Winters) so you don't have to buy them at the grocers??? Please elaborate and tell me how??? So interested

April 8, 2010 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Sharon Delman said...

Today, we enjoyed peas from our garden, watched the chickens joust for vegetable scraps, and learned to sit quietly and watch the bees. Thanks for your continued inspiration and a wonderful post on why you do what you do.

April 8, 2010 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Moose Nuggets said...

Had to giggle about this post actually. Sone grebes cane to help build our chicken coop last week and spent the while time shaking their heads about our "silly" project.
But THIS barnhearted gal (um, such a city slicker at one time that I truly thought wild turkey was a beverage and not an actual animal), I beamed with pride when one of out coop builders patted my two year old o. The head and asked if she was excited about getting cute baby chicks. Without a thought, she said, "yup. Cute baby chicks that are gonna grow into big chicks and then we are gonna eat them right up!"
the look on our friends face was priceless. Pretty sure he wasn't expecting our two year old to know where our food was coming from. When he commented on how smart she was, she said, "nope. I'm not smart. I'm a farm girl."

April 9, 2010 at 1:43 AM  
Blogger Natural Mark said...

Another awesome post Jenna and I can echo a lot of the journey you are on. I also grew up whitebread, went to design school, started a design business for the past 11 years and just a few months ago bought a small century farm... then some chickens... then a greenhouse... and much more to come. I don't miss the city at all and I realize I am finally home. It just feels like this is the way we were meant to live.

We are really enjoying tagging along on your adventures and learning much from you along the way. Cheers!

April 9, 2010 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Jasmine said...

Check out the book "Solviva" by Anna Edey. She's been doing exactly that, using (almost) ONLY passive solar power on Martha's Vineyard for decades!
Its a truly inspiring book.
While I'm all about summer production and food preservation for winter, and here in Interior Alaska we have only a few hours of sun a day and 40 below, rather than the 4 below Solviva contends with; I intend to start experimenting with the applicability of her techniques up here within the next few years....

April 9, 2010 at 4:38 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I some times get this question from my family which is strange since my parents always had a garden and chickens when we were growing up and at one time even a couple of pigs. So I don't think of it as something different more like going back to the way it was when I was a kid. I explain it in this way and then my sibs get it.

April 9, 2010 at 7:44 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

This is a beautiful piece! I agree 100% with everything you say.

April 12, 2010 at 12:51 PM  

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