A few days ago, as the thermometer on our porch hovered just above 75 for the first time in months, I spent the morning tilling our big garden and getting the first of our seeds and starts in the ground.
There's something special about just getting started. About closing the gardening books you've been looking through for weeks and putting away all the pieces of paper with the garden row layouts you've been working on... and just grabbing your gloves and work boots and saying, "ready or not, here I come."
Here on our farm, we have been working for a while now to build a more sustainable life, in every possible way. And one of the ways we are doing it is by raising and growing as much of the food we eat as possible. Instead of trips to the produce aisle at a big chain grocery store in town, we love to step out our back door and do our shopping for vegetables in the garden. To crack open eggs for Indy and I for breakfast every morning that we gathered from our hens the day before. To know where our food comes from and to be able to take pride in the fact that we participated in growing or raising it.
This isn't something new for us. Joey and I had been doing it on a smaller scale since we met, even while playing music and working on our music career. But in the last year or so, I've been really digging in and doing the things that she and I had wanted to do for years, but never felt quite ready. At the beginning of 2020, I stopped thinking and planning for someday, and just got started. Although I didn't do much blogging about it, I did make and share quite a video stories about our homestead adventures throughout the year...
- gathering eggs for our incubator in March
- when the first little piglets arrived in May.
- hooking the horse-trailer behind the bus and driving to Alabama to pick up our cows.
- and harvest day for our broiler chickens in October. Along with many others.
We have now big freezers in the barn packed full of our own pork, and chicken that we raised here at our farm. And in our fields, cows are grazing near the chickens and pigs. By this fall, we'll have our own beef and turkeys to add to everything else in the freezer.
And just across the driveway here on our farm, the one-room schoolhouse is doing a similar thing. The children have their own gardens and chickens and goats and pigs and even a donkey named Dolly. They are learning about food and where it comes from. About life and how it grows abundantly all around us, if we look for and care for it. This week the kids are starting more seeds in their greenhouse, and are going to be boiling gallons of sap that they've collected from the trees in the backwoods here on the farm and learning to turn it into maple syrup.
In a word, we are homesteading.
That's a term that a lot of folks have probably never heard of, and the ones that have, might only remember it from their history books and the great Oklahoma and prairie land rush of the late 1800s. And that is some of where the phrase comes from. But 'homesteading' is alive and well on our farm and thousands of others all across America and the world today. Wikipedia defines it as "a lifestyle of self-sufficiency." And it is about the choices we and many other families everywhere are making, now even in 2021. Especially in 2021. Modern homesteaders: who are doing what they can, where they are, with what they have... to live a more sustainable life.
Here on the farm, we are 'homesteading', because what we raise is for us. For my sisters and me and our families. We aren't growing gardens and beef and pork or chicken commercially to take to market. Instead, it's just for our homes and the people who live in them.
Joey and I followed a number of modern-day homesteaders through the years via blogs or books they write or the YouTube stories they share to learn more about how to be more self-sufficient. And through the years, I've been blessed to become friends with a number of them, especially Joel Salatin, who is probably the most well-known farmer in America. He is who most folks have looked to for guidance and expertise in the homestead and self-sustaining agricultural movement of the last twenty years or so...including us. I've been blessed to spend weekends at Joel's 'Polyface Farm' in Virginia and he's done the same at ours. He and I did an event together in Montana last summer and this past fall, and he came and did a couple of lectures on farming in our concert hall for the Homesteaders of America national conference. And while he was here at the farm, was a special the guest teacher for the day at our one-room schoolhouse.
This coming May, we are going to be hosting a big homesteading event here at our farm, called "learn to homestead in a weekend"... where Joel and many of the leaders in the movement from all over will be coming to speak and teach about homesteading to people and families are interested in learning more about it. I was going to post about it, but it sold out before I even got a chance to. Besides concerts where myself and others perform at the concert hall (now named Homestead Hall), our plan is to do more similar events like the May conference, in the near future.
Although the May conference sold out... Joel recently made a homesteading 'masterclass' course that launched this week. It's an online program that people can sign up for and learn from home. My neighbor Gabe McCauley, (his little girl Scout, was one of Indy's best friends) and his team made the course with Joel. I've just started watching and am about halfway through the program and I SO love it.
Joel is passionate about helping others learn to be more self-sufficient. To think about where their food comes from and how you can take part in growing it for your family. He is a wonderful communicator and has so much wisdom to offer. Not just in homesteading. But also in just building a better, more fulfilling, and more sustainable life in general.
These are strange times. The past year in particular has been difficult for all of us and has caused most of us to rethink a lot of things... like what is truly important in life, and what isn't. For me, it has only reinforced what I was already thinking and where we were already headed.
If you have been thinking about homesteading or living a more self-sustaining life and want to learn more, you can find out all about Joel's course HERE. Not everyone lives on a farm or is interested in moving to one. But one of the great things, as I mentioned, is that we can all 'do what we can, with what we have, where we are' to be more self-sufficient.
There are lots of wonderful online places and people to learn from. Folks like Jill Winger's thepriariehomestead.com, Shaye Elliot's theelliotthomestead.com, and Justin and Rebecca Rhode's abundantpermaculture.com just to name a few. And of course, read everything that Wendell Berry writes. He is a master farm-to-table storyteller of a whole different breed. But I'll save that for another blog post.
Happy homesteading friends.