Updated: May 11, 2021
Earlier this month I got an email from a reader who was writing from a city. They were disheartened. They have been reading Homesteading and Farming books and following rural folks’ stories online for years. They share the same dream I know so well - to get away from the city and farm. But they were feeling as though they would never get to the point where they were finally out in the country; as if they’d lost the steam and energy to do anything towards reaching that goal. I got this email through this website, and instantly wanted to let them know a few things…
Know that all of us are struggling right now, at least the large majority of us. We’re emerging (hopefully) from an International pandemic, turbulent economy, and most of us are just trying to live month to month. I am one of those people. Even though I am here on my own land, and farming, the “dream” has never stopped at getting here. Now my dream, and my work, is to sustain it. To someone manage to use my land, skills, and wits to remain on this land I was lucky enough to find, buy, and somehow kept for 11 years. So know even those who "made it" are with you in that same fear of not having what we dreamt for.
If you are feeling hopeless towards your own farm dreams, know that I have felt the same way and I understand how gutting it can be. I have sat in spinning desk chairs, my legs crossed, starring at a screen trying to quietly decode every decision that lead me to that moment and why I agreed to all of them. Because most of my life’s trajectory wasn’t planned by me. It was decided by parents, society, schools, college, the “American Dream.” That wildly heteronormative and increasing unattainable idea to have a mortgage, a family, and a 401k. I don't know why this has become the American version of success. Success is waking up and not hating your life. And hoo boy, did I ever hate mine when I was working for other people.
I cracked. I am not recommending this version of getting onto a farm. But that’s what happened. I realized as I was heading towards 30 that the job, the clothes, the life, the farm - all of it wasn’t right and if I spent another year having to ask another adult in khakis if I was allowed to go see a dentist on a random Tuesday afternoon I was going to lose my mind. I was so unhappy. I was making horrible personal and professional decisions. I was terrified of having to date men and not be a peace by myself (turns out I was very very gay - no offense gentlemen). I was so unhappy.
But on the bright side I was already starting to earn a competitive income off my blog/classes/farming and what if I gave myself ALL of my time and energy towards that? Could I possibly do it? And what if every day I spent in the version of the life I hated was taking away from what I was dreaming of?
Again, here is where reality flows in. We need money. We need a steady income. We need to plan for our dreams. Which is why I don’t recommend quitting your job and diving into a homestead alone with the entire internet watching like I did. But I can suggest ways you can get out of your way a little and make agriculture more of your everyday life.
1. Get involved. Get involved with your local farms and farm community. Go to a farmers market and while picking out vegetables or looking at handmade goods - make the small talk with the farmers there. Tell them you wish you were on their side of the table and if they would ever want some volunteer help weeding or working livestock. You never know where a raised hand might lead you. There’s also meet ups, clubs, gardening centers, fairs, shows, and other organizations like WWOOF that set you up with farms that need help and offer room and board! And if getting off work to work somewhere else sounds impossible - you hopefully have days off or weekends where you can at least start small at home.
2. Start today. If you want to farm, start NOW. Surround yourself with the voices stories, and news of agricultural people. Hate talking to strangers? Download audiobooks of people who have shared their own path to the land. Immerse yourself in web forums of like minded people and admit you are new and want to learn. Get books from your library. Subscribe to magazines that fill coffee tables and bathroom cabinets with images and stories that inspire. Get some potting soil, plants, seeds, or start hoeing a corner of your backyard. Grow a few snap peas in a window. Hell just buy seeds online. Or email me and I will mail you some for free! Compost your veggie kitchen scraps and start making some soil right on your counter. Learn to cook from scratch. One recipe. I know this sounds like a to do list for an already exhausted and demoralized person but I don’t know of a remedy better than actively DOING the thing you want to do with your life, right now, on a smaller scale. The power you regain when you choose to grow food on a city fire escape, or make your first pasta sauce from tomatoes you picked out, or buying that first pet Angora rabbit to learn to care and process a fiber animals wool. It’s all the building blocks of your esteem, experience, and change. Start today.
3. Let your dream be flexible. If you want to work outside in agriculture, don’t make the end-all goal look too much like one thing. For example: buying and working your own small farm. As someone who has done that, I can attest that the work, time, energy, and income are hard as hell and I had to leave that one job I couldn’t stand to take on another 10 jobs to make it work. I am now raising pork, lamb, chickens, writing freelance, logo design, soap making, teaching classes, public speaking, blogging, social media hustling, and I still don’t know how I will manage this month’s bills. I’ve been doing this over ten years. And every month I need to evaluate if I need to take on more off-farm work, sell, downsize operations, like I have in the past, etc.
I know I may not be able to live here forever. I need to be open to change and allow myself a flexible dream. Maybe in ten years I’ll have an apartment in town, a malamute, work at another farm, and plant a small herb garden by my front door. Maybe I’ll own 200 acres and a flock of 100 Scottish Blackface ewes. Maybe something entirely different! My dream now is mostly to stay outdoors, upright, and optimistic. My dream is to be healthy, love my body, learn more, see more of nature and the world, learn to be quieter and overcome addictions that haunted me. This is the life I want to live. I hope I can do that on this farm as long as possible. But it also doesn't define me, my happiness, or my future.
I want any of you out there feeling stagnant to be kinder to yourselves today. Especially after this year. You made it through a pandemic. You have 2 eyes reading this crazy lady's essay. You probably have an idea where you will sleep and what you will eat tonight and that isn't nothing. These are the building blocks of luck and hope, and maybe soon as you get off this screen you'll rummage through that drawer of junk and pul out those seeds you bought at impulse at the grocery store and plant them in a yogurt tub you punched some holes in the bottom of and filled with bagged soil. You'll turn on a farming podcast, take a short walk, google some local farms and ask kindly if they offer tours or need interns or day volunteers. But know that every day you need to decide if your time goes towards despair or action, and that simply choosing the later may be the medicine you need.
Don't give up. If I'm here, you can get there.