When you make your own yogurt but don’t milk your own goats: Finding your place in an age of homesteading fanaticism

It’s a running joke amongst our friends that our place is the safe house for any type of future apocalyptic scenario. I’d like to believe that they just want to get together, laugh, drink wine, and discuss the mysticism of Yeats before the zombies descend, but in reality, there’s something about owning your own wheat grinder that makes people believe you’re ready for nuclear war.

halfsours

Half-sours on the counter always a staple during summer months

 

As homesteader credentials go, I’ve got some good ones. I’ve intentionally birthed a baby on the floor, have more chickens than children, grow kohlrabi, use wood to heat, forage for edibles, homeschooled my kids, and yes, I make my own yogurt.

bees-and-hemero

Bees and chickens perfectly complete the garden cycle for me.

But even with all that under my belt, I’m far from hard core.

I learned this the day I butchered chickens at a small homestead belonging to a friend-of-a-friend. I was inspired by what they had created there, but while the feathers flew, I snuck a glance at the seven-month pregnant owner of the farm up to her elbows in chicken entrails – she having just hung a fresh load of diapers on the line.

I thought of myself at seven months pregnant with my second child, avoiding the sights and smells of anything more offensive than a potato chip, and desperately thankful for the convenience that disposable diapers had brought into my life after two years washing and hanging up diapers in the attic of a tiny flat. Yep. Not hard core.

The lesson was further brought home as I grew older and watched the tendency of many of my homesteading friends to not only feed their babies in public (as I myself had done), but to do so with a level of nudity that rivaled ancient issues of National Geographic. A line was definitely being drawn in the sand, and I was on the other side of it – wanting to hit my fortieth birthday before I died of exhaustion and exposure.

pizza2

Raw-milk mozz, sauce from the garden and whole-wheat crust – but wait! Is that store bought parm? Hmmm….disqualification looming.

Problem is, I was also on the other side of the line drawn by the opposing camp of hydrogenated peanut butter and frozen taquitos. I couldn’t relate to friends who made different dinners for each child, or who didn’t want to compost because it was “too messy.” Neither did I keep up with the latest trends in footwear or jeans length (hard to do when one treasure hunts one’s entire wardrobe from a thrift store).

sauerkraut

End of season sauerkraut – Alright, you’re back in.

So, one side thought I was a hippie, the other thought I was a poser. Perhaps you too are stuck between these two worlds, tired of waving your evening primrose oil at Midol-gobbling friends, but not ready to have henna flowers painted on your pregnant belly. What’s a middle-of-the-roader to do?

Personally, I think we should band together and rejoice in our moderation – providing a counterweight to a world filled with extremism. Societally, we can clearly see the unhappy results of extreme thinking, but that’s nothing compared to the toll it takes on an individual seeking ideological perfection. Whether it’s credit card debt to buy the newest iPhone or two hours of sleep after processing sixty pounds of surplus cabbage – there’s always a price to pay.

And if you believe that the laid-back vibes emanating off of the Back-to-Earth movement preclude it from fostering the “I’m-better-than-you” environment that plagues the Modern Consumer Lifestyle, then you have yet to sit in a circle of women who make their own cheese, and confess to a guilty pleasure in the occasional American slice.

I was almost asked to leave the group that day.

A new movement deserves a new name of course: Extreme Moderates Society springs to mind, as does The People’s Association of Living Sensibly. My favorite has to be “The Guild of Well-Dressed Hippies,” but the acronym would defy any attempts at marketing.

waldorf-garden

Monarch waystations, school gardens, California sunshine and edible children – what’s not to love and embrace?

Nevermind. For now, let’s just forget the labels and instead believe in who we are and what we are doing. To the homesteader friends who continually ask me why I don’t keep goats or pigs, I reply “I’m a gardener, not a farmer. I keep chickens and bees.” To the suburbanite friends who ask me why I feed a furnace instead of turning a dial, I smile and share my heating bills for the last year.

Virginia main streets at Christmastime, magnolia and boxwood foliage, wine tasting and boutique store wisdom. What’s not to love and embrace?

They may puzzle over watching me slather Hellmann’s mayonnaise on homemade bread or wearing second-hand Loft one day and Sundance the next; but I challenge them to find fault in a bowl of homemade, whole-wheat pasta washed down with a factory sealed bottle of California’s finest.

If you love the freedom in the layers of a wrap-around tie-dye skirt as much as you love the tailored feel of a lined jacket – but would almost certainly never buy either in a multi-plex shopping mall – then you’re not alone. It’s not tough to live “outside the box” if that’s where your heart takes you – it’s just tough for others who are trying to put you in one.

Ignore them and pass the wine. If your lifestyle works for you and your family, that’s all it has to work for. When things are breaking down around here, it’s usually because I am trying to live up to some preconceived notion of perfection in one arena or another, and only succeeding in making everyone’s life a misery in the process.

I’d rather be a dichotomy. It gives one so much more freedom, and provides less opportunities for apology.

By | 2018-02-20T20:41:08+00:00 February 26th, 2016|

About the Author:

Marianne is the mother of two, wife of one and the voice of The Small Town Gardener. She gardens and writes from her home in the scenic (and exceptionally convenient) heart of Virginia's wine country.

6 Comments

  1. Cheryl Corson February 26, 2016 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Brava bella! I’m with you all over the spectrum and loving it. Thanks for hanging it out there!

  2. Ellen February 27, 2016 at 3:20 am - Reply

    I feel this way so often. I make my own wine from foraged knotweed, but don’t take away my liquid coffeemate. Wait. Did I go too far?

    • Marianne Willburn February 27, 2016 at 11:30 am - Reply

      We’ll just pretend you didn’t say that Ellen – but only because I’m not making my own wine.

  3. rusty duck March 1, 2016 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    I would call it having my cake and eating it. The best of both worlds. I love to live in the middle of nowhere and grow my own vegetables, but order the rest of the shopping online and have it delivered to my door from the store. I was thinking about having a few goats or pigs on temporary loan to clear a patch of woodland. Guess that fits too 🙂

    • Marianne Willburn March 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      Welcome Jessica! Yes, I have also considered having a few goats for hire to sort out the bramble thicket around here – still haven’t acted on that desire yet and once again it’s me and the mini-chainsaw and loppers waging war on the understory.

  4. Jean at Jean's Garden March 2, 2016 at 3:17 am - Reply

    I remember a friend describing me once as “not 100% granola” — as good a description as any of that in-between place. 😉

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