The Birth of a Homestead
Since it is the beginning of a new year, and I am rebooting my blog, I decided it is a good time to review the year that has just passed to give you an idea of how we got to where we are today.
For most of my adult life, I have been trying to return to the off-grid, rural roots I had while growing up. My mom grew a garden, we had goats, and we lived in the middle of 5 acres in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with empty lots of forest on either side of us. It was idyllic, but we had to leave it when I was 12. I wasn’t yet 20 when I started yearning to return, but the circumstances of my life always seemed to prevent it.
Fast forward to this past year, 2020. The year of the pandemic, of political turmoil, and the economic turmoil that the combination of those two things created. Now that we are homeowners, we are a lot more stable than at any point in my previous adult life. The pandemic brought me new opportunities to make the most of that fact. In the face of empty grocery shelves, I decided to finally pursue my dream. I started converting this property into a rural-urban homestead.
Since I live in a tiny town (fewer than 2000 inhabitants in about 36 square miles), I consider this to be rural. But, I live in the town part of it, with neighbors only 100’ away on either side, so it is as urban as you can get in such a rural town. It has features and constraints of both. We live in a (once-) grand Victorian house dating back to 1850, with 9’ ceilings, and huge windows, and lots of drafts. My kitchen is one of the coldest rooms in the house, which makes it easier to leave hardy vegetables on the counter for storage. There is also a huge garage that once served as a car service and repair shop, but which is in a sad state and in dire need of repairs to its slate roof. I daresay that garage might be larger than the house, and has three additions. These two buildings sit on approximately ¾ of an acre, bordered by black raspberry canes and sumac, and a wooded section along the back of the property that has some maples, oaks, and more sumac, along with some pesky knotweed. I had a lot to work with.
The first thing I did was build some quick raised beds in my front yard. I’ve never been good at keeping the lawn mowed, so a front yard garden was definitely an improvement. I raised a few plants to get the hang of it, so I could make my mistakes on a small scale and hopefully learn enough to avoid them on a larger scale next year.
We have had laying chickens for a little over six years now, and they have done a pretty good job of providing us with enough eggs most of the time. This year we added some meat chickens and some ducks as well. The ducks came first, in April, as week old babies. They were incredibly adorable, and equally messy. I was so relieved when they moved out to the backyard where the chickens live. The next day, I brought home 15 Cornish Cross chicks, and we raised our own meat birds for the first time.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, our dairy farmer quit the business and we found ourselves in need of a new source for milk. My family raised goats when I was young, so that seemed the most logical step to take. I built a shed for them (I imagined it would be able to be disassembled and moved, but that turned out not to be the case), and we picked up two goats. That was when we learned that they were not dairy goats, but meat goats. I thought I might try breeding the girl anyway, but we ended up deciding to eat them instead once we got two dairy girls.
My long-suffering husband has patiently tolerated my turning our home into a farm, and I can truly say that reconnecting to the cycles of nature, which is inevitable when you raise crops and livestock, saved my sanity this year. Many times I went out to milk and I lay my head on the doe’s belly while I milked, and just inhaled her earthy smell. The rhythm of milking would bring down my stress levels, and I was emotionally stable again.
Some of the skills I learned this year include canning, lacto-fermenting, root cellaring, and animal processing. We slaughtered and butchered our own chickens, and the two meat goats. I found a local farm stand that had specially priced canning boxes of fruits and vegetables, and I took advantage of those to learn preservation techniques. Filling the freezer and pantry with food that we grew ourselves or bought from our neighbors was so satisfying. I am so grateful for the privilege of being able to do so.