a good home

Now and then you get a good reason to reflect on your choices, the big ones. This week, I’ve had the opportunity to think about all the reasons we’ve had for moving back to this beautiful piece of the country. There are many.good flowerMy parents, in their fresh, idealistic twenties, bought a piece of land in an adjacent county when they were pregnant with me. They wanted to live simply, in a small rural community, surrounded by the natural world and good people. If that sounds familiar, then you’re not alone.

Their dreams didn’t proceed according to plan exactly, but one part that seems to have worked out is that I came up into the love of this place, and a general appreciation for small towns and countryside. Of course, I also wanted out of here when I was a teenager. I wanted to explore, and I did. But it didn’t take much exploration to realize how good we have it here. I hiked miles and miles to see gorgeous vistas, and I’d seen just as nice from home. I bathed in clear pools in exotic places, that reminded me of the clear pools of home. We don’t have big mountains, or beach front worth mentioning, but other than that, the land is beautiful, rainfall regular enough, the air is nice, and the cost of living reasonable.

This is a place where I knew I could make it.monarch 2

And of course, then there’s the fact that my folks and friends are here.

Everyone wants a good place to raise their children, right? Safe enough, clean enough. But many many people all over the world raise their children in un-safe and un-clean environments because they have community. By ‘community’, let’s suppose I mean extended, strong-knit groups of family and friends that support one another as needed in their daily lives. This used to be completely normal. It is the foundation of civilization. But now, with the greater mobility of humanity, things have changed, sort of.

In the old days, community was tied to the land, and to whatever works that hands and bodies could do to keep everyone afloat. And the folks in the community could decide what to do in and with the land and the water around them, how to use their resources to support themselves. Since it is very important to have clean water to drink and healthy food to eat, no one would engage in an industry that would infringe on those basic factors, because it wouldn’t be good for the community at large, and the community at large was just as key to one’s quality of life as the water, air and soil.

So, ideally (and I know I am functioning on the realm of ideals here), a great many people on this earth used to live with the support of their family and friends in small communities with clean water, good food, and a fair amount of access to the great outdoors (seeing as that’s where clean water and good food come from).

I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to live here and raise my family. Many people are not in the position to make that leap for reasons cultural, physical, or economic. We are engaged in that sort of whole-community that I’m describing, as much as any modern Western family could hope. The busy-ness of our life includes our extended family on a day-to-day basis.  We grow most of our own food and have friends who help provide what we can’t grow. We have training lines of work that allow us to make enough income inside and outside of the farm. And we love it here. We love the beauty of this land and the slower pace and spatial freedom of rural life.monarch 3

That’s the beautiful part. That’s the love. This said, I’m disappointed in our larger community right now. A few years ago, a commercial chicken hatchery moved into our county. It set up shop in the industrial zone of our county seat. This is not a chicken house, exactly, since they don’t grow the broilers (the birds that are for sale in the meat section of the average grocery store), but they are a piece of the industrial chicken industry (you can learn about them, and even download their mobile app, here). It didn’t take long for another chicken factory to open up on a farm right next door to our friend and neighbor Jeff Poppen (a piece of Jeff’s story can be found here). Those houses, again, not broiler houses, but just a step removed, are just several hundred feet from what was Jeff’s back door. Their scale is staggering, and Jeff fought through the difficult situation as far as he could. In the end, he didn’t feel good about litigation because it wouldn’t come down on the corporation itself, but on his neighbor who had signed the contract with the corporation.

Now, a couple years down the road, more chicken houses are in the works in the neighborhood, just a couple miles north of our place as the crow flies.

A small community in the next county over has several chicken farms established, and it isn’t a pleasant place to drive through with the car windows down. I guess the smell wasn’t too bad at first, but it has grown over the years.  I can’t say much about other effects that the industry has had on the neighborhood because I don’t have much reason to go there.

In my opinion, a rotten stink of over-crowded poultry in the air is a pretty big detriment to quality of life. Right now, when I walk outside, I can take a deep breath and the air is good. Sometimes, it’s sweet. As I walk around the farm and woods throughout the seasons, I get all kinds of different smells. Falling leaves have a scent of their own. Winter has a clean and cold smell. And in the growing season there are wild roses and honeysuckle, and so many blooms to mingle in my senses. I don’t live here just because the air smells nice, but it is an integral part of the sensation of HOME for me.honeybee3

People say all kinds of things to help justify the stink. “Smells like money”, is one I keep hearing. But what is that money for if the land of your farm is polluted for generations to come, the well is contaminated, and you and your neighbor’s property values plummet? In my opinion, this movement toward industrial factory agriculture indicates a profound lack of creativity. There are a great many ways to make money, to feed people, and to steward a farm.

Here in our home, we have several small businesses. None of them on their own are enough to support us, but altogether, they make enough. It’s not hard to grow food here. Sure, there’s rocks and clay, but seeds sprout readily and the rain falls, and we have enough. We grow most of our own, and though it takes time and is some hard work, we sure don’t need a gym membership to keep ourselves fit. We’re not even close to wealthy, but we don’t take hand-outs, we have plenty of food, and our landscape is clean and beautiful. That means more to us than the promise of a big paycheck.

Farming is not generally profitable in our modern economy. Strange thing, really, since the only true profit happens in nature – have a bred cow and soon you will have two head of cattle – plant a singular tomato seed and before long you will have LOTS of tomatoes – no one else offers dividends like nature. With a little creativity, a little imagination, farms can stay beautiful and keep a family alive, too. My fellow farmwives and many of our other friends, are living examples of this reality. I doubt any of their neighbors have ever been bothered by unpleasant odors or a damaged vista from their livelihood.

I’m saddened that this small, beautiful, rural community has lost touch with the intrinsic value of clean air and water, and the blessing of decent land to work. I’m saddened that a farmer, land owner, and neighbor can, with the assistance of the corporate agriculture industry, make decisions that will degrade the land they steward, and their neighborhood, for years to come. I’m wondering where we took a wrong turn and ended up here, in this time, with these poor choices being played out. There is no singular answer to that line of wondering. I am sad, and I do my wondering, because I love it here. I don’t want to turn tail and flee. I don’t want to see bad feelings created between neighbors. We all want the same things. We want to be happy; we want a good home.monarch 1

There’s no doubt I’ll be mulling over issues of this nature for awhile. If you have any stories about rural communities dealing with the in-flux of industrial agriculture in creative and inspiring ways, I would love to hear them.

fifteen years of lovin’

IMG_8231Tomorrow, Eric and I will celebrate fifteen years of marriage. Fifteen.

Goodness gracious.

When my mind is caught up in the day to day grind, it’s so easy to be aghast… geez, where does the time go? But when I really think back to the beginning, and compare it to what makes up my current day to day life… well. It’s pretty obvious that those fifteen years have been quite full. When we first moved to this farm in 2001, we were still practically newlyweds. It felt just right to be living in a 15′ x 20′ cabin in the woods with no electricity, an outhouse, a sketchy water system, a small garden, a creek as a bathtub, a hive of bees, a dog and a handful of chickens, no kids, and a tiny amount of savings. We had practically no bills, aside from vehicle insurance for two not-so-nice rides and a phone bill. I’m not really sure what we did with all of our time back then, but we must have been dreaming up some pretty good dreams. (Horror of horrors, we didn’t even have the internet…) We had the incredible privilege of care-taking this farm for a friend for a few years, and getting a small business established, before biting the mortgage bullet.

Like a fruit tree in a newly planted orchard, we had time to grow our roots.

IMG_8230We started our small business, a vegetable CSA out of Nashville, with just seventeen shareholders. The Bugtussle CSA grew to eighty-five shareholders a few years later, which at the end of that growing season we deemed far too many, and backed down to around a comfortable and steady fifty shareholders. We are now winding down our thirteenth season with this business, and some of those shareholders have been riding the seasons with us from the very beginning. That’s something.

Back in the day, our first livestock, aside from a few chickens, was a couple of milk goats. Then a sickly calf that our neighbor gave us as a “project” that I walked around on a leash up to the pasture each day. Then a handful of sheep. Then our first milk cow, Dehlilah. Then more sheep, more cows, more chickens. And on and on. We even bought a second farm in the spring of 2008, adding 50 more acres and a second mortgage to the bustle and insanity of this thing we were creating, this crazy offspring of a crazy beautiful marriage. IMG_8204Somewhere along the way, we started having babies, too. Three of them to be exact. Three wild, fiercely independent, creative souls came into our lives to make our marital bonds stronger; making us related by blood. Three incredibly strong forces that rock our world each and every day. (And never let me shake the nagging feeling that I wasted a lot of time before they were here with us.) Three little beings that required us to build a room onto our tiny little cabin in the woods not just once, but twice.IMG_8208The littlest one of our family, Livi, with be turning five tomorrow. We share a special day, making it all the more special. The very early morning of our tenth wedding anniversary, she arrived with the howling wind into the darkness of our (newly completed) bedroom, precious love child that she is. Oh, but, not so fast Livi… not so fast.IMG_8233Funny how when I reflect on all of these years of marriage, I can’t help but also reflect upon what Eric and I have created together. Our family. Our farm. Our incredible friendship. Our shared vision for all of the years we have yet to see. There is just no separating one from the other. It’s all one big tangled lovely mess.IMG_8235

right now:: launching

I have been intrigued  by crowd funding for quite a while, the idea of mobilizing one’s community to financially support a specific project or idea fascinated me. My personal fascination was fueled by the truth that as full time first generation farmers, Paul and I are pouring nearly every cent we earn into paying for this land.  We are, to put it gently, chronically short on capital. Simultaneously however, we occupy this amazing place at the center of a rather large, extremely supportive, delightfully diverse community. Over the past months my fascination grew and grew and my research verged on obsessive and my project solidified and now, I mean right now, I did it.  This very moment  I launched my Indiegogo crowd funding campaign.

wowza. I sort of feel like i have jumped off of the edge of a cliff into a deep, beautiful, but rather unknown body of water. So dear readers, check it out. Watch the video. Read the story. Spread the word. There are some fine tidbits of our farm’s history, some stellar photographs, a great project to support, some darn good perks and a little more insight into what I do with my time.