I read somewhere that sometimes trying to create a change or, as some say, having the universe tell you to change, that the indications will come in the form of some kind of pain. The idea that in order to make the change happen, give one determination and to help ensure that it has staying power, one must become so uncomfortable with the current situation that change must happen. I do believe that I we are getting that sort of message.
The next evolution in this great farm adventure is a powering down to a more residential speed limit from the full on throttle of the expressway that has been going on for more than 10 years.
The farm has come along in stages. I have written and spoken with others about the concept of entering “The Last Third” of our lives now that Zina and I have both entered our 60’s. All of the work going forward is now to simplify into our eventual retirement (Zina said I never retired. I just changed jobs). I know from several indications (including my wife’s demeanor – gasp!) that we are entering that phase of our homestead lifestyle. Also, and just as importantly (and it affects my moods as well) is that my body is pretty beat up. I am arthritic from my neck to my ankles. My breakfast friends have named that particular pain inflictor, Arthur (Arthur – itis). It can make life pretty unbearable. The inflammation makes things flair up and all I want to do is sit. Throwing 2000 lbs. of feed bags in a day is getting pretty ridiculous. Therefore, it is time to position ourselves for the phase of enjoyment and contentment in the Shire that we spent so long creating.
Phase 1 of the farm was, of course, to build it. I was compelled by a vision of what it should look like so that it could do almost anything we wished. Check that off the list. Mission accomplished.
Phase 2 was to have all of the rural preps (beyond food and water) available so that we could be safe out here in the sticks from injury, health issues, power outages and storms. Check.
Phase 3 was to use the farm to not only feed us but to feed us into the future. As they say in survivalist parlance, “Stack it to the rafters.” We learned how to dehydrate, can, freeze, ferment, dry pack and freeze dry. The freeze dryer was a game changer. Nothing from the gardens goes to waste anymore. Check. Next was to figure out the best way here to do water catchment. I would still love a below ground cistern, but given that Zina is now in charge of the home renovation projects, the tanks I have will have to suffice. We did find that by putting a livestock water trough heater in the 1000 gallon tank that we were able to keep it from freezing, which could have ruptured the valve that is used as a faucet. There is more to do, but as you will read, we now are to one step at a time and are eliminating the frantic pace of farm construction multitasking. As Tom Brady said after his last game of the season, “I am retiring…. This time for real.”
So now we are on to Phase 4. This stage is the move to simplify, de-clutter and to live at the level of a simmer instead of a full roiling boil; enjoyment instead of prepping and building. This is something I wish I could tell the younger families that have launched out on this homesteading journey. This kind of project can consume you. That isn’t a bad thing considering the screen mesmerized zombies of suburbia, but you MUST be able to see there being an end game to this craziness, or crazy is what it will drive you to become. You need to be able to see where it all ends up eventually so that all the pieces add up to a whole picture instead of a hodgepodge of things that don’t tie together. Planning is as important as having.
Sure, repairs will always be needed and things will need to be maintained, but the build out phase will and must end.
The accumulation phase will also end. If you keep piling things up for different tasks you will never be able to become the master of any of it. You will also have enough and you need to know what that level is. Defensive tools and gates, etc. are finite and will simply need to be maintained. Your pantry will also be filled at some point simply because no one has infinite space. Use it, and when needed, rotate it and replenish it. Use your gardens and buy in bulk to keep things leveled off, but at some point, it will be enough. Use water tank systems to hold water and cycle it out just like the food. Know how to purify it and have filtration systems. We hold around 1100 gallons currently and use the barn roof to catch more. Living in a drought prone area of the country makes this something of a necessity.
This does NOT constitute a complete life – unless of course you lack imagination. If you live this 24/7 I wouldn’t consider you a homesteader or even a simple a hobby farmer, I would classify you as a kind of a first class tinfoil hat wearing prepper. Hyper-vigilance about the crazy state of affairs in the world is one thing, an inability to create, thrive and live contentedly as a result of your efforts is quite another. If you can’t do that… what then is the point?
So our phase 4 then is to focus on the things that give our lives meaning and contentment; to use all of these prepper and homesteading skills (which are, in themselves, significant) to allow for what everyone in this country is always yammering on about: Freedom and Liberty – and I would add even as importantly – creativity and self-expression. Use your off – grid life to do the things in life that you love, without the complete despondence for and complete dependence on, a system that has proven time and time again to not care one bit about you. Use the farmstead, not hide like a scared mouse. Use it to break free of that which Kurt Anderson coined, “The Fantasy Industrial Complex” that you embarked upon all these years ago to escape. Create your safe place, then exploit that safety and self-sufficiency to live a life of purpose and contentment. You get to choose what that is. This is how the creative spirit (or just my receptive brain hating bodily pain) sorted things out for us; taking a roiling boil down to a self-sustaining simmer.
You see, in our case, knowing how to raise and store our own food doesn’t mean that it has to be all consuming in scope. It can be taken back up at any time and for any reason, especially if we see the shelves becoming too thin. It is ok if some of our pastures lay fallow or that the pig pens don’t always have pigs in them. We can do it again in the blink of an eye. It’s not like we will forget how. We are simply choosing to switch to other more creative elements of our lives. So the work this year will still be a LOT of work. It is just to decommission some of it to make way for other things. The turkeys need to be processed along with the stewing birds (all of which got delayed because of this pretty harsh winter we have been in). The layer flock will always need tending (and given the egg shortages is more valuable than the mutual funds I used to utilize)
The pigs, because of the cost of feed now, need to be reduced and then zero’d. BUT, as I say this to the younger of us venturing out, all of these meat and protein sources can be hatched out again or acquired from other breeders whenever we need to. If handled properly, just these sources I mentioned will be a year or more worth of food. I will likely end up freeze drying at least one whole pig. In addition, the greenhouse needs repairing so the gardens will be lighter this year. I do really enjoy having the goats for cheese and soap making so that will be ongoing. The house and the garage need arranging and de-cluttering. But as you can see, all of this is leading to the slow simmer, down from the boiling urgency of the past 10 years. Each subsequent task accomplished should lessen the ongoing tasks overall, thus bringing us down the highway off ramp, feeling the tension release of slowing down and getting back to the residential speed limits of an every day life. Interestingly though, it should still provide us with all the food we need and as such, keep all of this inflation under control. We have the bugs worked out of all of this. Younger homesteaders….. learn from your elders so that you don’t become yet just another flash in the pan.
Zina, WAY more than me, needs more social interaction (Nothing that I can provide). She has also toyed with volunteering, outdoor photography, and seems to have a knack for quilting. Anything hobby-wise works, but it is time to make space for such things. So we are moving to a reduction of some tasks and expenses (pig feed) that once served us so well, but that can now be put on a shelf to be brought back down when needed.
For my part, I need to feel more creative and also feel attentive to the gardens in preference over the livestock for awhile. I toyed with the idea of spinning yarn, but I don’t knit or crochet so I would need to learn how to spin for weaving. That is possible, so we will see if that evolves. In addition to my existing floor loom, I have a curiosity about tapestry weaving – specifically Navajo rugs, so the learning curve here would be never ending. I would also like to produce enough weaving textiles to have inventory to go to local craft fairs. I want to get out my telescopes again. Archery is done I fear. My shoulders hurt too much on an ongoing basis to subject them to that kind of pressure. Cooking and food storage goes without saying. It is one of my talents and it helps to fill the creative spirit niche that we are after here. I will also continue on with my herbalism studies. I have found it to be a lot of fun and quite interesting. I have in my head to build a smokehouse using an old wood stove we have and I love the idea of doing some Permaculture landscaping too. In all of this though, simply going for a walk with the dogs would be enough of a de-stressor to clear my head.
So to those who have asked just how long we think we can keep this up, you were asking the wrong question. The question is, how are you going to “live” at the farm once all the phases have been completed? The answer is that we are here. This new phase – to make the space and physical surroundings for the hobbies and creative endeavors we want in our lives – is here. Right now it is in about a year long transition, but transition it will. Things happen when you develop a plan and then work it. It has been the story of my career and of the farm creation. None of this happened by hook or by crook. If you aim at nothing, nothing is exactly what you will hit.. or worse yet, hit something you didn’t intend. We created a space of safety and self-sufficiency because the writing is sprayed in bright hunter orange all over the walls. Now we can use this behemoth we created to support a contented life in the last third to the highest extent possible. The last phase: Creating Space, is no small task; but it creates a clear vision of what we have been working toward for these strange and adventurous 10 years. After all, if you don’t have an end game to all of this, why bother? 11 years ago we sat on the porch of this dump and Zina said she could really see us retiring here. All of these phases have been the lead up to that point. Far be it for me to let her down.
Nice Jon! I wish you well in your truer retirement – hoping for more contentment, reflection, meditation, and rest for you and Zina!