I've been at a bit of a loss to tell you all what has happened to us since we completed our 21 day challenge. It's been hovering over me like an angry deer fly and I haven't been able to swat it away. Honestly, finding where to begin is much more complicated than simply stating that we completed the challenge and this is what we learned. But it's been exactly two weeks since June 28th (the twenty first day of the challenge) and it's time we fill you in on the whirlwind of events in our lives.
You see, the final day of our challenge was also the final day at St. Brigid's Meadows in La Crosse. We loaded a moving truck that day and moved back to the east side of Wisconsin, about to pursue the next step in our lives.
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When we began that clean up of our personal lives, I didn't let on in my original post, but Andy and I knew something big was going to come out of it. We just didn't know exactly What. We just knew When. In the three weeks that followed our declaration to the Heavens and to you, we began in earnest to keep a tidy and structured household. That's really what it was all about: get our house in order and clean up our minds.
Andy is fond of saying that you can tell a lot about a person's state of mind by the way they keep their home. It's definitely the place that most people spend the most time (even if it is just sleeping) and the home becomes an extension of one's self. When I said last month that I had come to a point of being stressed out by everything, my mind was in disarray. I had no routine other than a pretty set bedtime for the kids. I had no schedule, other than the days that Andy delivered products (M-W-F). And my home was in a constant state of "almost clean." By that I mean, the main things were usually taken care of: dishes, laundry and meals. But everything else that comes with keeping house was fit in here, there, or not at all. Such was the state of my mind as well. No wonder I was stressed about everything! And in my stressing, the family suffered. The other saying we're fond of is true, too: "When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
It took snapping us out of that rut of chaos for me to realize that I was not happy. Think about it for a moment. Are you happy? By happy, I mean content with your place in life. Or thankful for the moment you in which you live. I had not thought about whether or not I was happy in years. Frankly, I had not thought about much of anything in-depth for quite some time. But when Andy and I had that argument the day my mother was over, I finally took the time and thought long and hard. No. I was not happy anymore.
That's pretty heavy stuff. Andy was kind as he pointed out my entire existence was one reaction after another. Reacting to the kids waking up before 6am. Reacting to the workload of dishes when there is no dishwasher but yourself. Reacting to the accounting, email and design work demanded of me by the farm. Reacting to the precious needs of my husband. When in exasperation Andy stated that we would take on this challenge, I lapped it up with eager intensity. I needed the change and for the first time since we had kids, I took on the task with a fiercely proactive heart. It was time.
A couple days into it, the kids became sick. That passed on to us adults and even over to the other farmers. I believe that in some circumstances, sickness is a sign that you are doing something right. Think about it: if you are attempting to correct something in your life, wouldn't the Enemy try to squelch it? Sickness doesn't work well with routine. But I was determined to make it to Day 21. I began to thrive under this challenge.
Not only did I create a routine for the daily chores and doings of a household with children, but I became empowered as a mother and wife. It felt good, really good, to take charge like that and live each day PROACTIVE. We began implementing cleaning arrangements that caused Andy and I to work side by side (something we had not done ever before) and marveled at the blessing of new conversation we enjoyed. I became almost militant about Ethan napping at 1pm after lunch time and before I knew it, he was going down without fighting me. In fact, after lunch on a normal day, he goes and finds his blankie and heads to bed by himself without me saying a word! Elly's attitude has improved substantially and we hear much less whining and complaining from her. She now knows what to expect and for her, that sort of security is priceless.
Most of all, Andy and I are on the same page (as much as a human couple could be) as far as parenting, routines and schedules. That is empowering for both of us as we head into, once again, uncharted territories.
About a week into our challenge, as we were noticing the positives coming from that within our household, we knew we needed to account for the situation in our jobs. As I alluded to earlier, things were not so rosy as Andy and I found our position at the farm shifting to meet its needs. Things were happening in the natural that surely had spiritual implications. People and events within the structure of the farm were aligning so that Andy's and my position was whittled down to personal cooking engagements, sales and graphic design. The question on everyone's mind was simple, but weighty: How does this third family cash flow at the farm?
This is good business and we'll be the first ones to tell you that everything and everyone at a farm needs to have a purpose or it's got to be re-purposed...or removed. During the middle of June, Andy and the others at the farm worked numbers, scenarios, business models, and projections to see where our place would be in 6 months' time. Some of the projections were exciting and hopeful, like Andy and I taking on an entrepreneurial cheffing endeavor separate, but associated with, the farm. Other options all seemed to point to the same dilemma months down the road.
Andy and the fam and I traveled back to the east side of Wisconsin, the Fox Valley, to clear our heads and get a little clarity on the grave issue before us. Obviously, this whole time we were deep in prayer and searching out the next step before us. Andy and I both knew it was coming, and soon. But it was not ours to take. We had to be shown first.
That's when Andy met with our good friend Ben.
Ben is a young man with a lot of drive and business sense. We first met him when we sold fresh milk at Foxwood Farm. He came to us, fresh out of college, hungry to know more about the underground food rebellion that we were a part of. A guy like that just wanted a cause to get behind and when he learned that he wasn't allowed to buy milk from a farmer in the Dairy State, you can bet that was enough fuel to light this firecracker of a man. He was one of our biggest supporters, coming with us to the Raw Milk Hearing after only knowing us for two months and attending the International Raw Milk Symposium in Madison. There, he took stole the microphone in front of a panel of distinguished big-wigs in the Slow Foods Movement and catalyzed the audience into acting on all this knowledge they had received at the conference. We called him The Foxwood Farm Hero. When we lost the farm and moved to St. Brigid's, Ben made the three hour drive to visit us at least once a month, but often more than that.
During the long dark days of winter, he and Andy dove into long discussions about what the local foods movement needed in order to launch it to the next level. Ben had a great desire to consult with farmers and consumers alike in order to help them better reach each other than the standard farm market or CSA. At the same time, he had been brought up with an extensive working knowledge of meat and meat preservation. Ben comes from a prestigious lineage of cured meat artisans (if that is even a term!). His grandfather began Hillshire Farms and built the company up to a reputable force in the industry. When Sara Lee wanted to buy the company, Ben's grandfather accepted on the condition that he would be allowed to make decisions about the quality of the sausage and meat. Soon, however, Sara Lee wanted to cut costs and put "fillers" into the meats. When Ben's grandfather protested, they eliminated his position.
Undaunted, the man began a new meat company in his middle age called Silver Creek Specialty Meats and has preserved that company within the family ever since. Ben's parents both work there today and Ben grew up knowing everything a kid could know about preserving meat. After learning of his heritage, it should come as no surprise that this year, at age 24, Ben began his own company called Gourmet Grassfed. He sells locally produced, locally raised grassfed beef meat snacks that are reminiscent of jerky, but so much better for you. I can tell you more about the products themselves another time.
Circling back, the reason this info is so relevant is because when Andy met with Ben in June, it was to tell him that something big was on our family horizon. The more they talked, the more it became clear that our paths were once again connecting. Ben had reached a ceiling in what he as one man could do to promote his incredible and niche product. He needed someone else to come on board to help with sales and marketing.
Someone who knew the product as well as he did, and someone that had been there from the ground up. In those winter nights over organic Vodka mixers and braised ox tail, Andy had helped Ben with his vision of Gourmet Grassfed. When I was overwhelmed with a nursing infant and bleary eyed from lack of sleep, I helped him design his label.
(So if you don't like it, lay off me, I was delirious, plus the label regulations are pretty specific)!
Suddenly, we had an answer. There it was. All laid out for us. With one week left in our 21 Day Challenge, we officially resigned from St. Brigid's Meadows. The leaving was not a surprise to anyone there, but it came with a distinct sadness that the position had not worked in the way any of us had first envisioned. Truly, Andy and I played a large part in that shifting of reality, but certainly there were others on the farm that played a role in our leaving as well.
Once again, we were saying good bye to families and patrons that had carved a special place in our hearts, but at least this time, they would experience no loss of the farm fresh food they had come to depend on.
The final week of the 21 Day Challenge was spent packing and cleaning and tying up loose ends. Liam helped as best he could.
As we are trying to pay off some debt, Andy and I don't have much in savings. Coming to a fledgling business like Gourmet Grassfed would inherently mean that we'd be living on savings for upwards of three months and no paycheck. By our best estimations, we only had money for two months total.
Then God placed our next step for us just in time (or just in His time, I should say). A friend of ours has been unable to sell his home and lives in this 5 bedroom beauty by himself. He offered to have our family stay with him as long as we need for a seriously reduced rent and no utilites. In addition, he has a thriving backyard organic garden all ready for harvesting and lives in a town that puts us central to the farm markets that Ben and Andy will be attending. Finally, our friend works from home, but keeps to himself a lot of the time and has basically given the kids and I free reign of the entire household. So all we had to do was pack up dressers and a few toiletries and we were set up. (all else is in storage). With this blessing of a home to come to, our savings would indeed last us three full months.
And the last Tuesday of June, we hauled our boxes and furniture and lives across the state once again, a short ten months after doing it from Foxwood Farm. Above, Cortnie and the family take a break on the way home. Cortnie came for the day to help keep the kids occupied while we shoved the moving truck full. Again, many thanks for the Gerkhing family in all the ways they've helped us through the years.
Now it is two weeks later and we are strongly into our routine here in Winneconne, WI. It's the same routine that we laid down at The Blue House three hours west of here and it still works. Little things within our Challenge now seem tailored to life with a roommate; things like doing dishes after every meal and cleaning up toys every night. Surely these are noble goals in and of themselves, but work especially nicely as a habit when being considerate of a generous friend. Andy has his own schedule now, too. He leaves for work with Ben at about 6:30am and works out with him before having a mutually made breakfast and sitting down in the office at Ben's apartment. He works until supper time, but it varies depending on the nature of the day's demands.
Today, for instance, they went to Silver Creek Specialty Meats at 6am and physically made the next batch of Gourmet Grassfed Meat Snacks, from a grassfed cow straight off the fields of the former Foxwood Farm. (did I mention that my father still has a beef herd living there?) Today, they marketed their first box of wholesale snacks, to be sold in an Oshkosh Piggly Wiggly. Every day is exciting and new and we are blessed to be a part of this next endeavor. The company is the immediate goal, but connecting consumers to locally grown products is still the larger vision.
It's pretty amazing what can happen when you clean up a mini-van and shop-vac your mind. Andy and I are just humbled to be serving a God as outside-of-the-box as ours is.
And, now that I've got this off my back, I can post more frequently about our happenings. Life is a journey, friends. If Andy and I have ever "made it," we'll have surely been fooled somewhere along the way.
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.