Sustainable Living: How Did We Get Here, and How Do We Get There?

| 4/27/2010 11:00:48 AM

Tags: Sustainable living, Beginnings,

HeatherA little more than 2 years ago, at the beginning of the “economic downturn,” recession, or whatever you want to call it, I found myself without a job. And with the knowledge that sooner rather than later, my husband also would be. Prior to this, we had both been career-focused … planning to increase our incomes as surely as we would increase our possessions and household square footage. In our view, we were fairly normal 20-somethings for this time period in this country. But the unceremonious ending of my job (and company, shortly thereafter) changed something in me. The first thing that happened was fear. Fear for how we would pay our bills, keep our house, and feed our cats and ourselves. Directly behind the fear was the certainty that I no longer wanted to pour all my time and all my energy into my career, especially not just to buy stuff. This left me in a “now what?” phase for quite awhile. During that time, I happened to pick up Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and within it, I found my direction.

We know now that we want to move to a rural area where we can raise animals – some for milk and eggs, some for meat, and some for income. He dreams of the peace and quiet that comes from being outside a neighborhood: away from traffic and spread out from your neighbors. I dream of having a large garden that provides enough for us, maybe even some friends or neighbors, year-round. Along with the knowledge of where we want to go and what we want to do, we also know that we have very little idea how to actually do any of it.

Growing up, my parents had a vegetable garden and some fruit trees. I have a vague memory of a compost pile. They cooked often. And yet, I took very little of that knowledge with me. My husband, on the other hand, used up his personal lifetime allotment of yard and garden time during his childhood. His gardener-by-trade mother kept him busy through this childhood with all manner of garden chores, and as a result, he has little desire to be more than a somewhat-willing assistant with the plant and animal raising of our future. (This is ok with me because he helps out in a thousand other ways!)

I’ve spent most of the last year absorbing as much information about farming, urban homesteading, animal husbandry and sustainable living as I could. While we live in a neighborhood, in a house on just shy of an 8th of a very shady acre, I keep trying my hand at growing food. I’ve had very limited success – 2 growing seasons have brought me some lettuce, two small broccoli florets, a couple handfuls of beans, two tomatoes and a few zucchinis. Only the herbs have thrived. I have come to the conclusion that either our yard is too shady (the likely answer) or that when it’s up to me, we’ll starve. This doesn’t mean I haven’t already started this year’s garden! Farming life … here I come!

There are some things I’ve managed successfully though. I’ve figured out how to make bread … my current favorite recipe is from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I’ve learned the art of freezing … a chest freezer full of meat, veggies, meatballs, tomato sauce, and as of recently, homemade ice cream. I also have, on occasion, packaged leftovers into homemade frozen entrees for easy lunches. We have a worm composter. The tip of the iceberg, really.

Since we’re at least several years away from making our small farm a reality, my goal is to learn as much as I can now. I’ve joined a long-standing organic community garden to get more hands on experience. We’re in the planning phase of raising a couple of chickens for eggs. I plan to learn how to can, make cheese, and cook more things from scratch. With an equal amount of hard work and luck, we’ll be (mostly) ready when we get there.

Muck Boot Diva
7/20/2011 10:29:04 AM

We are going through this process right now -- two more years. The farm is sitting there and we just have to make it through this horrible economy to make it to the end of the rainbow to the farm before the fiscal floor falls through! Times have been tough, but we are doing all of the footwork now -- and hope to find the jobs etc in two years. We have made many friends and many memories. Wouldn't trade the time for the world! MBD

5/21/2010 6:03:26 PM

Hi Heather, Welcome to the GRIT community! I enjoyed your post. The hardest part might be the whole delayed gratification thing--but like everyone else has already said, you're doing all the right things to make your dream a reality. By the time you two have the space you want, you'll already know how to use it wisely. I wish you much luck! Susan Close to the Earth in Alaska

S.M.R. Saia
5/3/2010 9:29:05 AM

Hi Heather! Glad to see you here! I haven't read the Kingsolver book, I probably should. We had a lot of the same revelations that you've had at about the same time, and also ultimately had a job loss. Turning towards the garden has changed a lot of things for us, mostly our perspective on life. Good luck with the community garden! That sounds really cool. I look forward to hearing more about it! Shannon

Cindy Murphy
4/30/2010 7:52:59 PM

Hi, Heather. They say that things happen for a reason...I'm not exactly sure who "they" are, but my Mom is one of "them"; it's one of her favorite sayings. The economic downturn - as scary as it must have been for you and your husband - may have been just the thing that was needed to help you find your direction. Best of luck. Welcome to Grit, and looking forward of reading more of your journey. Cindy ~ A Lakeside View

Hank Will_2
4/29/2010 4:57:09 PM

Welcome, Heather. Thanks so much for joining our community. Your words and actions resonate. Taking it one day at a time really helps. Realizing that tomorrow will come and be full of wonderful possibilities is freeing. Thanks for reminding me of that. Hank

4/29/2010 12:10:36 PM

Thanks for the great comments and welcome, everyone! I'm so excited to be a part of the Grit community. I hope to learn and share with all of you! I also write at about the day to day challenges I've been finding and working through.

4/28/2010 12:37:24 PM

I wonder if Kingsolver has any idea how many people she has impacted through her book. What a great start and a way to reassess our lives. Congrats on that. It sounds like you (and by extension, your husband) are making all the right choices. You have just made your best yet; joining the GRIT. On behalf of let me be one of the first (of course Nebraska Dave beat me) to welcome you. I look forward to sharing with you and hearing more about y'alls dream.

Rodeo Princess
4/28/2010 11:48:16 AM

HI ya! Good luck on your journey! And welcome to our little community here! I admire your commitment to living under the wire. Lots of rewards, and most of all, satisfaction at taking charge of your own destiny.

Tracie Hartley
4/28/2010 11:43:12 AM

It sounds like we are on the same path, Heather! Over the years I have gotten a bigger and bigger desire to have my own farm and just over this last year we (my husband and I) decided that we were going to do what it takes to make our dream a reality! Like you, we are learning everything we can right now. I have a spot in our community garden as well and it did exceptionally well last year as I hope it will this summer too! This coming fall we're moving to Duluth, MN and hope that in a few years we can settle down on a 5-10 acre plot of land and start raising some livestock and expand our garden! I look forward to following your blog as you work towards your goals! Good luck to you and you're husband! Tracie

Nebraska Dave
4/27/2010 8:12:01 PM

Heather, it sounds to me like you are well on your way to a new exciting life style. I too have an urban ranch. You can find it in the Grit blog named “Adventures of Old Nebraska Dave”. There is more to homesteading than just growing vegetables. You are on the right track. Grit is a good place to hang out. Before last year I was a bit of a black thumb. Because of the advice I acquired here on the Grit blogs I had a successful year growing flowers and turned a drab patio into the delight of the neighborhood that brought many compliments. This year I expect to build on what I’ve learned from last year and expanded my raised bed gardens. My confidence and gardening skills have been improved greatly simply by reading, absorbing, and doing. These are all the things that you are doing already. The key is small steps forward. I understand where your husband is coming from. My Mom made gardening a chore for me too. Now it’s a joy to do gardening my way and grow what I like to eat. It’s a much different attitude which makes for a joy filled relaxing time instead of something that was done for survival. It did take a while before I got to this point in life. Just give it some time. The community gardening is a great way to glean information about growing for your area. It’s a good way to make like minded friends. I wish you great success in all of your self sustainable interests. Welcome to Grit. It’s a great uplifting community.

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