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

A 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.