Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Do I Homestead?

Sometimes, it's good for us (humans in general, I mean) to step back and take a good look at why we're doing one particular thing or another. For some, it's asking, "Why do I continue to buy all these magazines?" For others, "Why am I working two jobs and pursuing yet another degree?" Still more, "Why do I continue to wake up early and sit in traffic for an hour to spend 70% of my life behind this desk that I hate and with these people I can't stand?"

Those three pesky letters that separate us from the animals.
For me, it's "Why do I wake up at the crack of the sun, hit ice out of a bucket with a bat in negative temperatures, shovel cow pies and lug hundreds of pounds of water in a cart twice a day, rearrange my kitchen to accommodate new dairy experiments, spend my Sundays housing swine, give chickens a weekly ride in a rickshaw, and otherwise devote the first 30 minutes of my day to squeezing liquid from a cow's underside with my bare hands?"

Simple: I'm certifiable The short answer is that it's the path to a richer, more fulfilling life. But you came to read the long answer.....

The long answer on why I (and Wife) homestead is really a combination of several different things, which I'll address individually.

1. Homesteading allows me to produce healthier, better-tasting food now.

Getting started with chicken raising, and, more recently, cow husbandry has allowed me to produce some high-protein foods that are vastly superior to what is available commercially. For one, the freshness is evident in the taste. From my first side-by-side comparison of backyard versus store-bought eggs to the taste testing of our first fresh backyard cow milk to the carton stuff, there is no comparison - experientially, the food I produce here on my land is vastly better tasting. The eggs are richer, the milk is creamier, the butter is amazing, and the cream cheese has a level of complexity and taste that you can't find in a store.

Furthermore, there are marked health benefits in grass-fed dairy and meat as well as home-grown produce. The taste factor comes into play here, too - the veggies we harvested last year, and the gallons of pickles we made, simply tasted better than conventionally-raised and bought food. Ultimately, homesteading allows me to raise healthier, better-tasting meat, eggs, dairy, AND produce. better taste and better for me? That's a win-win.

2. Homesteading keeps me in shape.

Forget cross-fit, gym memberships, home workout programs, and the like. Nothing gets you in shape like farm work. I get a full-body workout every day, with some extra reps on the weekends for my various projects. Daily, I:

  • Lead two cows and chain them to graze
  • Pull a few hundred pounds of water on a cart, up to 1/4 mile one-way, to fill two 17-gallon tubs
  • Shovel up about 20 gallons of cattle manure, and toss it over a 4' fence
  • Squeeze a gallon+ of milk by hand, twice a day
  • Walk between 1/4 and 3/4 of a mile, depending on where I put the cows
  • Drive and pull T-posts with manual tools

Caring for livestock keeps me young.
This is in addition to the weekly tasks of carrying 75-pound reinforced combo fence panels, pulling a 200-lb. chicken coop, and driving 5 additional T-posts. Oh yeah, there's also the less-frequent tasks of scything a half-acre field, building random stuff (hand-milking stanchions, hay racks out of pallets, chicken coops on wheels, hugelkulturs, etc.), moving 4 electro-nets, and other stuff that crops up periodically.

That is a lot of manual labor, which some might call drudgery. Certainly, tractors and roto-tillers and motorized agricultural equipment were invented precisely to bring mankind OUT of the daily need to complete these tasks. Yet, here I am, voluntarily subjecting myself to it, day in and day out.

I think a big part of it has to do with the modern understanding of the human body. 150 years ago, the knowledge we have of muscle connectivity, tissue regeneration, and physical shape simply wasn't there. People grew tired and weary of manual work, and looked for ways to do more with less effort. I think this had had several unintended, negative effects, but a philosophical look at the benefits of manual labor to humankind is a little out of scope right here. Nevertheless, using the knowledge we have now of technique, form, and muscular care, the extra rigors of homesteading have taken me from being an overweight, high-cholesterol "desk job" 30-year-old to being in pretty much the best shape of life - and that compares to my 18-year-old, football and baseball playing, competitive weightlifting self.

3. Homesteading is a financial investment in our future

Food costs are rising, and will continue to do so - that's a fact. Breakfast seems to be the hardest hit in the latest food cost spike. That stinks, as breakfast foods are some of my favorites.

But there's a disconnect there in our modern society - why should an issue with oil production 7,000 miles away, coupled with corn production in Iowa, with a simultaneous drought in Mexico, and a problem with factory-farmed pork sanitation in the UK affect how much my food costs in Tennessee? The fact is, it does. This complex web of worldwide interconnections has its pros and cons, to be sure - I can get bananas and coconut oil, spinach and kale, horseradish, oranges, mangoes, salmon, beef ribs, tomatoes, and everything else all year long. But the downside is that when gas prices jump, the cost to transport the food the 1,500 miles it takes goes up, and the little numbers on the stickers in the aisle (and in the grand total LED displays at the checkout line) inevitably go up, too.

Gas and corn prices ultimately dictate how much we pay for everything at the store.
Homesteading separates me from nearly all of that. In the ideal scenario, I would produce all of the food I eat. In another scenario (one a bit more typical for a farmer), I would produce in excess of one or a handful of items, sell them, and use the profits to purchase what is lacking, like spices and coffee. Either way, growing a substantial amount of food on my land allows me to spend a substantially less amount in food elsewhere. The backyard garden economy, the economics of keeping chickens and the cost-savings and investment of backyard cow ownership come into play, too.

By investing in food, and raising it up myself, I can bypass a significant portion of the fluctuating food price game. Obviously, i can't grow things like coconuts or chocolate or coffee beans out here, but I can grow tomatoes and lettuce and spinach and pears and apples and pork and beef and eggs and lamb and ... well, you get the idea. And in doing so, I save money in two ways: right now, as I buy less and less in each trip to store, and in the long term, as these savings compound into a true investment.

4. Homesteading is my "retirement plan"

God willing, I'll be as happy as this guy when I retire.
I'm in my early 30's. Social Security will be a total shipwreck by the time I "retire." The accelerated pace of inflation will negate any savings I have right now. By the the time I get to be 60-something, I will have paid off my house (assuming I stay put). I also plan to be producing nearly all of my own food. Therefore, two of the top 5 family expenses will be eliminated. With no mortgage and no food bill, I can retire and use whatever money I do then have available then for everything else.

In addition, the increased intake of healthy foods, coupled with the exercise I will continually get, means I will enter old age in top condition. I fully plan to enjoy late life, as it is indeed a blessing.

Old age is a crown of dignity, when it is found in the ways of justice.  -Proverbs 16:31

Working the land, eliminating my food bill, and paying off my mortgage, all at the same time, is my path to a healthy, happy retirement.

5. Homesteading is my societal parachute

Bread lines in the U.S.:
It happened once.
It can happen again.
I pray that life goes on as it has, where our most pressing daily needs involve things like what time Thing #2 needs to be at baseball practice. But every society, every single one, rises and falls. Whether or not America is on the way down is up for debate. But one thing is clear - things WILL change in the next 10, 25, and 50 years. Will it be change that keeps us steady, keeps the status quo intact, keeps us ever progressing as a people? Or will it be the bad kind of change, the one that rips nations apart?

Of course, there's always the looming threat of a zombie apocalypse.

In any case, having a system in which we can weather the storm, providing for our needs, will certainly help us come through in better shape than if we did not have one in place. Not having to drive for hours to stand for more hours in a food line will allow me to continually work the land, continually provide more food and better resources for my family, and continually allow us to move forward during a time a crisis.

Furthermore, having a productive farm during a major societal trial can actually help that society overcome economic instability. I will be bringing 5 fewer people to the bread line (or in this day and age, it'd be the Doritos, Reese's, and Pepsi line), allowing for 5 other people to have their food. It is the family farm, the homestead, that is the driver of society through tough, economic storms.

6. Homesteading is my hobby and a daily source of joy

At the end of the day, I take a look around my homestead as I put Bridget Da'Cow back. A great sense of peace and of accomplishment fills my soul. I take great pleasure in hearing the cows moo, the chickens cluck, the sheep baa, and the pigs squeal. I come inside, and I look at the eggs and milk in the fridge. There is a great satisfaction that comes from seeing and truly enjoying the fruits of my labor. It is a sense of joy, knowing that I am being a steward and a partner in creation while at the same time helping my beasts to create some delicious food.

Surveying the work of my hands, and the gifts of God,
brings deep satisfaction and joy to my soul.
There is a joy in reconnecting to nature. There is a peace in knowing that I am providing for my family in a tangible way. Direct-deposited paychecks and trips to the grocery are one thing. Walking in with a jug of milk and a dozen eggs from that day's labor is quite another. There is an underlying sense of meaning in the latter that the former way (which was all I knew the first 30 years of my life) cannot touch. There is a satisfaction in working a family farm that is unique and cannot be replicated. There is a joyful giving of thanks in partaking of the delicious, healthy fruits of the earth. There is a joyful sense of wonder seeing animals mature and give glory to God in their own way. There is meaning in building something tangible for the benefit of my family.

Yes, it takes work. So do all hobbies.
Yes, it costs money to build the infrastructure. So do all hobbies.
Yes, it brings a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. So do all hobbies.
Yes, it produces lots of healthy, flavorful food. So do ... oh wait .....

Farming, for me, is even more than a hobby. It's a way of life that brings health, security, and a level of satisfaction that I just can't imagine finding anywhere else.

And that is why I homestead.

1 comment:

  1. I think me and you are pretty much on the same page when it comes to homesteading!