Are We Living or Just Existing – Here I am, living on 100 acres and real jazzed about it.
I’m jazzed at night looking back at the day, and I’m really jazzed when I wake up!
I remember one day years ago in my corporate life.
I was in a meeting discussing TPS report cover designs and I found myself daydreaming.
I can’t even recall what I was dreaming about, but it was pleasantly distracting.
Then the person addressing the meeting woke me up when he said that when he got up in the morning he was “jazzed” about life and ready for the ups and downs of the day.
I could see his genuine excitement and enthusiasm.
Are We Living or Just Existing?
Comparing that guy’s feelings to my sense of life, I realized I was just going through the motions.
I had a great job and a great family….but something was missing.
Maybe a lot was missing.
I didn’t even like lots of things about my life–and I definitely could care less about my job.
Why was I dying on the inside, even when things were going well on the outside?
I knew I needed to wake up and understand what was missing in my life.
I used a resource, BetterHelp.com, which did help me determine what changes I needed to make.
Maybe then I could rediscover the excitement and passion of life that I’d once had.
Thus started my journey to discover what was really going on with me.
Along the way, I took a trip with my elderly father back to his home roots on a large farm in Nebraska.
He left the farm when he finished high school, but I suspect he really never really left in his heart.
As we walked around the eight square miles that was the original family homestead, I saw firsthand what a farm was, or more accurately, what LAND was.
I found myself getting pretty jazzed up internally.
It wasn’t living in Nebraska that was the exciting part; it was seeing with my own eyes what was involved in a new kind of life–one that was connected to the land.
It was the rural lifestyle that really got me going.
I remembered my happiness in years past when I’d spent my weekends mending fences and doing other routine chores on our 5-acre gentleman’s farm.
My wife, Marie, had been in her element raising kids, baking bread, growing food–even chasing escapee cows back into our pastures.
Our kids were constantly outdoors, happily playing on their rope swing or munching veggies in the garden.
Over the years circumstances had taken us back to suburban neighborhoods, but now my excitement was growing as I started thinking about living on acreage again.
Marie and I agreed—we were both happiest when living the rural lifestyle.
As we talked about making a change, I started seeing some possibilities for moving back to rural life.
But then came the doubt.
The realist in me challenged my thoughts.
Could I really make such a major change…or any change at all?
How could I really leave my current corporate life?
I couldn’t afford it.
There were too many obstacles.
A part of me said I should just keep doing what I was doing.
But the other part was starting to soar…becoming excited…getting jazzed about the possibilities of a change.
You see it too, don’t you?
Are We Living?
The internal battle.
Moving to the Country Reality vs. the dream.
I am here to tell you that the dream is possible.
I was tired of just existing.
Of going through the motions.
Would I continue for the rest of my life this way?
Couldn’t do it.
For me and my family, change was required, and it involved moving to 100 acres and living a whole new way of life.
I just couldn’t pretend that I liked my life and satisfy my longings by playing Farmville on Facebook.
I needed the real thing.
Not a picture or game of the real thing.
For others it might mean something else, but they will have to write their own stories about their journeys.
Here is my paraphrased version of the words of Jesus in John 10:10:
“I came so you can have real life, more and better life than you ever dreamed possible.”
We’re glad to be sharing this journey with you at Rural Living Today as we all move toward a life that will really get us jazzed.
Plan Without Action Is Just a Wish
I’m going to get right into it today.
If you want to make the move to a rural lifestyle, you must make a plan and then act on it!
I know a lot of people who would love the rural lifestyle.
They love the pace, how all the work has a purpose, the peace and safety of it.
But not many of those people take it from that wish to actually making a plan and acting upon it.
That’s really the crux of the issue.
Sometimes it can take years to get to your goal.
It really can!
But it truly is worthwhile.
Back in 2006 when I first found our property, I was wishing for a rural lifestyle but didn’t see any concrete way of getting there.
I am blessed in that as an extended family we were able to combine resources and get the land, but still – what then?
It can seem insurmountable sometimes.
I mean, it’s nice to dream of starry skies and wide open spaces, but what about jobs?
Let’s be practical about it!
At the time, I was 7 months pregnant with our first child, had already had to quit my job due to nausea and my husband had just been laid off.
We didn’t even have gas money for him to go look for a job!
Not a whole lot of prospects there for making a huge move, right? Right!
But it didn’t have to stay that way.
We knew what we wanted, so we sat down together and made a plan of how we would get there.
It involved a lot of changes in our life, and we went through some difficult times.
But during those difficult times, my husband went back to school to get a degree so he could earn more.
I went back to work after our second daughter in order to support him so he could attend full-time.
I won’t lie – it was difficult, and if I thought my life would continue perpetually like that, I would have seriously become depressed.
But there was a light at the end of the tunnel!
I knew that a little hard work and perseverance in a situation that was not ideal would pay off, and it has.
My husband was very blessed to get a job only months after graduation, and earning enough for me to stop working and so we could move forward with our plan.
Granted, we had to relocate to the greater Seattle area, but we found a nice little rental within an hour’s commute that allows us to live the rural lifestyle while he works to establish himself in his field.
It may still take a few years until we are able to live on the property and build our home full-time, but it will be worth it.
In the meantime, I do a little internet marketing on the side, have a small company that sells travel mugs, and I do everything I possibly can to save money, even to the extent of growing lots of vegetables, making homemade bread, tortillas, and cheese for our family.
I guess my point is this – if you really, truly want to live in the country, I would encourage you to sit down, with your spouse if you have one, and formulate a long-term plan for achieving this goal.
Formulate the plan, and then act on it!
Consider this – on your current “track,” where will you be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?
What does your long-term future look like if you continue living the way you are now?
And then think for a moment – what if you take the next couple years – as many as necessary – and make some concrete changes in your life that will get you where you want to be.
Because if you did this, then you can safely say it will eventually get you to your goal… and that’s not going to happen unless you take action.
What it comes down to is this – If you take action, you will achieve your goal in time.
If you don’t take action, you will stay in the exact situation you are now!
What if you downsized your home or car or some other major expense, and just socked the money away?
What if you went back to school for a higher paying career?
What if you started that internet marketing business you always wanted to?
Have you ever tried to sell stock photography?
It is possible!
Ask your boss about the possibilities of telecommuting – you never know what the answer will be.
As much as it may seem like a mountain you cannot climb sometimes, nothing is impossible.
Some things just take a little bit more time – but the time is well spent and it will be worthwhile in the end.
Just remember – self defeat is your worst enemy.
I wasted a lot of time in my life by just assuming things were impossible.
Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Someday, there will come a day for us that we can completely fulfill our dream, and my girls can run down the gravel road to Grandma’s house every day, if they want.
That day can come for you, too.
When Less Is More Rural Living…Are We Living
Many years ago our young family took a trip to Disneyland.
Originally we planned to fly, but then the idea of a road trip became appealing.
We had the free use of a motor home that would sleep our family comfortably, so we decided to drive.
We packed up the motor home with basic cooking equipment and groceries, bedding and enough clothes for the trip.
Each of us brought along some things for entertainment, from books to cassette tapes (remember those?) to toys and games.
I even stashed my sewing machine in the shower so I could finish up some clothes I’d been making for the kids.
As we drove away from home, I looked back at our two-story house.
I thought to myself, we have everything we need right here in this little motor home.
Why in the world do we have such a big house and so much stuff?
Of course, when we returned from our vacation we went right on living in our big house full of stuff.
But that kind of thing has repeated itself over and over in our life.
We moved overseas with very little and accumulated again.
Five years later we returned to the U.S. with very little and…yep, we accumulated a houseful of things again.
A couple of years ago we realized that we spent 80% of our time at home in just a few rooms.
The other space was used just occasionally.
We slept in our bedroom and used our master bathroom.
We cooked in the kitchen and ate in the adjoining dining area.
Though we sat in the living room sometimes, we really lived in the family room.
I admit we did have an “everything room” that stored a lot of stuff but was really not used much.
That’s when we started re-evaluating our plans to build a large house on our acreage.
Not only do we not need the space most of the time, but maintaining a large home is not very high on our list of favorite things to do.
So we decided to build a small home within our utility barn and live in it for a while, building the larger house later.
Our new home takes up one long side of the barn.
It’s cute and cozy and just right for the two of us.
We’ve lived in it only a few months, but it looks promising for a permanent situation.
Less of a house to clean and maintain gives us more time for our other projects.
We never have to search more than a minute to find each other in the house.
And no matter what room we’re in, everything else seems to be just steps away.
Downsizing so drastically forced us to weed through our belongings.
We decided we’d keep things that were meaningful, useful, or otherwise important.
Now when we look around our little home, every piece of furniture, every picture on the wall, and every decorative item has a connection to our family or our experiences.
Would we like a bigger house?
We can’t squeeze big groups or crowds in our living room.
We don’t have an extra bedroom for family and friends to sleep in.
The kitchen table is the only place to lay out a big project.
Once in a while there’s even a line for the single bathroom.
But so far we’ve tweaked things to be pretty comfortable.
We have plenty of storage space in the adjoining barn for off-season clothes and things we need to access occasionally.
We plan to finish out an office/guest room in there too.
We could build an outdoor studio cabin.
For six months of the year we can have oodles of people sitting in our outdoor living room, dining at our patio tables, and sleeping in trailers and tents.
Stay tuned—we may just never build that larger house.
Learning the Rural Lifestyle Return to Our Roots
In the mid 1970s I was a young mom enjoying homemaking and doing a lot of things the old fashioned way.
My parents and grandparents had modeled and taught me a life that included things homegrown and handmade.
I was really in touch with that part of my gene pool.
One day my mom saw an interesting guest on a TV talk show.
This young woman had put together a publication about living a lifestyle close to the land.
Her publication couldn’t really be called a book, as it was an unbound bundle of mimeographed pages.
She was offering copies of it for sale, and she promised to mail succeeding additions to the material to subscribers.
Mom told me about the interview and the publication for sale.
But she went a step further and ordered a set for me.
I can’t remember if it was Christmas or my birthday, but I received the most wonderful bunch of information in a 3-ring binder.
Little by little, the new chapters were added.
The title of that publication?
An Old Fashioned Recipe Book by Carla Emery.
You may recognize Carla’s name.
As she added more material, the growing bundle of pages became much more than a recipe book.
Eventually she bound it all into a book with a new name: The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
I referred to my notebook often as I tried out new techniques in my home and garden.
Carla’s granola became a staple in our pantry.
I learned to make yogurt, peanut butter, mayonnaise, and many other concoctions.
Jim and I also read her sections on livestock while deciding what to raise on our first acreage.
My tattered, food stained, and fingerprinted original copies of Carla’s Encyclopedia are long gone, probably misplaced during one of our moves or accidentally discarded during a purging of clutter.
But I have gifted two of my kids with the nice recently published version of the book.
Carla passed away several years ago, but her legacy lives on in our family and many others!
Tell us about your prior city life—family, home, jobs?
We’ve both lived in a city neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20+ years, together for the 8 ½ yrs since we were married.
We had some extended family nearby, and our two late teen/20s kids lived with us some of the time.
What drew you to move to a rural area?
Both of us had grown up in more rural settings.
In Minnesota, lived on 5 acres, surrounded by homes on larger properties, off a dead end dirt road with a pond and lots of trees.
Lived outside a small town in Ohio with space to garden and do other projects.
We desired to get back to a life such as this for quite a while.
But with a calling to work, church and relationships where we lived, we waited for the leading and open door from God who is our chosen decision maker.
We are more than ready for the rural living
What brought you to this particular area?
Five years previously we had driven through this area and environs just to explore on our way home from another city.
We remember saying something to the tune of “wouldn’t it be nice to live here”–and then forgetting about it.
Over the few several years we actually contemplated what it would be like to move over there, especially as allergies were getting worse.
But after talking to family in other areas, we decided the water rights, dryness and snakes were more than we wanted to commit to.
We figured perhaps we should look at moving a bit north instead.
Many things led to our reevaluation of this place we’d visited, but it all came down to hints and nudges from that same Source that had kept us in the city as long had plans for us there.
We were always looking at land online, putting in specifics like elevation, amount of trees, etc.
He found himself looking at one particular piece of land for sale.
He liked the lay of the land and even the name of the road.
It happened to be located in that area we liked.
The first of our clues was in place.
How did you prepare for your move?
We looked at the property, put an offer on it, and purchased the land we knew we were led to.
We got the hint that God was serious about us moving, and we put everything into high gear.
We had already planned to sell our city house if we knew we were to go somewhere and when we knew where it was we were to go next.
We had been in a long process of renovating the house, and put school aside to finish it.
Meanwhile she resigned from her job to pack and clear the house for eventual sale.
This all began in March, and we made the first stage of our move the first of October.
We applied for a job and started the foundation for a Quonset storage building on the land.
Shortly after we secured a job, our house sold for full price within one month from listing.
Do you think there was a bigger plan than our own here?
So beginning of November found us moving our final stuff over, renting a place in town for the winter, and saying goodbye to our life in the city and friends who lived there.
What kind of research or preparing did you do?
I guess you could call our research prayer.
We began with listening to what we thought we heard God saying, and followed up on gentle clues that He dropped along the way for the how, when and why.
Work was a consideration–we knew that we had to have a source of income and health insurance from employment.
Here again, God was faithful to provide.
As we stepped forward in faith in buying the land, we found that there was a local position open in the very setting that Mary was hoping to transition to.
The was also Homesteading Insurance.
As for research, obviously, God was our first source of information.
The mediums through which we walked out His plan involved connecting with friends whom we discovered were just ahead of us in transitioning to the area, internet sources, and physical visits to the area.
How did your family and friends react?
For a number of years in our Christmas letter to friends and relatives we had talked of our plans to renovate our house with hopes to move out to the country when we got the chance.
So it wasn’t a surprise to them in a way.
But it was disturbing for many when it actually happened, surprise or not, as a 6-7 hour drive is not conducive to Sunday dinner.
Some friends were dubious about the decisions we were making and said so, but most were just encouraging of the fulfillment of what we had expressed as our dream.
What challenges did you face with your transition?
The usual everything happening at once, changing everything.
We sold our three vehicles and got two other more winter/rough ready.
We stored most of our stuff, keeping out what we thought we might need but not knowing exactly where we were going to be initially.
We weeded out what was needed in the 35-foot used trailer we bought to start us out in the fall.
We thankfully had a few familiar faces in the area we moved to, but other relationships were to start from scratch again.
What changes were easy to make?
Being out of the city was easy, as was the change to snow as winter came on.
This was due to our first 20+ years of life in a four-season climate and semi-rural areas.
What tips would you give someone thinking about moving to a rural area?
KNOW that you can do without a Starbucks on every corner, Costco, or whatever else one is used to that would not be local or even close to the rural region.
Have an openness and curiosity about how the new setting will change YOU and how you live, because you won’t be changing it.
Whether you are originally from the city or the country, if you’re not from THIS part of the country, you will have some cultural adjusting to do.
You’re Never Too Old for Adventure!
When we bought our first acreage, we were just shy of 30 years old.
We both dug in and worked hard to make that land into a small farm for our family.
We had all the energy in the world!
We was working full time in the city, and on weekends he was building fences, mending fences, planting fruit trees, tilling garden plots.
I was a stay-at-home mom with three young kids, making our house a home, growing some of our food, and doing lots of domestic things “the old fashioned way.”
After that, life took us here and there for a few decades, and flash forward to today—we are just shy of 60 years old!
We are both digging in to make this land a farm for our family.
But guess what?
We no longer have all the energy in the world!
We have enough, though.
We are putterers and we like to stay busy—it seems to be in our genes.
Neither of us lacks for ideas for more things to do around here.
But we are wise enough to pace ourselves and leave some tasks to our younger family members.
We keep an eye on each other and watch for telltale signs that we need a break or need to get help for something.
We rarely miss our afternoon coffee date together, whether it’s in the living room, at the kitchen table, on folding chairs in the barn, or somewhere in our beautiful “backyard.”
Of course our life would be different if our kids had not wanted to make this a joint family project.
If it were just the two of us, on 10 or 20 acres just outside a small town, not far from family, with a few chickens, a steer or two, a garden, and some fruit trees.
But since we are part of this extended family adventure, we are enjoying it to the hilt with projects and wide open spaces galore.
Our personal mantra comes from the movie “Far and Away.”
You may know the story: Joseph and Shannon, played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, escape from their unfulfilling lives in Ireland and sail to America.
Shannon’s parents, Daniel and Nora, come looking for their runaway daughter.
They all end up in the Midwest during the Oklahoma Land Rush.
Daniel and Nora, a middle-aged couple, embark on a frantic (and comical) race to claim a piece of land.
As they stand victoriously surveying their chosen prize, Daniel says tenderly to Nora:
“Let’s pretend we’re starting out instead of ending up.”
Here’s to starting out…at any age and Getting to the Country
Tell us about your prior city or suburban life—family, home, job?
We both grew up in suburban areas.
We raised four kids, living in large and small homes on city lots and acreage of 2 acres and 5 acres, with gardens, beef cows and horses.
Career in commercial construction and development was pretty fast-paced and required a lot of travel and commuting.
What drew you to move to a rural area?
We’d always liked country life…growing things…open space around us.
We wanted to stay active in our senior years.
Life in a condo or golf course community just didn’t appeal to us.
What brought you to this particular area?
Our adult kids were searching several states for property for all of us to live on together as neighbors.
We found the ad for this property.
Though it was much bigger than we were looking for, we loved it and bought it.
How long did you prepare to move?
We made our permanent move three years after buying the property.
What kind of research or preparing did you do?
We got familiar with the land, the community, and local building regulations.
We put in infrastructure—roads, utilities, etc.
We built a large utility barn with a small home in one side of it.
We also did a lot of research on topics related to farming, wildlife, and forestry and took some great courses through our local extension office.
How did you know when it was time to make the move?
Things just kind of fell into place and we were free to make the change.
One summer we lived in our travel trailer while we built the utility barn.
The following spring we packed up and moved.
We spent five months in the trailer again while we finished out our home within the barn.
How did your family and friends react?
Our immediate family was very happy—all eight of our kids and our grandchildren love the place.
Some of our friends are living vicariously through us, some aren’t especially interested.
And some probably think we’re crazy to make this move at our age.
What challenges did you face with your transition?
Change of climate…living farther from town…missing family and friends.
But we’ve adapted.
What changes were easy to make?
We don’t miss the traffic one single bit!
We love being outdoors so much of our day.
The slower pace and casualness of the life is really appealing.
We’ve cut our wardrobes way down and live in jeans and T shirts.
We’re sort of pioneering kind of people anyway.
What tips would you give someone thinking about moving to a rural area?
Make sure you really want the life—not just to visit, but to live it day after day.
You may have to go cut up a windfall tree when you’d rather be watching a football game.
Or you might need to check on a sick animal when you’d really love to stay in bed another couple of hours.
You may miss shopping, takeout or restaurant dining, city entertainment, or big league sports events.
How much change can you comfortably make?
This goes for yourself, your family and anyone else that will be moving with you.
BUT if you do make that decision, go for it and enjoy it!
It’s a bit like the best advice we’ve heard for marriage: go into it with your eyes wide open and after that, keep your eyes half shut.
In other words, before you make the move, look at all the pros and cons, challenges and compromises.
Know what you’re getting into and what you’re choosing for your future.
Then say yes or no.
If you decide to go rural, don’t let the negatives and glitches rule your life or hang you up.
Keep your eyes on the good and the positive (and the rewards) and when times are tough, remind yourself once again why you chose this new life.
Living On the farm
We’ve successfully raised six pigs, and several local families now have freezers full of delicious pork.
We raised up a batch of replacement laying hens and processed the extra cockerels for the soup pot.
We learned to grind our own wholesome feed for pigs and chickens, using local non-GMO ingredients.
Our garden was fruitful, despite a shortage of water in the driest months.
Some crops did well, while others did…not so great!
Though we managed to harvest just a few puny zucchini, we probably have enough tomatoes and peppers to last the year.
(Yes, you read that correctly, and no, that was not a typo.
Even our zucchini did not grow well this year!).
We planted more fruit trees, grapevines, and berry bushes.
Our new hybrid greenhouse/garden shed will be ready for winter seed starts.
Fencing was fortified to keep deer out of the orchard; screening was applied to the greenhouse to keep the chickens from snacking on seedlings.
Rural Living Today Plans We have some clear expectations.
But not all plans just happen like clockwork.
We have plenty of ideas and plans that may or may not take place or be successful.
But we like to keep growing, keep learning, and keep experimenting in this homesteading life of ours!
make improvements on our home, our outbuildings, our property.
raise more types of food and greater quantities of it.
tweak all our seed starting, gardening, food processing and storage systems.
do more clearing, homesite preparation, and construction of various small and large structures.
discover new ways to reach out in our community and exchange knowledge, expertise, and products with others.
help more of you readers with more of your challenges, and produce more great material to help you as you explore the joys of rural living.
We hope to have more successes than failures!
We’ll learn and grow, no matter what.
We’ll talk more about planning in our next post, Winter Planning for Spring and Summer Success. and Springtime Is Peeping on Our Farm
It’s Planning Time Again
Some of the same, and a few new projects Again we’re perusing seed and supply catalogs, looking for new ideas and ways to improve our systems.
Favorite educational resources:
U.S. Cooperative Extension (articles/webinars here; enter your zip code for local Extension offices)
We plan to increase both pork and poultry production
Beef is also a possibility but will require a lot more fencing.
In the garden, we’re thinking greenhouses
We finished a small hybrid garden shed/greenhouse last year and are getting it ready for seed starts.
We also hope to put in a larger greenhouse to extend our growing season a bit in spring and fall.
For our livestock, garden, and orchard, water is a priority
We need to increase our water supply, which involves bringing water from our secondary well to a cistern on the highest point of our property.
Tools for planning
Everyone seems to have a favorite system or two for planning.
Often a combination of methods works well.
For handwritten notes and papers
For keeping notes, I LOVE these little notebooks that always seem to be available for less than a dollar each in office/school supply sections of local stores.
They come with all sorts of cover designs so it’s easy to tell them apart at a glance.
Right now several of them going for topics like household, garden, livestock, Rural Living Today, product sales, and finances.
Small sticky notes make great section dividers (you could also insert premade adhesive divider tabs).
We also have several of these on our reference bookshelf, holding printed material, garden plans, sketches, and other things with long-term value.
A binder can be fitted with dividers, pockets, sheet protectors, and even the zipper pencil pouches for small loose scraps.
File folder systems:
Some people prefer this method of organization for general planning.
We use them in file drawers and boxes for record-keeping.
I also have some in a vertical rack on her desktop where we can easily drop in receipts, notes, and anything else that will fit.
Computer and online note and record systems
Evernote, OneNote, Notepad, Sticky Notes:
What’s available on your computer?
We’ve liked every one we’ve tried, but we have favorites.
Bethany’s desktop Sticky Notes keep her on top of things.
I also keep notes and does all his writing on OneNote.
My new favorite is Evernote (free to download) for its ability to clip and pin articles and website pages in addition to keeping notes and lists.
Some of the programs can be synced to more than one electronic tool or between user computers.
Word processor and spreadsheet documents:
Just start a page and add to it as needed.
A word processor is great for text-heavy lists and notes.
It will also make some tables and other helpful forms.
A spreadsheet will track numbers and make calculations; these are awesome for year-to-year comparisons.
I use lots of spreadsheets for personal, farm, and business tracking.
Published books, software, and other systems
Your Custom Homestead by Jill Winger of The Prairie Homestead is a great planning and discovery tool.
It features questions that guide the evaluation of your own wishes and goals for your homesteading life.
It packs a lot of punch! See our interview with Jill and a description of this wonderful system.
Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner will help you plan your garden layout and access tons of information about individual plants and their growing needs.
After a 30-day free trial, you’ll have the option to subscribe for continuing use.
This can be a real time-saver for those who have limited time for research.
The Seed Keeper is a ready made seed organization kit with plastic box, dividers, and other small tools.
It’s an easy way to start, but DIY’ers will find it easy to put together a similar system with items on hand.
We’ve used cardboard and plastic shoe boxes with cardboard dividers.
Marjory Wildcraft of Grow Your Own Groceries shares her DIY seed organization system.
Cool and dry storage is probably the most important factor for seed saving, but it’s sure easier to find seeds when they’re organized to some degree.
There are lots of other planning and organization systems available online and in local stores.
If you’re like us, you’ll try many over the years and keep on tweaking as your needs and availability of products change.
Getting There It’s About the Journey – Here is the story of how it all came about.
Getting There It’s About the Journey modern homesteading, the importance of master planning.
Reader MZGarden and her husband already know the value of a plan—and their story shows how it’s working!
We are really impressed by their planning and preparation, including their evaluation of their future plans and how they honed their rural living skills while waiting for the big move.
When the Rural Living Today team asked readers to tell their stories, MZ and her husband had literally just purchased their land.
We looked for two and a half years, knowing we wanted to try our hand at more rural opportunities, and that our growing young men would find lovely ladies and move on to explore their own new lives.
In 2011 we celebrated this remarkable and wonderful event, so now we were really getting down to it.
For many years, we have known that suburban, neighborhood life was not for us forever.
We had zero experience living rural, but we had read and read and read about it.
We knew we did not ‘fit in’ where we were and the option to have some land, do more for ourselves and be a little more creative was what we wanted.
The continuing issues with food quality/safety/nutrition have continued to push us out to do more for ourselves.
Plus, sometimes, we were just plain bored living in the suburbs.
We had remodeled everything possible in our current house, the backyard was a garden oasis, we had put in rain catch barrels to recycle, and included wood burning heat.
We were just kind of ‘done.’
We knew we still needed to work for a few more years (ya gotta have some money) and we really really didn’t want to leave our church family.
So we stuck a pin in the map for the address of our church.
We attached a string and drew a circle. That was our hunting ground.
Developed our budget and commuting options
We listed our wants/needs/non-negotiables and we were off.
We looked beyond our ‘circle’ and we looked beyond our budget (just to make sure) and finally found something that hit most of the points within the circle (happy dancing now).
Continued to expand our skills.
We read lots. We revved up the vegetable and fruit gardening.
I added pressure canning to the water bath canning I was already doing.
Home Canning Guide: Tips to Keep Your Food Safe
We began to build a pantry of staples.
I improved bread making to the point that it’s a no-brainer.
We bought beef by the side from a local farmer.
My husband is very very handy, if you know what I mean.
He knows stuff I’ve never heard of and he just keeps learning new stuff.
Plus, he has endless energy.
We pressed ourselves to be more creative and to re-use, re-purpose more and more.
We read more and talked to more people.
Best Rural Property
When the property came up (within the circle, but a little over the budget), we jumped.
We bought a little over 5 acres with a barn and a 100+ year old house in move in condition (but needing some TLC).
We are close enough to see our kids and commute to work, but rural enough to get us started down the path.
The house and barn are usable enough not to be overwhelming, but needing enough work to get our creative juices flowing.
The land is flat and will be good for gardening, orchards and livestock, maybe even a fish pond.
As soon as we get a tractor and can get the 3+ years of overgrowth back under control.
We have a 5 year plan to get things brought up to speed, before retiring.
Then we have a 20 year plan for after retiring.
We want to put in a mixed fruit orchard and berries in the near future.
Vegetables are a must right away and laying chickens will come in the near future.
Meat chickens and rabbits are on the interest list, along with goats, pig, etc.
I tell people we have more ideas than we have years left to live – and that’s a good thing to our way of thinking.
Surprises Moving to the Country
In the short time we’ve been on our land, we have had a few surprises:
The number of people that support our decision, but still think we’re nutty
Those are interesting conversations–always positive with a hint of “I can’t believe you guys are really taking all this on.”
How much our decisions have affected our kids
When our oldest was a teenager, he thought living in the country was punishment.
Now that our sons are married to lovely ladies, both couples are interested in rural living.
Both of our sons married ladies that know their way around the kitchen very well and are creative and handy to boot.
The feeling of being overwhelmed
You can read about this all you want, but until you are there, you really don’t know how it will affect you.
When I’m really feeling crowded by the things that we want to do, I remind myself that we are in charge, no one is setting our schedule for us.
Sometimes I just have to envision a roller coaster.
The bar comes down and you just ride through to the end and everything is ok.
You can plan, but moving is not something done in a bubble.
The rest of life is still going on.
You don’t get to suspend all the other stressful things that can happen, while you’re dealing with your first-time move to a rural environment.
The regular stuff still happens AND you’ve moved.
Deep breaths and an eye on the future can help (so does a cup of coffee on the back deck, watching the sun come up over your barn).
What would I tell people, beyond the read, learn, experience, talk to people, etc.
Stuff that much more experienced people have said with much more authority than I can share?
Making the Transition from Consumer to Producer: For too long, many of us have been led down a path to consume.
And not just to consume all that we earn, but to go into debt in order to consume more.
Even our governments may expect us to go buy more: nicer homes, bigger and newer cars, the latest smart phones.
Just to consume.
But this lifestyle–for us as individuals or as a society–is not sustainable.
If you don’t see this as a huge issue, then you don’t to read further.
But if you see that the things we are consuming in abundance now may become severely limited in the future, or if you just want to have the personal satisfaction of creating or producing something tangible, let’s talk!
The joy of producing
Despite our culture’s emphasis on consuming, I am discovering a new joy.
Not to just be a consumer, but to learn to be a real producer.
And not to produce something that is abstract and totally impractical, but to produce something that usable for many.
In our case we are making, growing, and raising agricultural products.
And that’s very fulfilling and satisfying!
We know from our readers’ emails that many are looking for ways to supplement their resources or develop new income streams.
Some are hoping to save enough money to move to the country or to update their rural properties.
Others would like to spend less time working away from home, finding ways to make more money right on the farm.
We’re right there with you.
Meanwhile all of us—and all of our adult family members–are working toward having sufficient income to draw from large ponds filled by numerous small income streams.
Steps in the right direction
Since I moved to our ranch, along with our family we have been taking slow positive steps forward in developing food sources.
We have a specific goal of sustainability and becoming as self-sufficient as possible.
But we are not trying to live an extreme life–just one that is fulfilling.
We have grown our garden for two years now, and that has been wrought with successes and failures, but we have moved forward.
Next year we plan to add two greenhouses to the mix and work them with Bethany and her family.
We want to bring more water to the garden from a second well on our property. Small successes.
We wouldn’t be able to feed the world, but we have gone a long way in feeding our family.
Marie and Bethany have been working with chickens–both laying hens and meat chickens.
That too has been a great success; we’ve enjoyed tasty homegrown chicken, and our egg baskets have overflowed at times.
With limited coop space for winter, we recently gave our older layers to friends to start their flock.
Our coop is now full with a batch of Buff Orpington pullets (young hens) that are just now starting to lay.
Soon we will have over a dozen eggs a day.
Come spring, another daughter will join us in raising meat birds, free ranging them in our orchard (with the trees protected!).
It’s been a lot of work to tweak our chicken-raising systems and learn to butcher chickens, but it’s been rewarding and well worth the challenges.
So each year we are becoming more experienced and efficient as we learn to produce these food products.
This last spring, we bought some weaner pigs to raise for meat.
Beforehand, I read up on it and talked about it with people I trust.
I found a couple of very positive mentors in this and made the plunge.
We bought six pigs from two different sources.
Once I learned that the largest cost of raising pork is FEED cost, I immediately went into a mode to reduce my cost of feed while increasing the quality of it.
Most feed you buy in the feed stores is expensive.
It has GMO products in it…and lots of other stuff to keep it “fresh” and sell able with a long shelf life.
But along the way while I was learning about pig raising, I learned about feed and about protein, minerals, salts, and other things animals need to have.
I decided to grind and mix my own feed.
Initially my cost for feed by the bag at the local feed store was 35 cents/lb. (US$).
That was high, and it contained GMO ingredients which we didn’t want.
Then I found a guy in our area who makes feed, and his price was 21 cents/lb. for GMO-free feed.
A few months into our pig raising season, I decided to try and make our own feed.
I learned that it wasn’t difficult–just took some math to juggle the right protein level I wanted.
Then I bought the grain and the nutrient additives locally and a small feed grinder online.
I started grinding feed for our pigs—and they loved it.
I enjoyed making the feed, and as a bonus, so did one of my grandsons.
Our fresh, non-GMO feed costs us 15 cents/lb.—less than half the price of the feed store bags.
I now have neighbors wanting to buy my feed…a new business and income stream maybe?
The proof is in the pork
So the day came that we had the pigs slaughtered.
We had turned those six little weaner pigs into 1,100 lbs. of quality pork consisting of chops, bacon, roasts, ribs, and of course great sausage.
Oh my…it is tasty!
Marie and I didn’t need that much meat so we kept only one hog and sold the rest to family and friends.
They were happy to buy a product that was high quality.
They knew how and where it had been raised, and all of them had even “met” the pigs at some point over the summer.
The delicious meat was well received and a benefit to all.
We didn’t buy that meat; we grew it.
We didn’t consume; we produced!
And honestly, this was a very satisfying endeavor.
When Marie and I sat down to a hot breakfast one October morning, we had finally reached one of our personal soft goals: to grow everything on the breakfast plate.
We raised the hens that laid the eggs in our own coop.
We grew the potatoes, peppers, and onions for our hash browns.
And “finally” we had grown the bacon.
Just to make a point, we wanted to drink water with that meal because we can’t grow coffee that would taste so good with it.
But we could barter with a local coffee roaster for that!
Are We Living…You can do it too!
The goal of gradually becoming more of a net producer instead of net consumer takes time, dedication and perseverance.
But it is very achievable and very satisfying.
Our ranch model is to start small and plan the best you can to grow at a comfortable pace.
We did a business plan with reasonable costs and goals.
And we are producing now.
You too can produce on a scale that could feed your family and perhaps another.
You too could end up with an operation that could easily be scaled up to produce more of the same product without too much more cost or effort.
Hopefully next spring…beef cattle are coming to our ranch!