We are homesteaders. We have always loved “living off the land”. God has placed such an amazing potential in the land to grow what we need. We love experiencing the process of planting, tending, nurturing, and harvesting.
Homesteading Is Our Heritage:
We have gained experience raising many kinds of plants and animals over the years. Our experience in farming started young. My husband and I both spent part of our childhood living on the farm. He farmed with his grandparents in Indiana, and I farmed with my father and grandparents in Kansas. We both showed animals and other projects in 4-H in our youth too. We both learned allot from these experiences and we have fond memories of life on the farm. Spending time on the farm in our youth seems to have planted a seed of love for the farm in us that continues to grow.
As adults, we began homesteading in Kansas in 1991. We started with gardens, canning and dehydrating foods that we raised, as well as fishing and hunting. We hardly had to buy any groceries at the store. Most of the foods we ate through out the year we either raised or caught in the wild. To help me improve on my skills, I spent a lot of time with various elderly neighbors who valued gardening and homesteading. I learned a lot from them. Also my dad drove about 300 miles and came to stay with us for about two weeks and gave us a big education in gardening, fishing, and locating local and wild foods in our area. We were hands on the whole two weeks and it was a great time.
Those first few years of learning to homestead were amazing. We were always learning a new (yet ancient) way to provide for ourselves and neighbors. We loved to go fishing often (every day of the week if we could). We enjoyed bringing home crape, walleye, perch, catfish, and bass from our fishing outings at Tuttle Creek Reservoir and Milford Lake as well as at a local gravel quarry. Once the fish was gutted and cleaned we bagged some of it to freeze and eat later, and some we set in the fridge to make a fresh meal with too. My husband also loves to hunt quail, pheasant, turkey, and deer. After hunting, we gutted the animal, cleaned, cut, and wrapped the meat for storage in the freezer.
In 1993 we moved to Indiana and set up a new homestead. We bought a house and turned the yard into food producing. We planted an orchard and began raising chickens and rabbits (for organic fertilizer), in addition to organic gardening. The property also had raspberries, mulberries, and goose berries. We continued to enjoy fishing and hunting. My husband took up a hobby of night fishing too with a friend who owned a boat. This allowed him to get even bigger fish than he was not able to get access to when fishing from the bank.
In 1995, I began visiting local farms and Amish families in the area and learning more about raising food and homesteading. I learned about the Weston A Price Foundation, Poly Face Farms, and good sound nutrition regarding nutrient dense foods. I perfected my skills in bread baking, butchering my own chickens, and learned to grow, ferment, and preserve variety of foods including meats.
We bought our first small farm in 1997. It was a gorgeous rolling and wooded 10 acres of land that bordered a lake. Our neighbor who owned the lake also owned 250 acres that surrounded our property. We were surrounded by nature and wildlife of all kinds. We built fence and began raising beef cattle, meat goats, milking Nubian dairy goats, rabbits, and several kinds of poultry for eggs and meat including: turkeys, ducks, chickens, geese, and guineas. We planted a huge garden and a small orchard. We had bountiful reserves of wild elderberries, raspberries, mulberries, and blackberries too. Neighbors often let us pick their plums, cherries, crabapples and apples too. Another neighbor made homemade maple syrup and allowed us to help and gave us syrup as a trade for our labor. Other neighbors raised blueberries, and raw honey, and other foods, and we often purchased or traded for what we needed.
Honey comb raised by a neighbor, and deer sausage made from a deer my husband hunted.
We bought a bigger farm in 2001, and expanded our skills raising animals and produce. We built lots of fence, a pond, a barn, and a farm store to sell healthy foods, in addition to raising grass fed Angus and Angus-cross beef, eggs, chickens, turkeys, guineas, geese, ducks, rabbits, Jersey dairy cows, Nubian dairy goats, Boer meat goats, Kahtadin sheep, and a few horses. We raised garden produce, alfalfa hay, orchard grass hay, as well as bailed hay for other farmers too. We also had a cow share program on our farm and folks would come each week to pick up a share of fresh raw milk from our Jersey cows. My husband continued to hunt and fish at every opportunity. The freezer was always full. We enjoyed wild foods such as deer and fish a couple of times a week, and the rest of the week was filled with foods we had raised right on our farm. Life was good. It was the lifestyle we wanted for our family.
Besides farming, my husband owned a construction company and also served on the local board of zoning appeals and was President of the local Home Builders Association. But the economy kept declining and construction in our local area took a hard hit. Work was up and down and more down than up. Over time, with medical expenses, a growing family, and financial hardship that seemed to get worse and not better, it became harder and harder to work in construction and pay for the farm.
Construction stats were still going strong in the Carolinas and after much prayer we sold the farm to move to North Carolina for a project management job in commercial construction. He was offered a good job and the promise of commissions and bonuses. We had planned to be able to get on our feet again and buy a farm there after a few years. We had also planned for my husband to get a bible degree in ministry and help out in ministry outreach.
Under-estimated Set Backs:
Though we tried to stay positive and found things to enjoy and had some great adv
entures with our kids while living in NC, there were several things we did not anticipate. We did not foresee the company my husband worked for cheating him out of all of his commissions he earned, and bonuses that were promised each year, or them lying about fulfilling the General Manager job they promised him. He managed millions of dollars in construction for them, as much as 40 million dollars during those five years, and made them millions of dollars in profits. He is an excellent and tallented construction manager. They cheated him out of everything they promised him. Instead of getting on our feet, the move to NC only resulted in deeper debt and no hope to set up our farm.
We also had a some financial setbacks due to medical complications. First, I was pregnant with baby number 5 when we moved. Having babies is very expensive. Then my husband hurt his lower back and needed xrays and weekly care from a chiropractor. The next medical set back came when I got pregnant with baby number 6. I went for an ultrasound, and all was good. But in my fourth month, I had a miscarraige and nearly hemoraged to death at home. My blood pressure dropped to 95 / 105. I should have gone to the hospital at this point, but there was no money. I continued to bleed for 12 weeks following the deadly miscarrage and I was physically weak. It resulted in $4k in medical care, sonogram, biopsy, and numerous blood tests. They found nothing wrong, and my body healed on its own. Not long after that, I got pregnant with baby number 7. This birth went well, and I trusted a midwife for the delivery. She spent very little time with me, perhaps only two or three visits, and then passed me on to two interns for several visits. We did not have a good due date as we had a sonogram at about 30 weeks, but to late to get a good delivery date. During the last few days of the pregnancy, the midwife decided not to deliver the baby, thinking perhaps I was over due. This resulted in a last minute search for a medical provider, a hospital admission, pitocin to start labor, an emergency c section due to their medical interventions, and over 40k in medical bills. Once the baby was delivered, they estimated he was only 39 weeks, and not over due at all. The stress from this ordeal was almost more than we could bare. Then my husband needed surgery for a tear in his colon. And the bills just seamed to mount higher and higher. Those circumstances were tough, and I praise God we all came through those with no further problems and we are well today!
During the five years we lived in North Carolina, we lived in a subdivision and missed the homesteading lifestyle tremendously. We actually grieved and I think this had a detrimental effect on our health. Our children also grieved. They missed their animals and the life we had on the farm much more than we thought they would.
We missed our way of life. Grieving for our farm was taking its toll on our health both physically and emotionally. Though we tried to find it, we did not find a good
replacement in NC for the life we left behind in IN. Top of the list was expensive medical bills and second to that, was that my husband was unhappy in his job. Thirdly we did not find good fishing or hunting opportunities. We tried several lakes with no luck on fishing. Then there was the challenges of trying to raise some of our own food. Our yard had no top soil to raise our food. The ground was hard clay. We worked at building up the soil with grass and worms, manure, and nutrients. We made gardens in raised beds and added in purchased top soils, but it was a far cry from the rich soils we had enjoyed on the farm. We also enrolled our kids in Henderson County 4H and they participated in animal husbandry with the Barnyard Bandits and showed animals at the NC Mountain State Fair. They hatched chicken eggs, raised turkeys, and trained with and showed goats and turkeys at the fair. It was wonderful to raise animals again in 4H, and we are grateful the 4H leader let the kids keep their animals at her place. It was a lot of hard work to travel there everyday, or every other day, and take care of the animals. It was not the same as raising our animals on our own farm.
The longing to farm again as we had in Indiana kept nagging at our heart. The cost of farmland was the deterring factor for us. Compairing the farms in both areas is eye opening. Farmland in the Hendersonville and Asheville areas of NC sell for 25k to 100k an acre. The majority of the land is vertical due to the mountains, and orchards are the main crops, though there are some farms that lay flat in the valleys between the mountains that can produce well. These are often flooded during the rains as they are the main route for water that comes off the mountains. Farms in east central Indiana costs much less, about 4k to 6k an acre, are gently rolling landscapes, and are rich in top soil and nutrients, get ample rain and have abundant water resources. The ground water table is high and plants and animals have good access to water.
When we finally realized the company my husband worked for would never honor the agreement he had with them, and therefore we would not be able to afford a farm in North Carolina and open our heathy foods farm store again, we were devastated.
How could we ever afford the life we want for our family in NC? He tried to find another project management job in his field, but nothing opened up. He also considered starting his own construction company there, but to own a construction company in NC requires a huge financial backing also. Construction there is divided into size and dollar amount of projects and you are required to have a license and large sum of money in your bank account. After five years of struggling, being lied to by people we trusted, and seeing our dreams of farming become a far off, if ever opportunity, we cut our losses and moved home to Indiana to start over.
A New Start and Hard Work:
This season of our life finds us in a new homestead with new opportunities in Indiana. It is hard work to start over in life. This is some of the toughest times we have ever gone through. My husband and I are in our forties and not as young as we used to be. Life has sort of beat us down so to speak, and we don’t have the boundless energy or finances that we used to have. We also have six young kids to take care of which is a huge task, and trust me when I say that it is a lot of work! The laundry and dishes for
a family of eight people is overwhelming sometimes! A broken house and no money to fix it gets to me sometimes. But I know we can fix it when the money comes in. My husband started up his construction company again. He is very good at construction, and I know his business will be successful and the funds will be there to meet our needs.
It is also hard work to homestead. It requires dedication and back breaking labor to clear the land, till it, plant, and cultivate it to grow food for your family and others. But it has great potential and there is something very rewarding in this labor of love.
This summer we have been working on cleaning up the homestead: trimming trees, clearing brush, cleaning flower beds, mowing, etc. The farm is over 100 years old. We will do some research to find the exact age of the homestead, but we are guessing as much as 150 years. The house is in desperate need of updating and fixing what is broken. But it will have to wait until there are finances to do so.
A portion of the farm, about 7 acres or so, has been let go over many years, and other than mowing potions of it, it does not appear to have been farmed with animals, or gardens in at least 30 years. The pasture, trees, bushes, and the fruit trees have been let go.
The back of the property has a nice field and borders fields on the side and woods at the back on the neighboring land. About 7 years ago, a local farmer began renting the land at the back of the farm and cleaned it up, removing some trees and lots of bushes and brush, and planted organic crops on it. He has raised both organic corn and organic soybeans on the back 22 acres, and for the past 3 years has farmed certified organic alfalfa hay in that space. To have the ground certified organic, it was inspected, proven to have been free of chemical aplications that conflict with organic certification, and has grass buffer on all sides. It also has to have 3 years of “rest” to build up soil following crops of corn and beans. So in this rotation, the farmer planned to plant organic corn again next year. But our hope is to continue with the organic hay.
It is pure alfalfa and did I mention it is ORGANIC!!! We are so excited! Alfalfa hay is high in nutrients and will be a perfect food for our livestock. It has several good years of production left. He will be finished with his lease on it in a few weeks and we will take over tending and bailing the hay. Here in this part of Indiana, we usually can get three to four cuttings of hay in good years. So that part of the farm is producing.
This summer we are focussing on cleaning up the front part of the farm. We we will eventually have livestock on this section of the farm as there is usuable pasture and a barn. We will ad fencing and livestock when we have the finances to do so. The barn has room for hay upstairs, and horses and milk cows downstairs as well as two workshop areas. There is a seven cow milking parlor in one side of the barn. There is another foundation without a building, and someday we hope to build a greenhouse there. There are two sheds. One is in good shape, and one needs torn down and rebuilt.
We have also planted a large garden, and a small fruit orchard. So far, the garden has 18 rows of 60 sweet corn, 25 tomato plants, 6 rows of green beans, 2 rows of yellow beans, 6 bell peppers, 10 chili peppers, 5 jalapino peppers, 4 egg plant, 4 okra, 6 zucchini plants, 6 cucumber plants, 4 cantaloupe, 4 watermelon, 4 acorn squash, 12 winter squash plants, and one row each of: radish, beets, lettuce, carrots, sweet potatoes, strawberries, basil, oregano, thyme, mint, cilantro, parsley, dill, kale, sunflowers, xenia, marigolds, and more. I want to plant another planting of several vegetables like corn, beets, radish, greens, and more as soon as there are some funds to do so.
In the orchard so far, we have planted a few apple trees, peach, pear, 9 blueberry bushes, 12 black raspberries (transplanted from the wild), 2 red raspberries, 2 black berries, and a concord grape. We already have mature, but unmanaged apple trees of several varieties, pear trees, a plum tree, a huge amount of mulberry trees, and a white peach tree as well as well as wild raspberries, wild grapes, and blackberries too. All of these mature fruit trees and bushes are loaded with fruit this summer. They have some bugs, but they are all natural. We are thrilled and are so excited for next year’s crop of fruit. After digging several holes in an empty field, we tenderly planted our new fruit trees and bushes that are full of future potential. Later this fall, we will trim the mature fruit trees and prep them for next year’s fruiting season.
A fruitful potential. It is a good start for our first season on the homestead.
We love participating in this process. We observe, learn, tweak, nurture, and are amazed at the manifestation of all the potential. We are homesteaders.
I know we, our children, perhaps grandchildren too, will have a bright and fruitful future on this homestead.
They will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old. Psalm 92:14
This post will be linked up with:
Heartbreaking and inspirational!