I was raised in the suburbs. And while it was a good childhood, I always envied my cousins, who grew up in rural Loudon County, Virginia. I loved that they had space around them, and farm animals to watch and care for. They had a freedom I couldn’t comprehend. I loved the busy peacefulness of visiting my grandmother’s farm. Even well into her 80’s, she still has a herd of cattle, goats, and chickens. And I envied my family the silence of living in the country.
As an adult, I am aware that I only saw what I wanted to see of farm life. I did not see the pre-dawn feedings, or the endless chores that come from caring for animals. I didn’t understand that being tied to the land was a blessing and a responsibility. Yet even knowing that, it still glows as an ideal lifestyle in my memory.
Last summer, my husband and I uprooted our family and moved to a small, very small, village in rural Virginia. We have three acres, or so, and have decided to responsibly turn our property into a homestead. We have fruit trees growing, and seeds for the garden on order. We have the silence of the country. And we have a master plan that includes chickens and a family dairy cow of our own.
Our budget includes plans for fencing, shelter, hay, and livestock maintenance. We have talked realistically about what it would take to keep a cow in milk, and what we would do with offspring we did not intend to keep. We have made some connections with other local farmers, so we already have a local community to lean on as we learn. The cow itself would not be in our budget for a while; unless, of course, we are picked to win this contest.
I am committed to working the homestead as honestly and thoroughly as I can. I love getting my hands dirty planting our garden. I love researching answers to our small and large questions. I love planning long-term changes to our property so that we can manage it responsibly. I love this reality we are creating for ourselves.
We love and respect this property we have adopted, and are grateful for the chance to work this land. We want our children to grow up understanding where their food comes from, and how to live well and realistically. We aren’t looking for a new suburbia; this isn’t just a large back yard. Instead, we are looking for that ideal life I fantasized about as a child. We have a lot to learn, but we already know why we love farming.
BY: Jennifer B
Often I wonder what it is in contemporary people that beckons them
to want to produce their own food, know exactly where it comes
from, gain a level of self sufficiency, enjoy land in something
akin to its natural state and take pleasure in the care of the animals
who aid them in these endeavors.
I am one of these people, but I cannot tell you exactly why the drive
is there to live off of the land, exist in some type of beautiful accord
with the animals around me and feel that what I am doing something that
The choices above are not easy. If you have tried it, you already are well aware of this fact. There is little money to be made, few vacations to be taken and the nights are longer than any you will find that comes with basic child rearing.
Some unknown farmer once said, “You can make a small fortune in farming – provided you start with a large one.” He certainly has been where I have been, then.
I ask myself why I insist on going down this path more often than the typical
homesteading type partly because I am a 14 year vegetarian. No chicken, no fish, no by products, No JELL-O. Still, I am not out to convert the world to vegetarianism.
It is a personal conviction, and one which I have never convinced any other
friend or family member to espouse to.
While living as a vegetarian with a houseful of meat-eaters is not conducive to
a straight forward homestead, it is also not conducive to buying commercially raised and slaughtered meat, either.
I still somehow find that true compassion for living things is wrapped up in recognizing that most people will never go the vegetarian route, and I can work toward a humane, compassionate care for the animals we have, and if and when any become the source of meat for my husband, children or others, they have been given a happy, well cared for existence for as long as we have owned them.
I can give people an option to commercially raised meat and products, eventually.
I would rather swallow my personal convictions that prevent me from eating meat and make a small impact locally to teach people that there are humane options to the store bought, feed lot beef, pork and caged chicken they eat. My husband calls it, “Cowboying Up,” for me.
So, this leads me to feel that a large part of what draws people to homesteading and self sufficiency is an ability to think Higher than the masses. The ability to see a clear right and wrong way of living and decide, hardships and trials be darned, to follow that higher path.
As much as it hurts, in someways, to accept a future of raising animals I will love with some ending up as meat for someone, it seems to me to be the right thing to do, although I will remain forever a vegetarian. There is something to be said about wanting to take only your share, produce as much of it as you can yourself, be willing to worker harder and pay more for ethically produced food and believe you are doing your children a favor by raising them with homesteading ideals at the heart of their upbringing. Sure, they encounter “yucky” farm chores and learn that you can’t just leave at the drop of a hat for a spontaneous vacation, but as far as I know, “yucky” chores haven’t killed many children (or adults, for that matter) and spur of the moment vacations do not build character.
I have dreamed of going off and roughing it on a real homestead since I can recall having day dreams, so for some 24 odd years, at least (I’m now 28). I’ve moved around from WV to NC and back. I’ve moved from WV to Florida and back, twice. I’ve spent years without having more than a cat or dog and with a 50×100 backyard. Still, few months have passed that I did not wish to do something more to really living than the everyday suburban “thing.”
Now we have 23 acres, fairly close to the local city, but we have a 6 stall barn, enough room for 6 horses, 15 goats, 20 + laying hens, 2 mini donkeys, a livestock guard Pyrenees, 1 Jersey heifer with plans to add more chickens and another dual purpose or dairy breed heifer, likely a Dutch Belted. We have room to raise enough food to help sustain us, though we have only been here a year, and we are still working toward
a real plan for a garden and making products.
We plan to homestead, really do it.
I get discouraged when an animal is sick, when buying hay is a taxing expense or just when the work seems like it will never end, but I am reminded that there is a higher purpose in this. Seeing new baby animals be born, caring for them as they grow, finding a meaning in the seasons because it impacts your life, it just amazing.
There is a purity in wanting little more than to know where your food comes from, learning true life skills and hoping to live as kindly as possible.
I love the country- the fresh air, the brown dirt, and the green things; the rhythm of the seasons, the beauty of the sunshine, rain, and snow, the everyday miracles in everything that grows! The “good” tired after a day of hard work outside, the taste of home grown, and the look of freshly canned fruits and veggies neatly on the shelf. The satisfaction of feeding my family or giving a gift that came from my own backyard and kitchen. I’d rather watch cows or horses in the neighbors yard than any TV program out there- I’m pretty sure my chickens will be even MORE fun to watch!
We had a milk cow as a kid, as well as some beef cows, pigs, and chickens. I remember helping at times to hand milk that pretty speckled roan milking shorthorn cow. We had the privilege of watching new calves being born. We made butter sometimes in an old Daisy churn. I loved to read Little House on the Prairie and wanted to train oxen. I remember going to my grandma’s house and running to the barn to see the new calves, pet them and let them suck my hand. I remember helping collect eggs from the coop, her colorful flock, and watching my step because of those free range chickens. And helping with all that fragrant scratchy hay…. I loved corn on the cob fresh out of the garden, and it is still what I often request for my birthday dinner now. I remember spending hours snapping beans, peeling tomatoes, cutting corn off the cob, slicing peaches, hulling strawberries, picking blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and pressing cider… I want my kids to (fondly) remember things like that!
I want my three little girls to know where their food comes from and to know the work that goes into getting it. To taste the flavors you can’t buy. I want them to learn to be good stewards of the land and to treat the creatures from which they enjoy produce with care. To experience responsibility of more than themselves. To find enjoyment in something other than toys, video games, or money. I want to be able to share the bounty of my homestead with my family and friends. I don’t want to feel guilty about how an animal was treated to provide my dinner, or to have regrets about what ELSE might be coming in that package from the store.
We’ve started our small homestead with a garden and some berry bushes, and I’m looking forward to chicks this spring and hopefully a couple ducklings. Sometime we’ll planting a little orchard, and someday we’ll be consuming milk (and some milk products) from our OWN cow, not the usual 5 gallons a week from the store. I’ve tried a little cheese making with limited success, but we’re REALLY good at making homemade ice-cream! Maybe even a few pigs will join us down the road.
If little Amethyst came to our home, she would be raised to be a milk cow for our family. She would have a home in our (yet to be built by us) barn on our 5 1/2 acres of old cornfield in Western New York. She would eventually have some Dexter sisters to keep her company, too. Our girls (2 1/2 year old twins and a 14 month old) would be raised with her. She’d also get some treats from the garden grown especially for our animals.
The sun is sinking behind the distant Blue Ridge Mountains in a blaze of orange, gold, and purple. The air is clear and crisp; the first stars wink and tremble overhead.
The chores are done. The sheep, their bellies just starting to swell with spring lambs not yet born, stand at the feeders contentedly munching hay. The piglets, tired and happy from a day of romping in the sunshine, snuggle back in their warm nests next to their snoring mamas. The last of the day’s eggs have been gathered, and the chickens are fast asleep.
It has been a good day here at Ingleside Farm. I relax after the day’s work with a purring cat in my lap, a cup of tea and a stack of seed catalogs close at hand. Everything is perfect. Almost. There’s just one thing missing:
You may think that’s a strange thing for me to say. After all, you don’t know me (yet). But, Amethyst, I have to tell you: The moment I heard that you were looking for a new home, I knew I wanted you to come and live with us.
Let me explain.
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a farm. I played with toy cows, horses, and pigs. I drew maps of where I would put my barns and pastures, gardens and orchards. The annual trip to the county fair was one of the best days of the year—and forget the Ferris wheel and cotton candy, I’d head straight to the animal barn to fill my eyes with the sight of sleek glossy hides, my nose with the scents of hay and manure. I wanted a farm, wordlessly, with all my heart and soul, the way a bird wants to fly south in the winter or build a nest in the spring.
But for a long time, it was not to be. I grew up. I lived in cities. I worked in offices. I collected books about farming and wrote poems about my longing for the land. Every job was just a job and never a career. No address was ever home.
After years of feeling rootless and disconnected—years of saving our money and waiting for the right time—at last, seven years ago, my husband and I made the leap of faith and purchased a small, run-down historic farm. Although in its heyday it had been a grand place, decades of neglect had taken their toll. The rolling pastures were infested with brambles, thorns, and poison ivy. The house and outbuildings cried out for repair. There was no question that the place was a “fixer-upper.”
I didn’t mind. In fact, I rejoiced. At last, I was doing something real, something that mattered. I was bringing this old farm back to life, returning it to its intended purpose. Because of my work, my investment, my time, there would be one more farm still left in the world, a farm that otherwise would have been lost.
My first morning here, I sat on the porch swing and cried, I was so happy that the sky overhead was now my sky, the red Virginia soil was now my soil. It felt like my life’s work could finally begin. I was finally home.
Since that time, the work has been never-ending. We’ve made repairs, cleared brush, hauled away debris, built fences. There is still much to do; I expect the full restoration will take the rest of my life, but in the meantime what a life it is!
We’ve added heritage breeds of sheep, pigs, and chickens to our farm family. We’ve weathered our share of trials and triumphs, births and deaths, backbreaking work and breathtaking beauty. I’ve made bread from wheat I grew and threshed myself. I’ve spun linen thread from my own homegrown flax. I’ve made soap with the milk from my own flock of sheep and woven garments out of their wool.
It’s been wonderful, but even so, something has always been missing. To me, the farm just isn’t complete without a brown-eyed Jersey cow and her treasury of milk, cream, butter, and cheese.
If you came to live with us, Amethyst, you would be queen of the farm. I know that you’re still just a baby and that moving to a new home will be scary for you. Don’t worry, we’ll have lots of time to get to know each other. You’ll learn that my touch is a soothing thing and that you’re always safe if you’re with me. There will be things I need to teach you: how to lead, how to tie, how to politely accept being handled all over. You might not always like the lessons at first, but that’s okay. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Even the hardest lessons are not so tough if we take them slowly, one step at a time.
There will be things I need to learn as well. After all, you will be my first cow. Luckily there are lots of experienced cattle and dairy farmers among my friends and neighbors, so good advice will always be available when I need it.
Keeping a dairy cow like you is a big responsibility, but I’m ready for it. The farm has already taught me about commitment. The jobs I had in my life before this were mere flirtations. Farming is like true love, like marriage. It demands all of your strength and courage, all the dedication of your body, mind, and heart. And in return, it gives you the world.
Whatever comes up, we’ll figure it out together. Before you know it, you’ll be a grownup cow, giving milk, raising calves, feeding the farm family who loves you. I want us to be that family.
Today is my birthday, Amethyst (by the way, I love your name, which is also my birthstone). I’m forty-five years old. I’ve spent a lifetime inching ever-so-slowly closer to my dream. I’m almost there. Won’t you come and live with us and make our farm complete?
love, Nancy C.