Healing on the Homestead

This post has been a long time coming. I kept thinking about it, but then kept figuring… I’ll write it when I get better. Then, as months past, it became, I’ll write it IF I get better. Now that it’s been eleven months, I figure – I’ll just write it. And it will shake out, how it shakes out. Be it good, or be it bad… it’s what’s happening, and I can’t really hide it from everyone anymore. So, regardless of the fact that this is an incredibly hard one to write, it’s what’s happening. It’s the reality of my homestead life these days.

The first week of January 2017, I had VERY big plans. We both did. We issued ourselves a food challenge. We aspired to put more content online. We had a forest garden to finish installing. We had some very big dreams that we were incredibly excited about. And then around the middle of January, I got sick. And I stayed that way.

I seemed to catch every virus or infection I came within spitting distance of. I was more tired than I ever had been in my life. The tiredness paled in comparison to how overwhelmed I felt by the most ordinary, easy things. I was thirsty all the time, no matter how much water I drank. My gut health was a total wreck and that made things unpleasant in a lot of ways that I won’t go into here… other than to say it’s incredibly painful. I couldn’t seem to remember the simplest things or to keep anything straight through some seriously intense brain fog.  I was dizzy, my balance was off and I fell down a lot, my head hurt, my body and joints ached. I got scary pale pretty often. My vision was blurry and I saw floaters all the time. My eyes got crazy sensitive to light. And then, my anxiety became completely out of control over the whole thing. I saw my primary care doctor in February. Again in March and again in April. Tests got run, physicals by him and my OBGYN got had. And they couldn’t find anything wrong. In mid spring, we realized we didn’t really have much choice but to slow things down on the homestead plans in the interest of figuring out what the heck was going on. In the interest of lowering my stress levels. But by July, it was much worse. I got so dizzy at work that I almost passed out… and I totally freaked my wife out with the sheet like color of my face. I went back to the doctor. Got 2 rounds of antibiotics for a serious UTI… and then they ran a load more tests over the course of July, August and September. Everything that could come out of my body and get tested, did. For a couple of months, I wrote down what I ate, my blood pressure, my blood sugar, my daily activities to see if anything stuck out as an answer. It was quite frustrating.

What was the most frustrating was that by high summer, I was running out of faith. Running out of the belief that I would in fact get better one day soon. I’d felt so sick, for so long that it was wearing down my spirit. I started getting really depressed over it. Now, folks that know me or have had an experience at eight owls in the past – likely remember a really positive, excited, talkative person. Someone so darn fired up about farming and organic food that it was infectious. But all this feeling crappy had that human running out of steam. It had me feeling absolutely nothing like myself. By the time my family had their annual visit to the homestead in early September, I looked and felt like a ghost of myself. I think I scared the tarnation out of them all, they’d never seen me like this and seemed pretty caught off guard by the whole thing.  So was I.

It felt crazy to have put so much focus on making such big changes towards living a healthier life and then to feel like I was falling apart. The not knowing why it was happening was agony.

And, to some degree, it still is making me a little nuts, the not being sure what the deal is. I still don’t have the answers to what exactly it is. All I know, is what it is not… as we did rule a lot of things out this year. I’m not diabetic. I don’t have parasites. It’s not early onset menopause. It’s not a thyroid issue. It’s not pancreatitis. You get the idea… Extensive blood work shows a MUCH healthier human than I was when I started homesteading. There is nothing in that blood work that has made my doctor concerned about cancer or any big bad disease. Well, short of we knew that I have an autoimmune issue already, but so far we’d been able to manage that with the food and by cutting out gluten and grain. My OB appt showed nothing of concern. My blood sugar was a little low (which honestly was kind of awesome since I was pre-diabetic just a few years back) and my blood pressure was a little low (again, an improvement over having insanely high blood pressure when I was overweight). So that all just left a lot of questions… was this all because I had my gallbladder out last fall? Is it my heart giving out or giving up? Was it something in the water making me sick? Something in the house? Was there a nutrient I was lacking somewhere? Was it because I made this huge transition from being so unhealthy to being a homesteader? …. Was it stress? Adrenal fatigue? I didn’t know. I’m still not 100% sure.

By my last doctor’s appointment in early October, I was almost in tears in his office. I was so dang tired of this whole process. I practically begged him for answers. He smiled a little smile, and begged me for something too. Something I’m not very good at. Patience.

He talked to me and the forager (who had started attending these with me pretty early on) about just HOW big a shift this 150 pound weight loss journey has been for my body. He made it clear that having my gallbladder out last fall was kind of a big deal to my tummy tum. He talked to me about managing my gut health better without a gallbladder. He really laid it on me about managing my stress. He gave me a shot of B-12 and put me on a new supplement for that, made a suggestion of new digestive enzymes and a load of new vitamins, gave me strict orders to not change anything else about my almost paleo diet for awhile, and made it clear just how important fermented foods and getting probiotics into my body is right now. He stressed the importance of sleep and restful behavior. He mentioned the stress thing… again. He just wanted me to please just give it a few more months of trying these things before we go the ct scans/hospital visits/cardiologist route. He really seems to think that it is just my body is kind of in shock from everything that has changed for me physically in the last three years since I lost the weight. And as if that wasn’t all enough, I had also piled a whole farm load of stress on top. He didn’t give me a lollipop… and I left, knowing that…. sigh…. what he was saying, made a lot of sense.

Since then, I’ve been on supplements out the wazoo. I’ve been doing everything I can to manage my stress. I’ve been working less and the forager has been working more to make up for it. I’ve been careful with what I eat. I’ve been doing breathing exercises. I’ve been taking enzymes for my gut health. I’ve been taking a lot of walks around the homestead and staring at beautiful wild plants and animals. I’ve read a load of new novels. I’ve started taking a lot of naps. I’ve not been around people as much, except for good friends and family that know what is going on. But the biggest thing I shifted, was in my brain. I stopped focusing on what didn’t feel good in my body every second of every day, and focused on what did. I worked towards thinking about how much I love my wife and the way we live, how much I love our homestead, how crazy I am about how beautiful nature and life is…. and told the whiney part of my brain that wanted to talk about how awful I felt to shut the hell up. I started to think about how it could totally be worse, that many people have much bigger physical challenges than I do, and I started focusing on being grateful for what I am able to manage to do and how amazed I am that I’ve gotten through to this point.

Now, within spitting distance of December… I have to admit, for the last month, I do feel a little bit better about half the time. It’s not where I want to be, it’s not anything like being back to my old self, but it is what I needed – to see at least a little progress. That will help me keep fighting through this I think. It’s what I will need if this is all just going to be my new normal. It’s also helping me to understand just how much me and my body have been through on this homesteading journey.

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Seven years and two months ago, another doctor, in another city told me I had six months. To change my life, my eating habits, and my bad behaviors. Or we were going to be having a very different conversation. Or, worse, we were not going to be able to have one at all. It’s occurred to me through all of this that that means to me, that this extra time has all been frosting on the cake of my life already. And I’ve finally arrived at this point in my mind that I’m just not going to waste any more of this time that I’m fortunate enough to have on wallowing in not feeling well or feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to focus on the good parts. I’m going to do everything I can to heal on the homestead, to the best of my ability. Or I’m going to die trying!

So, that’s where I’m at. And I wanted to share it with you. I miss sharing the things I’ve been writing about on my own this year. I want the folks who have been messaging saying they miss it too, to know what’s been going on here. It may have taken me almost a year, but I’m ready to talk about it. It is what it is. And I need to take this on now, because I have big plans for 2018 that I need to execute too.

For the last three years, I’ve chosen a word as a “theme” for the year. Something I want to work on, something I aspire to be or make important in my life. I usually select it on our reset retreat the last week of each year. This process is important to me. It’s my tether to self care and self growth. I’ve already chosen mine for next year, earlier than I ever have before. I’ve known what it would be for the last month or so. And the more I think about it, the more right it feels. Heal.

That’s my big plan for 2018. Get better. Keep working on the forest garden in the ways that I can so we have the permaculture demonstration site we need to continue to teach and share in. Write stories. Make art. Calm down. Live through this. I know I can do this. I know I love this homestead life, permaculture, my body and self enough to get through the hard parts, through the pain. So for now, I will just work on willing it into being so. It is how I can start where I am, use what I have, and do what I can. And I will close this bit of sharing with this simple quote that always makes my eyes well up a bit…. I will take a deep breath, and dig in… one. more. time.

“A winner is a loser who just tried one more time.” – George M Moore Jr. 

-Rain


During this upcoming season of giving, I’d love to use this space to make an appeal for some help. We could use some kind words, support, healing vibes, prayers, or whatever you are into. I could use some volunteers stepping forward from our followers, former students, guests and friends to make progress on some projects I’m struggling with (Email me if you want to get your terrace on this winter or pile some brush on contour! rain@eightowlsfarmstead.com). We could majorly use some folks willing to make donations to the homestead to continue to develop the work we do here. With everything we have going on, it’s been a hard year. We’ve not really posted about donations as much as we have in years past and consequently, we’ve raised significantly less funds in 2017 than in the past. But, we would like to try to change that with the time we have remaining in the year if we can. We take donations of any size and can take them all at once or you can make a commitment to make a small monthly donation over the course of the 2018 year.

And of course, you can now make a donation to the farm’s donation based educational programs by sending funds to our non-profit arm! You can either send checks or money orders made out to “Redbud Institute” with a memo line that says “for Eight Owls Farmstead” and mail them to PO box 1791 Brevard, NC 28712. OR you can pay via PayPal by sending your donation to this email address “redbudinstitute.nonprofit@gmail.com”, again please put a memo note on the donation that it is for Eight Owls Farmstead.

Redbud Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so you will get a receipt to show you donated to one. 100% of your donation will go straight to fund operating expenses, equipment project development and keeping the cost of our donation based education at Eight Owls Farmstead nice and affordable. Please make sure to include your mailing address if it is not on your check and email address, so we can send you a receipt and our eternal thanks! Every single little bit will help us continue to move forward with the work that we do here.

 

 

 

Coming homestead

Sometimes I feel like it takes awhile for me to realize the simplest things.

It totally freaked me out earlier this year when I became aware of a thought starting to form in my mind. It whispered to me at first and I shook it off, told it to go away. Not only would it not go away, but it started hollering at me until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

What it was saying, was that I didn’t want a farm after all. That I didn’t want to be “the farmer” anymore. Like not even a little tiny bit.

I totally lost my crap.

It was spring when this happened and I was a hot freaking mess over it. I decided to keep the thought to myself, because you know, we’ve spent the last five years trying to make my dreams of having an organic farm come true. What would happen if I was wrong from the beginning? Would my wife totally freak out and leave me here with the farm, finally fed up with how often I change my mind about things? What the hell would I do with a farm that I didn’t want? So, I kept my mouth shut and just figured I was tired, overstressed, and really just needed a break. I’ve been dealing with so many issues with my physical health this year (this is a whole other story for another time), I figured I was just freaking out and that this whole feeling would go away when i started to feel well and like myself again. Months went by. My physical health continued to be a lot to handle and manage. And that thought, it never went away, it just got louder and more impossible to ignore. I didn’t want a farm… I didn’t want to be the farmer.

It was quite confusing, because I still loved our land and growing food, it just didn’t feel quite right somehow.  Something just felt like it had shifted. It felt like I’d learned too much, too fast. About what farming really is and what that really means, about ecosystems, about regenerative agriculture, about permaculture, about our land and what it was capable of. Also, five years into owning our land, I’d learned so much about myself and what I really truly want. Learned so much about my wife and what she truly wants. I’d become aware of what we both want our lives to look like. It felt a little like that moment I think everyone has in college when you learn so much, that you learn how much you don’t know…. that you learn how far there is to go to get where you want to get to. And suddenly, I’d just realized that my big dream of owning a farm, of being a farmer…. just plain ol’ didn’t feel ANYTHING like I thought that it would. It just didn’t feel good or right to me anymore. I wanted to spend more time writing, making art, foraging, cooking, and doing all the other things I love to do around here. I no longer wanted my whole life to revolve around farming, because lets face it, in my personal opinion – if you have a farm, your whole life can pretty easily become consumed by it.

The definition of farming is “the business of growing crops and raising livestock to sell” and realizing that that didn’t feel good to me all of a sudden was ripping my heart apart. I mean, don’t get me wrong I think so highly of folks that choose to farm organically, it’s awesome work to be doing in the world–it’s just not for me. Finally, in early August, I broke down and told my wife what I was feeling. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. All teary eyed over it, I told her I didn’t know what to do. That I loved this land so much, but maybe we should just sell the farm and start over again somewhere. By the grace of all things holy, she didn’t get scared off or freak out. She just smiled and said it was okay, since that was never what she really wanted either. That what she wanted was a permaculture homestead. One where she could be as self sufficient as she could be. One where she could do all the many different things that hold her interest. Sure, she wanted to grow food, but she also wanted to grow supplies to make her art, grow firewood, grow skills, grow herself. I remember my mouth falling open. I remember wanting to holler “Duh” and wanting to slap myself.

It’s so funny how simple things are sometimes. It shouldn’t surprise me that when you are totally overwhelmed or don’t feel well physically, it can be difficult to grab onto those simple things that don’t feel quite right and give them a voice. The word homestead settled down into my heart and grew all warm and fuzzy there. That was exactly it for me too, I wanted a homestead way more than I wanted a farm. I wanted to live at a home, and not live at work. I wanted to be a homesteader, which to me personally, feels like a totally different thing than being a farmer. The definition of homesteading is “life as a settler on a homestead” and homestead is “a family’s house. adjoining land and outbuildings”. I love how nice and loose that is, how easy it is to tweak to our own interpretation. To me homesteading also means providing as many of your needs as you can yourself from your own land, from vegetables to meat to eggs to firewood to furs to income from your land to flowers to art supplies to keep you entertained to some serious life skills. It’s not just a business of selling farm grown foods, it’s a whole life system. It’s a whole lifestyle. To me it feels like it’s the entire ecosystem instead of just one piece of one.

The word homestead, it felt good. It felt right. It majorly helped me calm down about the whole thing. And, whew, it fit in. For us both, for our land. And we wouldn’t have to sell the 9.74 acres I love so much after all. A permaculture homestead. A permaculture homesteader. That’s what this land wants to be. That is who I want to be. It may sound like a silly little detail to other folks that I needed to make this distinction – but it was an important shift in thought for me. And I’m not scared to share that I made this shift in my mindset and in what I want my life to look like. That my dream from the beginning just simply evolved and got refined with time. I’m fine with just owning it. I think it is totally okay to grow and change. It might even happen again one day and I hope if it does, I’ll be even more fine with it then because of owning it right now.

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Growing into a homesteader and owning a homestead, for me, is the system I’ve needed to design to try to get well. To lose the weight and keep it off. To detox my body off of some seriously bad eating/life/exercise habits and grow some better ones. To continue to try to manage my mental health. This homestead, it’s my gym, my grocer, and my therapist. It is one major thing that is getting me through as I continue to try to repair all the big and bad things that feel wrong with my body, as I continue to try to manage the physical pain I’m in a lot of the time. It helps me get through all the doctor’s appointments and tests I’ve had to endure this year. Seeing this land continue to heal is like magic to me. It is what keeps me tethered to the hope and faith that I will heal here too.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed that I’ve not been posting, sharing or blogging anywhere near as much this year as I had in the past – but I haven’t been. It’s because I majorly needed some “me” time. To figure out what I really wanted and who I really want to be. To write and take photographs for myself and no one else. To process through the biggest and most important five years of my adult life. To keep to myself and enjoy the amazing experiences I have here with myself, my wife and our close friends instead of sharing them with everyone. It was not the plan, it’s just how it shook out to be… that I just needed to take some time to deal with working on my body, some time to keep trying to figure out how to continue to heal. I’m so grateful that I took that time, that I made the space to do that….that I’m still doing it right now. It helped me realize something so simple, that I just wanted to come homestead. It helped me to let go of what was and is allowing me to embrace what is coming instead.

Anyway, I had been thinking about writing about this for the last month or so, mostly because I did want to share this thought. That change happens, that dreams grow and evolve into new dreams. And that sometimes, for me, the simplest change in a word or mindset, can make such huge shifts in how you feel or in where you are heading. I think it is a really good thing.

We didn’t know what the heck we were doing in the beginning, when we bought our land. We didn’t really know who we were or what we really wanted. I’m so glad that it only took us five years to figure it out. To sync up and find a path that works for us both. And that we cultivated the soil together to grow a homestead life. It just fits me, just like my very favorite pink work gloves do. I’ve come homestead, and I’m so grateful for it – there is nowhere else that I’d rather be.

-Rain

Please bear with me while I make this mental shift to being a woman who homesteads, while I continue to figure out who I am! I need a new handle/nickname, I need to shift my words, I need to keep growing. I’m sure I’ll still say things about farming sometimes. I still write for women who farm. And, what we plan to do here on our homestead is still ultimately the same. Provide as much of our needs as we can for ourselves, try to inspire other folks who want to do the same, have women with big dreams of their own visit our homestead for a tour, retreat, or an immersion, sell our overflow produce and wild foods, and make art and crafts. Just hang tight while I start to shift my words and thoughts about y’all! 

 

 

 

 

Other people’s gardens

Crap. Look at their kale. It’s like, so much better than mine. Man, I wish my garden was that big. Jeez, I wish my garden was that small – I would have so much more time for other things. Wait, why are their tomatoes ripe already and mine aren’t?! Oh. my. god. Look at their stunning soil. You got how many pounds of garlic this season?!?! Holy crow their garden is prettier than mine. Sigh. Other people’s gardens…. they are so much better than mine.

Wait… WHAT?! What is this insane inner dialog about how other people grow? Why the heck am I comparing myself to them again?

Let me go back a bit, to the first five years we were farming – when I really did this. Like all the time. I’d sit on Facebook and look at other people’s gardens. And I’d get really upset about it. I’d sit around and compare what I had to what they posted. I’d beat myself up about how much better they were at gardening than I was. How pretty or cool their gardens looked, how much I wished I was raking in as much food as they were. I’d figure that they, their gardens, and their lives were just plain ol’ better than mine.

After the first year or so, this whole thing crept into my brain and built a tiny house there. As I started to compare myself and my situation to other people’s everything. Their houses. Their businesses. Their farms and homesteads. Their trucks. Their tools and tractors. How many eggs their chickens were laying. It all seemed so much better than my farm life. I’ll never understand why we do this whole comparison thing to ourselves. I mean, I guess I could blame instagram… but it’s really not the apps fault.

It was mine. This was a completely ridiculous way to be spending my precious time on this amazing planet. I wasted a lot of emotional energy on something that is just the devil. Comparison. Coveting what other people had…. instead of being grateful for the amazing homestead life, body, partner and piece of land I already have.

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Over the last year, the two of us have been out here alone for the most part. It’s the first year since we bought our farm that no one else has lived here, we’ve not hosted any interns or wwoofers, or had a staff. There’s been nowhere, no one, and no distractions to hide behind. What there has been, is plenty of time to work on myself, my land, and continuing to strengthen my marriage.

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Finally, I not only started to realize this habit I had was a really bad one for me – I busted through doing something about it. Demo on comparison’s tiny house in my brain started. I just worked towards building a big ol’ gratitude house instead.

It’s been an incredibly hard couple of years of growth and change. However, beginning to finally crush this bad habit of worrying about what other folk’s gardens look like is something that I’m starting to be incredibly proud of.

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And my garden…? It is becoming something that I’m incredibly proud of too. It is where I lost 150 pounds. It is where I kept it off for over three years now. It is where I lost myself and found myself. It is where I got my heart broken and where I healed it too. It is where I grew a marriage strong enough to traverse starting a farm, a business, and remodeling a foreclosure all at the same time…  and still manage to be crazy in love with each other too. And I wouldn’t trade it for anyone else’s life or garden…. because I’m the one that grew it. And it makes me feel like a total badass. 

-the farmer


I’ve been thinking about this blog post for months, but it took having this concept come up in conversation with a handful of different women in the last week or two that finally got me to sit down and write it. It gave me the room to realize that a lot of other people do this too. And that maybe we should just… like… stop doing that! Our lives, are our lives. Our gardens, are our gardens. No one else has to understand it, agree with it, or like it. So long as we do.

I got loaned this amazing book last winter by our neat-O friends at Life Boundless Farm. Then I bought it and read it again. And again. Now, I’m over the moon to be listening to the audiobook on YouTube. I’ve never been super into self help kind of books, but this one totally changed my life and it is worth sharing. She talks a bit about this whole comparison thing and how it’s the devil. She cracks me the heck up over and over again. And this book is SO REAL and good. If you are in a position that perhaps you want to be a bit more badass than you currently think you are, I highly recommend it. Because it is so awesome. <3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing a homestead life

Almost seven years ago, when we left the city to start a homestead life, I had such big dreams. Ones that I thought at the time were nice and simple too. I’d been dreaming them for a long time at that point… Growing my own food, watching free range chickens frolicking around, milking my own goats, raising and processing my own meat. I saw myself harvesting huge baskets of veggies, eggs coming out of my ears, and this simple, dreamy, romantic as tarnation life growing out of stunning soil. I saw myself being a heck of a lot smaller than 300 pounds while I was doing it too. I saw my wife and I, who had been successful in our former careers totally crushing this lifestyle. It would be all candlelit dinners of things we farmed and foraged, smiles and laughing… while we never fought about things like free range fowl or where to plant nut trees. It seemed so simple, I’d just step out from behind a computer screen and a life where I made a pretty darn decent sized paycheck, tuck my complete lack of understanding of a farm life in my back pocket and BAM! A homestead life would grow. Easy peasy. This organic farming thing was going to be simple! I just knew it! I mean come on now, we had four college degrees between us after all.

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Fast forward to now and to me… 150 pounds lighter, sitting on the semi-off grid 9.87 acre natural farming and permaculture homestead we own… finally being able to laugh, HARD, at myself for what has become the homestead truth of it all. That truth is, for us, that there is not much simple or easy about our real homestead life.  And in my humble opinion, anyone that tells you different – likely hasn’t been homesteading very long or has a situation that perhaps is a wee bit simpler–like a backyard homestead or a little raised bed garden, a house that has easy access to electricity, and a well paying outside job that pays the bills and the feed bills too.

So once again, it’s my homestead truth time. Homesteading the way we chose to do it is the hardest dang thing I have ever done in my life–making this transition and actually sticking it out, and detoxing 31 years of poor food and lifestyle choices out of my body. It’s been almost seven years since we first rented some land to try it and almost five since we bought our place. I had thought graduate school or my first few years of teaching college was hard long ago, but it now seems like a breezy vacation in comparison to the schooling I got on this homestead. Not to mention, that I’ve been doing this long enough now to know that there is no end in sight to the learning–It will likely take me until I’m 80 years old to truly tap into understanding the things I want to on this natural farm. It won’t be something I can get figured out in one season or one year… I’ll be a student of it forever and likely never consider myself be an expert. I’ll probably never get a degree handed to me for being a student of natural farming.

The stress of making this transition has almost sunk me at points. I’ve full on had crying ass meltdowns over homestead messes, chickens killing my kale or stepping in poop on my porches, having to go milk when I was sick or had nasty cramps, the fact that everything under the sun likes to eat ducks and chickens as much as I do, mexican bean beetles and squash borers, having to wash my dishes in a rubbermaid tote or my hair in a stock pot or most often–my total naivety of where I stood in the beginning and all the mistakes I made then that I’ve been paying for for years at this point. And I wasn’t alone in it either–there’s two of us….that have to talk about it all, and agree on it all too. We’ve been together eight years now–we have an unbelievable amount of love for each other and a really strong marriage. But that sure never kept us from having knockdown drag out holler fests over where the fruit and nut trees should get planted or if free range chickens were a good idea or not after I found one standing on my outdoor kitchen’s counter. (She pooped on it too, btw. TMI you say? Yeah, I thought so too while I was scrubbing it down!)

So, why is this normally positive as all tarnation permie farmer spouting all this negative juju to you this morning?

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Because, even with all the tough bits that I thought would knock me flat on my face–I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the whole wide world. This homestead life fits me like a glove and I love it all the way down to my toes and back. It’s all I want and I’ve come to know at least one thing – I’ve not given up or given in yet, even with all the hard. And to me that means I still want this life more than I want ease or convenience, nice clothes, clean hair, or expensive things….having a homestead life that makes me healthy and happy is more important to me than any of that. Learning the skills I have here means the world to me. I can grow things, plant trees, and I finally feel like I have begun growing “the plant thing”. I can build soil like its going out of style. I know more wild plants than I ever thought I could just a few years ago, and I learn new ones and their uses all the time. I can butcher squirrels, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and deer by myself and put every single piece to good use. I can look at most farm animals and tell if they are healthy or not. I can cook or preserve just about any food that lands in my kitchen. I can start fires with a bow drill and do my very best cooking best with wood. I’ve helped build simple timber framed cabins. I can stomp cob like a champ. I’ve slept in primitive structures we built in 20 degree weather and finally don’t think I’d freeze, starve or totally panic if I got lost in the WNC woods. And I’m so dang grateful and excited for the thought that I can’t even imagine the skills I’ll have in another 7 years, or all the years (that by the grace of God) will come after that.

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This homestead, it’s what helps me take responsibility for making myself happy and continues to help me find my healthier self too. It provides over 80% of my practically paleo diet, it gives me exercise, sunshine and fresh air. It will be what helps me to keep the weight off that I shed a few years back and be as healthy as my doctors say I am now. It helps me stay sane while my partner and I navigate the 16804064_1446719112045668_875209610003180303_otough conversations and grow better communication skills. I fall in love harder every single day with myself, her, our land, and this process too. A real homestead life helps me find resolution, patience, and fortitude too. The chickens free range, and the poop doesn’t always make me have panic attacks. I’m just grateful for the nitrogen and keep several old brooms close.

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So, there’s the real homestead truth. It’s a hard transition to make….it’s a hard working life to choose to live. It’s learning from mistakes and growing because of them. It’s having to want and love this life more than anything else you might want to do with your time. But man, let me tell you, if you do want it, if you do love it – I’ve found it to be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done with my life. We always finally do agree, and the trees get planted. The gardens get bigger and prettier every year. We learn, we live, we laugh a lot, we love… we homestead. And we never stop growing or being grateful for it. 

-the farmer (who now has to go help plant five black walnut trees… after it taking two full days for us to agree on where to put them… ;-p ) 

{And of course, like all things on this blog – these are just my opinions I’m sharing here! None of this may ring true for other folks! I’m sure there are people that have homestead lives that are simple or that eased into this transition with no problems or panic. That’s just not how it went for me personally, and I’ve always tried to be super honest about that on here and when folks visit the farm!}

Farming + Foraging 80+% of our own food for a year (2017 food challenge update)

It’s been almost three months since I first blogged that we were going to food challenge ourselves in 2017 to farm and forage (or trade for diversity or so we can actually like have dinner with friends at their houses this year) for 80% of our own food. And some friends and family have been asking lately for an update on how it is going – and I sure do want to answer!

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This food challenge is one thing ’round here that is going AWESOME so far. In fact, we’ve even stopped buying in several things on our list of eight allowed purchased foods. We had decided we could buy in eight things when we started this challenge, spices/salt, fat, beverages (coffee, tea, etc), sugar/honey, buckwheat, mushrooms, garlic, and eggs. We gave up buckwheat pretty quickly and never ended up buying any in. We also quit buying mushrooms and garlic in January. Our oyster, shiitake, and wine cap mushrooms started to come in early and our chives are doing so well already that we are just using those in lieu of garlic for now. We also both gave up refined sugar in early February, so short of buying in one 2 pound bag a month to start kombucha–we are off it. We just ran out of honey from the bees last year, so we’ll likely just be patient and wait until they make more  this summer before we get any. We’ve also not had to trade for anything in almost 6 weeks, as the season seems to be starting early and there’s been enough veggies, rabbit meat and wild food for the two of us coming in. (pics below: the first decent haul of spring turnips a few weeks back, slow cooked rabbit, and the exciting first lambsquarters sighting of the season!)

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Mika and I were nasty sick for most of late January and February with the crud that was going around town, but we both caved to getting some antibiotics as appropriate technology and are finally getting better. Then, of course, stress of playing catch up on the farm has wrecked havoc on us and our adrenals the last few weeks too. Bah humbug, but hey – such is homestead life. It happens, and like all things – it is how we handle it that counts. But, in the spirit of homestead truths – being sick did find us cheating a couple times. We bought in some miso paste when we were at our nasty sickest per our doctor’s advice to try that in our bone broth. And we also bought in two bunches of bananas and one lemon for sore throats. But hey, here’s hoping we won’t get the crud and have to do that again!

One thing that is not going awesome about this food challenge is remembering to plug in everything we ate into the spreadsheet each day! It’s a total drag trying to remember in the spring pace of farm life, especially since it has long since said we are up and over 80%. I can see it totally falling off our radar by summer, but we shall see. I so wonder if our lack of grocery store receipts would count as well as the spreadsheet?! 🙂 It might just have to! But for now at least… we are trying to keep up with it.

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I’m finding myself grateful for lots of things lately–besides having spent the winter opening up a ton of new growing space and creating new terraces…. one of them is having had a bumper crop of bunnies born in the last couple months. No lie, there’s got to be fifty or sixty out there total – so many I can’t get an accurate count. I’m so over the moon about it, because they are fun to hang with, I am getting a couple of new does to keep out of this batch (one is pictured above), and because we are a few weeks away from running out of venison from the fall. So rabbit, other folks unwanted spring roosters showing up and going fishing will be our only meat sources until fall rolls around again.

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We are still buying in eggs for now while we are resetting the forager’s flock – but man alive am I glad we will have new ladies laying right here by summer! We’ve got 13 new little golden comet, dominique, and ameraucana hens that Mika is raising up to go back on free range this summer at the farm. Taking last year off from raising chickens while we got new infrastructure growing for them to eat was so hard, we LOVE eggs! Especially after having been spoiled on eating our own for five years before it. Yet, we sure don’t want to have to pay to feed them – so it feels great to know that we have a new system for doing that and will have eggs again soon. This picture was from mid-february so they are starting to look like legit little hens now, it’s quite cute to see them outside pecking around during the day… anddddd not so cute that they are inside at night in their brooder still chirping me awake from time to time while we wait out it not being so cold at night! Although, that whole thing is about to end–they’ll say bye bye to the wood stove and move outside for good.

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Can we do it? Keep this up for a whole year? Farm and forage enough food with just us two doing the work (as we won’t have a staff, work traders, or interns this year)? The Forager’s dog Scout sure seems to think so, and we do too.

So, I’ll close with this, one of my very favorite pieces of art hanging in our house – from the amazing woman behind Starfangled Press in Brevard. I look at it every single day and love it so much. It’s so true, and so good to me!

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-the farmer

—–

I’ve tried to be super clear over the years that I’m no expert in this life, but that I do love to share what I’ve learned about it and what the homestead truth is of what this transition from city life to farm life has really been like. So, I do want you to know that we are open for our fourth season and booking now for custom workshops, farm tours, land or online consultations, and immersions. If you want to come check out how we are providing so much of our own diet ourselves on marginal land – You can read about options on our website or shoot me an email. We mostly focus on talking to new homesteaders, farm dreamers, or folks wanting to make big changes in their lifestyle – but we can also recommend what local experts we’ve liked taking classes with too.

And of course, we can only keep our costs low and offer scholarships because we take donations – so if you feel inspired by our farm or our story, please consider making a donation to our non-profit arm.

You can either send checks or money orders made out to “Redbud Institute” with a memo line that says “for Eight Owls Farmstead” and mail them to PO box 1791 Brevard, NC 28712. OR you can pay via PayPal by sending your donation to this email address “redbudinstitute.nonprofit@gmail.com”, again please put a memo note on the donation that it is for Eight Owls Farmstead.

Redbud Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so you will get a receipt to show you donated to one. 100% of your donation will go straight to fund operating expenses, equipment and education at Eight Owls Farmstead. Please make sure to include your mailing address if it is not on your check and email address, so we can send you a receipt and our eternal thanks!

Farm shares of education and inspriation

We get asked by new visitors to the farm pretty often, “So, do you sell shares?” I know what they mean, can folks purchase weekly share boxes of the no spray, no till produce we grow here. I totally get why they ask, these vegetables and wild foods don’t taste like any others I’ve tried either. ;-p So, I tell them that we do have overflow produce to sell to students and friends sometimes, but no – we don’t sell weekly farm shares of produce. And to this farmer, there’s a seriously good reason for that.

We don’t sell shares because we focus on providing farm shares of education so that folks who can and want to… will grow these kinds of vegetables right in their yard too. We sow a lot of seeds of inspiration to start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. That way, we can save our veggie extras for those who can’t grow food at their place for one reason or another.

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Clay seed bombs we made with eight excited young folks from Mountain Sun Community School yesterday on the farm (3-17-2017)

To this farmer, there’s nothing more important to me than the food I put in my body. And it just plain ol’ tastes better to me when there’s only a few minutes between harvesting and food hitting my plate. It tastes better when I grow it myself. There’s no hot car ride to wilt on or gasoline involved in getting my greens fix on, and no packaging or processing for my produce…. short of my trusty handmade harvest basket (made by the amazing woman that I was named after).  When I go out in the afternoon to harvest something for dinner, I can see exactly where it came from. I built the soil it resides in from materials I gathered from right here on the farm instead of buying amendments in, I sowed the seed, I tend the plant, I harvest it, and then I eat it. With our meat–I got that animal’s parents together, that critter is born here, I raise it, I process it and I cook it. To me personally, that’s the very best version of this process… it’s the way the food tastes the very best. I love the embodied energy that that our organically grown farm food holds. I dream of more folks eating this quality of food too, and it not costing them so much in the old wallet.

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Last night’s harvest dinner! Every night in March these these salad baskets get bigger and more diverse. We farm and forage them together on an afternoon walk while we geek out on the wild edibles that grow themselves here. We paired that salad with rabbit soup that I whipped up from the bone broth I made in this one on one rabbit processing and cooking workshop last week. It feels so darn good to eat a dinner 100% from right here.

My body feels really good about this process too. Farming and changing my diet is what has managed my anxiety and depression long term. It’s what got me off a prescription for that. It’s certainly what helped me lose weight and keep it off for three years now. I even had a physical a few weeks back and I sure think it’s what (short of having recently had the sinus crud that’s going around) made my doctor call and say my lab work was perfect. I’ll so take that over six years ago, when my doctor called to tell me I was pre-diabetic, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and was in real trouble if I didn’t make some changes.

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I took him at his word….and I listened. I made some very big changes, and managed to design a body and life that I just love the tarnation out of – every day. It all sounds so dreamy right?! 

But, here’s the rub – it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Transitioning into this kind of lifestyle change when there is so much to learn is hugely stressful. Detoxing off 30 odd years of a sad american diet was a lot to put my body through. None of this was a quick fix or a magic trick. There’s a lot to this story of the farmer’s diet and I never want anyone to think it was easy or quick for my body. Or that learning about this lifestyle is simple. It might be for other folks, but it wasn’t for me.

So, that’s why I focus on farm shares of education and the mother of all inspirational chats here. It’s why I do one on one or small group workshops with women. It’s why I let them come immerse themselves in staying here on the farm for a few days. It’s why I consult with folks on FaceTime about what this has all been like. It’s why I teach youngins’ how to sow seeds and embrace the weeds. And it’s why I make all of that as affordable as I can and still squeak out a living–because I want to see the world I live in change, and I’m so willing to build the soil to grow that change in my tiny little corner of it. I’d love to share what that really looks like with you too.

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Six years, it’s not that long of a time – I remember exactly what it was like to be living a very different life and dreaming of this one. I remember so clearly having no experience, and having no clue where to begin. But if I can show people on thing here on this farm, I hope it is an example – that it is possible... to make big changes and not just survive it – but thrive in it too. 

-the farmer

—–

I’ve tried to be super clear over the years that I’m no expert in this life, but that I do love to share what I’ve learned about it and what the homestead truth is of what this transition has been like. So, as I sit here outside writing this to you now listening to the rain fall on my seeds – I can feel that spring is so near and the time to grow food is here!! So, I do want you to know that we are open and booking now for custom workshops, farm tours, land or online consultations, and immersions. You can read about options on our website or shoot me an email. We mostly focus on talking to new homesteaders, farm dreamers, or folks wanting to make big changes in their lifestyle – but we can also recommend what local experts we’ve like taking classes with too.

And of course, we can only keep our costs low and offer scholarships because we take donations – so if you feel inspired by our farm or our story, please consider making a donation to our non-profit arm.

You can either send checks or money orders made out to “Redbud Institute” with a memo line that says “for Eight Owls Farmstead” and mail them to PO box 1791 Brevard, NC 28712. OR you can pay via PayPal by sending your donation to this email address “redbudinstitute.nonprofit@gmail.com”, again please put a memo note on the donation that it is for Eight Owls Farmstead.

Redbud Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so you will get a receipt to show you donated to one. 100% of your donation will go straight to fund operating expenses, equipment and education at Eight Owls Farmstead. Please make sure to include your mailing address if it is not on your check and email address, so we can send you a receipt and our eternal thanks!

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The Eight Owls Experiment

One question that has always been so tricky for us to answer is…. so, what does your farm… sell? What do you actually do?

It was hard to answer, because it’s all been an experiment–from the very beginning. See, six years ago…I had some questions. Can two women with no experience with living off the land – learn how to do so? Can we get reconnected to nature and our food? Is it possible for people who got born into a system designed to make them sad, sick, dependent and overweight design a system of their own that changes those things? Can you turn a foreclosed vacation home into an organic farm? Are two people truly able to do the work themselves to provide their own diet? What would our lives be like if we didn’t have power in our home–would we… survive? Would it make us less dependent and more empowered? And then, the big question–if the answer to those questions all happen to be yes…. can we inspire other people to try to step outside into the natural world… and try to change their lives and corner of the earth too? 

I feel so incredibly blessed to be one of the people who gets to be here, every day, watching those questions get answered. It’s why I put so much energy into sharing our space and our story as the experiment has been going on. It’s why I dedicate up to an hour of my day to sharing our content online via social media.

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It’s why I keep putting these pictures out there in the world – and show people what happened to me, when I tried to answer those questions for myself. It’s why I try to show before and after pictures of this land and our home–so that people can see that just about any space on earth can be grown and really lived in… if you are willing to be creative and do hard work. It’s why we will be documenting a food challenge this year…. something we’ve already seen proof of for the last few years. That yes, if we are willing to go with less convenience, make major diet changes, incorporate a lot of wild food into our diets, and cook a lot–we can totally provide almost all of our own food. We ditched our cell phones in early 2011 and pulled the wiring out of our house in the fall of 2013. We didn’t die. (Side note of homestead truth: our intentional neighborhood does share a small grid power house for well water, a communal deep freezer, modem, and charging our batteries) And yes, it totally makes us feel empowered, to live with less convenience.

We’ve been hosting workshops, immersions, experiences, and school groups here since spring of 2013. It’s felt like homestead school, one where we are fortunate enough to be students too. We’ve always put a special focus on trying to provide a safe space for women, that might just be like the ones we were in the beginning. We put energy into opening up to children that are super excited to learn about where their food comes from. Year in and year out, my heart swells as I watch them all grow here….and as we grow here too. It never gets old, getting letters from women after they are long gone in my PO box or comments from student’s parents on our pictures online that tell us how much they learned here… and how much they all usually say they can’t wait to visit again.

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Waking up to women I’ve never even met + their comments and emails about how much they love following my writing and pictures means the world. Hearing how much it inspires them… it lets me know that I’m not wasting time. Here lately, I get them almost every day. It shows me, I’m sowing seeds – of a very different sort. And this teacher and farmer… just loves the tarnation out of that.

I love it so much already, but in these strange times we are all currently residing in–it sure feels more important than ever before. It’s time…to be broadcasting seeds of inspiration and positivity all over the dang place. To be spreading knowledge by making it more attainable and approachable. It sure seems like it is time to come together as a community of happier humans, that would very much like a healthy planet to connect to each other on.

I certainly don’t ever mean to imply that I think everyone under the sun should do what we did, or live the way we do. I sure do know that it’s not for everyone. But I can say this… for me–farming and foraging for my own food, being outside and watching the sun come up over the mountain as I sit and type this to you now, and watching some very cute rabbits hop around beside me while I write… it is what calms me down in a chaotic world. It’s what has helped me not be morbidly obese for the first time in my adult life. It’s certainly what’s helped me stay this weight I’m pretty happy with for going on three years. Like I said, doing what we did–I totally get it isn’t for everyone.

However, I would think that having a healthy environment to live in + healthy food to put in your body…. is for everyone. In my humble opinion, organic food should not just be for the wealthy…it should be for everyone. Having a planet that isn’t being poisoned and pillaged is in everyone’s best interest. And, six years into my own journey, I see how those things can go hand in hand – if we can all come together and grow. I’m not saying to stop living your current life and start a farm either… I’m just saying, Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. If you do, you might just have some interesting results.

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In the meantime, we will keep doing what we do. And that is providing education and experiences. We will keep creating a space that is safe for women to grow and learn. We will keep letting them immerse themselves on our land. We will keep teaching young people what it looks like to grow food. We’ll keep making art to pay the bills. And we will keep working on getting more of our experiences and education online too. It’s what we do here…. we try to inspire the change we want to see in the world. -the farmer

 

HELP SUPPORT EDUCATION AT EIGHT OWLS

You can now make a donation to the farm’s donation based educational programs by sending funds to our fancy new non-profit arm! You can either send checks or money orders made out to “Redbud Institute” with a memo line that says “for Eight Owls Farmstead” and mail them to PO box 1791 Brevard, NC 28712. OR you can pay via PayPal by sending your donation to this email address “redbudinstitute.nonprofit@gmail.com”, again please put a memo note on the donation that it is for Eight Owls Farmstead.

Redbud Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so you will get a receipt to show you donated to one. 100% of your donation will go straight to fund operating expenses, equipment and education at Eight Owls Farmstead. Please make sure to include your mailing address if it is not on your check and email address, so we can send you a receipt and our eternal thanks!

 

 

Making the transition from sorrow to soil

I wonder all the time, if other folks know how often I think about the woman I was… just six years ago. Even though that human is so dang different, than the one they meet now. She feels like a whole other person to me, but she is no stranger. I was her for 31 years. I remember so clearly how unhappy I was, how dissatisfied and confusing it was–hating the life I was living. Thinking about how unprepared I felt for the state of what was going on in the world and the environment around me…. was downright terrifying.

Since I taught my first workshop and gave my first farm tour out here in 2013–so darn many people seemed so intrigued by how in the tarnation I did it. Stepped out of that cubicle, convenience based, city life and just went homesteading… when I had zero experience, when I’d not gotten raised on a farm, or ever even grown a garden. When I was so darn heavy at the point that I started walking down the path to being a homesteader. I’d get asked all the time… What in the world made me think I could do it? 

Here’s the real simple deal–I didn’t know I could do it. I just knew I couldn’t NOT do it. 

And here I sit, just six years later… 142 pounds lighter, a certified permaculture designer, kicking my bare feet up on 9.87 acres my wife and I own, planning to cook a breakfast that we farmed and foraged, and I’m feeling fantastic about it.

I also think a lot about what I would have done differently, if I’d had someone to reach out to in the beginning. What if I could have gotten to this point a lot earlier, with a lot less mistakes? What if I had gotten some inspiration and empowerment from someone more experienced than I was at the time?  Someone that could talk to me and tell me the truth about making this transition – from heavy to homesteader, from sorrow to soil.

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If that resource was there at the time, I didn’t know where to find it. I applied for farm internships, but couldn’t get one. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I had to… so I just dove in and figured it out myself. I used YouTube, books, and mostly–experimented a lot. That’s why it took six years, for me to be the human that is sitting here writing this to you now. Yet, here’s the rub that used to send me in a tailspin just a few years ago… it could have taken more like six months or a year or two. If I’d just gotten some affordable, attainable advice. Some direction and inspiration, from someone who had actually done it themselves. Someone who had designed a life that kept them happy, healthier, and well balanced. Someone that was sustaining it long term.

Someone just like the woman I am today. 

I’m not an expert, and in fact, the beauty in all this for me is that I don’t aspire to be one. For me, it is all about the journey. I never want to plateau or stop trying to get even better at living the way I do. But, that being said–I have a ton of knowledge in my brain that I didn’t used to carry around with me. I have many a funny story, on what worked for me and what didn’t. I learned so much from every single mistake and side step I took on this transitional journey. I know exactly what I would go back in time and tell myself if I was standing at the trailhead of homestead hill. 

And, I want to share it–with a lot more folks than I’ve been able to fit on this farm for the last few years. I want the legend of the eight owls to spread its wings and fly further out. I want to inspire and empower folks on a larger scale. It’s why a couple weeks back I wrote and said we will now be putting more and more of our energy online. And it’s time to tell you the first way I have planned to do just that.

Are you finding yourself a bit spun up about the state of the world? Are politics sending you into a total panic? Are you feeling unprepared for the unknown that lies ahead? Is there a scurrying little animal inside you running in circles, squealing, telling you a storm is coming and you better do something right flipping now? Are you heavier than you want to be? Or discontent and don’t know why? Are you trying to carve a different path and don’t know where to start?

Well, straight up – I don’t know if I can fix that for you. But, I hear from many a folk that I can be pretty inspiring to have a conversation with. So, this farm now has a new service… sliding scale online consultations via Skype or FaceTime. You can send me your questions, and I’ll sit down with you by the wood stove and have a chat with you about them. And I’ll answer them incredibly honestly. I have zero problem sharing mistakes I’ve made. I have a lot of advice to give–on what doesn’t work and what does. On the education and experiences that I’ve loved….and the ones I haven’t. I have a ton of product, gear, and tool advice. I have 18 years of marketing and advertising experience that can likely help you promote your new farm or homestead based business when you are ready for that step. I can tell you what this transition was actually like… and not just the pretty pictures in your newsfeed kind of way. The good, the bad, the poor or poop covered, and the freaking bad ass parts too.

I can’t keep you from making mistakes, an awesome member of my intentional neighborhood just wrote the other day–you’ll find a million creative ways to make your very own. But, I may just be able to show you something… that with a bad ass attitude, a willingness to do hard work, and a seriously adaptable attitude–this transition can be made, you can transcend those mistakes and thrive. 

“Wanting can be done sitting on a couch with a bong in your hand and a travel magazine on your lap. Deciding means jumping in all the way, doing whatever it takes, and going after your dreams with the tenacity of a dateless cheerleader a week before prom night.” Jen Sincero, writer, funny lady, farmer motivating, superhero and badass

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I can’t tell you how to do you, or what your journey will look like. But I can share more of mine with you, and I can do that from wherever you are with the appropriate technology that is my wifi connection and iPad. I can tell you how I turned sorrow to soil in my own life.

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I can tell you about how dang good it makes me feel, to grow my own, to connect to nature, to have stepped out of what I view as a broken system and learn to design my own.

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I can share with you the feel good that the first figs I ever got off a tree I planted can be. I can tell you how we have gone about making a living, while also making our life.

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I can tell you all about what it was like to get my permaculture design certificate via a self designed 16 month, 160 hour permaculture education. What instructors I liked, which ones I didn’t and why. I can tell you all about why I decided to put a program together for myself instead of just banging out a 72 hour 12 day course all in one shot. I can tell you why I’m so dang grateful I did that. I have a big ass book list to share of the ones that changed my whole world, these are just 4 out of probably 400 or so.

There is a ton, that I can share with you… to inspire you, to empower you to find your freaking rope of awesomeness, grab it, swing on it and not let go… whatever that may look like for you.

So, I gave it my first shot yesterday… sending my owl energy all the way up to Canada, to a woman that I just know I can call a friend now.

Review from my first online consultation: 

“I contacted Rain on a whim after reading her blog Kicking 150 Pounds of Anxiety and Depression through Farmingblog on the website Women Who Farm while sitting behind a computer screen at my 9 – 5 job in a suburb just outside of Toronto. I read ‘inspiring’ blogs all the time, but for some reason, this one spoke to me more than the rest. I have never contacted anyone like this before but I just decided to go for it and shoot her an email to find out a little more info about how her and Mika actually managed to jump into this homesteading life with no experience and land on both feet. I told her half my life story (which basically explained that I am struggling just like she wrote she had been six years ago) and she got back to me within hours in a way that I would only expect a good friend to do. While it would be a first for both us of, she suggested we get in touch via Facetime or Skype so that she can help me get a better idea of how it really can be done. A consultation. To learn that I too can jump into an entrepreneurial lifestyle and kick start a farm with minimal funds, a lot of hard work, faith and determination. We basically sat down to tea with each other from opposite sides of North America. I came out of it with a renewed sense of purpose and a new sense of excitement to get a plan going instead of just complaining over and over again that the life I am living isn’t for me. It was the little kick in the butt that I needed to start following my instincts. I would highly recommend anyone who has been thinking about making a big change in life – particularly in the direction of farming or homesteading – to take the time to sit down and chat with this ladyboss.”  –DANI ALEXANDRA FROM TORONTO, CANADA   

It was awesome, using technology to connect to someone that I never might have had the pleasure of speaking to otherwise. I’m so grateful that she was willing to step out and be the first woman that helped me carve yet another new trail. To something I so want to do this year.

So, if this whole thing sounds like it might be for you — all you have to do is shoot me an email (rain@eightowlsfarmstead.com) and I’ll get right back to you as soon as I can and tell you how this works. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to today–and my rainy self care Sunday…. I’ll wish everyone well and hope you do the same!

-the farmer

 

Seeing soil through new eyes

Six and a half years ago–I didn’t think about dirt. Not even a little tiny bit. I thought about the dots per inch in my designs on a computer screen. That 300 pound me thought about food a lot. Yet, I certainly didn’t seem to have any concept of where it came from. I couldn’t even conceptualize the chemical covered dirt that food was grown in at that time. 

The 158 pound permaculture farmer that stands here today, on a steep, scrubby 9.87 acres at the tippy top of a mountain… thinks about the glory that is soil all the dang time. I realized it yesterday, as I raked up every little morsel of compost I could get my hands on and tossed it on my garden beds. Soil is my life now… and I’ll never take it for granted or call it simply dirt again. I’d trade it for the fat paycheck I used to get staring at a screen any day of the week. Because I don’t just grow food and flowers in it. The woman I am today got sown and grown in it too. 

The soil, it showed me I had just gotten sown in a poorly chosen place… in a monocropped, chemical sprayed row inside a broken system. One that seems to me to have been designed to make me depressed, unhealthy, and overweight. One that seemed to just want me to spend and not sow or grow. 

When I hit 300 pounds at 31 years old and my depression hit new heights–I didn’t know what else to do. But I did know, I was fed up. So, I stood up out of that row, shook that nasty stuff off my roots, and said no. I refuse to continue to grow this way. I’ll hoe my own row, thank you very much. 

It was hard and slow going. Trying to find a different way. Bushwhacking that path myself. But, the soil–it was always there. Allowing me to grow. A new view of what was possible became clear, as I started to shed those pounds that had weighed me down. I connected to mother nature in ways I never had before, with bare feet and hands digging down into the earth. New eyes started to show me just how much I could grow. 

I went through this whole transition with a partner, that grew into a forager and rewilder. My life in the garden has even more balance for it. The time in the forest helps me see how to grow in better ways. How to work with nature and not against it. The forest, marginal spaces, and the edges shows me that is where life happens. It keeps me more connected, it helps to keep me calm. 

I feed the soil in my soul by trying my best to share what we’ve learned so far–about how to grow in an organic way. I hope to inspire and empower others to do the same, I pray every day that they will all do even better than we did. 

I’ve kept that weight I lost off for almost three years now. I’ve designed a life that keeps me healthier and happier than I ever was before. Granted, I still don’t feel great physically a lot of the time–my body is doing big work, detoxing out 31 years of poor soil. My doctors keep telling me to just keep doing what I’m doing, because it is working for me. To be patient and realize, I’m not done getting regenerated. Yet, I’ve grown the faith that it can continue to heal right here in my garden. I’ve grown an insanely positive attitude too. 

So, I keep doing what I’m doing. I keep growing organically. I keep reconnecting to my wilder side. I eat my vegetables and play outside. I laugh and learn a lot. I continue to try to find ways to step outside of the system and into the natural world. I stay eternally grateful–for having had all this time I was already given, to grow. I try not to worry about what could be and focus on living and growing. I don’t take my life for granted, I just live and grow in the right now. 

In this humble farmer’s opinion, the planet we’ve all be planted on is in real trouble. Our environment and its soil–it needs our help. It needs us all, to come together and grow. In quite different ways than most of us were planted. In my heart I know it is not too late, we humans–we are such incredibly capable and amazing creatures. There are so darn many of us. If we could just let go of what we were taught and pick up some common sense…. can you imagine what we could cultivate? I can. We can create community with each other and not chaos. If we would be willing to do the work on our environment that it so sorely needs… it has the potential to become an eden we could all eat and live in safely. We could build soil and save our souls. We can truly do so much to help. I know we can do this… we humans, we can come together and grow. 

-the farmer

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I got contacted by this amazing organization called Kiss the Ground. They wanted me to submit a story about our ability to regenerate land and reverse climate change by building back healthy soil. They are a non-profit that is doing truly great things. I encourage you to follow their page, show your support, or submit your story about how you interact with soil! 

Chop wood carry water

For the last few years I find myself chopping a lot of wood. I carry a lot of water. I had no idea when I started doing it that it was part of finding the path to enlightenment. Yet, I’m so grateful that I know that now.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” … And once you finally achieve “enlightenment” you still must chop wood and carry water. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.

When we bought our homestead in 2012, we knew we planned to heat with wood. However, I had not given a single thought of how that wood would get in the stove. I weighed 260 pounds when we moved over from the rental farm to the land we purchased. I could not carry an armload of wood, I certainly didn’t carry the skills to chop some. Neither of us knew how to use a chainsaw. We didn’t own an axe. But, we purchased our now infamous little Jotul wood stove and had it installed right when we got here. I know it will keep me warm as I sleep, even though it is due to be 19 degrees tonight. It’s stuffed full of wood I split right now.

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Chopping wood was a huge part of this farmer’s exercise routine. I couldn’t do it right when I got here, I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have the confidence to try to do it.  But, I could carry wood. First two or three pieces. Then four or five. Then an armload. The walking back and forth from the wood pile, the carrying of wood–it was part of what helped me start to lose weight. By the time I weighed 220 pounds, I was ready. I picked up that axe and learned how swing it myself.

Today, at 156 pounds–I’ve split I don’t even know how many cords of wood. I’ve taught a good number of other women how good it feels to chop wood too. I do it almost every day this time of year, even if I don’t need to because there is already plenty. Because it is good for me. It gives me bigger biceps, builds my confidence and it certainly helps me find my zen calm and happy place. I may not be able to do it when I get to be a much, much older lady–but I do know this… I’m going to do it as long as I can. Because I love to chop wood.

My forager of a wife does too. She talks pretty often about her great-grandfather and how he had huge guns of arms until he died at ninety years old. That even after alzheimer’s and old age set in–he just kept chopping wood. All day. Right until the very end. It’s always quite obvious to me as she tells this story with a far away smile on her face that she plans to be this way too. I believe her. I can see her ninety year old guns too. It wouldn’t surprise me a single lick if this life she loves and chopping wood gets her past a hundred.

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When we bought our land, I certainly didn’t have any intention to be carrying water. In fact, we spent the first few months we were here (and plenty of pretty pennies) getting the foreclosed house we bought wired and plumbed. We put in a fancy kitchen with things we thought we couldn’t live without like lighting, an electric stove, a dishwasher, a microwave and refrigerator. There was a sink and a faucet. We didn’t have any building, plumbing or electrical skills–so we hired several other folks to do it all. We borrowed a bunch of extra money on our mortgage to do it. We had no idea that sometimes ladies can get taken advantage of by builders, electricians and plumbers who want to part them from their money and might not do the greatest job. It’s taken the last four years to pay that repair work off and start paying off our land.

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We only had that fancy faucet for about six months before I got insanely sick. Then the forager did. By the time the doctor in the emergency room got ahold of me and told me it had to be environmental–I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life. A burst pipe and black mold found us having to rip out that kitchen much quicker than we had put it in. All that money, effort and stress went right down the drain–I washed it all away, right before I ripped out that sink, carried it outside and tossed it in the yard.

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Black mold changed the way that I looked at water being in my home. Total catastrophe showed me how quickly nice things, convenience and comfort can disappear overnight. Destruction of my home from mold, or droughts and wild fires rolling through just this year always shows me how many things are out of our control. That having money or nice things…. doesn’t always end up mattering much when disaster hits.

Being so easily separated from what was in our wallets was not an experience we wanted to repeat. So, we decided to do the repair work ourselves, even if it was slow going. During the last few years it took to teach ourselves how to remodel the house, we began to live and sleep outside for most of the year. That found me getting connected to nature in a way I never had been before and I fell in love so deeply. Since a lot of the walls had to get ripped out, we decided to make our house off grid rather than replace the wiring a second time. Which found me loving a kind of quiet I’d never heard over the hum of the fridge. We only had a water hose attached to the back of the house. That meant I carried a lot of water.

I took baths from a camping bag style shower. I washed my hair in a 4 gallon stock pot. I washed dishes and laundry outside in rubbermaid totes. I did it because I had to, it was the only option I had at the time. I had a large number of water related sobbing meltdowns to my wife. (#homesteadtruth)

Since our house hadn’t had power since fall of 2013, I also read a lot more. By candlelight. About the environmental impacts of grid powered electricity. I came to understand what the implications could be if I kept using power and water like they were an infinite thing that had no impact on the world I lived in. I teared up as I read about the miles a lot of other women in the world have to carry water every day just to drink some. To keep their children from being thirsty. I learned a ton about just how much water Americans use every day compared to people in other countries. I started to feel incredibly guilty for having flushed away so much potable water my whole life. I started to whine about the thirty feet I had to carry mine a lot less. I kept carrying a lot of water. I kept finding ways to use less. I do my best to catch and store every drop that falls from the sky. Permaculture keeps me focused on doing that better and better with each passing season.

I found that for me, carrying water had a side effect I didn’t expect. My biceps got even bigger. I can even do pull ups these days. And, it helps me find my happy, zen place too. Because I use less water today than I ever have in my whole life. I find it so precious and I have a firm understanding of the fact that it is a our most important resource. It’s not infinite, it’s not something I’m entitled to. It’s something I’m blessed to have. So, I do my best to treat it that way.

2016 found me finding a happier balance. Between bigger muscles and my zen… and tears or toting water for bag showers. We had finally learned to build in the women’s basic carpentry workshop we hosted in 2015 by Build Like a Bird. That workshop and some amazing ladies built a kitchen and bath house for this farm.

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I hooked that water hose to an outdoor shower and a sink for dishes. For now, I heat it with propane while I continue to work out plans for wood fired hot water. I love my outdoor kitchen and bathroom so much I can’t stand it. It’s mold free, it has a faucet I feel good about, and it works just great for me. I’ve been so blessed that a couple other folks have let me shower and do laundry at their places over the last couple winters–but I decided a couple weeks ago I just don’t need to anymore. I still have that stock pot and washing my hair or clothes in it in winter doesn’t send me into a special emotional place anymore. It just helps me remember what’s important to me. I can be darn sure that when spring comes, I’ll be filled with gratitude for having my outdoor shower back. And I’ll be making a plan to close it in somehow for next winter!

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I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when I get older, I’m sure it has the potential to be a pain in my butt. Since honestly, it already is sometimes–especially in winter. When hooking up the hot water is a huge hassle or not always possible. When freezing temps might mean we can’t turn our well on for weeks. But, I figure–every day between now and old age that I can handle doing it… I will. Because in my opinion that behavior will save some water for others that need it. It will keep me respectful of this amazing life giving resource and I won’t be able to easily take advantage of it.

Not to mention, I never have been able to just assume that I’m entitled to even get older either. So even though I’m sure other folks find it irresponsible, I don’t usually spend much of the precious time I have have now worrying about preparing for it. Instead, I try my best to just enjoy the right now and I carry water. I lift it with my knees and not my back. I take care of my body and eat good food. I plant a ton of marketable perennials for a retirement plan.

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I know it isn’t for everyone, especially those that are older than me or with little humans in their houses that have a tendency to get dirty often or need to get to school on time. And I totally get and have a ton of respect that. But, that’s a huge part of why I’m doing it too–to save water for you fine folks that are older and wiser than me and that I can learn so much from. Or that are raising the amazing little humans that we all need to shape the future of our world so that it continues to be habitable for humans to live in. I mean, I ain’t raising anything but rabbits! They don’t seem to mind drinking rain water I collect for them and they don’t have anywhere to try to get to on time. That means I have the time to carry my water.

I found that for me–having less easy access to power, chopping wood and carrying water…. it is a HUGE part of what keeps me feeling empowered. I can care take myself under a lot of different circumstances that I could not in my old life. The power could go out, our house could burn down, we could lose our property… and I’d still be carrying something around that would help me live. The skills in my mind that I need to survive. The adaptability to endure any circumstance and thrive. And the body that is capable of doing the work.

So, I chop wood. I carry water. I sure don’t expect anyone else to. I’d never ask anyone else to. Well, unless of course–they immerse or work here on my land. But, it works for me in so many amazing ways. It helps me stay thin. It helps me find my zen. And if it also leads me to enlightenment–that’s even better. But even if it does… I’ll still keep chopping wood and carrying water when I get there.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

-the farmer


So, I usually write what I write on here because I get asked the same questions a lot. Since 2013, a hugely popular one is how in the world are we going to do this when we get old? What’s our retirement plan? I know it gets asked because folks care about us and I love that they do! But, I have strong opinions on it. Mostly because I ate a terrible diet and lived a sedentary life for 31 years. To me, that means it’s a least possible that I don’t even have the possibility of getting old in the first place. But I sure try to focus most of my planning energy on making better choices these days with what I eat and how I spend my time. I pray every day that I do have a long happy life!! But, I also focus on living, right now, and don’t focus all my energy on getting older and what I’ll do then–and at 37 years old, I feel fine about it. And yes, we talk about it some–loose plans for when we are older ladies. We plan to laugh a lot, love hard, spend a lot of time in our gardens and forests…. the forager plans to be taking on bears still.

An amazing 75 year old homesteader visited us in February of 2013 that gave us some great advice… go ahead and make our steps short and put our wood pile close. Now, while we are young. We listened. We’ve been doing just that. Over the years when my friends, family, or former co-workers visit and express concern about our retirement planning… I just take them outside and plant some perennials or plug some mushroom logs. We went to visit Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve this week. He is 55 years old. He asked us if we had any questions or if there was anything he could help us with. I told him I had just one. Did he think I would ever get too old to want to homestead… To keep living close to nature and without so much convenience? Because I want to be a teacher that actually does what she teaches about too. His deep chuckle and homestead seasoned laugh lines made me smile so darn big.

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He told me that yes, he can feel it in his body… the life of homestead work. So, he wants to get better at delegating out all the digging, at picking his battles. But that he’d never give it up or change it, it’s what makes him want to live. He told me an awesome old story about a dream of riding a horse across the country and about getting underestimated that he could do it. That he got laughed at because he didn’t even have a horse. But that it didn’t stop him. and he sure does have them horses now and he uses them for some truly amazing work and education. He showed the Forager how to split wood easier and how to make pegs and joints fit with less work. Then, he gave us a squeeze and scampered back off to his own work with two quite young men running behind him trying to keep up. It meant the world Eustace, thank you. I listened. I’ll do my best… to pick my battles, that’s why I finally added a drop cord to the grid power house our intentional neighborhood shares and a lamp back to our winter system–to save my eyes for when I get older.  I’ll go ahead and try delegating out some of my business-y bits and digging so I don’t run myself ragged. I’ll try to learn to do it now, while I’m younger.

Everyone has to do what’s right for them… and I’m just doing what is right for me. I just LOVE the way I live. If that ever changes, then I will change the way I do things. But, for me, for now… this homestead life just WORKS. And when other folks make me get in my head about it or second guess myself–I just put this song on repeat on my mp3 player and it sure does help!