A Mennonite Heritage

RuthAnn & Elvin Zimmerman, Live in North east Iowa on 21 acres with our 7 children. They have lived on their acreage for 20 years now.

They have a couple different breeds of cows for milk and beef, Mangalitsa hogs, chickens and 2 Donkeys.

 

RuthAnns husband works full time but finds time to to the ‘heavy lifting’ of the homestead while her and the children do the day to day chores of the animals and in the summer in their 8000 sq feet garden planting, weeding and harvesting.

 

Their oldest child, Kristina, is married and lives near by, and their other children still live at home, ages 18,13,11,8,5,4.

My husband and I were both born and raised in the Old Order Mennonite community commonly referred to as ‘horse and buggy mennonites’. In short, this means we grew up in a culture that practiced self sufficiency and traditional living for generations.

I grew up having to milk the family cow each morning before riding my bike to the one room school I attended with my 8 siblings. I of course shared this chore of milking the cow with my siblings the same way we shared the chore of churning butter, Pruning raspberry bushes, weeding the asparagus, picking strawberries, and processing all the food we grew.


I also have vivid memories of butchering chickens along side my mother and grandmother.

All these chores where made more enjoyable by the presence of my siblings and the treat of afternoons spent playing in the conestoga river with the neighborhood kids or riding my pony through our woodland.

 

  My husband, Elvin, grew up much the same way, on a dairy farm with 12 siblings, cutting wood to heat their home and water and daily chores that go with running a dairy farm and being self sufficient.

We got married in 2000, at age 20 and 21, bought our property in early 2001 and also started our family in July of 2001. We ‘left’ the mennonite faith in 2007. This part is hard to explain without defaming the mennonites, their faith, and their way of life. In short, anytime a culture, way of life is mixed up with religion there will be individuals that feel a lack of freedom. My husband and I were some of those individuals that sought to have freedom.

 

We discovered that having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ brought us peace and fulfillment that the mennonite culture hadn’t offered us. This new found ‘freedom in Christ’ we found also put us ‘at odds’ with our mennonite community where conformity is taught and expected.

  Thankful for a local church that reached out to us and helped us learn to navigate a world that we had only ever seen from the outside. My husband and I at the age of 27 got our drivers license, sold our horse and buggy and used that money to buy a mini van! for the next couple years we experienced for the first time a world where you’re not expected to garden, have a large family or conform to the culture standards!!

At first we didn’t garden much at all, just a few things for fresh eating. We didn’t have any animals after selling our horse and the freedom of not having to do morning and evening chores was a novelty..

As our family grew to 4 children (and kept growing to 7) and we had time to heal and grow in the way children/young adults do when they have the freedom to decide who they are and what they want from life, and even the freedom to make mistakes, we started reaching back into our past for bits and pieces of our Mennonite heritage.

We started to see the value that these skills could add to our family life. We became so tired of trying to buy food that tasted like the home grown and from scratch items we remembered from our childhood. Not to mention the cost of raising a family on food 100% from the grocery store felt so expensive to us when we remembered the way our parents had raised families of 9 and 13 children.

Here is where our homesteading journey begins. A journey of our own choice born out of a desire for tasty, inexpensive and healthy food for our family combined with a desire to instill character into our children in a way that having plenty of chores to keep one busy does. 
We dabbled in milk goats for a few years, and of course planted a bigger garden and started processing our own foods.

We bought a feeder pig here and there and fattened and processed it, raised a few steers along the way and loved having beef in our freezer for our growing family! We planted a few apple and pear trees, a cherry tree, black and red raspberries too. As our children grew we recognized more and more the value of the homesteading skills! Not only are we giving them skills for life but we are also giving them opportunities to experience life in a whole and complete way. The circle of life, being connected to the food they consume.

Knowing the price of the burger they are consuming because they fed that animal for 2 years, from its first bottle to its last meal. The piece of lettuce on their burger is one that they have planted and weeded around and carefully harvested and washed! The tomato was started by seed and carefully transplanted outside and then carefully tended for the next 2 months before we could harvest it!  The value isn’t monetary but a deep understanding and appreciation for their Creator and how He lovingly provides.

Adding our milk cow is when we became fully invested in the homesteading life!!

Theres just something about having to do chores morning and evening every day for 9-10 month of the year that gets you into a rhythm of life with livestock!

You’re going to be in the barn anyway, rain, sleet, snow or shine and sometimes in sub zero temperatures, so while you’re out there why not have a couple pigs? And if you’re raising your own pork why not a breeding pair? You can sell any extra offspring to offset your cost, plus they drink all the extra skim milk that your milk cow provides. I do think that pigs are becoming one of my favorite animals on the homestead, their ability to take our garden scraps, table scraps and excess milk and turn it into bacon always makes me smile!!!

While you’re out there why not add another cow to raise even more beef for the family’s freezer, and another one because you could sell that one’s offspring to help offset the cost of feeding the cows. Chickens for eggs of course, and a couple heritage breeds that have the ability to go broody and hatch out babies, in this way replenishing your flock with a few young layers every year.

  And in that way our family has evolved into what you see today.. Treasuring those aspects of our heritage that add so much value to family life while living very day in a way that brings honor and Glory to our Savior.

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