Katie and her husband and children farm the fertile Payette Valley in Southern Idaho. She grows flowers for her community and homesteads for her family. She and her family focus on education, holding classes on farm to expose people in the community to the skills our grandparents knew.
Truthfully, I dislike the word homesteader. I feel it has sort of a negative, back-woods connotation, suggesting you are hoarding your goods away for the next crisis. I prefer to call myself a farmer, although the local USDA laughed under their breath when we told them how many acres were part of our ‘farm’ when applying for one of their incentive programs. I also feel like a bit of a misfit as I drop my kiddos off at daycare and check in on my 9-5 engineering job before milking the cow. Our urban lifestyle and homestead dreams collided beautifully in the year 2020 and instead of feeling like misfits in either world, I think maybe we can normalize a new type of homesteading.
Like many of your stories began, we began to desire a more meaningful connection to our food. We met farmers and began to find food that actually tasted better, made us feel good, and came with a relationship. We immersed ourselves in books and videos, waiting for the day that we could jump out of suburbia and into market gardening, flower farming, and rotationally grazing cows, pigs and chickens in a perfectly orchestrated succession. In the summer of 2019, we had that chance and bought 5 acres and committed to the lengthy commute to the city to keep my day job just long enough to create a profitable farm.
We arrived at our new farm with our rose colored glasses and began eagerly reclaiming the years of neglect and disrepair. We also added a new flock of chickens, three sheep, a milk cow with a calf, and some pigs, of course. We also added a baby of our own, as I was 8 months pregnant at the time of the move. We learned as fast as we could. We waffled between utter overwhelm and mountaintop highs as we navigated the challenges of land and livestock stewardship. We taught ourselves how to milk, how to butcher, how to treat sick animals and how to birth healthy ones. We build shelters…. Then rebuilt shelters. We laid water lines and replaced well pumps all on the pennies that we scraped and saved in our enthusiasm to live this new self-sufficient life.
My maternity leave was screeching to a halt just as we began to see the phrase ‘pandemic’ populate newspaper headlines. After two weeks of my new routine, now dropping two off at daycare, working my day job, then commuting home with tired, screaming children in the backseat, I was told I would have to work from home for the foreseeable future. I was overjoyed to trade my commute for milking time.
Fast forward to today and I have renegotiated a work from home job and we have built a new reality that looks like living more and more sustainably on our farm while maintaining an urban work life. We grow a large percentage of our own food: we bring in 4 gallons of milk each day for cheese, butter and lattes. We gather eggs and raise weaner pigs for our family’s meat. We will be harvesting our first steer early next year and our garden and orchard provide much of our own fruits and vegetables during the growing season.
What we don’t grow ourselves is readily available via neighbors and other local farmers. We set out to be farmers to make a living providing food for others, but what we ended up doing was finally making peace between our urban work and our farm dream. We still dream of the day that we don’t have to log on to a computer for a zoom meeting, instead, growing food and flowers for our local community, but until that day, we will continue to practice the skills our grandparents knew.
Looking forward, I continue to share our story, not out of pride, but out of a feeling of urgency to help my generation find a rootedness that comes when you commit to growing something, anything, in your community. We have found rest when we rejected today’s culture to be the most mobile and consume only the best that life has to offer.
Farming, even at our small scale, beckons us to commit to our community. We have to invest time and effort into every level of our farm; we need to rehabilitate the years of neglect of soil health, we need to build winsome relationships with our neighbors, sharing knowledge and resources. Finally, we establish patterns of generosity with those in our community so that we can build up a community-wide resilience. All of this requires time. Unlike our hip downtown residence, we can’t make a few updates and stick it back on the market to make a good return, we need to invest in ways that may not show a return for almost a decade.
I read a story recounted by Grace Olmstead in her book “Uprooted” that she wrote about our valley. She retold a tale her grandparents told her: during the depression, farms would often go under and the farmer’s belongings gathered up to be sold by the bank at auction. She told of the incredible friendships in the valley that endured this time by gathering at the auction and never increasing a bid. In this way, a farmer’s horse would go for fifty cents, a tractor for two dollars. The community ‘bought back’ this farmer’s livelihood, then gifted it back to him after the auction had wrapped up. It has made me ponder how we participate in our community, thinking not of what resources are ‘available’ to us here (a consumer mentality), but what we have to offer. In a competitive corporate culture, I can bring a perspective of rootedness and quiet contentment and to the farm, I can provide funds to bridge the gap until we find our niche in the market.
I hope to inspire a new subset of homesteaders- or rather- a new type of employee. I imagine the resilience we could build in our communities if we didn’t parse our communities into the farmers and the city dwellers. I’m a corporate engineer, gardener, mother and milkmaid. I know many of our friends and acquaintances are capable of similar sustainable homes and I hope I can encourage them to take the next step in their own version of rootedness.