Hello, I’m Mandy! I have been more than happily married to my husband, Grant, for 8 years, and we have three children, Arabelle (7), Garrison (5), and Agatha (2).
I left my teaching career 6 years ago to stay home and raise our babies, and in more recent years have taken on homeschooling and homesteading in the suburbs. We might raise some eyebrows with our choice of lifestyle in our neck of the woods, but since committing to homesteading life, we wouldn’t have it any other way!
The memories we are making with our little ones, and the sense of purpose and fulfillment we are getting out of life are worth more than anything to us. We look forward to everything our homesteading adventure has in store for us and hope to inspire others along the way!
Greetings! I’m Mandy Vander Kolk, a joyfully married mother of three, suburban homesteader, and sourdough enthusiast! From very early on, I have had a great love for the natural world. Growing up with my three siblings, we went on lots of family camping trips, and it felt like we were outside every day. We were always playing and exploring in our yard. We dug in the dirt, built things out of bits of nature, collected bugs…and one time I caught a tiny mouse and tried to keep it, but it bit me, and I had to tell my mom why my finger was bleeding, then she made me let it go. I was in Girl Scouts from Daisies up to Cadettes, and camping trips were my favorite part.
Beginning in middle school, I began having an interest in environmental issues, and that has continued into adulthood. I participated in the Maryland Envirothon for two years in High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Environmental Issues. After college I worked in a water testing lab for a few years, where we tested the quality of local waterways. I loved the work, but something was still calling me. During one of my first soul-searching experiences in trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I kept thinking about something else that has always made me happy…working with children. I decided to marry the two passions and go back to school to get a master’s in teaching and teach science!
It seemed this would be my final career, and it was a wonderful fit, until I got married and started having children of my own. I began to hear a new calling. When I had our first daughter, my heart swelled bigger than I could ever imagine with a new love, then broke into a million pieces when I had to go back to work. I could feel I was no longer able to give my whole heart to teaching, and instead wanted to dive whole-heartedly into motherhood.
I taught for just awhile longer until we were expecting our second child, this time a son. It was then my husband and I, as a result of many conversations, some being tearful, decided the best option for our growing family would be for me to stay home with our little loves. I ended the school year with maternity leave and awaited the arrival of our boy.
When he joined us just 30 minutes before midnight and the start of Mother’s Day, my heart swelled unbelievably again, and I knew this is what I was meant to do. We all transitioned beautifully, and it became clear that family would be our greatest source of happiness.
As our family grew, I became more and more conscious of what we brought into our home and fed our bodies. Providing my family with healthy and nourishing food became a top priority for me. My husband and I were already health conscious.
We also understood things like sustainability and carbon footprint and were already taking measures to reduce our environmental impact. After welcoming our third child, another girl, into this world just a few months before the pandemic would unknowingly arrive at our doorsteps, these priorities only became more important. We were soon faced with shortages and being home all the time.
After my initial reaction of panic over protecting my family, I realized I couldn’t control what was happening in the world, but there were still many things I could take into my own hands. I used the opportunity, as well as my long-time love of gardening and knowledge of environmental issues, to focus on being more self-sufficient, to grow and preserve more of our own food, and further reduce our impact on the environment.
This was truly the beginning of our homesteading journey! I dove in headfirst and poured over any information I could get my hands on. I bought all the books, did countless hours of research, and started planning. I started with expanding the gardens, implementing edible landscapes, and doing anything else I could to maximize the productivity of our modest ¼ acre plot in the suburbs.
We soon added ducks for eggs, rabbits, and bees, and continue our food growing efforts every year. We continuously strive to increase our vegetable and fruit yields and hope to eventually be efficient enough at year-round growing to provide ourselves with most, if not all, of our own produce! Part of that success will come from being able to preserve and put-up food during the growing season, so that we can continue to enjoy the fruits of our labor throughout the year. I have taught myself canning and preserving skills for this reason, and so we can take advantage of purchasing and storing produce that we are unable to grow on our own from our local farmer’s market.
In addition to raising babies and gardening, I also have a great love for cooking and baking. Making things from scratch is always worth the effort to me, and I prefer to use fresh ingredients, in-season and homegrown of course, whenever I can! I want to provide my family with healthy and nourishing food.
I get great satisfaction out of making good food for family and friends. Sourdough bread has become one of my most favorite things to make. It really is a labor of love, and I enjoy the ongoing process of learning and perfecting my process. Acts of service is my love language, so providing someone I care about with a fresh, homemade meal or warm loaf of bread brings me so much joy!
Within the first year of our journey, another piece to our homesteading puzzle became the education of our children when due to the pandemic, our oldest was faced with virtual schooling her very first year in public school. We realized quickly that this way of learning was not for us, at least during these precious early years.
So, we pulled her from public school and jumped into our first year of homeschooling! We fell in love with it. She lit up with interest and excitement for learning, because we could take the time to deeply explore whatever she wanted to learn about, and we could incorporate all necessary areas of study into real life experiences.
We studied math in the garden and in baking together, science with nature observations and in raising our animals, and reading and writing with tea-time poetry and journaling our adventures. It was magical, and exactly what we wanted our children’s learning experience to be. When the schools re-opened, we chose to keep our little ones home and continue homeschooling, in order to provide them with the most magical and meaningful childhood we could.
Over the years, even before we began having children, there has been an obvious and ever-increasing turmoil in this world. My husband and I shared a longing to escape it, a longing for something different. We were searching for our life’s purpose. We weren’t quite sure what it was, but we knew there was something deep-rooted in us both that wasn’t meant for the corporate grind, the typical 9-5 life. We didn’t want to wake up before the sun even rose, to rush off in different directions for the day and leave our home sitting lifeless until the sun set. Then regroup briefly in the evenings over rushed dinners, tired conversations, frustrated kids reluctantly cramming in homework or practices, and hitting our pillows drained, exhausted and unfulfilled, only to start all over the next day.
We wanted to leave a legacy, and to leave the world a better place, even if just the tiniest corner of it. When our oldest started school and I realized that was the beginning of the end of us always being home together, and that our time was fleeting faster with the passing of each year, it was a tipping point. Growing a family and raising children is too precious to let those years slip away like that.
So I’m grasping on for dear life to it, and filling every minute of every day that I can with being together, making the most joyful memories. I want our home to be our haven. I want it to be a safe harbor for us, where we can shelter from the storms. I want us to get the most out of this one life we have, and for our hearts to be full. Having our babies home with us, making family time a priority, and living the homesteading life ensures that.
Our homesteading “why” is not just about growing our own food, raising animals, and preserving our own sustenance. It’s also about growing ourselves and our minds, raising the next generation to be kind and helpful, and about preserving and sharing the good in life; so that it can carry on in this hurting world and spread like wildflower seeds being carried in the wind, to take root and grow, wherever it may land.
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