The utopia of living off the land, isn’t. When you approach the homestead lifestyle, eager to raise your own food, adopt a more self sufficient lifestyle, and embrace a saner, slower pace in life, you will meet with adversity. Your market sales drop. Animals die. The garden fails. You run out of wood in January when there is 3 feet of snow and its -30C. The storm smashes your home. How do you cope?
Its important to remember that people living the corporate and city lifestyle have catastrophes, too. Corporations downsize. Interest rates climb. Mortgage payments climb while wages drop. Storms happen. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and crimes happen. But country people and city folks cope with the storms of life differently.
1. In the country, you have neighbors that actually care about your well being. If your barn blows down in the storm, your neighbors will be there to help you rebuild. And when their barn blows down, you need to be there for them, too. Its the mutual helping — neighbors helping neighbors — that defines rural communities. Are you new in the community? Begin this week to get involved. Meet your neighbors and find out how you can help them. Neighbor relationships are worth more than gold, in the country. Invest quality time to develop them.
2. Family strength and togetherness are easier to cultivate in the country. City dwellers have the pull of youth groups, extra curricular activities, after school clubs, country clubs, and corporate social events that pull family away from each other. It all works well, until there is a crisis. In the city, there is tension to keep up the front in the face of dire circumstances, sometimes to the breaking point.
Robin considered once enrolling in a PhD program in Accounting at the University of Alberta. He was already a tenured assistant-professor at a Christian University with an advanced accounting degree and a research MBA. He wanted to further his career by attaining the highest degree. His would-be adviser pulled him aside and said, “Do you love your wife? 100% of marriages in this program have ended in divorce.” Robin decided that the career advancement wasn’t worth the investment and followed the road-less-travelled to Joybilee Farm, instead.
Its not that there aren’t a multitude of activities available to draw you off your homestead in the country. There are many activities that will separate your family into individual members and break down your family bonds. Many of these activities are available in rural areas, too, but the tension to participate is lessened when the activity is 30 minutes away over a snowy mountain pass. You learn to strengthen the family bond and find the balance between individual self-actualization and family needs. Don’t let city values dictate your family needs in the country. Make your own choices. Learn hand skills together. Play games. Make music. Worship together. Read stories aloud. And in the midst of a crisis the family is there to support you and work together with you to get through it. Will homesteading guarantee a successful marriage and family life? No. But relationships are easier to cultivate when there are fewer distractions.
3. In the country you are face to face with survival on a regular basis and so are trained to respond in a crisis. Survival is more than a TV show. You need to provide for your own warmth, food, waste management, water, predator control and shelter as well as the needs of your animals. In a sense you have control over your success. Your main investment is time, and you can chose to invest your time to meet all these needs. In the city you have an illusion of control over your survival needs but your actual survival is dependent on the well oiled system of supply. If a segment of the supply chain breaks down, you are in a crisis, and so are all your neighbors. Neighbors in crisis can’t help you.
A crisis in the county, means you need to do things differently next year, fine tune your plan. You already have your own survival needs in line, it just requires some fine tuning. For instance, every season Robin fills up our two wood sheds with dry fire wood to keep us warm. We have an annual conversation:
Me: Honey, the wood shed is only partially filled up, I think we will run out of wood before the end of winter.
Honey: We’ll be fine. There’s lots of wood out there. We have more than enough.
Me: But the woodshed isn’t full. Last year we ran out in January and you had to cut down standing dead trees in 3 feet of snow.
Robin: I said, “we’ll be fine”. We have more than 4 cords out there already.
Me: But you said that last year. I don’t want you to have to get wood when its twenty below.
Honey: We’ll be fine.
February comes and we run out of wood. Honey is out in snowy, cold, windy weather looking for standing dead trees to take down. Each day he brings home just enough wood to last 3 days in the cold. And has to repeat the process until the cold weather changes. That’s a crisis.
Fast forward this summer.
Honey is bringing home 8 cords of wood, standing dead and already dry to get us through the winter. We both know we will be fine. We are trained to meet this crisis.
4. In the country you come to terms with death, as well as life. “If you have livestock you will have deadstock,” most farmer’s will tell you. When we first began homesteading I bought 3 goats and lost two of them in the first 18 months. It was a learning experience. The first baby goat that we had, was born premature and died in my arms. You learn to be your own vet for almost all problems, reserving the veterinary call-out for extreme, life saving measures. We have saved baby animals that were close to death. We have lost animals, too. You do your best as long as there is breath.
Kiwi was stuck with just his nose out of his mother. We found him 3 hours after his brother had been born. He was no longer responding. In order to safely deliver him, we had to push him back inside and pull his front legs forward. It was a difficult delivery. The umbilical cord had already detached. Lambs are slippery and hard to grab hold of to pull out and he was too limp to push with the process. This lamb wasn’t responding. Finally, he was delivered but not breathing. I thought I saw his eyelid flutter. So I did mouth to mouth resuscitation, on the cold, slimy lamb. You learn to do gross stuff when you homestead. After five minutes, just when I was ready to admit defeat, he started to breath on his own. He was very weak and took several days of syringe feeding before he could stand on his own. He lived in the house for the first week or two, sleeping in a box in the bathroom and getting a bottle. In the morning and whenever he woke up I put him outside to pee. My Great Pyrenees, Donder, had a litter of puppies and when I put Kiwi outside in the morning to go to the bathroom, Donder took my “puppy” and fed him. Kiwi would go on rounds with the dogs, up the mountain, too. The dogs and Kiwi are best friends. Today Kiwi is 3 years old and a special friend in our flock.
Kiwi’s story had a happy ending. Not all of them do, but as long as there is breath, there is hope.
5. To some extent you prepare for crisis in the country. And when the crisis comes you are trained and ready to meet it, like a soldier prepared for battle. You have your support networks in place because you’ve invested time to cultivate relationships in your community and within your family. You are prepared with food, water, and shelter to wait out every emergency. And you have invested time in learning appropriate skills to enhance your comfort in a crisis. Unlike city dwellers, who are caught off guard when the crisis comes, as a homesteader, you meet with crisis with preparation and skill.
6. Homesteaders are more resilient to set backs and so cope better during times of crisis. Living without debt, meeting your needs with your own skills means that when the crisis comes and the supply chain breaks down, you are still able to cope and even thrive.
Its not news that the economy is in crisis. For all the spin that the media and government spew out to hide the truth, those of us who depend on customers and sales to eat, are feeling the pinch this year. The economic struggles have now filtered down to the community level. Those who are in the city are facing tough decisions, and maybe bankruptcy. Those in the country are feeling the lack of cash flow, too. In our family, we joke by saying, “We can always shut off the power company if things get really bad.” On a practical level we are downsizing our angora goat flock to lessen the winter feed bill. Homesteaders are in a better position to change course and bounce back than those in the city. Homesteaders have learned to diversify their income and have many skills that can be monetized in a transitional economy. City businesses have a more difficult time changing course, to find the sweet spot, while at the same time keeping the wolves from the door.
Both city dwellers and homesteaders have crises in life. Homesteaders can meet the crisis with resilience and preparedness. Homesteaders have the opportunity to develop strong friendships with their neighbours. Homesteaders have practice dealing with smaller emergencies so when they are faced with a huge emergency they have resources to draw on. Don’t give up. Persevere and you will come out stronger, with more refined skills, and more resilience for the future.
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Your turn: What crisis do you feel you have coped with better as a homesteader? How would you cope with the “wolves at the door” in the city? as a homesteader? Leave a comment.