Homestead, Hobby Farm, or Commercial Farm?

“And sometimes I dream of things very, very fine,

but then realize a love of simple things is mine.”

-Katie Lynn

So you are ready to start something; growing food, raising animals, starting a new hobby. You have a bit of land or a plot in the city. You have checked zoning, read every homesteading and farming memoir in the library system, have been following my blog, and have a little bit of money to put towards an agricultural endeavor. Now, do you want a homestead, a hobby farm, or a commercial farm?

We have been homesteading for seven years now. Splitting logs if we have a wood stove, starting a small commercial farm with wool, eggs, milk, vegetables, and herbal medicines. Before that we had a small hobby farm where everything almost paid for itself but not much more. And we have lived on a “regular” paycheck and used homesteading as a means to save money and have a better life.

We have found ourselves in the most wonderful of circumstances; we are now the proud owners of a 1.1 acre lot zoned AG in the country. There are restrictions on how many animals one can have per acre. I do not have irrigation or water rights (the city water is from up the road from the reservoir and it’s quite good and not too expensive). My husband works full time and the children live over an hour away so I will be doing most of the work on this new farm. Land and houses are expensive in Colorado so our mortgage is high and will take a lot of our budget. All things to consider.

Homesteading: Homesteading is a a great way to live a simple, healthy, pretty self sufficient life. It generally includes a garden (anything from a community garden to a huge plot of land counts), avid preserving (120 pints of tomatoes…check!), a few farm animals (maybe a few chickens for eggs, ducks for laughs, goats for milk, and moving up from there), and a great respect for the lifestyles of our ancestors. There is nothing quite like gathering around the fire at night, the oil lamps lit, knitting on your lap, laughter in the air, time as a family sacred.

I will definitely be getting a homestead back in place here over the next year. Already, I miss my garden and harvesting what I want to eat. Popping open a jar of preserves without having to read the ingredients. Installing a wood stove and gathering kindling. Start milking goats again. I have homemade presents in mind for Christmas this year and new inspirations for crafts.

Homesteading generally saves money but it does take a lot of time so a stay at home wife or someone that can work their own hours can excel at this.

Hobby Farm: A hobby farm tries to pay for itself. The goats start to produce milk and you have excess, so sell the rest or make cheese and other products. Sell the extra eggs. Everyone pulls their own weight. The goats pay for their own feed, so do the chickens. A lot of people raise meat on their farms. Meat chickens grow to market weight in 6-8 weeks. Set up a U-pick or CSA or set up at a farmer’s market to sell extra produce.

An outside paycheck generally covers the costs of living expenses and the farm covers itself. Always make sure you have enough to live on plus enough to take care of animal feed in case the goats dry up, the chickens stop laying, or the garden gets destroyed by hail! Taking care of a farm is a year round chore but it is all seasonal. Planning for the down times takes a lot of stress away.

Commercial Farm: Oh, but you have a really great idea! Lots and lots of vegetables, specialty mushrooms, lamb, wool, flowers, etc. You have the land, you have the start up. You can get your name registered with Secretary of State and get a website. You can claim profits and losses on your taxes. You can qualify for grants and live your dream full time! Find some interns, and go for it!

We wouldn’t mind going this route. Our farm is named Pumpkin Hollow Farm and I have lots of ideas for pumpkin festivals and private tours and lunches at our farm. Farm to table dinners and homesteading classes.

A few things to keep in mind when pursuing a commercial farm.

  1. You could trigger an audit. With the ever booming hobby farm craze, folks from all over starting taking deep losses on their taxes. I know a lot of small farms that have been audited so keep your books and receipts in order!
  2. Have some money put aside for unexpected expenses or losses.
  3. Don’t put your eggs all in one basket! Create lots of ways to make money on your farm. Classes, festivals, different animals, different vegetables, crafts, etc. will help balance the budget out year to year.
  4. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. What a gift to have a farm. Don’t forget to grab a beer and sit on the back porch watching the chicken antics and the view around you.

Maybe you start as a homestead and work your way up or maybe you jump right into farming. Whatever you choose, have fun and be willing to be flexible and creative. A simple life is always a good life.

So You Want to Be a Homesteader (27 ways, a new series)

I read a blog post that talked about homesteading.  In it the author states that people in the city can say they are gardeners, can say they are homemakers, but cannot say that they are homesteaders.  I beg to differ.  I have homesteaded in the country, a small town, and in the city.  Our plan is to get back on land, but that does not change our lifestyle.  In fact, I believe we are actually more sustainable in the city.  We are just missing a well and a couple of goats.

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The word homesteading isn’t really a relevant word anymore because the government is not giving us parcels of land to try to live on for five years before we get to keep it.  So, we need to go by the new definition of homesteading and leave it open to everyone.  You can homestead anywhere.  Homesteading starts and ends with high self sufficiency, appreciation for the natural world, sustainability, community, health, and pride in hard work that we do ourselves.

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Homesteading can be done on any level, but as you grow your own food, chop your own wood, eat from your own root cellar, create your own medicines, it does get addictive.  This is a great lifestyle and one that anyone can incorporate into their lives.  The more aspects of it that you pick up, the more money you save, the healthier physiologically and psychologically you become, and things that are really important come to the forefront of life.  Family, food, security, counting blessings, and the good life.

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I have come up with a list of 27 ways to start homesteading.  27 aspects of homesteading that keep a heart humming, the fam fed, and the home fires burning.  Join me over the next month as I cover each one to inspire, teach, and swap ideas with you.  We will talk about searching for land, preserving, growing, animals, home arts, and more!

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27 Ways to Homestead

  1. Organic gardening
  2. Canning
  3. Fermenting
  4. Dehydrating food
  5. Smoking food
  6. Freezing food
  7. Raising chickens
  8. Fishing/Hunting
  9. Supporting local farmers
  10. Bread baking
  11. Cooking three meals a day
  12. Preparing simple, unprocessed food
  13. Sewing/Mending
  14. Crocheting
  15. Purchasing second hand
  16. Cheese making
  17. Generating your own electricity
  18. Generating your own heat
  19. Making your own medicine
  20. Making your own cleaning products
  21. Making your own body products
  22. Making homemade gifts and cards
  23. Free entertainment
  24. Learning to make everything from scratch
  25. Budgeting
  26. Using original homesteading items that last
  27. Learning from other homesteaders

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Go get yourself a cute apron and let’s get to work!  We are embarking on the good life.

The Return of Farmgirl School

That’s right, Folks.  From small town urban farm to prairie homestead to friend’s houses to apartment living while farm dreaming to….our own homestead.  One that we own.  As we approach the four year anniversary of Farmgirl School, how fitting to start it off with a bang.  A new farm.  An urban farm.  Watch as we search, find, purchase, decorate, and turn an ordinary place into a beautiful and inspiring homestead.  Farmgirl School is back.

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Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

A Pioneer’s Life For Me

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I was dreading going into the goat pen.  Elsa has mastitis and we have been diligently treating it but that along with her spoiled little girl self makes it incredibly difficult to milk her.  It takes all of my strength to hold her as Doug milks her out.  All of our muscles are shaking by the end and she has kicked the milk bucket a few times.  Our clothes are covered in milk and goat hair and I am often near tears.  Last night as I looked up before going in the pen a beautiful sight transpired.  The same one that made us feel we made the right choice moving out here.  The brightest rainbow arched across the sky, seemingly right above us, from horizon to horizon it promised peace.  Its colors sparkled in the rain that fell in straight glistening showers downward watering the gardens.  The sun shone through it and all was bright.  Today we will tie her back legs.

I love the peacefulness of home.  Now that Emily has moved back in, we drive considerably less.  We feel better in our bustling schedule around this homestead.  I love the heaviness of the cast iron skillet as I prepare eggs fresh from the coop and slice warm bread that I baked.  Dandelions, or other produce later, are mixed into the eggs throughout the season along with homemade cheese.  I hope fresh fruit will join these.  We look across our table and see how much of it we produced.  We are aptly satisfied and proud yet strive to produce nearly everything we consume.  Of course we shall rely on the humble farmer that provides the grains for our table.  The coffee from far away.  The teas exotic.  But our year long sustenance grows each season on this homestead as we produce more and more.

The milk hits the bucket in a sing-song tune as Isabelle stands sweetly on the stand.  She occasionally turns to kiss Doug’s ear.  She loves him and seems to want to impress him.  This year she is giving over a gallon a day of fresh milk.  I pour the warm milk into his coffee once inside.  The creamy morning treat warms the farmer.  These simple pleasures transcend the ordinary ones we knew growing up.  Last night after Doug had fallen asleep I sat in the rocking chair my father gave my mother upon learning that she was with child over forty-one years ago.  I sat in front of the wood stove and let it warm me as I relaxed into my book, the oil lamp highlighting the page, a cup of hot tea by my side.  The house and land is quiet.  My muscles are tired but my mind is joyous.  There is cheese pressing, bread dough rising, and at least the dishes are done.  I am reading an Amish book.

I have sat in an Amish home and read accounts.  They are not unlike mine.  Keeping the world out is something I strive for.  The news stays in its dramatic studios of fear.  Anger, stress, and sadness dissipate quicker here.  We are not immune to financial wonderings and relationship woes but here in this setting they work themselves out and the spirit is restored quickly.  We pray openly here and are thankful for our blessings.  We call on the Lord for signs, for help, and for comfort and receive them as we listen softly in the night by oil lamp and quiet.

The aprons hang on the wall and tell stories, I decide which one I wish to don this day.  I have long skirts, and long slips, and layers to make them stand out because they are comfortable, and feminine, and fine.  The apron pocket holds what I need as I bustle from clothes line to barn yard to kitchen.  Three meals a day grace the table and the children always know they can come home to a hot meal, peace and quiet, and an escape from the world beyond.

The counties out here argue over fracking, over wind mills, over water.  Not here! they say.  Yet folks will not give up their luxuries and want these means of fancies and want destruction to get them so long as they cannot see them.  We work on our own solution, to use less.  To find alternative ways.  And the classical music plays softly in the kitchen and the electric kettle often gets turned on but bird song could fill the musical need and a kettle whistling from wood stove could suffice.  And the world could howl outside our door but our respite remains here in our pioneer ways.  I put on my sun bonnet and head outdoors to plant.

Wild Food and Medicine

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Yesterday the amazing women in my herbalism course took an herb walk around the property to see what was in bloom now.  The skeletons of many herbal medicines and bushes stood stark still but the life was brimming around their bases.  We could see Artemisia, Lady Sage, used to regulate periods, and Yucca, also called Soapwort, which contains saponin.  The leaves are boiled to make soap and the root is one of the best anti-inflammatories I know of.  There were many pain relievers and liver tonics to be harvested.  Almost like nature knew that after a long winter of meat and wine to keep warm (and the deplorable lack of fresh vegetables!) that our livers and organs would appreciate a bit of a cleansing.  Dandelions waited to be made into teas and salads and tinctures.  Motherwort and lungwort sprang to life in my garden.  And knowing that we would be sore this time of year with all the work spring brings, cleaning, planting, birthing, mucking, building, the willow bark, cottonwood barks, and pine needles stood at the ready for relief.  Ready for salves and tinctures.

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Along with the medicines that were available, the herb garden was put in yesterday morning.  It looks quaint now but by July the bed will be raucous with life, bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, riotous herbs reaching their hands up and color splashes worthy of any palette.  Antibiotic herbs mixed with digestive herbs mixed with herbs for risotto.  It is close to the kitchen and will create a lovely backdrop to outdoor cooking.  The ducklings became all of a sudden quite brave and marched past me and my helper and took a ginormous bite out of a basil plant!  I shall have to locate some small fencing.

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After the pantry began to empty its contents in wintery meals I became quite disenchanted with green beans, and carrots, and beets, and the like.  Lord, I need variety.  This year I spread my wings and planted new items for us like parsnips and rutabagas.  Okra, arugula, mustard.  Other interesting food crops like scorzonera joined the masses.  A carrot-like tap root with medicinal flowers.  Yesterday I made a large batch of Ragu and will can the rest of what we didn’t eat.  Food is everywhere, I just need to be mindful to find it in the wild, try new things, and not let things go to waste!

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I am thankful for this lifestyle.  We are fiercely in tune with weather patterns, beautiful natural events, and the seasons of life here.  More and more fear disappears as I look out on all the food and medicine the Creator provided for us.  May 1st was Beltane.  A lovely agricultural celebration of the renewal of life and of Mother Earth.  And may we all find renewal and peace as well.

Ducks and Mushrooms (not a recipe!)

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The ducks are two weeks old.  They are growing quickly but are still adorable.  They look a bit awkward with their feathers starting to come in; like some strange skin disease is starting to take over.  I love how they don’t look straight up; they tilt their head and look up at me with one eye.  As if they are trying to figure something out or they are highly suspicious of me.

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They live in a swamp.  I tell you, people, no matter how many times I change their bedding it becomes a swamp in moments.  They can empty an entire waterer in no time at all from all their splashing and being rambunctious.  I wake to their constant chattering and their playful sounds as water splashes.  Then the next moment they will be curled up in one ball the size of a kitten sleeping peacefully beneath the red light.  It is endearing.

Soon they will be outdoors in their new coop.  The light will stay with them for four more weeks.  Our neighbors are adamant that they can go out now, that they are quite hardy.  I am more afraid of their cat coming by to have a snack.  I wonder how the ducks will react to the wild ducks in the pond.

For right now they are indoors, tucked away in their anti-cat fortress warm and happy.

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I took a class three weeks ago on growing mushrooms.  The endless supplies of boxed ones from the store were not yielding anything and I am clueless at identifying mushrooms in the wild.  This class would be my first step into the fascinating world of mycology.  I will do a more complete article on this soon.  What I learned in a nutshell was that the fabulous teacher heated straw in a pot to a certain temperature, added wheat that had been taken over by the mushroom spores, and we packed it into bread bags.  The instructions were to keep it around 65 degrees for three weeks.

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65 degrees?  I scoffed to myself.  My homestead hasn’t been that warm yet!  Inside the house it registered 55 degrees.  I moved it to the greenhouse.  55 degrees and a mouse took a bite out of the corner.  He apparently didn’t care for the flavor because he didn’t stick around.  Back inside aimlessly searching for anywhere warm, I looked over at the ducklings.  Next to the duck nursery we put the box holding the spores.  Tucked in next to the warm fowl and near the red lamp, it is perfect.  And the mycelium is spreading all over the straw.  This week it will move to the counter and will try to fruit.  I cannot wait to explain this magical world of mushrooms, much bigger than having slimy mushrooms on your pizza, mushrooms are needed for our very survival!

In the meantime, though, I am going to dream of oyster mushrooms growing indoors….and parmesan and pasta…but not with duck!

Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101 (back to basics for an enchanting, simple life)

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My book is out!  I sold several copies over the weekend.  It is filled with articles about pursuing your dreams, living a simpler life with less bills (so less work), and breathing in every day, along with everything you need to know about creating your own grocery store (preserving), gardening, soap making, candle making, medicine making, gift making, starting a farm, getting farm animals, and SO much more.  It is a hoot to see it in print.

There are some things I learned while compiling articles from the last two and a half years of blogging and editing the final book.  I was horrified to find that there is at least one typo in every post.  I shall not be so hard on writers while reading books any longer.

I also learned that I have repeated myself often over the years and at times contradicted myself….or maybe just changed my mind….or maybe found a way to do it better!

I learned that we have learned so much in such a relatively short amount of time and that it is never too late to chase that dream and learn new skills.

The universe always conspires to make dreams and goals come to fruition.

We have had a great time practice farming and look forward to being full time farmers and teachers now.  If you are interested in receiving my book, just send $22 plus $6 shipping to Katie Sanders, 7080 Calhan Road South, house 2, Calhan, CO, 80808.  I am so excited to share with you all that we have learned.  I can’t wait to see what we learn this year!

 

How to Become a Homesteader-Part 5-Community

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In this “How to Become a Homesteader” series we have talked about leaving the rat race for greener pastures, eliminating a lot of unnecessary bills and cutting others.  We have lowered our need for so much income and found a good trade or homestead job that we can bring in what little we do need.  We have discussed farm animals and heating with wood and with telling time on a cuckoo clock.  We have figured what skills we ought to pick up and we are ready to roll.  But there is one very important aspect to becoming a homesteader.  Community.  It seems that would be opposite to what we are trying to achieve.  We want to be self reliant, grow our own food, take care of ourselves, and have less fear.  But, what we are really doing is becoming less reliant on big corporations and more reliant on ourselves and each other.  That is how we were made.

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When you become a homesteader you will naturally attract and meet other homesteaders.  Each has something to offer. It is one big circle out here.  A gentleman took my herbalist classes who has a tree service who got us our first cords of wood and will provide me with wood chips.  He is teaching me more and more about wild plants.  I make herbal medicines and Doug fixes computers but we need some help learning how to build things and with cars.  We have found more and more people that need what we have and can offer what we need.

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Even our friends who aren’t homesteaders, per se, have like minded ideas.  Rodney used to have a large garden before arthritis made it difficult.  Rodney Sr. can fix many things and is very creative.  Kat would love to have chickens and a small homestead.  Sandy and Bill have lots of chickens and a mad goose near their gardens.  Monte and Erik have food, water, and other necessities in case of emergency.

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Monte and Erik, our dear, dear long time friends, are moving across the country next month.  This is a couple that has a framed painting from Emily that she drew when she was six on the wall among their fine art.  The kids used to call them Uncle Monte and Uncle Erik.  We have traveled with them and they were among the first at the hospital when Maryjane was born.  Eating and drinking and watching the Superbowl at their house with all the kids was bittersweet this year.

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In a fit of silliness at the end we planned our ideal homestead and what we can all do. Bret is a hunter and is going to school for mechanics, Dillon (Shyanne’s long time boyfriend) works in construction and can help us build things on this imaginary homestead.  Shyanne is an amazing baker.  I volunteered to grow the gardens and make the medicine.  “I’ll be the bartender!” Erik says and across the room Andy says, “I’ll grow the weed!”  and everyone cheered.

Despite the fact that some of us don’t smoke weed (our son is an executive at a dispensary), and Monte and Erik are moving to Washington DC, and our kids probably don’t want to live that close to us, we enjoyed imagining the possibility.  There is comfort in being near close friends and family and a need to be near others.  The old saying still rings true, “Many hands make light work.”  And since each of us has our own gifts and talents, we can come together to provide a completely self reliant community.