Monday, March 5, 2012

Homesteading dreams

I'm really excited today to introduce you to Jenna Woginrich, author of Made From Scratch, Chick Days, and her latest book, Barnheart, which is her memoir as a 20-something, single homesteading woman. If you already know her or her work, then I don't have to tell you how incredible she is, but if she's new to you, then you are in for a treat! Some people think I'm brave, but it took my husband and me almost a decade of talking and planning and procrastinating before we found our place in the country. Jenna had the courage to do it by herself a couple of decades younger than I did. Yeah, I'm kind of jealous thinking about what I could do out here in a younger body!


What follows are a few thoughts from a recent post on her blog, Cold Antler Farm. If you want to know more, of course, you can head over there and read as much as you want. But if that isn't enough for you, Jenna has graciously agreed to give away a copy of Barnheart to some lucky winner. So, if you want a chance to win, post a comment at the end of this post by midnight Sunday, March 11, and tell us about your homesteading dreams! Sorry but anonymous posts are not eligible, so if you're not a registered user, be sure to put your name in the post, so I'll know who you are. I'll use random.org to pick the winner!

On Failing

I have absolutely zero fear of failing at this, at ANY of this. I have no fear of losing my corporate job, or my house burning down, or a horse breaking his leg in the field. I am lucky to be 29 as I write this, young enough to accept some serious failure if that is what life throws at me. If I lose my job I'll get another. If my house burns down I'll rent a trailer and rebuild it (that's why I pay for insurance). And if a horse I loved breaks his legs in the field I'll put a rifle to his head and shoot him. I'm not scared of loss, risk, or pain. Life is a sad, messy, and scary place and I accept the dark parts of it as much as the light parts. I refuse to spend a life setting myself up to not face these things and then label it "successful". I know a lot of miserable people with money in the bank and 401k plans who admittedly never really lived a day in their lives. They are already gone.

This is because people make decisions in their everyday lives as if they are planning on eventually running for Governor. As if someday down the line at a great, televised debate their poor choices will be pulled out of the ether and shoved in their faces. As if a moderator in a blue suit will whip out an index card while you sweat at the podium and read to millions of viewers: "Remember in 2009 when you wanted to buy that tractor, so you took out a home equity loan to buy it and build the tractor shed and the farm was foreclosed on 15 months later?! Why should we vote for you based on these horrible outcomes to your decisions?" Most people are terrified of things not working out, and being called out on them. It doesn't have to be a televised debate either. They're scared of being called out at a PTA meeting or dinner party, as if their mistakes are fodder for the sick comfort pot for those too paralyzed to make them themselves.

You can't go through life scared to fail. Lord knows I have failed several times with this farm, on this blog, and in life in general. I failed horribly in matters of the heart that I will never feel comfortable sharing on this blog. I failed my best friend Kevin, and I lost him. I miss him every day. I failed to keep that rental in Vermont because I insisted on this life. I failed at keeping my first sheepdog, Sarah. I failed at owning and raising a pack goat named Finn. I expect to fail some more. So be it.

The very best advice I can give is DO NOT be afraid of this. Do not let utter failure stop you. If your plans fail you will not be stabbed, or put in jail, or burned at the stake. Nothing happens but repairs and remorse, both heal in time. If someone points out a flaw, mistake, or risk then you raise a pint to that lesson and take a long drink. The correct answer to that moderator is "Damn right I got that tractor. Best 15 months of my life on my own land, there on than back of Ol' Green. Shame the farm failed, though." Had that example farm succeeded that tractor would have been just another risky, but correct, decision. Since it failed, it gets thrown in our faces by the other people safely watching from the docks while you set sail for a dream. Docks are miserable places, get off of them. You'll drown dry and standing.

On Money

I do not have a big savings account or a lot of money. I live paycheck to paycheck alone in an old farmhouse where the mortgage, utilities, upkeep, truck payment, insurance, taxes, and animal care all falls on my shoulders. My office job pays around $440 a week, take home pay. (There are waiters making more money than that.) I I keep my office job because I like it. I like the people, the design work, and I like knowing I have health care coverage in case of an emergency. It is a twenty minute commute and I can bring my dog with me so I consider it a blessing. The rest of my income is earned through Cold Antler. I run classes, workshops, webinars, CSA, yard sales, and go Six Ways to Sunday to get the bills paid. I have always managed to do it, even if just barely. I was scraping by just as tight in the cabin in Vermont with twenty chickens and three sheep on a cheap rental as I am now. Clearly, my expenses have gone up but so has my income. I am on my fourth book, holding a record number of events, and making it all work by the skin of my teeth no matter the time or energy needed to make it happen. I have always had enough, and I believe I will continue to make my choices work no matter what life throws at me. If things got tight I'd take on a roommate, sell antiques, teach music lessons, sell livestock, run more workshops, start public speaking, plan more book tours, and write, write, write till my fingers bleed and my computer lets out one last moan before the screen fades to black.

If supporting a farm that runs like this makes you uncomfortable, then do not support it. If supporting a dream that runs on fumes makes you feel as alive as it does for me, then support the hell out of it. I do the same for others like mine every chance I get.


On Being Realistic

Merlin, the Fell pony that Jenna is buying
I am not interested in what's realistic, never have been. Most people who say "realistic" are just using it as a synonym for conventionally manageable and emotionally safe. Let me tell you what realistic is. Reality is what is happening in your life right now. Not what you can afford. Not what people tell you is manageable. Not what you have been advised, lectured, or ordered to do. My reality is a small farm full of animals in upstate New York. My reality is keeping the mortgage paid, animals fed, fiddle strung, and inspiration alive and breathing in a way that is always moving towards my true goal, which is an independent and creative life as a writer who pays the bills with her words, workshop and blog, and pays for her groceries in blood, sweat, and tears on her own land. In my fairly eccentric and unconventional reality, Merlin is as realistic as it gets. He is simply what may happen next.

I am a firm believer in jumping into life head first, naked, and scared. What's the point of being alive if you aren't testing your heart rate and taking chances? After all, nothing is safer than a person in a coma in a hospital bed. For me, being vulnerable, being risky, being afraid... this means you are alive. I am this way with my farm, my relationships, myself. If I love someone I tell him. I have yet to be told one loved me back, but one of these days it is going to stick. If I want something I go for it. And if I need something I make it happen or ask those who can make it happen for me. I do this fully aware that I may fail miserably and many might shake their heads. But I wake up every morning excited about my life, which to me is worth all the risks, all these and more. There is nothing stagnant or comfortable here, shit I don't even own a couch to sit on, but that's how I like life. I see my life as a moving animal: always hungry, heart pounding, blood hot and looking ahead. Always, ahead.

24 comments:

  1. I've had some of these dreams too, except mine are chickens and maybe goats. I think the chickens are getting ordered this week! So a copy of Barnheart would come in handy for diagnosing my case of it. :-)

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  2. Wow! This really hits home. Jenna's attitude about risk and living is awesome! I will keep this close as we begin our homesteading adventure and no doubt will have failures as well as success. I would love to win her book - I'm headed to her blog right now.

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  3. I love Jenna's books. She is an inspiration. I just ordered Chick Days since we are getting our first batch of chicks next week. My eight year old cannot put it down.
    Right now we have chickens and goats. I am planning on expanding to pigs, an expanded garden, a fruit orchard and I need tolearn to can. I want to produce as much food as I can here on our little homestead.

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  4. Deborah in AtlantaMarch 5, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    My "homestead" is a remodeled fishing cabin on a man-made lake on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. I own approximately 1/8 of an acre; I have 5 chickens, 2 dogs and I raise a vegetable garden in my front yard because the chicken coop takes up most of the back. I's considerably older than all of you but I agreee "life is short" and if you don't go for it with what you have you'll spend your life "wishing" the perfect situation would come along. It doesn't most of the time - you have to make it happen. Love the Cold Antler Blog and your book and blog. Thanks for introducing me to someone new to follow. Deborah in Atlanta, omahaflash@bellsouth.net

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  5. My homestead is currently some seeds started indoors in preparation for my first garden this summer. Baby steps... :)

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  6. Great excerpts, and a lovely idea for a book!

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  7. I am definitely a new fan and will be keeping up on Jenna's blog! Thank you for introducing her to me! My homesteading dreams include all of the things I am learning about from you and women like Jenna, but also using animals in therapy for abused and neglected kids or kids that are in the adoption and foster care systems. It's a large dream, but I think someday I will be able to make it happen. Thank you. Terri Slown

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  8. Wow! What a great attitude! We're doing all we can on our acre and a half. In two weeks we close on 20 acres in MO that will be our retirement place. Can't wait to get there - though it'll likely be another 10 years. We'll start planting fruit trees in a year or two so they'll be ready for us to eat from when we get there :) Cheryl Zacek, Odell, IL

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  9. Oooo, I'd love to curl up on the couch with her new book & a cup of hot tea! Thanks for the post & the contest too! =D

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  10. Sounds like a wonderful book. I love animals, gardening, etc. I'm just staring out on this homesteading journey and want to take it as far as I can!

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  11. I am working on a organic orchard and this year we are adding chickens and goats to the family

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  12. I wish to have at least 5 acres and a barn. A real barn. Instead of small sheds here and there to keep my animals in and to be able to work in.

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  13. I love cold antler! I'm working hard to turn my small parcel into a productive farm. It's slow going but I'm not going to give up! We had great success with the garden last year, and we're continuing to move forward.

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  14. Thanks for the intro to this lady and her books. It is so encouraging to hear/read of people's journeys in, around, through homesteading and self-sufficiency lifestyles. We are pretty set here with sheep, chickens, big garden, greenhouses. Nowadays I'm working on learning more about winter gardening, early season plantings, hoping to work together with nieghbors on co-op seed saving as well as a small csa. Thanks for the intro, would enjoy the book too if it came my way : ) Jean Pocha, Helmville, Mt

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  15. my homesteading dreams include my handsome partner, Matt, goats, chickens, a donkey or two and lots of veggies, fruits and flowers! i'd also love to have my therapy practice on site in a yurt office :) thanks for the contest opportunity!

    p.s. http://tenapplefarm.com/ ... this family is one of my homesteading role models - they're awesome!

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  16. Jenna is such a breath of fresh air to me! I bought her chick book a year ago (absolutely recommend) and was reading her blog and didn't even realize she lived within ten miles of me! I am much older than her, and more of a native of this area. I have seen what was at one time predominantly dairy farm country become almost non-existant and it was devastating. Happily people like Jenna are turning this back around and I can almost feel the energy increasing in interest in learning small-scale farming, permaculture,farmers markets and CSA's. Like Jenna, I am a dreamer of what many tell me are pipe dreams. I have proved them wrong time and time again. Not without some fear, trepidation, and a sense of responsibility to my family. I'm dreaming again and it's of milk goats, and aquaponics, and rocket stoves. My motto is "what is the worst thing that can happen?, I fail?, ok, I'll live"!

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  17. very inspiring words there!! hoping to expand my little homestead to bees and chickens this year. little by little am working towards the big goal! :)

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  18. We have been preparing and practicing for about 4 years now and are taking the big leap this year. Selling our house and buying a hobby farm. Like most, we want to be more self sufficient and involved in our food.

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  19. Random.org picked #10, which means Marci won! Congratulations! Thanks for leaving your email address. I'll send you a message right away. If you don't hear from me, feel free to use the form on the "Contact" page of the site, and send me your snail mail address. I'll pass it on to Jenna and have her send you the book!

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  20. Thank you Deborah and Jenna! I have read both your books, Homegrown and Handmade and Made from Scratch. So I'm super excited to have won Barnheart and read that one too!

    Deborah, I replied to your email with my mailing address.

    Thanks!

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  21. this is our Jenna in a nutshell, we follow her faithfully, help her when we can and sometimes she just plain scares the heck out of us-[she has hit everything that doesn't move with her vehicles] but she still plunges ahead with a very fulfilling life- she takes chances, makes the good things happen and is multi-talented- we love her and her escapades. Jim

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  22. Read these words time and again first on Jenna's blog and now here. She has such a talent for just jumping in head first. Wish for you and Jenna that all your dreams come true because you have to talent make it work.

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  23. I know jennas blog for a while now and absolutly love reading it. i have no big homesteading dreams, but i want to start a garden this year in my backyard...and i ordered a seedsafe after reading about it on jennas blog!

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