1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
“…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.”
I decided to write this blog to chronicle our adventures in building a family homestead. Our goal is simple. We want to grow food and eat it; we’ll generate cash by other means. Growing food for money is a lot of work, and doesn’t pay well. The quality of life on a homestead is worthwhile even if it doesn’t pay for itself.
We haven’t got the land or the capital to actually build anything yet. So, it’s a good time to plan, dream, save up, and decide exactly what we are trying to do. We’re Chris and Maggie Saenz, brother and sister. This is our dream.
This isn’t our first rodeo. In 2005, our family moved to a farm in rural Kentucky, with the same goals in mind. We wanted to determine a) could we make a go at farming, b) was this the life we really wanted. At the time, I was the oldest at 16, and didn’t have much experience (or motivation) with farming. Dad was fairly busy running an internet bookstore, and towards the end people were switching to ebooks, and buying less paper. We were burning through savings, which wasn’t sustainable. In 2012 we sold the farm and moved into town. But that’s a story for another time.
Even still, we made a thorough tour of homestead life. In the seven years we lived there, we raised milk cows, beef cows, egg layers, broilers, sheep, pigs, guinea hens, dogs and cats… along with a garden that peaked at 1/4 acre. From the kitchen came milk, butter, ice cream, cheese, fresh bread, smoked meats, chicken broth, apple cider and sauerkraut. We heated with wood, built and operated a 20’x50’ greenhouse, fenced in 6 acres of pasture, cleared overgrown fields, gathered apples from very old trees, hauled untold bales of hay from a neighbor’s field, and completely restored the converted Amish farmhouse.
After we left, we began to notice the permanent effects on our family. We never eat out. Our food is simple and made from ingredients. Entertainment is not a priority. We stay home a lot, and enjoy each other’s company. When things break, I fix them. I have a bad habit of collecting useful ‘junk’ that others throw away. But the biggest effect was on my sister Maggie. She decided to actively seek out a farm, to work as an intern and learn the business side of raising meat animals. She spent a year working on the Eggleston farm in Mendota VA. And along the way, she regained her heart’s desire – a family milk cow. I’ve been to visit her on the farm several times, and it’s part of our inspiration for this project.
In January of 2016, Maggie asked me if I’d ever thought about living on a small homestead with a workshop. I had been planning to do exactly that, but had no concrete goals in mind. She also wanted to homestead. We decided to go in on this project together. This is a big commitment, taking years to build and grow. Clearly the first step is to generate enough cash to buy the land. This itself will take a few years.
It has now been 11 months. During that time, Maggie has continued on her farming journey, and is now working at a small meat processing plant in Moneta VA, and will soon be a salaried farm manager on a nearby farm. I’ve been working a job with DJ Hammond’s company, installing display fixtures in Food Lion grocery stores across North Carolina. Recently, I’ve decided to add to this, by expanding my computer skills into programming and web development. While it’s not a farming skill, it should accelerate things financially, and it’s possible to work from a remote location.
Are we just more starry-eyed urbanites looking for a way out of the city? Perhaps. But the experiences we’ve had, and the other farms we’ve seen rise and fall, have set a very realistic view of what we can expect. Electric netting fence is a joke. Weeds are not. Cows get out, and head for the hills. Calves die. Pigs are hard to catch, and sheep can run very fast. Mastitis is always a risk for milk cows. Heat lamps can set a chicken brooder on fire…. and so on.
These are not reasons to stop.
A quiet, productive, independent, family-centered life is still a possibility for those of us who truly want it.