Thursday, October 27, 2011

An Agrarian Home-Based Lifestyle, Part 2: Our History.

Otherwise titled: How the Heck We Came Up With This Crazy Idea!

Honestly, I have been seriously dragging my feet on this post.  I'm finding it really hard to put into words exactly how we have arrived at this point...hopefully I can put something together here that makes at least a little sense and gives you a general idea of where we're coming from!

Neither Dan nor I are farmers.  Neither of us grew up on a true farm (although Dan's family had something of a hobby farm...chickens, horses, a few pigs and a dairy cow for a time).  And certainly neither of us dreamed several years ago that we would be looking at earning a living from "the land".  I graduated from college with a degree in music ministry, and Dan is a mechanical engineer.  So how in the world did we get to where we are now?  In short, I think God has just wired us this way.  We both seem to have a natural bent to do things differently.

I suppose this journey really began shortly after we got married.  We gave birth to our first child just a little over a year after our wedding...a little earlier than what we had "planned".  Since we got married the summer before my senior year of college, this meant I never had the opportunity to go into the "real world" (haha) and get a job in my own field.  Instead, I graduated from college and gave birth to our son three months later.  At the time it was a bit of a shock.  I always knew I wanted to stay home with my children--I was tremendously blessed to have been raised by a mom who was home--but I hadn't expected that phase of life to arrive quite so soon!  However, in hindsight, I see what a blessing this was.  I never had to deal with the feeling of "leaving" a career or getting involved in a job that would be difficult to step away from.  I went directly from pouring my energy into school to directing my efforts to my home and family.  Just under two years later, we welcomed son #2 into the world (again sooner than "planned"!) and we began to give some thought to our childrens' education.  After considerable research and prayer, we decided we wanted to homeschool our kids.  I probably put in enough study hours researching education, homeschool materials, learning styles, etc. to equal another college major.  We knew it was a huge decision and not something we wanted to take lightly.

Throughout this process I came across several books that were truly life-changing.  The first is a wonder of a little book called The Mother At Home by John S. C. Abbott.  Yes, it's old-fashioned.  Yes, it flies in the face of "modern" ideas of womanhood.  And it totally transformed my outlook on being a mom.  Prior to this point, I viewed my role as stay-at-home motherhood as the "right thing" to do; the "broccoli" of life.  You know, the things you do because they're good for you but you really can't wait for the dessert you see coming later (like having "my" job, "my" time, "my" body back, etc.)  The Lord used this book to soften my heart to motherhood as a noble, fulfilling, and absolutely necessary job.  For the first time, I allowed myself to be content being "just" a the way ladies, watch yourselves when you respond to that question, "So what do you do?"  Don't treat your job like it is inferior or some sort of drudgery: sigh..."Oh, I "just" stay home with the kids..."  I've caught myself replying this way and it's complete bunk!  There's no "just" about it!  Your job is important, necessary, imperative, world-changing, get the idea.  Here's the other conversation I have frequently that is another opportunity to share the joy of motherhood.  It usually goes something like this, and typically occurs either in the grocery store or at church:

Stranger: "Whoa, four boys, huh?"
Me: "Yup!"
Stranger: "Wow, they sure must keep you busy.  Never a quiet moment for you, right?"  (Did you ever think about how this must make the kids feel?  I mean they're standing right there.  Can you imagine if someone said something like that about your husband while he's standing right next to you?)
Me:  Here is where we get the chance to take a stand--however small--for the huge blessing of motherhood.  I usually try to respond with something like, "Yes, we're busy, but these boys work really hard!" or, "I sure am glad I have all these helpers!"  Hopefully even a little thing like that might begin to change that person's perspective on children and parenting, and it encourages the kids at the same time.

Anyways...this is going somewhere, I promise!  Throughout these years we were living over two hours away from both of our families and Dan was serving as a youth pastor at a small rural church in southern Michigan.  (How he went from engineer to youth pastor is another whole story.)  After serving in that church for about seven years we decided it was time for Dan to get back into the engineering field.  Being a youth pastor was a remarkable learning experience for Dan and our whole family, but it was clear that his spiritual gifts were not quite lining up with that role, and we had a deepening desire to serve in a capacity more geared towards family ministry than youth.  So we started praying about what direction to take next.  Then 2008 happened.  The automotive industry went south practically overnight and took most of Michigan's engineering jobs down with it.  But, we still felt that God was calling us to move on, so Dan cautiously informed our church's leaders that he was going to start looking for engineering positions.  Dan sent an application to the company where he had worked right out of college, and much to our amazement, they called him in for an interview.  Within two weeks of making the decision to start job hunting, he had an offer!  He even got the same office he'd had 8 years earlier.

Around the same time, we were listening to a lecture series from Vision Forum called "Entrepreneurial Bootcamp".  Included in the series was a lecture about running a successful agrarian-based home business by a guy named Joel Salatin.  Dan listened to it first and was all excited about Salatin's ideas and lifestyle.  My reaction at the time was sort of a lukewarm, "Hm, that's interesting I guess."  Then about a year later I got around to watching Food, Inc., the documentary about where our store-bought food comes from, and there was "that guy", Joel Salatin!  Fascinated by his passion for his land (and food!), I started casually reading a little about the approach of his farm. 

Now, fast-forward a year or two.  We gave birth to boy #4, moved back to our hometown, started ramping up the deer processing business, and got a great deal on our house with 20 acres.  Once again we started dreaming about the direction our family needed to go.  I've always loved things like canning, freezing, bread-making, etc., so naturally I started thinking about how to use our property in those ways.  Dan spends about two hours on the road every day driving to and from work and is away from home about 12 house of the day.  It became increasingly clear to us that we all desired for Dan to be able to stay home so that we could all work together.  What really sort of "sealed the deal" for us was our 10th anniversary trip to Staunton, Virginia.  We planned our anniversary there because we really wanted to visit Joel Salatin's farm, Polyface.  I know, I know.  Real romantic, a trip to a farm, right?  Actually Staunton is an awesome town--we would highly recommend it!  And we were both impressed with how the farm runs, the natural, land-improving techniques, and most of all the attitude of families being able to work together at a livelihood that allows them to make the world a better, healthier place.  It felt right to us.  We bought a few of their books at the farm, including the title, You Can Farm by Joel Salatin.  Odd as it may sound, this was another life-changer for me. And you know what chapter really did it for me?  The chapter on soil improvement.  I was amazed by God's design for the earth; its complexity and natural fertility. The potential for productivity (and in turn providing high-quality food for a nutrient-starved world) was something of a revelation.  Right about now you're probably all thinking I've totally lost it.  Gone off the deep end.  Maybe so, but I can also honestly say that I've never felt such hope, promise, and excitement for the future of our family and the impact we could have on our community.  Some might call us crazy, but it sure is a great place to be.

As you can see, God has orchestrated quite a journey for us.  He blessed us with children before I had a chance to have my heart divided with a career, He molded my character to turn my heart towards my home, gave Dan and I a common vision, provided a job when the economy went down the drain, and provided us with a house, land, and a hearty dose of inspiration just when we needed it.  In the end it is our desire that this story would be about Him, not us.  It is by His grace and mercy alone that we are where we are today.  Truly as we are told in Colossians 3:23-24,

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving."

I apologize (sort of) for the length of this post.  Really, I could say so much more!  Like how my mom taught me to love cooking meals for the family and how to bake from scratch, or the impact the time spent with my Grandma (probably the sweetest, gentlest person I've ever known) had on my childhood, or the blessing of having a Dad who cared about being home and spending time with his kids.  I could write volumes about all these things, but then this would turn into a personal memoir!  I hope I've been able to give you at least an idea of where we're coming from.  We welcome your comments and ideas!  

Next post in the series: Our Basic Plan (or, "How in God's Green Earth Do You Think You Can Pull This Off?")

Dan takes a peek inside the mobile hen house at Polyface.

Joel Salatin demonstrates the ease of moving the pastured broiler pens during our "Lunatic Tour".

Some of the first "fruits" of our new property: wild grape jelly!  So delicious, and I didn't even have to plant or weed a single thing!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Agrarian Home-Based Lifestyle, Part 1: Our Vision

Ok folks, today begins my first "series" of blog posts!  How many parts to this series?  Who knows...until I feel like I've said enough, I guess!  Forgive me if it sounds a little bit like I'm thinking out loud throughout this series...because I am.  We are just beginning to shape our "dream"; our vision for what we want our family life and livelihood to look like.  It seems clear to us that God has brought many factors together into one place for us lately, and I'm going to take a little time to explain it to you.  Hopefully we here at Domestic Reformation will understand ourselves better in the process, too.

I'll keep this pretty basic today since future posts in the series will cover many aspects in greater depth, but let me begin by laying out our overall vision by defining some things (thanks to Merriam-Webster online!)...

agrarian: of or relating to fields or lands or their tenure.  Yup.  You heard me right.  We actually intend to "make a living off our land".  Well, mostly...more about that in a minute.  We've been blessed with 20 acres, about two-thirds of which is open land.  The rest is brushy undergrowth, young-ish forest, and our yard.   Is it possible to earn enough cash off 20 acres to live comfortably?  We believe it is.

home: one's place of residence.  Our dream is that our whole family--Dan included--will be able to work together here at our own home--our own "place of residence".  Around here we find that we get exponentially more accomplished in a day when we're all working together than when we are split off in our separate ways all day.  There's a kind of synergy that occurs when we're all working together, and it's way more fun than being apart all day.  Our family actually likes to be together!  Will it always be sunshine and roses?  Of course not!  But it's not a bad goal:)

Let me be clear: a "home-based business" does not mean we intend to become hermits or social recluses.  However, it does mean spending more time actually at home.  Less running, fewer last-minute trips to the store, better planning, more intentional time spent with friends and family.  As I mentioned above, we plan to "live off of" our 20 acres, but we will continue with Courser Deer Processing, which I suppose, being a service-based business, can't really be considered living off our land.  Currently we run this business at a different location, but our goal is to move it here for next season.  Being away from our own home so much is taking a toll on us already, and this year's hunting season is just getting started!

lifestyle: the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.  I hesitate to call this merely a home-based "business" because it is about more than just money for us.  It's a way of life, and a way of life that is radically different than most folks.  Our dream is to have a lifestyle that not only "pays the bills", but is more rewarding, more fulfilling, more healthy, and more whole than what "normal" American culture has to offer.  And, we hope it's contagious.  We hope that when others see what we're doing they, too, might be inspired to slow down and smell the proverbial flowers...literally.

Our intent is not in any way to sound condescending or "holy-er than thou".  Right now we are in the dreaming, visioning phase where anything can happen.  It's probably something of a honeymoon phase.  Hard days will come when we wonder what in the world we've gotten ourselves into.  But for now I hope maybe you can all dream with us a little bit as the series develops, and maybe even help us shape our vision of what's to come!

Next post: the "History" of our vision (or, "How the Heck Did We Come Up With This Wacky Idea?")  No promises as to when that post is coming.  After all, it's deer season.  I'm sure you'll all be waiting with bated breath though, right?

A few shots from the south side of the property at sunrise.

Isn't it beautiful?  We are so blessed!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Courser Deer Processing!

The season is officially underway...deer season, that is!  Courser Deer Processing is up and running.  We took in 8 deer just today--we've had a promising start so far!  If you'd like more information, you can find us on facebook.  Happy hunting everyone!