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!

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