Family,  Gardening

Digging the Earth | Homesteading, Gardening and Heritage

Slowly we’re starting to think about purchasing our first house with some land to go with it. Not a lot of land, but bigger than your typical suburban lot. It’s funny, we’ll be married 10 years this June and for those 10 years we’ve rented our abodes, bummed with our parents for awhile, called a flame orange tent home, as well as a couple of motels/hotels. So, it is a little strange to think that we would be actually putting money towards something that in 15-30 years we could call our own (because really, it is still the bank’s until we pay it off).

With that I’ve starting seriously thinking about what I want in my yard, how I want my house to look—well, not quite, I have ideas, but honestly I’m thinking on the outside realm more than anything. I’m thinking about the food I want to grow, the flowers I want filling the rest of the yard, the types of trees I want if the yard isn’t already full of other trees, and also the animals I want.

Chris wants to keep bees and I want to keep chickens. Apparently Chris wants to grow his own wheat, too. I asked him about sugar cane but he said we could continue destroying the Everglades for that. All of these thoughts about what I could grow in the semi-near future had me doing some internet reading on homesteading, gardening and small-scale farming.

What I was surprised to learn was that there was a backlash against the whole urban farmstead/do-it-yourself trend. Frankly, I was dismayed about the backlash. Now, I don’t expect everyone to want to grow their own food, cook organically, go to the farmers market, or go out back to get the eggs for the cake they are baking that night, but what I do expect people to understand is that we aren’t that far away generationally from when all of these things were mainstream in society. Perhaps 60+ years of so-called conventional farming and lifestyles have deluded our sense of heritage, but more than likely (I’m generalizing here, I realize people come from all walks of life and heritages) if you look back to your grandparents, maybe further to your great-grandparents, you are likely to find someone who grew most of their food or cultivated a large garden, someone who sewed clothes for the family or made quilts to keep them warm at night.

The backlash wasn’t strictly related to food, it also seeped into the creative realm in regards to people picking up knitting and crocheting.

A term I was only recently introduced to by Keely is the word femivore. She told me about it so I did some searching and it stemmed from this article with many negative rebuttals on the internet about the word. While the word does have some weirdness to it, I don’t get the hatred of the back-to-your-roots idea. Some of the rebuttals were in regards to a glorification of the past, farming and simplicity, others were about th efeeling of women needing to have it all, a career and doing it all themselves at home (which is so ironically funny because lots of men are doing both, too (and I loved this cached rebuttal, original link is not working for some reason)). Of course all of this was completely different 100 years ago when what grew or didn’t grow meant starving or going without for much of the year. It meant you couldn’t pay your bills or you had to barter to get things you needed. Sewing your own clothes or piecing together a quilt might not have been necessarily to give as a gift for a baby or wedding but instead it was because you only had five dresses and you couldn’t afford another so you had better mend this one until it was in rags. And then you made a quilt out of the rags.

I get that. Our times now are not our ancestor’s times then. On the other hand, outside of the ‘trendy’ movement to do all of this, there’s everyone else who has been doing it anyway, despite mainstream living; the people with land in the country who keep a donkey, horse or cow, who might keep chickens in the yard all the while living a seemingly regular life. It’s not something new. Gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the U.S. and whether you are growing food or a rose garden, you are still carrying on in some form, part of your heritage.

I think the thing that bothers me most is when simplicity and doing things the old way is turned into somehow that you are being elitist. Small back-to-nature magazines have been around for a long time, heck Mother Earth News has been rocking it since 1970. None of this stuff is new. It’s only undergoing a revitalization and becoming more understood and less shunned—or somewhat less shunned. I remember in 2000 when I was in college, I joined the Sierra Sea Club. Their primary objective, other than general environmental issues, was to promote organic foods. This was the first time I’d heard the term and I remember it being rather strange and weird. Most people just equated it with PETA and crazy hippies. Here we are 12 years later and the term is widely known, though sometimes slightly green-washed. Being organic/living organically, in the sense of returning back to your roots and doing things a more natural way will easily get you labeled ‘crunchy’, ‘granola’, ‘hipster’, or ‘hippie’. If my great-grandmother who had chickens in her backyard in Azle, Texas would be called a hipster, then let me be one too! Organic is doing without all the extra crap—whether that is living an organic life with less stuff in your personal life or taking it the foodie way and purchasing your food without GMOs, pesticides and fertilizers.

There will always be the naysayers and people who don’t agree. And they are right, growing things for yourself, learning how to build things or taking up an old craft, isn’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be denegrated.

Me, I prefer to keep the crochet, remembering the jars of food stored on the tight shelves in my Nanny’s small hallway off her kitchen, thinking of the moments of sitting outside with my family as a kid—talking and playing around in the yard, going on campouts and learning about the natural world, cooking up old recipes from both of my grandmothers (reading their scrawl almost makes me think they are there), and trying to gather up all the bits of information I can on what is left in my natural heritage. I’m so glad I learned to make my Nanny’s chow-chow recipe because now when I taste it I am taken back to her kitchen in east Fort Worth, the blue morning light in the kitchen, the table a little sticky from her millions of things stacked on it—the margarine bowls and placemats, the smell of her freezer as my brother and I opened it to get the Blue Bell (or grocery store special) ice cream out. When I, someday, gather eggs from my coops I want to think about the chickens in my Granny’s yard, the scraps from lunch or dinner carried out in a round, tin plate. As I mow the lawn around my future house I want to think about my dad mowing his lawn, how the sound of the mower starting up signaled us to get outside and play, the fresh grass beckoning to be walked on.

That’s what it is all about. Because it is all we have. If we can’t remember some of the basics, learn the things our predecessors knew, we’re just losing a culture. But maybe there’s hope?


  • chel

    I’ll be honest- my issues with it are really against those people who do it and talk about it in a way that says “I AM DOING THE RIGHT THING AND I CARE MORE ABOUT THE EARTH/MY FAMILY THAN YOU DO”. The idea of having chickens and bees DELIGHTS me, and I very much want to learn how to crochet. I love my garden. I always said if I won the lottery I’d buy the house nect door (it’s a rental, so it’s no one’s beloved home), knock it down, and make it a green space with room for Gracie to play and a treehouse and tons of little gardens with little paths… just a serene little patch of earth with life on it.

    But I have a friend who does the homesteading and she’s sort of *insufferable* about it. Everything is so defensive. I’ll never forget the time I posted a meme about things that modern kids won’t know about (rotary phones, VHS player, 8-track tapes, phone cords, etc.) and she practically had an anyeurism because HER kid has a VHS and tons of old VHS tapes and they did not and would NEVER have a DVD player because VHS was good enough for them! I felt like saying “YAY for you- you have outdated technology that uses more energy because it has to rewind and ffwd every tape you watch and your daughter will never see anything on DVD- sounds so fun for your kid!”

    (here comes a big rant- I’m so sorry about this!) And the homeschooling thing… I know that I, personally, am NOT capable of providing my child with a well-rounded education. I feel very positive about providing a *thorough* art/creative education and teaching her gardening and general life skills. But a general education- long division? Grammar? Other languages? History? I’m not going to be able to provide that for her.

    So I send her to a lovely little school (Montessori) where she gets a great education and has a lovely little community of kids to spend her days with. If Montessori wasn’t an option, I would think long and hard about her education, but it *is* an option so she goes there. We’ve had her there since she was 18 months old, and she loves it. She has learned SO much about community and the environment and animals in addition to typical early-childhood learning. Since the dawn of time, there have been people in every community who were chosen to teach children (and other people) because of their skills in that area- communication, general knowledge, etc. Even the Ingalls girls went to school when it was available to them. It was considered a luxury, in a way. I hate that education outside the home has gotten such a bad rap. I mean, the public school system can be dismal, but there are alternatives.

    I just feel like I should do what I am capable and happy doing and then use the money that we have coming in to support others who do what *they* are capable and happy doing (teachers, larger-scale farmers, artisans, furniture makers, etc.) Like a circle, in a way. I enjoy growing tomatoes, so we grow our own. I don’t enjoy making laundry soap, vegetarian proteins, furniture, clothing, etc., so we find someone who does and pay them for their energy and time. We try to be conscious about that, about where the money goes.

    I’m so sorry for this rant. I just want you to know, Misty, I have never once felt you come across as defensive or “touchy” so I don’t think you’d ever fit into the mold of “femivore”, at least a negative one. I can tell you genuinely ENJOY these things- canning, crocheting, quilting, growing, living, exploring the earth. In fact, your genuine pleasure is a tremendous inspiration. I mean, I never really had an interest in crochet until I started reading your blog. Or an interest in Florida enviroment, but now I’m totally into Florida plants and thinking about a TRUE Florida garden.

    Therefore, why SHOULDN’T you do as much of these things as you can? I think the whole “femivore” thing comes from those people who have had these “hobbies” become less of a pleasure/interest to something of a fanatic devotion. I love the idea of being introduced to new things, people sharing their lives and their gardens and their projects, but if that person somehow implies that they are superior to me because they canned their leftover tomatoes, then I shut down a little.

    Again, I’M SO SORRY FOR WRITING ALL THIS. I just thought I might speak out a little bit, since this is sort of a hot button issue (at least the homeschooling part, which tends to come with homesteading…)

  • Misti

    Thank you for your comments—I really could have expounded so much more on this topic and maybe I will in the future. But really the topic and thoughts can cross many other topics—do what is right for you and leave everyone else around—there’s no reason to be negative or holier than though on ANY side! I agree, no everyone can do everything. I no desire to knit, but I love reading knitting blogs mostly because the yarn is so pretty! I don’t want to keep a cow and I don’t really want to make my own vegetable proteins, unless it was just to try it out and see what it is like.

    I think the VHS thing might be more of a reuse and not buy more than you need thing…which I totally get because Goodwill and used places are overrun with VHS. Maybe the rewind/ff for them energy wise is worth it versus buying something completely brand new.

    I do know one thing, we can’t do it it all…which is why I like buying homemade soap from other people or other crafts and things from things I don’t want to do or have time for. Which goes into your home school thing…

    Great discussion, it only made me wish I’d written more about it…

  • Chris

    I agree with so much that Chel said. I have been turned off to so many things when I read or hear people talk with such self-righteousness about them…like they are better than you because they homeschool or grow all their food, etc. You do NOT come across like that at all! You have inspired me to do a few things that I’d thought about, but never actually done.

    Right now, I am laughing because one thing I plan to start as soon as we get up to PA is to build a chicken coop and start raising chickens! I do NOT want to ever kill any for food, but just have their eggs. I’m hoping to only get hens, nut I know that can be hard to do, depending on the age they are when I get them. We also plan on having a garden, which doing that up there will be quite different from down here! Don’t think I can grow anything year-round 🙁 But I am excited about doing it all.

    Homeschooling would only be an option for me if I lived miles and miles away from a school or the school in question was a horrific one. Public schooling ain’t great (haha), but isn’t that bad, either, depending on where you live. As a parent, I feel my job is to enhance what’s taught in school, but most importantly, to teach about life…ideas…encourage creativity… to me, that’s what parents do. They guide their children and encourage them and are there for them whenever they need them.

    Wherever you’re house is, you and Chris will make it a wonderful home. It’ll be a special place, for sure. And when/if you have kids, they will be so lucky to have you two guys for their parents.

  • Misti

    For the record I won’t be homeschooling unless Chris starts bringing in six figures or something like that. And…it would be more like unschooling because I am not going to teach them algebra.

  • chel

    I totally agree with what Chris said- I’m trying to SUPPLEMENT Gracie’s education, not replace it. I enjoy that process a lot- talking to her about what she’s learned and adding to it. I don’t think I would enjoy educating her. We would butt heads and I think it would distract us from the task at hand. Plus, I’ve never *wanted* to do that. Homeschooling wasn’t even really a thing until a few years ago- at least I didn’t know anyone who was homeschooled except for *me* when I was forced out of school for surgery recovery for a few months at a time (that may be why I get so touchy about it! I had a tutor and some of my teachers from school came once a week to keep me up to date, but it was not ideal…) and the girl in high school whose father killed her mother (extreme example, but that was really the ONLY time I heard of anyone homeschooling until I came online.)

    I think everyone should do what fulfills them and what they feel capable of, what *works* for them as a person, for their family, not what they think they *should* do. When you start trying to meet up some expectation you feel society and/or a movement has on you, it becomes a very difficult situation and can literally wear someone down.

    Thanks for reading my rants/comments!

  • Allison

    Wow, some of those comments are crazy long! I love just about everything related to homesteading, but it’s best if people just do what’s right them. For instance, a lot of blogs I read are all into fermenting every food. I like fermented pickles, and kraut, but some of that stuff just smells like my bathroom! To each their own. If you’re confident in what you like to do, and secure in your choices, that’s all that really matters.

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