Country is a Mindset

Have you heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup? Well, this weekend I was able to refill my cup a little. I carved out time to indulge in a conference that fuels my passions. The weather turned out perfect, despite the sunburn on my neck reminding me today that a wide-brimmed hat would have been advisable…. (Anyone else get their first burn of the year this past weekend?)

I don’t think it’s a secret, but being more sustainable on our farmstead is one of those topics that really resonates with me. I’m a huge proponent of encouraging families to reconnect with the natural world around them. To learn more about the unique environments in which they live, embrace the diversity of native plant and animal life, and reconnect with the food they use to nourish and enrich their lives.

A good friend invited me, so there was the added bonus of spending time together and sharing ideas, hopes, goals for our own farmsteads. It was one of those events where you can’t help but be present and fully engrossed. I left feeling revitalized, with a renewed dedication to goals I had put on hold as life has gotten in the way lately.

I want to share something, though, that has been weighing on me lately. Consider it a confession, of sorts.

A speaker Saturday asked how many people there “live in the country.” I raised my hand, thinking about the fresh asparagus, radishes, and sugar snap peas I relish every spring from our early gardens and envisioned summer evenings on our front porch, listening to the sounds of our farmstead after the work of the day is done. I added notes to my mental to-do list about how we need to get the tractor out and blade the hill on our gravel drive again after the last heavy rain, how the pond levee is still leaking, and that we need to start processing some of our downed trees to keep our woodstove going this winter. I thought about how our livestock guardian dogs protected our goats from a bobcat earlier in the week and the wild turkeys that come in to stare at our domestic birds.

But then I looked over at my friend, who has a very similar property. Her eyebrows went up, almost questioning… or was I just imaging that? In that moment, I remembered that technically our farm is squarely set in a rapidly growing suburban area. Based on address alone, you would never consider us living in the country.

And this is where my conundrum lies. Does “country” have to mean rural? Let’s talk about the dichotomy.

While my husband and I both grew up in much more rural areas (his hometown had a population of 114 in the last census), we are far from rural these days. We have five feed stores and dozens of grocery options within a 30-ish minute drive. I’m 22 miles from the nearest international airport and have the address of a small city (home to roughly 50,000 people) on the outskirts of one of the top 25 most populated cities in the US. There is no denying the convenience – and traffic – in this area.

But that doesn’t tell the full story, does it? Our address doesn’t tell you that we raise cattle, hogs, goats, turkeys, and chickens for our family and others. Looking on a map you’d probably be surprised that we harvest deer on our property or that we dehydrate, can, freeze, and otherwise preserve hundreds of pounds of local fruits and vegetables each year.

Our zip code doesn’t clue you in that we prefer to make things from scratch… pie crusts and biscuits get made fresh, we bake our own bread, and have even started making yogurt. It doesn’t take into account that we (okay, my husband) rebuilt our 55 year old tractor in our home shop or that we like to keep traditional skills alive with our kids by doing things like making mullein stalk torches, black walnut ink, and turkey feather quills.

Driving over black walnut hulls may be easier, but this method wins for being fun!

No where does it share that we forage wild plants, grow the majority of our own herbs, make our own teas, tinctures, and salves, or that our newest vehicle is a 7 year old diesel truck for hauling livestock feed and towing our trailers. It has nearly 200,000 miles on it, but that’s nothing compared to my Excursion. It has seen two decades and 487,000 miles (and climbing). As close as we are to the city, no one told the internet providers because “high speed” internet was limited to Hughes Net satellite and cell phone hot spots until 2020.

We don’t fit the common image of a suburban family. So I ask again, does “living in the country” have to mean rural?

I’m in a few groups where a concerning trend comes up a couple times a year. There seems to be a general consensus that people who live in areas that are closer to larger urban centers are somehow less country or less capable of farming and homesteading.

Thankfully, I see the fallacy in that mindset on a daily basis… not only on our own farmstead, but in so many others who are spurring the incredible resurgence and popularity of the homesteading lifestyle.

This weekend I drove through some truly rural areas. There were miles where we wouldn’t see any fields growing crops, livestock, gardens, or even any fruit-bearing trees. I’m not judging, but reminding folks that just living in a rural area doesn’t automatically mean everyone farms or homesteads.

Forget your zip code, to me living in the country is a mindset.

My husband likes to say everyone wants to be country until it’s time to do country things. Because, let’s face it, it can be a lot of work. Let’s stop shaming people because they may have an urban or suburban homestead and start celebrating the fact that they are taking more control over their local food systems. Let’s provide mentorship and support and recognize that we can all do country things, even in areas that may not (from the outside) look like the romanticized version of a farm.

Go forth and prosper friends, whatever your zip code. And if you ever need a word of encouragement in your homesteading or farming journey, drop us a line. FarrowFamilyFarmstead@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

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