A Communal Homestead

April 4, 2012

I had a conversation with my husband a few months back that went like this:

Me: “I found the perfect house!”

Him: “We’re moving?”

Me: “It is up near Carter Lake, has a ton of property, and it comes with 49 goats”.

Him: Blank stare. Dead silence.

Joel is a patient man, a good man, and certainly a saint in the making for marrying the likes of me. Over the past 10 years he has sat by patiently as I charged into the world of writing, and although he works tremendous hours he has little complaints when I hand him three kids and tell him I have to get out the magazine, knit one more row, write a blog post, or test a recipe. Having said that, I might have pushed him a bit too far with the issue of goats.

In just a little over a month we will have lived in our current home for ten years. 2012 is a big year all around for my family in terms of anniversaries, but this one really struck me as being huge. For some reason I never expected to stay this long.  We made the move to this house in haste, without much agreement, and with a sense that we would not be staying in the area long. Ten years later I find myself in suburbia dreaming daily of a small farm along the range of the Rocky Mountains.

The idea of a homestead is a popular one, and certainly there are many wonderful blogs that describe their daily life with beauty and grace. For me, I envision a small space where my kids can not only roam free and play, but also learn that their home can be a source of life for them, from the foods that they eat to the clothes that they make, etc.

So what happens when one of us sees goats in our future and the other does not? That is the question that has been weighing heavily on my mind for some time. The truth is I understand that right now, in this moment, our home and our three children feel like enough for my family, and that taking on something that we are not ready for is not healthy or wise. If we were to make such a move, it would need to be with the purest of intentions and certainly a bit more knowledge of what it would take to be successful than we have right now. I also, however, understand that sometimes the dream comes in stages, and that embracing the process is half the fun.

It was with that thought it mind that I started to look at my home differently,  and my community differently.

When we moved to this house, one of the first things that we did was put in two huge raised garden beds. Those beds are now tended by 5 sets of loving hands, and what we don’t have room for, we grow in our community garden less than 5 minutes from our home.

We don’t have chickens (yet), but the front of our house faces a county road that leads us to a raw milk dairy farm where we can purchase fresh eggs, cheese, milk, and local beef.

We don’t have bees, but the front range is scattered with those who do, and they will not only share their local honey, but as much info as you can imagine about the life of the honey bee.

We don’t keep farm animals, but we look out over a horse farm where the boys are always welcome to come feed and tend the horses.

As I stand in my kitchen and watch my children playing in our backyard, I see the space that we could use to keep bees, the small run on the east side of the house for chickens, the cold frame being built to house our veggies into the colder months. I see the possibilities. Our home is going to grow over the years, and we are going to grow with it. We may not keep 49 goats any time soon, but we have what we need to live in the sustainable manner we have always wanted. What we can’t do here, we are lucky enough to be able to find in our community, and that feels amazing. To get to know the local farmers, gardeners, bee keepers, permaculturalists has taught me so much, and I realize how it has shaped who I have become in my daily life.

We have enough in this space we call home, and right now that is just perfect.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

melanie April 4, 2012 at 7:05 am

Your words really struck home for me today. We recently moved to the Front Range with the idea of simplifying, and I have found myself smack dab in the middle of suburbia. I am itching for the same thing, and am always dreaming of having the homestead of my dreams. In the meantime, I will embrace what I do have here and start reaching out more to establish my communal homestead as well. Thank you for your wonderful blog!

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Tonya - Plain and Joyful Living April 4, 2012 at 8:10 am

Such wise words Heather – I posted a quote about contentment today and that is what we must have where we are right now – not that we shouldn’t dream – we should – but realize that we have all we need right now.
I think I have gone a bit too far with the homesteading at times because my husband is not 100% like I am and it just doesn’t work.
I applaud all you are doing!
Warm wishes,
Tonya

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Anna April 4, 2012 at 8:26 am

I hope you realize how lucky you are to have so much of what you dream of right in your community. You have all the makings of your dream at your disposal. So happy for you that you do. My “perfect” dream would find me in a town near a major lake, with an old beautifully restored house and huge gardens, and only about an hour or so from a city. I want space, water and access. Not going to get that anytime soon, but I love thinking about the dream. Enjoy yours.

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Meryl April 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

We are continually having those same conversations. (This week, in particular, re: turkeys.) It’s actually nice to have a balance though. Without a little restraint from Sweet Husband, I would be prone to biting off much more than I can reasonably manage on our quarter acre city lot. And, you’re exactly right, there are so many very nice alternatives to doing everything yourself in the way of other local farmers.

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megan April 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

This was just what I needed to read this morning. Too often I get caught up in the dream of my “ideal life” (more outside space, chickens, a few goats, larger garden, woods near by for my boys to tromp around in), and ignore the reality that I grew up on a farm and didn’t really love the work of it all that much. The space we have is perfect for a small garden, the wood for my boys are just 2 blocks away, and goats can be kind of smelly. My community does have the great resources of which you speak, and CAN fulfill my desires to know where our food comes from. And I don’t have to get up at 5:00 am to take care of animals before I head to work!

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Teri April 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

Heather, it sounds like you have such wonderful community resources! What a nice blend of being able to share the experience of homesteading with your boys, but also having the freedom to take a weekend trip, or pursue other interests. My current reality is an amazing life of milking goats, growing food, and raising babies. But my future dream is to travel the world with my family, and 6 goats will certainly not fit into my suitcase!

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Earth Mama 101 April 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Yup…creating always comes in small spurts. I am constantly (trying) to remind myself that right now! With our move I want it all right now…bees, goats, our garden planted, but goodness…if it were all here already we would miss the giant opportunity of finding it all and creating it all bit by bit. And community is so important. And realizing that everything is perfect right now how it is is an important step too…but still dream, because we always need to be dreaming (just a little bit anyways!)

:)Lisa

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KC April 4, 2012 at 5:36 pm

This post is very much where we are at right now. I dream of these homesteading things but my husband is really happy at the job he’s at and doesn’t really want to learn to take care of livestock. We too have a great source of meat, eggs and veggies. And I think, can I really raise chickens which will produce eggs with yolks darker then these (these yolks are a deep autumn orange!)? Probably not. Not here in the desert suburbs anyway. Thank you for acknowledging that both spouses aren’t always on the same page. :) Wonderful post.

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Nichole April 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

This is something I’ve grown to embrace – to accept what we have and make the most of it! We too, live on a quarter acre of land. No, it is not the “ideal” existence, but it’s a darn good existence. We have chickens. We have a garden. We have local farmers close by. Our small town is walkable and lovely. And I honestly think, that I love this just as much as I would love a cottage in a valley surrounded by farm animals and meadows of wildflowers.

“You’re already home where you feel love~” The Head and the Heart

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kate April 4, 2012 at 9:04 pm

yes, yes, yes…exactly.
xo

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a little crafty nest April 4, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Dear Heather…This is so timely, and it looks like I’m not alone in thinking that. I’m certainly not alone in dreaming of what’s to be, what’s to come. It’s a curious human condition, when it is so much more relaxing to just Be grateful. Last night, my husband and I were talking about this very thing. We are constantly discussing the next step of building this homestead, the next reno, the next whatever. I have been crossing my fingers hoping that this season will manifest the chicken coop…for four years. In the meantime, there is a whole bunch of other things filling up our lives, and a two minute walk to our good neighbours are the perfect eggs. So we’ll see if the hens arrive this year, or the sheep. Or the porch. Or the kid’s bunky. Or the pond. You know? Thanks for this, your words speak directly to my heart ~ as always.
xo Jules
And I just love that you remind us to embrace what we have, and what our neighbours may offer. For that is truly the way to creating a wonderful, thriving community.

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sherene April 5, 2012 at 4:38 am

“Joel is a patient man, a good man, and certainly a saint in the making for marrying the likes of me. Over the past 10 years he has sat by patiently as I charged into the world of writing, and although he works tremendous hours he has little complaints when I hand him three kids and tell him I have to get out the magazine, knit one more row, write a blog post, or test a recipe. Having said that, I might have pushed him a bit too far with the issue of goats”

replace “Joel” with “David” and “goats” with “homebirth”. Luckily, the man has enough experience to know I haven’t yet gotten us into anything we cant get through! And although we still haven’t decided on a birth place within the house, he certainly has come around to thinking it is the right thing.

My eldest wants to be a farmer. Our home is much like you mention. We are in the suburbs but after years of connecting have access to many friends and farmer/friends that can give, trade or sell for what we need. We had a community garden for awhile ( its where I first found the benefits of blogs for research!) . Just yesterday the girls were dreaming of living the farm life and I walked them through the dream I have of living in our home forever ( its one of the ways we intend to help the children with their dreams, providing this place for them to stay when they need to save-even if they have a family full of children). I told them of the trees that will be cut, the fences made and the 1/4 acre full of herbs, bees, and veggies. It will take time- but so do all homesteads. And it will take lots of creativity to do it within the rules of our town, but we will. And it will be home, and beautiful.

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Joy April 5, 2012 at 5:48 am

What a wonderful post, Heather! I feel similarly even though I don’t have as much access to farm goods as you do. (Raw milk is illegal and hard to come by in NC.) We are fortunate with what we do have and enjoy exposing and teaching our children in the ways of the past. xoxo

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renee @ FIMBY April 5, 2012 at 7:48 am

This is beautiful Heather and oh so true. We all make compromises, trades, sacrifices – whatever you want to call them in reaching for the life we want to live. I’m faced with some of my own right now and it’s always so encouraging to read that I’m not alone in that.

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Megan@ Art of Homemaking April 5, 2012 at 9:01 am

What a blessing to have such amazing resources at your fingertips!

Blessings and hello’s from the Smith Homestead~

Megan @Art of Homemaking

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molly April 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

my husband and i struggle with this same idea. we’d both love a larger piece of land, more self-sufficiency, but we both appreciate that we’re in a good place where we are. for now, we’ve put our acreage dreams on the back burner (meaning we no longer search the web for real estate), and are focusing on what we can do with our little piece of land, and how we can support local farmers who grow/raise the food we want. sustainability is a community effort, a circle of support, an evolving process. for now, i’m cultivating contentment on my quarter acre, with 30+ young fruit trees, an expanding garden, beehive, and chickens. it might not be big, but it is a homestead.

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Lisa Q April 5, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Such wisdom here…sounds like you’re in process…which is a hard place to be, but also an exciting one at the same time. It’s a much better place than one that is stagnant! Have you read the book “The Backyard Homestead”…it might be right up your alley (acre)! So good to catch up with you!

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renee ~ heirloom seasons April 5, 2012 at 8:11 pm

It’s good to dream, and good to be grateful for what we do have. Jason and I have had this homesteading dream since we first met, and sometimes it is frustrating that we are not quite yet where we want to be. But at least we are headed in the right direction.

Sorry we missed you when you were passing through! But yes, someday!

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AG Ambroult April 8, 2012 at 11:40 am

lol. I have had similar conversations with my husband, and every time I come away from it knowing we share similar dreams and family goals, but that at this moment we are where we need to be. And for now we are blooming where we are planted.

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elnora April 9, 2012 at 5:47 pm

You know… Michael and I bought this house, it backed up to a farm of goats. They were so much fun. On our property, we have Apple trees that backed up to the goat farm. Goats would come running when we came with a bucket full of apples and pears. Now it’s a bunch of sheep back there. Funny… sheep aren’t great conversationalists! I baaaa at them and they look at me like.. “are you speaking goat?”

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Kiasa April 17, 2012 at 6:42 pm

This is wonderful! We are preparing for change, but it is so tricky deciding how big to make this change. We currently live in a 500 sq ft, 1 bedroom apartment in the middle of Manhattan. We’ve lived our life here, but trying to stay sane and raise three little ones in such a tiny space has been very difficult for me. My husband would stay here forever and has no desire to farm. But I need dirt in my fingernails. I feel like my kids and I would be a lot healthier (physically and emotionally) if we could live more of our life outside, in nature. My reluctant husband is willing to move out of the city and is trying to understand my need for more space. Do we move to suburbia so his commute is “short”? Do we splurge on a “dream house” and land and create a longer commute and put down roots? Will I really feel less stress or will it just change?

And I’m still trying my best to love where we are at while staying focused on the need to change. It’s challenging to love where I am at and still focus on needing change in the near future.

Thank you for your insight!

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