Spring in Wisconsin (once it finally warms up) is gorgeous. Many times we have thought the farm country we live in looks like what we imagine The Shire would look like. In many ways the simple, down to earth life of the Hobbits is exactly what we long for–a good book to read, a pantry full of good food, things growing in the yard (both edible and simply pretty to view)–peace and quiet.
The growing things part has been harder than expected. We moved here without a lick of gardening experience but high hopes that fertile ground, rain and sun, and extra time and money would ease the transition from never-been gardeners to full fledged food growers with a garden Samwise Gamgee would be proud of. So far, it’s been two steps forward, three steps back!
Our Different Ideas about Homesteading
We’ve discussed homesteading and being more self-sufficient for years prior to moving to Wisconsin. Those ideas were motivators for wanting to move to the Midwest. Thing is, Manny and I have always had different ideas of what level of homesteading was ideal for us. Manny has leaned more towards wanting to be self-sufficient, wanting chickens, raise animals for milk and food, a full garden, make as much homemade food as we can, make and sew some clothing, etc. I have only wanted some of those things. I want a garden, I want to can and freeze (some things), I like to bake but don’t want to make everything we eat, I cannot sew (though I’d love to learn), I have no desire to raise animals whatsoever (the kids are enough to raise!) I also do not feel the idea of complete self-sufficiency is a Christian one (I’ll explain that in a bit).
We came to the Midwest with different ideas and the plan to simply get here and see what happens. I think we were both fairly open to seeing how things worked out and listening to the others hopes about homesteading. Well plenty has worked out on its own just by default and circumstance. In the Village of Saint Nazianz (where we live) we are not allowed to have chickens or farm animals. We would need to buy a property on the outskirts of the village in order to do any kind of real farming (something that isn’t a possibility now or the near future). We have planted a garden every year since being here with varied success. We’ve also done some canning and we do a lot more baking of breads, etc. at home.
We’ve learned it isn’t a good idea to jump into too many things at once. A lot of these homesteading skills are not easy to learn and one can easily and quickly become overwhelmed. I remember reading about the Back-To-The-Land movement in the seventies, a lot of people burned themselves out and gave up. I can definitely understand how that could happen.
Needing to Reevaluate Priorities
Again, by default we’ve had to rethink what our priorities are. We’ve also had to ask ourselves why there was a desire to be self-sufficient. We have neighbors who are farmers. I don’t know many of them personally (yet) but I have met some of the local farmers around and being here makes me see and understand their lives a bit more. I can go buy eggs from someone down the road and some of the local grocery stores carry eggs from farms near by. There are “You Pick” signs for asparagus, lots of berries, etc. all over the area. We have small local dairy farmers for milk, cheese, and butter. A lot of the farms sell their milk to the big companies like Land O’ Lake. We have local butcher shops for meat. The monks have a once a month bakery sale with fresh baked bread and other goods. There are still small “mom and pop” businesses around here for lots of things.
I ask myself, why do I want to work so hard to make these things myself when I can support my neighbor and buy from them? In some cases I could save money, which is a necessity and important. In some cases the effort and time spent isn’t worth the amount saved.With some things we do not have the skill or ability to make ourselves.
My point is, we do not have to do everything ourselves in order to have good quality food or even to save money. Being healthier and saving money were two motivators for many of our homesteading ideas. We’ve had to rethink what is worth the effort for us to do ourselves and what isn’t while also considering the importance of supporting our neighbors.
My dislike for Self-Sufficiency
As I mentioned above, though the idea of self-sufficiency has been appealing to me, in some ways it has never set well with me as a Christian idea nor have I ever felt up to the task. Being here has made me understand why I felt that way more clearly.
I firmly believe it is important for us as Christians, as people, to work together and support one another. I do not think God intended us to be alone, extremely isolated, or wanted us to desire to need no one else. We were made for community. The Holy Trinity is a community. The desire to want to be completely self-sufficient and depend, rely on, or need no one else goes against how we were made. What a sad, cold world we would have if we all became self-sufficient.
My thoughts on this do not mean I am against homesteading. I think it is important for many of us to get back in touch with past skills lost: growing our own food, having farm animals (for those of us who can ), making our own bread, canning, etc. Wanting to move to the middle of no where in isolation and depend on no one else for anything, that idea is what I think is wrong. It is an idea that is popular among Christians, and large families, and one I think people should really think through. We’ve had to due to our circumstances and I am glad we have.
Besides the beautiful scenery and peaceful life I can imagine in Hobbiton, another appealing idea is the closeness of the hobbits. A closeness that is annoying at times, cumbersome even, but we see in Tolkien’s stories the beauty and true gift of friendship. Friendship is a constant theme and is woven throughout all of his writing. The need for community, the need to rely on others to get you through, the need to find hope through others when you want to give up.
“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien,
Part of forming friendships is supporting one another, working together, building a community with each other. Families and monasteries do this on small scales, and we also need to enter into the larger communities we live in. Building a better world will only happen if we strive to build it together.
“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
For now these wannabe Hobbits are going to keep learning homesteading skills, hopefully get a small garden growing this year, continue to try and support local businesses, and keep blogging our little adventure here in Saint Nazianz, Wisconsin. Right now, I am going to go plant my tomatoes. I’ll let you know how it goes.