Since completing my master's degree, I've had time to spend with my animals, and I realized how removed I had been from everything on the farm. In some ways, I am looking at things through a stranger's eyes. I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I remember a friend once telling me her division at work was having a "fresh eyes" audit -- someone from the corporation was coming to check out their operations and see if anything needed to be changed.
I've realized that there are a lot of things that need to be changed. I suppose a lot of homesteaders go through this period. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what you want, what you really need, and what you can realistically handle. In my six years out here, I've seen a lot of people come and go. Houses on small plots of land have for-sale signs for the second time in only three or four years.
The lure of the country is strong. So many people say they'd love to do what we're doing -- live in the country, enjoy the peace and the stars at night, grow their own food. Few people even attempt it, and of those that do, many decide that it's not for them. They miss the instant access to food, entertainment, and even a gallon of milk. When we moved out here six years ago, I realized that what separated us from them was a goal bigger than ourselves. We didn't merely want the quiet existence of farm life or a few animals to decorate our pastures. We'd been vegetarians for 14 years because we did not approve of the confinement practices of modern agriculture. People would ask if we were vegetarians for health or ethical reasons, and we'd say "both." Moving here was an extension of that commitment to not only ourselves, but the world. We also did not approve of the practices of dairy farmers who kept cows confined or egg farmers who debeaked chickens and kept them in small cages. Unfortunately, our few feeble attempts at becoming vegan never lasted more than a few months.
A month before we moved out here, I had ordered my laying hens so that I could divest myself from the Big Ag egg industry as soon as possible. When I learned that chicks needed to stay inside under a heat lamp for a month, I decided that they could just as easily live in our basement in the suburbs, and we would be one month closer to those free-range eggs from happy chickens. I placed a deposit on my first milk goat and bought a milk bucket and cheese cultures. When we moved here in April 2002, we went right to work planning our garden and buying animals that would be our partners in providing us with food that we felt was better, not only for us, but better for the animals and the earth, as well.
Since then we have learned a lot. We have failed many times. Sometimes our mistakes make us laugh, and sometimes they make us cry. But even after our very worst failures, when we feel absolutely defeated, we have never thought about leaving. We know that we just have to try harder and learn more. And in our world where everyone talks about being "in control," we have to accept that there are things beyond our control. In a nation where egocentrism is epidemic, we realize that it is not all about us.
I'm back on the farm now full-time. I can't believe it's been two years since I was here virtually 24/7, but I'm glad to be back. How could I have left the day-to-day operations to my children? Why did I think I wanted or needed a master's degree? I'm not sure anymore. After living with the laws of the farm, the artificial world of academia was a surprising disappointment. I started grad school after being here for four years. Maybe I needed that experience to help me realize how much I love it here. And now I'm looking at everything with fresh eyes, thinking about what I want to change and what needs to be done better. I think I have discovered the definition of passion: The more I do here, the more I want to do and the more I care.