|Inca rainbow corn from our garden|
We originally moved out here for lots of reasons -- to grow our own food organically, to raise rare breeds of livestock in danger of extinction, to have a real reason to get out of bed in the morning, to give our children a meaningful life with real responsibility. I suppose I could sum it up by saying that we moved out here because it's real. There is no fast food or contrived exercise on a treadmill. Our children have had real responsibility. They've brought baby animals into this world, and they've seen animals die. But now that my children our growing up and going to college, why don't we just move back to the burbs and shop at Whole Foods and farmer's markets? After all, I've been diagnosed with arthritis, and someone winds up in the emergency room at least once a year because of accidents that never would have happened in the safety of the burbs. Why stay?
Because I love my life out here, and rather than finding reasons to leave, I keep finding more reasons to stay. My arthritis is much better when I'm outside working. Sitting in front of a computer is my body's worst enemy. As I get older, the weight bearing exercise -- carrying fifty-pound feed bags -- is a good way to protect myself from osteoporosis. Switching from a vegetarian diet to one with free-range, organic meat has raised my HDL cholesterol, making my ratio even better for warding off heart disease. Losing twenty pounds six years ago made my knees much happier, and they've been a problem my entire life, because I was born with birth defects in both of them and had three surgeries as a teenager. So, there are lots of scientific, quantifiable reasons to stay here. Sure, plenty of people live in cities, eat healthy and exercise, but I was never able to keep up an exercise routine when we lived in the burbs.
I have never loved a treadmill or free weights, but I love my goats. They are real. I have to milk them. I have to chase after them sometimes. I have to run from the house to the barn when I realize one of them is in the middle of giving birth. I have to carry the fifty-pound feed bags from my car to the barn. Some people might say that it's a lot of work, but a wise person once said that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.
A guest on Saturday said that whenever you have to do something day after day, it becomes work -- like a professional football player. It might be fun to play ball with your friends on the weekend, but when you have to do it every day, it's your job. I didn't have an answer at the moment, but I've been thinking about his comment for three days. Why don't I feel like this is a lot of work? Because this is real. Playing football every day is not real. It's contrived. There is not a real reason to take care of thousands of chickens all day. One family does not need thousands of chickens. No one is raising those birds for any reason other than money. Milking goats and making cheese all day long would be a job. A lot of people have told me I should have a restaurant, but cooking for a hundred or two hundred people every day would be a job.
Another guest on Saturday told me that she grew up on a farm, and they originally had chickens running around free range. When they moved to the cage system of raising chickens, her mother no longer liked it and wanted out of the business. Whenever someone tells me that they worked on a chicken farm or grew up with chickens and they hate them, I don't even have to ask what type of system they had. It's always been a cage system with thousands of chickens in buildings. It's hot and stinky, and what joy is there in tending thousands of birds 365 days a year?
This is real. We are growing food to feed our family. We have chickens for eggs and meat. We have goats for our dairy needs. We have sheep for meat and wool. We have turkeys and pork for meat. The llamas protect the other animals and also give us fiber. Next spring, the cows will start to give us milk. We have a garden where we grow vegetables that you can't find in a store. Every day is different. Some are filled with joy and others with heartbreak, but every day is filled with real life. I'm not doing anything here solely to make money.
Money defines a job. I don't get paid a penny to make cheese or cook from scratch or milk the goats. I'm doing this because I believe in it. We became vegetarians in 1989 because we thought the factory farm system of raising meat animals was unhealthy and ethically wrong. We've been eating organically for just as long. I make cheese because it's the best-tasting cheese I've ever eaten. I cook from scratch because it's delicious and healthy. I milk my goats because you can't buy Nigerian dwarf goat milk anywhere in the state of Illinois. I grow Inca rainbow corn, blue potatoes, and Amana orange tomatoes because you can't buy them in a store -- and Amana orange tomatoes make the most delicious creamy tomato soup in the world. We grow our own pork because no one grows free-range pork around here, and I've never heard of anyone feeding them nuts and milk, which creates the most delicious pork imaginable.
So, how do I sum up all of this into a neat little package of twenty words or less, so I can give a quick answer to the next person who asks me why we do this?