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Homestead Happiness

2022 was our sixth year at Hostile Valley Farm. In six years, we have kept ourselves busy with the rebuild of the house, restoration of fields, addition of all of our animals, creation of our garden and orchard, cultivating trails and campsites, and so much more. It’s been a time of crazy growth and a lot of pushing to make things happen.

I am deeply proud of what we have built here and love the view out of the farmhouse window as much as any sight in the world. However, in 2022 I found myself considering what I was missing and how to create a balanced homestead life. In our six years here I have seen plenty of others start the farm life, and then give it up. I’ve watched people age out of being able to homestead, no matter how carefully they’d set up a self sufficient life. And over and over again I’ve heard the same quick defenses of a life without vacations or breaks. While wishing to lead a life I am proud of and that manifests my core beliefs, I also did not want to feel trapped in the mold of a modern homesteader.

And so with much of 2022 spent reflecting on what we had accomplished, what was most important to us, and what our goals are going forward — I’ve found there are a few keys to a happy homestead, and a sustainable lifestyle.

The ability to leave when you want or need to.

An often-cited and very irksome to me quotation is “build a life you don’t need a vacation from”. I used to embrace this quote, and I recognize now that I did so more out of a fear of variables and finding comfort in a routine than an actual belief. My issues with this idea are threefold:

  • I don’t believe that a good vacation is about a break from your regular life, it’s about experience a different life or lifestyle. Any trip, to the wilderness or the city, to a totally different culture and place or just down the road but off the farm; is about experiencing something new. Trying new food, seeing new things, looking at the world from a whole new lens. Yes, there are times life drags you down and you do need a break from it, but fundamentally the desire to take a vacation should be more about experiencing where you are going than escaping where you are, and being blissfully happy with your life shouldn’t mean you don’t want to experience new things.

  • Maybe you don’t need a vacation, but sometimes a break from the farm becomes necessary. You should always be prepared and able to leave — sometimes it’s for fun, sometimes it is for tragic reasons, and there are many reasons in between. But build a life you CAN take a break from, wether you plan to or not.

  • My main problem with this statement, based on my own use of it — it is too much protestation. When you’re quick to defend your life choices as fulfilling before anyone even challenges them, question why. Are you really telling other people you don’t need a vacation from this lifestyle, or are you trying to convince yourself?

Embracing breaks while on the farm.

‘Vacation’ doesn’t have to mean travel. ‘Fun’ doesn’t have to mean off the farm. Find ways to disengage your mind from the daily tasks, the struggles and the work of homestead life. Find half-hour on-farm getaways like jumping on an four wheeler or a pair of skis and heading out into the fields. Take a hike around your property or find local trails. The ability to disengage from the work of a place and embrace the fun makes all the difference, and can help you see new things about your property and project that you hadn’t imagined before.

Never stop learning new skills.

Homesteading isn’t just about routine or mastering certain lifestyle skills and repeating them. Every year, challenge yourself to learn something new, maybe something totally different from your current skills or something you don’t think you can do. Spend all day milking, harvesting, preserving? Why not make it a goal to learn how to operate the chainsaw? Clear brush, build fences, repair equipment? Try taking up soapmaking or knitting. My favorite thing about this lifestyle is how diverse it can be. Always push yourself to learn new things and get out of your comfort zone.

The balancing and sharing of responsibilities.

A functional homestead or farm usually has a balance of responsibilities between partners. This is important in dividing up the tasks for the day, and who is in charge of what projects. To keep things running smoothly, it’s important to understand those divides and embrace them when necessary. But it can also be a fun, new challenge to learn your partner’s skills. If you really want to be ‘self sufficient’ it is critical to understand the aspects of farm life that they are responsible for, and vice versa.

Never be too self righteous, or self critical.

Neither get too caught up in mantras that limit your choices nor be too hard on yourself for what is undone. Get as much done as you can, and try to finish every project that you start — but also, take breaks as you need them and prioritize breaks as much as work. Start a project, finish it, take a break, start the next project — don’t start five at once, work until you burn out, and feel bad that they aren’t all done.

Above all — find what you love about the lifestyle and embrace it. Grow what you love to grow and eat, harvest and preserve it how you like it. Raise animals that make you laugh and provide you with food you enjoy. Work with the land to create spaces that you can thrive in. Hate gardening? Don’t do it. Embrace another aspect of homestead life. Raising livestock not your thing? Bury your hands in the garden. Homesteading is a lifestyle choice, and if this is the life you’re choosing find a balance so that you can love it.

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