|Homesteading: A New Way of Life|
Have you ever thought of turning your place into an old-fashioned homestead? It can be done. Shawn and Amy Hardin are living proof. It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s an ongoing project that started two decades ago. Today it involves the entire family: Shawn, Amy, Jon, Ona, Dylan and Abby.
Amy left her job about a year ago and the family began intensifying the art of homesteading on their farm near Guin in Marion County. Once she began staying at home, Shawn and Amy immediately decided they wanted a different way of life than what they had.
"We decided this is a much better way of life for our children," said Amy. "Much better than running, running, running, running."
This new way of life involved growing and harvesting as much as possible from their land. Shawn hunts and harvests deer and turkey for the family to eat. They grow most of their own vegetables and fruits. Amy, who used to work for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, loves to read about new and more efficient ways of doing things. She is constantly looking for a better way to maximize their vegetable output.
Currently, the family is expanding their raised beds to be able to plant more vegetables in a smaller space. They also have several traditional gardens they operate as a you-pick-it operation. Even though their community is considered rural, many families have gotten away from growing their own gardens. Amy has noticed folks still like fresh produce, even if they don’t have the time and space to grow it themselves.
Of course, the homesteading premise is really nothing new. Shawn’s family originally settled the 100 or so acres more than a century ago. They grew a little bit of everything as most folks did. Shawn and Amy are trying to emulate that lifestyle, but with a modern twist.
Shawn’s grandmother had a mule. Then Shawn and Amy added two goats. Now they have about a dozen goats. They have also added chickens to the farm for eggs.
The Hardins originally obtained two donkeys to help with a coyote problem they were having. Two turned into a handful; now they have 19 donkeys that are ready to be adopted out to farms.
"We’re letting farms come in and pick the donkey they like," said Amy. "As long as they have adequate fencing and are able to properly care for the donkey, we allow them to adopt the donkey free of charge."
Shawn admitted donkeys are very social creatures and like to be around other animals. But they are also fiercely protective over their "friends."
Currently, the Hardins have dairy goats and are diving head-first into the business. The family drinks goat milk and Amy has begun making their own cheese and soap from the milk. The Hardins built a new goat barn this year to accommodate their growing herd.
Part of their homesteading philosophy is to do things a little at a time. Fencing was one of their first projects along with garden plots. Now they are working on adding buildings and structures to accommodate their endeavors.
Today, much of the family property is either in pasture or hay ground.
Shawn taught Amy how to spray the hay fields last year. He set her to work in the bottom field, which is fairly flat and even. He meant for her to only spray the one field while he was gone to work and he planned on finishing up that evening. When he got home that afternoon, Amy had sprayed all of the fields. Shawn was pleased, to say the least, Amy had accomplished so much and Amy was equally proud of her new-found talent.
Amy is quick to research projects before she jumps into them too deeply. But the family is open to trying new ways to provide for itself. Amy searches the Internet for information and frequently utilizes the Extension service. She also has a network of other producers she relies on.
Shawn’s grandmother kept many of the family farm’s original records squirreled away. Most of the family members didn’t know of their existence until after her death.
"To me it was significant and to Shawn as well," said Amy.
The records included things like tax payments, crop rotations and deeds. Amy noted the records helped confirm many of the stories that had been passed down in Shawn’s family.
One of the tax receipts shows Shawn’s ancestors paid $17.47 in 1923 on the approximately 100-acre parcel. Clyde Nix was the tax collector for Marion County at the time. The public library in Hamilton is named for Nix.
The family dining table came from Shawn’s grandmother’s kitchen. She kept it covered with oilcloth. Underneath the cloth she had placed newspapers to pad the table. The oldest paper dated back to 1943. Shawn and Amy simply removed the coverings and brought the perfectly-preserved table to their dining room.
Amy gets excited when she talks about the buildings left to go through on the property and the treasures she hopes to find. She loves the idea of preserving Shawn’s family history for their four children.
Shawn works in Winfield for the Joy Mining Machinery Company. The family is active in the First Baptist Church in Guin.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleville.