be reading this article long past Christmas as bits of sunshine give you
Spring Fever in the middle of February’s chilly days, but hopefully
the story of my Christmas cards will show you just a little of how and
why I’m tied to this land and the type of homesteading, or a simpler
life, I hope to be featuring in this column every month.
Christmas card last year featured Harley—my very spoiled and very
LARGE goat—mugging at the camera and wearing a Santa hat. The fall day
when I shot about 30 photos of Harley posing and prancing found me
laughing hysterically in the barnyard (and happy there were no neighbors
nearby to question my sanity)!
after Harley’s death this summer, I just had to break from the
Christmas tradition of featuring one of my Old Field Farm’s critters.
instead, we settled on a photo I’d taken during one of Central Alabama’s
rare but beautiful snow falls showing the weathered little building that
sits just outside our current pasture in the edge of the wood line; the
small building my daddy always referred to as the "cotton
much bigger than a child’s playhouse and at least 80 years old, it was
where the cotton was stored out of the weather until the fluffy fiber
could be loaded on a mule-drawn wagon and taken to the gin in Oneonta.
this year’s card didn’t get last year’s reactions from folks who
said Harley’s silly grin brightened that Holiday, two responses this
past December truly warmed my heart.
cousins, Jack and Shirley, live "just down the
road." Both in their 80s now, Shirley opened the card and
proclaimed the building must be one where I housed some of my
animals. But Jack emphatically told her "No. I’ve
played in there enough to know—that’s the cotton house!" he
return card from another older cousin now living in Georgia evoked
nearly the same response, thanking me for the special photo of the
cotton house where she’d played under the shade trees while her
parents and other family members worked in the scorching cotton field
was a hard-scrabble life back then but each said it was "worth
the time I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, the cotton field was
abandoned, but folks around here almost all "made" a garden,
even those living in town.
was simpler, even then. Life was centered around home, family,
church and community. Most folks didn’t commute to jobs in other
counties. They worked right at home or at least close enough to make
sure chores were done on time each day.
been called a "throw back," a "back-to-the-lander"
and even a "hippie" because from then until now, I’ve been
concerned with the small family farms, a different kind of life, more
"homesteading" than agri-business.
this kind of "homesteader" doesn’t get free land from the
government after settling in for a required amount of time as
homesteaders did in the 1800s. Instead it is a "state of mind"
where families work to be as self-sufficient as they can on their own
properties, trying to take care of their own families, many by growing
their own vegetables and raising their own meat (or buying from local
farmers and farmer’s markets). Most are generally as excited about
well-stocked pantries filled with home-canned food as they are big bank
work at home-based businesses or have offices at home. If they do
work "off the farm," the homestead is still what keeps them
"grounded" in this hectic world.
are many different labels for this lifestyle but the one I detest is
"Hobby Farmer" — especially when I’m covered nearly from
head to toe in mud and manure. My husband looked me over last week
after a thanked-for heavy rain left the goat yard and chicken pastures
slushy, and said I looked "like the goats pushed you down and then
walked up and down your blue jean legs."
you know, I never rest better or FEEL better than after such a day’s
hard work! Whether it’s boiling blackberries down for jelly to sell in
my little farm store, stirring what sometimes seems like forever over a
pot of lye, lard and goat milk waiting for that wonderful process when
soap is formed, digging post holes, or carefully shearing one of my
Angora rabbits, there’s a satisfaction in knowing I’m providing
needed and necessary items through God’s Grace and my own two hands!
I’ve covered Kids Day on the Farm events in recent years, I’ve been
amazed at how little most youth know about where our food and fiber
really comes from —- and most of today’s adults aren’t much
year one of the leaders said he was dismayed to learn not long before a
teacher (from another county) told her class erroneously that
"BEFORE we LEARNED to PRODUCE milk, it came from cows!"
lady also said she couldn’t buy free range eggs from chickens happily
pecking across a rural yard, because "Eewwww, those eggs come out
from UNDER a chicken."
has told me about my great-grandmother spinning on her spinning wheel as
he played on a quilt in front of the fireplace in their log cabin near
here—just as I spin on my wheel now!
didn’t know my grandmother on this side of the family either; she died
when my daddy was just 16. But Jack has told me recently of how she
loved her chickens —- and how she sold eggs just like I do!
have a tattered copy of a magazine question-and-answer column from the
early 1900s, when Grandmother wrote of how she loved riding her horse on
the bluffs near what is now the community of Susan Moore and how she was
"sweet 16 and never been kissed."
have two photos of her: I look almost just like her in one of them.
When I am making soap, when I am writing words like these, when I am
tending my garden or my herbs on these same fields she once walked and
worked, I know she and my grandfather, and my other grandparents had
something here on this land we can’t afford to lose.
the continuing rising cost of fuel and the threat of food terrorism from
abroad, emphasizes almost continually now just how important these
simple and needful things can be.
small farmer has been called the backbone of this nation. Even those who
know only simple anatomy know the backbone is what gives anything its
whether you are developing a corn-fueled vehicle, supplementing your
income with goat milk soap or handspun yarn, using solar energy to power
your equipment, hosting farm tours, using mules instead of or in
addition to your tractors, operating a ram-generator in a nearby stream
to water your crops or animals during the drought, striving to grow your
crops organically or doing or even thinking about doing any number of
things like this to keep your small farm going, we want to hear from