A Spot at the Table

“There are millions who know the world’s problems but very few who are willing to change their actions to reflect this. Now is the time to be excited about beginning a radical transformation.”

Rob Greenfield, environmental activist dedicated to sustainability

Full disclosure, I have not always been a believer. And there are times when I feel like an imposter in this world because I choose to not go to church. After my mom died in 2017, I hit rock bottom and knew I had to dig my way back up, but how? I was lost, so lost that I couldnt see any way out. When we were kids, my mom would take us to a little picnic area with our aunts, uncles and cousins. There, we would fish and cook out and just have fun together. It was at Deer Creek where I had some of my fondest memories of family.

In the early spring of 2017, I found myself driving with no particular destination in mind. Just trying to drown out the noise and escape the chaos that had taken over in my life. As if I was guided there, I found myself at Deer Creek. It looked different. I had not been there in so many years, it had gone through some changes. The pavilion where we had cookouts was no longer there and I could see a trail leading out to a bridge over a dam that I did not remember as a child. I started walking the trail toward the bridge. My pace soon picked up to a jog, then a full on run. Before I knew it I had been running and crying to the point where my legs and lungs gave out and I fell to my knees. I cried out to God asking him WHY?! Then I prayed. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I prayed. Deer Creek is where my “Dirt Church” was born. On hiking trails and in my garden are where I find God.

A few months ago, Todd and I were sitting on our back deck when I saw a post from Homesteaders of America announcing a womens retreat to be held at Polyface Farms. I knew I had to go! To be at Polyface in the fall, surrounded by beautiful mountains and women from my tribe?! Where do I sign up?! By the good grace of God (and comp time saved up at work!) I was able to make the trip. I had never taken such a trip by myself but knew I had to step out of my comfort zone in order to make this a reality. On a Thursday afternoon I set out on my adventure. Ohio to Virginia. By myself with a full tank, coffee, road snacks and Pandora playlists consisting of everthing from 90’s country to old school rap (hey, I am a child of the 80’s!)

The lineup!

About two hours in to my six hour journey, my road snacks were all but gone. I relied on coffee and my music to get me there and what a beautiful drive it was. When the mountains first came in to view it took my breath away. I was surrounded by this gorgeous land, belting out the lyrics to “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. I arrived at my Airbnb just after dark, hoarse from six hours of my own personal car concert. After unloading the car, I let my family know I had arrived safe. Our daughter Caitlynn asked me if I was afraid to be by myself, I told her absolutely not, I was enjoying the time, the respite, life had become somewhat harder over the past year or so and I knew what I had to look forward to over the weekend.

Sunrise over the mountains from my Airbnb

Day One- Morning came quickly and so did the nerves. As I got ready to go, I drank my coffee and gave myself little pep talks. “You got this!” “It’s ok that you won’t know anyone there!” “Dont be awkward!” If there is anyone who can take a totally normal interaction and make it awkward, it’s me! After a gorgeous, rainy drive, I arrived at the farm. I quickly found myself surrounded by women of like minds and started talking to a young lady named Heather. She and I hit it off right away and hung out most of the weekend, along with another new friend, Stacy. I had the opportunity to meet those I had only interacted with and talked to on Instagram. Building community. That’s what it’s all about.

A gathering of the tribe

The day was filled with good food and beautiful words from talented homesteading women. Emily Toups, Beth Dougherty, Stacy from Off Grid with Doug and Stacy, and Michelle Barringer spoke on day one. Day two brought us Heather Juda from Polyface, RuthAnn Zimmerman, Janet Garman and round two with Beth. We were also treated to demonstrations by Daniel Salatin and Polyface apprentices. They showed us how to sort and move cattle using low stress methods, how to chop wood and how to install electric fencing.The wealth of knowlege and years of know how were evident in their deliveries. And while each speech was different, they all had similar messages.

Anyone can live this life if they choose to do so. No, it will not always be easy and sometimes you just need to try harder. When you believe you can do something you are already half way there. But you also need to recognize when it is time to take a break, to step back and let others help. And it’s ok that they might not do things the way you would, and sometimes they’ll do it better. I know that our kids will not load the dishwasher how I do, or put away clothes and towels they way I do, and thats ok! They are learning and getting the job done.

We learned about the importance of getting sunlight in the morning, feeling the sun on your skin and of course, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, praying and meditating. All of these things seem so simple, yet many of us neglect them and are often left wondering why we feel the way we do. There are days where I feel like my brain is bogged down, I feel sluggish and just tired overall. Then I realize, I have not had any water all day. What a simple thing that affects our daily life and yet we lose track of it!

Sunrise over Polyface

An important part of homesteading, and any other lifestyle, is failure. Without it we would never learn and grow from our mistakes. Failure is normal and as long as we learn and persevere, stay determined and harvest the lessons, we can still show up with grit and authenticity. If we surround ourselves with inspiration and those who openly share their failures, maybe we won’t feel so bad when our seeds dont germinate, or when jars break in the canner, or when we kill our sourdough starter. Learn from it and keep moving forward. Always forward! Partner with your land and pay attention to it. It will show you everything it has and everything it needs. What is growing here? What eats that? How can I use this to benefit my homestead? Everything that is growing on your land has volunteered to do so and in that, already knows how to handle any condition. Do not fight nature, make her your ally. Reverance is the basis of good farming. Keep things in balance, listen and be patient. And as Beth’s husband Shawn would say, “Farm with reckless abandon!”

We are all human, and in being so sometimes it is hard to avoid comparison. Looking at what someone else has as compared to what we have or where we are in our journey is natural. While I think it is normal, it’s also important to realize that all of us are experiencing different seasons of our lives. Some have a lifetime of experience under their belts while others are on day one. Some were called to their lifestyle while others chose to be in it. Some grew up on a farm while others grew up in the city having no knowledge where their food actually comes from. Some started at a young age while others started older. No matter where you came from, you belong here. You deserve a spot at the table.

Everyone’s classroom will look different depending on their season. Your journey will not look the same as mine and that is perfectly ok. We each have something unique to bring to the table, our own special gifts or talents, the things that make us who we are. Over the weekend, we were encouraged to stay inspired and make the journey our own. To fall back on words of gratitude when things go wrong. To be thankful for all the seasons of our lives. Sometimes there are way too many opinions out there, on everything! Try not to over think things and rely on your primal instinct. Follow your gut, or the way grandma taught you.

Daniel and crew did an amazing job of keeping us well fed!

I soon found myself thinking that sometimes comfort zones are there to be stepped out of, kind of like me writing this week’s blog post and not my very talented husband! And even if I did show up and make it awkward, at least I showed up and learned something new. It did not take me long to realize that I was not an imposter because I didn’t go to church. That I have not always been a believer. That I didn’t pray the same way others do and that my time with God was spent on a hiking trail or while pruning my tomatoes. My spot on the hay bales in that high tunnel, the seat at the picnic table, my place on that farm was reserved just for me. And reserved for all the women who joined together on that glorious weekend. It was a gathering of a tribe and it mattered not where we all came from. Daniel Salatin did not ask if I believed in God or how I prayed before he served me farm fresh eggs and sausage for breakfast. He smiled, put delicious food on my plate and thanked me for being there.

Thank you for being here!

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