The “Dirty” Word…

no, it’s not what you’re thinking…get your mind out of the gutter.  The word is Sustainability.  The word has become anathema to many.  Too “academic”, too “nerdy”, or goddess-forbid, too “leftist.”


I wrote a blog post back in January 2014 (see below) that talked about why we relocated to North Country, which included my thoughts on the dreaded word. 

January 24, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what brought us to the “Farm.”  Perhaps it’s the arctic temperatures (-27 the other morning, and no, that’s not a typo) and the cold reality of caring for livestock during a somewhat harsh winter that has me thinking.  Nora and I have both had moments over the past couple of months where one of has looked at the other and said “remind me why we moved here again?”  Nora vocalized this very thing several posts ago, and then responded with reminders of why we chose to relocate to this physically wondrous environment.  And although I agree that the space (where else in the northeast could we live affordably on 135 acres?) was an important part of our decision, as was the natural beauty and abundant wildlife, the notion of sustainability was also a primary motivator of “the move” (not in a crazy “world destruction is around the corner” kind of way, but in a more educated, “the world is cruising through finite resources as if, well as if they weren’t really finite, and what happens when we run out of…” kind of way).

As is my habit in January, I’ve been taking stock of what we accomplished this past year and comparing it against the list of goals I set for myself in January 2013.  I’ve also been assessing how far along the sustainability path we have traveled.  Compared against the many modern homesteading books and blogs that I read, I often feel like an utter failure.  Unlike many of these folks, we do not supply 80%+ of our food (meat, vegetables and grains) from our property, nor can I feed my farm animals from what I grow on this property (we do not grow grains, nor do we grow and harvest hay).  We still use oil to supplement our heat supply and we provide none of our own electricity.  I haven’t even progressed to using a clothes line in the spring and summer months, rather than a dryer year round.  Need I repeat — utter failure as a homesteader.

Nonetheless, I do believe we made the right decision when we moved here.  I also believe we have made decent progress in building a homestead for ourselves.  Actually, when you consider we were two professional women, one of whom never set foot in rural America and the other who fled from that life almost 30 years prior, we’ve done spectacularly well.  And to make myself feel better, I made a list of the things we accomplished just over this past year:

  • created 3 new perennial beds and expanded another
  • planted over 200 new perennials, berry bushes and trees
  • fenced and tilled new vegetable garden area (roughly a 52’ x 52’ area); grew 40+ varieties of  vegetables and herbs
  • tilled new pumpkin patch and strawberry patch that will be planted in spring
  • installed sheep fencing & gates and had barn built; added 3 adorable Southdown (Babydoll) sheep
  • painted wood shed; weatherproofed all stoops and porches
  • canned tomatoes, pickles jams, jellies, apple sauce; blanched and froze beans, edamame, squash, kale
  • continue to bake all of our bread weekly; tried many new recipes of all types
  • successfully started many perennials inside and transplanted – chamomile, sweet rocket, agastache, black-eyed Susan’s to cut down on my gardening costs

Almost all of the homesteading books I have read warn anyone undertaking this change in lifestyle to “go slow” and make only a couple of changes per year.  It really does become overwhelming very quickly when you try to incorporate everything at once – growing and preparing healthier, organic foods (which can include everything from meat, vegetables, fruit/berries, grains, and making your own cream, butter, yogurt and cheese if you have goats and/or a dairy cow); canning and preserving your own food; raising and caring for livestock; becoming more energy efficient and in many cases, moving off-grid altogether; and learning to do many things in a more traditional and frugal manner (fixing rather than replacing things, sewing and knitting your own clothes, spinning and dyeing your own wool, using person- or animal-powered tools rather than electric/gas-powered tools, etc.).  We haven’t incorporated even a fraction of that and we still have moments, usually in late July or August, when we are feeling exhausted from the constant gardening, food preserving, and simply maintaining the property, when we question whether we’ve taken on too much.

But it’s in those moments of despair and exhaustion when we need to remember why we chose this path. Not simply because we wanted space and an attractive backdrop, but because we wanted to live more sustainably.  Now admittedly, sustainability is a tricky word.  If you asked 10 people to define it, I bet you’d receive 10 differing definitions.  I also think that my definition of sustainability has morphed over the past couple of years.  What it has come to mean to me is a life that is more in balance with the natural world than not.

…we will continue to make small changes that move us, albeit slowly, in the direction of balance.  We will continue to grow some of our own food (vegetables, herbs, fruit and berries), and preserve and store what we can for winter use.  We try to eat seasonally and locally as much as possible (i.e., staying away from foods that had to be transported 1000 miles or more).  We will continue to keep hens for eggs and sheep for fiber.  At some stage (not this year; I’ve sworn off making any significant changes this year), I may even add goats for milk, cheese, etc…


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