Enjoy this story of a lifelong homesteader’s journey to bring old-world rural skills to the new world.

Farm and rural life have always been something I was completely in love with. Growing up in a very rural setting in beautiful Bavaria, Germany, farm and homestead living was at the core of our everyday life. Except, we did not call it homesteading. It was simply the way we all lived and grew up. I did not know this as a child, but I know it now: this is a life worth living, a journey worth traveling, and a dream worth sharing.

Granted, growing up in a tiny village of under one hundred people with around fifteen multi-generational family dwellings–the majority being working farms–I did not know much else except for farm living. We had two inns with beer gardens, which doubled as working farms, a firehouse, a church, and a carpentry shop. Our family home, also multi-generational, was one of only a few not attached to a working farm. I grew up around dairy and pig farm kids. Everyone grew food and goods themselves, and what we did not grow, we bartered for in goods, work, and time exchanges.

Learning Old World Rural Skills as a Child

Growing up with my grandparents in the same house, we grew the majority of our food. We had a sufficient garden producing annuals like cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, radishes, carrots, and lots of leafy greens. We had an herbal garden for all our cooking herbs. We had some fruit trees and shrubs. We raised rabbits, goats, ducks, geese, and the occasional pig. There was always livestock around, and I remember, throughout my childhood, always having a harvested duck, goose, or rabbit skinned and hanging by the processing station. All this, on less than half an acre. For firewood, we took part in a local wood share program, where we would go out once a year to cut trees and split enough wood for the winter. It seems like, as kids, we were always pulling weeds, stacking wood, harvesting, cleaning, and preparing food. We were the lucky ones. We learned old skills, like foraging and food preservation by simply being part of it in our everyday lives. 

Garden space

My uncle had his own homestead and was raising goats, ducks, and a huge garden. He also had horses, just for the fun of it. Each year we would spend a few weeks of our summer there to help and have some summer fun. He was the one with multiple large apple trees. Come fall, all of us, including all the cousins, would be at his place harvesting hundreds of pounds of fresh apples. We then turned them into juice, cider, sauce, jam, wine, and baked goods. We never wanted for anything as kids and had no concept of how our parents and grandparents kept us fed. It was simply life and a really good one at that.

With grandparents who lived through World War II and the years that followed, we were taught lessons on growing our own food, food storage, preserving, and foraging. We spent so much time in the forests and on neighboring farms harvesting–and then preserving good, nutritious food. We learned about what is edible and what is not. We learned to tell native plants apart by bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit. This was also extended into school. We had a subject called Heimat & Sachkunde, which roughly translates to “homeland and things” which was part of our science and history curricula. Both boys and girls learned about the wild things around us, our history (the good and the bad), how to tell plants apart, home economics and cooking, as well as basic skills like sewing, knitting, basic woodworking, and more. We learned how to respect nature, and how to work with it. We learned about when wild foods were ready to forage in the local forests, and where the wild berry patches were. 

Wooded area with stumps and a tree stand

Farm Chores and Nature Exploration

Being in the woods was one of my favorite things in the world. As the oldest of three, I had the responsibilities that come with being the firstborn. The woods were my escape. If I was not in our shared bedroom reading or doing schoolwork, I could be found in the woods. The village we grew up in was between two nature reserves, so biking and hiking paths were aplenty. Many times, I would pack a book and a snack then walk to my favorite reading place, a deer blind, about one kilometer from our house. It was overlooking a meadow and pond right outside the forest. It was nothing but fresh air, wildlife, my book, and me. Absolutely glorious! Nothing is more beautiful than sitting, listening to the sounds, and engulfing yourself in the glory of nature.

Though we did not have an operating farm, our family was very much part of the local community. Certain things that we did not raise ourselves we were able to source from our neighbors. I remember walking with my little sister to a neighbor’s farm once a week to pick up a large basket of fresh eggs. This usually meant around three dozen farm-fresh eggs weekly. We would walk to our neighbor’s small family farm and spend time with our elderly neighbor, eating candy and drinking milk or lemonade, while his wife went and collected eggs for us to take home. My grandmother knitted wool socks for them each year in exchange. 

Of course, we did not know any better and did not think about what this errand and chore entailed. We knew it was our chore and we knew we would get a treat out of our egg pick-up run. Now, looking back, it was beautiful being able to spend quality time with the elderly, listening to their stories. As kids, we were at home everywhere, in every house, on every farm, in every barn. No one locked their doors, we were welcome in every home, we were fed in every home, and we were put to work in every home as well. There were never idle hands. Every kid was everyone’s child, it truly took a village, in the truest sense, to raise this wild bunch.

Kids in a field with cows. Mountains in the background | old world rural skills

Dreaming of the New World

Though I grew up in rural Germany, I always had big dreams of moving away into the big wide world, working some big career. My childhood was spent in the pristine forests of the Upper Palatinate in Bavaria. We’re a very proud people, with lots of traditions and festivals year-round, many of them centered around rural and agrarian life, as well as the Roman-Catholic church calendar. Community and living life to its fullest was a huge part of how we were raised and grew up. 

I lost my way when I grew up. Not in a bad way. But in an “I forgot who I was” kind of way. My husband of almost twenty years, who was completely unfamiliar with farming or homesteading, is the one who brought me back to me. 

Up close image of flowers and clover

I walked away from this life in my early twenties. As a military family, our nomadic lifestyle did not allow for roots or settling down for long. Through my original move from Germany to the United States, I had to acclimate to more than I had ever imagined. 

Going from rural life with walking and biking to the majority of places, the adjustment to an urban life requiring a valid license and automobile, was quite the culture shock. It was tough to adapt to canned and frozen food items versus fresh ingredients. I wondered why canned and processed foods are so much cheaper than whole foods. It is harder to stretch a paycheck with fresh ingredients, but we live, we learn, and we adjust. And so, we did. And then we moved again, and again…and again. And then we started a family and moved…again. From Germany to North Carolina, to Florida, to Georgia, to Florida, from urban to rural. Then finally, we bought our dream house on one and a half acres–a dream come true! This was to be our forever home! But it was not meant to be.

Living in the Middle East

Another move, this time overseas to the Middle East, and our lives were turned upside down once more. Funnily enough, we had more access to fresh foods in the Middle East than we ever did in the US. The way we fed our family changed for the better. We had an abundance of family time. We ate more fresh and organic food. We were healthier and happier. Homesteading or growing our own food was not anything that crossed our mind, that is until my husband was hurt and ordered to remain stationary for weeks due to his back injury. 

His prior military service in the 82nd Airborne did not age well, with back and shoulder issues bothering him. After two weeks on the couch and down an online video rabbit hole, he emerged with a homesteading dream. A dream of building a family farm to raise our own food. He wanted a garden, livestock, and lots of land. He was sold. I did not need to be convinced. Our dream was born. From this day forward, we worked on a plan to realize this dream.

Bringing Old World Rural Skills Back to the U.S.

We started looking for rural property and found our fit in the summer of 2018 in the Florida panhandle. The property we wanted was extremely rural, at least thirty minutes from any conveniences, except for a gas station. We were still living and working in the Middle East when we found the property and ended up making an offer, site unseen. We were able to close on it at the end of 2018, however, we were not quite ready to move back to the US just yet. We had a lot of things to wrap up beforehand.

Our dream started in 2017. In March 2020, we finally moved back to Florida and onto our property, which, at this point, was only a house with a quarter acre of cleared land around the premises, with everything else being thick Florida forest and underbrush. 

It was now time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We had arrived! Now the journey begins to build a legacy and teach our kids how to live in partnership with nature and livestock, build a self-sustainable life, and appreciate the old skills. 

About the Author

Nicole immigrated to the United States in 2004. Raised in rural Germany, she grew up learning the old ways. Now living in rural Florida, her family raises the majority of their food and teaches old skills such as gardening, livestock care, foraging, and herbalism to their kids and community. 

http://www.hiddenoakshomestead.com

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Old World Rural Skills in a New World