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A Heritage to Farm, Part 3 of 3

By Tom Reese III

[Find more from this series by starting at the first blog HERE.]

Our living room is dark, a movie is paused on the TV providing a shallow glow in the corner by the couch.  For the past two days, we debated on spending a significant amount of money for a flight to a promising job fair back on the East Coast at the end of the week.  Alas, another full day of anxiously waiting to hear back from job recruiters has proven fruitless. Disappointment prompts me to close my eyes, clench my teeth, and utter an unembellished prayer asking for help.

“Lord, if you don’t want me to go to this job fair then I need to know.  Like…now, even now.”

The next five minutes, including the first seconds immediately proceeding “Amen”, consisted of two not-so-random circumstances where [I believe] the Lord directly answered this frustrated and specific prayer.  The infant monitor, affixed to the crib watching over a sleeping and still baby, unexplainably fell to the floor, and a random email from a computer programming center I researched years ago was sent to my inbox at 21:53 Central Time. Megan, at the same time all these instances were occuring, was in the shower and praying a very similar prayer (unbeknownst to me) for clarity and direction right now.  Just a few minutes later, the path became clear, the application was sent, and my steps were directed straightforward. The look of shock and near-disbelief when I told her what was planned next quickly became a visage of humbled tears, emitting both joy and relief.

Everything had built up to this moment of change, this opportunity to take the next leap of faith, planting my shovel deep into the dirt and believing this is where God had carefully guided our steps. A weight lifted off of my back, excitement rushed in, and we shared a giant embrace celebrating the moment.

Chicken coop

A day or so after this personal revelation we found ourselves helping build a small chicken house for our family in Oklahoma.  Megan’s father, the jack-of-all-trades, was the natural foreman for the project. Megan’s sister had a little bit of land to work with, and her desire of owning chickens marked a great excuse for us all to come together and argue about how we should proceed with building the coop. This project would eventually change about fifteen times, and the seasoned father effortlessly would change the design to fit the needs of the moment (all while looking in my direction and winking).  

In the front yard was a beautiful flowering quince, a large shrub with thousands of flowers needing pollination. Noonday arrived and hundreds upon hundreds of honeybees were seen circling its pink blossoms looking to load up on the yellow spoil and take it back to their hive.

Bee in Flight

A beautiful sight, a wonderful sound, a promise of local honey to pour later in the summer. Our baby girl spent time with her young cousin and met two of the tiny chicks which would eventually make the coop their home. She would reach out grasping for the tender bird and her loving cousin would gently turn away to avoid a chicken catastrophe. I’m unsure of the poultry equivalent of veal, but we weren’t ready to dive into that particular cuisine delicacy.

How do-you-do?

Late afternoon approached, and the chicken coop started to take shape.  The day’s work was done. We said our farewells and took the long way back home: an old highway passing through ranch land; however, not just any ranch land, big ranch land. The comforting sights and smells of large fields being burnt for the upcoming season allowed for moments of quiet reflection.  We had just come through our own personal burn season, and now we were ready to start planting.

We know where the seed will go, we expect to watch the plant grow over the course of time.  We anticipate the day we can reap the crop, but sometimes we forget what happens after the yield: preserving the food, planning meals, cooking and consuming meals, and sharing the spoil with others.  The reality is we plant many seeds not knowing if all will come to harvest. Sometimes we see the buds sprouting, sometimes we are able to take the seedings to their permanent home out in the garden, and sometimes (hopefully) we have a bumper crop.  A garden is a stepping stone for these plants, not the end-game. The harvest isn’t the final step of the vintage, we want to enjoy what has taken weeks and months to produce. Our seed was planted in Virginia, we didn’t know where we’d go at first, but we did eventually find ourselves placed with moderate delicacy in the soil of Missouri.  For a couple months we struggled to see the light [seed], barely peeking out of the ground and not knowing what was going on in our lives [sprout]. Then, suddenly, one day our trajectory started to make sense [seedling]: weed out all the distractions, stop worrying about the job offer that never came, focus completely on the task at hand (my course work), and prepare to be transplanted in the coming months.

seedlings

Back at the farm, another day, dinner time.  Sitting outside enjoying a bowl of homemade spicy lo mein and watching the cars go by, a chorus of target practice suddenly erupts from the neighbors land: serenading us with the calming ambiance of gunfire and the obvious enthusiasm of one particular shooter who apparently valued speed over precision.  Our little girl just had a few spoonfuls of rice formula, a new experience for her and a very welcomed adventure. A door is heard closing on an old truck down by the bridge. A quick peek confirmed two boys heading under the bridge weren’t our neighbors. They silently slipped into their hiding spot with their red plastic cups, a bag of ice, and what they thought was going to be a quiet evening quickly turned on them as I approached their concealed position.  I don’t get these moments much, but I could feel the “get off my lawn” old man personna channeling through me quite vividly. Quick pleasantries are exchanged, the young country boys head back to their truck and disappear down the road. Back to the lo mein, now cold, and this grumpy personality switches back into lounge mode.

The sun is beginning to show days-end light.  Shadows slowly stretch over the wonderful array of evening color: rays of shimmering gold cascade over flora and fauna (if you include our dear cat, Ella).  Everything begins to wind down, time even takes its own time to grasp its hands, curl out its fingers, and give itself the good ole over-the-head stretch and groan.  What a night, what a land, what an experience. This isn’t our homestead, yet, and may never be; however, for now, it is ours to take care of, to maintain and improve.  Be mindful of those that have helped you along the way, tilling your ground or giving you pointers, those special nuggets of wisdom you can only hear when attentively listening.  We recognize our family that came before us in this house, on this property, that paved the way and allowed us to partake of their labor and enjoy the fruit of their land. We treasure our neighbors, a link to our heritage, who learned from that family how to care for the land and animals: and, in turn, are showing us the same kindness.  Generational farming. We listen and search for old wisdom even though Megan’s grandparents are gone now. Much like walking through the woods and looking for a babbling brook: ears open, eyes wide, soaking in the ambient sounds waiting for a song of gentle waters running downstream.

As the final sliver of sun disappears into the horizon, and a cool moon rises ahead, we made our way back into the old beige house.  The child is put to sleep, the dishes are ready to be washed, and the final load of laundry is finishing in the dryer. On the kitchen table lay a few pieces of mail, a Bible, hand-scratched notes for a list of errands to do tomorrow, and a laptop with tutorials loaded on the screen and ready to begin.  Megan turns on the coffee pot and heads into her hobby room to look at wood burning ideas for her beehive. Alone, facing my laptop and studying for the future, I hear the familiar buzzing hum of the outside garage light. Home. Hope.

late night in the driveway

[From the Author]

To those of you who have followed along the last three weeks, my goal was that you felt frustrated with allegories and vague details: those were purpose-built to mirror the feelings that have been going through my own heart and mind this past year. As the main story arced, the plot narrowed and led to a specific direction: hope.  Much like anyone on a farm or homestead, we hope for what we plant, or rear, to grow full and ripe in it’s own season. Writing out this series has helped deal with the raw emotions that can come from tough transitions, and I thank my wife, Megan, for the encouragement to put words down in black-and-white. Thank you homesteaders, you inspired this story. Fingers crossed we’ll have a great garden, honeybees, and some more tales to tell after this year. God bless you.


About the Blogger:

Hi, I’m Tom Reese—a reluctant addictive personality, where “close-enough” is the measure of perfection. My storage area is full of para-cord, disc golf memorabilia, ammo, not nearly enough 10mm sockets, fishing gear, hunting clothes that must’ve shrunk two sizes, and empty boxes full of future ambitions. I’m not quite mid-life, but it’s gaining on me. The best part of me is my wife, Megan, and our baby girl. What’s important to me? Christ. Family. Forgiveness. Cigars. Bourbon. Hot sauce.

Find more of Tom’s blog posts here.

Follow Tom here:

instagram.com/corkandash/

A Heritage to Farm | Part 2 of 3

By Tom Reese III
apricot blossoms

[Note: start from the beginning of this memoir series here.]

A woodpile sits just outside the back door, firewood soon to be rendered useless because Spring is on the horizon: birds are singing their songs, the creek is running pretty well after a few showers, and thunderstorms are on the forecast. The earth stretches and groans after a long winter season, sprouting up grass shoots and fast-blooming flowers. In the backyard, the apricot tree burst into blooms overnight.  Anyone within earshot of this home would’ve thought it was Christmas morning (or we were being robbed) at the squeal of Megan’s excitement. What had been a long, bitter season now had the promise of better days just ahead.

A call never came for a local ranch hand position I sincerely desired.  A text was sent to the manager thanking him for his time, and understanding that he went a different direction.  Not more than five minutes later that message was responded with a phone call validating my assumption. A flicker of a dream, working with cattle on a “real farm” with good people, was quietly hushed out.  Almost a full year had gone by without any real job, stress compounded on my end but included an incredible showering of support and love from a wife who believed in me every day. God was shutting doors: even mom and pop places, large big box stores, and everything in between.  The thoughts and feelings of unworthiness were deep and sinking further into despair.

I had been living in dead faith concerning this old land, my lack of action sparked Megan’s frustration and put hope into action in the form of a shovel.

I wanted a box garden.

Megan wanted a more natural garden look.

I wanted the garden to be raised.

She wanted to shovel the ground first, and then till.

We didn’t have a tiller.

We didn’t even own a shovel, so we borrowed three from a nearby uncle.

Megan won, the garden would mirror the way her grandmother planted crops decades prior.

After many hours of deliberation, and a few days of indecision on what type of garden we should start, Megan rolled up her sleeves and went outside to start digging.  What took my wife several hours, with toil and sweat, eventually became three times larger in her absence. You see, our neighbors had just returned from a vacation, they sauntered over to see what was new and why there was a camera in our backyard.  After a few minutes they exclaimed they had a friend with a tiller we could use, but it would take a day or so to bring it over on our property (turns out it was a tractor tiller, massive size). We had to leave for the weekend, but when we came back our humble 12×12 garden plot became a nicely-sized 13×24 due to our gracious neighbors and friends.

Sometimes the Lord is just waiting for you to take that first step, so He will pour out incredible blessings when the leap is taken. Sometimes not even a leap, but a single step in the right direction, a shovelful of faith. Grace is bestowed on us when we don’t deserve it, it is a gift that requires no merit.

The garden

“To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret.” -William R. Newell

When you place your identify in your position in life, your job, or another person’s validation, you will end up broken. The lead for the ranch hand had come and gone, like the countless dozens of others before it.  God had other plans and my immediate job was to endure. Judgement can get clouded, despair can come and go, but an overwhelming sense of self-worth is derived from a man by doing his work. This is the struggle I was in the middle of: clinging to self-respect and confidence in a season where looking my family and friends in the eye was difficult.  Not that their opinions changed how I viewed myself, but rather how my own self-worth made it difficult to feel dignity in an outside world.

Looking outside, the scenery was changing from dreary to colorful.

The soil was broken and the garden had been tilled, now it was time to shift focus and start the next priority: hand making a beehive.

New, pre-built hives can be purchased for the same overall price, and days of time can be saved by not building multiple boxes by hand, but twenty years from now you can’t go back and buy those memories. Megan’s father is unique, the kind of guy that has one of everything but no particular skill or talent that would qualify him as an expert. He’s a pocket change kind of guy.  You know the type, the kind of man that comes home late after a full day’s work, clinging loose coins into a glass container after greeting the room and before conversation can begin.

Jack of all trades

The neighborhood where Megan was raised is changing. Where once there was nothing but open fields there are now three modern houses.  Houses that might as well be bright flashing neon signs planted next to a small neighborhood that hadn’t changed in a generation. Times are marching on, kids are growing up, and what was once a modest home with three acres is now a mini-mansion on a quarter-acre plot.  Fences, which used to keep in noisy dogs and keep out bothersome coyotes, are now a polite way of saying you won’t cross over your three feet of property to walk on their three feet of property. Amongst all those changes, across the street, a father/daughter duo pulled into the driveway with a trailer full of plywood and pine board.

Hours stacked on top of hours as these two kindred spirits figured out how to cut appropriate length boards, glue joints together, and slowly start assembling the new home for some future honey makers. A black marker left a permanent reminder of their accomplishment in an obscure part of the hive, and a couple of notes from me may have slid in there as well.  Perhaps the most curious use of materials for the build were the trim nails to fasten the metal sheeting to the top of the hive: these were nails saved by multiple generations past from a beloved great uncle’s workshop (Olis and his wife Ceola, nick-named Sugar), with an estimate of their age being one hundred years old.

100 year old trim nail fastens the metal topping

Two days later, the boxes were finished, the hive was assembled, and it was time to go home.  We took the short road home that night. The sky was dark, Eastern Oklahoma faded into Southwestern Missouri.  Pulling into the driveway you could hear the hum of a security light over the garage door, a steadfast reminder that the way isn’t completely dark, especially if you know where you are going.  Months of wrestling with job offers, recruiter communications, endless career searches, and getting nowhere all led up to a singular night when the fog lifted and our prayers were answered.

God responded in a very real and personal way. The decision was made.

When conditions are ideal, and the season is right, farmers will take to their fields and light them on fire.  The weather for a burn is rare, sometimes referred to as “Goldilocks” because it has to be just right: the wind must be the blowing, the ground can neither be too wet nor too dry, the plants have to be at the right stage of life, and you need support of those around you or else all efforts will be useless.  This is precisely where my life has been in this season.

The winds of change were blowing, but not too strong. Our finances were drying but not parched. Our little girl was not too little to move nor too old to care about the dramatic changes coming over the next few months. Megan, an incredible help-meet and the greatest cheerleader in my life, handed me the flapper. The fire was lit: time to burn off the old, and start something new. Looking squarely into my field, my life, the career choices I had made and the offers coming in, the timing was perfect.

Goldilocks.

Farmers burning their fields at night

About the Author:

Hi, I’m Tom Reese—a reluctant addictive personality, where “close-enough” is the measure of perfection. My storage area is full of para-cord, disc golf memorabilia, ammo, not nearly enough 10mm sockets, fishing gear, hunting clothes that must’ve shrunk two sizes, and empty boxes full of future ambitions. I’m not quite mid-life, but it’s gaining on me. The best part of me is my wife, Megan, and our baby girl. What’s important to me? Christ. Family. Forgiveness. Cigars. Bourbon. Hot sauce.

Find more of Tom’s blog posts here.

Follow Tom here:

instagram.com/corkandash/

Easy Ways to Protect Bees: Saving the World, One Bee at a Time

Easy Ways to Protect Bees

It doesn’t take much to save the world, one bee at a time! Here are some very simple tips you can do to protect bees on your homestead.

“Saving the world, one bee at a time!” That is what a lady told me as I got out of my car. She must have noticed my license plate as it stands for “Beekeeper”. I smiled and replied that it doesn’t take much! You see our lovely state of Virginia has a special ‘Protect the Pollinators’ license plate. This special (revenue-sharing) plate design gives $15 of the $25 purchase to VDOT that supports the Pollinator Habitat Program. Not only is the plate bee-utiful, it gives back! I mean who wouldn’t want a fancy license plate with flowers, butterflies, and bee!!

Easy Ways to Protect Bees

Bee-Lazy

In fact, there are many ways to protect bees and ensure that our insect friends have a fighting chance to carry on their legacy. It can be as simple as “letting your dandelions grow.” A common weed to most people is extremely important to our bees.

It is all about timing. In early spring when a bee colony begins their journey of the pollen hunt; dandelions tend to bloom (along with many other important sources) for our black and yellow fuzzy friends. If you decide to take a more proactive approach, then feel free to plant herbs for honey bees and bee/pollinator friendly plants. Something to consider is to plant a variety of plants that will bloom at different times throughout the spring and fall. Honey bees need to eat until they retreat to their hives for the winter. I found wonderful advice from my local nursery about blooming variety and timing. You can also look for wildflower seed packages for pollinators, the great thing about these is that they already have the correct combination of flowers that bloom from spring-fall!

Bee-gracious

Do you have a bird bath or even a shallow basin? Filling it with marbles and water is another simple way to help. Did you know that a single bee will drink its weight in water everyday? I once read that a large colony of 80,000 bees could drink up to 24 lbs. of water each day! You can even put bowls under your gutter drains to catch the rainwater and it hardly takes any effort!

Easy DIY: How to Build a Bee Waterer

Bee-aware

One of the easiest ways to help protect our pollinators is to be aware of pesticides and herbicides. Some of them are toxic to bees, and some aren’t. Many of them will leave a toxic residue for days or weeks. It is better to introduce good bugs to provide natural protection against pests, and to weed by hand. I am currently reading about the use of ladybugs in gardens to combat aphids!

Bee-persistent

My first year of beekeeping was successful as well as a pretty hard failure. I’m sure you may be wondering why I am saying it like this, but in reality my bees did their job—just not as long as I was hoping. Unfortunately, they didn’t survive the winter, but their legacy wasn’t in vain. They helped pollinate so many plants in their lifetime and for that, I am extremely thankful. You will hear so many “failure” stories, and people who have decided to hang up their veil and walk away from beekeeping. The main thing to remember is that even if they don’t survive…that doesn’t mean total failure! It took me a little while to accept this, but as I unzipped my suit, I knew that I had to continue.

For anyone who wants to get into beekeeping, find a class, join a club, and pick an awesome mentor.

Just remember that it doesn’t take much to protect bees and save the world, one bee at a time!


Homestead Honeybees

Keep reading for even more information that you may find useful as a beginner beekeeper!

Easy Ways to Protect Bees

How We Involve Our Kids in Homesteading

Homesteading can be a wonderful way to build connection and create memories with your children. So let’s talk about some ways you can involve your kids in homesteading!

Recently, I introduced my family to you and shared our homesteading story. If you read that, you already know that we are a family of ten. We have eight children ranging from a baby to teenagers. All of our children enjoy our homesteading lifestyle and working together as a family.

Many times, I am asked how we get our children excited about this homesteading lifestyle and how we get them to do farm chores without complaining. Well, most of the time without complaining, they are kids after all. The simple answer is that we set the example and educate them on why we live this way.

kids jumping on hay bales

How We Involve Our Kids in Homesteading

I’ve found many times in life, people just expect their children to do as they say without equipping them with the knowledge of why. I do believe children should be obedient to their parents but not out of fear, out of trust. We’ve made it a point to teach our children about the negative impacts of an unhealthy diet and unsustainable lifestyle or farming practices. They appreciate that and respond with a true desire to live life well.

Our children have learned to trust our judgment so that they don’t feel the need to question us or rebel against our wishes. This doesn’t mean that they don’t ask questions at all. They do, that’s how children (and adults) learn. We are very open and always available to answer their questions. They just know that if we ask something of them or give them instruction, they can trust that we have their best interest in mind.

We also do farm chores as a family as much as possible. When we can’t all work together, we at least have several family members teaming up. This helps the chores to be done quickly and efficiently. It also keeps the responsibilities spread out and no one gets weighed down with the majority of the work

The older children carry more responsibility than the younger children because they are more capable. The younger children are always eager to help and love to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings. As parents, we try to set the example of working with a good attitude and enjoying our chores and tasks as much as possible.

Much of this revolves around being focused on intentional living. Life moves by so quickly and it is easy to get lost in the negativities. We work hard to keep our heads up and dwell on the positive things in life.

Our homesteading encompasses feeding and caring for animals, gardening, cooking, canning, housework and chores, and any projects that we are working on. Our children are always involved in every process.

On weekends, Derek and I feed the animals together along with the kids. On weekdays, the oldest three kids feed in teams of two, alternating days. They usually have a younger helper or two with them. Some days, I help them, it just depends on what I have going on at the time.

Girl watering plants in garden

Our family loves to garden together. This is one of our favorite family activities and one of the best ways to involve kids in homesteading. From getting the garden prepared, planting seeds, weeding, and harvesting, everyone does their part. Sometimes, the littles do more digging and premature picking but that’s ok, they are learning through it all.

When we bring in all of our lovely garden harvests, we usually have some to preserve. Our children also help with this. There are beans to be snapped, vegetables to be cut up, brines to be made, and jars to be prepped. All of the kids can help with this at some level. Some of the kids believe their sole job is to be the taste tester of all the yummy things.

We divy out the inside chores and give each child a job. Mostly, they work in teams because things go faster and are more enjoyable when they have a helper. Many hands make light work is one of my favorite sayings. This helps to keep our household running.

When it comes to projects for our homestead, the children are involved on whatever level they can be. Sometimes they get to help build, other times they hold tools, and sometimes they just observe. At any rate, they are always learning something that will remain of value for the rest of their lives.

At the end of the day, our goal is to work together and spend quality time together. We all learn from each other as we go. One of the great things that homesteading has taught our family is to enjoy each and every moment that we spend together.

How to Get Kids Involved in Homesteading

A Heritage to Farm (part 1 of 3)

By Tom Reese III

[NOTE: This memoir blog post is one of a three part series by Tom Reese III. After a tumultuous two years of moving and career changes, Tom and Megan moved to Missouri in hopes of finding a quieter life.  Nothing is promised, but this land is sacred.  This three-part series sets the stage for what dreams may come, or what dreams could be changed. We hope you enjoy!]

January 19th, 2017. That’s the day that my life changed, the day the straw broke the camel’s back, the day which started a series of events that was precursed by a giant career change, followed by months of trying out a new job, and ultimately moving everything we had from the Washington DC metro to the middle of nowhere, Missouri. Lost in those details are the kicking and screaming, the “absolutely not” moments, the “it doesn’t make sense” late-night arguments, and the eventual breaking down and being content with wherever we were led next. After much prayer, some fasting, and lots of “wait and see”, we traded in 100k+ earning opportunities for living on a small family farm of about forty acres: dilapidated, old, with a matching drafty house, and zero job prospects. OK Lord, we heard you, we’re here, now what?

Reflecting back at the moments leading up to the decision to move halfway across the country to follow a new dream, each moment sparking a fire full of tinder and fuel just waiting to burn, there’s a realization that you must make a choice to move on and change your life. Standing around constantly wallowing in self-pity destroys your ambition, so if you don’t like where you are in life, then change your life. You know, YOLO and all that hipster speak.

Moving twice in the previous year is tough, even tougher when you are living off of the final drops of your emergency fund, paying cash for hospital bills for your newborn child, and the multiple thousands of dollars for hauling everything cross-country, obliterate your budget. There are many well-intentioned people out there, saying “have you tried this company” or “I heard they pay a good wage” or “there’s a guy who knows a guy where you can’t not [sic] get a job”, and those intentions pile up over time to create a muted response of “thank you” just to get through the dialogue.

So we arrived and surveyed the new land in all its glory.

An old beige house sits weathered in front the property. Technically the house is an addition of an addition, added on top of another addition, and then a garage attached to the middle addition. All the walls are thin, there’s concrete block and brick covering almost every outside wall, aluminum windows, screen doors now acting as interior doors due to the expansion of the house, and any hint of insulation can be summed up into one word: insufficient. There is a quaint backyard with a modest clothesline, some brickwork for a walking path and a rusted-out burn barrel under the old pecan tree. There used to be cattle in the field behind the backyard, but age and the weather have taken its toll and now there’s several fallen trees that need to be addressed before the field is animal-ready. This field, aptly called the “front field”, is where the red barn stands proud but weathered; indeed, like an old veteran who is well past his prime but his face can tell stories without him ever saying a word. Just to the side of the red barn is an old grain silo. Humorously, as the story is told, the older family members had wanted to convert the silo into a smoker, but this project was not added to our list as we didn’t want to use galvanized steel and potentially poison our beloved family.

The red barn houses the most Americana piece of the puzzle: the John Deere tractor. Not to mention some dusty old cars and tools, the likes of which probably hadn’t moved in two decades. Walking into the barn for the first time, alone, there was a sobering moment of nostalgia in the air: this was someone else’s life, someone else’s dreams, a patchwork of culminated hopes and ambitions. The air was heavy, still, and hushed. The former owners of this property had passed away, and not much had been touched except to move personal belongings into the barn for storage. Rotting boards, open tin roof sections mended by fiberglass panels, finger writing on dusty metal panels showcasing the name of someone loved by someone else, red paint precariously clinging to wood fibers, all of these unique characteristics took time and negligence to produce something of splendid beauty.

Going further, beyond the front field, is the next row of fencing that makes up the “middle field”: here is where a silver shed sits attached to a large lean-to. Erected as the main meeting point for all three fields, the unit is full of old tractor equipment, tangled messes of barbed wire, gates formerly used to partition each field, and the odds and ends of metal linkages and small animal cages. Best advice is to mind your step, groundhogs have made this area their home over the years, and any resemblance to a level dirt floor is now more closely associated to the gentle rolling hills of the shire. Snakes live here, and trace evidence of vermin and fowl as well.

The last field is met by a final fence row highlighted by a terminal gate leading you to its pasture. On the Eastern side of the field, concealed by mature trees and a barely noticeable man-made hill, is a small pond with a hand-built wooden dock. The dock has seen better days, as milky photos could prove, but there is still a surprising amount of fish still swimming in this quarter-acre pool. From this small mound you can survey the Northern-most boundary, turn around, and head back home. Sage advice says find another path home, like following the creek which borders the entire West edge of the property: a creek where you have to continuously chase off trespassers from fishing on your land without permission, and obvious deer stands sitting incredibly close to your property line and facing your direction. Nothing to see here, nothing to worry about.

We’re pretty poor right now (no income), and we are terrible at this (anything to do with farming), and there is zero agreement on how to approach each project (my function over her form). Our dreams are bigger than our budget, our hopes bigger than our dreams. We have no idea how long this season will last, or even if we will end up making this our forever home, or not. Our minds are full of projects; however, even with all the hopes of bees, and cattle, and sheep, and deer, and a woodshop, and a forge, and a completely revamped house, there is a noticeable murmur of acknowledgement in understanding this going to take quite some time to tackle each project and make these dreams a reality.

Then the reality hits home, at some point you need to start…something…anything. Megan and I would write down jargon and diagrams on notepads and graph paper, fantasizing about box gardens, ten-foot deer fences, wood equipment, and tools that were way beyond our budget at the moment. We watched hours upon hours of tutorials together, went to classes together, and ultimately decided to pursue two projects this Spring: making a beehive and preparing a garden plot. What happened next should be obvious at this point, we tossed and turned and had no collaboration as to how these projects would look, where the money was going to come from, or even what they should look like in the long run. Funding was found by some old bonds left from Megan’s dear grandmother (rest in peace), and the garden would have to be started by good ole fashioned sweat equity.

We have a shovel. We have a start.

All of these circumstances do not negate the absolute fun we’ve had here in this little town: precious memories that will last a lifetime, like deciding to walk outside when it’s -2 in nothing but briefs, or when an entire 500-gallon tank of propane was emptied in just over a month (I told you this house was drafty), playing board games with neighbors almost weekly, or being able to harvest firewood hewn from the very trees downed on the farm of your heritage. There is a roof over our head, there is food on the table, there is a neighbor next door with family tales only he could remember, there’s old tools to be oiled, work to be done, and a place to call home for now. In all of these circumstances, we count ourselves as rich.

The living room is no longer cold, a fire now burns in the late hours of the evening. Spring is just around the corner.


About the Blogger:

Hi, I’m Tom Reese—a reluctant addictive personality, where “close-enough” is the measure of perfection. My storage area is full of para-cord, disc golf memorabilia, ammo, not nearly enough 10mm sockets, fishing gear, hunting clothes that must’ve shrunk two sizes, and empty boxes full of future ambitions. I’m not quite mid-life, but it’s gaining on me. The best part of me is my wife, Megan, and our baby girl. What’s important to me? Christ. Family. Forgiveness. Cigars. Bourbon. Hot sauce.

Find more of Tom’s blog posts here.

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A Large Family Homesteading Story

I’m often asked why we choose to homestead. People seem to be fascinated with the idea of a small family farm. Well, a small family farm run by a large family of ten. There are so many reasons that we chose homesteading for our family. All of those reasons are anchored by our passion for this lifestyle.

Our homesteading journey began back in October of 2011. Neither Derek nor I had ever lived in a neighborhood before this time in our lives. We moved from the mountains of SW Virginia to a small town on the bay in NW Florida. As we approached the 6 month mark of living there, we began to desire living in the country again. The neighborhood life just wasn’t for us.

Neither of us had farmed before but I grew up with horses and Derek had been raised in the country gardening and preserving food. They also raised chickens from time to time when he was a child. This was the extent of our prior farm experiences.

I have always leaned towards a more natural approach to things in life, but our diet was far from healthy. We definitely weren’t eating a whole foods based diet. As I began to research and learn many things about our broken food and agriculture systems, the desire to do better and live a healthier lifestyle began to stir.

We made some immediate and drastic changes. By that, I mean we threw away almost everything in our kitchen and bought nothing but real food. This meant that we had to drive 2 hours to a store that carried “clean” food that wasn’t processed, ladened with chemicals and was not genetically modified. We also stopped by a farm on our way through to get fresh milk.

As the spring began to approach, we started a small garden in our backyard. This was so exciting! We began to see the fruits of our labor. We wanted to provide fresh, organic food for our family. Growing our own food was the best way to ensure this.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that our dream went far beyond what we could do in that backyard in a neighborhood. We wanted to move to some acreage where we could pasture raise livestock for meat and have our own milk cow. We wanted a large enough garden to provide our family’s produce for an entire year. We also missed home and the mountains.

In May of 2012, we packed up our home in Florida and moved back to Virginia with our (at the time) 5 children in tow. We moved in with my parents with plans to find our own homestead as soon as possible. They were more than happy to have us in their home and were glad for us to stay as long as we needed to. This ended up being much longer than we thought.

My parents had 3 ¼ acres that joined my cousin’s 25 acres. We were able to begin homesteading right where we were. It started with a large garden and a flock of laying hens. This quickly grew to include meat birds, pigs, a family milk cow, and eventually a few heifers for a beef herd.

We spent 4 years living there. We searched high and low for our own farm. We looked at dozens of properties over the years. There were many that we thought would work out but for one reason or another, none of them did. Mostly, banks don’t want to finance old homes on land. When the land out values the home, you just can’t get a loan.

Early in 2016, we started feeling stirred to return to Florida. Only, this time, we would be sure to have land so that we could continue to homestead. There’s way too much involved to go into the details of this here and now. In June of 2016, we made the move as a family of 9. We had to sell off all of our livestock and start over from scratch on a 2 ½ acre property.

We’ve been in Florida for almost 2 years and our farm here includes a garden, laying hens, milk goats, grass fed steers, pastured pigs, meat chickens, and bees. We’ve also added our 8th child while living here.

We don’t know what life holds for us long term, but we have some big dreams. Our goal is to have more land and raise pastured livestock to sell. We want to continue to raise as much of our own food as possible and to provide our community with that as well.

This is our story, how we began homesteading. It truly is our passion and the life we want our children to know and love. We want to leave them a legacy full of faith and hope. One that will show them that you can follow your dreams and succeed. Pursue your passions and flourish doing what you love with the people you love.

Follow Jenna’s large family homesteading journey on their YouTube channel!
A Large Family Homesteading Story

Why We Homestead | Desolate Homestead

There was a time when I used to burn rice. Boxed meals were my specialty, and I could eat garlic bread for lunch. Thanks to a good friend, 6 years ago, I learned about whole foods. I tasted home grown eggs from free-range chickens and it changed everything for me. They were so delicious! We started buying grass fed meat, and raw milk and our bodies started to crave the dense nutrition. We wanted our own chickens, but after getting busted twice by our HOA we realized that it wasn’t going to work where we were at. When we started seeing all the restriction and confinement of living in the suburbs we soon realized what we needed to do. The introduction to real food left us wanting to be more self sufficient.

About a year later, soon after our first baby was born, we started looking for a little land. It took a while, and in the mean time I learned how to cook and bake (my husband is forever thankful!). I found a love for changing recipes, and actually looked forward to creating my own dinner recipes every night. It still brings me so much happiness to nourish my family.  Raising our family closer to nature was becoming a priority for me, and homesteading started to be a regular word used in our house.

Dreams Come True

Our dream came true 2 years ago when we found our 3.5 acre property. It was covered in tumbleweeds, and trashed chain-link fencing, isn’t that what everyone dreams of? It was desolate, it was deserted, it was going to be so much work, but it was OURS, and we could have as many chickens as we wanted!

We now have more chickens than we can count (with poop all over the porch to prove it), and we will start to breed heritage chickens this Spring. Our flock of katahdin sheep, and our nubian dairy goat all just had their lambs/kids which more than doubled our sheep and goat count in under 2 weeks. Being in Arizona, our climate is one of our biggest enemies.  We do have irrigation rights, which helps immensely, and we are also working to implement pasture rotation to reclaim our soil. Our grass and soil has already changed dramatically over the last year of working on it.

Our next big focus is setting up our garden area and food forest. Our homegrown eggs, lamb, chickens, and goat milk have been wonderful, and soon we will have fresh fruits and vegetables too. We homestead to raise our own food. To raise our children to believe in something bigger than themselves. I have never worked so hard, and I have never felt so fulfilled as I do where we are now.

Planting a new tree is a family event, and it brings us all so much joy. We go on a family walk around the perimeter of our property every night, and we all stand around our ewes as they give birth guessing how many more she might have. We love this farm life!


Dani and her husband, Curtis, live in San Tan Valley, Arizona with their 3 kids. Dani writes about life on the farm, and shares her favorite farm to table recipes on her blog Desolate Homestead, and you can follow her on Facebook.


Want to share your homesteading story?

Send in your “Why We Homestead” story, and photographs, to thehomestead@homesteadersofamerica.com and in the subject line put “My Homestead Story”!

Why We Homestead | Fort Morgan Farms

It all began with a wink.  That’s how I met my husband…a wink.  I had no idea what I was getting into, but they say things happen for a reason and I believe that now more than ever.  Here is our story of Fort Morgan Farms.  

Tim was a police officer in the Atlanta area at the time I met him and I was a single mom working as a contractor for the Army in transportation.   Now, I may have lived in the city, but I loved to bow hunt, camp, hike and basically do anything outdoors.  It was pretty typical of my son, Nate, to ask me “What adventure’s next mom?”  Well, this worked out well for Tim’s courtship, as I fell right into his trap of luring me to the country life.  He enticed me with stories of his beautiful log cabin among 50 acres that he’d been working on for the past few years.  It was in the little town of Glenwood, West Virginia.  He told me of the beautiful hickory cabinets in the large kitchen—knowing perfectly well I loved to cook and bake—and of the Ash wood floors that he laid…..how peaceful it was to sit on the front porch overlooking the creek watching the sun disappear behind the mountains….and the solitude of not having a neighbor for miles.  

We continued on to have long conversations about chickens, goats and cows and rural life in general.  How fun it would be to romp around on 50 acres of our own!  After awhile, his plan of talking this city girl into moving to the country worked (without much arm twisting, I might add)….and off we went to West Virginia to start our homesteading adventure!  

For the next four years we developed our garden, built chicken coops, canned, hunted and played.  We learned so much those four years.  Hardships, struggles, the loss and giving of an animal’s life, and the rewards of hard work.  I had also decided to home school Nate, who was in the 7th grade, which was quite an adventure in itself.  In the evening, you could often find Tim and I spending our date nights in the kitchen, canning green beans or making jelly from the blackberries we picked that day (and we had all the scars to prove it!).  

And other times, were spent among the rocky hills exploring with Nate and finding all kinds of natural treasures, new trees to climb, and wildflowers!   Living way out in the hills wasn’t easy by any means, but we were happy and very proud of what we had accomplished.  A basement full of canned goods that we raised, processed and grew, a freezer full of hunting meat and blackberry pies….and all the long, hard hours that went into that, felt pretty good to see.  

Through those years and many trials and errors we perfected our raising and processing of the meat birds, we also learned how to raise and process rabbits and ducks and had just got our first set of bee hives.  We were so excited!!!!  But then, in an instant…everything changed.  We lost it…..we lost everything we’d worked for.  God must have had a bigger plan, I just didn’t realize it at the time.  

On April 4, 2015 our lives changed forever.  Normally, at the farm, we’d sleep in late, as Tim worked night shift and Nate and I homeschooled.  This particular morning, we had gotten up early and left for a race I’d entered.  It was a fundraiser for a church in Ohio.  On the way home from the race, we received a call from a neighbor that we normally never hear from.  He told us someone had burnt our home down and that there was nothing left.   

I can’t imagine how he felt having to make that kind of a call.  And how does one receive that news?  How can I possibly explain the emotions of that call?  How can I possibly explain the feeling of pulling up alongside the road and seeing nothing but the chimney standing two stories tall with nothing around it?  All our hard work, all our dreams….. I can’t fully explain…as the tears still trickle….I have no words.  

We pulled up to see fire fighters, police and neighbors just standing there….watching the smoke…..there was nothing left to save.  We found out, that while we were gone that morning, a local drug addict broke into our home, stole our belongings and then went through the house with a kerosene can and set it on fire.  Our kitty Rocky was in that fire.

Everything we had was gone.  All of Tim’s family treasures which covered generations, years of hard work…plans…dreams…..gone in an instant.  

This by itself is a long story and I could go into detail about the emotional months and year to come.  However, I choose today, two years later to tell the story of why.  Why God had a bigger plan and why I choose to see the reasons of good in it.  See, while I was running in the race for the church that morning, I remember a specific part of the trail I was on.  I could still picture it perfectly in my head today.  Now, let me tell you I’m not a runner.  Never have been fast and I always struggled.  But that day, during that specific time, I remember singing as I was running “God is with me, God is with me”…and my body felt lighter than air at that moment.  I didn’t know it, but my home was burning down at this time.  A week later, I got a medal in the mail for finishing first in my age group.  

It was now a month after the fire and we were still living on the farm in small camper we had bought since we had animals and barns to take care of and guard from looters.  Now, Rocky was the kitty we lost in that fire.  She was six months old at the time.  Gray with a half tail…she was the cutest thing.  Rocky and I would love to take naps by the warm wood stove during the cold months and she was with me always.   I was totally devastated over her loss.  So anyway, one mid-morning, we were getting ready to leave for the store and I stepped outside the camper we were staying in and I heard the faintest of “meows”.  I thought it was a bird, because they have one in West Virginia that sounds like a cat.  I stood there and listened…..and then I asked my son if he heard it….and Tim…and all of a  sudden, out of the middle of nowhere (and I mean the middle of nowhere because that’s where we lived), came this 4 week old kitten…scared to death and all wet.  He was gray and white just like Rocky….. Then we noticed his tail.  He had a kink in the same exact spot as Rocky did.  Shivers I tell you…..this gave us shivers.  Even Tim thought it very weird, and if you knew Tim, that’s a rarity.  

That forest kitty is now our Miracle Kitty, as I think God sent us our Rocky back exactly one month after the fire.  Its things like this that kept happening the next year or so, just weird things, but with a feeling that God was guiding us.  He saved my family that day of the fire you know.  We all would have been sleeping that early morning you see.    

The next few months we went back and forth about rebuilding or moving.  After many deep conversations, concerns and questions on should we start over somewhere else with land, should we rebuild as this is our home place……well, we decided to move and go a completely different route.   We just weren’t ready to have a homestead again and at this time, really didn’t think we would ever have one again.  But in this move, like everything else, God knew what he was doing….I just didn’t know it at the time.

So here we go……With two bee hives, a few ducks, a dog and a kitten, we packed up what we had in WV, got on the road and headed to our new home…. in Southport, NC.  It was a beach town, very quiet, and ten minutes from the ocean.  This new house was only on one acre……we had neighbors…..and stores….and traffic…..it was quite the change of pace, going from  farm to beach.  But it was a nice little town, and we now look back at the year we spent there and realize it was our healing place.  God gave us that place, with just enough land to grow …..to slowly start a little garden, to get back a bit at a time of self-sustainability and the like.  During this year in NC we built a little coop for the ducks (which we snuck into this subdivision), got our bees set up and built a bunch of raised beds.

It was nice and we enjoyed it.  

But after a year there, we started missing the woods again.  

You know, just to hunt and romp around.  So Tim started looking for land close by that we could go use on the weekends.  He looked and looked for months and months and just couldn’t find anything nearby.  Well, for some reason, and unbeknownst to him, a little spot of land for sale kept popping up on his side screen of his computer….like an ad of sorts.  It was in Arkansas.  Arkansas, people!  We never heard anything about Arkansas, never thought about Arkansas.  To be honest I thought Arkansas had tumble weeds and was all brown!  I knew nothing about this state but it kept popping up.  So, Tim looked at it.  It just so happened that this plot of land for sale, was perfect!  It had everything Tim was looking for.  After about a month of watching this ad and both of us saying, “We can’t possibly move to Arkansas”, I decided to go check it out.  Now, I’ll admit, it was a trip to mostly to rule Arkansas out and get it off our minds so we could move on to something else.  So I packed up my dog and drove the 16 hours there to check out this little piece of land.  During the drive, between french fries shared with Ruby my German Shepherd, I kept repeating…”bless it or block it God”…..and He did.  From there, things just kept falling into place….weird things.  And when I was headed back to NC, I repeated the same prayer.

 The next day after I told Tim about what I saw, showed him some pictures of the land and little town nearby and the big beautiful lake….he asked me what I thought.  I told him, “We should do it”, and with such confidence I think I scared him.  He said, “Just like that, because you have a feeling we are supposed to go there?”…and I said “YUP, just like that.”  So without telling anyone…..we sold our healing home in Southport and moved to our new homestead….in Arkansas!  It’s craziness I tell you!  

But, we were ready.  So once again, with a convoy of ducks, bees, dogs and cats we were on the road.

It was quite hysterical to see this convoy move through the big cities in rush hour traffic. People would wave, stare and honk in support.  It was quite a site!  

So there we were….. in Arkansas, on 30 acres, living in a camper once again and hoping we made the right decision…..and then I saw it….the sign I needed.  As I stepped outside in the early morning with coffee in hand before anyone else was up…..there was a cross.  

It was the top of a young cedar tree standing tall on its own in the front of the woods.  It was the perfect shape of a cross.  And it was at that point, I knew we were home.  I knew everything had happened for a reason and we were where we were supposed to be.  

Currently, we are building our small 1000 sq ft. farm house on this wonderful rocky 30 acres of property in Arkansas.

We’ve already built the rabbit hutches, bought a chicken coop from an elderly couple, have our chickens on order, Bakers seeds waiting to be planted, a garden cut out, the two bee hives are set up and a greenhouse is in the building stages.  

We also have a plan where Nate will be in charge of our first aquaponics system as well, which will be part of his homeschooling assignments. People have told us, “grass won’t grow under your feet” as we’ve only been in Arkansas seven months now.  They’ve also said we’ve had such strength, courage, and determination through this whole process.  But it’s really the people that we have met on this journey, and the listening to God, that has and does keep us going forward with such a positive outlook.  

It’s been amazing! I guess at this point, we’re just ready to homestead once again….to see chickens run across the yard and to shell beans on the front porch overlooking the most beautiful sky I’ve ever seen.  Yup…..we’re excited for homestead adventure to continue!!! Isn’t that what homesteading is all about….the journey?  Well, this is our journey……and we are forever grateful.

Happy Homesteading,
Fort Morgan Farms


Want to share your homesteading story?

Send in your “Why We Homestead” story, and photographs, to thehomestead@homesteadersofamerica.com and in the subject line put “My Homestead Story”!

Why We Homestead | Bumble Bee Junction

Bumble Bee Junction came about in 1996 from two conflicting factors—the fixed incomes of two disabled Veterans, and four children to feed.  Thankfully, we were able to draw on previous skills and experiences such as cooking, canning, crochet, hunting, fishing, trapping, building, to pull us through.

Our main focus in the beginning, as it remains today, is gardening.  No fancy methods or elaborate setups.  We work the standpoint that well developed soil produces quality yields from healthy plants.  We have since moved our homesteading efforts from NC to eastern TN, taking with us the positive experiences from our early days, and allowing us the benefit of also knowing what we might do differently. Now, 21 years down the road, we’ve incorporated a Rouen duck flock we’ve maintained through several generations, we are developing a breed of chickens suitable for our demands, and we are growing our Bob White quail breeding program.   We have never forgotten where we began though—in the garden, sowing seeds, and pulling weeds.  And though our children are grown and enjoying their lives, we still maintain four gardens, 16 raised beds, a 50+ tree orchard, grape and kiwi arbors, and a host of permaculture plantings on our 7.25 acre homestead.

That said, we are still newcomers to the homesteading community.  We’ve spent the last 7 or 8 years helping new gardeners, both local and online, through our Facebook page:  Bumble Bee Junction.  We did not discover the “Homesteading Community” though until we began using YouTube recently to make simple slideshow videos of our adventures to post on our Facebook page several months ago.  We love interacting with other homesteaders through YouTube and  have a small simple channel, but we are a far cry from “content creators” ourselves.  We are very happy to devote our time to our homestead, and make ourselves available to anyone needing help or advice with theirs.

If we can be of any assistance to others, our skill sets include:  Gardening (container, raised bed, and flat ground), Soil Development, Cooking, Canning, Dehydrating, Food Storage, Chickens (including breed development / genetics), Rouen Ducks, Bob White Quail, Crotchet, Crafting, Essential Oils, Natural Herbs and Remedies, Sewing, Camping, Hunting, Fishing, and Construction.  It is best to reach us through our Facebook page:  Bumble Bee Junction.  But if you look hard enough, you may stumble across us drifting around YouTube, meeting new folks and making new friends as we explore the “Homesteading Community” we were largely unaware existed until recently.

Thank you for doing this for others.  We love the idea.  It is so weird to feel like such “noobs” on YouTube when we’ve been homesteading for so long – having raised 4 kids to adulthood from our gardens…

Mark and Tina Bracy
Bumble Bee Junction
Facebook
YouTube

Watch Bumble Bee Junction’s YouTube Intro Video Below —

Want to share your homesteading story?

Send in your “Why We Homestead” story, and photographs, to thehomestead@homesteadersofamerica.com and in the subject line put “My Homestead Story”!

Why We Homestead | 7 Tree Farm

So I was laying in bed this morning, listening to the increasingly indignant squawking coming from the barn, and I had a thought. I should really get up and let the chickens out was my thought. But I ignored that thought, as I immediately had another thought. That pregnancy book ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ really didn’t prepare me in any way for what to expect, really…

This was swiftly followed by yet another thought (This is all pre-caffeination, too, just so you know so you can appreciate this fully.) I thought, Reading all those books, blogs, and articles didn’t prepare me for what to expect as a homesteader, either. At this point, I teared up a little because it was pretty early in the morning, and I was super impressed with my own coherence of thought.

About the time I was brushing the pride tears off my cheeks, both the quail and the chicken flocks got a lot louder, so I had to get out of my warm, snuggly, cozy, comfortable, not frozen or snowed on bed and deal with morning chores.

And most mornings, I really, really do NOT want to deal with morning chores.

And this, my friends, is what I’m talking about. No amount of research (which is something I do in spades before starting any new undertaking), is ever fully going to prepare you.

For most anything.

I read everything I could get my hands on about raising chickens, but there are so many things that have caught me off guard. Silly, little, obvious things. It’s one thing to know that they need to be fed every day, but the fact that my life now revolves around getting out of bed in rain, hail, or tornados was a bit of a shock to my system.

Yeah, yeah, I knew adding animals to the farm was adding a lot of responsibility. And I really thought I did know.

But to read about it, to see photos, or watch a video doesn’t give you the visceral knowledge of a thing.

There is a deep, internal drive begins to settle into your bones when you choose this life. It’s hard to prepare for it, and it’s not something you can just read about and then get.

Like pretty much anything in life, you have to experience it to really get it. You have to roll out of bed earlier than you want, layer up against the cold that will steal your breath, and go out and freeze your fingers off smashing through the ice in the watering pails.

That is what gives you a bone-deep knowledge. The doing.

There’s a lot of doing on a homestead. Putting a favorite chicken out of its misery when it has a broken leg and no chance of recovery. Digging deep into the dirt when you need to get it turned for planting, even though your body is crying for a rest. Scrubbing crap off the floor of your kitchen because someone tracked it in on their boots. Again. Checking the taste of the jam, the kombucha, the bread you just made, and realizing that no one else has ever had this exact flavor on their tongue, only you. Tasting the richness of a ‘still warm when you picked it up a few minutes ago’ egg. Relishing the gentle sweet crunch of a carrot not found in any store, a carrot with a little bit of dirt still clinging to it. Savoring the knowledge that while there is always still more to do, you have done things that matter, and your animals are well. And in some ways, you are well, too.

Tracey and a chicken egg!

Like most things in life that we have no direct connection with, our family had a romanticized notion of what it meant to farm, to homestead. When we viewed these things through the filter of the TV or in the photos we see on Facebook feeds or blogs, we missed out on having the visceral knowledge of it. Everything has a price.

We’ve chosen this in order to teach our kids, and ourselves, that everything has a cost. The food we eat must be worked for; someone planted and grew that rice, those burgers were once a doe-eyed calf, those carrots were pulled out of the ground by someone’s hands or by a machine someone drove. I want them to understand how interconnected everything is.

But I also want them to know that the knowledge we need to survive, to thrive, and to grow comes from the doing.


Tracey Delamarter and her family own 7 Tree Farm in the Pacific Northwest, where they raise chickens, quail, rabbits, and grow organic fruits and vegetables. Follow their homesteading journey on their Facebook page and website.

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Want to share your homesteading story?

Send in your “Why We Homestead” story, and photographs, to thehomestead@homesteadersofamerica.com and in the subject line put “My Homestead Story”!