Moving to our ten acres in the country has fulfilled a years-long dream of mine: to small-scale farm with my family. We want a large garden, which is in the works; we want homesteady-type animals, hence the chickens; we want to produce as much of our own food as we can, hence all the seeds that have or have not been sown. I love that the kids have places to run, play, and hide. I love the wild and unruly woods that our home resides in, just as much as I love the garden plot that we’ve cleared, and the adjacent three acre rolling pasture.
There are challenges. I miss Pittsburgh, our old church, our old friends. I miss having access to public transportation, good shopping (Whole Foods Market! Trader Joe’s! IKEA!), and good museums. The ticks are enough to drive me insane. But after being here about ten months, there is one challenge that stands out to me as the biggest:
It is hard to do this alone.
I feel like we were meant to live in community. In some cultures, that means intergenerational living; your whole extended family lives with you or nearby. There’s always someone to hold a baby or feed the chickens when you can’t. In more modern times and western cultures, cohousing has become a risingly popular option for those seeking community; folks with shared values live close to one another (usually in their own homes) with the intent of sharing life in some way.
I love the garden and chickens, and I really look forward to having goats and/or a cow someday. Maybe sheep, too. But the daily tasks involved with all of these ventures tend to tie us down more than we like. Eggs will need to be collected daily at some point; goats will need to be milked once or twice daily ten months of the year. There is little room for a weekend camping trip or a week up in the U.P. for my husband’s job. There’s a ton of state and national campgrounds I’d like to check out this summer, but many are too far for a day trip. When we have our baby in January, someone will still have to go out and feed the chickens the next morning. Right now, I’m even home, and the garden needs to be planted more, but I have little time to do it due to the ages of my children and lack of help with them.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m willing to do the work. I find great satisfaction in tending the chickens and weeding the garden. I long for more of this kind of work and more time to complete it. And I don’t think we deserve (or even want) to be gone every weekend all summer. We have wonderful neighbors who have offered to tend the chickens so we can do that week in the U.P. in August. We considered the whole picture when we dug into gardening and chicken ranching. We knew it would require daily chores, and we did it anyway. And, given the opportunity, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
The hard part is that we’re alone in this. I mean, we have each other, but that’s it. There are a lot of young families out there who, like us, want to expose their kids to this lifestyle, but unlike us, can’t imagine making the details work out. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if some of those families could get together and share the burden, attack the details as a team, reap the harvest in community, and give each other breaks? People say to me all the time, “I’d love to have chickens, but then we couldn’t do ______.” Or, “I’d love to have a goat, but I still want to go up to the cabin during the summer weekends.” For these folks, sharing the farm with others is the best way to still have those things.
If you live in an urban neighborhood that allows chickens, why not share a flock of chickens among like-minded neighbors? You share the work, share the eggs, and still go on your vacations. Similarly, why not share backyard gardens? One of you has shade, the other has sun; let the kids play in the shade, and do a double-size garden in the sunny lot. Twice the adults for weeding and watering, and less overzealous zucchinis and tomatoes to get rid of.
For us, we just pray and wait. We have a big garage that would make a nice apartment space someday. We dream about finishing it and renting it to another family who wants to garden and farm alongside us, even just occasionally. Or just renting out part of the lower level to a student or two who are interested in organic gardening and animals and would enjoy watching our little farm when we travel once in a while. It’s a long shot, but I can’t help but hope that we could start up a tiny little cohousing operation of our very own, not just to share the load, but to share life and friendship.
Wanna move into my garage?