I grew up in the 70s, and I grew up on a steady diet of such movies and shows as The Wilderness Family (all three!), and the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Adding a healthy mix of Louis L’Amour and Zane Gray novels, a smattering of Little House on the Prairie, and some long term friendships with older folks who had been in Alaska “Way back” (Really way back in one case, fellow that taught me to trap and work a gold pan had gone to Alaska in 1900 at the age of five, his folks brought him along for the Gold Rush), had an early and lasting impact on my concept of homesteading and the pioneer spirit.
So, when the opportunity presented itself in 2009 to leave suburban southwest Florida and move to 40 acres of family land in rural Missouri, I guess you might say I embarked upon this adventure with certain preconceived and probably a little bit romanticized notions.
Life is seldom like the movies though. And early 21st century Missouri is a far cry from early 20th century Alaska! Times, we have to admit, have changed a lot over the past hundred years or so. Most of us don’t have the luxury of turning our backs on the modern world these days, we still have bills, and kids, and soccer practices, and need mundane things like jobs and income to keep all that going.
So, we did not become the Wilderness Family, I have not been able to fully realize my Grizzly Adams ambitions, and we have not completely returned to a pastoral frontier lifestyle (OK, not even close!). We have, however, gotten to do a lot of things that most modern families don’t these days, and I think that I have given my kids a glimpse of things gone by and an appreciation for a simpler life style.
The transition has been, above all else, an exercise in trial and error, and a non-stop roller coaster ride of a learning experience! We have experimented with everything from livestock to fruit trees, gardens to green houses, and horses to hogs. Some things have worked out great, while others have left us scratching our heads and muttering “what the heck was I thinking!”
I think that the biggest lesson I have learned is not to bite off too many projects at once, to do things in a rational order, and never to put the cart before the horse or more accurately, never to put the goats before the fence! We have made things harder than they needed to be on numerous occasions, through the simple act of over enthusiasm!
In my opinion, the greatest lessons for my kids have been in the area of where food comes from, Most kids today see meat as something that comes wrapped in plastic, milk as something that comes from gallon jugs, and produce as a product that begins its life in a supermarket freezer.
My kids on the other hand, have helped to raise animals for meat, have milked goats, have cared for baby animals, have collected eggs from the chicken coop, and have picked fruits, vegetables, have hunted wild game, and berries from the garden and the orchard. I think that all of these experiences have been very beneficial to them, in gaining a truer understanding of how the world works if for nothing else and I think that overall it has instilled a greater respect and appreciation for all living creatures in them.
It has most assuredly been an interesting journey. I began my day this morning with a phone call that a neighbor had spotted two of my horses down the road in another neighbor’s front yard. So I grabbed my oldest daughter and we went for a little 0630 wrangling, fortunately in a rural community, chasing down livestock is still considered an excused tardy. I could fill volumes on my misadventures with hogs and goats and their lack of respect for almost any form of fencing.
We have raised all manner of poultry, from Chickens and turkeys to ducks and Guineas. We have had them for meat production, egg production, as well as for their aesthetic value. In this pursuit we have used free range techniques, as well as chicken tractors, and we have raised them from eggs and from day old chicks purchased at the local hatchery. Baby chicks of all kinds are one of the kids’ favorites. Ducks in particular hold a special fascination, probably because they are just so darn awkwardly cute, and their eggs aren’t bad either!
Goats have been a whole other set of issues! The big problem with goats is that modern science has yet to develop a goat-proof fence. I have come to the conclusion that such a thing must defy the laws of physics. I tried for a very long time to make the whole goat thing work out, but for the time being I have tabled goat rearing in deference to the health of my fruit trees, grape vines, and berry bushes. I may try again someday, but next time I will get fences in place before the goats show up!
Wild game gives us a great supplemental meat source, and has provided a lot of learning experiences for the kids. My twin boys, at 6 years old, are well versed in helping their dad process deer meat, and they know exactly where burger comes from. They are the official operators of the meat grinder, and my standby helpers through the rest of the butchering process.
When it comes to small game, my kids seem to have developed a lot of the 21st century cultural biases. I have a hard time getting anyone to eat squirrel, even though it is one of the tastiest things going. Last time I did a squirrel dinner I had to resort tom trickery. I did the legs up Buffalo Style, and when the kids got home and asked what was for dinner I said “It’s like wings.” It worked for a while, but they caught on. They enjoyed dinner despite themselves.
So many lessons learned through the years, so many more to be learned! A homesteading lifestyle, even in a limited 21st century fashion, may be many things, but boring is never one of them!
PS: I found this kit that makes homesteading, and living the way our ancestors did, a cinch. Check it out here.