Over the last couple of years, Pru and I have been thinking and working on the topic of Aging In Place. Our homestead site is better suited to younger bodies and ours are getting older, who would have thought it! So, we have built a more easily accessible stairway/path to our house, which is nestled into the bottom of a hillside, and added a bedroom on the main floor. Making life easier with site improvements is one thing; changing the homesteading life itself, is another.
Added to the usual amount of homestead work (growing and preserving our food, building and tool maintenance, getting in the cordwood, &…) we are regularly taking care of aged parents. Thoughts of more down time; community service and travel conflict with what has been since 1980 an ever-expanding homestead. “Time to Downsize”, we say. No more new construction (as we add a compost toilet addition to our guest/intern cabin and build a small hoop house), no more new growing areas (as we add a new orchard area and an expanded pasture), no more new projects (as we add three lambs to our previously sheep-less life and await the 25 new chicks). No more new endeavors (as we undertake starting the Wild Browse Farm Sustainability Center and increase our on-site Homestead Classes).
You might think, and I do too, we have a hard time following through on the concept of “slowing down”! However, there is some justification for our madness. The compost toilet in the cabin will allow us to have a yearlong intern, which will be an amazing homestead immersion experience for the intern. And it will allow us to be able to respond to emergency parent care at a moment’s notice, or even a vacation, knowing that the place is in capable hands. The hoop house will extend our growing season, so less food preservation. Also, I have put more than half of our vegetable growing beds into cover crops, thus not expanding the garden for the first time in years. The new orchard area kind of makes sense in that it’s a more frost-free site for peaches and plumbs, so less work than trying to coddle them where they were.
Pasture improvement has been an on going project since the trees were cleared. We’ve pastured our laying flock and meat birds (depending on the year: turkeys, Guineas, &/or Freedom Rangers) using portable electronet fencing and mobile coops. However, we spend a lot of time and petroleum mowing the area to keep the forage at the ideal 3-4” height for poultry. By adding the sheep in a rotation with the birds, we’re hoping for less mowing and pasture improvement (ruminant poop improves soil by adding and feeding microorganisms). We’ve only had them 3 weeks, so can’t really judge the outcome of this experiment. I’m keeping track of the extra time involved with moving their pasture every few days and will compare it with time I would have spent mowing. One thing is clear, they are entertaining and spending time watching them is mostly peaceful. I’m not sure whether that time should be added to the plus or minus column of the “Great Sheep Experiment”. However, if the rain keeps up and the veggie crop flounders, we might be glad that there will be something to eat. Grass-fed lamb, anyone?
And last but not least, the Sustainability Center. Looking back and taking stock led us to realize that it was time to share on a wider level and to take our role as educators more seriously. By teaching we will be able to keep our hands and hearts in the homesteading realm as we age. Even though I am a confirmed Luddite, I’m actually in the process of creating a website. https://wildbrowsesustainability.wordpress.com
Increasing the number of garden and homestead skills classes has been a personally rewarding endeavor for both of us. Taking the time to think about and prepare for each class helps us brush up on the latest information and it reminds us that we really do know a heck of a lot. It’s satisfying to share our thoughts, skills and insights more widely than to just one intern each summer. It is building a community of folks who all grow by sharing their stories and it empowers all of us to take the next step and live our dreams, whether it’s beginning to grow a little food, start a homestead or build a sustainability center.
So, what do you think? Are we really on the road to downsizing or are we just crazy? Thoughts or comments welcome. firstname.lastname@example.org or you can see me at the NOFA Summer Conference. I’ll be at the Mass. table or the Homesteading Get Together or come to our workshop tour of Wild Browse Farm on Saturday.
Published NOFA/Mass e-news July 2013 http://www.nofamass.org