Long before “homesteading” and “subsistence farming” were cool, a little girl was born on a two cow farm in Central Vermont. Joyce was raised by farm folk and learned traditional ways of living off the land.
Joyce followed a meandering path (with one bare toe always in the soil) which eventually led her back to the homestead where she grew up. Today she comes to share her heritage, education, experience and commitment to the land and to others longing to discover or deepen their connection with their homestead.
on small subsistence farm in Central Vermont, I was #10 of 11 children. We grew nearly all our own food with occasional trips to the grocery store for staples such as yeast, oatmeal, flour, sugar. The long rows of Ball canning jars and freezer full of meat, vegetables and fruit affirmed the summer’s accomplishments and offered food security for the long New England winters. At times, we purchased eggs from another farmer or milk when our cow was dry.
Sustainability, self-sufficiency, interdependence, community, responsibility, homesteading, connection with the Earth were not things we talked much about, rather lived. My dad was in agriculural school during the realization of the damage done by DDT. He chose organic gardening as a lifestyle long before it was a hip thing to do.
My dad taught me to respect the earth by how he farmed and by how he lived. We went for long walks in the woods and we waited and watched and listened for the sight or sign of animals and birds of the forest. He taught me the fragrance of yarrow and ginger. We watched in stillness as the newborn calf slipped from the cow’s body onto the straw floor, to be nudged and licked until the new life stood and wobbled her way to the waiting udder.
My mother wasted nothing, baked wonderful meals from whatever bounty presented itself and preserved everything else for the long winters. She sewed our clothes and made practical, beautiful gifts to please her family and nurture her own creativity. She taught me the pleasure of creating and of storing up for winter. When I botched my first attempt at brownies, she helped me make them into a decadent bread pudding.
Problems arose and I watched and learned that there was always a solution. I don’t claim to know everything by far, but I did learn how to learn, how to use my hands, mind and creativity to tackle what needs to be done.
It is an adventurous life when you don’t know when or where the next challenge or triumph or joy will arise. Immersed in the joys and inevitable disappointments of living off the land, romping through the woods and playing in the brook with my siblings, I experienced a deep sense of connection, inner strength, resilience and community in my homesteading life. I was truly fortunate to have grown up that way. It has fed my interests and nurtured my soul through the ups and downs of my entire life.
I raised my own children in a different time in a less rural part of Vermont. I grew a garden but we were not entirely dependent on it. The kids sometimes enjoyed helping in the garden, but were not required, as I had been, to work in it. We visited apple orchards and put up jars of applesauce and other excess garden produce. The kids romped in the woods behind our little homestead. Looking back, I realize that homesteading is not necessarily making a life of farming. It is taking the spot where you have landed and making a home of it. It is making a life of relationship with your land where you nurture it responsibly and enjoy the bounty it provides. It is about making the best of what you have and applying your skills to add value to your life for yourself, others and the world. Homesteading is about creating and loving your home, experiencing your connection with the earth. It is about gratitude.
When my elderly mother needed support to live well at home and my youngest child had fledged, I moved back to my family homestead and began making home here once again.
When COVID-19 arrived, my son was laid off from his job as a carpenter. He is a hard worker and was not all that comfortable being idle at home. He decided to start a garden. He had a lot of questions and I found that I reveled in his queries. It was a great way to connect with him and it was very satisfying watching him learn how much to water, what to do when the pests arrived, how to deal with light and shade issues in his garden. In helping him, I realized anew how much joy it gives me to watch another person learn, connect with and care for plants. I watched him find purpose and calm in the storm of uncertainty brought by the pandemic. I have had the opportunity to help friends, neighbors and family with various other questions related to homesteading and it brings me great pleasure to help them find their way to success.
There is a lot of information out there and much of it conflicting or difficult to access for various reasons. So bring me your questions and get customized, science-based, experience-based answers.
I offer homestead consulting and information for people getting started with gardening, food preservation, crafting, carpentry for the homestead, chickens, beginning nature photography and a range of other skills and topics.