As a child, visiting my grandfather’s farm was like venturing into another world, far away from my in-town life. Grandpa kept geese, chickens, ducks, and rabbits. Grandma’s cellar was lined with home-canned food. Dinner might start with venison and end with currant pie. We washed up with water piped into the house from a spring and Grandma’s homemade soap. They both passed away when I was just a teenager, but as I get older I find myself picking up their ways and seeking the know-how they had.
My journey back to the old ways of doing things started slowly with just a handful of tomato and basil plants in old plastic cat litter containers on the back porch of my row house apartment. When I married Jim (a long-time gardener) and we moved to a double lot, those few plants weren’t enough. We ripped out the sod in our side yard by hand and painstakingly put up a fence around our new vegetable garden as our neighbors looked on with interest. In our small plot we produced enough to keep ourselves and our curious neighbors in vegetables all summer. As I think is common among gardeners, one’s garden is never quite big enough for all of the dreams and plans cooked up over the long winter. After just two years we expanded our backyard plot, but it still wasn’t big enough, and this year we added a plot at a community garden a few blocks from our house. Next year, who knows, but I’m pretty sure another expansion is in the works.
Our garden in May and August.
We live in an urban area, but between our “home” garden and the community plot we grow nearly all of our own produce, at least in the summer months. We bake our own bread, can and freeze our harvest, line-dry our clothes, make our own soap, and share one car. Someday, when chickens are legalized in our area, we hope to walk out back like my grandfather did and harvest our own eggs.
We know all too well the sacrifices involved in our lifestyle; instead of spending summer afternoons swimming at the lake, we’re more often than not working in the garden or the kitchen. But we love our homespun life. Each year we find ourselves growing more, and doing more, for ourselves. We eschew expensive vacations and entertainment because we are saving up to buy land. But that’s not the only reason. For us, looking at the colors of the preserves in our canning cellar is more beautiful than any artwork in a museum. Our homemade bread and zucchini burgers beat a restaurant meal any day. A library book on the front porch and a bottle of homemade cider make for a good Saturday night.
Our small canning cellar.
Jim and I are just starting on this journey. I long to put in fruit trees – currant and gooseberry being at the top of my list. Jim can’t wait to own livestock. We’ll get there; we have our eyes on our future.
Whether it’s out of a desire to be more self-sufficient, seeking a connection to ancestors, a wish to be healthier, or doomsday prepping, the number of people looking to get back to the old ways is rising. I’m proud to be a part of this growing community, and I hope Grandma and Grandpa would be proud of me, too.