What does sustainable living mean? We’ve all heard terms like certified organic, free-trade, grass-fed, carbon footprints, husbandry, pesticide-free- but what does it all mean? Is it just a trend or is there some legitimacy to the growing “organic” movement? What is the difference between USDA Certified Organic pickles and Aunt Sue’s dill pickles I’ve eaten my whole life? Is Ruth’s Chris Steak House justified to sell a $40.00 organic grass-fed filet mignon over Golden Coral’s all you can eat beef bar for $8.99? Have things changed in our food growing, raising and processing so much that we now need to have terms like vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and foodies? These are just a few questions that me and my family have both raised and talked about with friends and family over the last decade.
In March of this year we relocated our family from the Island at Camp Canaan out to the country- a five-acre piece of heaven in York, SC. The move was both practical (4 kiddos in our previous house of 1,100 sq. ft.) and a fulfillment of a dream that my wife and I both had since childhood. Every summer since my wife Tiffany could remember, she would visit her cousins in Kansas for a couple weeks and work on their farm. She learned to drive the big combine, ride horses and saw first-hand the rigorous life of a mid-western farmer.
Each summer my family would head north to Alamance County, NC to spend a long weekend on the Garner’s Farm. The Garners are the sweetest folks that have maintained a friendship with my family for over 60 years. There were many first’s on my visits to their farm- like the first time I was shocked by a cattle fence, the first time I saw a hog slaughtered and the first time I was chased by a bull.
For two kids who grew up in Orlando, FL (AKA- Disney City) you’d think that being drawn to farm life would be as natural as wearing your shoes on the opposite feet. But there has always been something in us that has desired a rural farm life for our family.
So what was our motivation and how did we arrive at the decision to “go country”? We took on this new venture with some dear friends of ours that not only shared our love for farm life but were also willing to walk into an open pasture and sow new seeds together in faith and friendship. There’s nothing specifically original about our move- as a matter of fact, we hear about so many urbanites and suburbanites migrating to open pastures and deeper woods all the time. Almost every week it seems that some of our friends “from the city” are even inquiring about how to raise backyard chickens or what the best method of soil amendment is for their small garden plot or back porch container garden.
We are both inspired and challenged by what Rohan Anderson (author of Whole Larder Love) terms Grow, Gather, Hunt, Cook. The basic premise of the book is to equip (and convince) more people to return to a way of life where we depend less on food sources that are grown and raised somewhere else and shipped to our neck of the woods for our convenience. Some folks are extreme in their belief and practice of this primitive lifestyle even to the extent of living completely off the grid. And I’m not talking about the folks on all the popular TV shows like Survivor, Mountain Men and Man vs. Wild. There are nay sayers on both sides of the conventional food versus home-grown food argument. For our family, we find great pleasure and benefit from growing, raising and processing our own food. We of course still rely on a great deal of “store-bought” food too, but are learning how to eat seasonally, can foods, dehydrate vegetables, mushrooms and even meat. Our top reasons for adopting the Grow, Gather, Hunt, Cook philosophy are:
1. Freshly grown food ALWAYS taste better! I don’t care what people say, you don’t have to be a “foodie” to appreciate fresh vegetables from the garden.
2. Farming is hard work and hard work is good! Who needs a gym when you have a field to plow, stalls to clean, timber to cut and a fence to install? #FarmFit
3. Hunting (and fishing) brings great rewards! I’m a firm believer that you eat what you kill. Learning how to prepare and cook fresh game is not only a benefit to your stomach but also to the human mind and heart- a patient/ reflective hobby.
4. The Slow Life is the best life! Mae West said it best “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” Most of us have too many irons in the fire and live much of our life with a lead foot on the gas pedal only to find out that the best part wasn’t waiting for us at the end it was along the way the whole time.
5. Farm life brings the Family together. Since moving to the country we have watched less TV, spent more time outside and more time together as a family. Sure we still have movie nights and let the boys play a game on our I-Phone, but it’s less frequent and most of the time they’d rather play outside in the creek or build a fort in the woods.
Now I know many folks here in the Carolinas come from a long-standing tradition of planters and keepers who maintain the nearly-forgotten “slow-pace” of life. Not only do I have great respect and admiration for these folks and their traditions, but I feel we have a lot to learn and benefit from their way of life. Before we moved out to York, SC we were novices raising three wild and wonderful boys, 10 backyard chickens, tending a small vegetable garden and a hive of bees. What we learned over the past several years is that farming is a lot of work. Now it does pay dividends (but it is at a high risk) and unless done on a very small scale, it can completely alter your normal schedule of life.
We definitely have hit our share of low-lying limbs and pot holes along the way and have learned a ton of useful information in our journey to becoming young agrarians. For those of you who maybe have romanticized about a country way of life or just simply have desired to grow a few green things our your stoop in the city I’d strongly encourage you to grab a bag of soil and some seeds and see where it leads. As I mentioned in the last MCT article, there are so many opportunities right here in our community to get a taste of the farm this summer. Some of our favorite Agritourism destinations as a family are: Apple picking and cider tasting at Windy Hill Orchard- York, SC, Strawberry picking at the Greenway- Fort Mill, SC, Black’s Peaches- York, SC and the Farmer’s Market off Billy Graham Pkwy- Charlotte, NC. Final word- sustainable living to me simply means a life that has worth and joy and keeps you off the ropes (which is a boxing term). For us, that is with our hands in the soil and our feet ankle deep in the creek.