HOMEGROWN Life: How to Be Neighborly
With the busy lives so many of us live, small things inevitably get lost along the way. But what if some of those things turned out to be much more important than we had assumed? What if we thought we could go without them but later realized doing so left something lacking in our lives?
With so many competing priorities, things like taking the time out to be neighborly can slip away. For many of us who don’t live on a cul-de-sac or in an established neighborhood, it’s easy to go about life without much thought to the bodies inhabiting the house next door. Too often we know them only by the car they back out of the driveway or what time they leave the house in the morning.
My nagging lack of interaction with my neighbors has always bothered me—being neighborly runs in my family—but I simply didn’t know how to bridge the gap. I had already been living in my current home for a year, and they hadn’t come over. I hadn’t crossed property lines to meet them, either. Now we were in awkward territory. Awesome.
Then something happened: Our know-how suddenly became the bridge. Last summer, when our chickens where really producing, I walked door to door and handed out eggs. When I had extra veggies, I stopped around and passed them out, along with zucchini bread and homemade tomato sauce. People driving by stopped and asked about keeping chickens, and even some people who came by to pick up some Craigslist items asked for input on growing their own food.
Over this rough winter, neighbors poured into our driveway, asking my guy about generators and how to safely run them. He plowed elderly neighbors’ driveways for free. In my great-grandmom’s book, she wrote about loading up the wagon and the horses with food and delivering it to neighbors who were miles and miles away. Sometimes she was gone all day, handing out food they really didn’t have to spare. Surely I can walk across the street and share the extra I’m lucky enough to have. I firmly decided to follow her example, set 100 years ago. Some good things never go out of style.
Doing these small things made me feel so good that I decided to look at how I could expand on being neighborly while still incorporating the skills I employ on the homestead. We routinely donated to the local homeless and women’s center and knew they had a program that helped homeless families move into their own apartments and educated them in budgeting, shopping, and other life skills. Unfortunately, many of the families are on such tight budgets that buying fresh produce, let alone organic, is simply impossible.
I don’t have cash to give, and frankly I’d rather give my time and teach a life lesson, so I volunteered to teach these families how to container garden on their back porches or balconies. It’s still in the developmental stages, but I’ve started to put the word out to garden centers, asking for seeds and leftover containers, as well as anything else they’d like to donate. It’s not always easy to ask for donations, but I’ve found that I’m passionate enough about this to ask, regardless of my awkwardness!
None of these efforts I’ve listed are huge in the scheme of things. We haven’t performed life-saving surgery or saved people from a burning building. Truth be told, the desire to expand our neighborliness grew out of a little selfishness. We did it because it made us feel good to help other people and form a bond. It made me happy to hear someone’s back story while delivering eggs to them.
But somewhere along the way, it shifted into something bigger for us, and while it may not be life saving, it is soul saving. The small things I felt I was missing have been restored with every wave and smile from someone I’ve met. A sense of pride takes over when I teach someone to make cheese and she holds it up with a huge smile on her face, like she has won an award. And perhaps she has won a small empowerment and a feather in her cap. Me? I’ve won something more valuable than any award. I’ve won a participating role in humanity.
- Also in the HOMEGROWN Life blog, Michelle writes about passing along homemaking skills.
- In his Bucket Brigade 101, HOMEGROWN member Dr. John shares how to assemble giveaway container gardens.
Although she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.