For the past few months I have been writing about my experiences in the “real world” as a recent graduate settling into a semi-HOMEGROWN kind of life. It’s been a mixture of fun and frustration: from failed attempts at cooking with kohlrabi to the joys of raising chickens; but, throughout this journey I’ve grappled with the meaning of “homegrown” – from origins and evolution of this HOMEGROWN movement, to the vastly different interpretations of it among folks across America. And, how I can make HOMEGROWN my own.
I come from a background in agriculture. My great-grandparents were first-generation American farmers in Michigan. They lived the agrarian lifestyle out of a combination of necessity and desire, raising their herd of children and animals on an isolated farm. The depression hit them, like the rest of America, hard, but they carried on by working the land to survive. My grandmother left the farm at age 13 to work in town for another family in order to send money home to help financially support her own family. She later joined the war effort – first as a riveter, and then as a Red Cross nurse. She met and married my grandfather, one of her amputee patients, and they moved back to his family farm in Connecticut where they raised 9 children and took on subsistence farming in addition to working their 2 or 3 jobs.
My dad, aunts and uncles grew up in farming on the same piece of land my family lives on today. They lived on the outskirts of town and spent the majority of their mornings, afternoons and evenings doing farm chores in order to survive – the same skills that are a central part of today’s homegrown movement. For them, raising cows and sows was never-ending work. Making butter was an all-day job. Canning pounds and pounds of produce in a hot kitchen in order to have a stockpile of food to eat in the winter was the furthest thing from trendy. And, growing up as farm kids was not cool. It was isolating and difficult.
None of the kids in that generation became farmers. My dad keeps some animals, plants gardens, makes syrup and still practices agrarian skills, but he took a job off of the farm (for a chemical company…go figure…) and never wanted us to live the lifestyle he lived. So, we didn’t. We raised a miniature horse, some goats and chickens, played Little League, and went to college. As time went on, it became harder and harder for my family to survive off of the land, as ironic and sad as that sounds, so as of yet, not one of us has turned the soil again.
As this homesteading/DIY culture has blossomed in recent years, my family and others like them haven’t totally assimilated into the movement. Even though they’ve always made venison stew in the winter, field dressed chickens, and preserved their vegetables, it was for survival, rather than enjoyment. Some of them scoff at this movement (and me for being a part of it!). They think it’s just a bunch of “city slickers” buying produce, sugar, pectin and jars to make small-batch jams, raising a couple hens on a scrappy yard, noshing on gourmet cheeses from the farmers’ markets, and sipping organic craft beers. For them, this movement hits a place deep inside of them – their souls. These folks can’t afford to exclusively farm anymore, and they can’t afford to be a part of this movement, so where do they fit in? What do they think and how do they feel about the culture of nouveau-agriculture? How can we ensure this movement is inclusive and genuine?
The HOMEGROWN.org community has been an invaluable resource for me, 20-something who has just up and flown the coop – an old family farm in the sticks – and is starting to build her own nest – as one of them “city slickers”. It’s inspiring when folks from Brooklyn to Boise gather together on the site to share skills and stories from their own vastly different lives. While I don’t know where all of these folks come from, I do know that they are living their own interpretation of HOMEGROWN. Be it raising some American Guinea hogs and tending a small garden in the suburbs or farming for a living in rural America, the tie that binds is the desire to live independently, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty; to honor the hard work, skills and culture of agriculture and to adapt it to your own lifestyle. For me, that is HOMEGROWN.
It takes all kinds to build a movement and a culture. We need the “city slickers” to support family farmers in order to keep them on the land, and we need agrarians to share their skills and know-how with the rest of us who aren’t on the farm anymore. This online community is a shining example of this co-existence and community. It’s getting back to something very real: the root of civilization: agriculture, food, family! I am grateful for it and for all of you who contribute to the community every day. From the farmers to foodies, the fields to the forks, let us continue to make this movement our own and to live HOMEGROWN together.
I am the Flock-Tender here on HOMEGROWN.org. I am keeping a chronicle of my experiences learning, living, and growing a homegrown lifestyle fresh out of college.