Monday, December 27, 2010

"Have you always lived on a farm?"

A reader named Pete just posted a comment on my Christmas post as follows: "Have you always lived on the farm? If you didn't, what caused you to move to the country?"

I thought this was worth a separate blog post rather than burying my answer in the comments section. Thanks for asking, Pete.

No, we have not always lived on a farm. Neither of us. We both grew up semi-rural in different parts of our lives, but that's about the extent of it. Neither of us grew up with livestock or gardens or anything else farm-related.

I suppose our farm quest could date back to the first year after we got married. We were renting a house in a suburb of Sacramento, California. Our early marriage was a mishmash of commuting, traffic, noisy neighbors, helicopters whomp-whomping overhead, the whole typical urban nine yards. Slowly it dawned us on that we didn't want it.  There must be more to life than this. We knew we wanted children; and we also knew we didn't want to raise those children in the city.

But how to escape the city? Ahh, that was the question.

One of the things we were sure of, is we didn't want to be one of those couples who, upon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, would look back and say, "If only." If only we had moved to the country. If only we had raised some animals. If only if only if only... In other words, we didn't want to be full of regret for what we might have done, but just never got around to.

From these thoughts was born the desire to get out of the city. I was interested in graduate school about this time, and we researched out a program for Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. I applied and was accepted. Now, where to live?

I remember clearly how we found our house. This was in the days before the internet. It was Good Friday before Easter in 1992 (we were married in May of 1990). Don had to work that day but I had the day off.  Our work places were only about two miles away from each other, so we commuted in together. On that day, I decided to go into the office to use the computer (we had no computer at home, of course). I had several real estate brochures for the Ashland area and spent some time pouring over the listings.

And I found a house! I blinked in surprise at the description - a small fixer-upper on acreage for a price we could afford. Excited, I called Don and told him about it.

"Call the realtor," he said. "Let's get more information on it."

I immediately called the realtor and asked about the house. "I'm sorry, but that sold," he told me. I made noises of disappointment. "But what kind of house are you looking for?" he continued.

I explained: cheap, fixer-upper, on acreage, something newlyweds could afford...

"Wellll," he hesitated. "Another place just came on the market. It hasn't even been listed yet. It's an old house, probably only worthy to be torn down, but it's cheap and on four acres. Are you interested?'

Not only were we interested, but we dropped everything and drove up that night. While Don stayed at work, I drove home, loaded up the dogs and a suitcase, drove back to pick up Don from his office, and we headed north.

What the realtor showed us was a shack - there is no other charitable way to put it - on four acres. The inside still had every hideous interior decorating mistake from the last five decades. But sure enough it was cheap, and we made an offer within half an hour of laying eyes on it. There were renters living there at the time, and it was another seven months before we could tie up our loose ends in Sacramento and turn our faces north. We moved in just after Christmas 1993.

Our Oregon house from the front

First view of the house from behind.  Don is taking notes.

So that's how we made our initial move to the country. Of course we also plunged ourselves into instant poverty. Don couldn't find a job and I was in grad school full time. We scraped by while we got our woodcraft business up and running. Our "charming" fixer-upper leaked like a sieve, had no insulation, and no heat source except an ancient woodstove we had no idea how to use. We bought a cheap pellet stove and braced ourselves to wait out the winter.

It took us four years to save enough money to re-roof. It took us even longer to insulate the underside of the floor. And longer still to fence, build a small barn, and get our first cow/calf pair and some chickens. Both our girls were born during these lean times (no health insurance, of course - cha-ching!). I had finished grad school by this point (student loans - cha-ching!) and was working evenings and nights as a field biologist (surveying owls, for anyone who wonders what a field biologist does at night) while Don stayed home with the girls. He had an accident on the bandsaw and cut part of his left thumb off (cha-ching!) when our oldest was nine months of age. These were years of great financial difficulty as well as sleep deprivation (I am NOT a night person) for us. But our girls were paramount and we refused to put them in daycare.

Ever so slowly our business improved enough that I could quit my job and work at home with Don. It was such a joy not to have to leave my babies every day! We lived as utterly frugal as we possibly could: cloth diapers, breastfeeding (no formula), thrift-store clothing for everyone, cooking from scratch. Meanwhile we improved the garden until we were getting some nice results, and I learned how to milk a cow and make dairy products.

Things slowly improved for us financially. We paid off the hospital and student loans. We made some improvements around the place - painting, remodeling the bathroom (Don did the work himself), putting a foundation under the house (this old house was built literally on bare ground in 1874), etc. And gradually we realized we wanted more land to expand our homesteading efforts.

In 2003, ten years after moving to Oregon, we moved to our twenty-acre farm in Idaho.

And that's how we ended up here.


  1. We are on 3 acres in rural Oregon right now. Our dream is to find 20 acres or more in Northern Idaho. Seriously! We plan to spend our vacation time next summer visiting Idaho to see where we would like to buy land. I know what you mean about the "If only" thing. We may already be too old to start something like this, but we won't know until we try. Hardly a day goes by that I'm not on the internet looking for property and businesses for sale. My husband is an Automotive Master Technician and would like to have his own shop wherever we end up. My hope is to not have to work outside the home.

    I really enjoy your blog. I have learned so much from you. Who knows, maybe someday we'll be neighbors!

    God Bless,

  2. Hi Patrice,

    Thanks for giving me your insights, and again, I hope we get to see some of your daughter's woodcarvings.


    p.s. I used the anonymous under select profile because using my name and e-mail wouldn't work on the select profile button.

  3. Me and my wife are praying for a path out to Idaho also. We are hoping to visit next spring/summer 2011 and look at areas north and work our way south. Some people don't understand why we would want to move to such a cold place in the winter (in Florida now) but when you have a strong passion to live some where it's easy.

    And as Red Woman said who knows someday we may be neighbors.

    Thanks again for your passion in writing about your life.

  4. I have been reading your blog (without commenting) for some time now and don't always agree with what you write. But, that's ok. It's a free country.

    However, I want you to know that I am duly impressed by your story and want to extend my compliments. You, and your family, epitomize the pioneer spirit that made this country great. Rather than looking for handouts, you made do, coped, and struggled until you achieved your goal. Would that others could learn from your experience.

  5. Thank you, Sam! It's very kind of you to say so. Though we may not agree on everything I'm glad to have you as a reader.

    - Patrice

  6. Great post Patrice. Do you plan on writing about life after you got to Idaho? How did you find your land? What were you looking for? Was it easier to start over or was it just as hard?

    We are hoping for this on our own path. We are starting really late but I am not worried. It has not been until the last few years that I really have believed that God wants us on our own land. We are a pretty hearty bunch, hardheaded to boot - so we think we can do anything we put our minds too. The way I look at it is if I wasted 15 years, imagine what I can do if I have focus and drive in the next 15 years! I grew up dirt poor, sometimes without electric or heat during the winters. I think I can give what it takes to make my dreams come true. My husband is on board finally. This year he has been looking here and there for a place. Land is expensive here, at least for our income level. We believe God will provide though.

    Ouida Gabriel

  7. My wife and I both grew up in New York City, met and got married in 1972. I worked in the recording studio industry. By the early '80s we had 4 boys and realized that while we had both survived the NYC public schools we wanted better for our boys. It took a career change for me, but in 1984 we "escaped from New York" and have never looked back. Each time we visit friends and family in NY we are so happy we did what we had to in order to get our boys out of that environment and those public schools.

    I have always read science fiction, and Robert A. Heinlein, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, and Dean Ing had me thinking about "prepping" from the earliest days of our marriage. C.S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer were early influences on our Christian life.

    These days we live at the boundary between a town of 88,000 and farms. We are easy driving distance to a college town. Dean Ing used to preach that living in a semi rural area close to a college town was close to an ideal survival environment. Maybe someday I will write about modern survival topics as Dean Ing once suggested to me. Meanwhile I am glad to read your blog Patrice, Enola Gay, Dr. Pournelle, and Survival Blog.

    Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration to many.

  8. I enjoyed reading through your blog. I grew up on a farm and then married a I have lived on a farm the majority of my life. Would not have it any other way. Hope you can stop by for a visit and make sure you say hi!

  9. Right now, me and the fella and his two teens are on a patch of land just over an acre near El Paso. He puts in for retirement next year and we plan to move north---WAY north---in early 2012. We rent this place, but we can have livestock, so we have goats and chickens. We are in a learning phase. I have lived on several farms, he has not, so I am teaching him the ins and outs of raising chickens and we are both learning about goats. We have built raised beds for the gardens come spring and I have compost enough for double the garden space we have (thank you goats!). I love milking the goats and gathering eggs and we are looking forward to when we have bigger acreage!

  10. Patrice,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog for the past year or so and have often wondered how a family, such as yours, handles medical issues/bills. Do you pay as you go or can you afford medical insurance?

    Regards from Colorado

  11. What a coincidence that you should write about your decision to move to the country. Just yesterday morning, while talking to my 18-yr-old daughter and starting a sentence with "The lady in Idaho said..." she asked, "How did she end up living on a farm in Idaho anyway?" So this was good timing!
    My husband and I are mid-50s, and we need to get out of our current county because the taxes are so high. So we are going tomorrow to look for land in the next county hoping to find about 20 acres, but I really think I am too old for the hard work. However, if things got "really bad" maybe our son could live with us and help! Sandy

  12. I'm right there with ya, Patrice. Only we're a little behind the curve. All we could afford was half an acre...still, it's enough room to garden, and keep a few chickens (I've only just about convinced my husband that we CAN keep chickens, that they WON'T be overly noisy [as long as we don't keep a rooster], and the smell only gets bad when there are too many in a small place).

    Maybe after we wipe out our debt with Dave Ramsey's Debt Snowball, we can purchase a larger plot and expand. Until then, we are learning on a manageable size.

    At least we are in a rural area, 45 miles from a large city. I wish we were farther away than that, but it's difficult to find truly rural locations if you rely on the big city for jobs.

    Maybe that will change after the debt is retired also...

    Thanks for writing!


  13. Patrice, I love your story. I so wish that I could meet you. We have so much in common! And guess what? My dad taught at the university in Ashland in the late 80's! :-)

    You and your family are amazing people. You are what make our country great.

  14. That is an amazing story of perseverance, determination and fortitude! Sam is right-on when he said, "You, and your family, epitomize the pioneer spirit that made this country great." Amen to that! I would love to hear how your property in ID compared to your property in OR. What you were looking for ... what was a must, etc.

    in CA