Allison at the Holistic Homesteader asked me a few months ago to write this guest post. I’m honored and flattered to have been chosen for this task, and it’s taken me awhile to find a topic relevant to both our blogs. But here I am now, fumbling through like the klutz I am. Here goes…
First, if you don’t already know me, my name is Danielle Merrow. I’ve been blogging at daniellemerrow.com since 2010 (!!!) about all kinds of random topics: life, interior design and decorating, cooking, baking, entertaining, parenting…basically, I’ll strike up a conversation with the Interwebz about pretty much anything. I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for eleven years, and we have three sweet, cute, spunky little boys together: our oldest is six and a half, and our twins just turned four. We have a geriatric golden retriever (she’s fourteen) who’s a retired therapy dog; her main duties in life now include playing watchdog to our kids and cleaning up all the food they drop on the floor. (Saves me some vacuuming time. And, we figure she’s earned it at this point.)
So what, you might be asking, does someone like me- a suburban soccer and baseball mom (admitting to those titles makes the me from ten years ago shudder. Let’s just clarify: I do not drive a minivan. I haven’t gone that far.) have to do with a self-professed all-natural, hippy, farming mama like Allison? That, my friends, is a question with a short and a long answer. The short part? I was raised a country girl.
The long answer is, while I was raised in the country, I longed to leave it (not my family, just small-town life) for more. I grew up hearing my mom complain about how our town had so few options for shopping, restaurants, entertainment- so few options for just about everything. I wanted more. For many years, I thought I could hack it as an NYC girl, but I found a college closer to home in a small city that I fell in love with, and a husband who loved it too, and so we chose to raise our family in this area. Here we are, fifteen years later, raising our family in the suburbs and trying to simultaneously instill the same values of hard work and wholesome living I experienced as the granddaughter of two sets of farmers.
My parents didn’t have a farm when I was a kid, but both sets of my grandparents, plus a great uncle and great aunt, still had working farms. My parents did what they could, when they could, to continue helping out. My dad is a truck driver; he works long days, and when my grandparents were still alive, he would get up at 3AM, drive till 4 or 5PM, then work at one farm or the other until 10 or 11 at night during planting season or the harvest. Then he’d get up the next day and do it all over again. My mom stayed at home with us kids, and taught us the basics of homesteading. We planted a big garden every spring, and harvested and canned and froze and stored and preserved as much as we could in the fall. To this day, waking up to a crisp fall morning takes me back to the days of my youth when I’d wake up to the smell of my mom’s spaghetti sauce simmering in the kitchen. While I have her recipe and technically COULD make it myself, I just haven’t worked up to that point yet. I have, however, used her methods for freezing my own fresh green beans, zucchini, corn, and jellies.
My parents’ parents both raised beef cows. That means, in simple terms, that I didn’t eat beef from a grocery store until I was in college (this may be slightly exaggerated, but not by much). Once I was out on my own, it wasn’t long before I’d convinced my better half that we needed to find farm fresh beef, stat. And today, our boys get positively giddy when we come home after a weekend with family hauling coolers loaded with farm fresh beef.
I worried, briefly, that they’d be upset knowing they were eating a cow they’d helped to feed only weeks before. I had forgotten though, that there’s actually a sense of pride that comes from eating what you’ve helped to grow. My boys only helped with that cow a handful of times, but they know now what the result is of that hard work: full bellies.
Because we grew up way on the outskirts of a very small town, the nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away. Today, we can see the Walmart from our kitchen window. Still, old habits die hard, and I’ve tried to train myself to forget the convenience that’s so tantalizingly close; I refuse to run to the store for single ingredients for a recipe when I can come up with a simple substitute. (Think, adding vinegar to milk to make buttermilk, or adding butter to milk to make heavy cream. Mixing common spices to make mixes like Old Bay, taco seasoning, chili seasoning, or dry ranch- those little concoctions have saved me many trips to the store with overtired toddlers, and saved dinner on countless occasions.)
Bottom line, after all of that, is that the homesteading lifestyle doesn’t come with strict guidelines. The basic principles can apply pretty much anywhere. Don’t have a yard to plant a garden? Go support local farmers at a farmer’s market (this is the perfect time of year to go!) and buy enough fresh fruits and vegetables in bulk to freeze, can, or preserve. Buy your beef, pork, and chicken from local farmers by the whole or half- having a freezer full of protein makes planning and preparing meals so much easier! And using fresh, local ingredients makes them taste so much better.