My wife, Natalie, and I live in a white clapboard farmhouse built in the 1800s, and slowly but surely, we’re learning about farm life—by trial and error, by research, by watching my wife’s Poppaw. He lives next door, and we rent the farmhouse from him.
My wife’s Poppaw comes from a long line of farmers, living in Shelby, NC, the self-proclaimed “City of Pleasant Living.” His grandfather built our house in 1893, when just about every square inch of the region was farmed for cotton. Now widespread cotton fields and ubiquitous fiber mills are gone. But Shelby is still a pleasant place to live.
On some evenings, from the front porch, we watch three goats play beside a stoic quarter horse. The goats and horse live together in the pasture of our neighbor, Asa. We watch barn swallows hunt insects over the pasture, as the sky changes from blue, to pink, to purple. And as the sun retreats over Asa’s red barn, we talk about our dreams of raising sheep and alpacas, of selling produce and eggs at the Shelby farmer’s market.
My wife and I are in our mid-twenties, and we were raised in a generation mostly separated from the farm. Sure, our families had gardens, but food came from the grocery store and our parents’ livelihoods came from jobs unrelated to the soil. Unlike our parents, who were born of cotton and tobacco farmers and who can remember the horses and cows and chickens, my wife and I remember other stuff—like my video game Age of Empires, in which tiny medieval farmers plow and harvest fields at the right-click of a mouse.
To say the least, we’re a little detached from farm life. But we’re trying. Although Natalie and I will probably never quit our day jobs, we like working in the garden and raising chickens in our free time. Indeed, in the past year, we’ve learned about several old farmstead activities, like making lye soap. At an arts and crafts sale at a local university, our Bishop’s Tallow: Handcrafted, Hand-milled Soap was one of the biggest sellers there. After creating several fragrant varieties, from milk and honey to lavender and rosemary soap, we learned that soap-making is mostly a down and dirty process and that rendering tallow (a euphemism for purifying beef fat) renders the kitchen smelly, at least until you wise up and do it outside.
Wising up is what we’re trying to do. We like living in an old farmhouse. We like learning that deer aren’t eating our tomato plants, but cutworms are. And who would have thought that night crawlers aren’t the best composting worms because at night they have a tendency to crawl out of the compost bin and dry up on the floor? Indeed, while living in this old farmhouse and trying our hand at hobby farming, we’ve learned a lot from making mistakes. Most importantly, we’ve learned to have fun making them.