Strange things are happening to my reading habits. When given a choice, I rarely choose to read fiction now. It’s not unusual for me to pass up new books from favorite writers like Alice McDermott or John Irving in favor of a type of book that’s most decidedly in the non-fiction genre: the homesteading memoir. I have cancelled my subscription to The New Yorker and replaced it with Mother Earth News.
I think I caught this bug a few years ago after reading Joan Gussow’s This Organic Life. It was followed by Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens (my review here) , The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing, and Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Jenna Woginrich has given a name to my affliction, and titled her book after it. I may be a suburban mom with an urban job, and I may be approaching menopause, but I have a “Barnheart.”
I recognized myself in Jenna’s description: “You start reading online homesteading forums and shopping at cheese-making supply sites on your lunch break. You go home after work and instead of turning on the television, you bake a pie and study chicken coop building plans. Then somehow, somewhere along the way, you realize that you’re happiest when you’re weeding the garden or collecting eggs from the henhouse. It’s all downhill from there.”
Jenna did not have an easy time of it in the beginning, but her ordeal does show that with determination, and a flexible vision, a more fulfilling lifestyle is possible -- even if you don’t have money, inherited land or a background in animal husbandry. While keeping a day job for a mail order company, she slowly builds her savings and purchases a plot, animals, and a truck. There are financial setbacks, interferences from disapproving neighbors and landlords, and many lessons learned along the way -- for example, a sheepdog cannot be without a “job.”
Our heroine is frank about her initial difficulties fitting into her Vermont community. Throughout the course of the book, I found myself worrying for her, becoming anxious, then heaving a sigh of relief as each obstacle she encounters becomes a chapter, a memory, a tale that she has lived to tell. Jenna announced on her blog, Cold Antler Farm, that she’s left her day job to focus on writing, farming and offering workshops. A great lesson for all of us future farmers.