PHOTO: Russ Turpin
Karen Lanier
November 19, 2018

There are so many ways to farm, garden, homestead, forage and thrive on local, seasonal food. In researching my book, The Woman Hobby Farmer, I learned that the path to living a dream gets very curvy. That’s what makes it alluring. You’re never quite sure what’s around the bend. I am taking time during this month of Thanksgiving to pause and notice where I am on the path and to share my gratitude for the quirks and irregularity of it all.


Life Is a Fixer-Upper

Watching homesteading shows on TV is dangerous. My partner and I live in a modest home with a long to-do list. We escape that occasionally and watch a DIY program for what we call “inspiration.” Sometimes it’s counterproductive. Extreme situations are prettified, and in less than an hour through the magic of television, a sinkhole has become a dream home. Makeover shows become the source of disappointment if we believe the polished, edited versions of reality. One of my favorite guilty pleasures is a Netflix program called How to Live Mortgage Free with Sarah Beeney. It makes one believe it’s simple and easy to build your dream home and owe nothing when you’re done, if all the right pieces fall into place, magically, with perfect timing.

Turning back to the space where I live—feeling the burden of Where do I start? mixed with What are we even doing here?—I just have to laugh at the absurdity of comparing my unique life situation with anyone else’s. Good ideas and design tips come from these entertaining diversions, but truthfully, my lifestyle doesn’t look like anyone else’s. Looking around at the people I admire, we’re all pretty weird and are finding our own unique paths.

gratitude shiitake mushrooms
Karen Lanier

Livin’ the Dream

I used to be perfectly happy with a few potted plants on my apartment balcony, because I moved frequently. But as I’ve gotten involved in the local, organic, restorative agriculture scene, I began thinking I needed to buy a piece of land and really start growing food—acres and acres of it. But in reality, that is not my thing. I enjoy big, wild spaces and small gardens. I get much more pleasure (and my spirit is nourished) by maintaining what I can maintain. For me, at this stage in life, that has taken the following form: a few veggies in the yard, all specially chosen seeds of heirloom varieties; a little patch of medicinal herbs on my friend’s farm surrounded by untended forest; lending a helping hand at an urban community garden—a small example of permaculture in practice.

gratitude community garden gardens
Karen Lanier

While it’s not healthy or productive to continually compare our situations with that of anyone else, I would not have this perspective of gratitude had I not seen it in some of the farmers I look up to as role models. Staying connected with genuine, authentic humans willing to walk their land with me, or sit down for a cup of tea and share the reality of their lives, is more influential and inspiring than any production I’ve seen.

I’ll never have anyone else’s version of a perfect little farm. I will have my own version, and that is only if I own it, in the sense that I claim it. I acknowledge it is what I want. I actually do want what I already have. With that attitude, I look around again. I live in a vibrant, tree-filled community in a creative, artistic house with feline friends, a wood stove, a guy who chops the wood, a yard full of herbs, and fruit, nuts and wildlife. This fixer-upper might not make a good TV series, but it fits me, it means something to me, and I am grateful.

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