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Homesteading Observations: Downsizing & Sheep

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 July-August Issue Newsletter

By Sharon Gensler NOFA/Mass Outreach Coordinator

Photo credit: Sharon Gensler

Over the last couple of years, my partner Pru and I have been thinkingand working on the topic of Aging In Place. Our homestead site is bettersuited to younger bodies and ours are getting older - who would have thought it! So, we have builta more easily accessible path to our house, which is nestled into the bottom of a hillside, and added a bedroom on themain floor. Making life easier with site improvements is one thing; changing homesteading life itself is another.

 Added to the usual amount of homestead work (growing and preserving our food, building andtool maintenance, getting in the cordwood…) we are regularly takingcare of aged parents. Thoughts of more down time, community service and travel conflict with what has been an ever-expanding homesteadsince 1980. We’ve said it’s time to downsize. No more new construction (as we add a compost toilet to ourguest/intern cabin and build a small hoop house), no more new growing areas (as we add a new orchard area and an expandedpasture), no more new projects (as we add three lambs to our previously sheep-less life and await 25 new chicks). No more new endeavors (as we undertake starting the WildBrowse Farm Sustainability Center and increase our on-site Homestead Classes).

 You might think, and I do too, we have a hard timefollowing through on the concept of “slowing down”!However, there is some justification for our madness. The compost toilet in the cabin will allow us to have a yearlongintern, sure to be an amazing homestead immersionexperience for them. And it will allow us the ability torespond to emergency parent care at a moment’s notice, oreven a vacation, knowing that the place is in capable hands.The hoop house will extend our growing season, so lessfood preservation. Also, I have put more than half of ourvegetable growing beds into cover crops, thus not expandingthe garden for the first time in years. The new orchard areamakes sense in that it’s a more frost-free site for peaches and plumbs, so less work than trying to coddle them where they were. Pasture improvement has been an on-going project sincethe trees were cleared. We’ve pastured our laying flock andmeat birds using portable electronet fencing and mobilecoops. However, we spend a lot of time and petroleummowing the area to keep the forage at the ideal 3-4” heightfor poultry. By adding the sheep in a rotation with the birds,we’re hoping for less mowing and pasture improvement(ruminant poop improves soil by adding and feedingmicroorganisms). We’ve only had them 3 weeks, so can’treally judge the outcome of this experiment. I’m keepingtrack of the extra time spent moving their pasture everyfew days and will compare it with time I would have spentmowing. One thing is clear, spending time watching themis mostly peaceful, and they are entertaining. I’m not surewhether that time should be added to the plus or minus column of the “Great Sheep Experiment”.However, if the rain keeps up and the veggie crop flounders, we might be glad that there will be somethingto eat. Grass-fed lamb, anyone? 

And last, but not least, the Sustainability Center. Lookingback and taking stock led us to realize that it was time to shareon a wider level and to take our role as educators more seriously.By teaching we will be able to keep our hands and hearts in the homesteading realmas we age. Even though I am a confirmed Luddite, I’m actually in the process of creating a website: http://wildbrowsesustainability.wordpress.comIncreasing the garden and homestead skills classes has beena personally rewarding endeavor for us. Taking the time tothink about and prepare for each class helps us brush upon the latest information and reminds us that we really doknow a heck of a lot. It’s satisfying to share our thoughts,skills and insights more widely than to just one intern eachsummer. It is building a community of folks who all growby sharing their stories. It empowers all of us to take thenext step and live our dreams, whether it’s beginning togrow a little food, start a homestead or build a sustainabilitycenter. 

So, what do you think? Are we really on the road to downsizing or are we just crazy? Thoughts or commentswelcome by email at or you can see me at the NOFA Summer Conference. I’llbe at the NOFA/Mass table or the Homesteading Get Together, or come to our workshop tour of Wild BrowseFarm on Saturday.


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