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Farming stresses relationships

Kristin and Mark Kimball"As the farm began to take form, Mark and I argued fiercely over everything.  We discovered that we had different desires, different visions for the farm.  We were both way too stubborn.  We lost whole precious daylight hours fighting over how to build a pig fence or whether the horses should spend the night inside or out....

The most obvious theme threaded through The Dirty Life is the effect that a farm has on a relationship.  I don't know whether it's harder to dive in together as Mark and Kristin did and bump your way through the early relationship years at the same time you're learning to grow things, or whether it's worse to move to a farm when you're already in an established relationship, only to learn the hard way that your dreams don't match up with your spouse's as well as you'd thought.  Either way, I think the unnamed farmer who "said that organic farms most commonly failed not from bankruptcy but from burnout or divorce" was right on track.

Kimball with horsesOn the other hand, if you can figure out how to work together without killing each other, striving with your partner toward a "clear joint purpose" can bring your partnership to another level.  One of my few complaints with The Dirty Life is that Kristin only gave us a few brief views into a happier future, like this one:

"If I could only have glimpsed the future, this is what I would have seen: Late spring, sunny afternoon, me seven months pregnant with our daughter, driving the team [of  horses] for Mark while he plowed, not because we needed two people for the job by then but for the sheer pleasure of it, the knowing horses doing their work and the plow moving smoothly through soil and we two humans enjoying it like other couples enjoy a waltz together.  But that was far in the future, with a lot of trying in between."

This week's discussion question is: if you've ever combined a romantic relationship with a joint endeavor, how did you survive?  Personally, I chalk all of our relationship successes up to my husband, who always knows that it's better to work an issue out than to get farm work done, no matter how pressing the latter seems.  Like the Kimballs, we often divide up chores and we each have specialties that the other doesn't micromanage very much, but we also try to plan bigger picture projects together.  How about you?

Weekend HomesteaderThose of you new the book club might want to check out previous discussions that covered learning that real food is imperfect and pacing yourself in the early years.  We'll be discussing the rest of the book (three parts, but they're all short) next Wednesday, so I hope you'll keep reading.  And don't forget to hunt down Radical Homemakers, which we'll start discussing on August 29.

The Weekend Homesteader provides tips for becoming more self-sufficient one weekend at a time.

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My hubby and I moved to our mountainous homestead in '93. We had a hand dug well, an outhouse a miners' cabin and no electricity.

Hubby was in charge of getting the cabin wired with shop lights and hooked to the generato. Then he worked with the plumber to get a gas line to the water heater and the propane stove.

I was in charge of the garden, animals and making sure the wood was split for the winter fire.

This worked for 3 years. We cut our own firewood to keep warm by. But hubbys heart health became worse and we had to move up an older single wide trailer and have a new well, septic and electricity brought up.

There were many arguments during those 3 to 4 years. His idea of a homestead was similar to the vegetable garden we had in the back of our suburban home. Ha! Ha!

He was not ready for the 1/4 mile dirt road that covered everything in the cabin with dust, nor the treck to the outhouse after sundown or during the winter. He was especially not ready for the truck load after truck load of garbage we had to clear from the property to get started on our homestead.

But after going back down to visit family in the city, he realized how precious our homestead was. We still argue over plans for our future, but we do not take our arguments to heart.

Comment by mona Wed Aug 8 13:49:21 2012
Mona --- I'm glad you could take a step back and realize your relationship was more important than the farm disagreements! I think that's hard to do in the early years (or maybe that's just because Mark's and my early years on the farm were also the early years of our relationship?), but we did seem to mellow with age. :-)
Comment by anna Wed Aug 8 18:15:45 2012

My Husband and I do not have a "homestead" yet. We have a tenth of an acre in town. I do some gardening on it. By no means does it hold us over for the winter. It is more of an educational thing that I like doing. I want to have chickens but I have to petition to get the rules changed.

We do not have the same ideas about how to do anything. An example, when I got swarmed by ground hornets while digging potatoes a few yrs ago. After my nerves settled, I figured I'd be upset if someone destroyed my house to. And let it go. (however I didn't get the rest of the potatoes.) He was so mad at the hornets he wanted to torch them for stinging me. He picks on me a little and calls the bee's my friends. um not quite. lol

He is starting to see how my way works. Although sometimes it is hard to make him see the big picture. But he is coming along.

We hope to have a real place out in the country in a few years.

Comment by Irma Wed Aug 8 20:54:51 2012

When we first bought our suburban house, we used to argue over where to plant every single plant. Over time, we got over that - I chalk it up to mellowing with age :-) It would be tough to farm together if one is a control freak.

Luckily we both also tend to get into whatever hobby or project the other is into, and eventually do it together. For example I wanted to build a hugelkultur bed. DH thought it was quite a silly thing, but he helped me build it and now of course it looks quite nice.

BTW, thanks for including the photos - my kindle version doesn't have them.

Comment by De Thu Aug 9 07:26:28 2012

Irma --- I don't think you have to be on a big farm to get the relationship stress. It's amazing how working together on the same projects shows how different (or similar) your ideals and ideas are. Glad to hear your husband is coming along.

De --- Well, I'm a definite control freak, but Mark mitigates that to some extent, and we survive. :-) It's definitely good for a relationship if you end up enjoying projects together!

The book actually only had one picture at the beginning of each section, so I stole some other ones of their farm off the internet. Glad you liked them. :-)

Comment by anna Thu Aug 9 08:15:43 2012

This is a job for at least two people. If one of you are into it and the other isn't it won't work. After years of trying we are now going to spend a little bit of time apart. It is a positive thing, though sad, but trying to live this lifestyle (whatever that means to everyone) can sometimes highlight the contrasts between two people. You start to see how different you really are.

I wise man once said something like: Two of the most important questions in life are, "Where am I going" and "Who, if anyone, is going with me". And it helps to ask those in the correct order. We asked the second one first and then realized many years later that we weren't going to the same place, though we had decided that we'd go "there" with each other.

Maybe it will change. Maybe some absence will make our hearts grow fonder. Trying to homestead or farm definitely does stress a relationship. But sometimes a "stress test" can be a good thing if it opens your eyes to major issues that you've been ignoring for many years.

Advice: Be DAMN sure your partner is just as into this as you are before embarking on this journey. Someone who is willing to come along for the ride because they want you to live your dream is very kind and must love you an awful lot to even do that, but that doesn't mean it will ever become their dream too.

Good luck everyone!

Comment by A Friend of De and Anna Thu Aug 9 10:19:16 2012

Anna, you have a wise husband. I hope my partner and I can always put our relationship before the farm or anything else. We just have a quarter acre in the sub-urbs. We do tend to divide and conquer on most stuff (I take care of chickens and kitchen chores, he is a hand-watering fool and a rodent-killing hero).

We are learning to work together more efficiently on homesteading projects (more negotiating, less arguing).

Thanks for hosting the book club!

Comment by Paula B. Thu Aug 9 12:57:41 2012

A Friend --- I'm so sorry to hear that! Unfortunately, I see a lot of folks just like you who go back to the land together and end up splitting up (and usually giving up on the homesteading dream at the same time). Looking on the bright side, I guess the homesteading pressure cooker lets couples who aren't really compatible see the problems faster, which helps them move on with their lives. But it's still very sad! Thanks for sharing your cautionary tale, and I'll be rooting for everything working out.

Paula --- Yes, Mark is rather excessively wise. :-) It sounds like you and your husband are already on the right track!

Comment by anna Thu Aug 9 16:18:47 2012
I think that this is a very nice, encouraging article. I moved into my boyfriend and his mothers farm about a year ago. while we have both always been very interested in farming, it took a little bit more encouragement to get started turning a chicken coop on the property into a little house for the two of us(hed been living in his moms house) but its getting there! I know that building a house and working together farming can be two of the most difficult things on a relationship, and I think everyone's advice on dividing tasks up would help us a lot since we already spend so much time together, and just have to get into an argument at the beginning of each project(but we do work pretty well together)
Comment by Allie Macalle Thu Aug 16 21:53:52 2012
Allie --- Good luck working on your farm and relationship! Learning to work together can be hard, but it's also a really wonderful experience and worth every bit of the effort.
Comment by anna Fri Aug 17 22:53:30 2012

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime