By Michelle Shall
Life changes happen to everyone. Sometimes, we are struck by them unexpectedly—a close family member dies, a job is transferred to a different state, or we inherit money. Other times, we cause the changes and have to prepare ourselves for the slew of adjustments that trail in the wake of the paradigm shift. And that’s exactly what my husband and I just did this past May … we upended our lives entirely and on purpose!
Here’s the story of how we left our “normal” city lives in Akron, Ohio, to try to become off-grid homesteaders in the Missouri Ozarks.
Ever since we met, Andrew and I have been unified in wanting to take responsibility for our lives. We are deeply concerned about where our food comes from and how it is raised. We want to live sustainably, and we want to raise a family that can run around in fields, forests, and interact with healthy animals. We saw that through all the technological, ethical, sociological, and medical complications that had been layered onto modern life, there was a good design still at the base—we believed that plants, animals, and people could be healthy and whole if they were just allowed to live the way that they were supposed to.
We were both teachers (I taught environmental education; he taught biology), and so it was easy to find people to talk to who understood and even agreed with our positions. But conversations about recycling centers, buying local produce, and “caring for the environment,” started to ring a little hollow in our ears. We knew that no matter how much we reused shopping bags, were mindful of our gas use, or gardened on our postage-stamp sized urban lot, we were still city-dwelling consumers, and the most common wildlife our son would see in our home was parking lot seagulls and the neighbor’s yappy dogs.
That gnawing desire to live meaningfully and responsibly spurred us on to more research. We read countless books about people who made radical changes to their lives, started watching their YouTube channels, and were introduced to the idea of “off-grid” living. We learned about modern homesteaders across the world who were finding land, forging a life on it, and becoming largely self-sufficient. They knew how their non-GMO, organic food had been grown, they knew how the animals they ate had been raised, they healed the land they were living on. Their kids got to grow up exposed to the responsibility and the hard-working life ethics that we wished had been instilled in our students.
These people were producers, not consumers, allowing the living things they surrounded themselves with to live in a way that honored the design. And it was exactly what we were looking for.
So even though we were both employed with full-time jobs at schools, we decided to start looking for our homestead and turning ourselves into homesteaders. It was a strange mix, waking up in the morning and leaving to do “normal” jobs, and then using our free time at home to practice splitting wood, canning food, and reading books upon books about alternative building practices, raising chickens, and managing waste without a sewer.
In March of 2016, we found twelve acres of land that fit our list of hopes perfectly. It had a barn, a south-facing hill, and a trailer where we could live while we painstakingly built our off-grid house. It was a dream come true.
We had never planned to move to the Ozark Mountains, but visiting the property felt like coming home, and so we bought it, full of hope for what could be. Since Andrew wanted to honor the teaching contract he had already signed, we weren’t able to move out to our new homestead for a full year. In that year, we tripled our efforts to learn and practice our up-and-coming new life.
We started up a YouTube channel of our own, delighted to become a part of the online homesteading community that we had learned so much about. We broke the news to our friends and family, and received a mixed bag of responses. Many were encouraging, some were baffled, yet amused, and a few questioned our sanity. Some asked why would we give up comfortable, full-time-job-cushioned lives for the uncertainty of a piece of land that would require years of hard work? But many more others said, “I would love to do something like that,” or even more soberingly, “I wish I had done that before my kids were grown.”
So a long year passed, full of much preparation, waiting, anticipation, and a little impatience. May of 2017 couldn’t come soon enough. When the end of the school year finally came, the teacher clothes went in the donation bin, the boots and flannel shirts took up their rightful place, and we finally … FINALLY made the move to our homestead. It was overgrown, it was unkempt, and it was the most beautiful thing we’d seen in a long time. We were home.
We have been here a little over two months now, and it has included some of the hardest work we have ever done. But even though we drop into bed exhausted every night, we wake up to clean-smelling air, free-range chicken eggs that gleam in the coop like precious jewels, and the sight of our young son running through a field with the ducks at his side. We have no idea what the future holds (does anyone?), but we’re ready to rush into it headlong, supporting each other as we finally try living the way we feel we were designed to live.
Michelle Shall is a wife, mother, and newbie homesteader who is figuring out a new way of life on a twelve-acre patch of the Ozarks. You can follow her family’s adventures at www.simplelifehomestead.com.