In reference to Jeff’s last post about the luxury of thinking about tomorrow, I have been doing lots of thinking about my own future. The whole idea of this world tour was to break away from a twenty-year routine that was taking its toll on our relationships, health and sanity. Extensive travel would give us the opportunity to reflect and hopefully provide some insight as to what our next steps in life would be. Being away from our normally grueling lives would give us the headspace we would need to come home and create a more balanced existence for ourselves.
Four years ago we bought a piece of property I lovingly call, “The Farm.” It is a place an hour outside of the Twin Cities Metro area that once was the homestead of a Swedish Immigrant family who arrived in these rolling hills the late 1800s. Originally, the property was a 150-acre parcel with enough fields for hay, food crops and grazing. It sits above a heavily wooded ravine providing shelter for deer, wild turkey and all variety of woodland animals; the trees were there for the taking for lumber and heat. The Quist family built a big dairy barn, a granary, chicken coop, and dug a well for their home, a lovely three bedroom white lap-sided shelter for a growing family. They were successful farmers who, until 1986, lived and farmed the property.
In 1986, Joel and Dora Quist, descendants of the original Swedish homesteaders, could no longer manage to live here and so decided to sell. The fields were gobbled up by nearby conventional farmers who every year hope to add acreage for mechanized corn and soybean crops, and 15 acres, including the house, outbuildings, and wooded ravine was surveyed off to be included in the sale of the homestead property. As Joel and Dora were very tidy farmers, the property sold quickly to a young couple looking for just enough land to have horses. That young couple raised a daughter on this property, had some horses and eventually, moved on. That’s when we stumbled on this little slice of heaven.
By 2013 when we bought the farm, it was in a shambles needing some TLC to bring it back to life, but that’s how Jeff and I like our properties. By the time we bought this place, we had already renovated three of our own homes that others told us they would consider “tear downs!” We have found that we like junky properties with good bones because they sell cheap and we can completely gut them without feeling like we are wasting anyone else’s hard work and bad taste. We gut and rebuild them exactly the way we want. We’re big on maintaining the home’s historical integrity, so tend towards simple, neutral and classic. Our formula seems to work as selling each of our previous properties has never taken more than a few days.
I should note here, for those of you who don’t know us, these extensive home renovation projects took place while also holding down regular full-time jobs and raising our son, Max. People call us ambitious. In retrospect, I now see that teaching never gave me enough opportunity to enjoy the creative, hands-on results of projects like this. I think renovation and rehab are my drugs of choice – I get such enormous satisfaction and joy from the finished product. I actually HATE all the mess and physical pain of renovation, but when it is done and clean and beautiful…there is nothing like it! The check received at the closing table is pretty nice, too!
However, the farm was a property we knew we would keep. This one would be our country home – a place to escape from the rigors of city life and provide a creative outlet. This place would give years of building projects – a new barn, sugar shack for maple syruping, a summer kitchen in the granary, an outdoor pizza oven, a guesthouse or two and gardens everywhere. We began renovations in the house – removing all the old carpeting, rustic pine woodwork, and broken windows and doors. We added a new kitchen using all recycled cabinets from other old properties and painted everything in a simple farmhouse style. About a week into working on this property, I found myself looking out the windows over the rolling hills and valleys and felt a deep sense of peace. Another week later I was smitten and a trip back to the Cities felt burdensome. Each moment in the city that I was away from the farm I felt a pull. That feeling of only wanting to be at the farm grew and grew and grew.
I began to fantasize about starting a farm business so I could stay permanently at the farm. The second summer we were here I grew a gigantic garden with enough veg to feed fifty families, I began to explore options for starting a CSA. Friends came to visit and I served them “Farm Lunch” from the bounty of the garden, we had big parties on the weekends and small gatherings during the week. Jeff invited his bike crew out for some 80-mile fast rides around Lake Pepin and I fed them when they returned. I found that this place is not only healing for me but healing for others. Lots of people love our farm and I love hosting them.
Before leaving for our world tour, I fretted about what to do with the farmhouse – my pride and joy. I reluctantly decided to rent it to friends and family for a nominal fee – just charging enough money to keep the bills paid on the place while we’re away. I built a website to promote it and reservations started pouring in. Nearly every weekend since we left, the farm has had visitors, many of whom have reported falling in love with it just like I have! Our farm neighbor down the road says he thinks I’ve found my calling as the owner of a farm stay rental!
I have known since shortly after buying this property that I want to live on the farm permanently and turn it into some sort of business. I want to host guests either as day visitors who come to learn about permaculture gardens, buy vegetables or eat lunch. I want to provide guesthouses for those needing to get away from the city. I want to share this space with others because when somebody says, “This place is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing it with us!” I feel such enormous satisfaction and pride – I feel like I have a purpose in life.
Every day while traveling, my mind goes to the farm. That pull that I felt when returning to Minneapolis from the farm only increased while on our world tour. Every guest house we stay in gets compared to the farm, all the farms we saw in Europe gave me ideas for mine, I studied tree planting and pruning, orchards and vineyards all with the idea to bring what I was learning home. And, when travel was boring or hard, all I wanted was to return to my farm.
Yes, travel is hard and I suffer the first-world problem of travel being boring. Travel involves enormous amounts of decision-making – the kind of decision-making that allows no time to ponder. Do I go right or left…I need to know now! To avoid the stress of all the instant decisions needed, planning time is required before venturing out, so reading reviews, articles and maps should be considered fun. It turns out, I don’t much care to put myself in the position where I have to make on-the-spot decisions that affect others and I HATE reading about travel! When planning where to go on the next leg of our trip I would find myself veering back into the internet land of farms, permaculture gardening and guesthouses. Traveling the world has made me realize more clearly that I just don’t like traveling all that much. Jeff calls me a homebody – a label perfectly suited to me. I love my home, I love the life I am creating there and I want to go back.
So, traveling indeed has given me perspective and insight, but not about next steps when I return to the States. Instead, traveling made me realize that I am really not happy anywhere other than at “The Farm.” I knew that before leaving, but it is clear to me now that I need to be on the farm because all I want to do is develop my business. Traveling is taking me away from moving in that direction. I realized that I left behind an unfinished project that has a very strong pull. Travel is lovely for someone needing to slow down, but for me, my mind is churning – full of ideas and planning next steps for the farm. Being away from my project, and in the stressful, slow world of travel is stopping dead a creative flow that needs an outlet.
Last summer I put in half a garden because we were leaving in September so I didn’t plant many late season veggies. All summer I was sad because I had half a garden. This year, I would also have half a garden as the trip wouldn’t bring us home until May meaning I wouldn’t have been able to start my own seeds for tomatoes, peppers and all the flowers I love to start early. If you are well-versed in the use of grammar and tenses, you likely know what I am leading up to – I just can’t be away from the farm for another minute! I can’t bear that Spring is right around the corner and I won’t be able to start seeds and get garden plans underway. Projects at the farm are pulling me away from any desire to travel the world, so I have decided to come home. Max and Jeff are quite content with their adventures – hiking, rafting, exploring and surfing, but this homebody needs to be done. Five months on the road was enough to feel well-rested and clarified!
For those of you with farm reservations, don’t worry. I will continue to rent the farmhouse on the weekends through Jeff and Max’s return in May. Your staying at the farm gives me the opportunity to catch up with friends and family. I guess in a way, I will complete my world tour in the U.S.
Travel over a long period of time is very enlightening, but I am glad to be heading home.