A View from the Country

Clouds and BarnMy husband and I have lived in the country for almost a decade. I was chatting with another rural dweller yesterday, and we laughed a bit about how our lifestyles haven’t really changed that much with isolation. We are used to staying home. After all, we moved to the country for the peace and quiet and space, and we like nothing better than afternoons digging in the garden and evenings on the porch. Plus, in the case of my husband and I, two introverts married each other, so there’s that.  It’s a good day or week when we don’t have to leave the farm.

We are really semi-rural (I don’t want people imagining us in the middle of nowhere): we live on 18 acres at the edge of a small town. The house dates from the 1850s. The property has several old barns, a ceramic silo whose top blew off in a tornado years ago, and an old outhouse that is being reclaimed by nature. Our town has basic services like gas, milk, toilet paper and liquor, and so far things have stayed open.

But, even if they closed, we would be okay for at least a couple weeks. Our freezer is full of meat, mostly from a local farmer who slaughters a few cows and pigs each year. They also supply us with eggs and are raising a couple milk cows. (Fresh mozzarella, anyone?) We usually have access to goat milk although it isn’t my favorite.

We moved to the country when our little college town of Williamsburg became a retirement mecca, and there were suddenly traffic jams and lines at the grocery store. We both grew up in the country and love the freedom and privacy of living down a long driveway. My own parents escaped the city for the country when I was an infant, and I don’t ever remember a summer without a garden. We ate vegetables fresh and then “put them up,” which meant either canning or freezing. When my fraternal grandmother died, we discovered a basement full of jars: green beans, pickles, jams and jellies. Food was never wasted.

Farm to tableMy husband is retired and raises a fair amount of our fresh vegetables. We are fortunate to have a high tunnel, an unheated green house, where he can start spring crops early. With the mild winter, we’ve been eating spinach and kale for a couple months, and the cabbage and broccoli is coming in. (If you haven’t eaten freshly picked broccoli lightly steamed with butter, lemon and garlic, you have missed out. It is a completely different vegetable than what you find in the grocery store.)

The bumper crop this season has been beets. I love pickled beets and eggs, a favorite from my Pennsylvania Dutch Farm to tablechildhood. My husband does not like beets but grows them for me. I have canned a few jars, roasted some and put them in the freezer (I’m thinking borscht?), and I am going to try beet chips in the air fryer.

The house itself is made for growing food. The south side faces flat fields so gets full sun most of the day. The previous owner–the town doctor who was also a dairy farmer and actually started as the town vet–had put up sliding glass doors along the whole side. It is a natural greenhouse, and we take advantage of the passive solar to heat the house in the winter along with a wood burning stove in our main living area. On a day like today, the doors and windows are open to the world. I can hear birds singing along with early honey bees buzzing. My Farm to tablehusband already has tomatoes blossoming with one small fruit. You do have to tickle them to help them with pollination.

Staples like peanut butter and cleaning products and snacks either get delivered or come  from Dollar General or the IGA grocery store in the next town. The latter has a surprisingly good selection (sun-dried tomatoes, anyone?) but can be pricey. We go once a month or so or we may stop by a “real” grocery store when we are forced off the farm for some errand or other like dentist or vet appointments. We stock up so I was surprised when there was a run on yeast. I guess everyone doesn’t keep a pound in the freezer?

It turns out that my husband and I were made for self-isolation. Ironically, we were just beginning to plan a life of travel off the farm, imagining a sprinter van just big enough for the two of us and our dogs to travel the country.

After hearing stories of city folk fleeing to the country, I jokingly offered up our cottage for visitors who wanted to try it out. Will we start to see a long term migration? And what impacts–both positive and negative–might it bring? Certainly, we would welcome better broadband. But we don’t need much more commerce or entertainment. I guess if my town gets too crowded we can sell the farm and head west, maybe closer to the middle of nowhere.

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