Homesteading as a Family
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By Jenna Dooley Back in October of 2011, I started learning about our broken food system and healthier food options. That led to learning about growing our own food. I was smitten with the idea. By May of 2012, we were starting our first garden and had gotten chickens. I had been bitten by the homesteading bug and was fully committed. I knew from the start that I wanted my whole family involved. I desired for my children to understand where their food comes from, what is in their food, and all of the many lessons learned from the hard work put into this lifestyle.
It wasn’t difficult to convince my husband or children to want to homestead. My husband was all for it as soon as I began talking about my desire. As for the kids, we showed them a video of how fast-food chicken nuggets were made and they never wanted to eat them again. Once we talked about getting baby chicks, they were sold on the whole idea!
We started out with just a few baby chicks. Over the years we have grown far beyond what I ever dreamed of. Our family raises our own grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork and poultry, eggs, honey, dairy, and a large garden. We preserve as much food as we can to feed our family throughout the year. We have also expanded by offering our meats and eggs for sale locally.
While wanting clean, healthy food for my family was my original motivation for homesteading, the richness of life it has provided for my family is a value I cannot put a dollar amount on. The character building that homesteading provides is something you can’t get anywhere else.
Our family’s view of running the homestead is, “teamwork makes the dream work.” As a general rule of thumb, we do all of the chores together as much as possible. While there are times we do have to divide and conquer, we much prefer working together.
We have eight children ranging in age from four to 19 years old. It never ceases to amaze me how much and how quickly the younger kids learn from their older siblings. I’ve also found that children are much more capable of doing hard things than we expect them to be.
Working together on the homestead has brought us much closer as a family. The children have very close sibling bonds and are truly each other’s best friends. As parents, we have very close relationships with each of our children as well as with each other.
From milking cows, collecting eggs, feeding pigs, putting out hay for the cows, butchering livestock, cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood, to working the garden, there are plenty of jobs that pop up that we have to do, our kids are by our side and 100% involved in all of it.
When you are raising food for this many people, there is no shortage of work. It’s not uncommon for us to put a full eight-hour day in the garden during planting season or spend hours butchering and processing meat to fill our freezer.
We also spend many hours together canning and preserving the harvest that we worked so hard to cultivate and tend all summer. Our children get to experience the satisfaction of opening a jar of delicious food that tastes like summer in the middle of the winter. They take pride in knowing that they helped make that possible.
I’m not going to pretend that it is all sunshine and roses. Our children have their moments of complaining, arguing with each other, and having bad attitudes. I’ve found that working so close together on a daily basis has really given us the opportunity to learn their hearts and help them work through these difficulties.
We also homeschool our children so we are able to integrate homesteading and schooling together. This has proven to be a wonderful thing for our children. They tell me that they learn and retain so much more through life experience on the farm and in the kitchen than from their schoolbooks.
We like to work hard but also play hard. There is plenty of time spent enjoying the outdoors on the homestead. We also believe in rewarding all of that hard work. Summertime just calls for fresh homemade ice cream from our own milk. Top that with some amazing fresh fruit we’ve harvested … talk about reaping the fruits of your labor!
It has been over a decade since we started this lifestyle. We jumped in headfirst and we haven’t looked back. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, but I can honestly say that my expectations have been far surpassed. I can see the fruit of everything we’ve invested in our children’s lives. They are so thankful for the opportunity to be raised on a farm. At this point, all of our children desire to continue homesteading as adults.
JENNA DOOLEY lives on a 136-acre farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of SW Virginia with her husband and their eight children. Jenna is passionate about raising food for her family as well as sharing about and educating others on homesteading and natural living. Jenna shares on her blog at www.flipflopbarnyard.com and YouTube channel, The Flip Flop Barnyard.
Originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.