Farmward Bound

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We move out to our farm today. It’s a house on ten acres of land outside of Austin, the same one I wrote about months back that we had made an offer on.

A video tour of the farm will be forthcoming, but for now, a few observations on our town and country, our goals, and recent decisions we’ve made as we prepare to make this move.

A Symbolic Cutting of the Ties

Today I went into the AT&T store to renew and change out cell phone plan. Katie wanted to chop it off at the knees and just get one pay-as-you-go plan we would use while driving, then use our internet provider for home phone. I didn’t think we were yet ready for that so instead we just reduced our current plan.

I’ve been using a smart phone the past two years. Today I turned it off for the last time and got a flip phone. That zaps the data plan and its $25 per month cost. We paid about $20 per month for text messaging. We cut that out entirely, blocking all texts. We reduced the number of minutes on our plan by half.

Total bill reduction: $130 per month to $75 per month.

My hope is that in two years when we are up for renewal we can reduce even more by going to pay-as-you-go on just one phone.

But it wasn’t just to save money that we did it. I was checking my smart phone every five minutes for a new email, a new text, a new blog post in my feed. It’s as addictive as some massively multiplayer online games. There’s always another coin to catch, another angry bird to sling, another level or loot drop to obtain. What broke the back for me was my son having to compete at times with my attention.

We are moving out to our homestead after almost seven years of dreaming, talking, and planning. So we made this deliberate decision to reduce the cell phone usage in our lives. A small step, but a big one.

What Community?

We live in a historic part of a once-small town, close to the picturesque downtown, in a restored, century-old house. Our neighbors’ houses are (generally) well-to-do, with lovely lawns immaculately cared for–usually be someone named Juan or Jose. It’s the very image of quaint modern life.

And the neighborhood is almost completely devoid of community life.

I saw one of my neighbors last week. They have not ever spoken to us and barely acknowledge our existence. We talked briefly, and he did not know who I was, didn’t realize I lived right next to him. I kid you not. And we are outside with our children every single day. He is not mentally slow or incapacitated. He just paid no attention.

Our other neighbors are a fifty-something couple living in a beautiful, redone old house. They drive out of their garage in the morning and back into it in the evening, going to their respective jobs, and we need see them. Except on weekends briefly when the husband comes out on his riding John Deere mower, Big Gulp in hand, to mow the lawn. My son waves at him furiously, because he is so excited about the mower, but my neighbor usually doesn’t wave back. I have to explain to my son that some people are sort-of grumpy.

I take the children walking up and down the blocks all around our house almost every day. Most of the time we don’t see anyone. Everyone’s at work, their children at day care or school, or they’re in their houses–modern day comfort fortresses–and don’t come out to say hi. A few oldsters in the neighborhood do enjoy us saying hello, but that’s about it.

What we are seeing is a civilization on its last legs. Neighborliness, community, local friendships and ties: all are largely gone from Main Street in America. This neighborhood is not unique. It is a match, more or less. for every neighborhood we have lived in since getting married.

The Homestead Dream

I know you’re ready to burst my bubble, that living out in the country will be no better. But we already know that. My point is that, things cannot get much worse. At least out in the country, we will have fewer people around us and little community rather than living in town, having tons of people around us and no community!

But already out in the country we have begun making connections, meeting neighbors, and discovering places and people where we can forge relationships.

For others considering moving to a homestead, to some land, I’ll share with you that it took Katie and I six years of talking, praying, arguing, and planning before coming to unity in our decision.

Truth is we didn’t know what we were looking for or what we wanted, for a long time. As we learned about ourselves, our family, and the possibilities, our desires changed. We believe of course that God led us to unity in our decision. But even so, we are just at the beginning of our journey. We just reached the starting line, in some sense. It took us this long just to find the right race to run in.

We kicked around the idea of being full-time farmers, then gentlemen farmers, yeoman farmers, subsistence farmers. Ultimately we compromised that we would just find the land and move to it and then discover what we were good at, what we enjoyed doing, and how we could grow more of our own food. We’ll take the first step and then see what the next one is.

Our goals for the land look something like this:

Year 1: Clean up the place, plant a garden, get bees, get chickens, corral cows
Year 2: Get some sheep, enlarge garden, fix our pond
Year 3: Enlarge garden, raise a steer for grass-fed beef, get a milk cow

This year we are going to have a woodstove installed to heat our home, and I am going to start cutting up wood from the two-acre woodlot on our property, so it can start curing.

I’ll keep you informed about our progress, and will post pictures and videos so you can see how it all looks.

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32 Responses to Farmward Bound

  1. So happy for you Devin! Good luck and have fun.
    I have resisted the smart phones as well, for the same reasons you cite. Money is a big one, but also, the reason I got a cell in the first place was for “emergencies” when my wife was pregnant with our first child in ’03. But it is funny how a phone used for emergencies can become much more if you let it. I have also blocked all texts and data. And like you, am waiting for my current plan to expire to just do the pay as you go plan. The $72 I pay seemed like a bargain for a while, but now even that seems too expensive.

    I am looking forward to updates on your farm. I am perhaps in the early stages of a similar move in years to come, but like you, have a lot of thinking to do about it.

    Are you still telecommuting some? Or are you driving a lot of the time? How long is the commute?

    • Devin Rose says:

      David,

      Ditto on cell phones. We’ll revisit the question in two years and see what we can do then. Good thing is lots of options are opening up: Google voice, hangouts, skype, magic jack, pay as you go, etc.

      I currently work from home three days per week and drive in two days per week. The commute will be forty minutes each way, if I leave early in the morning and return home early (to beat traffic). We’ll see how it goes, and I’ll keep you updated on the farm. I hope y’all are able to find something similar soon.

  2. Kevin Ford says:

    Hi Devin,

    Congratulations on your new farm. You will find there is more community in the country than you think, but you probably have to search it out. It is essential to get involved with community events and such so as to integrate yourself into their world. Out here we go to all sorts of things that might not be our favorite, but that help us remain native to this place. We look forward to skyping again when you’re all settled. We will say some prayers for you as you move. (Always stressful) We’ve moved almost every year since we were married, but are now settled and building a farm. I want to talk to you about a high tunnel program that you should get set up with once your settled. It might get you a grant for a high tunnel if they continue the program next year.

    Pax,
    Kevin

    • Devin Rose says:

      Kevin that sounds so awesome. We will talk as soon as we both can as I’d love to learn about this.

      And thanks for the advice on searching out people for community and getting involved. We definitely plan to do that. This finally feels like a town where we can put down roots beyond just at church.

      God bless,
      Devin

  3. Alan P. says:

    Hello Devin,

    Congratulations on finally moving moving out onto your farm. It sounds like it will be a good place to live.

    In regards to your cell phone bill, have you looked at Net 10? I currently use that and am paying only $20 a month for 300 minutes. Depending how many minutes you really need, it could also be $15 for 150 minutes. You’d have to see what the service is like by your house though, since you’re in a more rural area. Service is all dependent on which network they contract with in your area.

    God Bless,
    Alan P.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Alan,

      We’ll check out Net 10. My wife is a pretty big talker (hehehe) and I can gab, too, but we are shooting for doing 700 minutes per month and seeing how we do.

  4. Wishing you and your family all the best in this next stage of your life.

  5. Amber says:

    Congratulations! How exciting that you are moving onto your property at last! I’m sure there will be struggles and challenges, setbacks and frustrations (and your three year plan will probably take six!) but there will be a lot of beauty and wonder too. And it will be fantastic for your kids.

    As an aside, have you looked at consumer cellular? We are down to one basic phone from them with no texting or data plan and we pay less than $15 a mo. We trade it off when we leave the house and it has worked well for us. More connected folk think we are crazy though! :-)

    • Devin Rose says:

      Thanks Amber! We had various friends test out the different networks out here, and AT&T is the only one that gives decent coverage. But I will check out that product to see what they offer.

      • Amber says:

        Consumer Cellular buys coverage from other networks, so they work all over the place. We are in an area that is only covered by AT&T too, but our phone still works. We really don’t use it at home though. It really gets used for three reasons – for one of us to say, “we are leaving X now, be home in Y” , or “such and such is on sale, should I get it?”, or “oops, I forgot my shopping list, could you read it to me?”. This really is only about 10-20 min a month. They don’t require a contract, which is nice as well. It has worked well for us since we moved to our property.

        • Devin Rose says:

          Amber,

          Will check it out. A friend of mine had something similar from another company, but I would have to try it first and see whether there is any coverage here. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Nick says:

    The main detail that caught my eye was that it took 6 years before you came to this decision. I think this is key, because while a lot of people might read a post here or there on how great country life is or can be, your testimony shows it’s not something to rush into. I would have never thought to meditate on the issue that long, but it really makes sense.

    And the idea that there is no community life within neighborhoods is something I have not stopped to ponder, but you’re so right. For whatever reason, there is no community. I think one factor is the fact people are completely disconnected with family, so there isn’t much stopping them from moving according to wherever a job takes them, including across state lines. But once you’ve moved to another state just for a job, you’ve ‘settled down’ into a completely unnatural way of life, ready to uproot at any moment. One guy I was reading said this problem began back when Europeans were immigrating in large numbers to America, basically leaving everything behind and starting from square one in a foreign land. This ‘mentality’ has seemingly been American for at least the last 100 years.

    • Augustine says:

      Not true. Immigrants came and stuck together in their own neighborhoods. In other countries with great influx of immigrants the same has happened, but never became nomad societies like America.

      It was with the rise of suburbia in the post-war period that neighborlilessness came about apparently to stay.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Nick,

      Yes, we read a good book that said, “the number one thing that will kill your dream of having a farm/acreage is if you and your spouse are not in unity about what your goals are, plans are, hopes are.”

      And Katie and I had very different ideas about it for a long time. We now see that there were many other things we needed to experience, learn about, and realize before we could come to unity on what this would look like for us. Some people might do it in six months; we needed six years. :)

      God bless,
      Devin

  7. Augustine says:

    Congratulations on your dream come true! It’s a bucketful of new possibilities that now is open to you guys. I’m sure that the children will enjoy being raise by y’all close to nature and working in it.

    FWIW, check out T-mobile. They just did away with contracts and all plans are pre-paid. I have a pre-paid plan for $30 a month which includes unlimited text and data and 100min of talk. For years I had a pay-as-you-go plan at $100 for 1000min good for a year, which would take me for 10 months to go through.

    May St. Joseph get y’all abundant blessings.

  8. Jonathan Brumley says:

    Congratulations, Devin and Katie – I wish you all the best in your new home!

    Here’s my insight about neighbors:

    Neighbors often have no shared interests – this is the big factor today that makes building a relationship really slow. When people don’t work together, nor share hobbies together, nor go to the same church, there’s just few occasions to get to know each other. And in our pluralistic society, there’s a basic distrust, because you don’t know even if you share the same values. Basic politeness can get things started, saying “Hi”, introducing yourself. If you’re out of eggs, would you ask your neighbor for an egg? We had a great neighbor years ago who started a relationship this way. But it’s a slow process. I’ve lived in the same house for 13 years, and we’ve finally had all our neighbors over for dinner.

    Relationships build much faster when there are common areas and common interests. Our neighborhood has front porches and the houses are close together. That’s big. But the presence of children is the biggest factor. Kids play outside, and so naturally, you get to know the parents because of the kids. When you and your neighbors are parents, there’s a huge shared interest right there. We’re blessed now that all our neighbors have kids. In addition, the neighborhood has shared activities – there’s the e-mail list, the July 4th parade at the park, movie night at the park. All this is big.

    The value of having a relationship with your neighbors is huge. I’d say it affects your worldview. When you’re friendly with your neighbors, the whole world seems a friendlier place.

    • Devin Rose says:

      Jonathan, those are great points. You’ve worked to build relationships with neighbors, even when you have very different beliefs. I hope we can do something similar out here.

  9. Russ says:

    Congrats!!! We geared down 12 years ago , I left my practice, worked part time only and pursued my dream if being a folk musician. In the process, had more time to finally think, pray. Ended up Catholic two years later!!!!
    The town we geared down and moved to was called …. Emmaus, where Jesus became present to his disciples in the breaking of the bread.
    Back to fulltime medicine again but I did put out three CDs . Will never regret the move.
    Is there a Church near?

    • Devin Rose says:

      I never knew all that, Russ. Very neat, and I’m glad you had a fallback gig as a doctor. :)

      Yes we live outside of a town of about 9,000 people, which has one parish a five minute drive away. We went to Mass there for the first time today and are looking forward to helping out, as God directs us.

      God bless!
      Devin

      • Augustine says:

        Devin,

        Does it mean that we’re not going to be seeing y’all at St. William anymore? :-(

        That parish is lucky to the Roses as members.

        All the best!

        • Devin Rose says:

          Augustine,

          Our current plan is one Sunday a month at St. William’s, three at our new parish. We’ll see how it works out, but we want to see our friends at St. William’s still!

  10. Devin Rose says:

    Thanks Augustine! T-Mobile was on our list because of these good deals, but our friends out here recently switched to it, only to find out there coverage out here in the boondocks isn’t very good. So it’s AT&T for the next two years, then hopefully T-Mobile or Verizon will get better coverage where we are.

  11. joeclark77 says:

    Congratulations, Devin! I hope that I can make the same kind of move in the next couple of years. We’re currently trying to find work in my home state. My parents have a little farm there, so I think that even before we can buy our own land we could try farming on theirs. Currently we’re halfway across the country from them, though.

    On the cell phone front: my wife and I recently switched to pay-as-you-go phones (AT&T “go phones” in this case) and it has brought the cost way down. We were paying $110 a month for smartphones with Boost Mobile (on Sprint’s network), which is about the cheapest we could get smartphone service, and now we pay maybe $20-$30 per month for airtime on the two cheap little AT&T phones.

  12. Devin Rose says:

    Thanks Joe! I hope that you are able to realize this dream too.

    I saw the pay-as-you-go ones with AT&T but had thought they didn’t work for us for some reason. Now I remember that they only didn’t work then because we were using the AT&T MicroCell tower (a device that plugs into your broadband internet connection to give you cell phone coverage in an otherwise-deadzone). Darn, I should have revisited that idea. I’ll consider that option for next time as well.

    • joeclark77 says:

      Just curious, but how do you get broadband out there? My parents live about a mile outside of a small town and were unable to get wired internet. They used satellite internet for a while but then found it was easier to get a smartphone plan and use the smartphone as a wifi base station. (I was skeptical about the download speeds, but they turned out to be relatively good for most purposes, and with lower latency than the satellite. My parents aren’t gamers and they aren’t watching HD videos like through Netflix. The connection is fast enough for web surfing, email, and even adequate for Skype video calls with their grandchildren.)

      Because that was the way to get Internet connectivity, they already had the one smartphone already figured in their budget. You also might find that a smartphone plan that also serves as your internet connection could be a better deal than a wired broadband connection in addition to cheap phones.

      • Devin Rose says:

        Hi Joe,

        We go through a company that does fixed terrestrial broadband/wireless. They install a satellite-looking dish on your roof that points line-of-sight to their ground tower. The latency is low and the download/upload speeds fast.

        I am a software developer full-time so I needed a fast connection that also has low latency. Satellite internet is too high a latency to send the packets up and down; so far what I’ve seen is that internet through the cell phone networks is not fast enough for me to do what I need to.

        Devin

    • Augustine says:

      Devin,

      FWIW, all T-mobile smartphones come with a WiFi bridge that kicks in whenever coverage falters and the phone is connected to a WiFi LAN and it allows one to make and receive calls and text.

      HTH

  13. Augustine says:

    The problem with cell network performance is that it varies more markedly with the number of users in a cell than with other networks. Moreover, though I see speeds better than DSL on my phone (between 3 and 10Mbps), even its “unlimited” data allowance has a cap (5GB), after which it’s throttled to 2G speeds (<1Mbps).

    I did try Clear (a wireless ISP) once, but its performance depended a lot on the signal strength. So, though I saw 15Mbps taking the modem to Houston, at home I saw paltry 1Mbps.

    Which wireless ISP do you use?

    TIA

  14. Wild stuff Devin! God bless your new adventure. I pray it’s fruitful and happy for your family.

  15. Phil Wood says:

    Devin, You’re reminding me how much I miss the smallholding. My friends are still there on a windy Welsh hillside. We were members of a small Anabaptist community near Carmarthen. We had lovely neighbours but I can’t say I got on too well with the goats.

    You’re right about community. There’s a space where interconnection used to be. That’s true here in the UK as well as the States. The University of Sheffield did some research a few years ago called ‘Bringing Britain Together’. I remember the headline. The weakest community in 2001 was stronger than the strongest community in 2001. Quite an observation. They drew up a so-called ‘loneliness index’ that mapped the relative strength of communities across the country.

    I wish you peace and deep roots in your new life. I also wish you rich community. If you happen to bump into any local Mennonites I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about. I’ll have to send you periodic missals from my Wendell Berry library.

    Pax Vobiscum,
    Phil

  16. Enrique M. Garcia says:

    D – Awesome – You’ll never look back! And the best part of it all will be the impact it will have on your children. I still pinch myself and can’t believe i’m out here. The small outdoor pleasures will fill you with joy (yesterday my boys and I rejoiced at seeing our first purple martin couple arrive – we’ve been looking out for weeks – Lord willing, they will return every year for years to come). Got your chickens coming!!! (no pressure). :)