Leaving the Farm

playingWe have sold our farm and are moving back into the city.

It’s the end of a dream that Katie and I had had since the beginning of our marriage. We wanted to have land, grow food, raise animals, and hopefully build a Catholic community in an agrarian setting.

Why Leave?

A few months ago I told Katie: “I can do two out of three things well:

1. Provide for my family well
2. Be a good husband and father
3. Be a good farmer

But I can’t do all three well, so which two do we choose?”

The farm requires constant work. I still have eight big oak trees we had to fell last summer that need bucking with the chainsaw, hauling, then splitting. I never got to it. We had nine cows by the end of our time, which require more grass than our land produces, so I needed to buy and get hay to feed them. Also every other day I would move them to a new paddock of grass…thirty minutes to do that right there.

Berms need building, plants need watering, trees need bucking, barn needs fixing, cow needs milking, weeds need shredding, the list goes on forever. But with a full-time job as a software developer, I did not have time to get to everything. Along the way, I injured my lower back, and then re-injured it two months ago. That put into sharp focus whether the farm, which produced very little for us, should be jeopardizing my ability to provide for my family in my regular job.

Providence

God made things easy: after fourteen years He made it clear I needed to leave my current company and find a new job. That was an unexpected change in direction. My old job had allowed me to work from home three days per week, enabling us to live far out in the country. My new job was flexible but not that flexible. So suddenly I was faced with a daily commute of an hour each way, decreasing the time I could spend with my children. Unacceptable.

This is usually the way God works in my life: He guides events to where the next step is clear, even if it was completely unexpected just a few days ago. When I got the offer from my new company, Katie and I discussed what we should do for just one day before deciding we would sell our farm immediately and move into town.

Sadness?

I am not sad at all about this, because I believe we are following our Lord’s direction. Sure, we thought we were being called to be new agrarians and build a rural Catholic community. And maybe we will be one day. But that day is not today. We will go back to being suburban middle-class people again. Not so bad.

The truth is that the culture of rural areas has been gutted. Read some of Wendell Berry’s fiction and non-fiction books and you’ll understand how it happened. We drive by all the fields on the way into town: GMO corn, sprayed with herbicides, fields of pure grass stands attained through constant application of Grazon (broad leaf herbicide), no rotational grazing of cows at all, slow desertification happening before our eyes. I don’t say global warming is happening; I say global desertification is happening, and deserts are hotter in the summer/daytime and colder at night and in the winter. Less vegetation and cover are there to stabilize the weather from extremes.

The rural culture is in shambles, because its root is agri-culture, and as I just described agriculture is in a sad place. We met some good friends out in the country, friends we plan to keep in touch with, but nothing near enough to begin to build a Catholic community. Our efforts to invite traditional Catholic religious orders to the diocese all came to naught as well.

Writing

I didn’t have time to write the past year and a half, out on the farm. My book came out, but that was because my editor and I had already finished it over the previous year. Blog posts have been scarce, not because I don’t have anything to write, but because I have had higher priorities to take care of. I thought those would settle down at some point, but I realized that out on the farm they would never settle down. It would be one thing if I could have earned a living from the farm, but that is hard to do and was never one of my goals in any case.

I look forward to being back in town, going to the coffee shop an evening each week and writing. I signed another book contract with Catholic Answers; the first draft of the manuscript I wrote three years ago, but life has been so full that I have only now had time to talk with Catholic Answers and agree on doing the book together.

It has been nice, though, not having time to write. I’ve watched with interest and concern as the blogosphere and social media worlds have changed over the past year or two. I see less of a need for my voice to chime in on most issues–others are handling it fine, or the din is so loud no one is listening anyway. Best to focus on the few things that I can offer real insight into and write about those things.

The Family

We had ten-plus acres of land out here, but our children are small and can’t just wander about on their own (we have rattlesnakes and copperheads in the area). So ironically the only thing our children will miss in the big pile of dirt we had by the pond after our friend cleaned it up. They just loved to climb on it and run down it and throw dirt clods off it, simple stuff. In our new place we are going to have several cubic yards of dirt delivered and dumped in the back yard just to simulate the farm dirt mound.

So our children won’t miss it too much. Edmund has grown in his knowledge of nature and critters and will continue in that. I’ll take him hunting and camping and things like that. He already knows more than most grown-ups and can name trees or plants on sight. No lie, ask his God-father who took him on a train ride and said he named everything they passed, flora and fauna.

Katie, for her part, is especially ready to move back into town. We are moving into the same neighborhood as our parish, St. William’s, which is one of the best ones in the entire Austin diocese. Friends live nearby; we can go to adoration and daily Mass easily; my commute will be cut in half.

I hope to get involved in the parish and teach classes, give talks, etc. I also hope to give talks at local parishes, and to do so for free. Our Lord has provided for us generously through my regular work so I am able to do this.

The next chapter is opening up! We don’t know where it will lead, but we grateful to Christ and hopeful for the future.

17 thoughts on “Leaving the Farm”

  1. Devin, I’m truly sorry your farming plan didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. On the other hand, it gives you plenty of experience to draw upon should you try it again. Congratulations on the new job. And hopefully I’ll be able to get down to Austin sometime after my new grandnephew is born; maybe we can knock down a brew together!

  2. I am sorry and happy for you guys. You have your dream a shot, but you weren’t ready for it yet. Then again, you did get to give it a shot. It’ll be at least fondly recalled, if not relived again.

    But I must say that I’m glad to have y’all back into the St William family.

  3. Things seem to be coming together well since your last post. I know your neighbors will be happy to have such a great family in the neighborhood. Wish you the very best.

  4. Devin, thanks for your honest assessment of the agrarian experience. My wife and I are considering moving out to the country in five years or so and your post echoes some of the concerns that I have. The first being whether I, as a white-collar type, would be biting off more than I could chew with the maintenance of a large property. The second being whether we would be making it more difficult to attend mass and receive the sacraments. Where we live in the northeast, the rural parishes are really struggling and are much less active than our large suburban parish. These are important things for us to consider.

    Although I’m saddened that you are leaving your farm, I know that you have had a positive impact on so many people through your writing, blogging, and speaking. I’m glad that God is putting you back into a position to be able to do that again. I wish you and Katie the best of luck!

    1. Steve,

      It is pretty bleak in the country, and if you have been following the story of our friends the Fords with the New Catholic Land Movement, you will see another side of the difficulties.

      BUT, most of what we did out here was successful, in the sense that we learned how to rotationally graze cattle, care for a heritage breed, find markets to direct sell, etc. We actually could find enough land to lease for free around here to raise a large herd and go into business. But that wasn’t the direction we thought God was leading us in.

      God guide y’all!

  5. Devin and Katie,
    I hate to think of your disappointment but you seem resolved and ready, certainly wiser. Keep writing, both of you, please!
    Your friends up here, (!)
    Allison and Ken and family

  6. You’ll do great, wherever you and the family go (are).

    The Lord will use you in every situation.

    Best of luck and Godspeed in your next chapter of life, Devin.

  7. Devin! I want to read a book about your farming year soon! Sometimes I think the “failures” we have while following God teach us even more than the successes. Blessings on your move!

    1. Abigail,

      Hmm, that’s an interesting thought. I could whip up a 15,000 word e-book about our farm experience and “failure”. If I have time I will do it!

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