For those of you who may have followed my blog over on Vox, this is a repost from a couple of years ago. I just saw a friend at the grocery the other evening who mentioned how I was inspiring her to change her relationship with food (or something to that effect). It took me a minute to realize she meant she was reading my blog. It got me thinking that I have some older posts that new readers might enjoy. So I decided to look over previous posts and select a few to include here every now and then. This is an updated post about a trip Greg and I took and how it made a big difference in the way we saw the place of food in our lives.
Six years ago this month, Greg and I took a trip that literally changed our lives. Yes, I know the meaning of the word "literal." Our lives have never been the same since we returned from that trip.
Sometimes people ask us, "When did you start doing [something]?" The "something" usually has to do with our "simple" lifestyle--the way we eat, dress, spend our money or our time. So we look at each other and say, "When did we take that trip to Kirksville?" Like I said, the trip changed our lives.
Greg graduated from Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State) in Kirksville, Missouri. I had heard tale upon tale about the wonders of this small town (okay, mostly about the great pizza place there), and I felt it was time I visited my husband's alma mater. But it's a long drive, so I wondered if there might be something else we could do while we were in the area. Greg was coming up blank--he really didn't think there was much to do in good ol' Kirksville.
I got busy on the Internet and found that there were two (yes, two) intentional communities within just a few miles of Kirksville. I've mentioned before I was born 10 years to late and my kids swear I'm a hippie, so this appealed to me. Two real, live communes? I gotta see this! So we headed off to Kirksville, and the home of the intentional communities, Rutledge. One of them, Sandhill Farm, was a place that had an amazing impact on our lives.
At the time I thought I was a pretty environmentally aware individual. We drove an economical car (in fact, we're still driving it; as of 7/2009 we have 120,000+ miles on it). Didn't crank up the heat or dial down the air conditioner. Weren't excessively wasteful. Recycled our newspapers. We did our part.
And I was already making some changes in the way I approached food. We had a small garden and ate a lot of produce. I bought a few organic items at the grocery if they weren't too expensive, but I still figured it didn't matter too much. We bought whole grain bread most of the time, and tried to be somewhat thoughtful about eating a balanced diet.
Still, Diet Coke, Splenda, and packaged diet snacks were pretty much staples in my pantry. Convenience foods were, well, convenient. Fast food was fast. And meat was okay as long as it wasn't too fat--I stuck with chicken and lean cuts of beef.
And then we visited Sandhill Farm. We arrived on August 6, 2003, and were given a tour of the buildings and grounds by Kathe. She explained the way things worked there--how the group lives and works and makes decisions. She showed us where to pitch our tent and where we could wash up. And then we were free to just hang out the rest of the day and get to know the people and the place.
There was an outdoor shower consisting of a pallet to stand on, surrounded by sheets. (There were some pretty big gaps in the sheets.) Outhouses for doing your business in private, though you could just "step off the path" to take a pee. (No kidding--check out the web site under "visitor orientation" if you doubt me on that one.)
Lots of times it appeared clothing was optional. Especially when people were working in the garden, but sometimes in the house as well. (I have to admit, it was really hot.)
And people smelled! I mean, at one point, someone mentioned something was going bad in the kitchen and one of the women commented it wasn't something--it was someone. And she was right! I could easily have pointed out who it was. Hygiene wasn't a priority for some people. And did I mention it was really hot?
So this wasn't a bed and breakfast. We were in somewhat close quarters. We worked in the sun. There was no air conditioning. You had to shower outside, in quasi-privacy. Not everyone was all that friendly to the guests. This was their home and maybe they didn't feel like being polite to company that day.
And guess what? I really loved it!
Here are some excerpts from my journal at the end of our three-day visit:
Today I weeded around the propane tank from 8 to 10, then sliced carrots for canning until noon. Another good meal--salad, leftover noodles, Gigi's "leftover burgers," and tomatillo salsa. Homemade bread with honey and a cup of tea for dessert. The food is almost all grown here--wheat for the bread, the honey, all the fruits and vegetables.
My favorite things at Sandhill are the relationships you can have and the food. My least favorite things are the bathroom facilities (or lack thereof) and the lack of privacy I see.
G. and I are both inspired to get a little land so we can grow more food. I think we are ready to grow and process more of our own food, to be a little more self-reliant. I asked G. if he thought we ought to be eating fewer processed foods; he didn't comment. But I think we should. I am going to make that a priority when we get home.
What sorts of things would I want to incorporate into my life? The food--its cultivation and preparation and preservation--would be one. And keeping food and drink simple and local.
I have been thinking about learning how to knit or crochet, getting out my sewing machine to make gift bags, making cloth napkins, looking into making my own cleaners.
I want to make an effort to buy more organic foods, including dairy and grains. I need to find a balance somehow. Right now I eat too many processed foods, including artificial sweeteners.
Sandhill Farm is so real compared to living a "normal" life. I can see why people here say no to TV and share cars and limit trips to town. If you limit TV, movies, ice cream--whatever--then either you find you don't miss them or, if you do miss them, you appreciate them that much more when you get them. We are too much an on demand society--wanting what we want when we want it instead of waiting. What if we would set a limit to what we allow ourselves? Because without insisting on some sort of limits, our appetites just rule our lives.
So what did I start to do differently after we got home? Well, we didn't buy any land. We decided that for us, with our jobs at the university, staying where we are is the most environmentally sustainable choice. We can walk or bike to work if we choose, and if we need to drive, we only live a mile away. But we did create a much larger garden and have devoted most of our city lot to food production. We also preserve whatever excess produce we have.
We do eat fewer processed foods. And most of those we do eat are organic and/or whole grain.
I did learn to knit. I bought up a bunch of cloth napkins at yard sales and haven't bought a paper napkin in six years. I have made a few cloth gift bags for Christmas (but I have yet to learn to use that sewing machine. Update: Greg learned to use it this spring in order to make stuff to use in his beer brewing. So now I'm going to make him teach me!). And I have found we need very few cleaners, though I do buy natural cleaners on occasion.
We buy nearly all organic food. The exceptions I can think of are sugar and a few condiments, though I am finding organic versions of most of those now. I don't buy anything with artificial sweeteners anymore. We don't eat any meat.
More than these individual points, Sandhill brought about a big change in my personal philosophy about life and how I want to live. I think I brought home an attitude of "Yes, you can."
Yes, you can live differently.
Yes, you can be the person you want to be.
Yes, you can find people like yourself.
Whenever I feel like the world wants to suck me back into its consumerism and its rush-rush way of being, I just think about Sandhill and remind myself, "Yes, you can do this."
It was, literally, a life-changing trip for us. I hope we can go back for a visit someday and let them know how much it meant.