Two Years in the Northwoods

Today is a mini-monumental day. Two years ago, to the date, marks our two-year anniversary living in the great Northwoods. Can you believe it’s been two years already? Two years since we packed up our family of four and moved from the Twin Cities to small town, Cumberland, WI.

 

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Nick working on the farm this summer.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of. But let me assure you, fulfilling dreams, going after what you want, your heart’s calling, is not all rainbows and butterflies and glitter and sunshine, though according to my sweet hubby, that’s the world I live in, and what a wonderful one.

Finding purpose, fulfilling dreams, chasing your heart’s calling is not a one-and-done, but a continual decision, continually facing fear, conquering it, and then preparing yourself to face it again. It’s accepting failure as a given and renaming it learning. It’s reminding yourself that you’re not perfect (and rationalizing with yourself that you don’t want to be perfect anyway). It’s feeling lost and overwhelmed and being unsure if you’re capable of really making it happen. It’s allowing yourself to be your most vulnerable, and putting it out there for people to speculate your shortcomings and share your successes. It’s living a life without regrets, because at the end of this life, it’s the things you don’t do that take up the most space of regrets.

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The farm after the worst thunderstorm of the summer. One that leveled farms in nearby towns.

As you may recall from one of my first posts ever, nearly two years ago now, there were many things that brought us out here. So, how has this life transition stacked up against our expectations?

A glimpse into the last two years living in the Northwoods…

Community & Connection – Check & Check!

One thing we were desiring prior to moving is becoming part of and building a community. We hadn’t heard of Cumberland before moving here, so weren’t sure what to expect. Well, this small town of less than three thousand people has exceeded our expectations. They have not only welcomed us, but embraced and supported us. They have made this place feel like and become our home, so much in fact, most days it feels like we’ve always been here.

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Near the end of our growing season this fall harvesting the last bit of our herbs to dry.

We have also had the opportunity, through our Farmers Market in Spooner (a slightly larger town about 25 minutes North of us), to build a second community that we could have only ever dreamed of with the vendors and our customers. We have found a group of people who have chosen a life similar to us, who share our values of community, connection, and purpose, who are redefining the norm and following their passions and dreams, giving up big corporate gigs in the city to settle into a slower, more meaningful life. It’s. So. Cool.

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Celebrating our 17-year wedding anniversary at Spooner Farmers Market this summer, where we sold out of our lettuces nearly every week by 10:30 A.M. (Pictured here is our curly kale)

Adventure, Courage, & Purpose – Yup, Yes, & Work In-progress!

Living this life, small, regenerative farming, homesteading, building a small business, is an adventure and takes courage every day. We’re out here doing stuff we’ve never done, building a business we don’t know how to build, and trusting God and the Universe in a way we’ve never tried.

As for purpose, that’s a bit tougher right? Finding and fulfilling purpose is something that never feels complete, and perhaps never is. And if my purpose is people, which I believe with every cell in my body it is, then everything I do needs to align with that. But then there’s also creative passion that’s constantly ablaze in those cells and needs a productive, and God-willing, a financially lucrative outlet. So the ongoing question is this, how do I merge and manage my purpose, innate talents, and creative passions in a meaningful way? Like I said, work in progress.

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Relaxing on the farm after a busy Saturday farmers market in Spooner, WI this summer.

Joy, Freedom, & Family – Getting there, Pretty much, & More so Than Ever!

Joy’s a tough concept, I think, to define, but I think when you experience it, you just know. I used to think Joy was knowing everything will be all right. And perhaps that’s it, and perhaps it’s much more and simpler than that. What I can say is that I’ve had moments over these last two years, usually when I’m in mental, emotional, and spiritual turmoil, where sudden awareness hits me and I become overwhelmed with a gratitude that fills my entire existence with sunlight – warm and pure, full of hope – knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be and exactly who I need to be. It’s momentarily removal of all doubt and a connection to God and the Universe that’s beyond explanation – that builds and swells and reaches through all the spaces and says I know you. It’s pure love and acceptance. My goal: to live in a constant state of joy. Until then, I’ll take the few-and-far-between experiences and cherish them exceedingly.

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Yesterday.

Freedom, now that’s an interesting and evolving ideal for me. We’ve experienced freedom from our past 9-5 jobs, freedom from the city, freedom from the expectations of others, mostly.  And the freedom that comes with spending time in nature. But then there’s freedom from self-doubt, freedom from judging yourself against societal norms, and freedom from those societal norms that is so much harder to achieve. Not sure we’ll ever get there, but feel we’re heading in the right direction.

Family, now that’s a BIG important one. Our family of four is closer than ever – and possibly leaning towards co-dependent – maybe – don’t worry, we’ll pivot if need be. Since Nick and I both work from home, we’re practically omni-present with our kids, though not always engaged – working on it. We spent our Saturdays at the farmers market this summer together, read chapter books nearly every night together, travel together, work together, and play together, and I like it. My husband and boys are my FAVORITE people to be around, even when they quite frankly suck (#truthbomb).

 

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Hanging at our Spooner Farmers Market this summer with the boys.

In summary, in the last two years since moving to the Northwoods, we’ve started a farm and small business, quit and changed jobs (because we still gotta work off the farm too), established a community and customers, made friends, chased dreams, fulfilled dreams, made new dreams, pulled ourselves out of despair, conquered fears, found joy and gratitude, and fulfilled and exceeded many of our expectations. But this is only the beginning…

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My beautiful family on the farm late this summer. (Nick, Me, Townes on left and Ryker by me on right)

 

 

 

Where has our child-like faith in ourselves gone?

And can we get it back?

I remember as a child believing I could fly. I’d tie a towel around my neck, swing as high as I could on the backyard swing, then at its highest point, I’d jump — and I’d fly. Never mind that I was told that people can’t fly. And so what if I crashed to the ground on all fours only a second later. I had flown and I knew it. All I had to do to fly was believe and try. The two most natural and innate things to a child.

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Then I became an adult, a wife, a mom, a career woman, and somewhere along the way I stopped believing that I could fly. I lost sight of the sky to the view of a shingled roof and bad fluorescent lights. I started doubting my gifts and talents and what I was capable of, trading my child-like faith in myself for financial security, safety, and reputation.

I swapped my faith for fear and my dreams for reality because that’s what adults do and that’s what they teach their children. “Get a job.” “Buy a house.” “Provide for your family.” “Make something of yourself.” “Have the things we couldn’t provide for you.” “Be better than us.”

What adults forget when they’re no longer children, is as children we never wanted more than we had — not really. We played swords with broken branches, traveled the seas and made our friends walk the plank on old seesaws, became stately queens of great lands in our mother’s old worn heels, and flew the skies with dragons and unicorns in worn, dusty towels. Everything we had was enough. We were enough.

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As children we found ourselves equal to kings and queens, presidents and celebrities, geniuses and philanthropists, the homeless and the sick, the poor and the rich, and the athletes and handicapped. We believed that we could do or become anything or anyone and so could everyone else. We believed we were enough — all of us.

Last week during my weekly two-hour commute home from work, for a brief moment I felt that belief again. And I reached for it, rejoiced over it and mourned over my loss of it.  Then I wondered why I ever stopped believing in myself? Why was it so difficult now to believe I am capable of anything when as a child I innately believed in my invincibility?

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So, this is my goal: to fly again, even when others say it’s not possible, even if I inevitably fall to my hands and knees over and over again. I need to at least believe and try. Because how much more beautiful and fulfilling would life be if we all started believing we could fly?

 

“What have you done so far?”

Asked the host at a local happy hour event I was attending. This question was enough to send me into a mini tailspin of panic. What have we done so far? And has it been enough?

As I share this adventure we’re on with others, I get all sorts of questions. Some, like the question above, are out of excitement and genuine interest. While other questions are asked with an undertone of “are you sure you know what you’re doing?” which in response I assure them, “I have absolutely no idea what we’re doing.”

In either case, I appreciate the interest and the opportunity to tell people about this adventure. But holy crap am I scared.

Paralyzed by indecision – what we haven’t done so far

  • A name – we still haven’t picked a name. Turns out it’s super hard. Plus, pretty much this whole shebang hinges on a name. You know, important stuff like a website, an LLC, a business checking account, marketing, and this very important thing called branding.
  • Tools – a UTV, ATV, walk-behind tractor, truck, plow, riding lawn mower. Do we need it all?
  • Infrastructure – a hoop house, green house, wash house, propagation house, chicken house, walk-in cooler, fencing, water, garden plot. What do we start with and where do we put it?

Seriously! How’s a person supposed to know which to get, how much to spend, and when to get it? That’s the thing. We don’t know. And we don’t know anyone who can tell us. So, at some point very soon, we’re just going to have to take a leap and make a decision.

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Building momentum – what we have done so far

  • Bought seeds – see the complete seed list here: Seed plots & schedule – Seed order
  • Got nearly all of our smaller garden tools
  • Started four flats of micro greens
  • Cleaned out our entire back shed to be used as either a propagation house or wash house or both
  • Measured and remeasured and then measured again about two more times where the garden will go (the sun is our biggest determinant and as the days get longer it keeps changing direction, meaning what once had sun has shade and vice versa)
  • Started lots of spreadsheets for seed plots and harvest time tables, etc.
  • Research, lots of research

So, have we done enough at this point? Probably not, but we’re learning. And through that, we’re also learning to have patience with ourselves and to not be afraid to fail, which clearly we are since we can’t make a frick’n decision.

But we’re getting really close to jumping – or at the least, pushing each other off the edge into the unknown and the scary world of decision making.

 

 

 

Our 7 steps to “here” — finding courage, fighting fear

I remember exactly one year ago when Nick and I started seriously discussing buying land to farm and homestead, we had no idea how to do it.

We heard about other people doing it, but they had money – capital if you will – to get started. Their land was given to them. They had a job they could do from home. They knew how to farm or knew people who knew how to farm. They were different from us. They had it easier.

So, for nearly a year we talked and brainstormed about how we could make this work. How could we purchase land, have jobs that allowed us to live in a rural location, and afford to fund a small business? And on top of it all, where in the heck would we find the time to do it all?

These are the seven steps we took to get here. There are a million paths to any destination, this is our path.

1. Getting started — where there’s a will there’s a way

What we eventually discovered was, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And so we started to set things into motion, having faith that we’d be okay. But what to do first? Find a new job? Sell our house? Pay off school loans? Save up more money? What we eventually learned is you just have to start somewhere. So somewhere is where we started.

2. Living on half as much

A year-in-a-half ago Nick quit his full-time job as an MRI technologist to take care of the twins and run the house. He took this time while at home to discover what he wanted to do next. It was a year of growth and discovery for him, and an important year for our family. Through this decision we were brought to this dream of where we are today. And, although our household income was nearly cut in half, we barely noticed a difference. This, we discovered, would set the stage that would allow our family of four to live on one income and enable Nick to work full time on the farm.

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3. Liquifying assets — selling two houses

It’s amazing how the universe will accommodate you when you start putting things into motion.

We were currently living in a beautiful home in a rural suburb on the eastern border of Minnesota (Afton, MN). We also owned a starter home in St. Paul that we had been renting out the last four years. (This was the first house we purchased as a married couple and hadn’t been able to sell it since buying it during the housing boom in 2004.)

We sold our house in Afton first. It sold in 24 hours at nearly $20k over the asking price with 4 bids. We were gobsmacked.

Next step, move into our rental property and get that ready to sell.

We lived in our St. Paul home from August to November. We spent August and September repainting everything, updating the kitchen, gutting the bathroom, and carpeting the attic. Then we listed that house. It sold in three days at $7k over the asking price with three offers . Again, we were shocked and incredibly grateful. Things seemed to be working in our favor.

4. Paying off debt

This section deserves even more of a focus because this is where we get into how we funded our soon-to-be farm/homestead/business. For that reason, I’ll provide a brief overview in this post and do a follow-up post later with all the financial details.

We haven’t yet decided if paying off all of our school loans was truly the best financial approach (instead of keeping a majority of cash earned form the sale of two houses to fund the business), but I have no regrets — at least not yet. We wanted to enter this dream with zero debt so we would have the flexibility we’d need in our jobs and our new, courageous and adventure-filled lives.

We made a substantial amount of money from selling our home in Afton, which I’ll share in a follow-up post. We used this money to pay off our school loans, credit card balance, and our 20% down payment on our new house. The money we made from the sale of our rental property is what we’re using to fund most of the start-up costs for the farm.

5. Working from home — you don’t get what you don’t ask for

That was probably one of my most valuable lessons learned in 2017.

I worked at a fairly traditional 9-5 job managing a small team in marketing at a large corporation. Though we had lots of workplace flexibility on the team, working from home full-time hadn’t yet been explored. So, assuming this wasn’t an option, I was too scared to ask. It took me months to muster up the courage. When I finally did, though it wasn’t an enthusiastic, immediate yes, it was definitely a supportive “I’m going to do everything I can to help you do this,” which did eventually turn into a “yes.”

I now work from home four days a week and make the two-hour commute into the office one day a week. Though it’s been a bit of an adjustment, it’s also been a dream come true for this desperately-needs-to-be-free girl.

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6. Downsizing — spending less on the next house

We know that starting a new business in farming is going to be financially straining and physically exhausting. We know it will take a lot of time and money. Which is why we decided that the next house we purchase would cost even less than our previous house. This would continue to allow us flexibility in our jobs, but also in our lives. So, we bought a smaller home on a few less acres than we originally anticipated but that cost less than our last house. (Again, I’ll go in more detail about the financials in a subsequent post.)

7. Letting go

The summer of 2017 was probably one of the hardest, scariest, most stressful times of mine and Nick’s life. Moving three times in less than four months (and with a new puppy and two five-year olds) challenged us like never before. But we learned another really important lesson last summer — let go.

Let go of fear. Let go of desire. Let go of how we think things ought to be and instead follow our hearts and let the universe take it from there. Continuously letting go, or at least being present and aware of our fears, desires, and insecurities, got us through one of the most challenging times of our lives and it gave us the courage to get to here.

 

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City girl gone country

November 3, 2017, I moved to 16 acres in a tiny town I’ve never heard of before in the middle of nowhere, Cumberland, Wi.

Born and raised in St. Paul, I was never more than 10 minutes from, well, really anything, except for maybe a farm. As an extrovert, the constant commotion of the lights, movement and noise energized and awakened me. I was happy in the city and I liked it — still do. It’s all I’ve ever really known. But there’s something I’ve always liked, perhaps even more than the city — the country. Maybe because, until now, it’s been a novelty to me. Nevertheless, I was enamored with it and it inspired me.

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Every summer as a girl I’d spend two weeks on a bee farm (not sure that’s really the technical term for it) located 30 minutes outside of Alexandria, MN*. Over 360 acres of rolling hills, woods, prairie and a pond. It truly was, and still is, heaven on earth. Those two weeks each summer were what dreams were made of (minus the ticks, I hate ticks).

I spent hours on end outdoors with my little cousins making forts in the tall prairie grasses, racing through the woods on ATVs, catching gardener snakes for a local pet shop, and then frogs to feed the gardener snakes, exploring an old dilapidated barn that defied all safety regulations, and seeing how close we could get to the pond before our feet would get sucked into the mud.

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I grew up, and spent significantly less time in the country, but the magic and wonder of the outdoors never left me.

This blog is the story about how I left all I knew in the city to start something I knew nothing about, a small scale farm and homestead in the country.

I hope this blog will inspire you, not to move to the country, unless of course that’s what you want to do, but to live out your childhood dreams and further explore your passions.

Enjoy!

*The bee farm I spent my summers at is actually the Reece family farm. It’s owned by my mom’s cousins and they make local raw honey. It’s delicious.