How Wendell Berry is Tempting Me to Raise Chickens
Everything about the idea of modern homesteading appeals to me: growing my own food in my own garden, raising chickens, canning my own preserves, and making my life look and feel a whole lot more like Little House on the Prairie. Have I been socialized to think this is awesome? Probably. Let’s face it: blue mason jars have been hip for a while now. But I think there’s more to it than that.
I’ve read a few things lately that help explain why the modern homestead movement seems so refreshing (especially for all the parents staying home to take care of their children), and why the appeal goes beyond the desire to post chicken pics on Instagram.
In one of his essays Wendell Berry talks about how the dignity of working at home was eroded by modern technology. Hand-washing clothes was replaced with washer and dryer; educating one’s children was replaced with public school; making many foods was replaced with buying them pre-packaged and ready to heat up in the microwave.
Most of the jobs that pertained to the home were greatly reduced or eliminated entirely. And efficiency is certainly not a bad thing. But then what was left to be done in the home? Berry argues that in that time, the role of homemaker shifted from one of hard work and dignity to one of consumerism. Technology was supposed to simplify things and liberate women to do more of what they enjoyed; but instead, it just raised the expectations of what they were supposed to accomplish AND told them their value wasn’t through hard work, but through buying the right goods and becoming ornamental “housewives.” Here’s Berry:
The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere. (from “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine”)
The satisfaction that was once part of doing a job well done is replaced with anxiety over “doing (or having) it all”.
Yes the modern homestead movement has a environmental and health focus, but, I think in addition to that a big part of the appeal of the modern homestead movement is that it makes tasks harder; that’s the point, because it restores some of the feeling of dignity and satisfaction to homemaking. Specifically …
The joy of getting your hands dirty
With so much time spent on screens these days, there’s something blissful about digging in and getting dirty. We are sensory beings who need tactile experiences, particularly in this modern age of ours. Whether it’s planting seeds, kneading dough or threading a needle, there is magic in engaging the world with our hands.
Getting caught up in flow
Flow is that blissful thing that happens when you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you lose all track of time and think about nothing but the task at hand. This feeling of “being in the zone” was studied in depth by Mihaly Csikszentmihályi, who says that this state of being is also a source of great joy. Research suggests that people who experience flow on a regular basis report higher levels of overall wellbeing and happiness.
Flow is said to rest comfortably between boredom and anxiety. The modern homestead movement takes activities that were once solidly in the “easy-therefore-boring” category and makes them a little more involved and challenging, turning them into tasks where flow is more likely to occur.
I am probably not going to get focused and lose myself in the process of throwing wads of Pilsbury dough on a cookie sheet like I would making biscuits from scratch*.
I’ve heard people say there’s nothing like picking and eating a tomato you grew in your own backyard. Beyond the actual deliciousness of a home-grown veggie, the experience of enjoying the fruit of hours planting, and tending to a garden is extra delectable (or so I hear; someday we will have a garden, I swear!)
Tangible evidence of time and work is so much more rare in the digital age. To be able to hold and use something you’ve helped create is a beautiful experience. It’s a big perk of the modern homesteading movement, and I wish it was much more common in my everyday life.
Where I’m at
It doesn’t look like I’m are going to throw out our microwave and sew my own clothes anytime soon. But, there are some small ways I’m thinking about getting caught up in the act of creation rather than consumption- like maybe I’ll start making bread more often? And canning seems pretty cool…
* If it’s a hectic Tuesday morning and I want some biscuits fast, I’m totally going for the canned variety.