by Suzy Lowry Geno
Yesterday, in between rain storms, I searched throughout my farm’s fields for dandelion blooms so I could begin making dandelion jelly.
This morning, my chores included feeding goats, chickens, ducks, guineas and rabbits, and then gathering eggs before carrying in the seven armloads of firewood my woodburning heater will consume before this time tomorrow.
There’s some early sage drying in the dehydrator.
And I’m hoping to have a little practice on my spinning wheel using a combination of Angora rabbit fiber and sheep wool before the day is through.
This could have been a typical day on this land in the 1930s and ’40s when the Granny I never got to know was roaming these hills, gathering eggs and making butter.
But there’s one big difference and it’s been exemplified again this week.
I’ll complete this article shortly and then send it wirelessly through the Internet to my bosses Jim and Joyce, whom I have only met face to face once or twice in the approximately 8 years I’ve been writing for them.
The words never touch paper until they are printed in the paper copies of AFC Cooperative Farming News.
Likewise, the photos that would have required me or someone else to spend hours in a smelly dark room a couple of decades ago are now taken with digital cameras, down or uploaded to my computer, and sent across those same airwaves, touching paper only later when the article goes to press.
You’re probably thinking, "Well, so what?" Most folks utilize the Internet these days. And that’s true. Whether it’s on a desktop computer, a laptop, tablet or a cellphone, the majority of folks spend their days tethered to the worldwide web in one way or another. The person who is NOT connected is usually the exception to the rule at this point.
BUT, I believe in the simple life ... and so do many other back-to-the-landers homesteading types who are swelling the countryside once again and wanting to live far away from the beaten path. But this is different from any of the back-to-the-land movements of times past. In the 1930s and ’40s, folks who decided to try the simple life and moved far into the woods seldom even had a lined telephone, more less access to everybody in just about the entire world!
And think about Henry David Thoreau during his experimental living time at Walden Pond during the mid-1800s. The solitude and silence were the two things he treasured.
But, if you look at social media, there are whole "groups" who are "off-the-grid" or call themselves "simply solar" or are involved in "survival living" full time; yet their computers are right there with them in the wilderness! That computer may be powered by the sun or even wind power, but it still connects them to the world.
I can remember when folks who lived remotely often turned to HAM radios to have some contact with the outside world, even if it were just in case of medical emergencies, and that hasn’t been but about three decades ago!
Two happenings made me start thinking along these lines ... my homestead is completely "wireless" now (yes, I know I’m behind the times, but it’s still amazing to me!) ... so I can be out in my tiny general store or snuggled in bed and just keep on working (or keep on learning!).
According to an U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate in 2013, 70 percent of U.S. farms have access to a computer, but only 40 percent of farmers overall reported using the Internet for business.
But those statistics change according to the age of the farmers. According to the American Farm Bureau’s 2010 Young Farmers and Ranchers survey, nearly 99 percent of all farmers and ranchers between the ages of 18 and 35 have access to and use the Internet and nearly three-fourths of those in that age group surveyed had a Facebook page!
And income has some bearing on usage as well. Another 2010 USDA report showed that more than 70 percent of farms with sales of more than $250,000 annually use the Internet for farm business.
USDA says farmers use the Internet for everything from marketing crops, increasing work flow, ordering equipment, utilizing GPS when planting or fertilizing crops, or keeping current with regulations. But several in the surveys mentioned social media as ways to explain agriculture to those not familiar with family farms!
Computer equipment also monitors major chicken and broiler houses, and can keep up with milk production in major dairies.
But, the other thing that got me thinking this week, in addition to going completely wireless, was the finding of a November 15, 1997, newspaper column written by friend Darrell Norman about me "finally" entering the world of "telecommuting" at that late date.
While the rest of us were struggling and still sending our articles in by fax, Darrell had rigged up an old computer with a mobile phone MacGyver style so that he could send articles directly to any newspaper even if he was covering something out in the boonies.
While his article about my connection to the worldwide web was slightly comical, but really informational, one statement he made I think sums up everything that has happened.
"But this electronic nervous system does not just connect machine to machine, it connects person to person," he noted.
As I get older, I find myself sinking further and further into the ways of the simple life: being close to nature, making a living from my homestead, and being content and satisfied to be at home and stay there.
But I don’t have to be like one of those poor pioneer women who were so isolated that they literally went insane from cabin fever because of their isolation.
If I need information or help or just want to see what’s going on in the world, I don’t have to leave my homestead. I can simply pick up my tablet or walk into my office and turn on the desktop computer and the world is instantly at my fingertips.
I can remember early on in my goat-raising endeavors (and when I’d only been on the Internet a short time) sitting in my office floor with a baby goat dying in my lap, while frantically "talking" by computer with a much more knowledgeable person at a computer site called "goat911." While I couldn’t save that precious baby, having someone to let me know I had done all I could was priceless.
I sell a lot of things made by the Ohio Amish in the little general store on my farm. But the main things I sell are things I create.
One of the best sellers is a special goat milk soap for oily skin. It is an OLD AMISH recipe for the specialty soap, made by the Amish for generations ... the Amish told me about it, BUT I printed the recipe from the Internet!
For about two decades, homesteaders like me have been talking about the pros and cons of computers and the Internet, and a lot of our discussions have been ON the Internet.
I think what I have learned is that computers and the Internet are like any other tools. Just as an ax is only as good as the woodsman who swings it, the benefits of the Internet are only as good as the person’s aim who is utilizing it.
My goal is to eventually be completely "off the grid" as some of my friends are, not tethered to a power company or a community water line ... but don’t worry, you’ll still be able to find me easily ... I’ll be that little gray-haired homesteader writing on the Internet about the simple life!
Suzy Lowry Geno lives a simple life at Old Field Farm in Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.