Our Lifestyle Crossroads

Lifestyle Crossroads

Throughout 2013, we have been making lifestyle changes.

In January, I had a week of sinus issues which brought me back to reading Nourishing Traditions and educating myself more on the Weston A Price Foundation approach to food. I was tired of being sick and knew that healthier eating habits leads to healthier bodies. (I want to note that we’ve not been sick since and the abundant Georgia pollen this year didn’t effect a single one of us either!)

We started making dietary changes, supporting local farmers and decided to start raising our own chickens in an attempt to have control over our food supply. In early April, we purchased two Nigerian dwarf goats (a dairy breed) to forage in our yard with plans to milk in the future.

This small scale backyard micro-farming as we called it, was allowing us to live our dream of farming on a small scale. John David and I both grew up on farms and have degrees in agriculture so the passion for agriculture is in our blood!

We were settling into a routine with all of our animals, feeling good about starting to become self sufficient and making plans for uses of goats milk (I was dreaming of making soaps).

Last Wednesday, I came home from a morning in town to find a notice on our door. It stated that there had been an anonymous complaint about our property and that we had one week to remove all animals from our property.

I was full of emotions, sad because I’ve grown a bit attached to our animals and upset that someone would call and make a complaint about our property without complaining first to us.

In our county, you are only permitted to have animals if you have at least two acres. Then you can have four animals per two acres. We only have one acre, therefore we aren’t legally allowed to have any animals other than cats or dogs. If you have more than 5 acres, you can have an unlimited number of farm animals provided you are selling animal products (like eggs).

The fact is, we were in violation of the law. We fully acknowledge that although we weren’t aware we were breaking the law. Last year, when we purchased our first four hens, we looked up the ordinances and could find nothing about animal restrictions in the county. The lack of ease in finding out regulations coupled with the fact that we lived in the county on an acre, we thought everything we were doing was completely within the law. (Now we know to call the county and ask lots of questions before doing anything!)

After the sadness, shock and frustration, we started making plans for removing our animals from our property.

We had already talked to our neighbors who own 6.5 acres of land adjoining our lot about using their field for our agricultural endeavors so we drew up an official agreement to lease their 6.5 acres. We were already planning on selling eggs but now we are definitely going to be selling eggs to make our little operation legal.

The situation has been a bit frustrating because we loved having our animals in our backyard and all of our animals got along wonderfully (the goats even slept in the chicken house at night!) We’re also saddened because there is not an easy way to care for our goats now so we’re planning to sell them.

For me, the biggest frustration is the feeling of a lack of freedom. Our little one acre ‘farm’ was a sustainable little operation but it’s illegal. It wasn’t too much to manage and gave us a bit of self sufficiency.

My emotions have been all over during this past week. Part of me wants to sell our home, move into town, just have a little garden and support our local farmers in their endeavors. Another part of me wants to purchase our own 5 acres and really make a go of small scale agriculture but the thought of that is overwhelming with 2 small children and a husband who works full time. I really like our house but things just feel different now without our chickens in the backyard, the fact that we have to cross a fence to get to our animals and the fact that someone has an issue with our lifestyle choices.

In many ways, I feel like we’re at this lifestyle crossroads. The questions ‘should we scale back’ or ‘should we scale up’ have been in my mind constantly.

While I have no idea how this story will play out, I just wanted to share what’s going on in our life, writing is helping me process everything.

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responses to “Our Lifestyle Crossroads” 45

  1. I'm so sorry! Pardon my french but that just plain sucks! At least you can keep your animals close until you decide which way to go with it. How close are your neighbors to you? I live on a 1/2 acre lot. We talked to our neighbors on both sides(who we happen to be friends with) about keeping hens and they didn't care as long as we shared some eggs. In fact one of my neighbors also decided to keep chickens after we did! I guess I should feel pretty lucky to have such great neighbors. Hope things work out for you!

    1. We are thankful that they're close. In fact, my husband constructed a bigger fenced area for them today and I'm feeling much better than I was just this morning! We're not even sure if it was neighbors who complained or someone who we know who reported us since they knew we just had an acre and were in violation of ordinances. We're thankful for the amazing neighbors who are actively supporting us in our endeavors by allowing us to use their land!

    1. Thank you Molly! Things are looking up a bit since we are able to use the adjoining property and John David built more adequate fencing today.

  2. Aw, honey, I am a lot older than you, but I follow your blog with grandmotherly enthusiasm, because you remind me of me at your age. It sure is hard to deal with the knowledge that someone went behind your back instead of to you. Hand that hurt over to the Lord! Keep that sweet smile on your face, because whoever did that cannot really hurt you! When that door closed, another one opened, because you still get to have your animals. And this is a truly good test run to see if you and hubby will eventually want to have your own acreage. In a few days, you will be able to stand back and see God's hand in this situation. Mary

    1. Thank you so, so much for this encouraging comment. The manner in which the complaint was 'filed' was upsetting and did hurt but I have turned it over to the Lord. And, my husband keeps reminding me that this complaint actually spurred us on towards officially leasing the land next door which gives us even more opportunities to expand. (This is allowing me to start to see God's hand in it!)

  3. I'm so sad for you! But man alive do you handle this issue with grace! And not to be spiteful, but in the pic above, is the neighbors property through the gate? Because it would we ridiculously funny if it was and you could butt the chicken coup up to your fence – effectively making you within the law as they are on the neighbors land, easy access for you and most importantly still visible for whomever decided to complain. Ok that's not gracious at all but it would make me chuckle!
    Thank you for showing us how to handle tough patches with grace and wisdom!

    1. We honestly don't even know if it was our neighbors who complained, someone who lives in this general area or an acquaintance of ours who knew we were in violation of the law. I'll suppose we'll never know (and honestly I prefer not knowing!) Today my husband fixed a larger fenced area for our hens and I'm starting to view everything more positively…like our backyard is fully ours and the kids can roam it freely without stepping in poo and we have 6.5 acres to 'play' with instead of just 1!

  4. That whole situation stinks!!! I would be an emotional wreck too – one thing you should look into with the county is what considers selling. Like, they might not consider you selling a few dozen eggs each month as enough – some areas around here say your sales have to make up at least 60% of your income. And if it does not have to be a certain percentage then does the county require you to show them a yearly Schedule F (income tax form) to show proof that you are making something to keep your dreams alive?

    Hopefully, it will work out where you are now BUT I would pray, pray, pray! We live 15 mintues out of town on bit of land and I am home alone a lot with my husband finsihing up is masters and working fulltime – it's hard with little ones but I do most of the feedings when they nap and during the summer we spend most of our day outside anyways (including eating an easy lunch out there!). You can do it anywhere you try with God 🙂

    1. We have talked to our tax accountant/friend and asked several questions of our county contact and as far as we know we're going to be fully within the limits of the law since we're going to keep records and file taxes on our endeavors. Hopefully it will work out! And, thank you for the encouragement!

  5. I'm so sorry to read this! I admire your ability to do what you do even with two little kids. It's inspiring, and I can't believe someone would (anonymously, cowardly?) have a problem with that.

    1. Well, my husband cares for the animals almost exclusively. I just occasionally feed and my tasks are the fun aspects like collecting eggs and feeding the chickens kitchen scraps which the boys love to do with me.

  6. Have you checked on whether you can keep chickens and goats as "pets"? I don't know the laws in your state. But, some states say it's illegal to have farm animals on one acre or less. But, it's OK to have chickens for pets or goats for pets. I have several friends who just claimed their chickens and goats were pets, not for food or farm use. And that's that. Again, though, of course this will depend on your state.

    If you're able to claim them as pets – that would be one way around the system. I'm sorry you're going through this. What is funny is that 50 years ago this would have been a non-issue. People were so much more self sufficient back then, and, what is more, self sufficiency was encouraged. Now, one has to jump through hoops just to have chickens for personal use!

    1. In our county the only animals allowed as pets are cats and dogs. To read the ordinances, it appears to be illegal to have hamsters, gerbils, birds, pot bellied pigs, etc as pets. Things are looking up though since we have access to the adjoining property. It does seem self sufficiency on a small area of land is discouraged.

  7. I am so sorry to read this. I can definitely say you are handling it with much grace! I love that you are remaining positive – such an inspiration! I love your dreams of a small farm operation which would allow you to become more self-sufficient. I desire the same thing.

    We are in a similar situation at our apartment: last year we planted gardens (along with two other neighbors) along the fenceline where we park our cars. The man on the other side of the fence complained about it being "his property" and we have basically been told we cannot do it again this year. We are trying our hand at planter-gardening and purchased several pots to keep along our section of the building. We are still trying to figure out whether or not we can prove who the property belongs to but in the meantime we are trying to make some lemonade out of these lemons life brought us! I can't wait to be a homeowner someday – there are so many things I will no longer take for granted after all my years in apartments!

    I am happy to hear that your neighbors support you and leased their land to you! It might not be exactly what you had in mind but you seem so willing to adapt to your situation – an amazing thing!

    1. He complained about it being on the other side of the fence? That is frustrating! I've read quite a bit about container gardening in apartments and on teeny lots…best wishes with that this summer!!

  8. This makes me sad for you. I'm very sorry to hear this. I'll be thinking good thoughts for you and your animals.

  9. I am so sorry and this floors me the amount of control government has over personal freedoms. It is disappointing as well that the person who complained did not come to you first. Glad you found the adjoining property to be able to become a bit more self sufficient. You'd think with the economy the way it is that the government would be promoting more self sufficient practices than condemning them, but I've even heard some crazy rules about even having garden plots in certain areas.

    1. I think the freedom issue is what was so upsetting about all of this. It's a bit frustrating being told what you cannot do with your own land when it's not anything bad/harmful. Now, if there were regulations about gardening, I think I would cry and definitely move! I prefer gardening over keeping animals!

  10. I am sorry. It does make me angry when people complain to the authorities without first seeing if a neighbourly compromise can be reached first of all.

    I have been living in the country for the last few years, but am planning on moving back to the city at the end of this year. I have realised it's much better for me and my lifestyle to live a city life and support local greengrocers/butchers/farmer's markets etc. The odd thing is that I am asthmatic and have found my asthma has been considerably worse in the country than it is in the city!

    1. Part of me wants to move into town and support the local farmers around here ('town/city dwellers' play a big role in sustainable agriculture too in that way!) So, so interesting about your asthma…I suppose there are fewer trees/plants/grasses to upset it in the city.

  11. God always has a plan. We live in the suburbs but rent our property and are only allowed a small area to garden so we make use of what we have and have additional containers for extra plants. Our hearts desire is to move to a more rural location so we can have chickens etc. Both my husband and I grew up raising animals and it teaches children so much (lifecycle, responsibility, dependability…) that I can't think of a better experience for children. Yes, it is hard to get the chores done when they are little but they can help with so much even at a young age.

    I hope you can continue your small scale farming be it in your current location or elsewhere.

  12. This post saddens me. But I know from reading your blog for years now that you and JD have good heads on your shoulders and will find a way to triumph from this.
    I've been feeling down too lately. This week two stories in the news made me wonder what is happening to our country's priorities. One is that there might soon be a government (taxpayer) subsidized "daycare for all" push and talks of possibly extending of the school day to 6pm. Both of which to get mothers and children out of the home and into sterile, lifeless institutions.
    I thought we were making PROGRESS in recent years. Getting back into organics, real foods, us young women CHOOSING to stay at home, families saying no to the rat race but I fear that in another couple of decades we will have children who will have no idea what traditional simple family life was like.

    1. Wow…that is sad/frustrating news! School until 6pm? That's insane! I think in many ways we are making progress, mothers like you, mothers like me and the many others who are drawn to simpler living are impacting a future generation who hopefully will raise their children simply too! Just keep being the best mama you can be!

  13. I say go for it!!! Purchase the land you need to sustain the lifestyle you want……I don't believe you'll regret it. We live in Las Vegas and had purchased 11 acres in my home state of Texas some years back. We recently sold it to pad our savings account because of the economy. It just makes me so sad because my plans for having a garden, chickens, pigs, and horses is gone. The thought of our daily lives when my husband retires on our property in Texas is gone. So I completely understand your sadness and frustration. Good luck.

    1. So, so sorry you had to sell your land. Hopefully you can find another piece of land to fulfill your retirement dreams. And, I love your excited and encouragement for us to follow our dreams…we've been having lots of talks about our next step!

      1. I don't believe you'll regret it……the memories you'll boys will have with the animals, farm life and the over all responsibility is priceless. But I do know that land will cost money so that is a huge factor.

  14. What a difficult situation! I am sorry that you are at this crossroads. I will pray that it means something wonderful will happen.

    I am having email problems, so I am unsubscribing, but will be following you on FB.


  15. You are making smart choices to raise chickens, goats, etc. I do believe people have become so used to getting everything from a grocery store that they really forget where food comes from. Goats are nice animals and very helpful. I say go for the five acres. Raise a garden, love some animals and sell a few eggs to make it legal. Does the law require a certain amount of sales? Keep your great attitude. You are so blessed with your lovely family and your heart.
    PS-I found you on Life After Laundry

    1. Thank you for this encouragement. And, I agree, people are disconnected with their food. From the laws we've read and the questions we've asked, there is not a certain required amount of sales.

  16. I was angry for you and I'm in a different country!!

    As a person from the UK we often stare aghast at the US's leniency with things like gun control and lack of universal free at point of use healthcare. But whoa, a couple of goats and a few chickens, make sure the law is strict!!!! (sorry just being sarcastic, and I know, here in the UK we have problems too, just making a point!)

    Can you use your degree/education to fight this at a higher level? Where is the research/evidence that this law is of benefit? Is it regarding waste and diseases etc? or is it something that can be challenged at a higher level with good old science? Both the safety aspect of keeping animals. But also here in the UK is growing awareness of the need for children to be closer and interacting with nature, and psychological studies on the positive effects of this and the negative effects if this is with held.

    Good luck, love the blog and your lifestyle choices.

    1. Really? That's just offensive being sarcastic like that regarding the US. We could go on and on about the UK and it's flaws. Europe in general doesn't 'get' the US and the range of issues it faces due to the shear size of the country and a constitution that was written against the original tyranny of the UK's kings. How can you possibly grasp the problems with the diversity that we have when your is smaller then the states encompassing the New England region of the US?

      It sounds as if the blogger didn't do enough research into what is allowable in her county. Ordinances vary city by city, county by county and state by state (yet another freedom that you're probably staring aghast at–it's called state's rights). A simple phone call or visit to the county clerk's office would normally have cleared the information up right away.

      1. Sorry if my sarcasm offends you. I know we have problems and flaws, I acknowledged it in my original post. As I stated I was just making my point. I'm sure there are things here in the UK, that Americans don't "get".

        I do try to understand the problems that America has, as well as other countries throughout the world. I do this by among other means, reading blogs like this. To see how real people live. Whilst Rachel has a completely different life style from me (she is a strong Christian, I am an Atheist. She chooses to stay home, I go out to work, She is living in the country, I'm in a very built up urban area), I like the fact that we have more in common such as wanting to be good mothers and loving our families.

        It just seems unfair on the grand scale of laws that can be broken that a young family trying to survive, put food on their table and teach their children about nature, where our food comes from and many other lessons are being penalised. I would feel this in any country. But as you have implied by stating "the shear size" and that America has states bigger than my country, America has LOTS of land. I could maybe understand it in a country like the UK where land is in very short supply at the moment. Trying to keep goats and chickens in my concrete 10mx10m back yard would definately cause environmental health problems and should not be allowed. But it looks like Rachel has enough land, and obviously has the qualifications and knowledge to do this wisely and safely. That's why I wondered if this law could be challenged with science. Obviously laws are made but not necessarily updated with the times that we live in. Is it time this was brought to the powers that be for re-evaluation?

        1. Donna,

          I understand your feelings and am not offended. I just recently found out that the 'city' located in our county allows up to 10 hens (with the exception of subdivisions which have their own laws). I was shocked by this (and wanted to just move to the city!) I've certainly thought about petitioning the county to change the laws but not quite sure I want to invest my time into that at this point.

          And Guest, you're right, this ultimately was our fault because we did not do enough research, the web page with the county ordinances was hard to navigate. We looked up 'animals' and simply assumed we were okay since there was nothing on that particular page about restrictions. We've definitely learned to just call the county and ask before we jump into a new venture!

          1. Thankyou. I definitley didn't want to offend you. Like I said, love your blog and that you are so open with your life. It's something I could never do. I do get inspiration from you. I'm sure which ever course you take, it will be the right one for you and your boys and you'll make it work.

  17. Oh, how disappointing! Could you build a gate onto your neighbor's property and in a way, extend your yard into your newly leased property?
    I understand feeling frustrated about this. I hope you find a good resolution that allows you to continue your lifestyle!

  18. Rachel I am so sorry to hear this! How frustrating. I hope you can find a solution that truly works for you. 🙂 Blessings!

  19. I know this post is a little late, however my husband and I still work full time ( grown kids) and live on 6 acres and it is not overwhelming.
    Three acres have a 1500sgft house,a large garden, chickens, goat and landscaping that is easy to take care of , the other three we grow pine trees on…. not much to care for at all, just sortof watch them grow.
    If you stay in the county that requires 5 acres to do what you want to do, I would certainly move.
    I would imagine that you could find 5 acres that is not "too far out" from city conveniences

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