“Aaaah, the simple life.”
When we tell people that we live out in the country and endeavor to raise our own food, they get all dreamy-eyed and imagine smiling squash blossoms and warm sweet haymows and serene farm wives in crisp white aprons.
It seems idyllic. No rush-hour traffic, no staff meetings, no business suits, no stress.
Sounds lovely, but let’s peel back a few layers of the simple life and take a look inside. Or, let’s take a look at the layers of the eggplant lasagna I was making one day last summer when a well-meaning youth told me he yearned for the simple life.
First of all, my eggplant crop failed. After procuring hemlock lumber from a local sawmill and building raised garden beds and then buying, hauling, and shoveling soil mix into them, our seedlings sat dormant for weeks. We realized that there was far too much carbon material in the mix, and the plants lacked the nutrients they needed to grow.
It was too late to start over, but I noticed on social media that a neighbor had an eggplant abundance. I took over some blueberries from my own grove, hand-picked from plants I have planted, tended, and weeded for six years, and traded them for eggplant.
I breaded and fried the eggplant, using eggs from my chickens. I take care of the birds 365 days a year—feeding, watering, protecting from predation, and keeping their digs clean.
I used canned tomato sauce that I had from last year’s tomatoes, which I planted, watered, weeded, harvested, washed, peeled, sauced, and processed.
I used mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Hand-crafted by me, in a mountain of large cooking pots which were hand-washed by me. I used goat milk, which I procured after I cleaned and sanitized and milked—and of course, engaged in year-round goat care that included hefting dozens of bales of hay into a loft on 90-degree summer days, shoveling paths and gates during blizzards, trimming hooves, administering shots, and lugging 50-pound bags of grain and twice-daily buckets of water. Not to mention the many nail-biting hours I spent anticipating, worrying, presiding, getting gooey, and providing aftercare for spring kidding.
I added basil and garlic from my garden—planted and weeded and harvested by me.
Before baking my assembled lasagna, I greased the pan with lard. Made by me, using pig fat that I stored, thawed, trimmed, ground, rendered, and strained. From the pigs we raised ourselves—fed, watered, housed, adjusted fences every day, and loaded into a trailer and hauled off.
After I finished all that washing, chopping, frying, grating, greasing, and jar-opening, I washed up a kitchenful of knives, cutting boards, fry pans, box graters, and mason jars. Later, I sorted recyclables, set aside scraps for the chickens and compost, and laundered cloth napkins and hung them on the line to dry.
“The simple life!” my husband snorts. “The only thing simple about it is that you have to be simple to do it.”
I dream of the simple life sometimes. The kind of life where I make a single trip to a big box store and am done for the week—no grain runs, bartering excursions at the neighbor’s, truck trips to the compost place, telephone orders for cheese supplies, or poring over seed catalogs. I could just buy my food all grown, washed, peeled, cut up, and processed. I wouldn’t have to plant, pick, or preserve anything. Just run out and buy it. If I had a simple life, I could rip food out of a box and bake it on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil, serve it on paper plates, and throw everything uneaten into the trash.
If we lived the simple life, we wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with waste or recycling or composting. We wouldn’t worry about what kind of life the animals that produce our meat and dairy had. Just buy, eat, toss. Boom.
But we don’t want that. We value the kinds of things that can’t be had by buying our food all prepped and ready. We want to minimize our footprint on the earth by avoiding unnecessary waste. We need to know that animals didn’t live a life of torture for our sakes.
Sure, smiling squash blossoms live here. So do warm sweet haymows. And I even have an old chef-style apron, a long white cotton one that belonged to my dairyman grandfather. But it’s easy to get so sucked up in the mind-numbing work that we forget how idyllic it really is.
At the end of the day, this kind of living generates its own simplicity. As much as we guffaw about the starry-eyed romanticism of farming, we get caught up in the beauty of it ourselves. Sometimes my walk in from the barn after evening chores gets waylaid by the majesty of an orange sunset or the stunning splendor of an okra blossom, and I remember why I’m here. I’m here for the life I love. I’m here for the simple life.