Many times I have been asked what my homesteading story is by women in the Ladies Homestead Gathering (LHG) community. Each time, I wanted to duck and slink away because it seems like what I do does not fit the typical homesteading story. Of course with everyone’s story there is a history.
Based on my Mother’s stories of my early childhood, I think I was destined to end up on the homestead journey. We were stationed in Puerto Rico at the time. My Mother describes walking out the back door to hang wash, seeing me at the age of three by a bush doing something. She walks over only to discover I am petting bees. Nope! I never got stung.
Another time, I was playing with a large fuzzy white bug I called a “walking feather” as Mom puts me down for my nap; I continued to play with the “walking feather.” I wake from my nap and my Mom came in to discover my lips were swollen like giant red grapefruits. This led us to the emergency room where Mom discovered the “walking feather” was a toxic white fuzzy caterpillar. I had been rubbing its fuzzy hairs against my lips as I drifted off to sleep.
On another trip to the doctor, he asks “Jill, what do you have in your hands?” As he reaches for my hands, I happily put my wonderful treasures in his hands. It was two dead rhinoceros beetles. The doctor jumped back a few feet and gave my Mother a look of sheer horror and he says “and you wonder why Jill is not feeling well?” You can imagine my poor Mother desperately trying to explain this and my other oddities. As the years when by, I had tarantulas, snakes, praying mantis, ant farms, sea monkeys, lady bugs, mud puppies and kittens all as pets.
My fascination and love of bugs and critters continues to this day in my garden. My homesteading centers on bugs and critters. Currently, I live with my husband in subdivision which has a homeowner’s association. It is on a partially wooded, one acre lot, with fencing all-round the back yard where we can grow what we want. Our small garden is where we grow food but at the same time, it is a wild and wooly place for bugs and critters. I let nature have a fairly free-hand in the garden. When I moved to Flowery Branch I knew absolutely nothing about gardening. But I would plant something and be absolutely astonished and giggly every time something came up. I experience that same joy even today.
My career is in graphic design. But I discovered quickly, as I started my homesteading journey, learning about gardening, companion planting, foraging, bee keeping, composting, and permaculture, vermiculture, I had little or nothing in common with my co-workers. I did not know another soul in the area that had any similar interests. But, I was happy experimenting in my garden. I call it experimenting because if I liked a plant I saw in a seed catalog, even if it was not suited for my zone, I planted it anyway. This complete naiveté has resulted in incredible success.
In the middle of the summer, my garden looks like a wooly mess to the untrained eye but everywhere I walk in the garden there is something interesting to observe. Chipmunks run up and down the walkways, birds of every breed flit around, snakes slither by, tortoises lumber along, crickets sing in the daytime, tree frogs sing in the evenings, toads sit quietly waiting, praying mantis stand like watchful statues, lizards give me a knowing nod, robber flies, dragon flies, spiders of every color, size and shape, and every butterfly, bee variety, and wasp can be found flying around the garden at one point or another.
So, where does Ladies Homestead Gathering fit into all this? One day someone over heard me talking about my gardening escapades and mentioned LHG. I was put in contact with Esther Artfeld who was just starting a new Chapter near me. Since, my current friends had convinced me I was an “odd bird”, I figured I would try it out but keep my eccentric gardening practices to myself. Not knowing what to expect, I was a little nervous but knew I might learn something and maybe make some friends. After about 15 minutes of hearing the other women describing their homesteading stories and interests, I knew I was in the right place.
By the end of my first gathering, my universe had dramatically shifted. I was not alone in my ideas and thoughts; I was not an “odd bird” among these women. I had found a community that I could be part of and grow with on my homesteading journey. As I got to know the women in our chapter, I realized there was so much more to homesteading than just gardening. I became so profoundly moved by these women, their grit and determination, I felt a growing desire to learn and do more than simply attend gatherings. I wanted to play a more active part in my LHG chapter and give back to this community.
As the ladies and I worked together developing topics for future Gatherings or setting up our booth at the farmer’s market, our friendships grew. Now, I have the most treasured friends of my life among these women. I attended a LHG fall retreat and was overwhelmed by the incredible women I met from other chapters. Instantly, my community and circle of friends grew. Now I have friends in Colorado, Virginia, South Carolina, and Alabama. We were sharing our knowledge and supporting each other on social media and reading through LHG blogs.
At our fall retreat I met Cyndi Ball, the founder, and the rest of the national board for the first time. As each board member spoke with me and discovered I was a graphic designer I saw an excited look in their eyes. They quickly asked me to be the graphic designer for LHG. I discovered everyone on the national board was a volunteer and their lives are even more hectic than mine and yet they were doing so much and homesteading on top of that. How could I say no to their request?
Eventually, Esther had to move to Iowa and though part of my heart was breaking, the other part was filled with complete joy that her ultimate dream of a homestead was coming to fruition. I had always been honored to be Esther’s “wing-women” so when Esther asked me to take on the role of president in our Chapter; I agreed to step up. Though I was nervous to take on this role; my board has been so supportive and left me in complete awe and in gratitude for everything they do for our chapter. So, through my story you see how one person’s life has become so rich, full of joy and purpose through being part of LHG.
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