That’s right – I bought a farm. But more on that in a minute. First, I’d like to explore how I got here…
The thing about retiring in your 30’s is that you have a lot of time on your hands. And the thing about having a lot of time on your hands is that it gives you a lot of new time to think about serious things, like life, family, priorities, and culture. And all that thinking, if you’re wired like me, can drive you really freaking crazy. Not stir-crazy or bored-crazy, just crazy in disbelief with how society operates.
It perplexed me. It frustrated me at times. And it even saddened me. So I went into what I like to call “philosophy mode.”
Novalis, a famous German poet and philosopher, once posited that all philosophizing is instinctually driven by the desire to bring peace to the restlessness that drives the human mind. And “wisdom”, within this view, is gated by our ability to transpose the alienation and fragmentation that characterizes life into a marriage of nature and spirit. (Of course, this is real wisdom, not the “knowledge” taught in schools).
Or, as William Wordsworth once stated, wisdom is a wedding between the human mind and “this goodly universe.” Unfortunately for me, our confused and misguided society is very much part of this “goodly universe,” and I was not doing well marrying my spirit to it.
And somewhere in all my philosophizing I reached the conclusion that my recent achievements of financial freedom and corresponding retirement weren’t enough. These things were just steps along the path – but true and complete freedom still eluded me, somehow – although I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. Yet here I was, my restless mind had been unlocked by financial freedom and early retirement, and it ran wild. This can be a good thing, although it’s not obvious at first. Until now, school, careers, sports, hobbies, and recreation had all successfully managed to cage the restlessness of my mind, and gave it direction (whether that direction was enjoyable and positive, or not) – but freedom is a powerful and dangerous and even scary state to be in – it’s also an awesome opportunity for those fortunate and courageous enough to actually accept it. Let that be a warning to others seeking ERE.
Back to me and my farm…
In my state of semi-freedom, I turned to observation. I watched the world and realized something that freaked me out: Either I’m going crazy or the world already is. So I hoped beyond measure that Krishnamurti was right when he so aptly stated:
It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted in a sick society.
And that’s all I could see (and still see) – a sick society. People that have stopped working to live, instead filling evenings with mindless television and copious amounts of useless entertainment on the weekends so that they can continue to bear their jobs. Governments that claim to be a democracy and yet keep secrets from the people that chose them as their representative. Wars supposedly to achieve peace. Cultures abusing other cultures, all in the good name of industrial expansion. Growing abuse of non-renewable resources, as civilization goes on happily whistling in the dark as they march toward a cliff. Parents outsourcing parenting. “Food” becoming more and more a genetically mutated concoction of chemicals with a starter gene of a vegetable, rather than, I don’t know, a real vegetable?
Phones and computers becoming a replacement for the human mind, eyes, and ears. Materialism and careerism and the mindless support of free-capitalism as a guise for the hopeless growth of industrialism (a practice that has long since past any benefits other than for the super rich to get super richer). And then there are the ongoing “wars” on terror, drugs, poverty, etc. You get the picture – with each moment of free time for observation I was becoming more and more jaded by what I observed.
This isn’t a political post, I swear. I’m about as apolitical as one can get. I think all sides of politics are equally corrupt and misguided.
I saw the poor in America working fast food, barely making enough to pay the rent, let alone buy any healthy food. Instead opting for the fast food they prepared, completely unaware that this isn’t really food. “Faux food”, as my wife likes to call it.
I saw the middle class fighting to be rich, as if that’s a magical gateway to happiness, completely unaware that they’re creating their own unhappiness in the process.
And then, of course, I saw the rich upper class. Preachers of so much bullshit – whether it’s a republican preaching the righteousness of trickle down economics and the social harms of welfare (not acknowledging that their riches came off the backs of hard working lower classes – talk about welfare!), or a democrat flying their gas-guzzling charter jet to a private charity dinner to save the ice caps.
Greed, ignorance, abuse, and hate was all I could see. And for about 3 months, it left me depressed. Not clinically depressed, but pretty damned sick and tired.
This was my retirement, and I feared for my sanity.
But then I remembered Krishnamurti’s quote above, and decided that maybe it wasn’t me. Maybe my inability to adjust well to this sick society was proof of my own sanity. But those are just words, it didn’t give me a path to follow. For that, I knew my journey was just beginning.
Around that same time, my wife and I had been deep in discussions about what we wanted to do next. Staying in Colorado long-term was never our plan, nor was the typical suburban lifestyle. But knowing what you don’t want (e.g. knowing you don’t want to work forever in a job you hate) is a far cry from actually knowing what you do want. My wife was fixated on our family’s health, natural food and medicine specifically, and I just wanted to be outside. And above all, we both just wanted to give our kids the best possible life as they grow into adolescence and, eventually, adulthood. And so we looked at being closer to family, maybe buying an acre or two in the suburbs so I could grow a garden and raise some small livestock. We talked a bit about a farm, but finding land in an area near family that had sufficient space, while still having a good school district was proving to be difficult, so we mostly ignored that idea.
And then one day I was on a real estate website in Kentucky (home to my wife’s entire family) and stumbled across a beautiful barn on 12.5 acres in a lush part of Kentucky. The school district was surprisingly good, and it was 9 miles from her parents house (35 from her sisters). The house was 2000 square feet, the exact size I’d hoped for, and sat about 200 feet from a back road with no traffic, behind 2 acres of wooded hills with a healthy creek running through it. There was a large pond in the farm pasture that sat just east of a natural and healthy water spring. The house also had a 15,000 gallon cistern with a roof catchment system (and city water if we ever dried out), as well as a grey water system to ease the stress on the septic. Self-sufficiency, here I come!
But lest you think it’s the boondocks, I assure you it’s not. It’s a street full of doctors, pilots, and local business owners who happen to enjoy living on large acreages.
It was a new, exciting, and scary possibility.
Mostly scary. Now, if you know me, you’d know that I’m not easily intimidated by new experiences. I’ve never been scared of failure, but this was new. For the first time in forever, I didn’t know what to do. What was best for my kids, my family, and even me? I was struck with indecision. But it was at this time that I was reading a book by Wendell Berry (a Kentuckian himself, not to mention a personal inspiration) – when I came across his poem of the Mad Farmer. And this particular excerpt screamed out as if it saw my inner conflict and wanted to ease my worries:
From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and science,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.
FYI: The rest of the poem can be viewed here.
It was clear to me that I was, or could be, the Mad Farmer. I realized that if I stayed where I was, that it was my own choice to be a part of all the cultural insanities I mentioned above. Or, I could choose to walk quietly away and create my own unions. Union between mind and body, between spirit and nature, between health and happiness. In other words, as Novalis and Wordsworth put it, I could put at ease the restlessness of my mind and find wisdom. I began getting comfortable that this would be a good thing for both me and my family.
Fast forward about 6 weeks… The house sat on the market for over a month before we were able to come out and see it, and by that point we figured there was something wrong with it. But when we came to visit, we fell in love. The kids had acres and acres to run around and be kids. I had ample room to grow the fruits, nuts, herbs, and vegetables we’ve been dreaming of – not to mention the livestock if we choose. We could have the small-town community we desired, while not giving up any of the other things we valued.
We met the owner, a single mom of three grown kids, and she literally cried multiple times upon meeting us – sad that she had to leave the house that her kids grew up in, and happy to see a new generation of kids coming in to enjoy the paradise she helped create. My wife is already Facebook friends with her.
And so we bought the farm!
The picture at the beginning of this post is an actual picture I took of our barn, which sits a few hundred feet from the back door of our new house. Below I’ve included a few more pictures of my future farm and my main helper. The third picture is a view of the sunrise from the balcony off the master bedroom. I’m not saying that to brag, I’m simply pointing out that the lifestyle of retiring in your 30’s can still be quite exhilarating!
If you’re tempted to comment that a farm is a lot of work and there’s no money in it, let me cut you off. My answer is four-fold:
1. I’m not afraid of hard work, I simply despise unhealthy/bad work. Sitting in a cubicle doing CAD and Excel is unhealthy and part of an unsustainable economy, but transforming soil and improving water management while eating good food is good work. I’m excited for it, and I’ll enjoy not needing to spend hours in the gym every week to get my exercise.
2. There is money in it, but it’s not necessarily easy. That’s OK though, because I don’t need the money. We’ll be content with the healthy food and healthy lifestyle that we can enjoy for ourselves, and share with our family and friends. In my experience money comes when you get good at something, which I plan to do. It could also be a great opportunity for my kids to make their own money as they get a bit older. I’d much prefer they work our land for a good wage than learn to do menial and uncreative tasks for a global company at near minimum wage.
3. This is a small farm of only 12.5 acres. Currently I plan to develop a permaculture food forest and grazing land for livestock on most of the land, and leave a bunch more wooded and mostly untouched. The rest will be where the work is, and I’m looking forward to it.
4. It has a rainbow barn!