A Beautiful Life: The Reisdorf’s Story
Imagine living 25 blocks from a large downtown metropolis, surrounded by layer after layer of people, activity, concrete and a bustling energy that swirls around you without ceasing. You live in a house with a tiny yard, in a large neighborhood, and you can see into the living room of the houses on both sides of your own. You probably know your immediate neighbors, but have never crossed paths with many of the people who live on the next street over. You have shopping centers of all sorts close by and purchase the goods you need when you need them, and the options are endless. In fact, the options are so endless that there are plenty of people willing to complete whatever task you’d like them to do if you pay them enough. You are a consumer in the rawest sense of the word. It makes more sense to buy than to reinvent the wheel and make or grow your own.
Now imagine you have moved from that metropolis to a small rural community 50 miles to the north. You are surrounded by layer after layer of trees, wetlands, farms and the kind of energy that takes root in you, like an ancient oak tree. You live in a house with a forest for a yard, in a small neighborhood, and you can’t see the houses to the east or west when there are leaves on the trees. You know your immediate neighbors and have met most of the others who live on the next streets over. You have a few markets to provide for your needs, but you instead choose to grow much of your own food and do the work yourself. You are a producer in the rawest sense of the word. It makes more sense to be self- sufficient than to pay someone for what you need.
Enter Tim and Amy Reisdorf, along with their children Anjali (12) and Mark (7). They moved from urban Minneapolis to rural Chisago County two years ago. They left Minneapolis to live a more productive life, which to them means one largely focused on growing much of their own food supply. I met Amy first, on a late summer jog around the tiny lake that is central to our rural neighborhood. She was out on the road in front of their newly purchased homestead, chasing Mark down the blacktop road as he learned to ride a bike. Her first words as she walked toward me, hand extended in greeting, were, “Hi! Great to meet you. We are starting a permaculture farm.” My initial interpretation of her energy was that here was a woman who has enthusiasm for life and goes whole heartedly down the path that she’s on. What follows is an informal interview about each of the Reisdorf’s individual experiences during the past 24 months and how they are growing into what they deem to be enough for a beautiful life.
For those who also long for a farm of their own- urban dwellers with dreams of space and quiet, aspiring homesteaders, expatriate rural kids all grown up and working their opportunities in the city- we are just right. They come to garden, visit, hunt, and play. They ooooh and aaaah over our eggs, pick apples for the chickens, chainsaw, walk through the woods, eat some homegrown food, laugh at our escapades, and remind us why we are here trying to keep our balance between too big and too little and find our just right.
What inspires you to live like you do?
Tim: Necessity motivates me. The pressure [of securing] food is important to us because we tend to purchase the most “natural” of food options – which also happen to be the most expensive. More pressure has been added recently by rising prices. Amy and I never wanted to be farmers. But we have learned that it is a good life to be a farmer and a good way to raise a family.
Amy: Like in a Venn diagram, the decision to farm seemed to be the overlapping point among:
- our need to cut costs
- my desire to live a more active lifestyle and not just exercise
- my love of great food
- my curiosity
- longing for more skills and self-reliance
- a belief that hard times are coming
- a sense that doing what came easy had taken me as far as it was going to go
What is challenging about living like you do?
Tim: There are many more chores and responsibilities than we had [in the city], but there seems to be much more satisfaction in our work because we are working for ourselves. The sheer amount of work involved in keeping a farm running is the most challenging part of it. Striving to be self-sufficient when I don’t really have adequate skills is also of great concern. There is always a lot to learn. Trial and error are a regular part of life now.
Amy: Not knowing what I’m doing is a huge challenge. I don’t like making mistakes and failing my way to success and this is precisely why this process has been so good for me. Another challenge is the physicality of the job. A third challenge is resolving conflicts with people who do not like the consequences of our farming, like neighbors who don’t like crowing roosters before dawn and don’t like the appearance of our new orchard.
Anjali: You have to get up early to take care of the chickens. You have to plant sprouts. You have to garden and harvest and weed a lot. You’re far away from everything.
What have you learned about yourself so far by living like you do?
Tim: I have learned that hard work is rewarding and that not all good ideas are right for us. And now I know how to wield a chainsaw.
Amy: I really really enjoy learning from people who are enthusiastic about what they do. People who chainsaw or maple syrup or raise chickens or garden love to share what they know and I love to learn from them. Great combination. I’m a sucker for a handsome rooster. And I can still surprise myself in so many ways which delights and inspires me.
Mark: I learned that there’s more to taking care of chickens than just feeding and watering them and gathering eggs. We had a few experiments that failed. I had a composting worm farm. They all died because they got too dry. Sometimes, mom’s very, very bossy. I homeschool and when it snows so much, I can’t play with anyone and it’s a boring day. I’ve learned that it’s not always easy living this way and it’s not always easy taking care of things.
What are you looking forward to as you continue to live like you do?
Tim: I’m looking forward to completing more items on our 5-year plan. They include getting goats (Nigerian – April 2014), a nut grove (Spring 2014), a root cellar (2014 or 2015), and a wood-burning stove/furnace/boiler (who knows!).
Amy: I look forward to becoming more capable, seeing my kids become capable, sharing the fruits of our work with friends and family, seeing the winter stars, and making maple syrup with friends. I look forward to feeling calm and confident.
Anjali: I’m looking forward to having real goat caramel. Learning how to take care of goats. Hopefully going first to the county and then the state fair.
Mark: I’m looking forward to chicklings this spring and Brownie [my favorite chicken] being a daddy. I’m looking forward to spring and it finally getting warm.
What is beautiful about living like you do?
Tim: The best part about living on a farm is the opportunity for significant and meaningful involvement in community. We share time, talent, tools, contacts, skills, vegetables, apples, and music.
Mark: It’s quieter. I can go sledding down our big driveway.
Amy: Every sunrise is so beautiful, and the colder it gets in the winter the more the stars twinkle.
And the people- the people are so beautiful, too. The kindness of other people really moves me. And living in a community in which conversation is a major pastime is beautiful, too.
What would you say to someone who is nervous about changing the way they operate in the world?
Mark: Sometimes you feel afraid – it’s ok. Ask for information and try things out. And it’s not always easy moving. When you buy more things, you have to move them.
Amy: Tell yourself the truth about what you’re afraid of and how you feel about it. Find some people who can listen to your fear and bear it without trying to fix you. Then try. Keep your sense of humor. Find passionate people who are willing to teach you. Share adventures. Enjoy and celebrate whatever good you can find in the midst of the troubles.
I have two opposite bits of advice. One, know your limits and don’t try to go from zero to ten in a single step. We were aiming to go from a 1 to a 4 or 5 on a scale of 10 so we chose to move an hour away started with six acres. And two, have a wild adventure! Take some outrageous risks and learn some big lessons. Nothing succeeds like excess.
Tim: There can be a lot to be nervous about in the world, whether one changes or not – the world changes without asking for our permission. Get wisdom and assistance from as many people as you can and take your time in making decisions. Live intentionally – know who you are and what you want and start moving in that direction.
It’s been a long journey from Minneapolis to completing our first year here. Some laughing, some good food, some time with old friends, some quiet snow days, and I’ll be ready for more adventure.
I’m so very glad this is my life and my job.
Read more about the Reisdorfs and others who practice permaculture farming techniques in this Star Tribune article from last August.