Two Acres and a Cow: Our Back to the Land Adventure

862a23c226c9cf35ce2f48df630c4821My wife and I have had a dream for several years.

We’ve dreamt of a little house in the country with a few acres, a big garden, and some chickens—a life close to the land and in touch with the rhythms of the earth. We’ve envisioned a place where we could learn to work with our hands and know where our food comes from.

We’ve also dreamt that this little place in the country life would be anchored by a Catholic community and sanctified by the beauty of a strong liturgical life. And maybe, when we’ve felt really ambitious, we’ve dreamt of playing some small part in the the renewal of Catholic culture.

Perhaps it isn’t the American dream. But it is our dream. And now, it is becoming a reality. In less than a week, my wife and kids and I are packing our bags and headed south to rural Oklahoma where we will live close to Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey.

Are you crazy?

More on our upcoming move in a minute, but first, a little bit about why we are doing this. After all, why would a young family comfortably living in the suburbs of a large city decide to move to a remote and economically poor rural area, far from family, friends, and all that is familiar? Why would we leave a parish we love and a state we’ve called home for years, to start all over? Here are some of our motivations.

  1. Catholic Agrarianism – For years now, I’ve imbued the works of writers and thinkers like G.K. Chesterton, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Wendell Berry, Vigen Guroian, Catherine Doherty, Pope Pius XII and a host of others. These men and women, to varying degrees, have articulated a vision of Christian rural life that is more than mere sentimental pining for the simplicity of the past. Rather, they emphasize the importance of subsidiarity and authentic community, stewardship of the earth, the importance of economic self-sufficiency, the virtue of labor, connection between culture and place, and more. I love reading about these ideas, but at some point, they must be translated into action, and that is what we are doing.
  2. Hard Work – I work from home, and my job involves sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret this. I love what I do and technology is what is enabling our move to the country in the first place. But my work is entirely mental in nature. I don’t build tables or plant crops, or do anything that involves real bodily labor. Yet, we are bodily creatures and I am convinced bodily labor is not only good, it is necessary, in some form or another. Why not simply get a gym membership, you ask? Because I tend to laziness and procrastination. A gym membership is optional, and any optional labor is easy to shirk. Tending animals and a garden, on the other hand, requires work that can’t be delayed (unless you want all your animals to die and crops fail). Moreover, the labor of husbandry provides tangible fruit. Rather than exercising to look “buff,” the labor of caring for things produces food for your table.
  3. The Culture of Consumerism

    The Culture of Consumerism

  4. Materialism – A few miles from where we currently live, developers are building a huge, luxury shopping center. This shopping center is only a couple of miles from the local mall. Between this new shopping center and mall are literally hundreds of stores where everything imaginable is sold. And that isn’t the end of it. Every cornfield, every small patch of green grass in our small town is getting bulldozed to build more stores. Within 5 minutes of us, there is a Wal-Mart, Menards, Meijer (a Wal-Mart competitor), at least 15 restaurants, Starbucks. Oh, and three grocery stores, each more luxurious than the next! That’s all within five minutes. It is consumerism gone mad, and there is no end in sight. By American standards, we live a simple life. We shop rarely and don’t consider ourselves materialistic. Yet, despite that, we find ourselves being tempted by the dazzling onslaught of stuff. We eat out more than we need to, and we find ourselves wanting and buying things we don’t need. Despite our best efforts, we are unconsciously sucked in by the culture of consumerism. At a very deep level, we want out of this way of life. Part of our God-given vocation as humans is to create. We don’t want to be mere consumers. And so we are reorienting our lives to break free of the trap.
  5. Monastic Stability – We live in a fast changing world, a world that is quickly becoming hostile to Christianity. This isn’t the first time in history this has happened, either. Just as Christians congregated around Benedictine monasteries during the collapse of the Roman empire, we are moving toward the stability of Clear Creek. Put another way, we are exercising the Benedict Option. Some call this escapism, but we call it common sense.

There are other reasons we are moving, but suffice it so say that we are seeking to shape our life around what we believe, rather than shaping what we believe based on the way we live.

Headed to Clear Creek

Clear Creek Abbey

Clear Creek Abbey

Clear Creek Abbey is home to about 50 monks. Each day, they pray the liturgy of hours as it has been prayed for centuries. They work and pray and offer hospitality to pilgrims and guests. These monks are in the midst of a huge construction project, building an abbey church that will long outlive any of us, and will likely survive for centuries.

Surrounding this monastic foundation, there is a small but growing community of Catholic families, young and old, that share the vision for traditional Catholic rural life and Benedictine prayer and work. It is to this community that we are moving.

We hope to share more about our move in the days to come. Please keep our family in your prayers!

30 Responses to “Two Acres and a Cow: Our Back to the Land Adventure”

  1. That part of Oklahoma is very beautiful over there. Be sure to come over to Lawton once a month for the Byzantine Divine Liturgy. We would love to have you visit, and it’s a great exposure for the children and yourselves to experience the vast richness of the Catholic Church. There used to be Byzantine missions in Tulsa and OKC but sadly those communities are gone now. It’s on the first Sunday of the month at 5:30 PM at Holy Family Catholic Church in Lawton. The Byzantine Catholic Community of Oklahoma also has a Facebook page.

  2. Is it possible for you to share more information on this Catholic community and how others may get involved ?

  3. My exposure to Oklahoma is pretty much limited to work trips to Tulsa and Oklahoma City (although I once did a road trip deposition to Yale, OK), and of course my extended stay at Ft. Sill, so the photos of the abbey were quite a shock.

    Ft. Sill didn’t look like that.

    Anyhow, I wish to wish you the best of luck. Having one hand in agriculture and the other in law, I understand your desires.

    A couple of brief thoughts.

    Check out the Catholic Land Forum at http://newcatholiclandmovement.org/ . Their vision sounded very similar to yours, but theirs failed. There are a lot of reason for that, but I think that perhaps their expectations were too high, and that they chose a location in Kansas. Speaking from experience, doing a market garden, which is basically what they did (mine would be a large garden, not a market garden) is labor intensive and can be low yield. It’ll be a learning experience.l I’d note that not only did they fail with a small scale farming vision in mind, but Devon Rose did as well, although I don’t know why in his case. I’m not saying you will, I am just saying there may be a steep learning curve. That’s why I’m recommending the Catholic Land Forum. Learn from his mistakes, in other words. His goal was very close to yours, although you may be off to a better start.

    A good Oklahoma forum for a small farmer is Watch Out For The Bull: http://watchoutforthebull.blogspot.com/ It’s completely secular, but interesting.

    Another site you may wish to be aware of is The Beginning Farmer. That fellow started off very green as a Beginning Farmer and worked as a Protestant youth pastor. It may be of interest: http://thebeginningfarmer.com/

  4. Good luck and God bless you. This is a dream of mine, too, but I doubt if I would ever make it happen like you. I look forward to hearing how it works out.

  5. Please do continue to share. I live on 5 acres with horses, chickens, dog’s, cats, huge gardens, and sometimes it seems too overwhelming. Then, an article like this comes along and reminds me why we do what we do. Sometimes that’s all we need is a gentle reminder. I don’t have the Catholic community you will have and that would be really nice. So do share, let us know how it goes.

    • Yes, of course. I am blessed to be able to work from home full time, so I can live anywhere. It is this fact that is making this move possible.

      • If you’re going to try to start a small family farm, it might actually be a good idea to wait a couple of years. I work in the Agriculture industry, and farm real estate values are in an incredible bubble not seen since the early 1980’s, due to an avalanche of industry-disrupting government subsidies and regulations in the form of government payouts and ethanol requirements.

        http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/land-use,-land-value-tenure/farmland-value.aspx
        http://www.agweb.com/land/farmland-value-guide/

        Depending on what you want to farm, if you have an intention of renting land on which to farm, almost universally in the United States farmers who *rent* are losing money per acre when farming annual grains (corn, soy, wheat). Owning your own land is better, but not much, and of course you have to pay for it to begin with.

        I’ve suggested to family members that when the current bubble pops, we should buy some land for deer hunting.

        The financial situation of farmers the last two seasons has gotten much worse, with some financial indicators (revenues relative to debt) soaring to early 1980’s farm recession levels. At some point, that bubble is going to implode, especially if borrowing costs (think Federal Reserve) return to normal. We could see a dramatic plunge in real estate prices after, as farmer’s scramble to come up with cash to pay their debts. Any change in ethanol policy could have a doubling effect on land prices.

        If you want to buy enough land for actual livestock, I would recommend Joel Salatin’s books (all of them) on rotational grazing. It’s a revolutionary way to produce cattle that eat in a way similar to their grazing ancestors, helps preserve grasslands, and requires MINIMAL input from farm workers. If you look up Carbon Cowboys on Youtube, you’ll find stories of 1-2 guys working dozens or hundreds of heads of cattle. Joel also has plenty of ideas for other farm products and general farm living. Highly recommend.

        Feel free to PM me if you want. Good luck to you.

  6. My wife and I sold a business, moved to rural western Wisconsin, and built a farm. We spent ten years in a very remote and beautiful area raising cattle, chickens, planting trees, hazelnuts, and tending to a garden with virtually anything that will grow in this climate. We recently moved to a small town to get a bit closer to our five children and three grandchildren. The experience on the farm was the best ten years of our lives. It was hard physical labor, lots of solitude and very spiritual. If you have questions about anything rural, or farm related please email me as you please – about animals, farm equipment etc. All the best – you will not regret your new adventure.

  7. Sam, We will pray for God’s Blessing on you and your family as you start this great adventure. Wow…what a change. Please keep us all informed of the progress and be sure to find time to enjoy your pipe on the front porch once in a while 🙂

  8. Good luck!! Selfishly, im close to weeping as I read about your wonderful plans because I’m shortly to do quite the opposite (not so much the farming but the rural living in a farming community – and not in the USA) and it breaks my heart. However it’s what my good wife needs (for her good and that of the children) at this stage and so it’s a sacrifice that I know must be made. And there’s always the future! I look forward to keeping an eye on your blog to see how you are getting on. I shall also remember you and your family in our daily rosary. God bless.

  9. Sam, I sent you a message in response to your article via your “Contact” form. We’re taking the same leap you are and our move comes in October. As we share in this great adventure, I hope we can keep in touch to learn from each other and to encourage each other through the challenges that lie ahead and to delight in each other’s blessings as they are realized.

  10. Hi Sam, my family and I saw your wonderful family at the 10am mass Sunday! Unfortunately, I was busy chasing my children after mass and did not get a chance to introduce myself. Welcome to Oklahoma! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas on this website – we appreciate it.

  11. Im sad to hear the sentiments in your 4th reason for leaving.

    “We live in a fast changing world, a world that is quickly becoming hostile to Christianity. This isn’t the first time in history this has happened, either. Just as Christians congregated around Benedictine monasteries during the collapse of the Roman empire, we are moving toward the stability of Clear Creek. Put another way, we are exercising the Benedict Option. Some call this escapism, but we call it common sense.”

    So civilization is going to pot and serious Christians should get away from cities and densely populated burbs? Those Christians that don’t aren’t practicing common sense?

  12. So civilization is going to pot and serious Christians should get away from cities and densely populated burbs? Those Christians that don’t aren’t practicing common sense?

    Um….no… thats not what he said Stephen. To be charitable, i will guess that you feel defensive about your own choices so you are projecting that on to Sam?

    God be with you Sam!

  13. It looks like a beautiful place. Maybe I’ll even end up there some day myself. They really are just questions prompted by what is inferred in reason for leaving #4 When he says,

    “We live in a fast changing world, a world that is quickly becoming hostile to Christianity. This isn’t the first time in history this has happened, either. Just as Christians congregated around Benedictine monasteries during the collapse of the Roman empire, we are moving toward the stability of Clear Creek. Put another way, we are exercising the Benedict Option. Some call this escapism, but we call it common sense.”

    • Some Christians are called to the “front lines”, others support the troops in a variety of ways (formation, prayer, material support, etc.). All Christians have their part in the battles. In no way is it “escapism” because, frankly, being a Christian means that we are called to battle. It’s just a question of where we all face our battles and what our part looks like that contributes to the greater cause.

  14. I know what u were referring to Stephen and im just saying that Sam is explaining their personal reasons as to why they made this choice. He didnt suggest anywhere that its the right answer for all. God bless you today!

  15. Thanks Sarah and Domenico for your input. Just to make clear you know where Im coming from, Im a huge fan of the Catholic Gentleman and have been part of The Gentleman’s Society ( previously Fraternitas ) since it’s inception. Sam is a creative, articulate and orthodox guy with a beautiful family and ( as far as I am concerned) doing a really good work for the Church with TCG.

    He mentioned four reasons for the move and I really embrace the first three. Catholic Agrarianism, Hard Work and Materialism. I can’t say that I don’t at least partly understand the fourth, Monastic Stability, I would just like to hear that particular reason fleshed out a little more. I have heard similar sentiments from others l like and respect. They are questions I would ask myself too If I was attracted to a similar kind of a move.

    I apologize if my questions were stated in a way that sounded aggressive or overly critical. Like I said, I am a big fan.

    Pax Cristi.

  16. Congrats Sam, my wife and I have talk about this issue a lot…It’s what St.JPll reminds me of when he talks about a civilaization of love….
    God Bless,
    Pat
    We meant to try and find you at Catholic Family land this summer and introduce ourselves but it didn’t work out…

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