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An Introduction to the Basics By: Hannah

Pumpkins on porch

Pumpkins on porch

I am pleased to have the opportunity to introduce to you the basics of how we live. You might call this section 'homesteading' or perhaps 'life', another option would be 'survival' but regardless of the title, welcome to the hills of New England and the Stover property. As you can see from the links above, Basics, for us at least, covers the land from which everything else stems, the shelter in which we live and the food with which we are fed (raiment is covered elsewhere). Since none of these are complete without the skills necessary to utilize the resources they (the skills) are also covered here.

Winter wonderland

Winter wonderland

In order for you to understand the following articles more fully I would like to give you a little peek into our past to show you the path we traveled to arrive here as well as the why behind what we did. You could say that the story began some 19 years ago when we moved to the property where we reside today; however, it would be wise to go back another six years. It was in that year 1982 that our parents, Craig and Cheryl, were quietly married in Kansas, with hardly a penny to their name. What followed proved to be very hard years, they moved often and had little. Yet in all those years they followed a very specific plan, always moving towards the vision of what they believed God wanted them to do with their lives. From Kansas they moved to North Dakota and later on to Wisconsin, at

Jeremiah, Hannah, and Nathanael

Jeremiah, Hannah, and Nathanael

that point God firmly closed the door to their dreams and gave them a different assignment. Being sent to New England was not my parent's preference, but, since God's plans are so much bigger than our plans could ever be, it is wisest to obey. Arriving in our present locality, exhausted and with heads still spinning from the unexpected turn of events, we still had several moves ahead. In just six short years of marriage my parents made no less than twelve moves and traversed across half the country. In exhaustion they cried out to God for a quiet place to rest and raise their growing family, a place where we could stay for awhile. And so in 1988, with baby number four on the way, God opened a door and gave us a place we could call our own, a little patch of land in a little town in the woods and hills of New England, it was just like a little mission field all to ourselves. Many have asked us why we have chosen to stay here for so long, in answer all we can say is, when God sends you somewhere you can't leave until He tells you to go.

Cheryl, Nathanael & Grandma in front of our old house.

Cheryl, Nathanael & Grandma in front of our old house.

Now in regards to the land there is one thing that I want to make very, very clear to you so that you are not confused as you read the subsequent articles. Although we call these four acres where we live 'our land', the house in which we live 'our house', the garden 'our garden', and the orchard 'our orchard', they do not belong to us. That's correct, we do not own our own land, we rent. The reason why we rent and will continue to rent is because we do not believe that God wants us to go into debt. Before they married our parents made the commitment that they would never borrow money. (We will cover debt in a later article.) Now, I will be the first to admit that we would love to own our own land, to that end we pray and diligently save both money and tools, as well as, expanding our skill level at every opportunity that arises so that we will be ready for land when the time arrives and we are permitted by the Lord to purchase it. (Note: from here on out I will refer to the rented property on which we live as our land.)

Joanna washes dishes.

Joanna washes dishes.

Over the past ten or so years many people have commented on our land. We have heard numerous statements, all of which run something like this. "If I had a place like this I'd do all these wonderful things that you do..." "If I had dirt like you have I'd garden..." "If I had an orchard I'd can lots of fruit..." "If I just knew all these skill that you know, why then I'd teach them to my children too." Sometimes statements like these make us laugh, other times they make us want to cry. So often we (the Stovers) do the very same thing, we see something (be it a skill or thing, character or a closer walk with God) we see it and we want it, we want it for ourselves and for our children but we don't know how to get it. We don't know where to begin and so we give up hope, act hopeless and don't do anything. I want to give you back some hope because life is full of hope especially for those of us who know the Lord Jesus Christ and America is still a land of opportunity. You do not have to have your own land nor do you have to start with money nor do you have to start with skill, though a little of one or all of these would seem to make things easier. I know that our position is a unique one, I certainly do not expect any of you to be positioned identically to us, however, I will be quite frank with you, I have never yet met a family who was not in an entirely unique position. God will show you what you can start with.

Digging potatoes.

Digging potatoes.

I will now paint you a little picture so that you can glimpse what we started with and take courage and see that you can do this too! Years ago our four acres had been part of someone's homestead but years of neglect had left it in shambles. There were three usable buildings when we arrived, the old farm house (which had to be replaced after about 9 years), the barn and the shop. Two other buildings, the garage and the shed by the maple tree, were both on the verge of collapsing. Tillable land was scarce, consisting of the square garden with the white fence around it. The woods, sumac and brambles had taken back over the land, so much so, that they were encroaching on the buildings (all of which were right on the driveway). No maintenance had been done to the land for so many years

Cheryl prunes a peach tree.

Cheryl prunes a peach tree.

that garbage, old rusted out cars and trash heaps abounded everywhere. After moving our few belongings into the spacious house (1,500sq') we or rather, Dad and Mom, began cleaning up the yard. Our new landlord wanted two things, 1) a family who would stay for a long time and 2) someone to clean the place up and start taking care of it. We were more than glad to do both. Big dumpsters were brought in and huge quantities of the larger items were hauled off. A smaller 6 yard dumpster then replaced the large ones and for the next three years we filled that dumpster every week, without fail, with junk from off the property. In essence the land was so bad that there really wasn't anything that we could do to make it any worse. The landlord basically gave us freedom to do what we wanted; everything we did only improved the property in both appearance and value.

Clearing more land.

Clearing more land.

We were pretty sure that we would be staying for several years but we really had no idea if the number would be 5 or 10 or 20, we still don't know how long we'll be here, but God knows. One thing was sure; we were poor so in order to survive we needed to grow our own food. You know, if no one ever takes the time to improve the property they live on, it will never get improved. We didn't want to be sitting here after 10 or 15 years saying regretfully, "if only we had cleared land when we first came and put in an orchard, if only we had cleared out that rock pile and brush behind the shop and put in a bigger garden, if only we had planted berries ...just think how delicious they would be." So Dad and Mom set to work immediately beating back the woods and clearing out the rubble and rocks and planting things. Every planted thing on the map, except the maple tree, was planted by us.

Jeremiah sides the shed.

Jeremiah sides the shed.

As far as good soil is concerned no such thing occurs naturally here in New England, its all rock and sand with the littlest bit of top soil. If you want a garden you've got to build it. So that's what we did. We sweated and toiled, we pushed back the woods and burned brush piles, we dug out stumps and removed rock piles. We hauled in every bit of organic matter we could get our hands on to build dirt. We planted and tended and learned and when they died we planted again and learned some more. We hauled off junk piles and re-built collapsing buildings, and built new ones too. We worked and worked and worked some more and do you know what? we have benefited from that labor for almost 20 years now!

Mom processing corn.

Mom processing corn.

What about all the skills used to accomplish the work? You may be surprised to know this, but 20 years ago we didn't possess the majority of the skills mentioned on this site. Listen to what Mom has to say about gardens.

Cheryl

"When I got married I had never so much as seen a garden, not a vegetable garden not even a flower garden."

Neither of our parents knew anything about fruit trees or berries. For every blueberry bush growing in our garden, there are at lest two or three that died. For every fruit tree in the orchard there is approximately one that died. Mom didn't know how to can or freeze or bake bread and there was no one to teach her either. They learned from books, they taught themselves (they taught their children to do the same). They tried and tried and tried again and they learned.

Caleb with a young hen.

Caleb with a young hen.

When our old house had to be replaced we did most of the finishing work. Guess what? We had never done most of those things before. Dad is a mechanic not a carpenter but he is not afraid to learn new things so we looked it up in 'how to' books. Take sheet rock as an example, we got a video out of the library and then we went and tried it. What's the worst thing that could happen to sheetrock if you don't do it right? The worst thing that I know of is that you put the screws in too far, break through the paper and crush the rock part. If its on the ceiling it will fall right off and you will quickly discover what you were doing wrong. If its on the wall it will probably stay there for several years, but when you lean against it, it will shift around a bit. Eventually it may get bad enough that it falls off, at which point you will be able to fix it and can teach your children how to do it too. Sounds pretty bad? Actually that's not bad at all. Look at it this way, at your worst you will have equaled the professionals that did the main floor of our house and with a little practice you'll exceed them. The same is true with most skills. By trying new things on a regular basis you will find that the learning process becomes easier. Little by little you will be able to reclaim lost skills that your family needs and your children will be able to go further and continue that reclaiming process.

Julia making bread.

Julia making bread.

The home and yard is such a safe environment in which to learn, if you don't succeed first try, no one is inconvenienced but you, so just pick up the pieces and try again. Renting does put very real parameters around us, you probably won't be able to plant a 20 tree orchard but there is a good possibility that you will be allowed to plant one peach tree (you'll never know unless you ask). With that one tree you will be able to learn the same things that you would learn if you had five peach trees. (We have parameters here too; it took us seven years of appeal to get permission to have chickens and almost eighteen for goats.) You don't need to wait until you have your own land to start learning skills and doing things, if you wait that long,

A walk in the woods for Mom, Sarah, & Zechariah.

A walk in the woods for Mom, Sarah, & Zechariah.

I'm afraid it will be too late. It is also not necessary for you to be near someone who already knows how to do it. All you need is the willingness to try and when you fail to try again and the determination to regain some of these lost skills so that your children have it better off then you do now. They in turn will be able to take the wonderful foundation that you give them and go on to reclaim more and more skills and more land that you will never have the privilege of learning or reclaiming, not only in these areas but in many others as well. Its not too late, start again today to reclaim more things that the past generations have discarded, you have already reclaimed so many things, just keep on going. It's well worth the effort. We have never regretted all the skills we have taught ourselves, nor do we regret all the work we have put into reclaiming this land, even though it is not ours, and Iím sure you wonít either!


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