Oh friends, where do I begin. I thought that 2019 was the craziest year we’d ever have, welcoming the surprise baby we never thought we’d have, after 9 years of infertility. But I was wrong. You should never underestimate the ability for each year to get more and more intense, weird, or beautiful. The year of 2020–certainly by now we all know it has been historical. For me, it has been eye-opening, necessary, and educational. Sounds odd when you’ve lived through a pandemic and the most chaotic political year ever, right?
Let me just start with the beginning of the year, give you a recap, and then go from there. I hope that you’ll see the woven thread of Jesus throughout it all. And at the end of this post, I’ll tell you what my “words” are for the new year. I think you’re really going to enjoy them. If you’re curious, my word for 2020 was “Intentional”. You can listen to my 2020 “word of the year” in last year’s video here or read the blog post here. I had no idea how intentional my year would actually be!
January—it always brings a sense of calm and peace for me. I absolutely love January. For my life, it seems to be the slowest month. We take it slow, enjoy long cups of coffee or hot chocolate, and we’re intentional about our time. I have always said that my favorite holiday is the New Year. This is one of those reasons why—simplicity and slow living.
I planted paper whites indoors. They never bloomed. I’m a horrible house plant gardener. Let’s just keep it real up in here. In January I also started the Read Your Bible in a Year challenge with my Homestead Homemaking Group online. I failed at that, too. By June I couldn’t keep up and interest in the group fell off. But, we’re back at it again for 2021!
I did learn, however, that reading the Bible everyday is so good for my soul. I ached for it when I stopped keeping up with the reading challenge. I literally grieved for the word of God. I learned so much in those 6 months, and I can’t wait to get started again.
In January I knew that something was going to happen this year. I don’t know how to explain that other than it must have been a God thing. In January I was hit with an overwhelming feeling that the Homesteaders of America in-person conference just wasn’t going to happen in 2020. What a ridiculous thought, I said to myself. And before I even knew that this is exactly what would happen, I had already started making plans for the option of a virtual event. But more about that later.
January brought with it a lot of feelings and emotions. I had some decisions I knew I needed to make in the new year. I am not one who likes to make decisions without a solid “yes” or “no”, and as I prayed throughout the year, I just kept hearing God say, “wait”. I had no idea that “wait” would happen more often than not in 2020. But also, that “wait” was exactly what I needed to do, over and over again, to get the best outcome.
February—a month of action for me. I started my podcast called, “Choosing Simple“. It’s a place where I can talk openly about homesteading, motherhood, homemaking, womanhood, Jesus, herbalism, gardening, life, relationships, and more. I didn’t realize just how much I would love it, and how much I needed it, myself. And I was amazed by how receptive all of you were to it. The community of women it is growing astounds me.
February also brought some ambitious goals for us. By a very long story and string of events, we were suddenly handed the opportunity to build a house on 5-acres right up the road from our current homestead. The goal was to start building sometime in the spring. As we started to pack boxes and fix our current house up to get ready for market in the spring/summer, the lovely COVID hit, and all of our plans didn’t pan out….at all. With the uncertainty of the economy, and the skyrocketing price of lumber, we decided not to build in 2020. It was a little bitter, but honestly, it was the best thing that could’ve happened. Because we now know exactly what we want (which is way more land), how we want it, and how it’s going to happen (at least, we think we do).
I had also lined up a trio of goats for the new property, but alas, that had to be cancelled since we would not be living there in 2020. Heartbroken is an understatement. But again, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to us. Soon after I got a goat herd share, I discovered that my family doesn’t like goat’s milk at all. I love it, but they didn’t. So, milk cow it is.
As for family life, homeschool was back in full swing again for the oldest boy. The toddler was growing like a weed and eating real food like a champ. Oh, what freedom there was in that. We did mostly baby-led weaning, but also did some smashed up foods as well. You can learn more about baby-led weaning in the link before this sentence. And home life was phenomenal. Of course, we were learning more and more each and everyday about the impending pandemic, but it didn’t stop us one bit.
March—the month all hell broke loose. In the country, in herbalism, in relationships, in all the things. But before we go there, I was happy to get my 2020 seedlings planted and ready to go that year. While we weren’t living on the 5-acre property, we were absolutely going to put a garden on it. A big one. And so, this mama needed more plants than normal! By spring I had over 125 tomato plants (not all of them started from seed), 75 pepper plants, and hundreds of other plants.
That month was the month that changed homesteading in 2020, though. I could feel it. For weeks I had been telling friends and family that it would happen, and that they needed to get their food storage in order. Some listened, some didn’t, some laughed. But suddenly, the United States found itself shut down during the pandemic. Store shelves were barren. People weren’t working. People lost jobs and lives.
For the most part, the pandemic didn’t phase us one bit in our daily lives. I work from home anyhow, and my husband has an extremely essential job. Daily life continued. We didn’t have need to run to the grocery store, we were fine at home.
What did happen, however, is that suddenly tens of thousands of new homesteaders were calling, emailing, and following me online. And I was suddenly presented with an amazing opportunity to teach the most eagerest of people I’d ever seen. And so, we started the How to Grow Your Own Food series on the Homesteaders of America YouTube channel. We partnered with homesteaders across the country to show people how to grow their own food, and how to love it. It was one of the most amazing experiences ever.
At the end of March we picked up our yearly share of pork, and I decided I’d try my hand at making bacon for the first time. I still haven’t gotten that blog post or video up yet. It turned out amazing.
April and May—oh, spring. I think of this time and I wish I were there already in this new year. Reminding myself that I need to take each day as it comes. But thinking of fresh grass, flowering trees, and spring chicks certainly makes me long for spring days again. The spring months brought a lot. A lot of planting, a lot of chickens, a lot of crazy.
We started setting up our brand new garden space at the new land. And I also brought on some Green Stalk Garden systems for easy vertical growing at the house. We grew a lot of lettuce and greens in those towers this past year, and I can’t wait to play around with them more in 2021.
One of the most exciting things in the spring, however, is that we took our homestead “next level”. We brought on two pasture systems to start raising pastured poultry on our half-acre homestead. Originally we were going to put them on the 5-acres where we had planned to build, but things didn’t work as planned and we ended up raising them on our half-acre. We’ve butchered chickens before, but not more than a few at a time. This was such a liberating experience to have the ability to raise so many birds on our small property. We butchered them early summer, and we’re still eating them through this winter. They make the best bone broth and baked chicken!
If you want to learn more about raising meat chickens, click here.
Spring months also brought with them one of the best year’s for all of my sourdough posts and recipes online. Because people couldn’t find yeast at the store, suddenly they were learning all about sourdough. I have never answered so many questions about sourdough in my entire life. But it gave me a really good excuse to come up with more sourdough recipes!
In May, we also welcomed two of the most amazing little things onto our homestead—GEESE! The Brown Chinese Geese came from our favorite hatchery, and they brought us such joy. They were bought with the intention of becoming guard geese for our meat birds, but they quickly fell in love with our layer flock. Unfortunately, later in the year in a tragic accident, we lost the female goose. We ended up purchasing two new female geese, which I’ll get to shortly, to go along with our male goose.
June—mine and the youngest’s birth month. He turned 1-year-old in 2020. Time flies, doesn’t it? The month of the garden boom, and disaster. The month where we went blueberry picking and I made the best blueberry cobbler of my life. The month where we had disagreements and successes. The month where I decided I would start planning my very first herbalist course. The month where I picked mullein on every single backroad trip that we took. And then, I turned it into medicine.
Let’s talk about the garden disaster. Oh, friends, we had put so much work into that blessed garden. My husband had planted all of my tomato and pepper plants for me (over 200 plants) because the baby wasn’t having any of it. I sat beside the garden, nursing a soon-to-be one year old babe, watching him plant each and every plant. I cried. I wanted to be the one doing it, but the baby wanted mama like no other. I grieved the process of not planting our garden. It’s more therapeutic than you may know….or maybe you do know. But the consistent lesson for me in 2020 was that I, much like nature, had seasons. In this season, my family had to do the work that I used to do. And so, my husband tilled our entire garden by hand after long days at work. My husband planted hundreds of plants while our oldest son planted over 75 onion starts. And I just watched them.
My job would come soon enough, though. I had the maintenance of the garden job. I can still hear my dad, standing in the middle of my garden tilling the last bed. I said, “yeah, isn’t it a grand garden!?” And he peered over the top of his sun glasses, gave me the dad look and said, “you’re never going to be able to keep up with it.” Do you see where I get my straight forwardness from? HA! Yep, it’s all him, ladies and gentleman. Blame him!
But he was right. And I knew he was going to be right. My ambition got the best of me. And suddenly we were infested with the worst weeds ever—ragweed. If you’ve never dealt with it, I hope you never do. I wouldn’t wish it on my enemies (well, maybe some of them). Once it’s in your garden, it takes over. You can’t get rid of it. It’s from the devil himself. And after a week of rain, and another week of neglect, I went to check on my garden and suddenly I was walking into a jungle. Literally. Up to my hips. But to spare you the time of reading, you can watch the video here.
I learned a lesson, though. The garden taught me more in the hours of quiet, alone time work that I put into it than most things have in life. It taught me that tomatoes, just like life and relationships, need to be pruned. It taught me that soil, just like the heart and soul, needs to be covered and protected. It taught me that mismanagement is the bed of destruction and thorns. And it taught me that all things can be redeemed if you have a weed eater (and the word of God). Funny how the garden is such a great teacher throughout every century.
July—the month where we ate lots of apricots, canned tomatoes and peaches, wild foraged, started the fall garden while harvesting the spring garden, ordered homeschool curriculum, prepared for possible fall and winter food shortages, and made hard decisions. This month was jam packed, and I loved it and despised it all at the same time.
This was the month where I had to make the hard decision to take the 2020 Homesteaders of America conference virtually. Would it thrive? Would it fail? Would it put us in the hole? Would anyone actually want to watch an online conference? I knew they would, but there was always this nagging doubt. And that’s all it was, doubt. You’ll see what I mean when we get to October.
August—a bittersweet month. I was, of course, planning a conference, lugging a toddler around, and wearing all of the business and mom hats. But this month, for some reason, I slowed down in my personal life. I foraged for wild herbs like I never have before. I plan to do more of that in 2021. I made tinctures. I talked more about herbs than ever before on my YouTube channel and here on the blog. And I enjoyed the heat of summer on my skin over and over again.
We learned that my grandfather’s chemo wasn’t working anymore. He has fought a good fight. To watch one of the strongest men I know suddenly start deteriorating right in front of my eyes is one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I hope I never have to experience it again…ever. I didn’t expect him to be here for the holidays, but by some miracle he is still here. Though he isn’t really “here”. I have watched my grandmother slowly come to the realization that there is no hope. That he is mostly gone, and that now we’re just maintaining where he is and we’ll be here for comfort. He lays in a home hospital bed and he waves at our youngest boy, then falls right to sleep smiling. His eyes light up when he sees our oldest son—his trusty side kick who checked cows, rode tractors, and cruised down backgrounds with him. Who “got” him.
My heart aches for him the most—this oldest boy that will always be my baby. Maybe that’s why I slowed down in the late summer months. Taking it all in, taking time for important things. And I think that’s when it hit me that life was too short for nonsense. It’s too short to not say what you mean. It’s too short to not go all in. That’s when I made the conscious decision that my life had to change, and suddenly, those decisions I was talking about at the beginning of this blog post became evidently clear to me.
I think this was also the month of a lot of homesteading and farm community drama. It showed me who people really were, how life will change longterm because of our society here in the states, and more importantly, how I couldn’t waiver or fence straddle. In fact, my pep talk to myself was, “be all in, or get all out”….and that’s exactly what I did. All in, baby.
September—the month of laying in fields with my friend Joel and his cows. The month of community. The month of welcoming two new lady geese to our homestead. The month of picking way too many pickled peppers from the garden, and yet, not enough. The month of “applesauce season begins”, where I can way more applesauce and apple butter than we’ll ever eat in five years. The month of finishing up canning peaches, of which I also did not can enough of. The month of decorating for fall early. And the month of chaos before the 4th annual Homesteaders of America conference, even though it was virtual in 2020.
I searched high and low for someone local who raised Brown Chinese Geese. For months I looked, and then I gave up. I needed to replace my male goose’s companion that he lost just a few months before. It is when I stopped looking, that I actually found them. Or, they found me. My sister wanted to buy ducks from a lady right up the road from us. She told her she didn’t have ducks, but she had lots of geese. Lots of Brown Chinese Geese. And don’t you know, they were the same exact age as my lonely male goose. And so, not only did we come home with a brown female goose, but a white one as well!
The middle of September our family and some friends (aka, some of the Homesteaders of America team) visited Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm to talk about future events and strategies. We ate with the amazing interns, and toured the farm to help Joel figure out how to set up an event he wanted to plan. We ate leftovers, by the way. Which was one of the most profound things of the year. It’s funny, because we were invited to dinner, but we weren’t invited just to dinner. We were invited to partake in what a typical day’s end looks like on the farm at the end of summertime. They were the best leftovers we’d ever had (a huge spread). I gave a short talk to the interns, or “stewards”, as Joel calls them. And I was quickly re-energized by their love for farming and homesteading.
There was no three-course meal. There was no playing dress up. It was just us, a small part of the community, on the farm, with the sun going down. It was simple. It was intentional. We sat at picnic tables under a pavilion and talked and laughed. We enjoyed each other. We learned. We taught. We experienced. This is how life should be. This is how homesteading should be. This is how education should be. Welcome to our farm—we’re completely transparent in every way. We hope you like it here. I can still feed the summer heat on my skin…slowly fading in the September sunset.
October—perhaps one of my favorite months out of the entire year. Due to COVID, we had decided not to have the in-person Homesteaders of America (HOA) conference. But, some of my favorite ladies still came from all corners of the country to be here with me. We laughed, we argued, we cried. We taught, we learned, we listened. And it will be one of the most treasured moments of the year for me.
Women friendships are fierce. Especially with strong women. Have you ever heard iron sharpening iron? It isn’t soft. In fact, it’s very loud, abrasive, and dangerous. These were my “as iron sharpens iron” ladies that weekend, and in life in general. We aren’t your “yes” man. We encourage you but we also tell you when you’re being dumb. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The virtual conference was a smashing success. With thousands of people in attendance, attendees from all over the country (and beyond) got to experience the conference online for the very first time. With interactive live chat, Q&A time, and more. I had so much fun hosting the event, especially with friends by my side. That doubt I was feeling before? Non-existent.
This experience opens up the door for HOA. There will forever be virtual expectations. But it also taught me that there is a need for more. More intimate communities of homesteaders. More small groups of people (think 200-400) that can gather and learn hands-on within their own communities. A cultivation of a modern agrarian society. That’s one of my brand new goals that I learned from, and experienced, in 2020. And I hope we can carry it well into 2021, and beyond.
This was the month where lots of decisions needed to be made. Where crazy turned into crazy chaos. Where deep conversations happened. Where difficult conversations happened. This is the space where everything I had been “waiting” on, finally happened (well, almost all of it). There was excitement, there was validation, there was hope, there was heartache, there was new, there was closure. So many things happened this month in every aspect of our lives. And suddenly I felt like I was in a whirlwind of non-stop. And yet, at the same time, the biggest whirlwind of peace.
November and December—and now, after all of that rambling, I find myself at the end of the year. I find myself in two of the most successful months I’ve ever had in my personal career. I find myself in two of the most stressful months I’ve ever had in my personal career. These last two months of the year brought clarity, vision, and purpose. They brought hard work and diligence. They brought hope and concern. They brought sadness and happiness. They brought clarity. Lots and lots of clarity.
For the first time in my writing career, I was majorly successful. My blog has steadily been increasing in income. My writing gigs picked up and we were able to put away a lot in savings this year. My YouTube channel really began growing over the last few months of the year. I felt like a pretty good contributor to our family. And it will pay off.
But it was also a final two months of vision and purpose. Vision into my own life, my own faults, my own needs, my own journey. Purpose in the sense that suddenly, all of these loose threads dancing about throughout the year suddenly started weaving a tapestry that made sense. That all of these things and feelings and emotions were there for a reason. That all of the hardships and chaos and happiness and learning had a purpose. And so, fittingly, my words for 2021 are PURPOSE and VISION.
Over the past few days of the new year, I have been quiet. I have been still. Stillness is so necessary in life, and yet so elusive, that we often forget it as a necessity. One of my favorite scriptures is 1 Thessalonians 4:11 where it says, “…aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands…”
I have realized, in the past year, that nothing I have done in my life has been by chance. Every decision I’ve made, every step I’ve taken, every business I’ve created was created with purpose. I came across a quote from a book I have not yet finished writing (it’s in the 5-year-plan). And I said, “I thought I had lost my purpose when I stopped having children, so I went looking for purpose. But purpose was here the entire time. Purpose isn’t grandiose. You were created with purpose. You didn’t suddenly have purpose when you took on that new job, when you got married and had kids, or when you had an epiphany. You were born with purpose.”
Originally my word for 2021 was going to just be “vision”, but consistently, God brings the word “purpose” to me. Vision and purpose could certainly go hand in hand, but I feel like there is more. So imagine the leaping of my heart when I read this scribble.
Friend, you were born with purpose. You were created with purpose. If you are still here on this earth, alive and kicking, then you still have a purpose. You didn’t suddenly have a purpose when you got married, found your dream job, or had children. You didn’t suddenly have a purpose because of your education or your abilities. No, you had a purpose on the day you were thought of in God’s heart. You had purpose the day you were born into the hands of a doctor or midwife.
God made you. God purposefully made you. You were created with purpose. You were created for a purpose. You have purpose. Nothing you do, say, or feel will ever contridict the fact that you are here because you are worth being here. And you are worth being here because God created you to be here….purposefully.
Not only that, but everything in your life is purposeful. I realized that, had I not started HOA in 2016, there wouldn’t be a homesteading organization with wide open arms for the tens of thousands of people navigating a pandemic in 2020. I knew it was God’s plan, but I didn’t know what it was for.
If I hadn’t started writing all those years ago, I wouldn’t be here now sharing the gospel, encouraging you, you encouraging me, or teaching you all the things in our real, average, daily lives.
If I hadn’t made certain decisions to get me to where I am today, even if they hurt, then I wouldn’t be here today. There wouldn’t be success without failures. There wouldn’t be goodness without harshness.
And so, as we head into a brand new year, I realize that God has taken me from being a buried seed in the soil, to a seedling stretching high into the air for the light. Most people think that’s the hardest part, but that’s not the case. The hardest part is growing into maturity, and then, having enough strength, stamina, and the right environment to produce fruit. Glorious, delicious, amazing fruit. I feel like a seed that I didn’t put a plant marker beside. I have no idea what’s happening or what I am or what all of this is….but I know I’ll find out soon. I just have to trust the process. And the process doesn’t care what I am…it cares that I go through the process….and then I’ll find out.
There will be clarity. There will be vision. Purpose will be defined and shown. And I’m fully prepared to be blown away by what God has for our lives, this lifestyle, this community, and this world.
Here’s to 2021—may it be better than the year before, and difficult enough for it to prepare us for the year after.
Amy K. Fewell is an author, family herbalist, entrepreneur, homesteader, and homemaker. Living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, her and her family live a natural homesteading lifestyle where they promote self-sufficiency and liberty. Amy is the founder of the Homesteaders of America organization and annual events. You can discover more on this website and at homesteadersofamerica.com