7:58 a.m. We were packed, in the car, coffee in hand, ready to go. I wanted to make sure we left by 8:00 since we had a 12 hour drive ahead of us. We could take our time and sight-see a little and still be in bed on time once we got to the hotel. If only things actually go according to plan, right? We left on time, and we made good time through Kentucky. Then everything slowed down. We were on our way to the Homesteaders of America’s first conference in Warrenton, VA. I can honestly say there isn’t much that I have been more excited to attend. I bought us tickets when they were released, maybe as long ago as January. I booked our hotel months out from the event. We spent a week fortifying the chicken coop and yard so they could have access to outside 24/7 while we were gone but still be safe. I looked up restaurants in the area so when we sailed into Warrenton Friday night we could go enjoy a meal and ease into our weekend.
Between work stress, knife work for my hubby stress, and the farm stress, the weeks leading up to this long awaited event were so mind-numbingly exhausting and trying. We had so many things we needed to do to get the property more secured for the three days we would be gone. And of course, we had to clean and get ourselves ready for a pretty good hike. That meant that in between catching up laundry, making sure dishes were clean so the house didn’t stink when we got home, and packing, the pigs escaped. The ducks couldn’t figure out the new way to get in and out of the coop. The rabbit enclosure started to collapse. More than once I sat down in a huff like a toddler and nearly in tears, proclaimed “we just aren’t going”. My parents came out on a Saturday in the pouring rain and helped my husband fortify the fencing on the hog yard. I was stuck at work, hearing second hand about how everything was going wrong right before we were going to be 808 miles away.
The night before we left, we spent the entire evening getting food ready for travel snacks, packing and unpacking the suitcase and trying to decide the best route to take. The drive was easy, just really long. I wasn’t prepared for the mountains in West Virginia. My poor little car wasn’t either. She did her best, but it was a chore to get up those hills. Even taking into account the time change, we didn’t roll into the hotel until 15 hours later. Despite the exhaustion from the drive, the excitement for the conference the next day meant I didn’t sleep well or much.
We got to the check-in early the next morning, just a few minutes after they were opening up the grounds for the conference goers. That meant we were one of the first 100 who got a tote from Fluffy Layers. That started what was to be an incredible day off right for this chicken obsessed girl.
I have been trying to decide the best way to articulate the Homesteaders of America conference all week. And honestly, there is so much to say and I am poor enough of a writer that putting into words the whole day is challenging for me. They estimated somewhere around 1,300-1,500 people attended, with many bringing their children. There were vendors, demonstrations and seminars spanning the entire available space at the Fauquier County Fairgrounds. Overwhelmed is an adjective that comes to mind immediately. But in such a good way. We met so many people, so many likeminded people. Later when I was trying to describe it to my husband, I said I felt like we found our people. What made that sentiment all the more applicable was that only moments later, Joel Salatin would take the main stage to speak to a standing room only crowd. And he said we found our tribe. In many things in life, those of us who choose to homestead, who choose to grow and raise our own food, to make do instead of buy new, who choose a life full of simplicity that is in fact hard and not at all simplistic, we are the weirdos. We are the folks that others frequently ask, “why?” But man, did we ever find our tribe. I feel that I behaved quite well, since one of the things my sweet husband asked before we went was, are you going to fangirl when you get to meet Joel? Or Doug and Stacy? Nah, I got this. Omg omg omg omg!!!
We talked to so many people we had just met, and it felt like we were meeting up with old friends. We talked to folks about pigs, rabbits, sheep, chickens (obviously), tools, blacksmithing, canning, gardening, mushrooms; we exchanged ideas and inspiration. We learned and planned ways to improve and expand our own homestead in the coming months. And everyone around us was doing the same. Children that had never met were playing and making new friends. Even the police tasked with keeping a rowdy crowd of homesteaders safe commented to the organizers they had never had a group that large behave that well. I guess that’s what happens when you find other people so like you.
I have to admit that leading up to the conference, I was getting a little bogged down with the stress of everything. Homesteading is hard, especially when you have two full time jobs, one of which keeps you far from home half the week. Leaving the conference that evening after a full day of so many cool things, my heart felt so light. My head was swimming with inspiration and ideas. And I have a renewed confidence in what we are doing. The day after we got home from the conference, we had to butcher our two pigs. They were 100 pounds past where we wanted them, it was time. I knew I needed to help but I had absolutely not prepared. At all. Think walking into a chemistry test without going to class. Ever. That’s kind of how I felt. Today is day 4 of processing our first two hogs we have ever raised. We haven’t slowed down, working 10-11 hours a day to get this meat packaged and sorted. The pig butchery tale is one for another day and another blog or two, but when it was time for me to step up and start working on one of the pigs, I had confidence that with some real time instruction from my husband and the demo we attended at the conference about hog butchery, I was able to dive in and do the work.
I commented the other day that I will need a vacation from my vacation, but really, despite being sore in places I didn’t even realize I had muscles, I feel better than I have in a while. There is something to be said for touching base with your tribe from time to time, and with that in mind, we are already planning on attending the conference next year. And hopefully I will be able to keep in touch with the people we met and talked to at the conference. I could sit and talk for days about everything that we got to see, but there’s broth that needs to be canned and salsa to put up. Check in with me later, there will be more to talk about.