The story of a homesteader


Jennifer Havens is the head farmer at Havens Hill Farm, a small family farm that has grown out of eight years of homesteading experience. She works to learn and teach traditional skills such as canning, foraging, soap making and animal husbandry.

I am a homesteader, and in today’s world, that can be a shocking and confusing statement. What does it mean exactly? It can mean whatever you want it to. For us, it means we put an emphasis on making, raising and growing items that we use regularly to raise our family. We have chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, honeybees and the occasional lamb. We grow a very large garden, including rows of berry bushes and a few fruit trees. I spend a lot of time canning and freezing our food during the growing season. I also make our soap, shampoo bars and lip balms. I could go on, but the point is that we place a high value on not only doing things for ourselves, but doing it in the healthiest, most natural way we can.

The next question I normally hear is, “Why?” Why raise chickens when eggs are less than a dollar a dozen? Why go to the trouble of planting and digging potatoes when you can get a bag of potatoes at the grocery? If you coupon, soap can be had for pennies. What is the point? Those are valid questions. Time is at a premium for us all.

I never dreamed we would be doing all of this. Before we had kids, we ate from the boxes and bags at the grocery store just as much as everyone else. We got the cheapest eggs, that bag of potatoes and didn’t think twice. Soap was a matter of what smelled good and what was affordable. No more thought was put into meals other than making sure we had something to eat.

Something changed after having our first child. We left the hospital with this tiny life, and we were responsible for everything! That was when I started doing some serious thinking. That baby wash smelled good, but it made his little arms and legs break out. The natural soaps didn’t. I stopped using dryer sheets and the little bumps on his back went away. I made his baby food, and not only did he love it, but he grew like a weed. By the time our second came around, we discovered there was a serious difference in the taste, quality and nutrients between the commercially raised meat bought at the grocery store and grass-fed meats that we could buy directly from local farmers. We planted a garden and shopped the Zanesville Farmers’ Market to stock up on fresh ingredients for baby food. Then, we had an idea. We should raise our own Thanksgiving turkey. And that is where things got serious.

We ate our first homegrown Thanksgiving turkey eight years ago. In the meantime, we have watched our three children thrive on homegrown eggs with yolks so dark they sometimes border on orange. We now regularly sit down to entirely homegrown meals, which is something I never thought possible. We no longer have dry, itchy skin thanks to our homemade soaps. We make a family event of digging potatoes, harvesting honey, cooking maple syrup and butchering. This has led to a sense of satisfaction that is difficult to put into words.

Our kids play among the trees and weeds instead of being glued to electronic devices. We see them have moments of understanding when we explain how the chickens at the store are raised in cramped, crowded barns. I don’t have to explain to them why that is so harmful; they see for themselves, that even a chicken needs space, sunshine and fresh grass. They know potatoes grow underground and that you can’t grow watermelons in the winter. They learn more daily than many of us have learned in our lifetime about how nature works, where food comes from and how to balance modern life with old fashioned values and skills that are slowly dying. In just days we will be enjoying yet another of our homegrown Thanksgiving turkeys. We will rest easy knowing another season of raising healthy food for our family has come to a close.

The fall farmers’ market is held every Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Weasel Boy Brewing through Dec. 15.