From a Corporate Life to Homesteading

Brie Aronson

Brie Aronson › Brie Aronson came to Polyface from southern California. During college, she was diagnosed with food allergies ...

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When you have chickens and eggs for the sellin’, how do you get them to customers a few hours’ drive from the farm? Here at Polyface Farm, Richard Morris is the man for the job. Every week he drives our product to northern Virginia to restaurants and buying club customers. His story of corporate life-turned homesteader is a unique one, detailed in his book, A Life Unburdened: Getting Over Weight and Getting on with My Life. I’d like to introduce you to him today in his own words:

Brie Aronson: What was one/several key elements that got you to make the switch from the corporate-ladder lifestyle to the one you have now, delivering Polyface products and homesteading on five acres?

Richard Morris: One day while working in New York City, I had a startling epiphany about food, which was that food had become way more complicated than it needed to be. Simplicity, I realized, was the answer. That one simple idea put me on a path to ultimately losing over 250 pounds and giving me my life back.

When you lose a ton of weight and regain control of your life, it can feel like you’ve climbed the world’s highest mountain. It changes everything. Suddenly you can see all the potential and all the living that you’ve been missing out on, and it makes you want to do more, be more.

That’s when you’re faced with the Clark Kent Conundrum. The conundrum, for me, was the choice of remaining in my outdated corporate-consumerist lifestyle or to break away and become a hero in my own life’s narrative — something we all have the power to do.

There was, in the back of my mind, this growing idea that the place for me was no longer in my field of work, but in a field of grass. The Polyface opportunity came up at about the same time as this realization. It was serendipity squared. I was inevitably drawn to five green acres in central Virginia, where we garden, keep a laying flock, raise broilers, heritage turkeys and pigs, and do a little beekeeping.

BA: How do you personally define homesteading?

RM: My personal spin on homesteading is that it is a lifestyle based on humankind’s oldest profession – that of procuring good food and building strong communities.

BA: What are some of your favorite benefits of raising your own food? What are some drawbacks of this lifestyle?

RM: I asked an old grass farmer once, what did his profit/loss statement look like? Was he making any money or just breaking even? He said he didn’t know, and that it didn’t really matter because he was having too much fun enjoying the lifestyle.

That’s how I see it. I mean, amazing food is an obvious benefit of being a producer, but what really gets me going is the sensuous delight of a home grown tomato and the sweet life of a hard sweat at the end of a full day. It’s about the wonder of life, both animal and vegetable, and the full contact experience of a thunderstorm from my favorite chair on the front porch. It’s a celebration of the joyful chaos of honeybees, the clatter of chickens, and the incomprehensible majesty of the Milky Way as I lie on my back and watch the world turn.

As for drawbacks, I’d really like to start producing more for sale to the public, but the bureaucratic flaming hoops one has to jump through are enough to make you want to set your hair on fire. Fortunately, I don’t have any hair.

I was inevitably drawn to five green acres in central Virginia, where we garden, keep a laying flock, raise broilers, heritage turkeys and pigs, and do a little beekeeping.

BA: As you think back on your years as a homesteader, what is one funny or memorable story that stands out?

RM: I was helping a couple of friends install two new beehives. The bee colonies were already in the hive boxes. We just needed to transport the boxes from the back of a pickup truck to their permanent spot on the property. That went well.

Next step was to remove the tape that blocked the openings to the hive.

The bee expert in our group informed us that when we did, the air would be instantly alive with thousands of bees, and that we should walk slowly back to the truck. “Above all,” he said. “Don’t run, swat at, or kill any bees. That’ll just mak’em angry,” he finished.

We removed the tape and without warning, our primal instincts kicked in. We immediately morphed into the Three Stooges. We swatted and no doubt killed a number of bees, as we three grown men ran screaming, back to the truck.

BA: How do each of your family members take part in working your five acres?

RM: Our goal is to create a life we can all enjoy, so it was important to design the work in such a way as to allow for maximum pleasure with a minimum of pain. So we had to be extra careful to not go overboard with the amount of livestock, the size of our gardens, etc. KIMS (Keep It Manageable Stupid) is my motto.

We share chores, but we don’t use any kind of official schedule or anything. Everyone just pitches in when they need to and does what needs to be done. It works for us.

BA: What is your advice to someone who wants to start making homesteading a reality?

RM: Buy my new book when it comes out. LOL. Seriously, decide what kind of agricultural lifestyle or occupation you’d like to pursue. Then find a place where you can get that experience, and serve as an intern there. It’s like grad school without the petty politics and the crushing debt. Next, rent some land and work it, for at least a year, before you buy. It’s a great way to try out the lifestyle while retaining lots of flexibility and without burying yourself in debt.

Richard Morris is a writer, publisher, real food activist, health researcher, motivational speaker and self-described contrarian. You can read more about Richard’s adventures in homesteading at his blog, HeritageFellsFoodstead.com. He is currently working on his next book, which should be published in 2014.

How have you become your own real food hero?

Photo Credit: Richard Morris