Jenna Woginrich: One Woman Farm

Staci Strauss

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Jenna Woginrich is a modern-day pioneer woman. She operates Cold Antler Farm in upstate New York, maintains an excellent blog about her adventures, and even plays the fiddle! She is a contributor to HandPicked Nation and although we are a little late, we wanted to chat with her about her latest book, One Woman Farm.

Here’s what she had to say:

You chose the life of a homesteader. You have your own piece of land. What made you come to the conclusion that this is what you wanted to do?

Jenna Woginrich: Most people come to homesteading slowly, a winding road. I am no exception. What started as flirtation with chickens, rabbits, gardens and a beehive on rented land turned into a love affair with homesteading. It felt good, safe, and comfortable to produce the things I need to stay alive and connected me to a romanticized and simpler past. Romantic is the right word, too. As modern homesteaders we can truly experience the best of growing our own food and living close to a piece of earth and avoid the mistakes of our collective past. The pioneers would have cut off their left hands for electric netting, modern veterinary medicine, and deep-well pumps. I think the combination of the modern and the historic is what keeps me living this way. It’s a happy addiction for sure. 

Life would be horrible if the little things lost their shine.

Is there a story behind the name you chose for your farm?

JW: Yes! Cold Antler is a combination of the Zen Poet HanShan (Cold Mountain, in Chinese) and the pre-Christian symbolism of Antlered gods in European history; a spiritual combination of poetry and wildness. The wisdom of the ol’ Zen lunatic and the passion and natural beauty of forgotten deity. That’s how I feel about homesteading in general, and Cold Antler is my nod to that philosophy of wisdom in nature. 

You run Cold Antler Farm in upstate New York . . . by yourself (with help from Gibson and Merlin, of course). Talk about how that works. You must be a very busy person.

JW: I am the only name on the deed and live by myself, but Cold Antler is a community operation for sure. While animals do help with the daily work it is friends, local farmers, neighbors and readers of the blog that make my life possible. There is no such thing as self-reliance! 

Your blog is so wonderfully done. Did the book come out of your blog? When do you find time to write?

JW: Thank you! And the blog actually came out of the book. I started writing only about homesteading instead of incorporating it into a personal blog for family and friends. When that happened the blog became its own juggernaut. And now writing, running workshops, selling ads, teaching classes and raising animals is my full time job. As for time to write: I can’t imagine not writing. It’s something I have to do, not feel I need to make myself do. Writing is a release, company, conversation, and so much more. I would go nuts if I couldn’t update the blog in a week. It’s more like I find time to farm when I’m not writing!

Can you give us an idea of your working method for making room for this rather serious writing you do?

JW: I write in the morning, post chores and pre-lunch. I can push it a little more sometimes but I’m creatively drained by 3PM and useless to editors and my readership at that time. Because I work from home that schedule is easy to keep. 

Talk about your book. What would you like your readers to glean from it?

JW: I write about my experiences as a fairly new farmer and homesteader. I don’t claim expert knowledge on anything I endeavor, and I think that beginner’s mindset is really palatable to curious readers. Everything that has happened on this farm – from driving horse carts and herding sheep to baking bread and milking goats – it all happens to me as a novice, and I write about it from that voice of wonder and beginning. Mistakes are made, lessons learned the hard way, and risks taken–but that is part of any farmer’s story. So what I hope folks gleam is that it is okay to do something you are new at, make mistakes, and keep going. And that you don’t need to come from 3 generations of ranch roots to get on a horse.

You take your readers through a year on Cold Antler Farm. It’s evident that you find great satisfaction in the farm’s rituals and the everyday tasks–the ‘poetry of simple things’. Can you talk about that?

JW: Life would be horrible if the little things lost their shine. 

The masthead on your blog says, ”Mountain musicians eat free.” We’ve heard about your fiddle playing and the gathering of other players at Cold Antler. Can you talk about that?

JW: Music is so important to me, though I am not any amazing musician. I taught myself the dulcimer, banjo, and fiddle and love their songs and history in the southern mountains. I used to live in Tennessee and when I left it, it came with me. The music touched me in a way no other music has since and I wanted to learn it so I could always have it. I fiddle for the same reason I write, because I can’t imagine not doing it. I’m not a great writer and I’m certainly not a great fiddler but if you can entertain yourself and teach others to take up an instrument (I run biannual fiddle camps for beginners) you are giving so much to a person. Making the simplest song is magical. Period. 

What weren’t we clever enough to ask you?

JW: A lot of people are scared to try new things. Scared of failure, of mistakes, of being mocked by peers and family. The most important thing I could share with any aspiring farmer is not confuse people’s approval for permission. It’s okay to live a life others do not understand. What matters is that you are honest to your own passion and live a life that isn’t harming other people. If you can do that with your head high you’re so far ahead of the game it’s impossible for the haters to catch up. So be yourself, do what you love, and if people give you a hard time about it–ignore them. Anything else is happiness suicide. 

Well, thank you, Jenna. It’s been nice chatting.

JW: Thank you.

Does homesteading and farm life sound good to you? What would you do if given the chance?

Photo credit: Timothy Bronson