Self-Diagnosed: Barnheart

Jenna Woginrich

Jenna Woginrich › Jenna Woginrich (30) is an author and blogger as well as the sole proprietor of Cold Antler ...


Dispatch from Cold Antler Farm, Jackson, NY

A few years ago I diagnosed myself with a rarely curable disease. It hit me hard, blind-siding my twenties and altering my friendships, family, and romantic life in ways I could have never anticipated. This disease came on fast, took over, and while I was able to cure it through intense effort and force of will—it still lingers. It’s still a huge part of my life, and I can’t shake it no matter how intense the treatment I inflict. This disease is now my identity, forcing me to make radical changes in my everyday choices.

I suffer from Barnheart. I do so, happily. I could get into case studies and stories, but I think the best way to describe the disease is by sharing an excerpt from the book I wrote about this particular self-diagnose. Perhaps some of you can relate? If you can. I have something important to say to you…

This condition is roughly defined as the state of knowing unequivocally that you want to be a farmer but, due to personal circumstances, cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you can’t stop thinking about heritage-breed livestock and electric fences. Do not be afraid. You are not alone. You have what I have. You are suffering from Barnheart.

But do not panic, my dear friends; there is a remedy! The condition must be fought with direct, intentional actions that yield tangible, farm-related results. If you find yourself overcome with the longings of Barnheart, simply step outside, get some fresh air, and breathe. Go back to your desk and finish your office work, knowing that tonight you’ll be taking notes on spring garden plans and perusing seed catalogs. Usually, those small, simple actions that lead you in the direction of your own farm can help ease the longing.

At times, though, you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures — calling in “sick” to work in the garden, muck out chicken coops, collect eggs, and bake bread. After all, this is a disease of inaction, and it hits us hardest when we are furthest from our dreams. If you find yourself suffering, make plans to visit an orchard, a dairy farm, or a livestock auction. Go pick berries at a local U-pick farm. Busy hands will get you on the mend.

And when you find yourself sitting in your office, classroom, or café and your mind wanders to dreams of the farming life, know that you are not alone. There are those of us who also long for the bitter scent of manure and sweet odor of hay in the air, to feel the sun on our bare arms. (I can just about feel it, too, even in January, in a cubicle on the third floor of an office building.) Even though we straighten up in our ergonomic desk chairs, we’d rather be stretched out in the bed of a pickup truck, drinking in the stars on a crisp fall night.

When your mind wanders like this and your heart feels heavy, do not lose the faith, and do not fret about your current circumstances. Everything changes. If you need to stand in the slanting light of an old barn to lift your spirits, go for it. Perhaps someday you’ll do this every day. For some, this is surely the only cure. I may be such a case.

We’ll get there. In the meantime, let us just take comfort in knowing we’re not alone. And maybe take turns standing up and admitting we have a problem.

Hello. My name is Jenna. And I have Barnheart.

Since I contracted this, my life has changed so much. I trusted it, and let it take over the way any true love turns the hopeful into the obsessive. In five years I went from an urban graphic designer to the deed-holder of a six acre farm on a mountain. The journey took me through five states, three jobs, and three books. This past spring, I think I really gave myself the treatment I needed. I quit my office job and became a full-time writer and farmer. I’m as proud of this as I am terrified of it! And life has never been more rewarding, enjoyable, and exciting.

But you don’t have to write a book or buy a farm to know you have Barnheart. Certainly, those of you who could relate to the symptoms know this. The desire to become a part of this good work is strong, and it doesn’t have to wait for poetic circumstance. If you too suffer from Barnheart, start acting now to treat it.

Visit a farmer’s market and get some good, real, food in your sweaty palms. Take it home and cook it into a meal to share with friends. Inspire those friends of yours to host a Farmers Market Supper Club, or go on a field trip to visit some of those places you only know by receipt and recipe. If those steps seem a bit brassy, then how about visiting your library and getting inspired by gardening and livestock how-to books? Your local nursery might have some container vegetables or edible fruit trees waiting for your backyard. The great thing about being active in agriculture is it’s there for the taking, for anyone, anywhere – regardless of what you currently think of as limitations. Small farmers like myself are thrilled to get you as excited about this disease as possible, and whether you manage to buy a few acres or plant a tomato on the front porch steps: the effort is the remedy.

So go forth, get your hands dirty, step up and admit you have the disease. It only gets better the more you give in.

Do you suffer from Barnheart? 

Image Credit: Jenna Woginrich