My Simple Life: Julie Letowski

Our next guest in the My Simple Life series is lovely Julie, who blogs over at Cinnamon Girl. I first stumbled across Julie’s beautiful little corner of the internet last year, just as she and her family were about to move onto their very own farm, and I have loved following their journey into homesteading and living their dream ever since. I was so thrilled when Julie agreed to share a little of her story here on House of Humble!

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Tell us a little about yourself.

Hello! I’m Julie. I live in the mid coast region of Maine and, alongside my husband and son, I’m in the midst of bringing an old farm back to life. I teach piano, sometimes act as a doula, and am trying with all my might to carve out a living that doesn’t include off farm work. You can find me (very sporadically during these summer days) writing at Cinnamon Girl and @homesweethomestead on Instagram.

Last year you moved to your very own homestead in Maine. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to buying a farm? What were you doing before you moved to the homestead? Did you have any farming experience?

Before we moved to Maine and our farm, we did a lot of moving. We lived in Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, Nashville, Boston again, and then finally Maine. I was either in college, pregnant, being a mama, or training to become a doula for most of that time. My farming experience was limited to a lot of horribly neglected home gardens, and many documentaries and books!

The explanation for how we came to be people that wanted to buy a farm is really short and sweet. We started shopping at farmers’ markets and the deal was almost instantly sealed. Not only did we personally want access to healthier, safer, and more varied food, we also wanted to give that same opportunity to people in our community. As for the actual journey from point A of wanting a farm to point B of having a farm, well that’s a little longer.

In the beginning it was really fun to look for a farm. There was a lot of daydreaming and just general surface-y thinking about the whole thing- oh I can just imagine my pies cooling in that window! But as the reality of what was really available at the time hit, the fun began to temper itself and we were left feeling desperate, frustrated, and hopeless at times. If I’m being completely honest, buying a farm was a long and difficult process. There were so many places that we found that were totally right… except for one really big thing we couldn’t get past. For instance, my dream farmhouse had gaping holes in the ceiling and a “view” in the bathroom wall clean through to outside, among other things, and in the end we had to walk away. It seemed the places we could afford were so run down that we couldn’t afford all the repairs necessary after handing over our down payment or if the place was in decent shape, the asking price really reflected that.

Ultimately we made a lot of big leaps. When the sale of a farm in Maine fell through two weeks before we had to be out of our apartment in Boston, we just decided to move to Maine anyway and figure it out from there. We rented a house sight unseen and jumped! Over the next four months we looked and we looked. We widened our net, we changed our list of must haves… And eventually I found our dream farm, the farm we’re happily calling our own today! But we had to leap again- it was much further north than we had planned and until my husband could find a different job, he would have to commute an hour and a half to work every single day. It was a hard transition and a rocky first year but I can say without reservation that we are where we’re supposed to be.

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What did it feel like that first morning you woke up on your own land?

It was good to wake up in our place that first day after working so hard to get there but there was also a little fear. There was so much unknown! And the place still very much felt like it belonged to the previous owners, despite having signed the papers and handed over the money! Honestly, the feeling that you would expect to have that first morning is way more a part of my life in our second year here than it was in that first year. Now that I’ve really started to settle in and this place feels like my own, I’m regularly blown away by it all. We did it! We made it! And to here of all places! We are incredibly lucky to have found a solidly built old and quirky house on just enough beautiful land to let us try our hands at a little bit of anything we want. It’s so unbelievable and rocks me daily.

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What do you grow/raise/produce on your farm?

Currently we’re in two farmers’ markets selling our baked goods made with organic and locally sourced ingredients, our herbal teas made from foraged or homegrown herbs and flowers, and we also brew locally roasted coffee on a homemade pour over coffee bar. Recently I’ve started making granola and muesli with Maine grown oats and Maine maple syrup and it’s been a really great experience. We’re hoping to get into a few of the food co-ops!

Right now we’re still in the figuring out exactly what we want to do phase so we’ve tried a lot, been successful at some, and crossed plenty of things off our list of interests. Since this past summer we’ve been raising two heifers who we hope will become milk cows next spring. This past January we home processed the two pigs we had been raising the previous summer and fall. We raised enough Thanksgiving turkey to feed ourselves and friends, and three other families. We also began raising meat rabbits on pasture this past fall with the intention of filling a void of pastured rabbit meat for restaurants in Maine. And of course we have chickens and ducks! If money and time were no object, I would have a huge flock of sheep right now and a natural dye garden that was bursting! Longterm I see myself getting in dyeing and spinning yarn. Five year plan!

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Tell us about a typical day on the homestead.

It really depends on the day! There are the standard jobs of feeding and watering and ensuring good health and well-being of all of the animals every day and that’s about all that is consistent. That and our 4-5 am wake up call from a very persistent, wildly energetic almost 4 year old! I take the chickens and the ducks and the child. My husband takes the cows and rabbits. Then we address whatever is most in need of our attention in the the few hours before my husband heads off to his full time off farm job. Tuesdays and Fridays are my baking days, Wednesdays and Saturdays are my market days, Mondays and Thursdays are days to really focus in on my son as he gets Not Now-ed and Later-ed way too much on baking and market days, and Sundays we’re all together from sun up to sun down racing the clock to move things forward on the homestead. This year we are incredibly focused on securing a food supply for winter. It isn’t cheap to stay warm in Maine in the winter and I’m doing everything I can to cut our wintertime food bill.

4-5 a.m.: Begrudgingly leave bed.
5-6 a.m.: Feed the masses!
6-8:30 a.m.: Weed, plant, haul, clean!
9 a.m.: Husband off to work, The child and I continue our work- but at a much slower pace.
10-2 p.m.: Avoid that sun! Indoors baking, brewing herbal teas, planning, feeding, canning, working on the business end of market and farm.
2-4 p.m.: Sleeping child, working double time mama. This is when I do all the things that are too delicate for a little helper- like transplanting fragile plants – or I do the things that just won’t hold my son’s attention long enough- like weeding.
4-7:30 p.m.: More outside work, trips the library, shop for the market, make some dinner- hopefully with help from the garden!, and put the child to bed.
7:30 p.m.-dark (sometimes later with a head lamp): My husband is home again and we’re doing whatever we can in the last few hours of the day, hoping we’ll feel less behind in the morning when we wake up!

And of course this is when things are ideal and say there isn’t a cow running down the road or a pen of young rabbits loose in the field or a completely uncooperative 4 year old. You would think from the schedule above that my garden is immaculately weeded- it is not. Oh, well! Also, despite having a to-do list that is never completed I find it incredibly important that I take time to do things like read or knit. If I’m constantly doing just the things that must get done life begins to feel too heavy. So, you can find me during nap time at least a few times a week sitting down doing something quietly, doing something that I don’t have to be doing but instead that I just want to do.

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How has life change for your family since you moved to your farm?

Our biggest change was also our biggest goal- we’re far more self-reliant now than we have ever been before. Of course there is still progress to to be made but we are getting there. It feels so good! There’s also the huge change of going from urban to rural- we have far less just at our fingertips nowadays. I can’t just decide to take a class in anything I want, there aren’t big box stores that offer anything I might need, and in some ways it’s harder to create a community. But, in regards to the last one, we’re getting there. It’s just going to take time. The changes that we’ve experienced I must say – even when they have felt negative – are ultimately positive. More than anything the move we’ve made has caused us to really get a clear look at what we actually need in life to survive and to be happy.

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What do you love about your lifestyle? What do you find challenging?

I both love and am challenged by the solitude we experience, particularly in winter and in regards to my son. I think it’s all fine and well for me to become a hermit but I do have my reservations about what that experience will do to my son. I love our quirky house and our land- we’ve got a small spot of 10 acres but it’s beautiful and really feels like the find of a lifetime. I love the companionship of our animals. My heart belongs to one of our cows- Luella. She is my heart outside of my body in the animal world! Knowing she’ll be a mama cow next year (if all goes to plan) just totally rocks my world. I love the responsibility we take for ourselves here- I feel the weight of my own needs every day by trying to provide for them and it keeps me honest, keeps me good. The hardest part of it all though- and Katie can attest to this and my lack of timely response with this interview- is that my time is not my own in the way that it used to be. In our past life I could schedule myself in a way that most things got done. I could get caught up. I could be there for friends and family- physically and emotionally. But now, my birthday presents and thank you notes arrive late, if at all. I’m unable to attend weddings or meet new babies for people that are big parts of my heart, and the worst part is that oftentimes people aren’t able to understand. Most of our family and friends still live in that old world of ours where things can be managed and scheduled. They’ve never had to find someone competent enough and willing to care for 50+ animals there are integral to their livelihood or their survival. It’s just hard to bridge the gap sometimes.

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What advice would you give someone considering a similar path?

Do it! Jump! Take all the chances! This life is good. Hard but so good. And start today, even if you’re in the city or the suburbs still. This life is so full of mistakes and learning the hard way and you might as well get as much of that out of the way now as you can. Grow in your windowsills, put chickens in your suburban backyard, volunteer at farms, sign up for a community garden plot, read, watch documentaries, become a farm intern, shop local, eat local, befriend the people that grow your food- just immerse yourself in the community. Also- and I think most importantly- go easy on yourself. Farming, homesteading, or even gardening is a process. You don’t wake up one day and have it all under control. We spent our first summer overextending ourselves and feeling horrible for our failures- so much so that we didn’t enjoy our life and our land and the opportunities we had nearly as much as we should have. So, learn, forgive yourself, and enjoy your life at every single stage of the journey!

Katie xx

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Katie

About Katie

Katie is a tea drinking, jewellery making, op-shopping daydreamer. Katie likes vintage dresses, Pictionary, doilies and colourful tights.

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13 Responses to “My Simple Life: Julie Letowski”

  1. Meg July 17, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    The photo of the turkey trio is awesome!! Inspiring post, thanks!

    • Katie
      Katie July 19, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

      Isn’t it great?! Turkeys are such funny creatures. I was terrified of them as a kid, but I’d quite like a couple now! :)

  2. Reannon @shewhorambles July 18, 2014 at 1:11 am #

    I love the word ” homesteading “, it feels so wholesome & comforting. I’m off to follow Julie on her blog & Instagram now :)

    • Katie
      Katie July 19, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      Totally agree about homesteading! It’s a gorgeous word. I love what it means too! :)

  3. janine July 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    What an amazing inspiring story! It was honest and so down to earth. The picture of the house by the water was wonderful. I love this series of the Simple life as I live in a mining town as far away as possible from Maine, so I love reading about other simply living. Thank you for a great start to my morning! Janine, South Australia

    • Katie
      Katie July 19, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

      So glad you are enjoying the series Janine. Thank you! xx

  4. Sarah @ Chantille Fleur July 18, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    I can relate to SO much in this interview. Thanks so much for sharing :-)
    I’m off to follow Julie’s blog, it sounds like my cup of tea and I’m glad to have discovered it here.

    Hope you’re having a good day Katie,
    Sarah x

    • Katie
      Katie July 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      So happy I could introduce you to Julie’s blog! You’ll love it! xx

  5. Rita July 18, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    I really appreciate how this post doesn’t paint an idealized picture of this way of life. I can see the parts that would be wonderful/beautiful, but I can also see the hard work and deep commitment it requires.

    • Katie
      Katie July 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

      Yes! I’m really glad Julie shared a little about the tough bits, as well as the lovely bits, that come with her family’s lifestyle. I think too often we get lost in the idealised version of people’s lives that we see in pretty pictures and we forget that everyone experiences struggles and every lifestyle comes with challenges. xx

  6. Janet July 20, 2014 at 2:23 am #

    Hi Katie and Julie. Thanks for this intro and I did sign up to receive your posts Julie. Lovely and very calming with really nice encouragement. It brought a smile to my heart :)

    • Katie
      Katie July 20, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      So pleased you enjoyed this post Janet!! :)

  7. cityhippyfarmgirl July 20, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    Loved ready this post…think this just might be another awesome blog for me to read- thank you. (Stunning photos too.)

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