The Homegrown Year Challenge

Kelly writes at JugglingNormal and RealBestLife. This post is a combination of two posts detailing the Homegrown Year Challenge republished in full, with permission (and a few updates), and first appeared here, and here.

I’m going to live off of that which I can produce on our small “micro-farm” north of Denver, Colorado – for an entire year. It seems like such a bizarre thing to type it out loud, but here we are. Wondering about the rules of this crazy year? Here they are.

By “live” I mean “eat,” I can still leave, I’m not becoming a hermit. In fact, much of this social experiment will consist of trying to figure out exactly how close I can get to living my normal life while relying entirely on the food I produce here. This doesn’t extend to clothing or personal care products – depending on how this goes I might need all the comfort I can get. Because I’m going to eat off what I produce. Every day. Literally, every day – for an entire year. 

Why, you might be asking, would someone sign up to do something so – objectively insane? Humans have spent the vast balance of our history on this planet living in a state where food scarcity was one of the greatest threats to our existence. For most of us, as recently as three or four generations ago – and sadly for far too many of us even today – the wolf of hunger is constantly scratching at the door.

Why, after generations of innovation in the pursuit of the caloric plenty we currently enjoy, would I willingly throw myself backward into a world where my food intake is reliant upon the whims of the clouds as they break over the Rockies, the sun as it penetrates the soil in my garden, and those animals in our care? Also, how am I going to manage an entire year without a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? 

The answer to my “why” lies in the same vein as why people who run, run marathons, (incidentally, I am approximately as likely to run a marathon as travel to Mars). There is something inherent in our humanity that drives us to pursue the goals that are just a little harder, faster, or further than we’ve been before. For me, this means taking the hobbies I already love – gardening, gathering the eggs from my flock of various fowl, hunting, fishing, milking, gourmet cooking, and food preservation – and shifting them into a structure aimed at a specific goal – namely, not starving for a year.

Ever since moving to our urban micro-farm we have been adding plants, animals, and employing strategies to produce our own food on site. This has included a small herd of goats, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, quail, pigs, and an aggressive garden strategy. We have also planted fruit trees and have learned to milk the goats (seriously). We make our own cheese, yogurt, gather eggs in the morning – and yes, I have even slaughtered my own animals (only birds, so far) for meat. I’m not a vegan so I’m going to have to figure that out, too.

So, that’s the plan – become self-producing of my own food for an entire year. The Homegrown Year Challenge feels like a hard – but doable – goal that will allow me to take all these new-found hobbies and point them in a specific direction.

All the new skills I’ve gained over the last few years to grow and harvest my own food have made me feel more connected to myself and in awe of God than I can ever remember. Although I love what I do professionally, there is a unique gratification in the creation of the tangible. Growing and harvesting your own food engages the brain, soul, and all the senses in a way that almost nothing else can. 

It’s so easy to get into a pattern of scrolling and swiping, living vicariously through other’s experiences, and becoming a mere observer in our own lives. It’s almost as if we forget what actual living even feels like. Our phones present us with a strange dichotomy – people have become simultaneously the most, and least, connected we’ve ever been. 

The Homegrown Year Challenge is a manifestation of the hope that both sides of the connection coin will improve with a more deliberate approach to time and communication. By sharing with you, my friends, this challenge in all the mediums available to me – I hope to have a better connection with you, but also with myself (sign up for the newsletter I’m doing about the challenge – “I haven’t starved to death . . . yet”).

I have never felt more complete than after a day that begins with milking goats at sunrise, a breakfast made entirely off that which I can gather on my way back to the house, and which concludes by making cheese with my husband after our boys are tucked securely in their beds at night (does that sound like a euphemism? I’m being literal here).

First, and most importantly, cheese is delicious – and NOTHING tastes like homemade, stunning cheese. Secondly, going through all the steps and paces to make a truly delicious cheese feels like paying homage to the tens and probably hundreds of thousands of people who have done this before. Some are probably lost to time, but their experience has been taught to others, replicated, tweaked, and perfected. It’s so easy to slap a piece of cheese on a sandwich, but when you stop to consider all the knowledge that went into just that one slice, it takes on an almost magical sheen.

Incidentally, my way of connecting back with “real life” is not the same way other people connect. I have friends who feel fulfilled when they have a group of interesting and engaged people around their kitchen island sipping champagne and nibbling off a perfectly assembled cheeseboard. Others feel it when they’re at the top of a mountain, or under the sea. I know people, (crazy ones) who feel it when they’ve somehow miraculously pushed past mile-18 in a run, or when they lose themselves in a colorful marketplace across the globe.

Whatever it is that reminds you why life is such an amazing gift, my hope for you is that you can reach out and grab and hold it in your hand for a few minutes, in the place your (and my) phone usually occupies. Examine it with all the love and wonder you remember from the day you found it.

My little farm is that for me. I’m equal parts nervous and excited to try the Homegrown Year Challenge – one entirely made up by me and my friends – but I’m also looking forward to meeting the person I’ll be on the other side of it. I can’t wait to find out how she struggled, what she learned, and how she sees the world differently. 

Once my friends get over the initial shock as I announce my intention to live like this for a whole year, the questions start:

What will you do about those things you can’t produce? Barter. My friend Emily, whose crazy idea this was, has formed the “rules committee” of this year to help me navigate what I can and can’t do. Obviously, there are things I’ll need to procure that aren’t here. According to the rules committee I need to find the people who make them and barter.

I will only be able to use those foodstuffs I produce here to barter with other sources – so no, if you go buy a Big Mac I won’t be able to trade for that with some goat cheese. That said, this isn’t constrained by geography – so if you grow or produce something (especially wine, avocados, wheat or sugar beets or cane) email me at if you’re interested in a barter. I think this will be both a study in self-production and in how difficult it is to live without the support of a societal network.

What are you going to do about coffee? (I’m a serious coffee addict.) Unclear, as of right now. I guess I need to find a coffee grower or consider giving it up? The logistics of an international barter could be challenging though. This could be an opportunity to try to dial down my coffee addition, which is something I’ve needed a push toward for years.

What about wine? Also, barter. The Husband also wants to start – literally, this is how he said it – “shining.” Oh man, I hope I don’t end up blind.

Speaking of Husband and kids, are they doing this with you? No, our kids are basically made entirely out of mac and cheese. Although the Husband is being incredibly supportive, he is not signing up to do this with me. He did appoint himself to the rules committee, though. 

When does this year start? August 1st. I’ve been doing this for a month and 3 days. I planned to prepare for six months before, and then the pandemic hit, so…yeah, it was a rough adjustment.

How can I follow along with this epic disaster? I’ll be posting here, on RealBestLife as we prepare and get underway. We started a youtube channel for videos (make sure to subscribe), I post all the time on RealBestLife Instagram, especially the stories, and on Facebook. More ways to connect will come, but I will also be sending out an update newsletter (working title: I didn’t starve to death, yet) so sign up for that, too. 

The thought of really digging in on the small-farm, homesteader life is both scary and so exciting. Thanks for joining me for the Homegrown Year Challenge!

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