How I Unleashed My Inner Farmer in Suburbia

Who Does She Think She Is by Jacqui Fehl

“Who Does She Think She Is” by Jacqui Fehl

I always had a secret dream to be a farmer.

Well, maybe not always. According to my mother, my first career aspiration was “flying nun,” but I do not remember this. Then, in high school, I read Sidney Sheldon’s “Rage of Angels” about a smart and sexy trial lawyer who had handsome, powerful men vying for her affections. That’s when I decided to go to law school. And I was determined to leave Iowa for somewhere far more urban, like New York or Chicago, just as soon as I was able.

But, still, as a child, I envied my cousins who grew up on a small farm outside the town where I was born. Although they complained about all of the chores, it seemed like such an idyllic lifestyle – eggs to be collected from the hen house, a new batch of kittens in the barn every few months, cows with soft noses to pet. (I even tried to ride a cow once, but that’s another story.)

I achieved the goals I set for myself in high school: I completed college and law school and took a job at a large Chicago law firm. I had an office on the 81st floor of what was then the tallest building in the world, the Sears Tower.

But life as a young urban professional was no Sidney Sheldon novel. I never got anywhere near a trial, and instead spent hours on end doing research in the library and reviewing documents in windowless conference rooms. The only guys I ever met, besides other miserable young attorneys, were cab drivers and pizza delivery men.

After four years of impossible billable hours requirements and seven-day work weeks, I had enough. I accepted a corporate attorney position that promised a much more reasonable schedule. It seemed like the perfect fit for me but for one catch – it was back in my hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I said goodbye to my friends and my adopted city and moved back home, determined to make the best of it.

I moved into an apartment with a balcony and planted a tomato plant in a pot. After years living amid skyscrapers and concrete, I liked having something growing outside my door, and when my friends came to visit from Chicago, I served fresh sliced tomatoes on bagels for breakfast.

The next year I bought a house with a postage stamp yard. Having my own little plot of land unleashed agrarian urges I did not know existed. I planted my first real garden in two 4×4 raised beds in the backyard and grew fresh vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and beans.

I got married and moved to a suburban subdivision where the streets are named after wildlife. With an acre of land at my disposal and a gourmet kitchen to cook in, my inner farmer cut loose. Each year the garden expanded as I grew more and more of the food that we ate.

Now that I’ve left my corporate law job to focus on my writing, my inner farmer is fully unfettered. My little suburban homestead features no less than a dozen different vegetable beds just steps outside my kitchen and a micro flock of hens. And I’ve come to realize that the benefits of growing my own food extend far beyond having access to fresh ingredients.

For one thing, who needs to get on the treadmill after spending a couple of hours shoveling compost? For another, I undoubtedly am adding years to my life with a vegetable-based diet. My food budget goes much further and my trips to the grocery store become less frequent when the garden is in full swing. And, in a pinch, a basket of beautiful garden produce and fresh eggs makes a great birthday present.

Yes, there have been some dark moments late at night when I’m facing copious amounts of tomatoes that need to be canned. Sure, my announcement that I was installing an “egg garden” in an old dog kennel in the backyard was met with some eye-rolling by my husband and neighbors. But I always have more than enough jars of tomato sauce to get us through the winter, and my three backyard chickens supply half the street with fresh eggs.

I’m still looking for a loophole in the homeowners’ association rules that would allow me to keep goats. (If anyone asks, Mabel, Hazel and Petunia are pets.)

How I unleashed my inner farmer in suburbia

My rooster