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The Incurable Longing For a Farm of One's Own
There’s a condition that inflicts some of us and I can only describe as Barnheart. Barnheart is a sharp, targeted, depression that inflicts certain people (myself being one of them) as harsh and ugly as a steak knife being shoved into an uncooked turkey. It’s not recognized by professionals or psychoanalysts (yet), but it’s only a matter of time before it’s a household diagnose. Hear me out. It goes like this:
Barnheart is that overcast feeling that hits you while at work or in the middle of the grocery store checkout line. It’s unequivocally knowing you want to be a farmer—and for whatever personal circumstances—cannot be one just yet. So there you are, heartsick and confused in the passing lane, wondering why you cannot stop thinking about heritage livestock and electric fences. Do not be afraid. You have what I have. You are not alone.
You are suffering from Barnheart.
It’s a dreamer’s disease: a mix of hope, determination, and grit. Specifically targeted at those of us who wish to god we were outside with our flocks, feed bags, or harnesses and instead are sitting in front of a computer screens. When a severe attack hits, it’s all you can do to sit still. The room gets smaller, your mind wanders, and you are overcome with the desire to be tagging cattle ears or feeding pigs instead of taking conference calls. People at the water cooler will stare if you say these things aloud. (If this happens, just segue into sports and you’ll be fine.)
The symptoms are mild at first. You start glancing around the internet at homesteading forums and cheese making supply shops on your lunch break. You go home after work and instead of turning on the television—you bake a pie and read about chicken coop plans. Then some how, somewhere, along the way – you realize you are happiest when in your garden or collecting eggs. When this happens, man oh man, it’s all down hill from there. When you accept the only way to a fulfilling life requires tractor attachments and a septic system, it’s too late. You’ve already been infected. If you even suspect this, you may have early-onset Barnheart.
But do not panic, my dear friends. Our rural ennui has a cure! It’s a self-medication that that can only be administered by direct, tangible, and intentional actions. 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 tasks knowing that tonight you’ll take notes on spring garden plans and start perusing those seed catalogs. Usually, simple, small actions in direction of your own farm can be the remedy. In worst-case scenarios you might find yourself resorting to extreme measures. These situations call for things like a day called in sick to do nothing but garden, muck out chicken coops, collect fresh eggs and bake fresh bread. While that may seem drastic, understand this is a disease of inaction, darling. It hits us the hardest when we are farthest from our dreams. So to fight it we must simply have faith that some day 3:47 PM will mean grabbing a saddle instead of a spreadsheet. Believing this is even possible is halfway to healthy. I am a high-functioning sufferer of Barnheart. I can keep a day job, long as I know my night job involves livestock.
Barnheart is a condition that needs smells and touch and crisp air to heal. If you find yourself suffering from such things, make plans to visit an orchard, dairy farm, or pick up that beat guitar. Busy hands will get you on the mend. Small measures, strong convictions, good coffee, and kind dogs will see you through. I am certain of these things.
So when you find yourself sitting in your office, school, or café chair and your mind wanders to a life of personal freedom, know that feeling is our collective disease. If you can almost taste the bitter smells of manure and hay in the air and feel the sun on your bare arms, even on the subway, you are one of us and have hope for recovery. Like us, you try and straighten up in your ergonomic desk chair but really you want to be reclining in the bed of a pickup truck. We get that.
And hey, do not lose the faith or fret about the current circumstances. Everything changes. And if you need to stand in the light of an old barn to lift your spirits, perhaps some day you will. Every day. For some, surely this is the only cure.
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.
This essay was originally published on the old blog (now defunct) 13 years ago. I wanted to share it as a free post for anyone considering what and who they would be signing up for in 2023. I still got the disease. I got it bad.
I wrote this as a woman sitting in an office. I left that job two years later. For 13 years I have done everything in my power to stay here. Some years were really bad. Some years were really wonderful. It was always, and always will be, worth it.
Like what you read? Well darling, please consider subscribing to this substack because I am trying to save this farm with my writing, so I can keep writing, and every person that chooses to support this endeavor is the reason I’m still writing.
And the new posts are not panic and fear, they’re a celebration and return to joy. It’s a wild and kind ride. I hope you’ll join us. 95% of posts will be paid only. I am trying to write essays worth more than time. I hope you agree.
Also, there’s a book based on this essay, which you can order anywhere you please but signed or personalized copies are available at Battenkill Book’s Jenna Woginrich section. (I have a section!)