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Down on the Farm

The Weldon family used to live in a quiet Cleveland suburb, where Laura was a social worker for a nonprofit, Mark ran a home-based computer business, and all four of their kids attended local schools. But their lives changed drastically in 1996 when their oldest child called from a pay phone at his high school to report that a fellow student had shown him a gun.

Traumatized, they pulled their children out of the public system and began their journey into homeschooling. That life change required Weldon, 50, to cut her hours at the nonprofit so she could stay home with the kids. Though the family benefited from all the newfound quality time together, they struggled financially. So Weldon and her husband made another bold decision: They moved out of the suburbs and into the country. They'd always dreamed of living on a farm. Weldon loved growing things and already kept a garden behind her house. And she was attracted to the possibility of being closer to nature and living more simply.

So in 1997 they moved to a rural Ohio township with a population of 3,000 and no traffic lights. With the help of how-to books and new neighbors' guidance the Weldons slowly learned how to live off the land -- manning a chicken coop, planting and harvesting their own crops, and keeping a cow and bees. "We've made a lot of mistakes along the way, but nature teaches you lessons if you pay attention," Weldon says. Now the family has three cows, 60 chickens, and some 100,000 honeybees. Mark, who gave up his computer business eight years ago, is employed as a bee inspector for two Ohio counties.

These days Weldon cultivates her own cheese and yogurt from cow's milk, cans her own sauces, and grinds her own flour. She also makes cleaning and personal hygiene products out of ingredients many of our great-grandmothers used. Her laundry soap includes borax and her tooth powder is made of baking soda, sea salt, and a tiny pinch of stevia for sweetness.

Over the years the family has also learned valuable lessons on how to live frugally. They keep their old cars and tractors running with constant tinkering. "For me, staying farther away from the consumer-driven lifestyle is liberating," says Weldon, who has recently published a book called Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. "I'm not saying I never go out to dinner or never buy clothes. I'm saying happiness is not hidden in what can be purchased."

Chopping wood, baling hay, and tending livestock isn't easy and it's hardly making the family wealthy. But living large was never the point. "We haven't had a family vacation in 14 years, but we eat meals together every day and work together to keep our homestead running," Weldon says. "We laugh and talk even while we're stacking firewood. We enjoy the fresh air -- and a shared sense of accomplishment."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2011.


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