Ranch Life: Life Lessons On Appreciating The Earth


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Whenever I become most appalled with people who toss their trash out the window without a thought, who live off of pre-packaged vacuum-sealed packets like they’re a food staple and with everyone else who insists upon using the earth and its resources like there’s 10 more of them we can use when we exhaust this one, I wish more than anything that I could ship them off to a ranch – preferably for a good solid couple of weeks. And if I’m really irritated, I’d rather ship them off in the dead of winter. But, that doesn’t sound very nice. Here’s what I mean:

I grew up on a ranch and was instilled with, both unconsciously and consciously, life lessons that taught me to appreciate the earth in more ways than I can count, and ways that I have to remind myself an urban population won’t always get. The reasons that I live the way I live, purchase the items that are in my home and respect and care for the earth as passionately as I do, mainly stem from what I learned on the ranch. Though I can’t possibly share everything I need to or want to, here are some things that I credit to the ranch and wish everyone could learn firsthand.

Fresh Food is Good Food

There is nothing better than food homegrown on a ranch. Whether it’s eggs from the chickens, beef from grass fed cows or fresh pea pods straight from the garden, you simply cannot beat it or replicate it, no matter what you find in the store and no matter how big its price tag is or how shiny its packaging. Homegrown may not look the way it does in stores, larger, juicier, more colorful perhaps (read: all hyped up on growth stimulants?) but the taste is unbeatable, and the comfort in knowing that’s its safe and un-intoxicated? Priceless. Lesson: buy fresh whenever you can. Support your local farmer and the farmers market. Grow your own garden if you can. Plant a lettuce/herb garden in a small indoor pot. Your taste buds will thank you. And so will the environment.

Homemade Means Something

I wish everyone could spend a week in a kitchen with a ranch wife just to experience what homemade means and encompasses. I’m talking knitted socks, I’m talking homemade loaves of bread that fill up the house with the best aroma on earth, pantries loaded with every imaginable canned good, jams, jellies, veggies, apple pie filling. It’s so wonderful. It’s so good. I can promise you that I’d rather have something stamped handmade with love by my mother than any fancy Gucci label you want to throw at me. Homemade means care, it means love in every stitch. It means personal time invested. And, I’ll tell you what: you’re going to take care of something homemade a heck of a lot more than something you bought at the store. You save money. You appreciate. And, 9 times out of 10, that homemade item is better quality. Lesson: buy less, make more. It’s better, lasts longer and it means something. Take up a hobby, like sewing, or knitting, or get involved in a community garden. You will reap the benefits over and over.

Hard Work is Hard Work

There is nothing about life on a ranch that’s easy. Everything you gain from your land, from your animals, it all boils down to hard work. And much more importantly, not the hard work of just anyone, of you. No one else cares if your work gets done, if the cattle are fed and if there is a hole in the ice for them to drink water from. And along with that, no one is going to do your work for you. If you want to not only make a living, but survive, then the bottom line is that you have to work. You have to work hard. It’s physical, it’s exhausting, it’s demanding. When you fall into bed with bones weary and muscles aching, you’ll go to bed thinking of the ground you tilled, the vegetables you picked, the cows you milked, and you’ll appreciate it all, and you won’t take it for granted. Lesson: this stuff you’re using? Someone probably poured some sweat, maybe blood, sweat and tears into it. Does that affect how you use it? IF you use it?

The Simple Life is a Good Life

We think we need the material stuff, or maybe we even just think we need the good eco-friendly green stuff. You know, top notch organic only, all natural this, zero-carbon footprint that. And that’s great. But, a lot of the time, we’re just obsessed with stuff. Life on the ranch is simple. You don’t have a lot of stuff, bottom line. And, turns out, you don’t need it. You won’t miss the cable TV, you won’t miss the magazine subscriptions telling you how to live a happier life. You will be too busy getting your work done and enjoying your family the rest of the time. It’s a simple life, yes. It may not be high-tech and gadget filled, nor vacation filled, nor luxurious or plush (okay, it’s definitely not), but it is good. Lesson: more doesn’t always mean better. Can you live with less? Consume less?

There’s so much more to say, but the bottom line is that our resources aren’t going to be around forever, and you see that firsthand on a ranch. You get out what you put in, and if you don’t replenish what you take away, you’re going to lose out, and lose out big time. Invest in the ground, invest in those who care for it. And, hey, if you’re looking for a vacation idea? I suggest you go check out a real ranch. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Author Tara Alley is a freelance writer living in Orange County, CA, where she writes often about living a more fulfilled life and doing so in the most eco-friendly way possible. When not working on her own projects, she also promotes organic, fair-trade green coffee for Coffee Home Direct. You can follow her on Twitter @hopesiempre.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

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  1. A-freaking-men. I grew up on a farm with a garden measured in acres. I like to think I lived a charmed life, because I’m pretty sure the first time I ate corn or green beans from a can was when I went to college. We raised hogs for sale and personal consumption and I usually always had a few chickens around for eggs and later for fried chicken.

    Explaining the smell of the air (no, that’s not smog, but the slight smell of hogs when the wind is from the northeast or cows if it’s from the southeast), the feel of the land beneath your bare toes (no broken glass to be found out here), or the taste of cherry tomatoes from the vine, peaches from the tree or a radish you’ve wiped off on your pants? Bliss. Pure Bliss.

  2. Melissa!

    So glad to see someone else relate! Are you currently stuck in the city or did you find your way back to your roots?

  3. A wonderful, well written article! I miss “homemade” so much. Life just moves too fast, I think. Growing up I had fresh homemade food everyday, for every meal. Now I’m trying to get back to that point. Live minimalist, eat homemade! Go green!

  4. Beautiful article! This makes want to go volunteer on a farm this summer even more! By the way, if anyone is interested, WOOF and HelpX are the 2 organizations that have been recommended to me for this type of travel. You live on a family farm (organic if on WOOF), and you recieve meals in exchange for the work you do on the farm. And no, I’m not associated with these websites, I just think it’s an awesome idea!

  5. Tara,

    I’m likely stuck in the city, but I do my best to live sustainably despite my situation. As soon as the weather warms up sufficiently I’ll be planting my urban garden. Anyone from my HOA who complains is welcome to share in my fresh cucumbers.

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