I would like to welcome to Nourishing Days a new contributor, my husband Stewart. He will be sharing his perspective on our homesteading journey as time permits.  ~Shannon

When we first moved to our homestead plot there were many things to do that required immediate attention… such as where to go to the bathroom and how to stay warm in the winter.  Once we got past basic survival we wanted to begin producing as soon as possible, but with a baby on the way we had to be realistic that there were lots of other things that needed attention in this new way of life.  We managed to get garlic in the ground and a few other plants last fall.  These did pretty well because they were in when there were few (if any) bugs around (and by God’s grace).

Before we could really start being productive though we needed to put up some fencing to stop rabbits, chickens, and free range cattle from destroying our hard work.  Since money is usually tight I wanted to save as much as possible on fencing and I wanted a quick solution.  We had access to free pallets from a local hardware store so I decided I could build a pallet fence around our first Back to Eden style garden.  The "A-frame" pallet arrangement was to keep the cattle out.  I wrapped the base in 3-4 feet of chicken wire to help persuade the rabbits and chickens that it wasn’t worth their time.  This was fairly inexpensive and actually works pretty well.  However, it required a lot of pallets to enclose a fairly small area. 

Pallet Fence

Since Annabelle was born in February my focus was able to change to spring garden preparations.  Knowing that some things take years to produce, I really wanted to get some food sources going that produce every year such as trees and berries.  However, this would require more fencing… a lot more than I thought I could reasonably do with the same pallet fence design I used before.  Plus, I wanted to do it fast to get trees and other things in before the Central Texas heat hit.  I was driven by results.  I had a "purpose driven" mentality in many ways instead of a "process driven" one.

Epic Failure

This is where I thought I could get away with some minimal fencing such as barbed wire strung between pallets to keep the cows out.  I initially ran just a few strands of barbed wire around an area I hoped to be an orchard.  This worked for a time, but eventually the cows got in and wiped out half the stuff I had planted.  Sad morning.  After a slight pause I decided to try and salvage what was left by adding an additional strand of barbed wire and beefing up the pallet reinforcement where I thought they might have gotten through.  I also enclosed a much larger field in the hopes of planting more.  This also worked for a time and some of the trees even made a comeback until one cow got in again…. and then the rest followed.

Broken Fence

 

The Casualties Mount (Or… the Oh Crap Moment)

In all, we lost the following when the "purpose driven" fence was destroyed:

  • 5 Granny Smith Apple Trees
  • 2 Hardy Kiwi Plants
  • 1 Avocado Tree
  • 2 Mulberry Trees
  • 2 Concord Grape Plants
  • 6 Blueberry Bushes
  • 6+ rows of green beans (around 70 feet long each)
  • 1 Fig tree
  • Several Blackberry plants

While some of the losses may have come anyway from grasshoppers eventually, the failure of the fence was the primary means of losing the battle for these plants.  Knowing the days and days of labor involved in building the fence, preparing, and planting left me defeated.  It was time to take a step back and analyze what happened. 

More than a Broken Fence

I learn a lot more usually in failure than in success though honestly I’m not a fan of the "failure" part.  By God’s grace, I learned more about my own foolishness (and need of him) and a spiritual lesson that applies far more broadly than one small (okay, epic) garden failure.  First, I realize my thinking was wrong.  I wanted a quick and easy solution.  I wanted results.  I did not have at the forefront of my mind that I should engage in a process of hard work to build something of lasting value or that I should move slower and save up money to build a proper fence.  I wanted production…and I wanted it now.  Sound like a familiar mindset?  It is the same mindset the modern culture indoctrinates into us from our youth. Rather than focus on daily obedience to God, and perhaps delayed results from doing something the proper way, I scrambled and relied upon my own understanding.  Surely something I can see growing (even for a short time) is better than the delayed gratification of a plant that lasts and is properly protected, right?  How foolish.  Surely a fence I can see up and "working" is better than all the hard work of learning to build a proper fence and physical effort required, right?  What an idiot.  I didn’t want to spend the time or money to build a proper fence, so I didn’t.  We always think we are doing things for the right reasons when we do them.  It is only by God’s grace that we can ever see what we were truly thinking and why it was wrong.

The Other Fences

As I was pondering the epic (nice word for it so I’ll keep using it) fence failure I started thinking about what a fence is for.  A fence is for separation.  It is to keep certain things apart so that bad things don’t happen and so that the fruit of your plants is not destroyed (in this case).  The same applies to spiritual fences.  Christians are called to be separate (sermon link for those interested, skip if not).  A word hated and abused by modern Christianity.  Many who proclaim the name of Christ look and live just like the world.  In fact, if you spotted them somewhere you would have no idea there was anything different about them.  They might say things like, "But I’m separate in my heart".  I’m telling you, this is a broken fence.  The cows (or goats perhaps is a better analogy) will break in to steal and destroy whatever fruit seems to be growing in that heart.  If you live in a field with goats you will probably end up smelling like them (or even be one).

Another example of building a shoddy fence is when you may start to separate from a wicked system but never complete it.  Your fence might even have the appearance of being good.  Maybe you put in some solid concrete foundations for some of the posts and properly made a straight fence.  However, perhaps you left a small section of the fence incomplete.   It does not matter how great the rest of the fence is if you didn’t finish it.  Something will get in and destroy everything you have worked to protect.  Your "property" may have the appearance of Christianity and being separate, but when the goats come around they will find their way into your field.  Or, perhaps you will just wander out the hole you left for yourself through some rationalization that you are okay and everyone else in that fence was wrong.  Or worse still, maybe the fence is "complete" but the foundation of one of the key corner posts is cracked and will show failure in time.

I imagine this can take many forms.  Say you are leaving a former way of life but still love something from it more than where you are going.  For example, if you love your family, friends, job security, health benefits, convenience, comfort, pleasure, or something that still binds you to the world system it is leaving that fence incomplete.  It is leaving a hole that could destroy you and draw you back. 

If we are not willing to forsake all to follow Christ and to live among his people… then we never really left.  Maybe we were never really changed.  While we cannot change ourselves, nor save ourselves, we would be wise to think upon who can (God) and what he would require of us after he changes our hearts. 

And here is the real kicker, suppose someone loves you enough to point out you forgot to finish one section of your fence.  Or suppose they see some cracks in the concrete you poured that might one day leave your field vulnerable.  Do you get angry?  Do you hate the person who told you about what might happen?  Do you justify yourself and say, "But look at how good and ‘blessed’ all the other fence posts are?" or accuse them, "But your fence looks worse than mine", or "You have a hole in your fence too!"  Do you rationalize and say, "But no animal is going to find that one section I forgot to finish."  True love for someone else is doing what is best for them regardless of how much it hurts them (or you).  This is a love that cannot be faked for very long.  It is a love that only God can give us for other people.  If someone in your life is showing you this kind of love (and telling you the truth about yourself) you would be foolish to ignore it.  You would be blessed to listen to it… even when it hurts.  It might require you to patch a hole in the fence.  It might require hard work.  It may even require that you shut up and think for awhile instead of just reacting.  It may require you to keep your opinion to yourself, because your opinion might just be wrong.

I’m definitely thinking about these things more as a result of my epic fence failure.  Thank God for his grace.  The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

The Practical Lessons

  • Realize a proper fence is important to a successful garden
  • Take the time and effort to build the fence right
  • Take it one fence post at a time
  • Make sure you have enough "fencing" in your life to protect your loved ones physically and spiritually
    • "Physical fencing" could be a different way of life where you can still provide for your family if the consumer/industrial system collapses
    • "Spiritual fencing" could be keeping your family separate from influences and a way of life that will seek to corrupt them  

Lastly, someone might wonder why I think putting up a temporary fence with the resources you have may be wrong.  It isn’t necessarily wrong.  In fact, for one person it could be the completely right thing to do (whether it succeeds or fails).  For someone else, it could be completely wrong.  It is about a way of thinking and is person and situation specific.  So don’t take away from my thoughts that I’m condemning or endorsing a certain method of building.  What you build with your hands is far less important than what is being built and maintained in your mind.  And that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

Starting a New Fence

Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, I will continue to put in a new and better fence so that we can contain our chickens and perhaps goats and pigs someday.  This time though, hopefully my mindset is more correct and process driven.

Have any broken fences that need fixing? ~Stewart

Resources to Help with Your Fence Building

How to Build a Good Fence for Your Homestead

Specialization and Separation (Sermon)

The Doctrine of Separation (Sermon)

 

 

15 Responses to What You Can Learn From a Broken Fence

  1. I enjoyed reading your first post, Stewart. I especially appreciate how you write about doing things for yourself and creating your own fate while remaining a strong Christian. I have often seen people believe that their fate and life outcomes are determined by someone or something outside themselves, when they were created to be responsible for themselves and their families. Faith is not independent of self-determination – indeed, they should be interwoven.

    [Reply]

  2. maria says:

    I have just started following your space for the information about making yogurt and such…. what I have read today from your husband has left me quite convicted.

    Thank you for taking the time to speak honestly and wisely about this subject. It is not easy to accept or implement because then (speaking on Christian lingo here) you become legalistic in your thinking…and we all run away from this.

    Stewart, what you have shared here is quite true…how can we show ourselves to be who we proclaim to be, if life has not changed?

    Thank you so much.

    m.

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  3. Annie says:

    Hi Stewart and Shannon,
    I’ve been reading this blog for a few years, and following your move off-grid.

    I share so many of your thoughts on consumerism and industrialism, but clearly not to the extent that you do. And I have to admit, I’m still a little in the dark about why you describe the industrial world in such starkly dark terms – so black and white.

    Why is it that you believe or fear that being part of the industrial world *at all* will corrupt?

    My thoughts in part go to my own situation, a mother of three children, two of whom have significant special needs – one of which is ventilator dependent. They would not be alive without the industrialized world. I and/or my non-special needs son would not be alive either, due to a labor and birth that required medical intervention (and I was going to have a homebirth… but when I asked God, what should I do? he sent me dreams of blue babies.)

    Even air conditioning isn’t optional for us – my youngest, the very medically involved love, has severe temperature dysregulation and cannot tolerate any level of heat.

    My husband and I live every day radically dependent on God’s grace. And we believe we see this graciousness, in part, in the medical coverage we have.. in the resources we have to install a pool this summer so my older son can get the therapuetic benefits of swimming… in the access to food that I simply would not have time to produce… etc.

    I know you and Shannon are busy. And maybe even reluctant to delve into what might be the more radical aspects of your beliefs. But if you have the time and inclination, I am very interested.

    Annie

    [Reply]

    Stewart Reply:

    Hi Annie,

    Your situation sounds difficult. Here are a couple things that come to my mind in regards to your questions/statements.

    1. You can only do what you can do. God is sovereign. The medical reasons you mention may prevent you from doing what you normally would want to.
    2. Your direction is more important than where you are at. By that I mean that if your heart desire is truly to separate and live in obedience to God then that is far more important than what that may look like in relation to someone else at the moment. It is a process. The rest will follow according to God’s will, whatever that may be. The only danger I will mention is that it is easy to rationalize any behavior we want to keep doing.

    It is not particularly that I believe or fear being a part of the industrial world will corrupt… I know that it will because I’ve been in it. If we realize our hearts left to their own are desperately wicked we would be inclined to doubt everything we think is okay by our own understanding. I’m still trying to break free both mentally and physically from the industrial mindset. All technology is not bad. How you use it and whether it controls you or enslaves you make a big difference. The mindset behind why you are using the technology is far more important. The book Surviving Off Off-Grid really helped me in this regard. I recommend reading sections of it even if you can’t move off-grid because it explains a way of thinking and how we got to this place in history. It also addresses things about technology and deals a lot with the heart behind why we do what we do.

    Take care and thanks for the comment.
    Stewart

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  4. Annie says:

    Btw, I’m listening to the sermon. Maybe the answer will be there. So far it’s not, perhaps b/c he refers to a prior sermon where he explains why only agrarian life is the Christian life.

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  5. nancy says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write a great article. I always get excited when God speaks to us in ways we can best understand such as your fence analogy. God is good.

    [Reply]

  6. turns2green says:

    your story of the broken fence is truly moving and inspiring to work diligently and not stop until one is confident their work is finished!

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  7. Annie says:

    Thank you for your reply.

    I hear what you’re saying about trusting the process, and the true intentions of our hearts.

    But, had my husband and I been living an agrarian life prior to having children, we would not have had access to the technology that would save mine and my children’s lives. (Or am I misunderstanding the agrarian life?) So it is not just because we now find ourselves reliant on the industrial world for my children’s very wellbeing.

    So, how does the agrarian reconcile the life-saving benefits of the industiral world, that aren’t available to agrarians?

    As for the industrial world necessarily corrupting, it sounds like I would need to read Surviving Off Off-Grid to understand your beliefs. Because to me, it is not self-evident that the industrial world is evil, the anti-christ (not words you used in this article, but words in the sermon – and I assume a belief you share.)

    I do not share your belief that we are desperately wicked in our hearts. I believe we are *also* wicked. And I believe the truth of God is written in our hearts, so that even though the heathen hearkens to God, though he knows not His name.

    Meaning, I think our differing theology is probably going to, at root, be the source of my disconnect from the idea that the world is “shark-infested.”

    Still, I do greatly admire your whole-heartedness in living out what you beleive to be true. Your children are blessed to have such earnest parents.

    [Reply]

    Stewart Reply:

    Hi Annie,

    My beliefs are based on passages such as these in the Bible:

    Jeremiah 17:9
    The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

    ——-

    You said: “But, had my husband and I been living an agrarian life prior to having children, we would not have had access to the technology that would save mine and my children’s lives. (Or am I misunderstanding the agrarian life?)”

    In my worldview God is completely sovereign. So I don’t believe one can say if I had done X differently Y would have happened. In other words, you don’t know all the variables and you don’t know God’s will in an alternative scenario that never happened. You don’t know if you had been living an agrarian life if your children would have had the same issues (due to environmental differences or any number of other things, etc). Even if they did and the care had not been available, would that not also have been God’s will? There was a time during the birth of our second son when I didn’t know if Shannon or Abram would live. The Lord showed us grace and preserved them both, but he didn’t have to. I could have lost one or the other, or both. And as sad as that thought is to me they are not mine. By God’s grace alone in such a scenario I would still have to proclaim, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” I’m sure this is a difficult topic for you (as it would be for me in your shoes) so please do not take offense at me presenting what I believe.

    I do recommend if you really want to understand the technology and agrarianism topic to read the book. Agrarians are not anti-technology or against saving lives, etc.

    I do agree that our differing theology is going to be the disconnect between our worldviews. The big problem is not that the world is “shark-infested” as you mentioned, but that people love the world (in the sense of all the comfort and fulfilling of the lusts of the flesh). The problem is man’s heart, which we seem to fundamentally disagree on.

    1 John 2:15
    Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

    There are so many related topics on all of this that it is hard to relay everything that goes on behind the scenes in my thinking that leads to the conclusions in my post. A great book on God’s Sovereignty that really helped us is “The Sovereignty of God” by A.W. Pink.

    I’m not trying to turn this into a theology blog by any means, because that is not the intent of Nourishing Days (though we are always open to questions about what we believe). Thanks.

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  8. rhondajean says:

    Hello Stewart, I think you have learned the best lesson. That natural processes take their own time and nothing you do will hurry them. One of the wonderful benefits of living as you do is that it is life lived at a slower pace. You seem to be trying to jump ahead. When we came here, 15 years ago, we spent the first couple of years putting up fences and improving the soil – we were on clay. Now we have a fully productive garden and it is well worth that short wait to get things right before proceeding.

    I really admire you and Shannon for your commitment to your beliefs and lifestyle and your self reliance. I am so sorry for the plants you lost. I firmly believe that lessons we learn from our mistakes are the ones that allow us to change. I wish you the best with the garden.

    [Reply]

    Stewart Reply:

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    [Reply]

  9. gail firenze says:

    Hello Stewart,
    Thank you for a thought provoking post. I have listened to the sermon and will definitely be be listening to the whole series which I’m sure I’ll be able to source on Mr B’s web site.
    I understand the frustration of what has happened with your crops and trees. We made monumental mistakes when we first moved onto our sheep farm. I must tell you that one of our neighbours ( who later became a very good friend) was heard to say “I’ll give them 12 months and they’ll be heading back to the city.” Well we lived on that farm for 20 years and they were such good years too. We can look back and laugh at the some of the things we did, however we did learn from our mistakes. We are older now and on a smaller block but we are still learning and still enjoying growing our own food and working toward being less dependant on the world outside our front gate.
    You will make it and you have good neighbours who I’m sure will help with advise when needed, but the most important part is that you are following the Lord in the way He is leading.
    Blessings Gail.

    [Reply]

  10. An even better book to read for “building” a fence is the Bible! Did you know that the word Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) actually means “instruction” in Hebrew? And those hebrew letters have a root word that actually is translated “fence”! God gave us a fence that are instructions to keep us safe and set apart from the world so we can follow Him and His ways. He gave those instructions way back in the Torah and they were meant to be forever!

    [Reply]

  11. Chandelle says:

    Interesting conversation. Being non-religious I’ll just focus on temporal fences in my comment. :)

    I can’t agree more that proper fences are essential. Fencing is the bane of every farmer, I think. Most of the things I’d like to do on our homestead are restricted by the lack of proper fences, or the resources to build them.

    If cattle is your primary concern, I would like to suggest electric fencing — if it’s an option for you, financially. It can be a bit of an investment, but compared to solid fencing it is much less expensive (unless you are scavenging or repurposing free materials). We paid $300 for our solar fencing — including the charger and the wire. By comparison, solid fencing would have cost over $1500.

    And in my experience anything “solid” short of an actual brick wall will still bend to cattle over time (the cattle around here couldn’t care less about barbed wire; they plow through it daily), whereas electric fencing is mostly a psychological barrier and therefore more effective.

    The electric fence (with wires at nose- and knee-height, plus close to the ground for coyotes, raccoons, and rabbits) has been extremely effective for the cattle that free-range where we live. It’s also kept predators out of our chicken yard for over a year. Our garden is quite large and the solar power covers it adequately. Earlier in the season we had a different, battery-powered electric fence. The battery was low and the cattle got into the garden and decimated it. That was a sad day indeed. Now we stick with the solar power, with the battery for back-up after several days of rain.

    My heart hurts for the trees and vines you lost to cattle… luckily it was just lettuces and so forth for me. :( Good luck!

    [Reply]

  12. Debbie Peck says:

    Really enjoyed your post. It is very encourageing and has made me think about my fence experience. I thank the Lord for bringing you and your family to the community.

    [Reply]

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