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DIRTY MAMA: A breath of fresh air

Mar 3rd, 2011 | Category: Columns

by Shona Hilton

I was going to write this time around about foraging for our dinner. Well scratch that idea for now. I want to give a shout out to the rural spirit of this top left hand corner of the US of A.
A little earlier this year I had the pleasure of being the face of Grow Northwest at the Country Living Expo and Cattlemen’s Winterschool down at Stanwood, which covers a huge range of topics to do with rural skills. My husband had taken classes at it before – I’d been left holding the baby, literally – so this was my first time attending. I spent the day chatting to people and, if I’m honest, eavesdropping on conversations and I felt a growing appreciation of the can-do/make-do attitude which is alive and kickin’ here.

Shona Hilton

I have had the privilege of living the majority of my life in the countryside, but it wasn’t until I moved to the Pacific Northwest that I really began to understand the concept of DIY – and by that I’m mean seriously trying to provide for family and self through our own efforts.  From growing veg, to raising livestock, to building homes and barns people here, well, just get on with it.

I can be talking to a mom at preschool and be chatting about beekeeping, raising goats or making cheese.  I have discussed the merits of allowing children to watch animal butchering at a PTA event and been given advice on spinning wool while out mountain biking. The conversations at my weekly ‘tea ladies’ gathering run the gamut from soap making to moonshine stills.  I can guarantee you that since I have lived here not once have I had a conversation about the latest fashions, which celebrity is doing what or what’s on TV.  Most people I know don’t even have TVs.

As I drive around I am always rubbernecking at people’s livestock and veggie gardens – which are everywhere. I also have my favorite fields and barns and there are splendidly stacked woodpiles I covet.  True, there are a lot of McMansions with five acres of lawn and some people could benefit in learning a little bit more about livestock management – but that’s the thing – if you want to learn about how to live a smallholder’s life the wealth of knowledge and the classes you can take here on subjects from pasture management to butchering poultry to extending the growing season is truly staggering. It doesn’t take that much to find them.

I recently read a book about living off-the-grid and it had an interview with a man in a Somewhere Elseville, USA, trying to grow much of his own food and live a simple life. He said he was the only one in the whole community doing it. It seems a million miles from here – even our towns are home to many chickens, tomato patches and the odd goat or two.

And the number of small farmers working their butts off to make a living is amazing too. If I want a Dexter cow well there are breeders nearby. There is practically no need to buy fruit and veg from anyone other than a local farmer – they are everywhere and doing a damn fine job.  I wanted a couple of lawnmowers, sorry I meant fiber sheep – a quick look on the local Craigslist and now Edith and Sunflower have joined our little farm.

I know there is no guarantee we’ll be here forever, but I wake up each day and delight in the people who live here who share my rural life ideals and teach me the skills to realize them.
Pacific Northwest you truly are a breath of fresh air in a somewhat stagnant world.

Shona Hilton lives in an old log cabin on a small farm in the South Fork Valley of Whatcom County and contends with mud, rain, dogs, small children, pigs and poultry and all the other things which make country life worth living. She can be contacted at

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