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Secular Homesteading: I Thought We Were Talking About Goat Cheese

Recently, my husband and I moved to an old homestead in the woods and began raising a few vegetables, some bees, a couple dozen chickens, a handful of dairy goats. Since neither of us was raised on a farm, we naturally turned to the Internet for information about how to do it correctly.
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everclear log cabin on the...
everclear log cabin on the...

Recently, my husband and I moved to an old homestead in the woods and began raising a few vegetables, some bees, a couple dozen chickens, a handful of dairy goats. Since neither of us was raised on a farm, we naturally turned to the Internet for information about how to do it correctly. One of the best blogs I found was written by a woman who was down-to-earth and full of self-effacing humor. She was a passionate advocate for healthy, sustainable living, and she had amazing recipes -- homemade mozzarella cheese, crockpot granola, peanut butter pie.

This woman also grew her own vegetables, made her own udder cream, diffused her own essential oils, and in the course of a few days one spring, helped a handful of goats give birth within a matter of days, all with her own infant strapped to her body. While I didn't necessarily want to go all-out and start making my own crackers or using cloth diapers to strain my cheese, how could I failed to be awed and inspired by this boundless, selfless sort of energy, by the encouraging way she assured me that I, too, could make my own fly spray and become debt free?

But here's the thing. On the "About" page, she threw this in: "I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I know where I will be spending eternity. Do you?" and suddenly I was confused because I thought we were talking about goat cheese, and despite her photo which just screamed clean cut, when she mentioned granola, I had naturally assumed she was a bit of a hippie type. I mean, where I lived, tree-hugging liberals are actually sometimes called Granolas. In any case, I certainly didn't think we were talking about Jesus, but that's the thing about evangelical Christians. They can go from homemade laundry detergent to Jesus with no warning whatsoever, and the rest of us are caught totally off guard.

And so I began looking at other sites and discussion forums, and I realized this was not an isolated incident. In fact, though not every website or forum espoused certain religious views, at least if one can believe that Internet searches are a reliable way of gauging such information, there seems to be some connection, which may be perfectly obvious to everyone else but which completely eludes me, between homesteading -- and even more specifically, goat rearing -- and fundamentalist Christianity.

Look for a recipe for fromage blanc, and you will be treated to a verse from Philippians. Search for instructional material on how to get a reticent kid to take milk from a bottle, and you will be given helpful hints about warming the bottle and making x's in the nipple and adding molasses and such followed by the suggestion that, if the kid does not survive, it may just be God's will to take him/her. (Take him... where?)

Or explore YouTube videos on kidding, and you might hear a mother tell her child that God makes the goat's hole get very big so a baby can come out. Now, I am not necessarily saying that is incorrect, and, granted, you don't want to inundate your three-year-old with details about labor and delivery, and though I've raised three children of my own, I'm no child development expert, but I do think the mother in this case skipped some pretty vital information, and I can definitely see this playing out with the child being homeschooled and learning Creationism and then growing up to stand in front of an abortion clinic waving hateful signs telling the rest of us we are all going to hell. I'm not saying that this is absolutely going to happen, mind you. I'm just saying it's a possibility.

And then, the other day, I was searching for a good goat milk soap recipe when I found a new website. At first glance, the home page was benign enough. Welcome Friends was in all caps in a particularly inviting script above the smiling faces of two women who, honestly, I initially assumed to be lovers. And there were lovely, Norman-Rockwellesque pictures from the farm -- a basket of berries, a fluffy brown chicken, a white picket fence.

Even the mission statement was endearing (though, perhaps, the fact that they had a mission statement should have been a red flag). These women liked families and children and communities and Nigerian Dwarf goats, and they were opposed to Monsanto and the cataclysm that our national food production system has wrought. Great! Me too. And then I noticed a Bible verse.

The verse was from Thessalonians, about how women should be "self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands," and it soon became clear that perpetuating this view was the whole point of website. Young girls should be taught to iron and can jelly. Boys should be encouraged to mow and weed eat and clear land since they need to learn to "conquer, protect, and take dominion."

Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no. I felt as if, like Matthew McConaughey's character in Dallas Buyer's Club, I had accidentally had a three-way. I felt violated just from reading this website, and then I realized that no matter how simple and good this goat soap looked, no matter how much I wanted to have pure-as-the-driven-snow skin like these women in the photos, women it now seemed highly unlikely were lovers but maybe more like women on the verge of downing a big jug of (homemade) cyanide punch, I could never, ever, ever make their soap.

No, what I aspired to have were some unaffiliated farm-fresh eggs, a bottle of irreligious DDT-free bug spray, a nice, agnostic bar of goats milk soap. I wanted udder cream without an agenda, apolitical homemade teat dip, an apathetic jar of homemade yogurt. I wanted to sit on my front porch unmolested, unconverted and unredeemed and savor earthly, whey-infused wheat bread and secular goat cheese and an entire bottle of unconsecrated Merlot.

It just didn't seem like too much to ask.

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