Sunday, March 11, 2012

How We Got Here

I grew up on a small family farm that was slightly north of central Arizona, in a tiny town called Chino Valley. It wasn’t the kind of farm that most people think of when they hear the word ‘farm’. We only had five acres, and only grew what we needed. We didn’t sell crops to grocers or distributors. We weren’t the kind of farmers who took out loans to get us through the growing season. We were just an average family trying to live a simpler lifestyle.

Like most kids, I left when I was young. I actually had the privilege of going to the Los Angeles area to attend high school, so I got to leave a little younger than most. A lot of people told me I would be back, and like most kids, I said, “never.” That was almost 30 years ago, and now I find myself right back where I started.

My life progressed as lives tend to do. I got married and had kids. I went to college and began a career. My husband and I weren’t rich by any standard, but we managed. We might have done better, but with the children came surprises. Very expensive surprises.

Between us, my husband and I have six daughters. Only the three youngest live with us now, as the rest are grown and on their own. But, those three youngest each have disabilities. The two older of them are autistic, one of which is also effected by moderate cognitive impairment, and the other was a born with type-1 diabetes. The youngest was born with sever orthopedic disabilities, and is, for the most part, confined to a wheelchair. These are things that don’t just cost money to deal with, they change your entire way of life.

Still, we managed. We moved back to Arizona. Not to the farm, but to a cozy little suburb in the north-west Phoenix Valley. We loved were we lived. It had pretty much everything we needed. Sensible shopping that was close, great neighbors, and a back yard just large enough to put in a kitchen garden. Everything was handicap accessible, and we never had any problems taking our youngest daughter, chair and all, out to do anything. In general, we were pretty happy.

Then the economy collapsed. At first we were okay. My husband had a decent job, and I was working part time from home. Then my husband lost his job, and for a moment we freaked out. But, he got another job within two weeks. I began writing full time, still from home, and we cut back quite a bit on our expenses. Still we were doing okay.

Then my mother, who still lived on the farm a hundred miles north of us, had a series of mini-strokes. She could still take care of herself for all the little day to day things, but those things became much harder for her. We spent more and more time on the farm, which hadn’t been worked in 20 years, doing the yearly chores, like weather treating and repairing roofs, fixing porches, and general maintenence. The plumbing was starting to collapse, and we ended up having to replace a water main line. Pipes began to burst both above and below ground. The added cost of helping with all of these things was taxing our already fragile budget, but these weren’t things that we could ignore.

Then the inflation began hitting us. Food, gas, and rent sky rocketed on us, leaving us completely unable to pay our bills. Our cost of living increased by almost 40% in six months, and instead of just barely getting by we were suddenly drowning.

We had already been planning to move back to Chino Valley to take over the family farm and take care of my mother in her golden years, but not until after we were able to put a new house on the property and lay in some needed accessibility items for our daughter, like pathways and ramps. The old mobile home in which my mother lived was a 950sf 2br that was falling apart in ways I can’t even begin to describe. We would be a family of six with special needs... like running water.

But, the day came when we no longer had the luxury of waiting or planning. If we didn’t move immediately we would be evicted and find ourselves homeless. So, we packed up the kids, the cats, and the wheelchair and moved back to the farm. My husband had to quit his job to do so, but I could take mine with me, so at least we had that. That was eight months ago. Now, with a hard, rough, penniless winter behind us we prepare to begin again.

So, what follows now are the chronicles of our efforts to reclaim the family farm and, slowly over time, get it back up and running. It is our hope that our story helps others to find ways of living cost-effective sustainable lives as we do so ourselves. We have chosen to share our trials so that we can also share our triumphs and the solutions we find to the problems that face us.

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