from Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life
by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist
The Quest for the Good Life
Since moving from downtown Chicago to a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin, our days have been richly flavored with discoveries and fresh opportunities to live more sustainably and closer to the land. Our journey has unfolded in a wooden bowl filled with a medley of lettuce leaves. It was one balmy July evening while sitting on our front porch eating dinner that we realized we were no longer just the owners of our farm; we were ingredients and participants. We shared a simple supper fresh from the garden: tender lettuce greens and ruby red tomatoes partnered with a warm and crusty loaf of homemade bread. We watched the summer sunset fade to a warm glow and fireflies begin their evening dance. Our souls merged with the earth through the fresh whole foods on the table, complimented by the starry light show.
Our quest for the good life entails more than a rural zip code and fresh produce savored slowly with firefly entertainment. It's a search for a life simpler in design yet richer in meaning, unearthing passion with every potato we plant. Living more sustainably and connecting with the crickets, coneflowers and community offers guidance, inspiration and even amusement with every failed zucchini crop. As our story continues to evolve around our country farmstead we hear more and more stories told by people living in urban enclaves and suburban homefronts, from big cities to remote Caribbean islands. We've discovered that the good life isn't dependent upon the goods of life.
This mutual desire for living authentically -- and caring for all life -- breathes through our everyday experiences by our approach to living, weaving together food systems, energy systems, living systems and livelihood. Nature is our model, our teacher and our healer. How we grow and eat our food is directly connected to how we produce and use our energy. The ecosystem we live in -- nature's restoring cycles and the vital role biological and cultural diversity play -- is inseparable from our life. How we earn income, in what we've come to embrace as right livelihood, is integrally linked to a restorative economy that is life-sustaining and soul-nourishing. These are the empowering themes found in our lives and throughout this book. We share a vision that celebrates diversity, fosters creativity, thrives on self-reliance and freedom, and respects nature. It sounds remarkably like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to us, complete with all the responsibilities as citizens that it entails.
Every day we’re given a fresh start, a clean mixing bowl in which to create and concoct our life journey, if not also a fresh delicious salad. If we didn’t get the blend right yesterday or things get too spicy with mustard greens today, we remind ourselves that tomorrow is a new, clean mixing bowl. The key is to keep learning as we go, to be open to new flavors, and keep connected to, grateful for, and nurturing of a sustainable lifestyle and a livelihood full of meaning and purpose.
About the Farmstead
A five-and-a-half-acre quintessential Wisconsin farmstead is home to Inn Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, our office, and our home. Perched atop a ridge, we're surrounded by rolling green fields, many of which have been worked by local farming families for generations. Outbuildings, flower beds and growing fields encircle the 80-year old farmhouse, creating places for us to wander, seek solace and inspiration, or come together in community. The dairy barn's second floor loft has bellowed with enthusiastic applause during open mic nights while downstairs, two curious llamas bed down. The granary is being transformed into a passive and active solar heated greenhouse made from strawbales. A hammock beckons guests, swaying in the breeze between two maple trees just west of the house. Surrounded by grapevines and next to the vocal frog population in the pond, this spot provides a dark, cool hideaway retreat on hot, sticky summer afternoons. Asparagus and strawberry beds, raspberry and black currant patches, and apple and cherry trees gift us with perennial crops, complimented by three fruit and vegetable growing fields east of the house. Chickens, cats, and our son Liam roam freely. A great horned owl occasionally hunts from atop the crest of the barn roof at night.
The farmhouse itself exudes its own energy and personality, a blending of tradition with modern times. We cook up hearty, farm-fresh eggs and vegetables for breakfast omelets, while B&B guests take a morning shower upstairs with water heated by the sun. Inn Serendipity beckons, bringing people together and growing community.
Restoration in a Living Economy
We plucked ourselves from the concrete jungle of Chicago and planted roots in a place where we could see stars and hear frogs, having faith that goodness would serendipitously blossom. A place where community could be cared for and nature could be nurtured. Could we rediscover who we are creatively, rekindle meaningful relationships, become more self-reliant and independent, and live a more healthy and harmonious lifestyle in greater balance with the earth? We wanted to live a life based on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of, “We must become the change we seek.” The deeper our roots grow, the more we learn about and restore ourselves.
Back in our Chicago ad agency days, what we were doing was removed from our true passions and offered little authentic connection to the earth, to a healthy lifestyle, or to any feeling of community. Pulled into the money and image machine, with most of our daily hours and energy spent in a climate-controlled office, we failed to realize what was going on, that anything was amiss. It was only after we finally stepped out of that picture and began questioning our lifestyle that we started reconnecting with the genuine people buried deep inside ourselves.
The knowledge we gain by living closer to the land is real, providing steps that provide the purpose and meaning in our lives: going through the discovery of making raspberry jam for the first time; celebrating the results spread over a slice of crunchy whole wheat toast and sharing a couple half pint jars with our neighbors or friends; restoring the land with compost; replanting trees to help renew the health of a forest ecosystem; producing all of our own energy from the wind and sun; and learning to use that energy in wiser, more efficient ways. These are some of the many events and activities that shape and define our character and harmoniously reverberate through our souls. By renewing our lives based on ecological principles and with emphasis on relationships and connectivity, we arrive at a new, much more personal definition of success. We have transformed our business model into one that is life-sustaining, rather than life-destroying. In a living economy, rather than one that turns life into wealth in the form of products and services sold, we have crafted a livelihood full of enterprises that sustain us and the planet. Our work and leisure blend into a lifestyle and workstyle that reminds us of a time when commerce was still about community exchanges, relationships and local priorities.
Even with our clear vision, we've encountered moments of questioning doubt. It's natural. But our rural fumbles and bumbles were quickly balanced by those magical moments when the cornucopia of life overflows and you know you’re where you should be, waking to that instant when the night stars and the pink of the sunrise slowly dance together.
While our story is rural, the repeating cycles of nature are ones we all share regardless of whether we're living in the country, city or suburbs. Many of the ideas presented could just as easily be done in the city or suburban subdivision — in fact, many have. We hope that our story and experiences provide kindling for the fires of your own dreams, and will help ignite or perhaps continue your personal quest for creating the good life, however you may come to define it.
Order your copy of RURAL RENAISSANCE from Inn Serendipity (a PDF file order form) or purchase online via SquareUp.
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