Home Ec for the Modern Farmgirl

I am not a housekeeper. (That howl you hear is the laughter of my friends and family at the very idea.) The Fraudulent Farmstead is home to three cats, a professional garden designer in a constant state of dirt, and a woman who works two jobs and goes to school. My sister and I are busy, messy people.

But the truth is, I love the idea of a clean and organized home. I want clean laundry neatly folded and put away, shining wood floors, an immaculate kitchen, and a week’s worth of meals planned and prepped. I want a sparkling bathroom with a seemingly endless supply of clean, matching towels. I want to be able to sit on the couch with a pot of tea and survey my shining domain with the cozy feeling of being prepared for a blizzard.

Enter home economics.

My cupcake pillow looked something like this, although I can assure you my stitches were nowhere near as tidy, looking more like something you’d see on Frankenstein’s monster.

When I went to junior high in the 80s, my antiquated school system required that girls spend 5/6 of the year in home ec, with the remaining 1/6 in shop (boys did the reverse, and don’t think I kept my junior high proto-feminist mouth shut about it, either). At the time, home ec held little interest for me. I know we sewed our own aprons that we then wore during the food component of the class. I made a pillow shaped like a cupcake, with pink felt icing and a cherry that all had to be embroidered (how I scoffed at the notion). I vaguely remember making a cube steak meal.

But by the 1980s home ec was a dinosaur, and we put little value on it. I wish I had paid more attention. Because home ec can teach us a lot about how to be intelligent stewards, how to spend carefully, and how to create nutritious and reasonably-priced meals. Home economists believed that a happy home required that the people who lived there were reasonably clean, well fed, and living within their means.

Today at the library, I found Home Economics: Vintage Advice and Practical Science for the 21st-Century Household, a treasury of articles culled from home ec texts of the 1900s to the 1940s. And the opening salvo was this quote:

“The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments so that nothing is lost.”

And THAT is a true farmgirl philosophy if I’ve ever heard one. So I’m going to give home ec another go-around.

Laundry comes with its own set of challenges.

Things I would like to accomplish include:

  • Making meal plans and actually sticking to them.
  • Cooking at home and using what we buy. (Our chickens have been dining on a lot of slightly wilted produce).
  • Creating a cleaning routine so the house maintains a certain basic level of cleanliness.
  • Taking good care of my possessions so they last.

On the upside, here are skills I already have:

  • I have about journeyman-level knitting and sewing skills. I am certainly not a tailor, but I can build costumes from scratch, make curtains, and knit scarves, hats, sweaters, and the occasional cat toy.
  • I am the only woman my age I know who has a darning egg and actually uses it (Smart Wool socks are freaking expensive; I’m not going to just toss them when they get little holes).
  • I’ve done basic canning, at least as far as fruit jams for Christmas gifts. Maybe next year will be the year I finally make my own spaghetti sauce.
  • I make a killer from-scratch coconut cream pie, a fancy coconut layer cake, and pretty good bread.
  • And I know how to raise food. Getting it on the table in a timely fashion, however, is a skill that still needs work.

We’ve discounted domestic work for so long that hardly anyone recognizes how valuable it is. Budgeting, cooking from scratch, maintaining a clean and organized home, repairing our possessions—these are all skills that make our lives more comfortable, and ones that anyone can learn to do. You don’t need to hire someone to clean and cook for you, you just have to decide that these skills are valuable.

So I’m getting in touch with my inner Donna Reed. Or maybe Ma Ingalls, although I don’t fancy butchering my own pig.

Categories: In the house | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Home Ec for the Modern Farmgirl

  1. Love this! You should read RADICAL HOMEMAKERS. It will further change your thinking on “homemaking.”

  2. Roy Miller

    Dear Fraudulent Farmgirl,

    You need a bit more practice to get truly into the “killer from-scratch coconut cream pie” category. May I suggest weekly pie production through the up-coming holiday season?


  3. Fraudulent Farmgirl

    Mr. Roy, that is an excellent suggestion, although I might be sensing a leeetle bit of an ulterior motive behind it. Don’t you worry; coconut cream pie will be forthcoming.

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