I moved to the country to work with this population and also live and experience it.
"Years before I moved, I was working for a food bank in a large city in the South doing nutrition and culinary education, and my focus was on rural counties outside of cities. I really loved that position, but I felt like because I was young, I should go explore a big city, so I moved to California, where a lot of my friends lived. I was living there, doing case management with the homeless, trying to get them employed, but while I was there I realised that it wasn't the population that I liked working with most. I've always worked with food as it relates to health and chronic illnesses, and the rural population needs some attention in that realm, so I moved to the country here to work with this population and also live and experience it.
"I had one friend in New York (my now roommate), and I decided that was enough for me to move. I meet people and make friends easily, so I didn't think it was gonna be the struggle that it has turned out to be. I moved here last August, so it's almost been a year, and I still have no real community, which is kind of mind-boggling.
"I was recently talking to a professor, and when I told him why I moved to this town, and he said that my reasoning was the most absurd thing he'd ever heard — that nobody lives with the population they study. I was like 'Alright fine, whatever, I won't be here forever.' I guess I took it to an extreme."
I was like, 'I can't stay here!' and ended up staying in a hotel that night.
"Oh my god, yeah. It's a five-bedroom house that was built in the early 1900s. My roommate, who I knew already, bought the property last summer and moved in right after I did, because she was finishing up a farming position elsewhere first. When I moved in, I could only get cell service if I stood out by the barn and held my phone at the right angle at the right time of day. So I was standing out there, talking to my sister on the phone, and all of a sudden I thought I heard something out in the bushes. I was so afraid, because if something happened I couldn't call 911, plus my roommate wasn't there and I didn't know anybody else in New York state. So I was like, 'I can't stay here!' and ended up staying in a hotel that night. I called my parents and was like, 'What the fuck am I doing?'
"As for the property, it's 82 acres, 72 of which are forested, and there are trails throughout the woods, so we go hiking a lot. We have chickens on the property, too, next to the barn. There was an existing coop there when we moved in, but my roommate insulated it for the winter and strengthened the chicken wires so that predators can't get to them. My roommate has a four wheeler, too, so we can go out and drive, which we sometimes do after dinner. Things like the grocery store and doctor's office are all like a 15- or 20-minute drive away. It's a hamlet of a town."
Have you been able to find any sense of community?
"Yeah, through my running club. I do crew too, but that's more nerve-wracking because everyone's a lot older and super athletic. The running club is a casual group of older women, and we're training for a half marathon that ends at a brewery. All the women are so excited about that part — they're really sweet."
I've honestly found the experience really helpful in learning more about myself.
"Just how simple it is. And it's really beautiful where I am — I'm right on a river with a swimming hole. The winter was a little rough, but when it becomes really lush, it's pretty incredible. And everyone's really nice here. Even though, for the most part, we differ politically (and when it comes to almost everything else), the people who live out here are really sweet.
"I came here to work with and learn about this population, but have honestly found the experience really helpful in learning more about myself. I was never a runner before joining the club, had never read music before taking piano lessons from this 78-year-old great grandmother in my town, and I have recently come out. People in the comments of my Money Diary asked about my relationship with my roommate, who is really just a roommate and best friend, but she was really the only person there when I was stumbling through all these self-discoveries. My friend and I joke that I'm an old soul but late bloomer, and I think having so much time, money, and energy to try new things to see what I actually like is what's great about having a simpler life."
What do you miss most about living in a city?
"I miss walking places. I was just in Boston for a conference, and even though it was two miles away from where I was staying, I walked there and back every day. It was just so nice to walk outside and pass by young people. I know that sounds so stupid, but sometimes I'd be like: 'Omg, wow, there are so many young people here!' There are a few young people where I live, but a lot of them are parents who are from the town and have stayed their whole lives and created families. There aren't too many people in my age range where I'm like, 'Oh, you could be cool.'
There are no bars or people to go out with, so I also really don't drink alcohol anymore.
"My spending has gone down significantly, just because I live in such an agricultural wealth. There's so much farming, so my food costs are much lower. And also my roommate brings home a lot of food — she's a farmer. There aren't many restaurants around, so I rarely go out to eat, and there are no bars or people to go out with, so I also really don't drink alcohol anymore. When I lived in California, I used to go out all the time after work or just walk to bars with friends, and that has totally changed. I spend a lot more money on gas now, though, because I have to drive so far to go anywhere, but I save much more money overall.
"Also, while a lot of places do ship out here, it always just seems like such a challenge to get things delivered. I feel bad for my postman — he's really old and sometimes just leaves packages down at the mailbox at the end of our really long driveway. So I hate ordering things online, because I just feel bad!"
In your diary, you mentioned that you heat your home with your wood stove and that you don't have air conditioning. Are there any other ways in which your day-to-day life changed when you moved?
"We compost basically everything, just so we cut down on the trash that we have, and only take the trash to the transfer station maybe every four months, which is a big change. It's nice that we can just throw our waste out in our yard. And I don't really watch that much TV anymore at all. We don't even have one, so if we want to watch it has to be on our laptops. Also, we hang our laundry outside, which is so nice. We do have a washer and dryer that we use in the winter, but I just like the smell of it when it's hung outside."
I had to rethink my outlook on what I'm actually doing out here.
"I used to be a lot better at communicating when I lived in the city, because it's so much easier to just be like, 'Hey, do you wanna meet up and go out?'
"Even now with writing letters, weeks just go by and it's like, maybe I've already written to this person but I'm not sure, or if I did, I'm like, what did I already tell them? Because my weeks just are so routine at this point, and nothing really changes. Also, I go to bed so early that I can never really talk to my friends on the west coast because they're still at work when I'm going to sleep. So I have to be a lot more strategic about reaching out and finding time. My parents live in the South, so we've gotten in the habit of talking on the phone at 6:30 in the morning their time."
What did your family think when you decided to move to such a small town?
"They were really confused at first. But then they were like, 'Alright, whatever you wanna do, we'll support you.' This past winter, though, when I was having doubts and feeling like I needed to move again, they were like, 'No, you can't. You chose this, and you just have to use this as a stepping stone.' So then I had to rethink my outlook on what I'm actually doing out here."