Hi, I’m Harold Thornbro and this is a little about how I got started in homesteading and permaculture.
In the beginning…
It was the early Spring of 2012 that I got the news for the reason I went to the emergency room one night in excruciating gut pain. After several tests and a couple of days, I had the answer, stage 3 colon cancer. The doctor said I had a tumor about the size of a tangerine in my colon and it had to come out right away. The doctor seemed a little surprised by the diagnosis as I was only 39 years and physically appeared to be in pretty good shape, but I was not that surprised.
I had spent the previous several years running my own trucking business and spent most of those years on the road, many times eating at fast-food restaurants 2 or 3 times a day. As if the eating habits weren’t bad enough the sedentary lifestyle of sitting in a seat driving 10-15 hours a day only added to the problem. I knew this was not a healthy lifestyle but I had plenty of energy and wasn’t massively overweight so I figured I could maintain it for a few years to make enough money to pay for the lifestyle I eventually wanted which was a homestead on several acres building a self-sufficient life for my family and myself.
My Hopes and Dreams Were Over…
Or at least that’s what I thought as I was facing major surgery, several months of chemotherapy, several weeks off work, and a draining of our savings as all this took place. I’m normally a positive person but I have to admit I was a little depressed as the thoughts stirred in my mind. The thoughts of not ever getting the chance to walk my 3 daughters down the aisle one day or never meeting my future grandchildren, leaving my wife alone and not growing old with her and enjoying our future homestead. All of this at the time seemed a bit too much to bear. Because of my faith, I was never one to be afraid of death but rather what I would leave behind and what I would miss out on.
This attitude was not going to do, it was time to get positive again, it was time to prepare for war! I was determined to do everything I could do to win this battle. So surgery was scheduled and the war began. The surgery recovery was not an easy one as it left me with a 12-inch scar across my midsection, it was a few weeks before I could get up out of a chair with ease. I also had to go in for surgery to get a port installed in my chest to administer chemotherapy.
After my surgery, I had a few weeks of downtime and recovery before the chemo was to start and during this time I did a lot of thinking and reflecting. I thought about what lead me here, what the problems were, and how to make changes in my life that would keep this from happening again. In my mind, I knew the problem and I knew the answer but I just wasn’t sure how to fix it.
I knew the problem was a lack of healthy chemical-free food and lack of exercise, but the problem was the problem. I was now in a position where exercise was out for a while due to my physical condition but I knew that wouldn’t last forever and as soon as I was able I could get started with that. Healthy food was a whole other situation, I knew where to get it but to make the radical kinds of changes I needed to make was not going to be cheap, I mean have you priced organic foods.
We were on a path to being near broke by the time I was to go back to work as we were paying our bills out of savings while I was off and also paying a ton of medical expenses, we have insurance but there was still a lot to pay out plus we had to continue to pay for the medical insurance itself which wasn’t cheap. I knew growing and raising my own food was the best and cheapest way but we live in town on about a tenth of an acre and definitely could not afford to pursue moving to our dream homestead now. What to do…
The Wake-Up Call…
When you don’t have much to do as you’re laying around recovering from surgery and your mind is racing, I found it’s a really good time to learn. I learned a lot about cancer and alternative treatments. I learned a lot about growing healthy food. Most importantly I learned about what was possible to do right where I was. I came across a short documentary on Youtube called Homegrown Revolution and it changed my mind about what was possible.
This video was my wake-up call, Jules Dervaes laid out the problem with the current food system and his answer to the problem, he was feeding his family healthy chemical-free food from a tenth of an acre. It really was the first time I ever considered that my city property could be my dream homestead. So as soon as I felt well enough I built my first 2 small raised beds out of scrap lumber, filled them with soil, and planted a salad garden. It wasn’t much I know but it was a start and it was hope which is what I needed more than anything.
Every good war story has a rebellion, right? Well, this one does. I was feeling pretty good after a few weeks of recovery, I had started a daily walking regimen and was getting stronger every day but now it was time for the chemotherapy to start. I did my first treatment on my 40th birthday, a heck of a way to spend a birthday but I didn’t want to delay this any longer, after all this is war and there is no time for celebration when you’re on the battlefield. Chemo was really hard on me, worse than for most I think, at least that’s what they were telling me. The nausea was unbearable and I also started back to work a couple of weeks later so it was really messing with my job performance.
During my time off I had mentioned that I was researching a lot of alternatives to cancer treatment and because the chemo felt like it was killing me, of course, those alternatives were looking pretty good right now. So I made a decision to rebel from traditional cancer treatment after only 3 chemo sessions and try it my way. I had my port removed and made radical lifestyle changes. My doctor was not happy, he bluntly told me he would see me in a couple of years and there wouldn’t be much they could do for me then. 5 1/2 years later I’m glad he was wrong, I don’t say that arrogantly, I say it with gratefulness and with humility.
The New Battle Plan
Chemo was out but what was I going to do instead? Simple, eat right, and exercise. Could it be that simple? I think it is that simple but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Growing food and raising animals in a healthy organic way is hard work especially in a town setting where intensive growing methods are necessary to get enough to supply your needs. Growing the food is only half the battle, cooking from scratch was a whole new thing for my wife and me but was going to also be necessary if we were going to get the full benefit from all this effort.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates
I guess it was more than just changes in our food. We also began getting rid of some of the toxins in our house by making our own household cleaners, laundry soap, and personal items like deodorant and shampoo. We make these things from more natural ingredients and we find they work just as well as the harmful chemical products.
Homesteading Saved My Life, But Not Just That
Homesteading gives me a life worth living. I may have begun because of my health but I continue for so many other reasons. I really love this way of life and even though the circumstances that began this journey were not the best to begin under they certainly were motivating.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story.