Living the Dream: Montana Homesteader Ashley Browning

by Edna Rienzi

Ashley  B Planting3

Ashley Browning, a former labor and delivery nurse, along with her husband Shannon, a firefighter/paramedic, and their two daughters recently relocated to a farm in the mountains of Montana, where they aim to live a life focused on production, rather than consumption. Before that, the Brownings had managed to homestead successfully on a small city lot in Livingston, Montana. Check out their adventures on their blog, The Browning Homestead.

What does “the good life” mean to you? And how did you come to this vision?

My husband and I both did the usual thing in our twenties: went to school and began our careers, married and had children. And we went about our lives working and “keeping up with the Jones’." But something was missing. We were often bored, never stimulated, and always wanting something more. We soon came to realize that “more” was actually “less.” So we dropped the cable, the car payments, the microwave, and one job.

We've recently entered into homesteading—providing our own food, educating our children, and living a life sustained from the land we stand on. The good life for us is a belly filled with local homegrown food, independent and knowledge-seeking children, and being able to sustain yourself without complete dependence on others and the global economy.

What’s the one thing you enjoy most about your lifestyle?

Freedom. Yes, my husband still keeps a job outside of our farm. But we provide ourselves with the freedom to choose our food from our backyard and the knowledge and skill to do things ourselves. It's an incredibly powerful thing to possess knowledge and the know-how. Look it up! Read a book! Empower yourself!

Is there anything at all about your life these days that you really wish you could change or improve?

I wish that running a small family farm didn’t involve having to go outside the farm to get by. We still are dependent on the financial backing of my husband’s job to start this business. Unfortunately, small family farms really struggle to survive against larger operations/corporations. And then, of course, I wish we had more patience and the understanding that it can’t all happen at once!

Browning Homstead

Tell us a little about the work that you do. 

My family recently moved from a small rural town in Montana to the country and started our family farm. Our dream was to homestead and provide for our family. But then we realized how much we wish that other families could enjoy good, wholesome, nutrient-dense food as well. With the help of my husband’s brother, we now have a market garden, chickens, cows, and pigs. We hope to have a CSA [community supported agriculture] program in the future.

Describe some ways that you are involved in your community.

We are just now starting to provide food to a local restaurant. We recently attended and showed our pigs at the Montana Farm and Ranch Show. This show exhibited lots of small family farms in the hope of making more people aware of where their food comes from.

For many, your lifestyle is considered “outside the mainstream.” Does this present any challenges, and if so, how do you deal with them?

Our society has become so disconnected from the Earth. We have no idea where things come from, what plant names are, what animals eat, or even what a roly poly is! Sustainable farming incorporates so much of the Earth. We pay attention to the weather, animal behavior, and plant cycles. We try to focus on learning all this, in addition to farming, and to teaching our children about this.

Our children are really excited about nature and all her abundance. But that is hard for them when they interact with other children because this is not what most children learn. Other girls know a lot about Ariel and Cinderella and what their dresses look like. But my girls want to point out the beautiful flowers, their colors, and describe the smell. So our challenge is not so much raising children, but raising children who know how to interact within a society that is doing its best to destroy our ties to the Earth.

Please describe any new skills or hobbies that you’re really excited about or that you would love to learn if you had the time and resources.

We have recently acquired a lot of farm animals. It's been exciting and very stimulating for us to learn their behaviors, how they interact with each other, and how they interact with the soils and grasses. We are really trying to incorporate a holistic approach to farming: including all the variables and having them work in harmony. We also really enjoy learning all that goes into producing food!

Browning Homestead 2
Clearing brush.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

In April 2012, I received a frantic call from my husband and our realtor: a foreclosure had come on the market, and it looked like a perfect fit for us. But just the week before, I had been so discouraged by our luck farm-hunting—nothing had worked out, and I just couldn't see anything ever working out. We had so many stipulations to work with: live water, acreage, a home, close to town for my husband’s job, and a place within our price range. But low and behold, here was this fantastic property. I kinda put it off, knowing that it was perfect, but I had the girls that day (my husband was working) and we were busy. Luckily, my mother was visiting and I was able to go look at the place.

When I drove into the driveway, I was immediately pessimistic. There were 4 or 5 agents and tons of people. I was so intimidated that I didn't stay more than 20 minutes. I looked at our realtor and asked her what to do and what price to offer. The best advice I have ever gotten (and didn't fully understand until today) is so simple: She said, "I can't answer that for you. You have to put your best foot forward, Ashley." So I promptly left and met my husband at the fire station. I told him that if we really wanted our dream, we had to offer everything we had. He wholeheartedly agreed, without even stepping foot on the property. And so we offered everything we had, knowing that there were plenty of people who had more than we had. But we had hopes and dreams and two little girls that depended on it. And we've never looked back.

New Dream's "Living the Dream" series profiles folks from around the world who are living lives focused on “more of what matters.” If you or someone you know is living the New Dream, please contact us—we're looking for inspiring stories to share!