The Thomas family with some of their animals in front of the old barn on their property. Krystyna said that the place was rundown when they bought it. According to her, “It’s a work in progress.”
Jeff in the Thomas’s garden. “He’s a jack-of-all-trades, and can fix anything,” Krystyna said.
Jeff and Krystyna survey their first garden. Shortly after this photo was taken, their rabbits got in and helped themselves, eating much of the food. This year’s garden is a big success.
Since Krystyna eats no sugar, the family has decided to raise bees for honey. Until the hives produce enough for their needs, they trade or buy it locally.
Brandon walks in the garden on his way to do chores.
Krystyna and Jeff converted their living room into a schoolroom where they homeschool Nikolas and Brandon. The boys love it and they like having the extra time with the kids.
Baby chicks and bunnies in the chick brooder. The chickens provide meat and eggs, while the rabbits provide meat. Neither Krystyna nor Jeff had lived on a farm before moving to their homestead, although Jeff grew up in a rural area and is well suited to farming because he can fix anything.
One of the goats lounges on top of the shelter in the goat pen. They are kept in an enclosed pen.
Nikolas helps with the feeding chores at the farm. Here, he’s getting feed for the pigs.
The Thomas’s raise all their own meat and sell or barter some of their heritage American Guinea hogs. They have both breeders and feeders.
Krystyna with one of her homestead bunnies.
Sometimes it takes a serious setback to put us on the right path. That was the case for Krystyna Thomas of Bruce Crossing, Michigan. Krystyna and her husband, Jeff, spent much of their adult life in the military. Over the years, Krystyna started to have health problems that couldn’t be explained. She had seizures, received a diagnosis of seizure disorder and was put on medications. Mild headaches turned into severe headaches, and eventually the headaches got so bad that she had to go to the emergency room.
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“I was suddenly having headaches and was very nauseated. The hospital eventually sent me home. When I called my husband before heading home, he said I was talking incoherently, so he came and got me and demanded the hospital see me again. After evaluating me, they discovered a colloid cyst in my brain and eventually had to do surgery to remove what they could,” Krystyna recalled with her husband’s help.
Almost overnight she went from being a normal functioning person to not being able to function on her own. “I wasn’t doing very well after the surgery. I was shipped from doctor to doctor. I left each doctor with a new prescription but I wasn’t getting any better. I was having a hard time communicating, walking unassisted and everything in between. I was on over 20 different medications at one time. Jeff had to be in charge of what I took and when I took it because I couldn’t keep track. I felt like I was getting sicker,” she explained.
Eventually, Krystyna and Jeff were told to consider hospice care. Doctors said that she would never function like her pre-surgery self again. Because her husband was spending so much time taking care of Krystyna, he was forced out of the military with less than eight years to go before retirement.
The Game Changer
“We were very depressed and frustrated after receiving few answers from traditional doctors,” said Krystyna. “I was at a breaking point and ready to give up. As a last ditch effort, I made what seemed like a rash decision and quit the constellation of prescriptions I was on, convinced they were making me sicker.”
“My husband also asked me to see a naturopath physician, who advised us to change our entire diet. He said to stop eating sugar and processed foods, and told us about other foods to avoid the most, like GMO corn. This was the first time a physician had ever suggested to me that there was a connection between diet and health.
“We cut out all processed food and sugar. We started eating organic food whenever possible. Within a few weeks, I went from being completely bedridden—with the exception of trips to the bathroom and hospital—to being able to walk from the bed to the kitchen. From there, I continued to get progressively healthier. Within six weeks, I was walking around the yard for short trips and able to spend time with our kids again. Keep in mind, the only change I made was ditching an abundance of prescriptions that were supposed to make me better and change the type of food I was eating!”
It has been almost four years since Krystyna made the changes. Her health has continued to improve. “I still have seizures and suffer from other chronic issues like memory loss, headaches, nausea and pain, but now I am able to live again. I can go out into the community, spend time with family and do everyday things that, a few years ago, were impossible,” she said.
Currently, she is undergoing testing for a rare genetic disorder that may be the cause of her medical problems.
Krystyna, Jeff and their two sons, Brandon and Nikolas, not only changed the way they eat but also the way they live. They moved from California to Ohio and eventually ended up on an old dairy farm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
“We now are living on 80 acres and aim to raise all of our own food one day. It is a ton of work, but by living this way we know exactly what we are eating and where it came from. We are currently raising chickens, goats, pigs, sheep and rabbits, and have livestock guardian dogs. Livestock we have raised in the past has been for our freezers, but we have recently been able to offer things like eggs and our heritage pigs to others in our community,” noted Krystyna.
In addition to raising their own livestock, they forage, hunt and fish. “We try to live off the land the best we can. We hunt and fish when time and health allows to keep a little variety in our diets and to save money.”
One thing Krystyna struggled with was getting used to eating out-of-the-ordinary meats. “I used to be a vegetarian before I met my husband, so going vegetarian to eating meat from animals I raised and knew, especially meat I was not familiar with, such as goat and lamb, took some getting used to but we have discovered ways to cook them so they taste good. We make many soups and grind up much of the meat from the goats and sheep because ground meat works in so many dishes. One of the biggest issues I had was trying to figure out how to cook without the staples that we grew up eating, like corn and wheat. Over time, we got used to not eating them and using other foods.”
Growing Their Own
Many people who eat a diet largely of natural foods simply go down to the store and buy them. That is not the case with the Thomas family for many reasons. For starters, because of the health issues Krystyna has, she needs to be 100-percent sure of what ingredients are in the food she eats. And buying only organic foods and grass-fed meat is not cheap.
“Many people wouldn’t make as drastic a change as we did. Many wouldn’t want to move to a remote area and try to live off the land, but it has worked well for us. We make a lot of mistakes, but try our best to learn from them and push forward. We grow and process what we can here, which saves us lots of money. Raising our own pastured meat is the only way we can afford to eat so much of it. What we fail to grow in our garden we try to find locally.”
By now, you can tell the Thomas family went all in. According to Krystyna, there have been many bumps in the road. “From moving several times to learning through the school of hard knocks, life has been tough. We never seem to have enough time for learning. We read a lot and have learned from others around us. I would suggest that anyone wanting to live this lifestyle get a mentor or two and read as much as possible about raising livestock and farming. Even then, some information is just not out there, so you have to take a risk, try it and troubleshoot along the way.
“To live this lifestyle you need property, shelters and places to raise livestock. Our homestead was in really bad shape when we bought it, and most parts still are. We just keep working on it and making updates when we can afford them.”
Their sons, Nikolas and Brandon, help Krystyna and Jeff on the farm. The couple also relies on the livestock guardian dogs to protect their animals from predators like coyotes, wolves and bears. A service dog, Murphy, a Labrador Retriever mix, is Krystyna’s constant companion, though he has gone into semi-retirement recently. Although her health is much improved, there are still things she cannot do and she never knows when a seizure will strike.
“I haven’t needed a wheelchair in a long time, but I still need help. If I drop something, Murphy can pick it up. He can help me stand if I’m having trouble getting up. He sticks close to me and helps me when I need it. One of the most important things he does for me is warn me before I have a seizure so I can get in a safe place. He then stays with me while I am having the seizure, and once it’s over, he goes and gets my husband. After he finds Jeff out on the farm, he nudges or annoys him until Jeff makes the move to come in to help me.”
For some people, living the homestead lifestyle is done for fun or for the adventure. For the Thomas family, it is a necessity.
“Living like this is a lot of work but it has changed my life,” said Krystyna. “I went from being bedridden to being able to move again because of our lifestyle changes. Sometimes I question our choices or even get jealous about how much easier life might be if we weren’t doing all this. Then I remember where I was a few years ago, and do my best to push on.”
You can keep up with the family’s homesteading journey by visiting springmountainliving.com.
This article is from the fall 2015 issue of The New Pioneer. To subscribe, please visit RealWorldSurvivor.com/subscribe
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