Editor’s Note: This article was guest written by Wisconsin farmer and blogger, Lauren Rudersdorf.
Five months ago, my husband and I bought a home. Our first home. As we sat beside each other signing our closing documents, it felt positively monumental. It was the first time in my young life that I really felt like I had made it. My husband and I had started a small, organic vegetable farm four years prior and it had brought enough hard-earned income that we could afford a home of our own in a beautiful town within commuting distance to both our farm and my off-farm job. We had enough stability in our lives that we felt comfortable committing to a place. The fact that our new home was move-in ready and fully renovated five years ago was just icing on the cake of our late twenties’ lives. I felt mature. I felt settled. I finally felt like maybe I could call myself an adult.
We moved into our home on July 1, 2016 (give or take a few hell-ish weeks of schlepping boxes back and forth from Albany to Evansville in our Ford Ranger and my parents’ minivan). Over the next couple months, we did the new home thing. We unpacked boxes. We hung pictures on the walls. We put a “Rudersdorf” sign on the front porch and bought a lawn mower. Yet despite all the effort I put towards turning our new house into a home, I felt myself continually waiting to be excited about the move. There was no doubt it felt empowering to be a young homeowner, but something about the situation just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t happy. I felt anxious and insecure all the time.
The strange thing about our new home is that it’s located in the town where I grew up. The town where I had spent 13 years of my life in school, sports and community organizations. When I had graduated nine years earlier, I fled my hometown just as fast as I could for a small private school in Ohio and told myself I’d never look back. I wanted big things and was certain that big things didn’t happen in small towns. I expected moves to Europe, New York City and Washington D.C. I envisioned a big flashy career and non-stop travel. I imagined a life nowhere near where I grew up. I was convinced I would leave Wisconsin and become a totally different person. Returning home had baggage and baggage I had not yet dealt with.
How I ended up back home was a long and winding journey. I took a year off from college to travel and experience the world. I had solo trips abroad that were beautiful and transformative. I learned a lot about myself, and also realized, to my own dissatisfaction, that the private school I loved in Ohio was no longer right for me. I moved back home to earn some money and figure out next steps. I got my first apartment in Madison a few months later and by 2010 had transferred to the University of Wisconsin enrolled in an undergraduate program I was passionate about.
In Madison, I quickly fell head over heels for a man who loved soils and nature and wanted to live his life outdoors. We were the perfect compliments to one another and decided to begin an organic farm together. I was fortunate enough to have parents with farmland so we rented four acres and began building our business. Shortly thereafter, we decided to commit our life to one another. We were married in 2014 and began thinking about where we should build our life and home. Taking over the family farm was what made the most sense for us, and suddenly we found ourselves looking for homes in Evansville.
Life moved fast, as it does, and a journey that began in other states and other countries had suddenly catapulted me back home. As I unpacked boxes and looked out the big windows of my beautiful new house at a community I’d ambled through as a kid and young adult, I felt uncomfortable. It was as if suddenly, I was right back where I started. I felt pathetic, almost like I was moving backwards.
Those first two months in our new home were really difficult for me. I was exhausted from the farming season and trying to process my feelings about being back in Evansville. I was forced to learn some really hard things about myself, like how I never quite escaped the need for validation from other people. Or how for a long time my greatest desires in life weren’t motivated by my own dreams or desires, but by my own obsession with always trying to impress people. Or how I felt like success could never be at home. It had to be somewhere else.
I could have never imagined that 10 years after fleeing the town where I spent my childhood and adolescent years, I’d be living in a neighborhood with old teachers right next door. But it’s perfect. And I chose it. I chose to leave and I chose to come back. I hadn’t gotten lost, run out of options and returned home because I had to. I chose this. Every decision I’d made since I became an adult led me back here because it’s where I wanted to be. I had traveled and tried new things, and the more I did, the more I felt pulled back to the place where I had been raised. Despite my urge to fight it, my connection to the Midwest was undeniable.
In the end, it turns out moving home was exactly what I needed. It helped me forget and forgive that girl who grew up in Evansville 10 years ago: who could be so naïve and cruel, putting pressure on herself to change because she thought who she was and where she came from was never enough. It helped me stop caring about what other people think and do things for myself instead. It helped me move with confidence as I push my career forward in ways that aren’t always linear to the outside world. It helped me accept the person I have become instead of making apologies or excuses. It helped me shed the weight of expectations and find happiness from within. Moving home helped me finally heal.
And what I learned by removing any self-judgment was one irrefutable truth: I love this place. I understand it. It’s flawed, like anywhere, but its enchanting. The rolling hills. The agricultural and environmental legacies. The pristine farmland and beautiful bodies of water. The historic small towns and colorful main streets. The subtle charm that requires patience to be discovered. The hardworking people and sense of community. I love it here. I love everything about where I’m from. And I couldn’t be happier to build a life here and do what I can to make it better.
Lauren Rudersdorf is a Rock County, Wis. native who loves all things food, farming and Wisconsin life. If she’s not out in the fields of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm or kicking butt at her day job in Madison, you can find her hiking on the Ice Age Trail, testing recipes for her blog The Leek & The Carrot or planning her next vacation. You can find more of her writing at Edible Madison in the Farmer Voices column and Madison Magazine beginning in June 2017.