Ben Hewitt is the author of Saved, The Town That Food Saved, Making Supper Safe, and most recently, Home Grown. He and his family live in a self-built, solar-powered house in Cabot, Vermont, and operate a forty-acre livestock, vegetable, and berry farm.
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Once in a while a book comes along that is both a game changer and an affirmation. A game changer for those questioning whether the life they are living is an authentic expression of their values and ideals. An affirmation for those walking to the beat of their own drum who are sometimes made to feel different, or less than, as a result.
For me, Ben Hewitt’s just released book, Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World, is both.
My life, by design, does not fit into what is considered mainstream. Yet everyday I feel pulled to walk even further down the path of “alternative” living. In other words, if I have it my way, life will be a veritable riot of homesteading utopia by the time I am 80, and this book just might be the catalyst to get me there. Move over Tao Te Ching and Bhagavad Gita... Home Grown is the new book in town. (I jest, sort of.) It's simply really nice to read about, and relate to, another family who is flourishing on their own unique path.
How does this relate to unschooling and parenting? Isn’t that what the book is about, after all? Sure, Home Grown is a siren song for unschooling, but more than that it is a creed for living. Unschooling just happens to be one of the many daily activities that fits into the Hewitts’ intentional, conscious lifestyle.
Before we go any further, allow me to quickly say that Ben does not particularly attach to the label “unschooling” as his chosen method for educating his children. Of all the commonly used terms used to describe learning outside the classroom, unschooling best describes what the Hewitts do and so they use it for the sake of conversation. But in truth, “immersion learning” is a more accurate description, according to Ben.
The chapters in Home Grown are organized in a way that alternates between stories from the farm, to tales of Ben’s youth, to his and Penny’s early days on the homestead, to more obvious descriptions of how unschooling looks in their days. But mostly, the unschooling piece? It lingers in the background of each chapter and you find yourself wondering at times, “hmm... when is Ben going to get to the nitty gritty about their learning?” And then you turn the final page and realize, “ah, I see, it was right there in front of me all along.” Funny how it works that way.
Home Grown does not proselytize unschooling. The Hewitts are not subsistence farmers who unschool because they feel it is the only life families should lead, they do so because it is the life they should be leading. And so they work hard every day, through the years, to make a life that is both humble and full of riches.
This book reads as a memoir and I love it for that. Home Grown will not overwhelm you with educational theories or peer reviewed studies reflecting various stages and styles of learning. Books like that are certainly helpful for those of us looking to educate our children outside the status quo, but Home Grown takes the idea further. Instead of focusing on “why” you should unschool (or homeschool), you will instead see “how” one family has chosen to integrate learning and living in a way that appears seamless and never-ending. (And by seamless, I do not mean “easy.” A misnomer often associated with unschooling.)
A few weeks ago I attempted to catch you up on our homeschool world (part one and part two), which looks more formal and structured than the Hewitts’ method, but one that equally rests on freedom. Our style has been designed over the years mostly by my daughter and is one that suits her. My job has been to facilitate her vision. I also mentioned that this year and next (which will be her junior and senior years of high school, by definition) I’ve encouraged her to loosen the grip on our fairly structured days in order for life to present itself even more. Well, earlier this week Emily finished her homework for the two college classes she is taking by 11am, and I did not yet have the new Spanish and Math curriculum she requested in house. Feeling that life long tug creeping in - we should be doing something with the rest of our day - I decided to ignore it. Instead, I went about my work and she had a wide open day in front of her. Next thing I know, with zero prompting from me, she’s on the phone registering for Youth and Government and filling out the downloaded application to become a member of our local Historical Society. (Because why not send in a young lady, half a century their junior, to shake things up a bit at the ol' Historical Society? Also, because it is very likely that we have our own Leslie Knope over here.)
I was reminded, yet again, that learning happens. It can’t be avoided. We just need to give it the time and space it deserves.
Friends, make room on your shelf between Holt, Gatto, and Louv - Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World is going to find its rightful place among them. No matter how you appoach school, if you're a parent you should read this book. Heck, if you're a human you should read this book.
This is so much more than a memoir about unschooling and homesteading. Home Grown is a tender collection of stories written by a father who is deeply in love with his family. Ben wants nothing more than for his wife and their sons to lead fulfilling, healthy, and connected lives. And isn't that something we can all relate to?
This is the part where I encourage you all to run out and buy a copy of Home Grown, ask your library to stock it, and give it to everyone you know for their birthday this year. I’d also like to invite you to toss your name in the hat for a chance to win one of three copies! (Because I jump started the shopping for you!)
I keep giveaways real simple around here, just leave a comment expressing interest and you will be entered. Winners will be announced early next week, no later than Wednesday.
Good luck and happy reading!