First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Elle Meager: We are doing well, considering the conditions around us. We are thankful to be living in a remote area where we escaped the brunt of the city’s chaos, regulations, and fear. Most of our food is grown on our property, and we have cattle and chickens to provide us with meat and eggs.
Our nearest town is a small community of 250 or so inhabitants. The community really banded together and helped each other out. We swapped food (contact-less, of course) and gift baskets, and a complete barter system was set up.
We still feel the pressures of the outside world, particularly when we watch TV – which we’ve decided to limit. It’s important to keep our spirits high and not let it get to us!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Outdoor Happens.
Elle Meager: I was born into a farming family. My 7 uncles all grow one thing or another, from cabbage to potatoes to flower bulbs. I spent most of my weekends and holidays working on their farms. When I was 14, I started working on an organic dairy and vegetable farm, and a whole new world opened for me.
I realized early on that organic growing is the way of the future. Despite all the hard work we put in removing weeds by hand, it was incredibly rewarding to grow food that was safe, healthy, and full of nutrients.
After finishing a degree in management, I traveled the world to experience different cultures and see how other people grow food and live self-sufficient lifestyles. I lived with them and their families and worked on a variety of farms.
I traveled for almost 2 years, after which I bought a 50-acre homestead with my husband. It was in a remote area, so we needed an income that didn’t depend on a physical shop front. We started growing organic edible plants and herbs and sending them via mailorder to people across the country.
The area of the country we chose for our homestead was in severe drought, and a couple of years ago, we decided to make a big move to a tropical area with better soil, so we could grow more of our own food and raise more animals. We sold the plant nursery and started a blog, Outdoor Happens, to share our experiences.
When the virus hit, publications like Bob Vila, NBC News, Mother Earth News, and The Washington Post featured our advice. This really sky-rocketed the blog, and we, honestly, scrambled to catch up. It has been an interesting mix of learning technology and streamlining our processes, but we’re getting there!
How does Outdoor Happens innovate?
Elle Meager: We are always on the lookout for new information that can help people build better lives. I spend many hours connecting to people from across the country to learn what they are doing and what things they have learned, living the lifestyle they chose.
I have writers who live off the grid in Alaska, goat farmers in the ultra-dry area of the Wild Coast of Africa, a survival expert currently living in Serbia, and a Forest Therapy and Meditative Foraging expert from Latvia. And the list goes on. These connections keep us informed about what’s happening in the world of self-sufficiency across the globe.
We’re also always looking for new technology and software that helps us get the message across as easily and clearly as possible. Going from farmer to webmaster isn’t an easy journey, so we’ve particularly enjoyed connecting with other startups who have traveled a similar journey. We’ve met some amazing people along the way, each with wonderful, world-changing ideas.
The world of permaculture is always evolving, and besides being a member of the Organic Farmer’s Association and the Permaculture Research Institute, I’m always experimenting with new methods of growing more resilient plants, gardens, and animals.
These experiments are what keep me going. In a complete ecosystem with farm animals, birds, insects, and wildlife, it is incredible to see a food forest in all its glory. To see a swale morph from a bare trench in the earth to a thriving wildlife habitat is amazing. We’re constantly trying new things – it keeps us busy, passionate, and motivated.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Elle Meager: Unlike some physical businesses, our business saw a huge increase in visitors. Everyone wanted to know how to grow their own food, be more self-sufficient, and sit out the pandemic safely and comfortably. It was, initially, a bit overwhelming, and we struggled to keep up. We went from a small personal blog to a business with plenty of commitments almost overnight.
We pulled our socks up and went with the flow. We found amazing writers, software experts to work with, and a wonderful community of startups on Facebook that really helped us out. Even the kids were pulled in to help. As we’re in a remote area with limited funds, they are now my photographers and doing a great job of it!
The best thing about it all is the increased interest in self-sufficiency. We now have so many people interested in being better able to look after themselves and their families – and that’s the best thing that’s come out of the whole pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Elle Meager: The most difficult thing for me is the heartbreaking emails I receive. Many people are desperate for a job because they’ve lost their previous job, and their stories speak of incredibly difficult times for them and their families. It was immensely challenging to have to tell them I wasn’t in a position to hire them and help them out!
I needed to keep telling myself: “I might not be able to help everyone, but I’m helping someone.”
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Elle Meager: Gardens and animals. Any stress almost instantly disappears the minute I start pulling weeds. There’s something meditative about a repetitive action, and there’s nothing more repetitive than pulling weeds…
If I truly can’t turn my mind off, I’ll rope in the help of an audiobook. Fitting headphones over a hat is challenging, but you can make it work. It’s no fashion statement, but there’s nothing like listening to a good thriller in your own forest!
Animals are invaluable too. They are not affected by global events. They will accept you as you are, and they love you even if your hair is full of weed seeds and it’s sticking up on weird angles. I’ll take my dogs to swim, give the horses a good brush, or rotate the cows to different paddocks. Physical labor helps, too – digging some big plant holes releases a lot of tension.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Elle Meager: We cover a lot of subjects on our blog, including gardening, homesteading, outdoor cooking, and self-sufficiency. Because of this, we have a lot of competitors in many niches. Many other homesteaders are starting to share their experiences via blogs and vlogs.
I particularly admire some businesses: Melissa Knorris, a pioneer in the homesteading niche, and Mother Earth News, particularly because they share stories from individual people.
I plan to stay true to myself, honest, and personal. We focus on actionable, helpful information and will not resort to “fluff,” which you see all too often when you arrive at a website. We want every visitor to find something useful, something they can take away and put into action in their own yard.
We’re focusing on individual connections with our readers, building friendships with other bloggers, and word-of-mouth recommendations. We invite our readers to share their stories for publication so that they can learn from others, and others can learn from them.
Your final thoughts?
Elle Meager: The pandemic has been one of the most challenging things our generation has had to deal with. In its own way, it has also been one of the most eye-opening and helpful events we’ve experienced. It has made many of us realize that we NEED to be more self-sufficient. We need to learn the old ways, look after ourselves, and care for others. Many people now know that relying on the “traditional” system is dangerous.
The trucking association did a study into what would happen if the trucks stopped trucking in the US. Basically, gas stations and grocery stores would be out of supplies in the first couple of days. We’d run out of clean drinking water within 2 weeks. After that, it’s up to us to look after ourselves, and there’s no better time to get started than right now.
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