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The Humble Work of the Hands with Michelle Chapin

Trailblazhers

The story of how one woman and her family started a farm from scratch and built a flourishing life, business and community.

The call to live off the land, to create a sustainable lifestyle can begin from any number of needs or wants. Living a rural life often starts from modest beginnings, with big risks and big dreams. Michelle Chapin and husband Jeff, of Humble Hands Farm in Ohio, made the transition to the country from a city lifestyle eight years ago. The desire to grow their own food and develop an off grid ‘Plan B’ spurred them to pioneer a new life which first began in a 100-year-old farmhouse that was completely without modern amenities. Starting a farm from scratch without any experience was character building and a risk the Chapin family met head on.  

At the time of their move, Chapin was just getting into her new passion – fiber arts. So they bought two sheep which enabled her to start spinning her own wool and using it to needle felt. Growing their own herbs, vegetables and meat chickens along with having laying hens and goats has laid the foundation for their family’s sustenance as well as their ability to expand a little more every year. Since their initial farm start-up they have added bees, two ponies, ducks, rabbits, dogs and cats. In addition to their farm animals Chapin has five children, three girls – ages 13, 12 and 8, as well as twin six-year boys. Chapin’s initial vision to grow and raise enough farm goods for her family’s needs and then enough to sell to cover the cost of it all has been fulfilled. It’s been true hands-on learning that Chapin now shares through the workshops she teaches at the family-run Humble Co-op, two doors down the road from their farm.  

woman in red dress and hat standing beside a bus that says not all who wander are lost

Creating a place for community

The Humble Co-op opened in 2019 and is housed in a 2000 sq. ft former church that had its beginnings in the 1800’s. It is where Chapin teaches workshops focused on preserving lost arts – knitting, spinning, book binding, pottery, apothecary, clothing swaps, women’s circles… and so much more. It is also a place where the spirit of community thrives and grows. It’s where Chapin can channel her entrepreneurial desires to develop and then share her knowledge and wisdom with others who value the same things. The Humble Co-op is a local hub with its diverse offerings that draw individuals, families and small business owners from a 60-mile radius. It is a place to gather…  to give and receive.  

“People are starved for community!”  says Chapin. 

“In everything we do, we value community. All of our goals in one way or another have to align with serving our community, even folks who are not local to us and in our online community. With that always being our intention, we have been blessed with an incredibly supportive and loving network of people.”

A true community builder and connector, Chapin sees first-hand the joy and satisfaction that happens when people come together to support and help each other. Recently they renovated a 40 ft. school bus, an extension of the Humble Co-op, and they plan to travel to festivals and farmer’s markets to teach workshops on site. 

Chapin and her family have found their own unique way to provide their community with something meaningful. The options and ideas they share for living a hand-made and homegrown lifestyle have become a priority for many families and individuals in the world. 

Woman using a spinner outside surrounded by trees, grass and chickens

Setting boundaries and asking for help

Regardless of what your life looked like two and a half years ago, you’ve been affected in some way by the global changes related to the pandemic. If you now crave to be in the company of other like-minded people, want to initiate some basic hand-made or homegrown lifestyle activities or learn sustainable practices, Humble Hands Farm can serve or inspire you.  

Because her life is full on every level, Chapin is quick to admit that she asks for help a lot! She handles her day-to-day life with intentional time management and uses lists to keep track of all her to-dos. Her children are homeschooled by her husband who is home, all day, every day. Having a large family and running a community space provides Chapin with access to many helping hands which spreads the work around. She is aware of her limits as one woman and protects herself from getting burnt out and overcrowding her schedule. The flip side to this is she says “No” to a lot of fun invites.

Alongside the Humble Co-op, Chapin also manages their online essential oil business which is their main income stream. Because they live off the beaten path, utilizing Facebook, Instagram, and Zoom provide the platforms to connect with the larger world. Chapin is part of an ever-increasing number of enterprising, rural women who are creatively using technology to market their offerings, grow business revenue, build a community and live their chosen lifestyle on their terms. 

“To a lot of folks we probably have looked kind of crazy for the decisions we’ve made over the years, but we are still farming, still homeschooling, and still infusing creativity in our day to day, and we’re still standing! And so so happy!” Chapin laughs.

Woman in a white dress and hat standing in a room with dark floors and a white peg board behind her filled with wool

Advice for others looking for a similar lifestyle

Chapin’s advice to other women looking at her lifestyle – “My whole life is probably not ideal for most, so look at what it is that you see me doing that appeals to you and imagine how that could look for you. Make a goal and then break it up into bite sized smaller goals and work every day towards your dream. Ask for help, bring others on the journey with you. Many hands make light work! Anything you see me doing is totally doable for anyone!”

As she reflects on the journey, Chapin admits they are doing so much more than they had ever envisioned when they first became farmers and rural residents. Their business model is based on building community while teaching, sharing and selling what they are passionate about and what they have learned along the way through experience. This provides them with the opportunity to do what they love and a way for it to pay for itself. This is the mindset of a Trailblazher and one that is spreading like wildfire in the rural landscape. Are you a part of it? 

Photography by: Amanda Taylor

Article from Summer 2022, Issue #7

Read more articles from Trailblazher’s like Michelle:

woman draped in a quilt with yellow and white, wearing a hat standing outside.

May 15, 2024

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