Jewel Elizabeth never, ever thought she’d love living on a farm. This Pilates and yoga instructor thrived on the bustle of New York City.
“I got hooked on the energy of the city during college, so I couldn’t wait to move to the Big Apple permanently once I graduated,” says Elizabeth, who’s also a comedian. She settled in the neighborhood of South Harlem in 2009.
However, just over a decade later, on the weekend of March 14, 2020, COVID-19 descended on and shuttered the city she loved—and life as she knew it.
“First, I heard that Broadway theaters had shut down, then three of my comedy sketch shows were canceled,” she says. “Within days I was shocked to hear that the state had told fitness studios to close down, too. New York was becoming a weird and scary place.”
At the time, her boyfriend was doing land development in Sterling, MA, and his company had agreed to pay for his lodging—a farmhouse he’d found on Airbnb—for the rest of the year.
“He’d been trying to convince me to come up to visit for months, but I’d never been into it, and I always had so much going on,” says Elizabeth. “However, with the COVID-19 panic at a fever pitch, I finally took a leap of faith and hopped on a train.”
Elizabeth thought she’d be on the farm for a week or two tops—but now, over three months later, she’s still there, and is considering making her move to the country permanent. Here’s why, and what other people planning a major COVID-19 life change can learn from her experiences.
What it’s like to move from the city to the country
Although the 5-acre farm was weirdly isolating and a bit lonely at first, Elizabeth soon found new friends—of the four-legged variety.
“The owners have moved to Hawaii and sold off all their animals, but both our neighbors have active stables,” she says. Today, the city girl who couldn’t imagine her life outside the hubbub of the Big Apple spends her days feeding carrots to horses.
“Going out to feed the horses is now the equivalent of what grabbing a coffee was in my former life,” she jokes.
Instead of hitting the hot spots in the city, she now spends her Saturdays “driving farm to farm to find fresh eggs,” she says. “The chickens are on their own schedule, and most farms here have an honor system cash box. Take eggs from the cooler, leave money in the box.”
The acreage where she and her boyfriend live is lush with fruit trees, a vineyard, and a garden where they grow herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and more. In fact, they had so much asparagus that, over Memorial Day weekend, they decided to open their own roadside farm stand.
“We found ourselves with about 60 stalks of asparagus, so we did what everyone else does here and bundled them up. I spent hours tying string around stalks, putting them in a cooler with a cash box, and selling them on the side of the road,” says Elizabeth.
She sees another farm stand in her future. “Apparently, our blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries will also come in soon and, like the asparagus, we’ll have way too many.”
At first, Elizabeth admits, it felt a bit strange to have so little to do—a culture shock stemming from her once-busy schedule.
“The city has a way of always keeping you running from event to event—always hustling,” says Elizabeth. Being on the farm, she says, has encouraged her to slow down “to a medium pace.”
In fact, Elizabeth was surprised to discover that living in a place with less to do and see helped her get a whole different set of things done—things she’d always meant to do but kept putting off.
“I finished a course to get my registered yoga teacher card. It had been on my to-do list for five years.”
While she sometimes misses the buzz of New York’s comedy scene, “I’ve been satisfying my comedy bug by trying to write a TV pilot,” she adds. “It’s actually been really nice to have some downtime in a quiet place.”
Elizabeth has also managed to carve out a steady stream of work teaching Pilates and yoga classes virtually.
“Paywise, I’m doing fine,” she says. “I’m not making nearly what I made in the city, but I also don’t buy $25 cocktails now.”
This professional shift to virtual classes allowed Elizabeth to see the potential longevity in her current living situation.
“My boyfriend and I had been talking about moving in together, but with our crazy schedules, we just never made it happen,” she says. “But after spending tons on an apartment I hadn’t been in for two months, I said it’s time. I called my landlord to cancel my lease, and she was very helpful and understanding.”
And just like that, Elizabeth found herself back in New York City over Mother’s Day weekend moving out of her studio apartment. Almost three months after she spontaneously hopped on a train and left the city, she was now trading her old life for more permanent country living.
New favorite things
The biggest shift that Elizabeth is loving is the amount of space she has. In New York City, she’d been paying $2,000 a month for a 150-square-foot apartment. Now, she lives for free (at least for the rest of the year) in a 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom house with two barns (which actually wouldn’t cost that much more than the studio she was in if she were paying out of pocket).
“I turned one of the downstairs bedrooms into a yoga studio, and it’s my favorite place now,” says Elizabeth. “I teach live classes on Zoom five times per week out of there, and I just leave the camera and mat. No moving couches or trying to get good angles in a studio apartment.”
She also appreciates the lower cost of living.
“There is basically no overhead here,” she says. “We eat the veggies we grow for free, and get meat from our friendly local butchers.”
Elizabeth knows she’s lucky to be living there rent-free, but even once her boyfriend’s current project is up, they’ve discussed the possibility of moving to another farm.
“We have been looking at properties,” she says. However, she admits it’s tough to plan too far in advance with the COVID-19 situation still lurking.
“Most of my friends in New York City seem really sad,” she says. “We’re used to the city being so vibrant. Without theater and restaurants and bars, it seems difficult to stay. I’m hoping I come back one day, but for now, the farm feels right. Living here has been a great lesson in letting go of expectations.”
Kimberly Dawn Neumann, who is based in New York City, is an author, performer, and fitness professional. Follow @KimberlyNeumann