How did a professional body builder end up on a farm, living in a yurt? Mike Dickson is known as The Fit Farmer, and today he tells the story of how his life and priorities changed. He talks about his transition from PopTarts to real food. He shares what it feels like to tend to the earth under our feet and why it matters. He talks about how to balance our use of technology. In short, he covers how to cultivate healthy relationships across the board—with ourselves, our food, the land, and the community around us.
Listen to the episode here:
Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda
A lot of us go to the gym or do online workouts to stay strong, but not Mike Dickson. He works out daily at Earth’s gym or his farm in other words. This is episode 296 and our guest is Mike Dickson. He is a former bodybuilder and personal trainer. He tells the story of how he went from focusing on bodybuilding and competitions to living in a yurt and homesteading with his wife and family. Mike is still in good shape, mind you, exceptionally so I might add, but his understanding of what it means to be healthy has expanded. It now includes not only the body’s strength but connection to the land and to one another. He discusses how his life and priorities have changed. He talks about how he went from Pop-Tarts to real food. He shares how to best tend to the earth under our feet and why it matters. He talks about how to balance our use of technology. In short, he covers how to cultivate healthy relationships across the board with ourselves, our food, the land and the community around us.
Welcome to the show, Mike.
Greetings, Hilda. Thank you. It’s such an honor to be here chatting with you. My family and I are huge fans of the show. It’s so great that you all provide such sound health information.
It’s great to meet you in person. To come down to North Carolina, see you, your family and your yurt. I had never been in a yurt before. Can you tell us why you live in a yurt?
We live in a yurt because it was one of the more economical ways for us to start our homestead. For those of you who don’t know what a yurt is, originally, the concept of a yurt comes from the Mongolian people. They were a nomadic people that would travel behind the herds, hunt and live amongst them. A number of companies and manufacturers around the US have developed yurts as different types of alternative housing for a number of different people. It has been a blessing for us and has been the vehicle that has enabled us to live on our homestead.
Did you ever think years ago that you would live on a farm in a yurt?
Never. Growing up, my lifestyle was completely different than the way we live now and I must say, my diet not the best diet in the world. It was the sad American diet and worse. For breakfast, I would have frosted flakes. I would add sugar to that. I’d have multiple Pop-Tarts throughout the day and Slim Jims. We would drink Kool-Aid, which is a bunch of sugar. From Sprites, Cokes and Pepsis. It was not a good diet. As I got older, I began to be more interested in the bodybuilding. The guys who looked good, the Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Sylvester Stallones. The guys who looked like they were fit and shape. I was always into sports. That combination and then getting into working out, I was inspired to have that physique. I wanted it to look like that when I grew up. That led me into a bodybuilding career later on in my life. From there is when I started cleaning up my diet. I noticed a number of things that happened to me personally in my body once I started to do that.
You couldn’t have the body wanted on the Slim Jim, Kool-Aid and Pop-Tarts diet.
Totally not. It’s not conducive for the look that I was going for, the physique, nor for overall health.I noticed that things like fruit, apples, for example, didn’t have any flavor because my senses were so dull and numb to all the sugary and junk food that I was eating. As I started to clean out and get rid of the processed food, junk and sugar, I noticed that my body had more energy. Things like fruits and vegetables had more flavor. I also noticed that growing up, I wasn’t able to breathe out of both nostrils. As I started cleaning up and getting rid of that junk, I was able to breathe out of both nostrils. I remember asking my wife. It’s like, “Is it odd that I only breathe out of one nostril at one time and I’m now breathing out of both.” She’s like, “No. It’s odd that you only can breathe out of one.” It’s crazy how the effects that those foods have on our body.
Even as a bodybuilder, I’ve noticed that they have a tendency to have those protein powders and shakes. It’s almost like they’re still eating artificial foods too.
Even though I was cleaning out the junk food and the processed food, I was beginning to do the protein shakes and all that but I was eating a little bit better. As I competed for a number of years and eventually became a pro natural bodybuilder, towards the latter part of my career as a bodybuilder, I started eating more wholesome, clean foods and started getting rid of the protein powders and things like that. I noticed a continued improvement in my health and overall feeling of wellbeing.
There’s still a jump from eating a clean diet to having a farm and living in a yurt. What led you to that change?
That change was a part of the progression I was making with being more connected with my food. As I was in bodybuilding and interested in the food that I eat, I became more interested in eating organic food. From there, as we started eating more organic food, reading the labels and getting rid of the foods that if I couldn’t pronounce or read it, I wasn’t going to eat it. As we started doing more of that, I got to the point where I was like, “The best way to know what food we’re putting in us is to start growing some of it ourselves.” I didn’t grow up raising or growing any food. This was something new to me but it was something that I felt like I needed to change, make and be more connected with the food that I was putting in me.
I have heard this before where people like, “I’m going to go ahead and grow food.” What is the first thing to start with? What did you guys start with?
We started with a number of things at first. I started with lettuce. We lived in the city at that time. When I do something, I’m pretty serious about doing it once I make the decision to do it. We ripped out all the ornamental in our front yard. There were some hollies in there and some Nandina plants. I said, “I’m going to grow some food right here. Why waste the space. Let’s grow something here.” I planted some seed in there. It was some lettuce seed, I watered it and it started to sprout. I was like, “Something is growing.” I remember my mother-in-law came, she grew up doing some homesteading skills and gardening. She was like, “That’s grass.” I was like, “I put so much time into watering it and it is grass. It’s not lettuce.”
What happened to the lettuce?
It did not sprout, but I didn’t let that stop me or discourage me. I moved on from that. We kept plugging away and trying to grow. Eventually, I started being more successful. We started to grow more food. We started producing things and harvesting, not just grass, but things like radishes, lettuces, kales and tomatoes. We were the only weirdos in our neighborhood in the city growing corn, tomatoes and squash in our front yard. We were pretty serious and we definitely stood out in the city that we were in.
As my wife and I started having children, I became even more dedicated to providing them with food that I knew the story behind. That led us to where I was like, “I want to start having eggs and chickens.” We were faced with another hurdle. That was the city ordinances would not allow us to have chickens in the city limits. For us, we were contemplating moving out of the city anyways and taking this homesteading thing to the next level. Not being able to have chickens for us was the straw that broke the camel’s back for us to make the decision of saying, “Let’s move out and start a homestead. Let’s take this thing to the next level.”
I saw that you have so much produce and then you’ve got your goats and your chickens. It’s amazing. You went from this whole idea of homesteading to being a very foreign concept at first to suddenly it being your lifestyle. How does it feel?
It feels empowering to be able to grow, produce something and the whole mindset of going from a consumer to producing mindset. It feels good that we are producing things for us, but also now for other people as well. That feels great.
Do you miss the gym though? Do you miss working out, bulking up and all that?
I lived at the gym for years. I was a personal trainer and then with the bodybuilding but then as I started being hands-on with the homestead, gardening and all the different physical day-to-day tasks that we do, I got to the point where I didn’t need the gym anymore. There are some things that I do miss from the competitive bodybuilding standpoint but overall, I don’t. I feel like each day from the tasks that we do, I’m able to get the physical activity that I need to do and making a mental effort to make sure I get those exercises through those tasks. A lot of times, we could use machines and different things to do our workforce but then at the end of the day, we need to go to a gym or somewhere to supplement our exercise.
That’s crazy. Why not get our exercise and do the things that we do like our ancestors used to do? They didn’t go to the gym. They did the things that they needed to do. They were physically active throughout the day like walking whether working in the garden or doing different tasks like splitting wood or doing things for the animals. They got their exercise through their life. We strive to do the same. We try to keep it balanced. We will use machines from time-to-time but we are conscious to make sure that we get at least 30 minutes, 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
I was thinking about how you had me swinging the ax and trying to split wood. I think it’s true that our ancestors were active in their day-to-day and we are sedentary in the day-to-day which is why we go to the gym but how much better if we moved in a way that was, not only good for our bodies but good for the earth and productive.
That’s exactly right. Why go somewhere to move some weight around and not produce anything when you can do something productive, get your exercise in and then ultimately have something that you can produce for you, your family and even your animals to enjoy. That’s the way our ancestors lived. We need to get more in touch with that. We live in an over technological, industrialized society that has disconnected us and continues to disconnect us more from the natural world around us. Our food from one another and the visceral participation of life. We need that contact with the soil, sunlight, leaves, animals and one another to truly live a life of a human being.
When we were turning over the soil with that broadfork, I found it extremely satisfying. Even as it was rigorous, I was like, “I’m doing something.” I’m getting dirty and I think that’s good for our health as well.
It totally is. I like to say I don’t go to Gold’s Gym or World’s Gym anymore. We go to Earth gym. We’d go out there, get our exercise in, work with the soil and participate with the natural world around us.
I’m going to ask you a personal question, Mike. Does your family think you’re crazy?
My family has always thought I was crazy from the bodybuilding and now to the homesteading thing. I feel like we have been able to inspire a number of people through what we do from those close to us as well as through our YouTube channel which I aspire to do to encourage other people to get more connected with life, natural world, and their food because we need it. We need that. I hope to inspire others to do the same. Whatever your background is, whether you live in the city, you’re out in the country, or you’re somewhere in between. For all of us, to live more connected lifestyles, we need it. Our souls need it.
A lot of us live in the city. Talk to the person who has an apartment and is like, “How the heck am I supposed to get in touch with the earth, my food and get some of this connectivity that Mike is talking about?”
First off, if you live somewhere like a city or an apartment where you’re limited on what you can grow and do, I would recommend to try to grow something even if it’s something in your kitchen window. You can grow microgreens or herbs right inside your kitchen window. I like microgreens. For those of you don’t know what those are, it’s basically taking seed to a sprout to grow to be in about an inch to two inches and sometimes three inches in height and harvest it from there. You can do things like radish microgreens and you can harvest them in as little as seven days. That’s a good project for kids. As I said, it’s something you can grow in your kitchen window or out on your patio. Grow something to have that connection of seeing something grow and able to produce something yourself. It feels so good to be able to produce something.
What do you do with the microgreens?
Microgreens, especially radish microgreens, you can put them on a sandwich, omelet or burger. We service a number of restaurants through our farm on our homestead with things that we produce. Some of them will use it on dishes like tuna dish and even a carrot dish. It’s almost whatever you can think of. Whatever you’d like, experiment with it. It’s like with cooking and food in general. Experiment and enjoy the process from seed into your mouth.
That is encouraging. We’ve got our microgreens but we want to go deeper. We could find a farm nearby that delivers to a farmer’s market and get to know the source of it, right?
I totally recommend that. Even if you can’t grow more than something in your kitchen window to connect with a local farmer in your area, visit them. Go out to their farm and ask them to show you around. Get a farm tour and see how they produce food. Get out there and if they have animals, see their animals. Touch their animals. It’s good for you to be around animals. That’s one of the benefits to getting kids exposed to being around farm animals from an early age. It helps with things like allergy prevention as well as helping them to be more connected with their food because that is something that’s important. We start our children from an early age knowing where their food comes from. I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to do that, my family and I, to get our kids from an early age knowing where our food comes from.
Oftentimes, people approach us and they don’t even know that hens can lay eggs without a rooster. They will continue to produce eggs without a rooster. If you want that egg that they produce to turn into a baby chick, you need a rooster but a hen does not need a rooster to produce eggs. I’ve even heard of people thinking that there are salsa trees. There are no salsa trees. There are tomatoes and other things that grow on plants that you can make salsa with but there’s not a salsa tree.
You said earlier that you guys listened to the podcast, how did you come across it and what do you think about our emphasis on ancestral living the wise traditions way?
I first came across your show from a speaker that I heard at the Homesteading Life Conference in Hannibal, Missouri, Dr. David Henderson. He was the first to share with me the Weston A. Price and the principles. I’ve been blown away. Since then, I’ve become a member and I read a number of the literature that you all provide as well. I’m a regular reader of the blog. My daughter and I especially read the blog every single week and are huge fans. You are one of the few sources that are out there that provides sound health information that is so needed in our world. We need this and thank you all for everything that you do.
It’s our pleasure. How do you see what you’re doing as a way of ancestral living?
First off, our ancestors were not disconnected from their food system the way that we are. They were so hands-on and it was a total part of their life constantly. It was a lifestyle of connection. Weston A. Price is focused on the diet and the health aspect of it but I think just as equally important is the physical activity that goes, encompasses, and is interrelated in producing the food that is eaten. There is a certain amount of energy, exercise and physical activity that is required to produce the food that we eat. To produce the ancestral food that we are striving to consume and that you all encourage.
We all need to get back to that aspect of it as well. Our bodies are designed to move and not sit in cubicles at a desk. Sitting there typing on computers but to be out moving and experiencing different movements. That’s part of what makes us alive. We’re not robots designed to sit and fix positions for 8, 10, to 12 hours a day. We’re designed to move in all kinds of functional ways. That is how our ancestors live. They were constantly doing things.
The other thing that occurs to me as you’re talking, Mike, because I was speaking with you and Lacie about the homesteading community they are part of. I’m thinking, that’s another thing that our ancestors had that our modern food system has robbed us of, that I would know, not only where my food comes from, but let’s say if someone else has the goat and they’re the ones nurturing and giving me the milk. The connection I have with the people who provide the food. That community sense is also missing when I go to the grocery store and buy everything in a plastic package.
That is another aspect of us being disconnected. It’s so interesting that we’re so-called connected in this world through our technology but we’re more disconnected than ever. Homesteading, even as our ancestors, they relied on each other. They were connected in what they did and produce individually. They were also connected in a communal sense that, “Such-and-such down the road, if I can’t produce something, they can help me in producing things that I’m not able to produce.” We all can’t live a life totally independent from one another.
We need each other. It should be a community of people coming together to interact, to produce and to help out one another. That is something that is important in the homesteading arena as well. I can’t produce everything on my homestead on my own. I have to rely on the farmer down the road who helps produce feed for our chickens and livestock that we have. I’m not able to produce that both through physically nor my own energy and resources. We interdepend on one another.
Look at humanity though. In some ways, our technology does help us to stay connected because I wouldn’t know you if it weren’t for your YouTube channel. You wouldn’t know me if it weren’t for the show. I feel like we’re simpatico. We have stuff in common. We can still find a way to use technology as a tool but not let it consume us.
Try to find a balance with technology. That’s something I’m striving to do as well. I’ve pretty much have grown up seeing computers and now the phones. Those technologies are also very addictive. To try to find some good habits with them, one of the things that I try to do is I’ll check the phone in the morning, a couple of things then I’ll put it away and then I’ll focus on the task of the day. I’ll leave that phone alone for most of the day, I’ll come back and check it. Many of us, we carry the phone around with us constantly. It’s becoming one with us and it shouldn’t. We need to learn good habits and try to disconnect from the technology and find balanced habits with technology.
Now I’m going to ask you the question I often pose at the end. I know you know what it is because you read the blog. If the audience could do one thing to improve their health, Mike, what would you recommend that they do?
I’ve said this throughout the episode, the biggest thing that I would say for the audience to do is to be connected to your food. Know where your food comes from. Produce what you can, connect with the local farmer, homestead or someone who’s producing food and start knowing the story behind your food. Read your food labels and get rid of the things that you can’t pronounce. Try to eat those wholesome foods as you can and follow the principles of the Weston A. Price. It’ll help you to follow and be more connected with your food and what you’re putting in your body.
Thank you so much for your time, Mike. This has been a great conversation.
Thank you so much, Hilda. It’s such a pleasure to be here and chatting with you. Thanks for having me.
About Mike Dickson
Known on YouTube as the Fit Farmer, Mike is a former professional natural (drug free) bodybuilder, personal fitness trainer and nutritional coach turned farmer/homesteader. When he and his wife (Lacie) discovered the sad truth about our modern food system, they were inspired to begin growing food for themselves and their children right where they lived in the city.
Mike explained that prior to this “I had never grown anything in my life, and when I grew something from seed to harvest it felt so empowering and I just wanted to grow more and more”.
And as Mike and his family’s aspirations for growing more continued they were faced with city ordinances that hindered their urban homesteading goals. So this is when they decided to leave the city. Next they sold their house, furniture and all their possessions, bought a yurt and moved to the country to start a homestead. Today, years later, their homestead produces food for their family and many of the farm customers they serve. Follow along with Mike and his family’s adventures on YouTube, where they strive to inspire, and educate others about living a healthy more connected lifestyle.