National magazine feature: Rhinelander’s Jen Van Order encourages green living
By Eileen Persike
Northern Wisconsin met Jen Van Order in the summer of 2013. That’s when she was on television news and in the newspapers for asking the Rhinelander City Council to allow residents to raise chickens in their backyards. Following the adoption of an ordinance, it wasn’t long and Jen became known as the Chicken Lady. But raising chickens for fresh eggs is only a small part of Jen and her husband Ivan’s lifestyle.
With the encouragement of a friend, Jen emailed her story to the editor of one of her favorite magazines, Mother Earth Living.
“My friend Erin, who lives in Madison now, loved coming over to the house and always said, ‘oh my gosh your house needs to be in a magazine or something,’” Jen explained. “At the front of the magazine, and I subscribe to it because it’s pretty awesome, they have the editor’s notes. At the bottom of that it said ‘do you have a mother earth story to share,’ or something like that. So, her voice was in my head and I thought what the heck?”
She wrote about the Rhinelander community and lifestyle, stressing that the magazine’s subscribers might like to read about a regular person who lives the green life but doesn’t do so in an expensive hip trendy area.
“Mother Earth stuff is really about sustainability and a little urban homesteading in a way that’s comfortable, that isn’t way out there,” Jen said. “I thought It would be cool to feature someone living a normal life, not making six digits and to show that you can do it and be comfortable… and poor (laughs)…buy a cheap house and live nowhere and still be green and happy.”
Growing up in the country, with plenty of space for gardening, Jen was never interested in living in the city, but housing was cheaper.
“At the time it was buy it, fix it up, resell and be in our way and live our life,” Jen said. “Not only did the relationship I was in not work, but the whole plan didn’t work… and well, here we are!”
Marrying her next-door neighbor was likely not part of the plan, either, but that is how Jen met Ivan and they live as sustainably as they can, together.
The couple’s large back yard borders vacant land, and houses a gathering spot for humans, chickens and the family dog, and contains a large vegetable garden. Were it not for the steady flow of traffic on River Street, the Van Order’s property could very well be located in the country.
But back to the magazine.
Expecting a ‘thanks but no thanks’ reply, Jen was surprised to learn the magazine was interested in her story. Through a series of email conversations, an interview date was set. And then reality set in.
“I started panicking because the garden hadn’t done that well at all because it was cold and rainy all summer last year, and the garden had all but failed,” she said. “It was a freezing cold day in September when they came for the interview, and I didn’t know how it was going to turn out, but it turned out great. The editor of the magazine was just amazing – super down to earth.”
In spite of her celebrity status, Jen Van Order has no plans to stay in the limelight, although she didn’t say no to the question of serving on the city council. Like Mother Earth Living readers everywhere, Jen is living comfortably sustainable, green and happy.