Thursday, November 24, 2011


Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it's cliche to talk about gratitude on Thanksgiving. Today isn't really Thanksgiving for us, we'll be having our holiday meal tomorrow.

Today is a day for cleaning and cooking. I'll be brining the turkey for the first time. It will also be the first time I've eaten a turkey that I raised myself. Back in the summer I bought two turkey poults at the feed store. They lived in a washtub in my spare bedroom until they were old enough to go outside.n They spent all summer and fall as the Integrated Pest Management Crew. In other words, they ate a lot of bugs.

                                                                 My how he's grown.

I processed one turkey a few weeks ago. He was in the freezer but is now thawing in the fridge. The big guy in the picture received a stay of execution when the weather turned cold and I came down with bronchitis.

What does this have to do with gratitude? Well, my presentation to the class was a bit of a wake up call. You see, I usually hang with people whose priorities are similar to my own. It's only natural, that whole "birds of a feather" thing. So I rarely have to justify my lifestyle choices. Some folks may look at my life and see what I don't have. I look around and see abundance.

In a time when farm families are wondering if the new Farm Bill will put them out of business, I carry no debt other than my mortgage and I have very few bills to pay each month. My home is peaceful (when the dog isn't playing with his favorite cat). I don't have the worries and pressures I used to.

This is a sleepy time pf year on the Not-So-Urban homestead. The fruit trees have lost their leaves but the end of each branch is thick with fat buds just waiting for spring.

The little chicks I hatched out last spring have been laying for awhile now. Soon they'll need a more substantial home. For now they are conditioning the soil in the raised beds.

The incubator is full and new peeps should start hatching out tonight and tomorrow.

I have big plans for the spring. I don't want to jinx it by announcing the next step in the dream that is this microfarm. Remember us in your prayers, if you will. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Farm Financials and Establishing Priorities

Yesterday I gave a presentation to a class of college students. I talked about my growing methods (organic no-spray with a heaping dose of permaculture), about direct sales and relationship marketing, and about specific techniques that allow me to supply a CSA program while working at it part time. They were very interested in my hugelkultur beds and how I use them to boost potato yield. They asked a lot of questions about permaculture terms they hadn't heard before.

Then they wanted to know how many clients I had and what the price was for a year's subscription. The answer to both of these questions is readily available through my order page so I went ahead and told them. Their faces fell. I had been expecting that response so I had deliberately waited until the end of question time to give them that little tidbit. As soon as they learned that this is not a get rich quick enterprise the questions dried up and they had no more interest in what I had to say.

I need to remember that these are kids who have never maintained a household so all they see is the dollar amount of gross income. Homesteaders like you and I know there's a lot more to it than that.

1. While growing food for the CSA I also produce the majority of the food my family consumes. A conservative estimate of that savings adds $2200 to my bottom line. But that is based on an average family's food budget. You and I know that homestead folks often eat like kings. My family enjoys food that is much higher in quality, nutrients, and flavor.

2. By working from home I have no additional expenses that take away from my income. By now my neighbors are used to seeing me in the garden in my pajamas, coffee cup in hand. I don't pay for a working wardrobe, or lunches at a diner. I have no transportation costs associated with my part time work.

3. My growing techniques are such that I have no cost of production. I don't buy pesticides or herbicides, I don't need equipment. I don't buy fertilizer - that's what chickens are for. I grow open pollinated or heirloom varieties so I save seed from year to year.

4. I work about 10 hours a week for about 30 weeks of the year. I am able to be a full time student and still keep my home and family together.

5. I have a grand total of 1/3 acre and my house sits on it, too. Of that 1/3 acre about half is currently in use producing food. When I figure out my income based on $/acre the profit margin makes me very happy indeed.

6. I work from home. My daughter doesn't have a key to the house, she doesn't need it. I'm present and available for all the daily joys and trials of having a family.

These kids see the enormous amount of grain that comes off their parent's farms but they aren't there when mom starts writing checks to pay the bills. The overhead associated with that kind of farming makes it unsustainable without subsidies.

I'm probably preaching to the choir. Homesteading types get it.

Farm kids don't.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Big Dreams

Now that the weather has turned cool and the garden is tucked away for the winter. It's time to start thinking about next year's plantings and make a game plan. Invariably this is the time of year when all the "what-ifs" start to rear their heads and my mind wanders off into a dreamy world of things that aren't likely to happen any time soon.

I don't dream of kitchen remodels or new cars, although those would be nice. I dream of acreage. Not big, commercial farming acreage like the farmers around here have. I honestly don't know what I'd do with a thousand acres. No, I dream of farm houses that sit on ten to forty acres, with a year round creek and a small stand of hardwood trees, some open spaces for growing and some native fruit and nut trees.
It's the sort of place my grandfather grew up on. His family was largely self-sufficient. They kept a dairy cow, a few goats and sheep, chickens, turkeys and guineas, and they grew almost all of their own produce.

This dream state is always brought on by an exercise in planning the garden spaces for next year. I sketch out the beds and take note of what I grew in which ones to make sure I'm properly rotating my crops. I take a look at my inventory of seed which I keep on a spreadsheet (nerdy, I know). I map out what I will plant where. Then I reach the point where I feel I'll need a shoehorn to fit in one more plot and my head wanders off into if-I-just-had-more-land mode.

More land is like more storage space. You know that extra room will fill up with stuff within a few months of building it. I'm sure my crops and livestock expectations would expand to fill any space I had.

Right now my efforts are like a scale model of the farm I dream of. I raise just a few turkeys and just a few chickens, I allocate plots to crops, trying to balance yield with variety. The day will come when I'll be able to scale up what I do.

For the moment I just keep learning. This year I learned about blue corn and raising turkeys.

What did you learn this year?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back in the Saddle

I've been silent for a long time. I apologize.
It seems my run in with the city left me with little to say. I received lots of messages about it, some in support while others thought I was out of line. I think the worst part of it was that I let it silence my voice. It shook my confidence and caused me to wonder if my priorities were off.

So I've spent the fall quietly going about my business. We raised a couple turkeys, just to see how hard it is (not at all), and grew some blue corn to see how well it did here (very well, indeed).

And I spent some time thinking about what I do and why I do it. If you've seen Food Inc. feel free to skip the explanation.

I am convinced the food I grow organically is healthier for my family and myself. I know the poultry I raise is spoiled rotten humanely treated and I know they meet a swift and respectful end. When I produce my own food I feel I am not contributing to some of the biggest problems our country faces. When I teach my daughter these skills I'm giving her some control over her life and her future health.

This Thanksgiving our entire meal has been produced here on my little third of an acre. The turkey is already plucked and cleaned and in the freezer. Green beans were pressure canned, sweet potatoes dug and stored in the spare bedroom. The cranberries came from elsewhere, but I chopped them and made them into sauce that was then canned in pint jars. Apples for pie were sliced and canned a month ago. I can't describe to you how good this feels. 

The pantry is full of jars. We enjoy an abundance that has nothing to do with our income (low) or social status(also low). Some produce came to us through the generosity of friends (3 feed sacks of pears. Yippie). The rest of it we grew here.

So I'll just keep plugging away. The yard is enclosed, although it isn't very pretty. Privacy fence on the east and west sides, green wire fence across the back, cattle panels and green metal posts across the south side. By summertime I should have privacy fence around all of it. I'm still hoping to get bees in the spring. mmmm honey.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I have new growing techniques I'm looking forward to sharing with you.
Take care.