I’m hooked.  It’s true.  When I’m not sitting and watching, I’m thinking about it.  It’s a killer being addicted, for sure.  First it was Victorian Farm.  Now it’s Edwardian Farm.  Gosh darn these addictions.  Isn’t this the ULTIMATE job?  And I’m a historian.  I could do this!

Coming Home to Eat: Your Local Food Supply

I’ve read quite a few things about the local food movement but hadn’t gotten around to reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat until this week.  This is one of the books that kicked off the “local foods” movement and got people thinking beyond organic.  I mean, organic is great but does it really “save” anything if the organic food is traveling 2000 miles to get to your plate?

Maybe you’ve come across (or remember) that phrase that feminists used in the 1960s to describe their conversation about women, domesticity, and politics:  THE HOME IS POLITICAL.

Well, the same can be said of food.  EVERYTHING YOU PUT IN YOUR MOUTH IS POLITICAL.

I love it when my students tell me that they can’t participate (or write a paper) about a political topic because they aren’t political.  I suppose they mean that they don’t know anything about politics, don’t keep up with politics, and maybe not even vote.

I find this laughable because every time they open their mouths to eat or drink, they are making a political choice.  Our current food system is highly politicized–controlled by a handful of large corporations who have invested heavily in the politicians in office.  They own large parts of the government, continuing to control a food system upon which the majority of the population has become dependent.

But what if you want to break out?  Break away from the industrialized food system?  That, certainly, is a political decision, as well as one based on choices of health, finances, or morals.

Nabhan argues that you can break out–but it isn’t easy.  Packaged, processed foods are so easy and ubiquitous. If you want to do this, you are going to be labeled a weirdo and made to feel bad.  But stick with it.  While you are enjoying good health and more money in your pocket, your name-calling friends will be waiting in line at the doctor’s office.

“What if each of us, day by day, fully fathomed where our food comes from, historically, ecologically, geographically, genetically?  What would it be like if each of us recognized all the other lives connected to our own through the simple act of eating?  What if we understood which other specifies were regenerated, and which were contaminated or destroyed by what we choose to eat, by our care or by our carelessness?  The way we garden, gather, fish, or forage can be a communion, or it can become an ecological calamity.  The more we understand where our food comes from, the greater the change there is that we can save the living riches of the natural world.”  pg. 163.

As a side note:  Nabhan wrote this while living in the southwest and he’d scavenge for wild foods frequently.  In particular, he talks about Mesquite bean flour and prickly pear.  I wish he’d gone into more detail here–descriptions for how and when to harvest and how to process.  He talks about doing it but provides no directions or instructions.  So I’ll be digging deeper into this because we specialize in Mesquite and prickly pear cactus on our farm right now.  Not because we’ve chosen to but because that’s what nature has given us.  If you are processing either of these right now, get in touch–I’d love to know how you are doing this!

Volunteering at Latte Da Dairy

One of the things I’m doing to fill the time while I’m waiting for this house to sell is to learn as much as I can about farming and raising livestock.  Since I’m still not sure what we’ll be doing with our farm, I figure I’ll try and get in as much experience as I can in the broadest swath possible.

That led me to volunteering at Latte Da Dairy, an award-winning farmstead cheesery not too far from where we live.  The owner, Anne Jones, kindly agreed to let me come out and work for part of a day.  After a tour of the goats and the cheese-making area, I set to work washing dishes from the previous days cheese making.  It was the only moment I felt comfortable and secure in what I was doing, ahem.

Because after dishes and some cheese packaging, we were off to trim the hooves of around 20 goats, ranging in age from a few months to 8 years old.  The goats sensed my fear, I suspect, because they’d let me clip one foot and then would protest the other three–often with violent kicks.

But overall, they tolerated my ineptitude and were kind and friendly, as you can see from these two LaManchas wanting to be loved.

I arrived at the dairy about 8:30 and left by 2:30.  Anne had already milked 20 goats that morning and started the clean up process.  When I left, she was packing to go to a show, preparing a half dozen goats for the trip, along with all their  accoutrements.  I know she had to milk again that evening, not to mention the dozen or more other jobs she’d do before she wound down her day.    Businesswoman, animal care-taker, cheesemaker, dishwasher, land manager.  Wow.  There’s a lot to running a goat dairy/cheesemaking shop.

So when you see that artisan cheese in the shop for $30 a pound, know that the cheese maker isn’t even making minimum wage.  Buy it, eat it, enjoy it.  And think of all the work that goes into that little slice of creamy heaven.

I Want What I Want When I Want It

Nope, that’s not a four-year-old ranting.  That’s me.  And that’s how I feel most days.  I suspect that you do, too, even if you are better at controlling the urge.

Truth is, I’ve been wanting to move out to our farm for the longest time.  I want to raise pigs and chickens.  Maybe a goat or two.  I want to dodge the cactus and bull snakes on the way to the garden each morning.  I want this kind of hard work in my life.

What’s stopping me?

Selling this darn house.

Seems like each step of this farm business has been one of pain and frustration.

First there was finding the land.  We looked for two years.

Then there was getting the land.  It took 11 months to secure this land from the time we decided on the plot to the time we were able to move our camper on it.

And since then?  Another 11 months.  Oh, it’s true that we’ve made some progress.  We’ve brought down a two-story building that had collapsed and built, in its place, a nice tool shed and spare room.  We’ve cleared trees, brought in some electricity and water, and done a lot of cleanup.  These haven’t been empty months but it sure feels like little has been accomplished.

We put the house up for sale back in April, thinking it would sell over the summer and we’d move.  Sure, four of us would be squeezed into a tiny camper and the tool shed/spare room but the hardship would be part of the adventure.

Instead, we’ve had the easy life of being in our nice house in the city waiting.  Waiting and cleaning and showing the house multiple times to folks who haven’t wanted our little house.

Yes, I’ve tried to think of justifications for all this to help me from being so discouraged:

1.  the housing market is terrible

2.  we haven’t found the right buyer, someone who will love this home like we have

3.  there is much left for me to learn about farming

4.  it’s just not the right time

5.  my son could graduate from his current high school instead of moving for his last year

6.  I can save more money to help with the farm

7.  there’s so much more infrastructure we can put into place on the farm

8.  the weather was terrible for living outdoors this summer

and on, and on, and on.

These justifications help a little in the short term but the truth is, I want what I want when I want it.  I really want to move to the farm NOW.  I know it’s going to be hard, especially living on top of each other in a camper.  I know that could go on for a while as we save money for a house.  But I’m ready.  I know I’m ready.

Do you ever feel this way?  Like your dreams are stalled out?  You can see the finish line but you just can’t quite make it there?


Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture

Since I’m waiting for the house to sell –yes, it’s been 5 months and we still haven’t sold– so we can move to the farm, I’m trying to fill this time by reading everything I can get my hands on about farming and raising stock.

Sepp Holzer’s book hit my alert button repeatedly so I ordered a copy from Amazon.  I think of him as the Joel Salatin of Austria and many of his ideas mimic those I’ve already read in Salatin’s books.  But that’s ok–it’s good to review these things, plus, I’ve learned a many new things from Holzer.

Some of the best, I think, are his instructions for planting and caring for fruit trees.  While our farm isn’t far from sea level and Holzer farms in altitude, much of the advice can translate.  And if you want a summary, let me just say this–Holzer recommends NOT spraying, NOT fertilizing, NOT staking, and NOT pruning.

My kinda farmer.

He even includes a recipe for an application for young trees that will keep deer away.  And we have plenty of deer.  So this concoction alone makes the price of the book worth it–it consists of bone salve, linseed oil, slaked lime, fine quartz sand, and cow dung.

An excellent read with many thoughts on creating a sustainable, permaculture-based homestead.

Independence Days

One of the things I picked up at Lehman’s is Sharon Astyk’s book, Independence Days:   A guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. 

Turns out, the book is more and less than I imagined.  After a quick flip through and a read of the first few pages, I imagined the book to be about how to preserve food that you’ve grown or acquired locally, mixed in with a healthy dose of food politics.  All good things.

It is this, but it’s more–more in a different sort of way.  More like a “end of the world, major crisis, must learn to weather a nuclear fall-out” kind of more.  I wasn’t really prepared for this sort of crisis-oriented look at food storage, imagining this was more of a “Laura Ingalls on the prairie” kind of food storage book.  Yes, I knew this book dealt with food politics but I didn’t realize it did it from an “end of the world” crisis perspective (emphasis mine).

It’s not that Asyk is an end-of-the-world nutter, she isn’t, but she does believe that a crisis in our food system is impending, and she’ll be prepared for it.  I’m sorry to say that we will not.

The book is well written, an easy read, so I stuck with it.  And I agree with much that Astyk has to say about the food system and how we rely on it in a false cloud of security.  And while I’m a food stocker, always buying more than we’ll eat and having a pantry and freezer full of stuffs, I’m no where near ready for a real crisis, according to Astyk.

To begin with, I only have about 1 lb of oats on hand.  I really need 50 lbs.  I maybe have 5 lbs of rice, if you combined all different kinds I’ve got.  Again, I should have at least 50.  And I’ve got way too much in my freezer.  If the electricity dies for 2 weeks, I’m screwed.  All that meat I’ve stocked up is a goner.  Flour?  I’m low right now–probably only about 15 lbs total, and that includes wheat, rye, etc.  Most of which are small amounts of specialty flours.  I need more like 100 lbs of flour.  Preserved foods not needing electricity? Well, a few cans, jars, etc.  Some home canned but most from the store.

And what about food that doesn’t have to be cooked?  How would I cook all that lovely meat defrosting in my non-electrified freezer?  We have a gas burner top that I can light with matches.  Did that the last time the electricity was out for a whole day.  But beyond that?  All my camping equipment is now at the farm.  I’m strung out now between two home-sites across a 2 hour distance. The food is here–the cooking equipment is there.

What I’ve taken from the book is that there is much more I can do to bring myself to a greater degree of food independence, whether I’m preparing for a short or long-term crisis or not–food independence is something we should all be thinking and doing more about.

Learn more about Sharon Astyk’s books and views on life at her website and blog.