Monday, November 23, 2009


Brian was talking to someone the other day who was asking about our gardens in November, asking what we were growing right now. He assumed with the cold weather there wasn't much; but Brian told him about all our cold hardy veggies like kale, mache, cabbage, leeks, collards, plus lettuce and spinach in cold frames and under cover, as well as our home raised milk, eggs and meat from our animals. Plus we have cans and cans of home preserved jams, sauces, broths and pickles, buckets and boxes of potatoes and apples. We got some jokes about preparing for the apocalypse, which Brian of course plays up. We often joke with each other about being survivalists with our self-sufficiency goals, buckets of stored food, and love of food preservation. And I do have a fascination with end-of-the-world novels. But really we aren't preparing for Mad Max scenarios, nuclear winter or zombie attacks.

Many years ago Brian and I looked at the problems we humans were causing and the issues we would be facing in our children's lifetimes; global warming, peak oil, environmental degradation, the industrial food system... and we thought long and hard about what our reaction would be. We had already done the activism thing, with disappointing results. So what could we possibly do (besides offing ourselves) to some way minimize our personal impact on the planet, while still living within the confines of the system.

We decided the best we could do was to work towards self-reliance. Anything we could grow, raise or create ourselves was one less thing creating waste, warming the planet and using fossil fuels. When we couldn't or didn't have the time or energy to make it ourselves, we decided to try and find the least damaging source of the item. We buy food in bulk because it has less packaging and uses less fuel in transport (and it's cheaper). I like to buy many things second hand to minimize waste and not wasting resources creating something new when used works just as well (and it's cheaper). Now we are by no means perfect; we shop at stores, drive a car, watch movies, etc. But we do try.

There are also some additional benefits to having our food storage, stacks of firewood and herd and flocks of animals. If we ever had a personal disaster; Brian loses his job or we get a ton of unanticipated medical bills (like our ER trip a few months ago created, despite good insurance), I know I will have plenty to feed my family. Usually once a winter our area loses power for a few days, and I have seen the scramble as people go to the store to buy drinking water, candles and canned food when a big storm is predicted. With our solar power and wood heat, we are relatively insulated from these things. So we aren't crazy survivalists, despite our stocked pantry, hand tools and books on how to do everything from tanning hides to smoking meat. We just believe in being prepared and the value of learning how to do things ourselves.

This last week had more intense wind storms, but despite keeping us up all night; there was very little damage. Brian dismantled our tangled irrigation systems to store for the winter, and I've been doing more lime plaster inside to house. We are preparing to go see my family in Southern Oregon for Thanksgiving, while a good friend is kind enough to take care of our animals. We are looking forward to Christmas break to have a big chunk of time to get work done on the house.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It seems like the longer we have lived on our land, the more in tune we are to the earth's rhythms. I'm not sure if it's eating seasonal food or being more aware of light because of our solar, but we are all feeling winter coming on. Right now it is getting dark before 5:00, so there is a rush to get any outdoor chores done while there is still light. The kids are going to bed really early, and we are often asleep before ten. It is cold enough that we light a fire in the evenings, and the house is still warm the next morning. We've been eating pots of soup, and drinking gallons of tea. I feel like we are well prepared for this winter: we have firewood stacked, food canned and stored, and we have lots of indoor projects lined up for the kids. We have had another crazy weather week, cold nights, marble-sized hail, and high winds. Today it was really warm and very windy. It even blew over one of our trees!

Monday, November 9, 2009

We had a great indoor market on Saturday. We sold out of most of our produce, and it was great to see return customers and to connect with new ones. Brian was especially happy to meet some of the people in Wellspring Heart program. It was great to see people trying new foods. I was a little worried about how all the seasonal produce would do. But people were happy with the turnips, kale and sunchokes!

That night we rented the DVD Food, Inc. We are already well-educated about the industrial food system, so there weren't many surprises, but I found the movie really well-done and informative. Plus it features both Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin (Brian's hero). The film breaks down different elements of the industrial food system, and ends with a basic conclusion. You are voting with your dollars, so if food (and your health and the environment and the treatment of workers and animals) is important to you: buy local, shop at farmer's markets, grow a garden. Now Brian tends towards extremes, so he ended the movie depressed about all the ways we still buy into the food system. That day he bought a six-pack and a jar of natural peanut butter (gasp!). Of course I countered with the fact that we just provided our community with fresh, seasonal organic produce, and we grow and raise a huge portion of our food, and no one can be a purist anyway.

He felt better Sunday, because we harvested some of our ducks that we don't want to over winter, and had delicious roasted duck with rosemary, garlic, turnips and cabbage, all from our farm. Now we are canning the rest in broth to make meals through out the winter. I am also making some pickled easter egg radishes and turnips. Yum!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Roots and greens!

For our November market, we've harvested lots of roots and greens; turnips, radishes, chard, kale, salad greens, cabbage and more. It was a very cold and wet Friday, which made for tough picking weather, but we got it done. It didn't help that our pig Wilder (aptly named by the kids because she is more wild than the other pig), snuck out of her pasture three times! Brian was at work so I rushed to get the homeschooling and household work done so I could be done harvesting before dark. It was very cold pulling up root veggies out of soggy beds and spraying them off outdoors. By the time I milked the goats, my hands were so cramped with cold I could barely get them to work. Also the goats weren't thrilled with my icy fingers! Thankfully Brian got home and took over the rest of the washing, bundling and bagging, so I could take a hot bath and put the boys to bed. Then we had a nice time listening to music and getting everything ready. We've also made some more soap, salve and new beeswax candles from our beehives.

As I was sorting through radishes and putting aside slug-nibbled ones, I was thinking lots about how we expect our produce to be "perfect", regardless of the cost to the environment and our health to make it so, and the amount of waste created by throwing out cosmetically imperfect food. It is so frustrating to spend all the time and energy growing something, only to harvest it and realize we can't sell it due to light insect damage. But we have had good luck will our customers accepting some imperfect produce because they know we grow organic. Fortunately we are small enough that it is easy for us to eat our market "rejects", and we can always feed things to our animals or the compost pile. But I shudder when I see all the picture perfect produce in the stores and think of how many chemicals it took to grow them that way, and how much food was thrown out that didn't meet aesthetic standards. I think we all need to learn what kind of imperfections are acceptable and won't harm the quality of the food.

The last few days we have had high winds, driving rains, hail and even lightning! Our animals have been hiding in their shelters, waiting for breaks in the rain to come out and forage. Brian made a new cold-frame for our lettuce, and put row covers to protect our spinach and greens. We should have enough to eat fresh greens all winter. We are still eating plenty of fresh tomatoes that have been ripening on my counter. They should hold out until December, when I will start using my home-canned sauce.
I've been trying to get as much plastering done as possible, after chores and homeschooling, before making dinner, nighttime milking and clean up. Here is a picture of the lime plaster over earthen on our south wall.