Monday, February 27, 2012

A Book Recommendation

Folks, This Ain't Normal
Last month I read the book Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, and I seriously think every American needs to read this book.  Though I may be preaching to the choir here, I'd love to get the word out beyond the homesteaders, foodies, and environmentalists who naturally would target this book as a good read.  Can you help me do that?

In it, Salatin keeps coming back to one underlying factor holding up our industrial food system: cheap, foreign oil.  And how the minute that thin membrane splits, productions costs will go out the roof.  And here we were, thinking local food was expensive...

Let me also say he does not espouse sending more of our military overseas to ensure that this foreign oil stays cheap, nor does he encourage the continued raping of the American landscape to produce oodles of our own energy.  Why?  In either case, these are finite, unsustainable solutions that will collapse someday.  Instead, returning to a local, pasture-based, diversified food system is the only sustainable, long-term solution to feeding ourselves and potentially, the world.  Unfortunately, most of what you see on the shelves of the grocery stores is the product of a monolithic industrialized food system which is heavily subsidized by the government (a.k.a., your tax dollars).

So how, and why, would we even begin to defeat this Goliath?
1. Buy local.  Does it cost more?  Yes (local food generally isn't government-subsidized).  But is there a way you can start small?  Can you support a local farmer by buying a dozen pastured eggs every week?
2. Plant a garden.  It's cheap, fun, and most definitely a learning experience.
3. As I mentioned before, industrialized food is not sustainable.  Our generation may not see it, but it will collapse someday if things don't change.
4. We may be one of the richest counties in the world, but are we the healthiest?  Not by a long shot.  Industrialized, heavily processed foods laden with high fructose corn syrup and ingredients that scientists can't even pronounce are a huge culprit.

But I digress.  The point is, please read this book.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Neighbors Give Us Crap

…literally!  Since last spring, Byron has been making trips back and forth from a neighbor’s farm to collect horse manure to bring home and compost.  As Randy and Lynn’s driveway is only six-tenths of a mile from ours, it’s quite convenient to make a trip – or two or three – to pick up loads (pun intended). 

The arrangement is mutually beneficial.  With Randy and Lynn’s four horses (not to mention a handful of sheep) dropping copious amounts of stinky stuff out of their backsides each day, managing that much waste can become overwhelming for any animal owner.  But we covet the stuff and make every attempt to procure as much manure as possible.  The funny thing is, Byron actually enjoys this whole process and is quite proud of the black gold he’s made by composting the manure!

Books have been written on how to compost – in addition to more how-to articles than blades of grass in an acre of well-managed pasture.  While it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you get too scientific about the composting process, it’s a fact that manure, or anything organic, will break down over time.  We’ve found a ratio of two greens-to-one brown works just fine.  So as not to bore anyone with a list of what constitutes greens and browns – just do a Google search and you can find all the lists you could ever want to peruse – we typically mix two parts horse manure (a green) with one part shredded leaves (a brown).  By keeping this mixture damp (read: initially watering it, then letting it get rained on whenever the skies open up) and turning it occasionally (read: taking a pitchfork to the heap), we help ensure conditions are ideal for a hot pile that effectively kills weed seeds, etc.  Here are some photos of how we go about composting:

While Randy and Lynn sometimes have a load of manure from the horses’ stalls ready for pickup, Byron collects a majority of the manure he brings home directly from the pasture.

Akea and Charlie love to volunteer to help Byron collect manure.  This, of course, means they get to pet the horses and feed them carrots.  Akea LOVES horses!

Byron transfers the manure from Randy and Lynn’s wagon to a couple of old trashcans for the trip to our farm.  Each can is quite heavy when full – especially if the manure is fresh.

We use a pitchfork to unload a majority of the manure from each can …

…until the can is light enough to pick up and dump.

Once the manure is spread evenly…

…we add leaves….

…and water, before repeating the process.  Byron typically collects six to eight trashcans full of manure at a time; the layering really helps get the compost pile hot.

That chicken would love to frolic in the hot compost pile on this cold day – as much for the warmth as for the tasty worms helping aid the decomposition process.   Note the ice blocks on top of the pile and the steam rising where the pitchfork was used to expose the inner part of the pile.
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Monday, February 20, 2012

I Promise I'm Not in Cahoots with Chipotle!

I ran across this video clip of a Chipotle commercial.  All I really know about them is that they try to source local meats, which is a commendable goal for a chain restaurant!  Perhaps you've seen it, but if not, it's worth watching:

Kind of appropriate for Presidents Day, too, as I think back to our Founding Fathers and the America they knew!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Business in the Front, Party in the Back: Why Our Farm Resembles the Mullet

Remember the mullet?  That almighty hairdo of the 1980s, that has been succinctly described as "business in the front, party in the back?"  Byron and I were in a bookstore once (remember those??)  and spent the good part of an afternoon giggling over a book depicting the surprisingly diverse variations of this hair style.  And just to keep it real, I grew up in the 80s and owned parachute pants.  They were black with fluorescent pink zippers. 

Recently, Byron decided that the landscaping plan for our farm will resemble the mullet by taking on the look of "business in the front, party in the back."  In short, the front of our house will be meticulously landscaped, much like carefully coiffed, feathered bangs.  And the back?  Think less managed, organically flowing, and sometimes downright messy.

In actuality, this is a marriage between our penchant for visually pleasing aesthetics and the reality of life, having kids, and farming.  Ever read The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder?  I recall well her description of their yard: farm implements scattered here and there and projects unfinished due to the busyness of starting out.  Reading that made Laura a bit more real and human to me.

So here's a peek into what we're doing. 

We have a circle in front of our house, around which we park the cars.  A getup like this usually boasts wrought-iron gates and a fountain, right?  Not so for us.  Check out the wilderness in the background.  We can't stand it.

Though we're not the wrought-iron gates and fountain types, like I said, we like our aesthetics.  So Byron spent an entire day recently measuring and weeding out the circle, and then spreading gravel to the front walk.  Trust me, it looks a million times better.  He'll soon plant grass in the dirt circle in the middle, and in the spring or fall we'll plant boxwoods around the perimeter (yes, I know they're not edible).

OH MY! I am keeping it real today!  This is the knock-down, drag-out, all-night version of "party in the back."  The calf hutch that we need to fix and the rain barrel system are members of the backyard, but the toys are usually put away.

So we did a little clean-up.

Included for cuteness alone.
How obsessed are you with aesthetics?

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why I Don't Eat My Wheaties

A common complaint I hear regarding eating more naturally is that it costs more.  True, in general it does, and if you fill your fridge and pantry with USDA organics, you're especially going to feel it in the wallet.  However - and I often have to remind people of this - we're managing to eat healthy on a teacher's salary.  And one way I've saved a ton of money has been to ditch buying breakfast cereal.

On sale, the generic, organic cereal I used to buy cost at least $2.50 per box, and our family of four would easily go through a box every two days since the stuff really isn't that filling.  It also became an easy snack and an evening comfort food for me and Byron.  So on average, that's $8.75 per week, which adds up to $455 per year!  Wow!  That's a lot of money for relatively empty calories.

The solution?  Though it takes time, the past couple years I've been making our breakfast from scratch, for pennies on the dollar of what I used to pay for cereal.  I've worked out a schedule that allows me to not have to do this every morning, and that's the type of fast food I like!  The breads and pancakes also freeze very well.

Here's an idea of what I do:

Sunday: Huge stack of pancakes to last us 3-4 days.
Wednesday: Two loaves of breakfast bread, made from zucchini or pumpkins I grew and froze last summer.  This lasts 2-3 days.
Saturday: Oatmeal, which is a nice break from the bready stuff.  A five-pound bag, which costs about $5, lasts us over a month, and I also use it for granola.

The pancakes and breads also tend to double as snacks, which is incredibly handy and again saves me time and money.  I do sometimes add a small handful of chocolate chips to the zucchini bread.  A bit Machiavellian, I admit, but who isn't willing to sell out a little to get her kids excited about eating zucchini?

Of course, there are those times when breakfast cereal (or in this particular case, bagels from the store) can come in very handy...

As if our house isn't enough of a wreck, our stove shorted out last week...

...due to a jimmy-rigged connection.

Thankfully, it shorted out against metal, not the wood cabinet!

Anyway, just throwing this money-saving, healthy idea out there. What do you do to eat healthy on a budget?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Chicken's Version

I recently read Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin, and besides deciding that every American needs to read this book (more on that later), I was kind of hit in the head with something I knew already: chickens are omnivores!  While they get plenty of bugs out on pasture during the warmer months, chickens that are kept confined in the winter - and even those that free-range - aren't getting the animal protein they need.  In his book, Salatin recommends shooting a squirrel once a week and feeding that to your flock.  Sounds nauseating, but it's a free feed supplement and the chickens need the protein.  And they have great fun with things like that (wink, wink).

Option #2 is to take advantage of our non-existent winter and do some yardwork.  Byron dug up the wilderness in the middle of our driveway to prep it for some landscaping this spring.

Guess what likes to hide under all that lush mulch?

Grub worms!  (Please tell me you weren't snacking on anything when you viewed this photo!)
Byron found dozens of these and the Rhode Island Reds, who are in the hoophouse, were in paradise.  We're finding that they get bored in there, which has resulted in an environment every bit as harsh as the high school cafeteria.  Just this morning I put a wheelbarrow full of leaves in there so they could have something to scratch through.  Everyone likes playing in the leaves, right??

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Don't Blink: A Brief Re-upholstery Update

This weekend I ditched cleaning the house and got in a couple good hours of re-upholstering the first of our two vintage wingback chairs.  I knew I was going to start forgetting how, exactly, the pieces went together if I didn't continue the project soon.

I had cut out the fabric the previous week, using the old pieces as templates.  I left myself a bit more of a seam allowance, and the process has worked out pretty well...especially since I got the fabric on clearance and knew I'd be cutting it close (pun intended) as to having enough for the project.  The only thing not pictured here is the cushion, which is also complete; that was a mini-project in itself and took me an entire afternoon.

Original and new fabric

These inside pieces were fairly easy to install.  Thus far, everything has been stapled.

Welting along the outside of the wing. 
And this is where I am now: attempting to attach the fabric to the exterior of the wing.  It's beyond tricky and I've removed the staples twice already to try to smooth the fabric out to my satisfaction.  Going to give it one last shot this morning...

Click here to read my previous post on this project!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Guineas' Reign of Terror

We recently tried combining our small flock of wandering Barred Rock hens, and the three guineas that think these geriatric chickens are their mommies, with our younger brood of Rhode Island Reds.  We had tried this once before, because we'd heard that when the chickens were all the same size, the older ones would be less likely to murder their juniors and the pecking order would kind of work itself out.  Well, that time it didn't go so well for the Reds.  No blood was shed, but the older hens used the old divide-and-conquer technique to dominate the two feeders we had out.

So what possessed us to try it again?  Poop on the front porch.  Poop on the back porch.  When you have wandering chickens, they wander (and poop) wherever they please.  And since we feel ghetto enough as we live through a renovation, a little less poop to squish through our Crocs as we walk out the door would be heavenly.

The results?  We put the Barred Rocks and guineas in the hoop house with the Rhode Island Reds, and the Barred Rocks were awful, as usual.  Pecking any Rhode Island Red who came near the feeder.  Forcing them out of their nest boxes.  But the real villains were the guineas, whose Reign of Terror kept the Rhode Island Red populace heading for higher ground (the roost bars) most of the day.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll shut up for a minute...

The guineas plot their next move while one of their Barred Rock mommies keeps watch for any errant Rhode Island Reds.

Several (probably hungry) Rhode Island Reds brave flying down from the roost bar and huddle in a corner of the hoop house, waiting for an opportune time to snag some food.

A guinea takes notice and issues a loud series of commands...

The Rhode Island Reds briefly consider a revolt... 

...but swiftly begin to acquiesce to the three dictators by heading for the roost bar.  And the rooster?  Worthless. Granted, he did come down several times, but the guineas (who are half his size) descended on him almost instantly, sending him flying back to safety.
In the end, the flocks are separate again and we are dancing around the droppings on our front porch.  Has anyone out there had success combing flocks?  If so, do tell!

A Rural Journal and my friend, Lisa, at Three Bears Farm are beginning Rural Thursdays, and I'm linking up!  Click here to check out the blog hop at Three Bears Farm, and here to check out A Rural Journal!

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Also linking up to Farmgirl Friday at Deborah Jean's Dandelion House!