This is going to be a long one folks, so for that I apologize. I almost scrapped this post last night. It was one of those nights – I was questioning why I blog and feeling maybe like I was becoming too self-involved or narcissistic – “look at me and all this cool stuff I am doing”. People like that bug me so much, as if they invented blogging, organic gardening, farming or homesteading for that matter. I try to keep a level head. But then I realized after sleeping on it, that part of why I blog is because I have transformed so much personally these past few years, and I know I have gotten SO MUCH inspiration from others who were already on the homesteading path well before me. Part of my Life’s Work is to bring back the old ways, simpler ways of living, old skill sets that people relied on for centuries. These skills are more and more rare in our modern world. It is my duty to share my story with others and help where I can. If my experiences can help anyone then having this blog is worth it.
As many of my facebook friends and readers know, Roberto and I welcomed two baby Alpine goats onto the homestead a week ago. This important event marks a long held dream for us and a real symbol of something we have been working towards for the past 3 years – the chance to live an honorable, sustainable life as stewards to the land and animals we raise on it.
The first year we spent looking for a place to call “homestead” in northern Vermont. Last year we started with a large kitchen garden and a mixed flock of heritage breed laying hens. This year we are introducing dairy animals, in the form of the Alpine goats and two Shetland sheep (soon to arrive).
I get to my computer later and later these days. We now have 17 animals on the homestead and will get up to 19 before the end of April, when the sheep come. The morning routine of caring for all these creatures, including bottle feeding the doelings for the next month, means I get settled to my computer and breakfast for the humans by 10:30 or so. I love it, and am happiest when I am outside taking care of everyone. This has made me think a lot about my future plans. Up until this point, my future plans were getting the animals. Now that I have achieved that, I am starting to think about what is next for me, us and our menagerie.
For one, I have started a new blog Got Goats?, where you can follow our goat (and sheep) adventures! It will be a mainly pictorial blog of the goats and sheep and their lives. I already have one about the dogs, so I figured why not the goats too There are a few posts up – mostly pictures and a video. Which with this sup-bar internet connection we have can be frustrating.
I have been devoting a lot of kitchen time these past few months on cheese and dairy making as seen through my Let’s Get Cultured series (with more to come). I am working on a lot of recipes for dairy products so once the goats and sheep are producing milk (late winter/ early spring 2012) I will already know what to do with all the milk! Initially I will be creating dairy products for our own consumption, but do hope to sell them locally, in time. We have already been selling our chicken eggs locally for the past few months. So I am definitely thinking about adding “food producer” to my titles of “food writer” and “food advocate”.
Sustainable agriculture and the local food movement have become so much a part of my life, especially in the last year that I can’t really separate it from my heart and my conscience and I need to be more actively involved. Not just by sitting at a computer and typing, or going to conferences, (both important) but by getting my hands dirty through hard work. The land has been calling me for over a decade and although I might have gotten sidetracked for a few years, I am finally coming back full circle to what I know, in my heart of hearts is my true calling. I have always loved sheep and goats and when I got to work with them over 10 years ago, living on the Navajo Reservation, I knew I was doing what I was meant to.
Me as an aspiring shepardess on the Navajo Reservation in 1998…
Someone in the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty, which we recently joined, said to me that food sovereignty is a life and death issue, and I absolutely agree. Not only do I love these animals, but I love the healthy and life affirming foods that we can produce from them and the symbiotic relationship that develops between ruminant and handler, or shepardess, in my case. We live to care for them, and they live to nourish us. In this country where things have gotten so bad for small farms, preserving our inherent right to choose what we eat and where it comes from IS a matter of life and death.
Many people take the food we eat for granted. People are so disconnected from where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. Some know that a lot of animal products are not produced with the welfare of the animals that provide it accounted for. Too many that know close a blind eye to the reality of how animals raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) live and what it does to our environment. Heck many people don’t even want to think that in order to eat and live ourselves, we must kill. Many believe that it is too expensive to eat food that is made with respect to the animals and the environment, much to our universal detriment. I believe we are well past the point where we can afford not to be sustainable in our food systems.
As humans, we have lost our birth right. For at least 10,000 years humans have been working the land. Just in the last 500 years, since the Industrial Revolution did humans start working outside the home in mass numbers to make a living. But even then most families kept animals for food. Children grew up learning the skills needed to take care of themselves – to build houses, create heat, forage for food and grow it. Many of those children were in a better position, as children, than the adults of today. Where we sit right now, we as humans are in the worst health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. More people are seriously ill with chronic health conditions that clearly relates to the foods we eat. Our children are sick and in a world where 1 in 2 children will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime (a lifestyle disease), we are well past excuses. Too many people live pay check to pay check and it only takes a disaster like Katrina or recent events in Japan to see what happens when the majority can no longer depend on the grocery store, mass transit, access to medications or oil.
My heart hurts when I look and see how unsustainable most of the world lives. In order for me to look in the mirror and feel like I am living an honorable life, I have to become a truly active partner in the relationship with our food system in a sustainable and respectful manner. At least I need to have the assurance that I can feed my family if a disaster were to occur. I wish it weren’t true but if faced with a disaster, the majority would become destitute before they would know how to take care of their families. We are in a bad place.
So just when I thought my days of institutionalized learning were far behind me, I spent all day yesterday getting a college application, letter of intent and college transcripts together so I can apply for Vermont Table, a summer course being offered at Sterling College, here in Vermont. It is a course that incorporates sustainable agriculture, culinary arts, food writing, local food systems, on farm food production and food entrepreneurism. My love and passion for animals and food are not enough, there is more practical knowledge that is needed and this course offers a holistic approach to this world view that I hold so dear. So I hope to be going back to school in about a month. It is only a summer course, but we will see where it leads, and it should get me on more sure footing when it comes to managing a small homesteader farm and selling products locally on the small scale, which gets me closer to my ultimate goal of homestead sustainability.
Please check out Simple Lives Thursday for more tips on living more simply.