I really want to take a moment to thank all of my readers and blogging friends for your support this year, both on this blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter! As social media grows, it seems more of our interactions together take place on other websites, for example my Facebook page and Twitter account has amassed so many followers, I am just astounded and overwhelmed. I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you this way! Thank you!
It is hard to believe another year of blogging has gone by! Getting these posts together every year is always a great look back on all the wonderful food we have enjoyed. I hope all of you reading this also had a great 2011 and are all looking forward to 2012! Here are the top 10 posts from this year. If you enjoy something that I post, please click the “like” button at the top, to “like” it on facebook, also feel free to tweet about it or leave me a comment. This is very helpful to me to know what kinds of posts you all want to see!
Please leave a comment and let me know what kinds of posts you would like to see on this blog in 2012! Happy New Year!
Today is a very exciting day for me; one of the posts I wrote for my homesteading blog was featured on the blog of one of my personal heroes today, Gene Logsdon’s blog, The Contrary Farmer.
I am really in awe right now and truly honored. Gene, along with Wendell Berry and David Kline, among many others, notably, Joel Salatin, are such amazing and down to earth (literally, in so many ways) advocates for the agrarian movement. Their writing has inspired and taught me so much. So to have my writing featured on a blog of Gene’s writings is well, just WOW.
Thank you so much to Dave Smith and Gene Logsdon for featuring my post! If you want to follow my homesteading adventures, please check out my blog Got Goats? – we are on facebook too and would appreciate if you could “like” us! THANK YOU!
(Iona and Inga, affectionately known as,”The Bleater Sisters”, getting acquainted with Claire, their new herd-mate)
If you haven’t seen my new blog, Got Goats? , please check it out. There are some great pictures and cute animal videos on there of our two Alpine Goats, Astrid and Claire as well as our two newest additions, two Shetland sheep – Iona and Inga. We have had some fun adventures getting to know them over the past week. I was joking on facebook over the weekend, that I have a new idea for an exercise video – “Getting in Shape with Sheep” – get a sheep or two, a nice big outdoor pen and a sheep lead, and then try to catch them. I promise, you will be in shape in no time!
So why all the animals? Yes, they are cute and good for your glutes, but that is not the reason we have them (well, not entirely, anyway). In the past year, since we moved to our little homestead in Northern Vermont, we have acquired 16 more animals, bringing us to a total of 19 animals under our care. For some people, it may seem like a lot. Some days, it FEELS like a lot. But it has become what we believe is vital for our health and our ability to thrive.
Moving from city or suburban life to the country has its growing pains, but for us, it was something we just had to do. Disillusioned with being a slave to the system that lets you have just enough money to pay the bills every month with no security was too risky for us. In a world becoming less and less secure every day, we decided to do away with things we didn’t really need and put that money into tangible things, practical purposes that will serve us over the long run in these hard economic times. So we have no cable, no iPods, and just one car. I cook the majority of our meals from scratch and we buy animals and seeds to feed ourselves, a small price to pay for security.
Food prices are increasing, the economy continues to plummet and they are finding everything from Staph to Ammonia in supermarket meat. Eggs, vegetables and peanut butter are getting recalled at an alarming rate.
(Delicious farm fresh egg, from our hens)
We have just had enough and have decided to take full responsibility for our health and food. As one of my heroes, Joel Salatin says, we have chosen to “opt-out” of our modern food system. This system is built on misinformation, disease – both for the animals we eat, and for us. Our food culture in the great USA, has become one based on fear, not food. Many people think is OK to eat supermarket meat with ammonia and processed foods full of additives, but raw milk, straight from the animal, is illegal in many states, and eating a raw egg from your own backyard hens or making your own lacto-fermented condiments gets people up in arms. This is pure madness and the only way I see out of it is to grow your own, or buy from local farms and businesses that you know and trust. Not only is this the best way to keep yourself healthy, but it contributes to keeping your local economy robust, and helping your neighbors to make a living doing one of the most natural things humans can do – providing fresh food.
I have talked on this blog before about why I support local farms, and why I became a homesteader. It all comes down to whether you believe that you have the right to choose for yourself and your family what foods to eat. We are raising a lot of our food now because we don’t believe that the majority of food out there, at grocery stores, chain restaurants, airports, rest stops, etc. are safe. We personally believe that un-healthy food has become so much the norm, that it has basically infiltrated the entire food system. Restaurants and grocery stores more often than not, get their food shipped in from faraway places, rather than relying on the bounty of their own town, state, region or country for that matter. To us, that is about as broken a food system as you can get. By raising our food and purchasing from local farms and businesses, we are using our dollars to vote for something else. We are voting for a strong and healthier future, physically, and economically. The sheep, the goats and the chickens are all part of that future.
(The first egg from our flock of heritage breed hens)
But in order for me to sell eggs, or in the future dairy products to my neighbors or local community, I have to be in constant fear of breaking some rule or regulation that has no place. If people are allowed to risk cancer and liver cirrhosis everyday by smoking and consuming alcohol – all legal and sanctioned by the government, why in the world should it be so bloody hard to sell milk or eggs to your neighbor? I promise that I will get back to posting recipes soon. But these issues seem to be getting worse and worse every day and it is hard to post about recipes, when there is so much at stake, things that are just basic human necessities and rights, things that are so important for our future.
If these issues are important to you, here are some suggestions:
* Check out Local Harvest to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. They also have an online catalog. Many local farms provide CSAs, herd-shares or farm-shares. In most areas you can find produce, dairy products and eggs locally.
* If you live in a big city, find some farms outside the city limits and talk to them about starting a buying club. You will be surprised that many already do this. Check out your local health food store and ask them to start carrying local products and if you do shop at the grocery store and they ask you when you are checking out if you found everything you were looking for – tell them no, you are looking for local produce/milk/eggs, etc. Voting with your dollars, meaning where you chose to buy your food, makes a big impact on the food system. The more people who “opt-out” or demand local food, the more the stores will have to start catering towards that. So be heard!
I don’t expect everyone to start homesteading and I know many people right now don’t believe they have the resources to find or buy good food. But it is out there, most likely not too far from you, and surprisingly affordable. Buying meat in bulk or subscribing to a CSA is cheaper than buying certain cuts of organic meat or organic produce at the grocery store and it is fresher too. Farmers want your business, they want to feed their local community and many will work with you to help you get the good stuff reasonably. You never know until you ask!
You don’t have to eat a 100% local or organic diet to make a difference either. It is about baby steps and small changes. Even if you make a commitment to buy what you can locally, or to buy only US produce, it is a lot. Don’t become dogmatic about it, or make yourself crazy, but do what you can and if you do what you can every day over the course of a year those small changes will make a big difference.
* Most importantly, keep up to date on local, state and federal regulations and ordinances that affect your ability to grow your own food or buy food direct from farmers or neighbors. If you disagree with what is happening to our food system, please let your voice be heard.
This is post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. Link up and share all that you do to live a simple and intentional life!
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.
Yesterday was the Vernal Equinox, meaning the first day of spring! While many of you might be in the throes of spring weather, here in Northern Vermont we still have snow on the ground and flurries coming down. We can expect more snowfall for about another month, although if it does snow, it is not likely to last long. The ground is starting to warm up and with longer days, the sun is out in full force to melt it. Even though on the surface it still looks like winter here, spring has definitely sprung!
Yesterday morning when I was out feeding and watering the chickens, I heard lots of birds singing and squawking in our woods. Little squirrels have been scampering all over the yard and for the last week or so the sun seems brighter and feels warmer. The air is the slightest bit warmer, smelling of spring. In the middle of the night, we were woken to the howls of coyotes, and all the little streams, brooks and maple sap are flowing. These are all portends of spring in this part of the world.
Gardening is still a little more than a month away. Here in our Zone 4 conditions, Memorial Day is often touted as the last danger of frost, and gardening takes over most people’s free time for the rest of the spring. But it is good to start some seeds early.
We are really lucky – we have a beautiful 4 season sun room and last year when we got serious about gardening for food, we bought a grow system, so that we could start seeds indoors while a blanket of snow still covered the garden beds or the danger of frost still loomed. Last year we started our seeds late, because we had just moved at the end of April. So we started some seeds indoors and others we just direct sowed into the ground the first week of May. Other seeds we direct sowed in July when the ground was up to the right temperatures. Unfortunately, our peppers, melons and squash (the ones that need warmer soil) really began to take off as the fall frost was imminent and we lost a lot of those plants, many of which were to be storage crops. So this year, we decided to concentrate our seed starting efforts on those more temperature sensitive plants: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash and herbs. We also started several trays of marigolds – indispensable companion plants to vegetables in an organic garden. This way they will have a much bigger head start!
It only took about 2 hours on Sunday (a week ago) afternoon to get our seeds started. First we mixed the organic compost with water, to get it to a moist consistency. Then we loaded the trays with compost and planted the seeds. We labeled each plant, and placed the trays on the grow shelves. In about 5 days the first bit of green started to shoot out – thyme was first, then a baby pumpkin and some oregano. We are still waiting for the rest to show signs of life!
Last year was the first time we saved seeds. We saved seeds from the best specimens that we ate – the biggest and sweetest tomatoes, and the most tender eggplants. We also saved a lot of marigold seeds, dill seeds and radish seeds – these we need a lot of for companion planting. As for the other plants, we got all of our seeds from High Mowing Seed Company – a local company (they are less than 15 miles from us) who specialize in organic and heirloom seeds. We figured those seeds would do best in our particular zone, since they were also grown in it! We are going to try some different varieties of beets, turnips and carrots, plants that did not perform like we thought they would last year. We also got pepper, melon and squash seeds from them this year, thinking we would have better luck with some hardy varieties grown nearby.
If you are new to gardening, no matter which zone you live in, it is a good idea to start tomatoes indoors first and then harden them off for a few weeks before planting. Tomatoes are very delicate when they are young, and if you put seedling out too soon, they are likely to wilt and die in the heat of the sun. So put them out for an hour or two at a time, working them up to being outside all day before putting them in the ground.
In other exciting news, today is a busy day on the homestead, with spring fighting for dominance over winter skies, we will welcome our two baby Alpine goats home! This photo was taken about a week ago when we went to Fat Toad Farm, where they were born, to pick them out. In the picture above, the black colored one is called Claire, and the tawny colored is Astrid. Aren’t they just the cutest?! This is a long-time dream coming to fruition and we look forward to working with them. If you have not “liked” my facebook page, I suggest that you do – there are a lot more cute goat pictures!
Many of you have been asking me about kefir lately. It appears often as an ingredient on this blog . I use it as a base for ice cream and smoothies, in desserts, as a leavening agent in baking, and an acidic soaking medium for grains . I realized recently that I had never posted about my method for making it. Let’s make this the first post of my new series: Let’s Get Cultured! In my journey to go from food writer to food producer over the next couple of years, I am going to be experimenting a lot with dairy products.
As some of you know, we are going to be welcoming two Shetland sheep and two Alpine dairy goats to our menagerie in March. Although I won’t be getting milk from them for at least a year or so, I plan to get ready by trying my hand at many cultured dairy recipes, from kefir to cheese and everything in between!
(My Shetlands are part of this herd, but my Alpines have yet to be born!)
We are 100% addicted to kefir in this household. If we miss drinking it for some reason, the whole rest of the day feels “off”. When we travel, we make sure to bring kefir with us. It is that important to our health. Dairy or milk kefir is a delicious probiotic, a cultured milk drink that has over 2,000 years of history, taking us back to the Caucasus Mountains, located between Europe and Asia. Shepherds there noticed that milk carried for long periods of time in leather pouches or animal hides would sometimes ferment to create an effervescent beverage.
We have been making and drinking kefir every day for about a year. During that time we have noticed some remarkable changes since using it regularly – everything from clearing up chronic skin problems, to easier digestion and better immunity. We refer to it as an elixir because it is good for so many things.
The catalyst that creates kefir are the “kefir grains”, which are not actually grains but a colony of microorganisms which exist in a complex symbiotic relationship, in balance . The grains are formed during the process of making kefir and only from pre-existing kefir grains.
What sets kefir apart from other cultured dairy, is the number of various organisms, both bacteria and yeast, present as opposed to just one microorganism like most other cultured dairy products. Which is why in this house, we never go without.
Due to the variety of microorganisms, kefir is extremely beneficial to health. Even for those who are lactose intolerant! Kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.
Kefir is an immune booster, and contains a high amount of calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins, Vitamin K and folic acid. Due to all of the chemical reactions that occur when it is cultured, it is easy to digest allowing the body to absorb all of the nutrients.As a probiotic it helps to regulate and balance intestinal flora, controlling the overgrowth of yeast. All of these friendly cultures also make kefir an excellent remedy for digestive issues of all kinds, and a great elixir for people overcoming serious illness, especially if they have been treated with antibiotics. Studies have even shown that kefir stimulates peristalsis and digestive juices in the intestinal tract. This was discovered by Elie Metchnikoff back in 1908!
The best news is that kefir is extremely easy to make at home. Here is what you need.
* Milk – any variety will do, but ultra-pasteurized milk is not recommended. I recommend raw milk (if available) or full fat un-homogenized milk aka “creamline”.
* Kefir grains
* Small unbleached muslin bag
* Clean glass jar (I use a pint size)
* Non-metal strainer
* Pourable glass jar
To Make Kefir:
Place kefir grains in the muslin bag and drop into the glass jar. Pour milk into jar until it fills the jar. Place a cloth over the mouth of the jar and allow to sit out on the counter for 24-48 hours. The first few times you use your grains, it may not culture properly. So I recommend only using a cup of milk at a time in the beginning, and changing the milk every 24 hours. Around the 3rd attempt, it should culture properly. I have noticed that in the spring and summer, my kefir cultures in about 24 hours. But in the winter it can take up to 48 hours.
Once the kefir has cultured, using a non-metal strainer, pour the kefir into a pourable glass jar. You can store the kefir in this container, or pour it into a different glass container for storage.
Then rinse the muslin bag and squeeze it to make sure that if any milk has cultured in the bag it comes out. Then you are ready to start the process all over again.
Kefir will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. But you need to make your kefir regularly. As soon as one batch has cultured, clean your tools and start a new batch. If you are going away and can’t make your kefir as soon as the next batch is finished culturing, you can store your grains, in the muslin bag in about a cup of milk in the fridge. When you want to make kefir again, just discard that milk and start again as you normally would.
I highly recommend getting your kefir grains fromCultures for Health. You can also get cheese and yogurt cultures there, as well as a variety of other products to make fermented foods like sourdough, sauerkraut, and kombucha. They are a fantastic small company with very good customer service. So if you have questions, they can help.
*Parts of this post will be appearing in the 2011 Spring/Summer issue of Hex Magazine including an additional kefir recipe! So be sure to check that out when it becomes available.