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!
As I write this, it has been almost 40 hours since I consumed anything but raw milk and water. I am still alive. No stomach pains, no headaches, no indications to tell me that this hotly debated food item has damaged me in any way, the fact is, I feel completely nourished and as normal as I would any morning at 10:30 AM. I am not starving for food, but getting hungry, I have normal amounts of energy and I am in a good mood. From all the anti- raw milk campaigns out there, you would think at this point I would be in a hospital bed somewhere, or at the very least, having a case of the runs. I even had dental surgery yesterday, so I guess I did in fact consume Novocaine, but even with all that, I am feeling A-OK.
I took a little break, and am now eating some lunch, my first meal since the fast. I had to think a little. Fasting for ideological reasons is something I have never done before and I wanted to understand for myself why I felt so compelled this time. I am no stranger to activism. I have been to numerous protests in my life, I have gone out of my own comfort zone to assist and to help those who are fighting their own battles and needed help with chores and daily life . Being an activist, especially when you are fighting for your life and livelihood is a full time job because without your life and livelihood, well, you can take it from there in your own head. In the past I have been an activist for large global issues, and issues that impact others strongly, although not much direct impact on me. But this time, with raw milk, it really hit home.
Dear friends of ours are raw milk (among other things) farmers and I drink their milk every day. If that wasn’t enough of a reason to get involved, there is also this crazy idea, a dream of ours to produce and sell dairy products, like cheese, and fresh dairy, like yogurt, kefir and buttermilk, things that have been nourishing our bodies for the past several years, and which we rely on heavily for our continued health. But you know what? I am scared to death to begin a business like this in the US. Land of the Free, my… I have had to ask myself many times these past months, is it worth it? Maybe I should just make it for our own consumption and not sell it to others. I don’t want to do jail time over cheese and milk, as so many others have. Artisan products, like raw milk cheeses and other products have been under attack by the FDA for months here in the US. If you don’t believe me, check out this, this and this.
In a world where small family dairies can be put through that, and yet cigarettes are sold at every gas station, GMOs are not labeled despite the fact that 80% of Americans are asking for labeling practices, where ground meat is sold in stores with ammonia in it and Cargill can poison thousands with salmonella contaminated food, and yet remain in business with a slap on the hand, and a VOLUNTARY recall, all the arguments about raw milk laws and safety are “udderly” ridiculous and completely unconvincing. It is about money friends, not safety. Who benefits from not allowing people to eat healthy nourishing foods but large food corps, and dare I say pharmaceutical companies gaining off the sickness of our nation. I am sorry but the masses are not sick and overweight and getting diabetes from drinking raw milk. It is also about our freedom and health. To read more about these discrepancies between small farms and large food corps and “food safety”, this is a great article.
“The Cargill recall and Rawesome raid provide a glaring example of the problems with our food system. Cargill had known that its factory had salmonella – it just hadn’t reached actionable levels, they thought. One person died and dozens became ill before Cargill initiated a voluntary recall.Compare that to what happened at Rawesome, [where] not one person has ever claimed to have gotten sick…the government came in with armed officials, confiscated tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of food, and put three people in jail.” ~ Judith McGeary, Esq
I am an empath. It is all too easy for me to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, so often times people may think I get too emotional over certain subjects, especially when they don’t involve me, directly. But I don’t see the world that way, to me we are a holistic whole. Each little issue a microcosm of the whole. My reality is I see no difference between a man I have never met, Michael Schmidt, and our friends down the road who feed us, care about the health of others and do the best they can to supply healthy foods to their community, providing a service, a labor of love. They have family and friends that support them and many customers. They are just like Michael Schmidt. When we stand up against one person’s injustice, we stand up for all of those we love and care about.
So who is Michael Schmidt? Michael is a dairy farmer in Ontario, Canada. He has been providing safe and highly nutritious raw milk to informed buyers who have consented to purchase his product. The Canadian government has made it illegal for him to sell the milk and he just entered his 4th week of a hunger strike (consuming nothing but water). All he wants, a personal one-on-one chat about raw milk policies in Canada with the Premier, Dalton McGuinty. One talk and the strike will end. Michael has been fighting with the Canadian government for years, and it has come down to this. All he wants is to be heard. The people of Canada have rallied behind Mr. Schmidt, calling out to Mr. McGuinty to speak with him. Isn’t this why we elect officials, for them to execute the will of the people? I think it is time for Mr. McGuinty to do his job.
Lest you think this is all about raw milk, let me tell you, raw milk is the tip of the iceberg in the land of food freedom and food freedom fighters. It is about upholding that right which is yours, inherently to consume the foods you want. Raw milk is just the hot topic these days; it is the issue on the battle field. Last year it was NAIS (National Animal Identification System) and the Food Safety Modernization Act and maybe next year it will be fighting Monsanto on the issue of saving seeds. When you see all the “food” in the grocery stores, products lining the aisles full of additives, preservatives and chemicals, and these products are sanctioned by the government and regulatory branches, it just tells you that the government cares very little for the health and safety of the people. When you see them going through such pains and efforts to destroy small farms and businesses, you begin to understand what a threat they see these farms and food producers to their bottom line. This is not about safety, it is about money.
I don’t want to hear one more word from the government about world hunger until they start letting farmers feed people again. Most farmers sell GMO corn and soybeans, that don’t even feed people, mostly because they can earn a better living wage, and there are not so many restrictions. That is unimaginable.
It just makes you think…We just returned from a family trip back to Roberto’s Homeland, Sardinia. Sardinia is in the midst of a beautiful revitalization. The government wants people to continue sheep and goat farming; the government encourages young people to continue its ancient traditions and livelihoods. There are programs, and monies given to people who want to start a farm, take over an old one, and make cheese and other farm products or to start an Agro-Turismo. Look at that in comparison to prospects here in North America. Places where you need teams of lawyers, and armed guards (well maybe not that extreme yet) to make farm fresh products and sell them to your neighbors, friends and community without ending up in jail.
I really don’t want to get into all the legalities, because at the end of the day feeding yourself, growing food, and choosing what you put in your body is our birthright and we have been executing that right for millennia. It is an inalienable right (not a privilege)as a human being that should never come into question. Sometimes our government officials forget this, and so we have to be there to remind them and defend that right, lest they try to take it away. What you choose to eat has nothing to do with government, and clearly it shouldn’t as they have done a great dis-service to us where we have allowed them power. Many of the things they do regulate and approve for human consumption, like food and drugs kill people every day. Raw milk does not kill people every day.Even if that were not true, and all food they approve is safe, sometimes laws need to be changed. Raw milk laws may be out-dated. They started in a time where more and more people moved to cities and brought their animals to the cities too, and sold milk in open air containers in filthy streets. Maybe these laws need to be re-evaluated before people start losing their lives over outdated laws.
And if you think raw milk is not safe, check this out: “Using government figures for foodborne illness for the entire population, Dr. Beals has shown that you are about thirty-five thousand times more likely to get sick from other foods than you are from raw milk,” click here for the rest of the article .
Keep fighting the good fight Micahel! We support you! We have your back!
It has been a very humbling few days for us, here, in the wake of tropical storm Irene. We have been reminded once again that Mother Nature is a powerful force and once she gets rolling, no one, no human, no machines, no technology can stop her. Living in Vermont, we have been getting a lot of heartfelt and concerned messages about how we weathered the storm, and I am happy to say that we were extremely lucky and are all OK.
The animals, homestead, buildings, and even the garden came out of the storm with no damage. We are very grateful to have been spared and at the same time feeling devastated for our fellow Vermonters who were not as fortunate. It broke my heart watching videos of Irene’s devastation in Wilmington, a town we lived very close to 5 years ago – the river rose so fast and most of the town was left underwater. One woman was even swept away by the rising waters while her boyfriend could do nothing but watch.
I got a message from my best friend Liz, who weathered Irene in NYC, she was feeling really sad about Vermont when she heard about all the terrible flooding here. Through her visits to see us, she has come to know Vermont as a friendly yet hard-working place, full of mom and pop stores where people talk to you like you are a human being with smiles on their faces. Yes, that is Vermont, and because this way of being is so akin to the people that live here, it means that those in need aren’t going to have to look very hard for a helping hand.
I have to say though, as Irene was bearing down on us, and state officials were telling us to prepare for the worst, I was so thankful for all the canning and preserving I had done throughout the summer. I was thankful to the garden, and to the chickens, both for eggs and meat. This is the first time we actually really NEEDED to be prepared for something major, and it was nice not having to worry about that, on top of all our other preparations.
I was also thankful for social media – through facebook and twitter (amazingly we did not lose power!) I was able to keep tabs on the storm and what was happening in our local area. We heard about evacuations in nearby towns at midnight yesterday morning – and learned about a website where we can see all the road closures in the state. Vermont Transportation Agency officials stated that every major road across the state has some kind of damage, and many town roads are facing much worse.
So on that note, as Autumn is starting to make itself known here in the North Country, I am going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging during the month of September. There is a lot going on and life is sort of taking over at the moment, which right now is definitely a good thing. Especially in light of terrible events that have happened over the last few months, I am concentrating on slowing down a little and spending time with family. It is all good stuff, so nothing to worry about. I have arranged for some of my favorite bloggers to fill in for me in my absence. I know you are going to enjoy their posts, and I will be back with new blog posts in October!
(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.
Do we as Americans have a right to chose the foods we eat? Seems like a simple enough question, and I am sure that many of you reading this, think of course we do! After all this is America, land of the free…But it would be a mistake to become complacent about the food that is available. Our complacency will lead to the extinction of small family farms and in turn local food systems. This is one of the MAJOR issues of our times. Think about it. Think how deep it goes, how over-arching. If Americans lose the right to chose what foods they eat, it is major infringement on our rights as a free people.
I know when we moved out to the country to start raising animals and vegetables for food, I had a lovely idyllic dream that one day, sooner than later, I would sell sheep and goat cheese at our many local farmers markets. It would be a way for me to share my love of these animals and the wonderful delicious and healthy food that can be made from their milk. The American Dream, right? Well for small farms it is more of a nightmare. In the name of food safety the government has passed and is soon to be passing more legislation that calls into question the ability of small farms to even operate and exist. Through this legislation small farms are set up for fines, seizures of product and even jail time. If we allow this to happen, where will it stop?
There is some legislation that is up for vote imminently. That is S510 designed to provide greater controls for food safety. However, if the bill passes the FDA with have greater control over the ability to execute raids, seize products and force recalls on small producers. The Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund, who spoke about the bill at Wise Traditions, explained that the bill can be used to strategically drive small producers out of business all in the name of food safety. A similar story with the meat industry a few years ago. In that industry, USDA overwhelmed small plants with paperwork requirements, most of which had no real connection to safe food making their ability to operate business impossible.
We almost live in an idyllic world up here in Northern Vermont with so many family farms and local foods. As I write this, I think about what would happen if they were all of a sudden GONE. Or if the friends I have that run these farms were raided by people armed with automatic weapons, traumatizing their children, families and animals. Not so idyllic is it? Everyday these small farms are living on the edge of ruin and our government is doing all they can to make that a reality, all in the name of food safety.
Now before I delve into this any deeper, let me ask you, are cigarettes legal? How about alcohol? And what about high fructose corn syrup? Yep. All legal and all studied and shown to major health problems and even death. So how in the world is drinking raw milk or eating raw cheese more of a threat? How is producing and eating foods that have proven over the test of time to be healthy and nutrient dense foods, warrant SWAT-like raids on small family farms when you can walk to your local convenience store and easily get all three of the other above mentioned foods? The government allows our citizens to chose to ingest harmful things, but is taking away our rights to eat foods that are good for us. Does that make any sense? Many of us chose not to consume those products, and those people who fear raw milk products, based on mis-information can also chose not to consume those products. But to allow raids and product seizures thereby not allowing the public to chose…that is at the very heart of our independence.
You can also help those family farms who have already had their products seized, their lives in ruin. Even $5 can help these families get the legal aid they need to get back to doing what they do best, farming.