Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes (a shop is born)

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Wednesday: The idea came swift and clear as a starry night.  Or perhaps it resurfaced.  Or perhaps it was whispered in my ear by the homesteading spirits before me.  Either way, it has been seven days since then and we are already planning our grand opening.

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Thursday: I ran the idea by my youngest daughter to see if she wanted to be a part of it.  She was in.  We went for a long hike and discussed why we wanted to start a farmgirl store.  I did not want to start something rashly with just money in mind.  It needed to be meaningful and enjoyable.  We came up with a list of why the homesteading lifestyle is important to us.

  • Helps environment
  • Healthier
  • Creates better mental health
  • Satisfying
  • Affordable
  • Homesteading creates more family time
  • Great for children
  • Creates community

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It was five and a half years ago that we stood in Nancy’s kitchen making goat’s milk soap, creating label ideas, going through seed catalogs and beginning “The Five Farmgirls.”  Emily held a few-month old Maryjane on her hip as she and Nancy’s daughter, Faleena came up with product names.  We laughed as we sarcastically came up with our own catch phrase, “It’s Farmgirl Good!” as we shook the cold milk trying to turn it into butter for two hours.  Our friend, Lisa came over to help make soap and we sat outside on an early spring day and had a picnic lunch.  A year later Nancy would suddenly and quietly cross over the veil.

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Saturday: Doug and I had lunch with Lisa and Lance Saturday and I told her my idea.  They raise humane meat on their ranch and we could have a pick up point at our shop.  We could do the same for milk.  We laughed and talked for three hours and discussed ideas.  Still, with not a lot of dollars and no idea where to get an affordable retail space, it still felt far off.

So certain that this was going to take off, Emily and I started picking up usable antiques (that are sturdier and still work better than modern versions!) and items for our store.  I bought material to make aprons and farmgirl style pillows.  We came up with a name, Pumpkin Hollow Farm (of course); Homesteading Supplies and Classes.

Sunday: Doug and I drove around and gathered phone numbers for retail spaces.  None of them were quite right.  They also were way out of our price range.  I wanted an old space that looked like a general store.  And it had to be ridiculously affordable.  (They are cleaning it up…I’m keeping the piano for the shop!)

Monday: I call on a shop that people had said would be hard to get.  Many people had inquired on this space and had either been turned down or never called back.  The manager picks up, says she will call the owner and call me back.  Five minutes later she calls me back, the owner loves my idea.  She will rent to me.  For a ridiculously affordable price.  Ten minutes later I am at the shop to see it.  The building is over a hundred years old and it sure looks like a general store.  It is in a great location.

Tuesday: Dad brings a box to my apothecary that says my name on it.  “Mom wanted you to have these,” he says wistfully as he hands me a large bag along with the box.  My friends Kat and Rod are like parents to me and Kat died almost exactly two years ago.  I have a collection of her grandmother’s things.  Hilda is alive and well in my home.  A box and bag of homesteading items and china were the new gifts to me to carry on.  A whisper from above that there are many friends helping this come together.

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Wednesday: Yesterday morning we signed a lease and shook hands.  A private loan came through.  I registered my name.  We have held on to our beloved name since our early farm.  Our farm and homesteading school took a devastating turn a little over three years ago when we had to suddenly leave our rented farm and all of my beautiful homesteading items and our lifestyle was lost.  In a twist of irony, as I searched for my name in the Secretary of State, the name expired three years ago to the day that I re-registered it.

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Mission Statement: To increase happiness, health, and well being for people and Mother Earth by offering quality, second hand, homemade or sustainable objects that bring back the charm of an old fashioned, simple life.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Homesteading Supplies and Classes coming in early September!

“It’s Farmgirl Good!”

 

 

Homestead Revival

 

Exciting things are underway.

A homestead revival is here to stay.

Pumpkin Hollow Farm has an announcement, you know,

once the paper is signed, photos I will show.

Very big news is coming tomorrow…

 

A Simple Life

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We were at our favorite Celtic festival this weekend.  For two days we step back in time.  We feel a swell of pride and odd recognition as we hear the familiar bag pipes sound.  Outfits of different eras swish in the morning air through the woods.  We find our clan (Mackay) and bid everyone well.  It is an annual time of catching up with old friends and seeing glimpses of a simpler time as we toast with our mead and listen to the fiddlers and harpists play.

As I drive home, flying down the highway, I see the abandoned homesteads and outbuildings that line the railroad tracks.

All our modern conveniences do not add up to happiness.  We still work the same hours but with less meaningful work and constant stress.  I think our bodies were made to be more physical, our tasks plenty.  Our evenings filled with music and books by the fire instead of stressful television shows.  Home cooked meals and clothes on the line and chickens waiting for scratch and friends coming to call on Sunday afternoon.  There was joy in simplicity and we were not so inundated with brain washing media and mass panic.

I could see the ghosts of the farm women in their aprons taking a pail of milk into the farm kitchen.  The men throwing hay to the sheep.  A trusty farm dog by his side.

At the festival our friends did demonstrations of sheep herding with their incredible Border Collies.  A tradition as old as the Highlands.

We do not have to fall into the day to day modern but can choose to live more simply.  We can choose to unplug the television, hang up a clothes line, put a pot of beans on, cancel cable.  We can choose to dress simpler, eat simpler, enjoy simpler activities like having friends over to laugh by the fire or take a walk in the evening.  We can shut off the news and don our aprons and embrace our inner wisdom and enjoy a simple life.

For many of the greatest joys are from holding a warm egg just laid in your hands, or clipping herbs for tea, or seeing how many tomatoes are ready to harvest.  Some of our greatest joys are in an embrace, a smile, a plate of locally grown food, and a day consumed with inner peace.

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

20180711_105459Five and a half years of writing about farming and homesteading.  Almost a thousand readers.  Full circle.  I am peaceful as I write this.  The sun is behind the large walnut tree, filtering its light through the dense branches highlighting the herbs and flowers on the medicine gardens.  My front porch rocker is comfortable and my coffee is hot.

We started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Moved towards alpacas, goats, and sheep, and bigger, simpler; somehow tripped and found ourselves in an apartment.  Yet, we gardened at a community plot and hung a calendar of farm animals in the kitchen.  Now we own a home of our own in a good sized city skirted by farms and friendly people.  “This is not a farm,” I said.  But I was wrong.  Because being a farmgirl and having a homestead heart does not die.  It just gets more creative.

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So we have started with chickens, a garden, some dreams.  Our house is similar to the one we started in.  We have a third of an acre of urban space to dream and build.  More raised beds, hoop houses, a greenhouse.  We have a root cellar, a wood stove, and fruit trees, and a place to settle and be.  By god, this is the urban farm we have read about.  Every year it will grow, and get better, and right now it is perfect and warm, and as the cars zoom by to get to work, the hummingbirds drink from the geraniums and honeybees buzz in the pumpkin flowers.  The Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign sits proudly on the porch.  It would be easy to dream of an off grid homestead, but the challenge and dream will be to see how sustainable we can get right here on this humble plot of land.

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A dear, young woman is living with us right now with her little, baby farmboy.  I inadvertently see through her eyes what we have here and I am grateful.  I have been on a little book tour with my newest book (http://authorkatiesanders.com) but we had time to put up ten quarts of corn broth and a dozen jars of corn yesterday.  It is really warm here and the climate whispers of year round gardening with a little wisdom.  The chickens frolic, the farm dog barks, the kitties mouse, and all is well in our little house.

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20180711_155417So, the original carryall is an apron.  Y’all know my great love of aprons!  This one carried dozens of corn cobs to the porch to be shucked, to the kitchen to be canned, to the chickens as treats.  Don your aprons, Friends, our urban homestead adventures continue…

Footprints ‘Cross the Floor (the fallacy of the clean farmhouse)

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Now I said it with my mom voice.  You know the mom voice?  Even if the kids grow up and move out the voice still finds its way around.

“No shoes in the house!” I says.  Best mom voice.

No…(pause)…shoes in the…(pause)…house pleease!

Now I am married to an independent man but one that likes (wisely) to keep mama happy.  He comes in from work- tired and hungry- and takes off his shoes first thing.  He stashes them below the sofa so the puppy doesn’t play with them.  He puts on his bedroom slippers.

And then!  Later he walks out the back door in his slippers, through the chicken yard, into the chicken coop, gathers eggs, and comes back in tracking chicken straw, mud, and myriads of stickers, his big, doofy pup following with large paw prints ‘cross the cleanish kitchen floor.

Well, they ain’t shoes, I guess.

Now Folks, the idea of the perfectly clean house is a fallacy designed by gents in suits selling the finest cleaners and somehow it stuck.  Only the very bored and those that have lost a hobby or two have a perfectly clean house, in my mind.

There is clutter, and dishes, and overnight guests, and animals galore, and laughter, and spilt wine, and a dog on the sofa.  The dust falls like fairy dust and the home is cozy and fine as it should be.

So, y’all, I look at them two traipsing across the kitchen floor that was clean for five minutes.  Pa hands over the eggs and the hundred pound puppy drools on the floor, both waiting for mama to smile.

And my heart swells, and I do, because that’s what brooms are for, and puppies, and husbands, and kids, and guests were always more important than footprints ‘cross the floor.

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Beautiful Pueblo

20180108_133406Our city has a bad reputation.  It has for as long as I remember growing up in Denver.  It was ranked one of the most dangerous cities to live in.  Some of the locals scratch their heads and wonder where they get their numbers from.  Some want to move to greener pastures…like California.  Because of the astonishing statistics here in Pueblo, we got a house for the price of a cardboard box in Denver.  There is an exciting revitalization going on here.  And as in most cases of any city, the crime seems to be concentrated in one area.  So, you don’t buy on the east side.  Unless you want a really cute old house for thirty thousand dollars.  Then go for it.  Because this is the city to be if you want to live in Colorado.

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One of my downfalls is that I am a homebody vagabond.  I want a home to create and decorate and garden and be cozy in but I am always looking for the next home.  The next city.  The next farm.  This drives my husband crazy.  But there are not two people on this earth more grateful for their own home than me and Doug.  So for the first time I am settling in.

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This town has everything Doug and I wanted.  And we wanted the impossible.  Can we be walking distance to Chinese food and the grocery store, a bike ride from the library and the coffee shop, live near a lake, have a view, be close to the mountains, live in a warmer climate, have an urban farm, be within practical driving distance from the kids and our work, live in a beautiful place, be near theater and fine dining but also be near farms and a quick jaunt to vacation spots?  Can we have it for next to nothing?

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$89,000 later and I need a bicycle because all of those things came to be in this small/big town of ours.  We tried to get our kids down here but the statistics still scare most folks off.  We haven’t heard of or seen anything that wouldn’t be happening in any other city.  We have found friendly folks, beautiful sunrises over lakes and hiking trails, flocks of geese, fine dining on the river, and home.  We have been here a year now.  What a lovely place to call home.

 

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Wintertide

It is about now that I start wanting my house guest to leave.

“Winter,” I say, “Old Chap, is there anywhere else you need to be soon?”

He shakes his head through gales of frost.

I put on another cup of coffee.  Put another log on the fire.

The cold crops go in the ground in six or seven short weeks.  We will have bustling to do to get the new garden fenced and the soil ready.  We will devour the warm days as they come.  Spring will surely rise from the frozen ground.  I appreciate the rest, the rest for the plants and trees, the water, the blah, blah, blah.

‘Tis about the mid of January that I am ever ready for blessed warmth and activity.  Yet Jack Frost rarely hauls out slow so I must welcome the guest awhile longer.

The snow lightly covers the landscape as the golden sun arises and sends glitter across the lawn.  My winter puppy is in love with the season and leads his walk outdoors by mouthing up big gulps of icy snow.  I found a small, fallen branch.  Abandoned after falling out of yonder tree.  The sap still slightly sticky.  I brought it home.  It is the flower of winter, the conifer bough, and it sits proudly in its vase upon the stove.  (The only place the kitties can’t get it.)  It hearkens the beauty of winter-all of its reds and greens and glittered snow and great open blue sky-and reminds me to walk upon its icy tread, to breathe fresh air and not yet make the spring to-do list, but to visit geese and winter ducks and welcome the winter time.

For a few more months anyway….

 

Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

20180103_073048The first seed catalogue arrived in the mail the other day.  My four year old granddaughter, Maryjane, took a sharpie and circled everything we need to order.  Instead of toys, she circles plants in seed catalogues.  She is one of us.

It is impossible, I believe, for a homesteader to not think of the garden at all times of the year.  I am creating a new space, roughly 500 square feet of ground.  A square, fenced in, next to the chicken coop, three feet from the porch turned greenhouse we are planning, and ten feet from the compost.  I dream of the colorful rows of fresh produce, the front yard of fruit trees and medicinal herbs, the patches of volunteer vegetables and wild foods.  But, these gardens, of course, cost money.  Fencing, glass, extra compost, and seeds do not come cheap.  I know it will all come together wonderfully and before I know it, I will be sitting here next year pondering the next season’s garden!

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I do love January, even if it is not my favorite month in the least.  It makes me rest.  We homesteaders aren’t much for rest.  We are a lot less anxious with our hands dirty, faces in the sun, planning, harvesting, moving.  The ground is asleep.  My fingernails are clean.  And I can dream, and January brings that lovely reflective sense of peace and accomplishment.  We dine like kings on everything we stored in the root cellar, freezers, and pantry from this last season.  We remark how beautiful our house is and our yard is coming together and in just short of one year’s time, we have transformed it into a working homestead.  Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Hawks swirl and the large lake is out our south windows and the city bus rumbles by out the north panes proving you can homestead anywhere.  I write on my list that I need lamp fluid for the oil lamps and more tea candles.  Wood is chopped and piled by the stove.  The chickens are waiting to be let out.  The farm dog sleeps and I need another cup of coffee and a sharpie so I can start circling items in the seed catalogue and create dreams for spring.

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