The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

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I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

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This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

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I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

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FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

3 Jars of Pickles (canning a little at a time and a pickle recipe)

There is nothing saying that canning has to take all day.  Preparation, a zillion jars, boxes of veggies, apron donned, friends over.  You are every bit as efficient if you are able to can a few things at a time on a whim.

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Do you remember my interns from a few years back?  Ethan and Stephanie would bring in a bunch of green beans every day.  And then some more at night sometimes.  I often prefer canned green beans and we could only eat so many fresh.  Now, I was accustomed to ordering two bushels of green beans from a farmer family of mine.  In a two day whirlwind I would put up enough green beans for winter so what was I going to do with all of my beans?

I wanted to teach the young interns to can so we put up a few jars.  It didn’t take any time at all and then every day we just canned a few more and pretty soon the entire larder was filled with that exceptional summer of green beans and I never did have to order green beans to put up!

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That summer changed my perception on canning.  If things are harvested today or are fresh right now and you are not going to eat them now, can them.  It all adds up.  Sunday I was perusing the farmers market tables taking in all the bounty and color (mind you the only thing in season in Colorado right now is asparagus and spinach, everything else got shipped in from California….) and saw the cutest, crispest looking little cucumbers.  I had never seen that particular varietal so I brought them home.  They just filled two 12 ounce jars and one pint jar.  That is three jars of pickles off my list of larder needs.

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Easy Pickles

Holding jar at an angle place cucumbers around the edges and in the center, finagling the puzzle until they all fit snug and are ends up (doesn’t matter which end).  Or slice into 1/2 rounds and place in jars.  There should be one inch head space still.

Fill clean jar of cucumbers 1/2 way up with vinegar (I used my friend, HotRod’s homemade malt vinegar).

Add 1 teaspoon each of dried dill (dill isn’t in season yet), mustard seeds, celery seeds, and sea salt.

Add a smidge of hot red pepper flakes if you wish.  Maybe a clove of garlic.  A half teaspoon of sugar.  Your choice.  It’s fun to play with flavors.  It doesn’t change the recipe.

Fill to 1/2 inch headspace with water.  Run a damp wash rag over the rim and then replace lids.

Place in a canning or stew pot of hot water.  Water level has to cover jars.  You can put a towel between the jars to keep from clinking.  Bring to boil and boil 5 minutes plus 1 minute for every 1000 feet above sea level.  So, I did 11 or 12 minutes.  Remove from pot and let sit on counter overnight.  You will hear that lovely “click”, a favorite sound among homesteaders.  The pickles are done in a few months.  Label date and contents.

NOTE: Pour boiling water from a kettle into jars to rinse them out.  Put lids in a bowl and pour boiling water over them.  That is all you need to do.  The whole idea is to have clean, hot jars.  That does the trick.

Happy Canning!

The Interim Room (and a recipe for a luxurious oil bath)

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I am sitting in the waiting room between the first part of my life and the second.  A space with cream colored walls and carpet and a fireplace run by a light switch.  It’s quiet here in this respite room as I wait for the universe to throw open the next door.  I breathe and listen to my own heart beat.  My lesson here is rest.  Learning to balance rest, work, and play. I am plenty good at the work and play part, not so much with the rest.  I am forced to learn rest before I can move on.  It is imperative to the creation and success of our next ventures.

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I will be forty-two next week.  I am thankful for each and every birthday as I know how precious they are no matter the age.  Perhaps I will be sitting on a beach or running about the San Diego zoo or strolling a really fresh farmer’s market.  I know not, open to adventure, we fly out Tuesday to stay with our friends, Lisa and Steve, who graciously opened their home to us.  We are taking the opportunity to travel some this year before we have to find farm sitters again!

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I am really listening to myself in the silence.  I am highly sensitive person.  I have to be careful what I watch or read as it can completely change my heart rate, ignite fear, create chaos.  I close my eyes and meditate on nothing, or love, or acceptance, or peace as I look out beyond the crows to the snow bound mountains and the low lying clouds that embrace.  I stretch into yoga poses, more flexible and getting stronger than I have been in a long time.  I have written poetry and gratitude every day since the beginning of the year and my poetry collection is growing into an anthology of my life.  I recognize myself more, I embrace change, I look forward to the future, but I embrace today.  Even the dishwasher and dryer (which I still could do without).

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The highlight of this beautiful apartment is the garden tub.  The first I have fit in at nearly six feet tall.  It is wide in girth and long and luxurious as I rest my neck against its back and meld into the warm water in the warm bathroom with candles lit.  My spirit resetting at each wave of water and each meditation prompt, and each yoga move, and each delicious clean dish served from my kitchen.  A lovely interim.

The Luxury Bath

As the bath is filling, light candles.  Let there be silence, it is mesmerizing.

To water add a good drizzle of oil, such as olive, apricot kernel, avocado, sunflower, et cetera.

Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to balance the PH of the body.

Add 1/2 cup of fine sea salt.

Rest in bath and pour a bit of your favorite (not volatile or hot) essential oil under the pouring water.  I particularly love rose, lavender, jasmine, and/or orange depending on my mood.

Breathe and rest completely.

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Rest, I am learning, is as important as work and play.

(You can type “A Walk in the Vineyards” in the Search and find our week of adventures in Napa Valley and San Francisco with Steve and Lisa from a few years ago.)

Space and Seed Wonderings

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After writing the post about what I would do if I had no fear I realized that deep down I was done with the retail side of herbalism.  I wanted to get back to helping people that came to me directly and I want to make medicines for them on the spot with what is there.  It may sound silly, and not at all business savvy, but I was getting too big.  So within four weeks of that post I have sold my business name, almost cleared out all of my stock, and have really promoted my farm and school.  I am getting regular queries on what my farm will offer and folks are signing up for classes.

Then I wrote two books and rather than waiting to be discovered I just self published them.  This is called, Taking your life into your own hands!  Just do it!  It has to work!  I am not afraid of whether the farm will work.  Of course it will.  I am afraid that I will not plant enough.  I still do not have any idea how many lettuce seeds to plant.  How many tomato plants?  How many cabbages?  We need enough vegetables to feed our family, to preserve for the winter, and to sell at the market, and have some available for folks that visit the farm.  That seems like a lot.  Do I have enough space?  Time shall tell.  I guess I will make charts.  How much space does one broccoli take? (1 foot)  How much broccoli do I want for us? (One head every other week?)  Twenty-six plus however many I want to sell.  So, let’s say I want to sell another twenty-four heads of broccoli then I need one fifty foot row to grow broccoli.  I can grow greens in between and herbs.  They can share space.  I need to do that with all the seeds I bought!  There has to be an easier way!  I am sure the longer I farm, the more in tune I will be and this will come more naturally.  In the meantime, where should I put the corn?

I’m excited to watch this year’s farming season transpire.  I am excited to hear about how you are making your dreams come true as well!

Prairie at Dawn (and you can rest in January!)

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I stepped outside before the sun’s colorful hands glided over the edge of the prairie.  The lighting was surreal and looked as if I lived in a Renaissance pastel that might hang in the museum.  A painted landscape so beautiful my mind could hardly fathom.  The owls called to each other from tree to tree and the city lights in the distance shone against the silhouette of the mountain.

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Our year starts in spring when the baby goats are born and we start our early planting.  Spring is filled with preparing beds, planting at the right times, bottle feeding goat kids, cooing over baby chicks, and praying for warm weather.  We are also madly getting ready for farmer’s markets.  Preparing, bottling, labeling, farmer’s market checklist; tent, tables, chairs, displays, application fees, products made…ready, set, go!

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And we catapult into summer where for the next four months family and friends have troubles getting a hold of us.  Those close to us understand.  We live a whirlwind of sunrises, farm animals, farmer’s markets, farming, herbal business, preserving, holding classes, getting ready for winter.  Always getting ready for winter.

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Sporting my new fashion look.

September seems like it will be slower as some markets draw to a close and we see our pantry filling up but for the next three months we will still be actively preparing, just as the ants and bees do, to settle in for winter.  Always wondering if we have enough stored.  Enough food…enough water…enough wood.

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Moving was a wonderful thing since it marked the end of our years of pining for a homestead.  It is exactly what we prayed for.  Low enough rent and no utilities that we can afford to be healers.  The landlords share the property which is not something we would have ever considered before until we started being intrigued by the idea of cohabitating homesteads where we started to think that we should not share property with friends.  Too complicated.  But, the idea is sound.  The owners here are quiet and leave us to ourselves but we are all here if the other needs us.  Best of both worlds.  We are near my favorite city.  In twenty five minutes I am at a library, coffee shop, or restaurant if I want to be.  Then back to the confines of the vast prairie, large stars, and serene silence.  I am humbled to be here.  But moving was exhausting and we find ourselves longing for rest.  But there is something about Autumn that makes me want to keep working.  An innate desire to get things done and prepared.  The longer I homestead the closer to nature and natural seasons and intuition I get.

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Our friend, Jim, was one of my students; he is a Vietnam Vet, commander for a veteran’s organization, lover of plants and herbs, a survivalist, loyal friend, and in the tree business.  He gave me a great deal on three cords of wood.  Even though it is a lot of money for us, a winter without utilities will even things out.  He dropped off the cords one by one while Doug and I spent the afternoon stacking wood.  Doug kept stopping to pull up his jeans.  Forget a gym membership.  We work hard, our muscles are defined, we eat healthy, homemade food, and though we’ll be a little soft by the end of winter, we’ll be right back in the swing of things for the remainder of the year.  Homesteading looks good on folks.

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We have a pantry full, two freezers full, now a total of four cords of wood, and we are getting closer.  Time is ticking because we are still doing farmer’s markets through the end of the month and craft shows through the middle of December.  In between we get ready for our winter rest.  We are drying off the goat; we have plenty of cheese made and milk frozen.  We are getting ready to breed Isabelle again.  Today the gutters will be cleaned, homestead area mowed, garden worked on, chimney cleaned, and orders filled, even though we are under the weather.  The seasons don’t stop for sick days.  Soon we will only have craft shows on the weekends and the holidays to look forward to.  Then for three months we will rest and grow restless and be ever ready for the seasons to start over.  We are thankful to live this lifestyle.  This is truly the good life.

A Peek at the Typical Week of a Farmsteader

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Some folks envy us.  Some folks think we are crazy.  Some of our relatives wonder if we work.  Some people come from all over to learn what we do.  If you ever wondered what life on a farmstead looks like, particularly for an entrepreneur, here is a small peek into a typical week.  If you are interested in farmsteading, we will teach you everything you need to know to make small steps towards basic self sufficiency and regaining your freedom by making your own schedule.  Just check out the Homesteading School link on the menu.  We also have a Certified Herbalist and Master’s Herbalist program to help you learn everything you need to know to care for yourself, your family, and the animals that will share your farmstead.

Monday: Farm day

Up just before 7:00.  Doug goes outside to tend to the animals.  It could be a heavenly sixty five degrees or a miserable twenty below, it makes no difference.  Isabelle must be milked!   I make coffee and when Doug comes in after milking the goat I strain the warm milk from the bucket and prepare him a cup of coffee with fresh goat’s milk and a bit of sugar while he feeds and lets out the chickens and ducks.  We then spend some time writing, reading, paying bills, relaxing, and planning the day.

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After breakfast we begin our work.  Farm day is also canning day.  Any harvesting that needs to be done is completed in the morning before the plants go limp from the heat.  If I needed a boost in produce I would have bought a box of tomatoes or something from my friends at Miller Farms Sunday at the market.  We have to be diligent with canning.  Our winter food source is our root cellar/basement and freezer.  Yesterday a flat of tomatoes became six quarts of ruby colored pasta sauce.  We have been out of sauce since March to my utmost dismay and I will be canning a lot more this year.  We will double the eighteen jars we put up last year.

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A large pot of chicken broth was also in the works.  I saved in a freezer bag all chicken bones and odds and ends of carrots, onions, and celery over the past month and threw them all in the pot covered with water.  I added large handfuls of herbs and a bit of salt and pepper and let it simmer for an hour and a half.  This was pressure canned to make easy quarts of ready made broth.  This is a chore we do all year.

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Large bowls of green beans have been coming out of our garden and as quickly as we can process them, there are a bunch more ready.  It has been such a gift to be able to eat and preserve produce from my own gardens.

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Farm day includes any and all planting, weeding, mulching, harvesting, bee hive checking, fence fixing, coop and goat pen cleaning, lawn mowing,  and transplanting.

We fall in bed exhausted.

Tuesday: Class and Cooking Day

Anyone who wanted to learn to can would come on Monday to help.  Folks that want to learn specific skills like soap making out of fresh goat’s milk, candle making in containers with handles so that you can use it as guiding light at night, cheese making with delicious goat’s milk and fresh herbs, etc. come on Tuesday.  Each week I teach something new and also stock up for our own family.

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Tuesday is when I bake bread for the week and make a batch of hard cheese to start aging to enjoy in the winter.  I also plan the menus for the week and start preparing what I am packing (breakfast and lunch) to take to the markets.

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Doug works on miscellaneous things pertaining to business.  Paperwork, filling orders, errands, and anything else I give him in the form of a to-do list is on Doug’s agenda.  Every other Tuesday evening he shoots pool and I quilt in the evening or we might opt to take a walk or watch a funny show.

We fall in bed exhausted.

Wednesday: Apothecary Day

This is the day we get all of our product filled for the farmer’s markets that week.  We make lotion, fill bottles, combine teas, and get the car packed for Thursday’s market.  People seek me out all week for help and call at all hours of the day.  We work with them immediately but the farmer’s markets not only help us bring in more income, but also helps us meet infinitely more folks than we would from our farm.  We are able to help many more people and interest people in classes.

I also teach a Master’s class in herbalism on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday is also the day that I make extracts.  I harvest herbs that are ready to be cut and place them in jars.  All of my new recipes are made with fresh herbs straight from the gardens and prepared on the spot where they will brew until this fall.

Thursday: Market Day

Doug milks early and we head off to Colorado Springs (a 45 minute drive) at 6:30.  We set up our tent, our tables, our wares, and talk, help, and promote until 3:00.  We then break down and reload the car and sleepily drive home, arriving back at the farm at 4:30.  A quick dinner is all I can come up and the rest of the day is slower.

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We watch our granddaughter, Maryjane, the light of our life, four days a week while her mother is at work.  We are the only grandparents that do not have a nine to five job and dad is still in school so we get the great opportunity of playing with our baby most days.  Even though she wears us out, she adds a light and an energy to this place that I never take for granted.  She is a great gift to us.

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In the evenings, every single day, at around 7:00, Doug heads back in to milk Isabelle.  Twice a day, no matter the weather or our plans, Isabelle must be milked.  It is nice to have a set schedule.  It also saves us money.  Every time we make plans to gallivant about, we remember that we need to be home at seven!

Friday: House Day and Prepare for Markets

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Friday we deep clean our house.  All laundry should be done by this day.  We fill product that we sold the day before in preparation for the markets and get the meals packed for the next few days.  We even may have the opportunity to go out to eat with friends or just sit under the elm tree with a book.

Saturday: Market Day and Class

We head to the local farmer’s market on Saturdays.  It is close to home and ends early so it is obviously my favorite one!  We see lots of folks that used to visit our store and friends from around town come by to say hello.

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Our herbalist classes are on Saturdays.  People drive from all over to take my course and learn how to turn weeds into medicine that can heal up broken ankles or get rid of a nasty infection.  The classes are always eclectic, filled with interesting and fascinating students.  The coming semester promises to be full and two of the students came all the way from New York.  Ethan and Stephanie drove an RV here to Colorado to stay and work with me on everything from homesteading, to farming, to being my apprentices in herbalism.  They are a tremendous help and lovely company.

In the winter and spring we trade off dinner at our house, Kat and Rod’s, or Rodney and Pat’s.  We call it family dinner even though Doug and I are not related but rather adopted into their family.  We miss them in the summer!  We do not see much of our families either and try to find times to call.  Summers here on a farmstead are very busy!  In the winter we are less busy.  We just keep up with all the housework and cooking, the filling orders and classes.  But we stay fairly close to home in order to take care of our animals.

Sunday: Big Market Day

This is our biggest market day and we pack more medicines and products in the car to cover what we sold Saturday.  We get up at 4:45 to milk and head out by 5:30 to secure our spot at the market.  The markets are non-stop talking on hot pavement and really wear us out but they are imperative to our survival as herbalists and homesteaders.

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We run our errands in town after the market on our way home.  The library or health food store might be visits we need to make.  We then go home and relax before dinner needs to be made and the animals cared for.

We again fall in bed exhausted.  There is no need for sleep medicine in this house.

Making Our Own Schedule

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We make our own schedule.  It is freeing and satisfying.  We work very, very hard but we also have the option to say, “You know what?  The floors aren’t getting swept today.  Let’s go hiking.”  Yesterday was one such day.  While Doug and Ethan ran errands in Denver, Stephanie, Emily, Maryjane and I took a beautiful hike.  I still got the canning done (finishing early this morning).  Last night Ethan and Stephanie came in from their RV and we all enjoyed dinner in front of a recorded “Last Comic Standing”.  Wine and laughter poured freely and we ended the night later than usual under the stars admiring the Milky Way and shooting stars.

This is why we farmstead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farming Failure? (or enlightenment?)

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I am not sure how to tell my CSA members this week that I have more….lettuce.  Not many eggs (the girls are hiding them) and not much milk (Isabelle is giving less and I am taking more for cheese making).  Doug and I have been eating well.  We go out each evening and see what is growing.  We harvest four beets, fifteen snap peas, a large handful of beet greens, kale, spinach, and chard, four pods of peas, and ten purple snow peas.  Add some fresh garlic from the garden and a handful of chives.  This makes a really tasty dinner sautéed or roasted with a bit of goat cheese and some homemade bread.  Each day there is slightly new bounty, but not enough for a bushel extra a week to be harvested.  I keep thinking I need more space!

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After I read that book with the great CSA model that I wrote about last week, I was fired up.  Lord, when I get fired up, watch out.  I do everything intensely.  I give my husband a full time job with all the work I put out there for us.  I am gung ho.  But, I also just as easily see when that idea is not working and promptly put a stop to it.

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I was chatting with one of my friends who is one of seven kids from Miller Farms.  The work there is difficult.  That would be an understatement.  A thousand acres and a ton of farmer’s markets, crazy weather, and having to purchase food to bring to the farmers market at the beginning of the season is debt inducing and back breaking.  The kids, one by one, making their way to new fields.  Not farming ones.  Her friends who had a large farm near them just sold out and started a brewery.  Happy as can be and not nearly so tired.  This caused me to pause in my plans.

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I want to farm.  I want to farm and teach for life.  Can I imagine myself tilling enough fields and planting enough and hoeing enough and harvesting enough to feed even a hundred people?  Our quarter acre garden takes up a lot of time and there wouldn’t be much more to give.  When I brought produce to the market, there was very little of it.  I felt like a failure.  But, looking at the farm next to me unpack box after box of produce from Mexico and California, then stare at a customer right in the face and say they grew it made me realize, I am not a failure.  There is not a lot of produce right now.  I do not live in a climate that allows a ton of produce right now.  Also as I sold a bundle of onions for a buck, or last year with a handful of potatoes for a few dollars, I am not doing anyone any favors. I sell them the food that was supposed to feed my family, they may or may not let it rot, and then they (and we) are hungry again.

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I am a natural born teacher.  Even as a child I taught everything I knew.  I stayed in at recess in second grade to teach younger kids how to read.  I taught dance, modeling, and teach everything else I know from cheese making to soap making.  I am a teacher.

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I have become quite interested in Permaculture.  I have heard some lectures and read a bit about it and I think I will hit the library today to find out more.  I love the idea of everything growing willy nilly where it wishes and the lower impact on the earth.  The gardens I am attracted to are ones that hold a bit of spiritual magic, a place where prayer comes naturally, and the wild world lives as one, from micro-organisms to lady bugs to blue jays and squirrels.  A place I can teach my herbalist classes and homesteading classes.  Workshops and visitors, plenty of food and homemade wine, goats and chickens, and a pony for Maryjane.

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I do not want to quit being a farmer, ever.  But perhaps my vision of what a farmer is is being held captive, only seeing farmers as market farmers.  There are a lot of different farmers and farm techniques.  I could sell you a bundle of radishes or teach you (inspire you) to grow your own.

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This has been an amazing practice farm.  What a blessing to be here.  We have learned a few things.  When I started this blog we only had a handful of chickens and some sad looking plants in the garden.  We have learned how to grow food.  In the driveway, on the porch, in the side yard, the front yard, and in the raised beds.  I realized that the ants I tried to kill were taking away larvae that were eating my green beans.  I realized that the voles that Doug tried to kill were aerating the soil and that the mounds where I thought they took plants actually just covered the plants and those were the biggest under the soil.  I realize that city water is not much better than a swimming pool.  If  you set a bucket under the spigot to catch drips, the nauseating smell of chlorine rises up as you approach.  We have learned what we are good at and what we are not.  The search for a new farm to lease will be on shortly and we know what we are looking for.  We need an enchanting place to make into a learning place.  A spiritual place.  A place where we can provide for our family.  A place to learn more and more and more…..

Farmer’s Markets (behind the scenes)

Farmer’s markets have increasingly grown in popularity over the past several years.  It is hip to go to the farmer’s market and to support local farms.  But most folks have no idea what goes on behind the scenes.

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Here’s a look at the problems with markets but also why it is even more important for you to support them!

Problem #1- Overall, the success of the farmer is not the first goal of the market.  Farmer’s markets are set up to make money for the person organizing it.  Oftentimes, this is not a farm.  It is expensive to get into farmer’s markets.  Application fees, daily fees, plus taxes take a large chunk from a farmer’s income.  One can only sell so many carrots!  Farm run markets are often less expensive for the vendors and some markets really do care about the vendors.  Customers are often surprised that we pay so much to be involved in farmer’s markets.

Problem #2- Folks think the products should be cheaper.  I respond when people ask if I will cut a deal, “What?  I am already working for 50 cents an hour.  You think I should make less?”  They laugh and hand over the full amount.  The whole $4.25, people.  I stood out there tilling, amending, I spend money on seeds, I planted, I tended, I prayed, I weeded, I watered, I harvested, I made pretty, I am selling it for $2 a pound.  I have six pounds.  Now, next time y’all go to the farmer’s market, kindly refrain from trying to give the farmer any less than what they ask.  Believe me, no one is trying to get rich.  It is hard enough to keep afloat as a farmer.

Problem #3- Because folks want cheap, quick, and lots of vegetables at all times of the year, almost all farms around, from Pueblo to Boulder, ship in produce.  This turns a lot of people off.  But, if a farmer were to bring only what was growing, customers would be turned off by the sight of only greens and radishes until the end of June!  They want corn, dang it!  Red peppers and glowing aisles of richly colored vegetables like in Europe.  The prairie gives us bountiful vegetables, but not until late June.  Be patient, eat seasonally, and if you really want corn and tomatoes, don’t scoff at the farmer’s selection of shipped in vegetables, support them.  It seems silly to turn around and head to the grocery store to buy the same thing.  Get a farmer through until the goods start rolling in!

I do not intend to bring in any produce.  What I have is what I got.  The first market opens on Mother’s day and I am really hoping to bring lots of radishes, kale, spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard.  I have some early onions and spring garlic to add in and a few herbs.  I have eggs and milk shares.  That alone certainly could not support me but I have my herbal medicines, yarn, and other farm items to sell that we made.  Diversity can help keep a farm in business.

Problem #4- In my opinion, there are way too many multi-marketing items at the farmer’s market.  There are people there that sell something new every year and even pass it off as their own.  Ask questions.  Just because it is at the farmer’s market doesn’t mean that it is fresh, from a farm, or even made in this country!  We hand make everything we bring to the market.  We are truly a local company.  If we go into a store we lose the integrity of our products because we have to make more for cheap and work twice as hard for less.  The farmer’s market provides us a place to sell our items.

Which brings me to why, despite the problems, everyone should still support their local market.

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Reason #1- The farmer’s market provides a place to sell produce and other handmade goods without having to go into or own a store.  It provides a community of like-minded people that can get together, enjoy a beautiful day, and support each other.  We keep the money in the community, making all of our lives and livelihoods stronger.

Reason #2- You can get really fresh, really nutritious food for less than the grocery store.  Straight out of the dirt, a few bugs still on it fresh.  It hasn’t been trucked from Chile.  It is environmentally smarter.  And the rows are just brimming with culinary inspiration!

Reason #3- Meet your farmer.  Food has become so faceless these days.  Where did that strawberry come from?  That chicken?  The lettuce?  We have no idea where anything is grown.  This way, you can see the person that was up at dawn harvesting it so that you can feed the kids great food.  The smile behind the table cares about what you eat.  I wonder if the reason the farming profession is way down is because people my generation and younger have no clue where their food comes from.  If children saw the farmer, saw the results, and was inspired to become a farmer themselves, that would be fantastic!

Reason #4- Get out of the cold, fluorescent lighted grocery store and get out into the great outdoors!  Enjoy the sounds of summer and the feel of the warm sun on your skin.  Choose from brightly colored radishes and early fruits and talk to the people around you.  Go home with bags of delicious new items.

One of our first markets in 2009.

One of our first markets in 2009.

Remember that we farmer’s market vendors have been there since before dawn setting up, even earlier harvesting and packing our cars.  We will be there into the heat of the day, long after you have left.  We are there in the pouring rain, the first frost, and are there so that you have sustenance and in return we have homes to go to.  Bring your bags and cash and we’ll see you at the first market!  And thank you for supporting your local farm.

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Eight Steps to Starting a Farm

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So you have decided to start a farm.  You have a burning desire in you that is unquenchable, filled with seed catalogues and pioneer books.  A desire to grow your own food.  Fed up with the what the government deems safe for consumption, you have decided to take matters in your own hands and will feed your family yourself.  Organic, heirloom, homegrown, beautiful produce will fill your yard and your pantry will become your grocery store.

Perhaps you also desire to feed others, share the bounty of healthy vegetables.  Maybe you want to start a community garden, or teach people to farm.

You love making $1.25 an hour, working for eighteen hours a day in the summer and fall and enjoy dirt, bugs, and cold beers after weeding.  You are in good company, my friend, make yourself at home.  Now let’s talk about how you make this a business.

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1. Find out the rules in your area.  Some of you may not even be able to have a clothes line let alone a farm.  It does not matter how much land you have or what your soil type is.  You can fix all that.  You can use containers, raised beds, and the side yard.  You can amend the soil with compost and make wonderful soil.  Here at Pumpkin Hollow Farm we are on two-thirds of an acre.  Essentially two lots in town.  Because we live in a small town, no one has thought to make a ton of rules yet.  I asked the town administrator and was given the go for farm animals as long as I don’t carried away (whoops) and the neighbors don’t complain.  Simple enough.  I can farm to my heart’s content.  We rent, but the landlord is out of the state and as long as our rent comes in regularly, they don’t care what we do.

I planned grand schemes of pumpkin festivals, a roadside stand, and folks coming over to pick up their vegetables.  That is where I ran into trouble.  I am zoned residential, not commercial.  I can grow and sell everything somewhere else, but not on my own property.  No businesses allowed.  Soooo, that takes some creativity.  Deal with what you have but in the next place, check ordinances!

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2. Choose a name and make a logo.  We did a contest on our Garden Fairy Apothecary Facebook page and a gentleman picked the perfect name for us.  Our family has always loved autumn and attend pumpkin festivals with the reverence of religion.  The movie, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is memorized and quoted throughout the year.  We even have a cat named Ichabod Crane.  We love the colors of fall and especially pumpkins.  So when Pumpkin Hollow Farm came up as a suggestion, we grabbed it!  Doug said that we don’t live in a hollow though.  No imagination I tell you.  I showed him where the ground was slightly lower in front.  Done.  Hollow.

Now, Google your name.  Make sure there aren’t two million entries for Old McDonald Farm, or whatever you come up with.  There are a few Pumpkin Hollow Farms but they are in another state.  We then checked to see if the domain name was available (more on that in a few) and if the Facebook page was available.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm was born.

Draw a logo or have someone do it for you.  For our Garden Fairy Apothecary logo I chose a beautiful and eye catching fairy from free stock photos.  The problem is that I cannot blow it up for larger advertising.  My art banner has one of my paintings portrayed on it.  When we took the photo of the painting, it was easily blown up to make a stellar banner.  I painted an Americana style pumpkin and that will become our logo on the banner this year.  HalfPriceBanners.com or your local office supply store can make banners for you.

3. Register your name.  The Secretary of State website for your state is your next stop.  For roughly $25 you claim your name.  Now, all hell could break loose and you could decide against having a farm.  That is fine, registering your name doesn’t make you have to have a farm.  It just makes sure that no one else takes your name within the state.

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4. Market your farm goods.  If you can set up a roadside stand, do it!  If not, then you may want to check into farmer’s markets in your area.  Google “Farmer’s markets in_______ (enter your town name)” and you will find the markets near you.  There should be a link to their website or at the very least their contact information.  Lately I have been able to reach prospective markets by finding them on Facebook.

You will need to fill out an application.  There is often a fee to get in ranging from $5 to $200.  There will be market fees each week ranging from 10% of your sales to $100 a week base.  Choose your markets wisely.  Just because they are more expensive does not mean they are a better market.  We are choosing one of the more expensive this year because we have some established clientele there, it is a short drive, and we are tired of driving across the state at 4:30 in the morning to set up.

Be prepared for a lot of hard work.  Folks stroll down the lanes at farmer’s markets and see the people running the booths and mistakenly think that this is easy.  Think up before dawn, harvest, finish packing the car, have your lunch ready (and breakfast, and coffee, and snacks) and after taking care of the animals, stumble over to the car.  If you don’t get there early someone will take your spot.  It is rather competitive at the markets.  Just smile and get there early.  Once everyone is set up the ugliness goes away and everyone is friendly again.

Farmer’s markets aren’t always the best way to make money because the market managers want their share too and folks that visit the market seem to think it is a swap meet.  Pick your prices, be proud of your work, and stick to your guns.  Display is everything.  Do not make people come into the booth to see your wares.  They will not venture past the imaginary line in the front of the tent.  I promise you.  Set the table up as close to the front of the tent.  Use bright colors and unique display pieces to show off your items.  Have a banner made so folks know who you are.  It is best to sign up for markets in February.  They fill up.

Also look into local festivals.  We have Elizabash and Kiowa Days here.  Most towns have a celebration that has vendors.  That is a great way to meet local people and let them know what you are doing.

There are also co-ops or selling right from the yard if the town will let you. (or don’t see you…)

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5. Advertise the farm.  Make fliers and put them around town and on community boards.

Start a Facebook page.

Get a website.  1&1.com and Go Daddy are good places to register your domain.  1&1 had great templates that make it very easy to set up and design a website.  You just fill in the text and upload pictures.  The rest is designed for you.  For $10 a month, it is worth it!

Start a blog or write articles for local papers.

SAM_0499We made brochures this year and handed them out at the market, put them in packages we shipped, and have them on community boards.  This has really increased interest.

6. Find out if the areas that you are going to be selling in charge taxes on food.  A lot do not, some do.  If you need a tax license then you can go to your local tax office and apply for a number.  Send your sales tax in quarterly.  A lot of markets don’t ask for your tax information, and most vendors, I would say, do not even claim the income.  That is your call.

For income tax, fill out a Schedule F.  Here you claim your income but also write off chicken feed, seeds, and beer!  Well, maybe not beer.

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7. Order seeds.  You probably already have.  Keep in mind that organic and heirloom seeds keep history and health alive.  At the very least farm organically.  I love Seed Savers, and other heirloom companies.  If you are ordering corn, order organic seeds!

8. Don’t limit yourself to produce.  You can sell a table full of carrots and only go home with sixty bucks.  Think eggs, canned goods, meat, vanilla extract, baked goods, homemade vinegars, anything else that you do or make, consider adding it to your list of goods.  We have an Apothecary.  We make our living from making and selling herbal medicines.  We would not be able to survive on this small of acreage as farmers alone. Variety is the key.  I will also have hand spun yarn and soy candles.  A bit of this, a bit of that.  I also promote my classes.

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Now that you have done all that, you are ready to call yourself a farmer.  So, like the rest of us, you must wait patiently until spring.  Happy Farming!

Journey To Our First Farm-A Love Story (Arrived)

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First things first, chickens.  A few short weeks after moving in Andy came to spend the weekend.  He went with me to the feed store a few blocks away and helped me pick out the cutest, fluffiest egg layers we could find.  We chose ten one day old chicks.  We had never held chicks before.  They are absolutely precious.  Their small, soft bodies cradle perfectly in the palm.  Their innocent chirping and small frames bring out the mama in anyone.  We brought them to our new farmhouse and set them carefully in a large plastic box with a heat lamp in the crooked chicken coop.  We kissed their heads.  We cheered them on.

Each child and adult in the household went out to the crooked chicken coop several times a day to give kisses on the head, and to see what the chicks were up to.  We held them close, we named them.  These were not going to be eatin’ chickens.

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We were sad when two passed away.  We were told that was normal.  Laverne and Shirley were our Jersey Giants (at two inches tall, this was hard to believe), Lucy and Ethel were our California Whites, and Mahalia, Peep, Violet, and Daffodil were our Golden Buffs.  Their personalities began to emerge.  Peep would stop in front of you to get picked up and loved.  Lucy and Ethel were, as their monikers suggest, always into mischief.  But, they were lovable little white chickens.  Violet kept pecking at my toe nails which quickly became unnerving.  Her antics made her stand out as the constantly in detention chicken.  She was ever protective of the flock.  The Buff girls were all sweet.  Laverne and Shirley with their blue-black feathers and lovey personalities won us over.  We saved Shirley’s life by applying a cotton ball neck brace around her tiny neck and letting her watch television with us.  She survived her injury and won our hearts.

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We ignored the boards falling down around the raised beds (we are still overlooking them) and added in compost.  We planted all of the beds and waited patiently for fresh greens, tomatoes, and farm fresh eggs.  Homegrown food was becoming an obsession and we wanted to be able to provide as much of it for our family as we could.

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The store was still busy and we were doing farmer’s markets as well with our herbal medicines so the garden was somewhat neglected but we did get some produce out of it and the eggs we were getting were the best we had ever had.

One warm autumn evening, the Broncos were playing so the game was turned up high.  I heard Bumble barking hysterically from outdoors.  Bumble doesn’t really bark.  I went to the back door and looked outside and what I saw seemed unreal.  A horror movie of sorts.  A medium sized dog was running around playfully, slightly mad, with Violet in his jaws.  Feathers were everywhere.  A dead bird lay in the doorway of the coop.  A small child, not more than four, stood in the fenced in area for the chickens, a scratch across his face, a blank look in his eyes, kicking a white chicken viciously as she struggled to get away, convulsing to her death.  I began screaming.  I’m not sure who was the more crazy.  Me, the dog, or the child.

I swung over the fence with ease in my delirium and approached the young mother.  She could say nothing but sorry and blamed the dog.  I continued to scream and cry for another two hours in my yard.  Into the night we searched for missing chickens.

Lucy died, after struggling.  Violet was already stiff with rigor mortis.  And little Shirley, who had survived an injury and won our hearts, lay dead as well.

We found Ethel running around desperate to get into the coop early the next morning.  The other chickens avoided the horrid fate.  I wondered if I was cut out for this.  I have such an intense love for animals.  Perhaps farming and animals was not right for me.  We have had no other predators since then, thankfully.

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I still wonder at times if we are cut out for this.  If Katrina delivers a baby that dies, Doug and I would be heartbroken.  We do not want to lose any of our animals.  But, that is what makes us cut out for having farm animals.  These animals live very good lives.  Spoiled, and well loved.  Well fed, and even if we sell the babies or lose chickens, we will have given them a great life until then.

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The next spring we got more chickens and dug up the entire yard to make a quarter acre of growing space.  These events I have written about.  Our farmer’s market folks started to taper off at the store.  No one wanted to drive that far and if you aren’t directly in front of people, they forget you.  New folks that walked the street looking for antique stores literally looked at our sign and hastened their pace by us.  One woman walked in the store, looked around and slowly backed out of the store.  I told Doug I was going to set up a giant cauldron with dry ice just for laughs our last day open.

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Turns out it was the best thing to close the retail shop.  We are more available to folks when they need us when there aren’t set store hours.  I have many herbs on hand growing in the yard.  The farm is taking shape with its alpacas, goats, chickens, a rooster, and whimsical pumpkin patch out front.  This year we will add many more medicinal herbs, plant more intensely, and hit the farmer’s markets as farmers and herbalists.  Our lease is up next year and at that point we may search for a bigger farm.  Baby steps.  We have about mastered this practice farm.

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We are farmers.  When a passion is so strong that you cannot stop talking about it, can’t stop dreaming about it, it is your calling.  Doug’s passion is people, animals, farming.  Mine is educating, children, animals, farming.  We want to not only bring people fresh food but teach them how to do it.  Not just heal people, but teach them how to do it.  We want to leave a lighter footprint.  Lead a simpler life.  Lead a happy, peaceful, sometimes difficult and heartbreaking, but rewarding life.

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I know I could farm on my own.  I could fulfill all of these dreams alone.  But, I am so thankful to have found the love of my life to farm with.  To follow this journey with.  Each day we turn the pages of our joint chapters together, the next book to come.  Fourteen years ago this Valentine’s Day I met my future.  Together, we are making a difference and falling in love each day with each other and with this farming life.

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This is a love story.  Not just a romantic one, but a love story about the smell of fresh soil, the taste of cherry tomatoes straight off the vine, the warm sun on your face, the smell of roses in bloom, the sight of chickens running through the back yard, of fresh food, friends, family, community, and following your passions.  I’m in love.