Buying Land to Homestead (city or country?)

So you want to be a homesteader?  You will need land!  Now, do you want to live in the city or the country?  You can certainly homestead either place.

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I found a city, within forty-five minutes of my husband’s work, an hour and a half from my children, that has a very reasonable housing market compared to the other places in Colorado.  Pueblo has every amenity; arts, theater, restaurantuuuuus, hiking, bike trails, museums, and farms nearby.  My beautiful little house is powered 100% with solar.  I heat the house with the wood stove or the gas furnace.  I have city water, but it tastes pretty good and it is a sure thing.  I have farmed the entire front yard, producing much of our own vegetables and fruit and some for canning plus all the perennial fruit trees and berry bushes are coming along fine.  The wild mulberries here are delicious.  I have a large chicken coop and lots of chickens.  I have a greenhouse and additional garden. I have a farm dog.  I have a root cellar.  I have everything I need to homestead well here.  We even have a lake one block away that is stocked by the city for free fishing.

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Living in the city has a ton of benefits like the ones above plus most cities allow goats and sheep nowadays.  The utilities are generally cheaper.  Without a well, one does pay quite a bit for water.  And there is the space issue.  You can only do so much before running out of room in the city.  I must say I am impressed with how much I can grow here though.  Using vertical growing techniques and permaculture ideas increases yield exponentially.  Finding a home in the city can often be more affordable as well.

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It’s a shame we aren’t city people.  In the country, you might have a view.  A few acres of land to traverse.  More options for animals.  Outbuildings.  Stars.  And country people are my people.  I may have grown up in the city, but I’ve always been a country girl.

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These are things to look for when you are looking for a homestead, whether it be in the city or the country.

Check zoning.  Can you have chickens?  How about, by chance, goats?

FHA doesn’t do Ag loans (agriculture zoning).  FHA is the most common lending so plan to find something residential that can have animals.

Check and see if the community has an HOA.  If so, do not move there.  You will not likely be able to grow corn in the front yard or have a rooster crowing.

A wood stove or wood burning fireplace is a must.  On a wood stove, you can place a pot of beans and a kettle of water or percolator on days that electric goes out.

If you are looking in the country, is it on city water?  Is there a well?  How deep?

Septic tank?  How old?  Get those checked before buying.

How many acres?  What is the zoning?

Let’s be honest now here.  EVERY farmer/rancher I know has an outside job.  It’s just the way it goes these days.  Someone in the household probably has to work.  Check the distance to work.  No one wants to commute two hours to the office!

Check the fencing.  Are you going to be able to keep your pup in?  Goats?  See realistically much work has to be done to move in.  Fencing in the city is incredibly important as well.  Preferably a six foot fence!

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Well y’all, that will get you started.  Happy land dreaming!

 

 

The Duck Healer (and other tales in Cherokee Home)

I was standing in the kitchen of the tiny farmhouse we lived in out on the prairie.  A small school bus turned into the winding dirt drive and proceeded towards the house.  Dust pulled up behind it as it bounced along.  I yelled to Doug in the next room, “Did we have a school group coming that I forgot about?”  He couldn’t remember one either.  I wiped my hands on my apron and stepped out the front door and waved.  The bus came to a stop next to the garden and through the windows I could see that this was one big family.  The children came bounding down the center of the bus and out into the fresh air.  A little girl held onto a large white duck.

“Something is wrong with his leg,” she said, looking up at me hopefully, “Can you fix it?”

“What’s wrong with that duck?” I asked, pointing to another one that they had brought with them.

“Oh nothing,” the mother replied, “the ducks can’t be separated or that one yells its head off!”

And so I went about healing the duck’s broken leg.

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My book, Cherokee Home, is my first fiction book, but as all good fiction is, it is nearly entirely based on true stories.

In my book, the main character is an herbalist and her stories are my stories.  The stories of the medicine man came from a medicine man. A dear friend of mine that I spent a summer writing down his stories with as he recovered from a stroke.

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My great grandfather was shot in a cornfield in Oklahoma gathering corn for supper one warm day.  My grandfather was only three years old but the family tale states that his father took his own life.  And perhaps that is so, but in that same time, in that same place, Cherokees were being shot or moved to California so that the oil companies could have their land.

I loved developing the characters who were as familiar to me as myself and my siblings.  I remember my mother reading to us at night as we colored in pictures of a coloring book, munching on homemade caramel corn.

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Cherokee Home came out last fall but I never really had time to promote it or to do book signings.  The other day I came across a picture of that duck from four years ago and smiled.

If you want to read a fun book that touches on history, culture, language, and real tales embedded in fun characters that is great for kids and adults alike, you can find it HERE.

All of my books are available at AuthorKatieSanders.com

(It is nearly impossible to get all typos out of manuscripts, but I sure try.  The one typo in the entire book is on the second page.  Lord, I am less judgmental about errors in books these days!)

Thank you all for supporting my writing!

The First Warm Day in the Garden (onions, garlic, rhubarb, and the elusive robin)

It was over sixty degrees for a pocket of time yesterday without its normal accompanying arctic wind to ruin all of the fun.  I sat in a lawn chair, my face to the sun intermittently reading and sipping a glass of wine until my face felt warm from those glorious rays.

“There are no robins,” I told my husband.  Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.  If the robins were not even here yet, then spring is not arriving early.

Little flitters of tiny, iridescent wings wafted past me.  I hope they are beneficial as opposed to a nemesis in my gardens.  They landed here and there.  I stood up and stretched and walked around my garden paths.  In the beds were rogue, forgotten splays of green- dark and alive.  Onions and garlic.  A tiny bit of spinach appeared in the pathway.  Funny place to grow.

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I let me plants go to seed in the fall because I am more interested in permaculture and sustained food than I am in neat rows.  (Which I seem to be rather bad at anyway!  The rows look like when I write on unlined paper.)  So the spinach decided to grow there, huh?  Well, so be it.  Bits of Swiss chard grow under a tree.

I am still getting used to the climate where we have moved.  It is warmer here but it is certainly not temperate.  But the growing season is quite different from our old town.  Here, I usually would plant onions and garlic (if I forgot to do so last fall…which I did) when I do the potatoes, right around St. Patrick’s Day.  One doesn’t want the beds to be waterlogged with snow for the next few months because the bulbs will decompose but a nice, damp, rich, fragrant, earthy, heady, malleable bed does call for something to be planted, don’t you think?  So, I took a cue from the garlic and onions that were already growing and planted my bulbs.  It was therapeutic in a way that only gardeners can understand.

I loosened the first four inches of soil.  Along somewhat crooked rows, three inches apart in all directions, I carefully placed their bottoms down and the papery points up, gently pressing them into the ground.  Eighty bulbs of red onions.  Three large heads of garlic separated into cloves.

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And four roots of rhubarb.  Every spring my Great Aunt Donna would call me and say, “Time to get the rhubarb!”  We would drive to Denver and head into her large back yard with her.  She taught me to place my thumb at the base of a stalk and lightly pull just so.  The foot and a half long stalk would easily come loose.  We both had a paring knife and would quickly remove the large leaf at the top and place it in a pile of ever growing foliage.  She would predict what her old apple tree was going to do this year.  Her beds were clean.  The compost was moving along nicely.  She would have me throw the leaves in the bin.  Into plastic newspaper sacks, the rhubarb stalks would go.  She would save a few for herself and send us home with pounds of them.  This will be the first season without Aunt Donna.  What will happen to her rhubarb?  I hope mine gets as full and healthy as hers.

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“Guess who’s here?” I shrieked into the phone.

“Who?” my husband answered, nearly alarmed.  The shrill chirping voice was almost a shock.  I recognized it before I saw them.  A pair of them hopping through the garden beds.  “The robins are back!”

 

Starting Seeds in Salad Containers

Over the years I have written about many ways to start seeds and they all have one thing in common, a simulated greenhouse.

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Now, every year I think I will have a real greenhouse.  Surely by the time I need to start seeds I will have one built or put together or otherwise exist, but then the same issue comes up every season (no funds), and so I am once again left with my own creativity.  This year I saved salad containers all year.  The kind with the lids.  You see, the key to seed starting is lots of sun and continuous moisture in a warm space.  It is so dry and cold here that I would be watering all the time and probably cause the seeds to mold.  No, I need a mother-nature-way of watering, softly and simply, with evaporation and condensation.

Many seeds should be direct planted.  Even though I added six weeks to my growing season by moving to Pueblo, I still need more time for peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.  I found last year that when I direct planted them, they almost made it before frost.  This year I am holding back half of the seeds to direct plant and half I will transplant.  Transplanting is not always successful so we figure that one of the ways will succeed!  (And so goes the life of a farmer.)

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Fill your salad container 2/3 of the way full with organic, potting soil.  You want room for the plants to grow.  Water the soil so that it is evenly damp.  We don’t want any marshes settled at the bottom, but you might be surprised how much water the potting soil can hold.

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When it is evenly damp, sprinkle the seeds over the soil somewhat spread apart.  Barely sprinkle on more soil to cover and use a spray bottle of water to really dampen.  Until they are established, a water bottle prevents water pressure from dislodging the seed or drowning the poor fellas.

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Close lid tightly and mark with a sharpie.  Because you will forget the varietal and date you planted!  Just trust me on this.

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Let’s see, now to find a place with at least six hours of sun where the cats won’t step on or eat said seedlings.  (A more difficult dilemma than one might think.)  The guest room has a nice sunny spot on the bed from the south facing window a good part of the day and the door closes.

Now over the next week or two, keep an eye on your seeds.  There should be consistent “rainfall” in the box.  If it slows (every other day or so) spray thoroughly with water and reclose.  When plants are 1 inch tall, open the top and water as needed making sure not to let them dry out nor drown.  (You can still use the spray bottle.)  Once they get to be about two or three inches, transplant into another container separately.  (A blog post on that will be in a few weeks.)

I don’t know about you but I am darn near stir crazy not being able to be outside doing something.  At least starting seeds makes me feel like spring has begun.

Our Farmstead Goes Solar

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Our farm began in an old house on two-thirds of an acre backing to the fairgrounds in a small, country town that will remain beloved to us for all time.  There on our rented mini-farm we watched goats, chickens, alpacas, and ducks play in the back yard, grew so many pumpkins in the front yard that people speeding down the street slammed on their brakes to take a better look, and we farmed the rest of the driveway.  We fell in love with oil lamps in that house.  The sweet glow of old fashioned light as we read in the evenings.  The gentle tick-tocking from the cuckoo clock on the wall letting us know the time as the stars came out and the moon rose.

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The landlords were losing the house but we found an amazing farm on ten acres where we would live in a late eighteen-hundred’s homestead on the property near the owner’s own house.  We had a wood cook stove to heat the house and cook on.  For a few months in the warm autumn of that year the world looked enchanted indeed.  We plotted a large garden, and gathered three cords of wood.  The chickens and goats were far from the house and we missed seeing them.  That winter we mastered the art of starting a fire while the house was thirty-seven degrees.  We quickly realized that the small firebox was not going to help and put in a large wood stove with our own money.  Of course, many of you know the ending of that dreadful tale.  We were forced to leave after putting every penny into that farm.

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So from friend’s house to friend’s house we went until we had enough saved to get into a beautiful, decidedly on-grid apartment.  That year was fun using a switch to turn on the fireplace, turning the heat up, basking in a large tub.  But the cement gets to a Farmgirl and it was time to see what was next.  Agricultural land was out of the question with the loan we qualified for.

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We found our homestead on the south side of a big-small town.  It’s big, but everywhere you go you see folks you know and I have never met friendlier people than here in Pueblo.  One third of an acre, an adobe shed with seven foot fencing made a fine chicken yard, wood floors for easy cleanup on what we knew would be our urban farm, and a wood stove held prominent position in the main room.  A root cellar holds hundreds of jars and the climate here allows for prolific gardening.  And dreaming.

The large grandfather clock keeps time, ticking regally and alerting us to each quarter hour and moon cycle.  The wood stove heats the house well, save for the back bedrooms.  We are constantly looking for ways to increase our sustainability.  How can we use less?  How can we spend less?  How can we show the beautiful earth that we are grateful?  And in return for our simplicity we find a peaceful existence of health and quiet joy.

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In the city, it is nearly impossible to be off the grid.  One can easily find one’s home condemned if attempted.  Composting toilets are against code.  City water is a given.  But there are still things we can do.  For us, the next step was solar power.  On that first farm, it would have been impossibly expensive (particularly for a rented home), but here on our very own home and in this time, it is absolutely practical and affordable. In fact, it cost us nothing.

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The solar company comes out and surveys your property, sees about light hitting the roof, and local zoning.  With a credit score of 650+ you get a loan for the amount of the solar panels, which was about $10,000.  $3000 is rebated back to you on your taxes.  We put nothing down.  The loan amount is the very same that we pay for electric every month so there is no change for us.  My neighbor’s electric bill is three times higher than ours, so she would save much, much more.  We pay a slight $8 charge to our utility company to “manage” our electricity.  Once the panels are paid off, we only pay the $8.  Our home value goes up as well.  The solar panels are flat against the roof and hardly noticeable at all.

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I have written many times how all of us really need to use less.  Wind energy is so destructive.  Obviously the power we have been creating with fracking and coal is detrimental.  Solar panels never decompose.  We can’t keep going on about the government and big oil.  We cannot stand around with our “Save the Earth” signs and not do something ourselves.  Solar was a great way for us to use considerably less resources, save thousands of trees, the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road, and using Father Sun for our power “needs.”  (I guess refrigeration and internet are fun.)  And it is completely accessible.

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If you are in Colorado, call Peak View Solar.  Everyone was so friendly and easy to work with.  Elisa Harrelson, 719-387-7232.  They have a referral program so mention us when you call!  It will help me get my greenhouse going!

Other things you can do to help save resources:

Eliminate animal products from your diet.

Grow a huge garden, community garden, or support local farmers.

Buy organic.

Drive less- get a bicycle!

Don’t buy crap. You know you don’t need that.  Put it back and save the money for seeds!

A wood stove is carbon neutral.

Preserve your own food.

Go for a walk.  The more you are in nature, the more inclined you will be to not hurt her.

Be grateful for life.  Indeed we are lucky to be alive this day.  Happy farming!

Mama’s House

We took the long way ’round.  Through hillsides and pastures, leaving city behind and all the modern life we knew.  We opened a shop, we raised our children, we rented farms, we lost everything, we were heartbroken, Doug went back to work, we opened a shop, we grew, we met mentors, we taught, we loved, we persevered, we searched, we prayed, we sang, we are on our way right now to Pueblo to close on our house.  Thank you for all the prayers and good wishes and hugs and life you’ve shared with us.  Here’s to many, many more years writing from our own Mama’s House.

Being Present, Manifesting a Home, and the Pumpkin Lady

I am reading a fabulous, fabulous book.  “What I Know For Sure” by Oprah Winfrey is both compassionate, real, and thought provoking.  It is allowing me to read it while nodding, for those things I know for sure too, and then consider whether I really put those things in motion.

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I finished the first section last night about Joy.  The secret to a joyous life is to be present.  So true when one thinks about laughing hysterically in a moment with friends over something nonsensical, drying one’s eyes, and then embracing in the moment.  That is joy.  I ought to laugh more.  In the mornings as I enjoy my cup(s) of hot, dark coffee and write to you at sunrise, I look out the window and thank God for this little “vacation” I am on.  No deadlines, no to-do list, no….then I get antsy and want to-do list back!  I have been sitting and thinking for two months.  There is a real possibility of losing it!  Shh, be present…

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I love watching everything that Maryjane does.  Listening to her little words.  Spending so much time with Doug.  Taking walks and holding hands.  Tending to the greenhouse.  Watching the leaves turn.  Visiting friends.  Resting my body.  Resting my mind.  Ok, well, trying to rest my mind.

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But, there must be balance.  I cannot be present all the time or I would get nothing done.  I am presently manifesting with help (Divine and friends!) and dreaming (because that is what I do).  We have always known what house we want.  Out of the twenty-five places I have lived in my life there is only one that really felt like home.  It was our house in Kiowa.  The one we moved out of last year because they couldn’t keep up the mortgage payments and needed to sell it.  We thought Calhan was our forever farm.  It was a mere stepping stone.  What we really wanted was to own a home.  I guess the only way that we could own a home was by losing everything.  Our friends want to buy us a house and hold the note until we can get our finances in order.  A gift beyond measure.  We know which house we want.  It has been empty since we left it.  People around town wonder where the Pumpkin Lady went.  Not a bad nickname.  There are lots of hoops to go through.  But Friends, we are ready to go home.

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Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

Freezer Camp

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, off to Freezer Camp we go…!”  The sing song text came over after I told my friend, Jamie, that the roosters lost their jobs.

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The landlords decided that the chickens should stay in their coop and modest enclosure from now on.  The roosters’ jobs were to protect from predators, to sound the alarm should a hawk fly overhead, and to make babies.  Once they all moved into snug quarters they decided their new jobs were to have sex and eat as much of the buffet as they could.  Egg production declined, and food intake went up.  The good looking fellows, I am afraid, had to be laid off.

I used to get so angry when I would read articles in Mother Earth News or other publications about how eating meat was actually better for the environment.  Or studies that eating meat is actually good for you (I still wonder sometimes).  I was a staunch supporter of no killing.  We were vegan, and our children were vegan, and by golly our cats would have been vegan too if we could have found a way!  We published vegan cookbooks and made fun of meat eaters and went to vegan restaurants and were never going to eat a chicken!  Moving to the country changes one’s ideals a bit.

I noticed my country friends had animals they used for meat.  These animals were raised in a happy go lucky place, fed what they were intended to be fed, and killed swiftly, usually without knowledge of the situation.  These animals were not in a factory farm setting.  They did not wallow in filth, in closed-in cages, eating dead animals and genetically modified foods, many never seeing the light of day.  Abuse on the line of murder is common and that side of the meat eating industry is beyond devastating and morally way off base.  But these animals were living a good life and were spared the atrocity of old age.  My old chicken, Laverne, is the saddest to thing to watch.  We could have done her a service by lopping her head off last year and could have put food on the table as a bonus.

I realized that the unending damage of mono-crops, especially soy, was going into a lot of my “healthier” meat alternatives.  That big companies owned these seemingly peaceful veggie companies.  Animals will be killed, just like people, in wars and in natural disasters, by our outlandish cars, by plowing fields for soy beans.  The pastures and rolling plains dotted with cows could not be if we did not support the local rancher.  Food closest to its source has to be far healthier than the unidentifiable ingredients on the packages lining the shelves of the health food store.

My goal is to provide as much food for our table as possible because I will know where it came from, who touched it, no chance of listeria or e-coli here!  So, Christopher Robin and Owl (I really need to stop naming them!) will do their part on this farm.  They snuck by the inspectors at the hatchery, pretended to be girls, came to live at our farm, had a marvelous time, and now will join freezer camp.  Seems fair!

I am thankful that I can live around animals, give them a great life, and provide my own food.  This is the good life.