Support Your Local Homestead!

farmgirl logo

For centuries women have tended the home and the family and on the side sold things made by their hands to help support their family.  It seems to be an innate instinct in us.  Many homesteaders are entrepreneurs.  In this economy it can be scary out there.  What can we do to make sure we can put food on the table?  What can we craft, make, sell excess of, teach?  There are many opportunities to start a homestead business.  I have always told my homeschooled children that I would rather them make a smaller amount of money and work their own hours taking pride in making things from their own hands then to be cooped up in a cubicle day in and day out unappreciated!

Over here, we are trying to reinvent our business. (Doug and I will be doing markets as well.) Trying to be resourceful to appeal to the public and the community so that we can put food on our table while helping those around us.  Nancy is looking for the same thing.  We absorbed everything Joel Salatin told us in an intimate gathering and farm to table dinner last summer.  We have read books.  I have actually exhausted every single farming book available to me in the library system. (Can someone please publish another one?  I need something to read!)  We feel the need pulsing through our blood streams to become farmers.  There are no books specific to us.  We are not in our early twenties.  We do not qualify for the term “Greenhorns”.  Pity, it is such a fun name!  Most of the farmers are older and are retiring.  There are only names signifying possible craziness when two middle aged women want to become farmers.  But boy do we look cute out in the garden!  What we do have is collective business experience, a youthful exuberance and tons of energy and ideas, and two daughters willing to tag along and help!  We have computer savvy husbands with two sets of extra strong hands.  We have support.  We have creativity and a great collection of cute farmgirl clothes and aprons.  Oh my goodness, I can’t wait to wear my bonnet at markets!  Somewhere it will fit in!

IMG_0368  (Farm fresh eggs with sunny orange yolks)

Many great businesses have been started by resourceful women…and men.  The local businesses on your street need their community in order to survive.  What you can do is support these businesses.  The same people you see at the bank, at the grocery store, in your church.  These people need your help.  I wish I could tell people, even people that shop at my store, that every time they go purchase herbal medicines and salves at the big health food store, they put me that much closer to going out of business.  Every time one goes to Cost Cutters instead of the single mom cutting hair, she can’t pay one of her bills.  Big corporations pay their bills just fine.  We small businesses are often cheaper, you get more, you get more quality, and yet we are forgotten in the shadow of a big store.  Granted if no one in my neighborhood is crafting shovels and I need one, I go to Walmart.  I won’t lie.  But there are so many shops on our quiet Main street that could supply a wealth of what people are looking for.  Farmer’s markets help bring the people together.  I don’t know about all the tents of people selling stuff they bought.  Packaged pancake mixes and magical weight loss mixtures, but those that make and craft and grow.  Those are my heroes, the ones I want to help.

2012-05-09_19.10.12 (Emily with Nancy and Faleena’s goat)

Nancy and I are making rich soaps, all organic ingredients.  Made from her goat’s milk.  We have made them beautiful, simple, clean.  I am making my famous lotion, renaming it Farmgirl Face and Body Cream for the markets.  I have made soy wax candles in darling coffee cups.  I have made aprons, double stitched and darling, a staple for any farm girl.  I have planted rows and rows of greens.  Nancy has planted even more rows and rows…and rows of greens!  We have herbs growing.  My dining room is overflowing with over-wintered herbs for cooking.  Our spoiled rotten (but adorable) chickens are all laying and we will sell our combined rations of fresh eggs with their beautiful orange yolks.  Nancy and Faleena will be busy baking muffins, breads, pies, and other goodies.  Emily is hand roasting organic coffee beans and designing the packaging.  She is also selling cups of coffee at the market with fresh goat’s milk and sugar.  Emily and I spent an afternoon developing many medicinal tea blends and packaging them.  We have organic green and black teas to offer as well.  Medicinal honeys add a sweet touch to administering medicine and our collection of extracts that have been our staple for years will be there as well.  We have fresh preserves, jams, beets, zucchini and more that we have sat in hot kitchens canning.  Emily is making organic baby food.  Faleena is spreading the word about us in the media world.  Doug has made us a darling logo and is making our labels and banners.  Steve tilled up the soil for Nancy.  We are set!  We are ready!  Come out and say hello to us at markets!  (And you can certainly go “like” our page on Facebook.. https://www.facebook.com/5Farmgirls?ref=hl ) Farm to table dinners….classes….the ideas are endless.

flower power (The youngest Farmgirl, Maryjane, will be at markets)

What homestead business could you start?  What is your skill and passion?  And what business could you support to keep your local economy, nay your neighbors, strong?

Chickens 101

IMG_0442
I followed my friends around incessantly last spring.  Like a four year old I kept asking, “What is that?’  “Why are they doing that?”  “How do I do that?”  “What do chickens eat?”  “Where do chickens sleep?”  Though I thought I knew the answer to that one, in their nests, silly.  Geez.  Wrong.  My friends graciously answered my questions but after a while started just saying, “It’s easy.  There is nothing to it.”  And, really, it is very easy!

I am on a mission to inspire as many people as I can to get chickens.  I am amazed at the ease of this endeavor and the pets that they have become.  Like I have said before, in cities and counties all across the country (including Denver where you can have eight chickens!), people are being allowed the simple right to raise chickens.  Even though we don’t eat our chickens (or any other chickens for that matter), the eggs have made an exceptional addition to our diet.  The bright orange yolks and delicious whites of the egg brighten any recipe and since I don’t buy factory farm eggs, these eggs are like little gifts of gold each day!  I am that much closer to my homesteading goals of self sufficiency and I do save money by having my own eggs and selling the excess.

IMG_0444

Choose Chickens– In a few weeks it is time to go to the nearest feed store and pick out your girls and place them on order.  You could do mail order as well but since I have a feed store a few blocks away, I’ll let them order the babies for me.  This year I am getting Aracaunas, Marans, and Buff Orpingtons.  Like expecting parents, we are very excited!  Aracaunas lay Easter eggs, Marans lay dark chocolate eggs, and Buffs are lovey and cute and good layers.  When we went to visit my friend who has an alpaca farm (that post is this Friday), she showed me her Marans.  She let me hold and keep the most beautiful dark chocolate egg.  I cradled it and stared at it in awe until Doug wryly said, “It’s not real chocolate!”

Chicken Motel– Now you need a house for the chickies.  You could build one, there are many great plans out there, (thank goodness there was already one here!) or you can buy a ready made one.  The girls just need the house to lay eggs in and to sleep in.  It’s been so terribly cold here, I do feel sorry for the chickens down the block.  They have a house that is three foot by one foot and it seems a little small when the ladies are inside more because of the cold.  Ours is 10×10 and for only five chickens, it’s a mansion.  My friends use their shed as a coop.  There really isn’t a right or wrong way to house the girls.  Just make sure they are safe, nothing can dig under or get through the door at night, and you are all set.

Chicken Beds and Nests– Apparently chickens do not sleep in their nests as cartoons falsely led me to believe.  They sleep up higher in the coop.  There is a shelf my girls sleep on, all huddled up together.  I have seen some that use 2x4s to create little perches across the coop.  I put down old, vintage vegetable crates for their nests.  Carefully I designed their coop so they could lay eggs in style.  They all lay in one corner, in between all of the cute boxes!

IMG_0099

Chicken Food- We borrowed a feeder that you pour the feed in the top and it pours down into their tray.  We still use that, it works well.  I buy organic feed.  No use feeding the girls genetically modified corn and who know what else.  It will transfer through the eggs to me and organic feed will keep the ladies and my family healthier.  It is only a couple bucks more.  A $25 a bag will last me about a month and a half.  My piggy cats and dogs cost a lot more than that and they don’t lay eggs!

Chicken Water- We borrowed a waterer that you fill upside down, then clumsily fasten on the bottom that serves as the water bowl, quickly turn it upside down as the water comes streaming into the ravine, curse as it wasn’t really fastened and the water is all over your shoes, and carry the ton back to the chicken coop.  I now use a mixing bowl.  Yes, a mixing bowl.  I keep it under their light so that the water doesn’t freeze.

Chicken Bedding- I learned some very interesting things when I went to see Joel Salatin.  One, I could not fathom why my coop smelled like cat boxes that hadn’t been scooped in two weeks.  Ammonia is not my favorite smell.  Turns out that using straw creates this lovely aroma.  That is all I had ever heard of or read about using!  Pine shavings were recommended.  They are cheap and a bag covers the whole coop floor.  Now, instead of cleaning out the coop every few weeks as I was doing, one is supposed to leave it over the winter.  Just keep adding on layers.  The heat from the future compost helps keep the coop snug and the layers begin to break down so that by spring, when you dig out all the layers, you will have wonderful compost!  Since the pine shavings would make my pile too acidic, I have now started layering, one month straw, the next month pine, and so forth.  This will create a nice blend of nitrogen for my compost pile in the spring.  On particularly cold days, the chickens will burrow into the bedding to keep warm.

Chicken Playground- The chickens have a fenced in area to keep them safe from predators.  It is made from t-posts and chicken wire with bird netting on top when the snow isn’t knocking it down.  I think the best fencing if one can afford it is dog kennel fence.  If a large dog can’t get out of it, a large coyote can’t get in!  The girls need to wallow in the dirt.  When I first saw this spectacle I thought Ethel was having a seizure.  Apparently not, they just enjoy a good roll in the dirt.  It gets the bugs off of them and gets them to lower areas of soil to find their favorite snack, bugs!

Now that you have a basic concept of how easy it would be to add chickens to your household and I have now helped you avoid annoying all your friends with rapid fire questioning, you are free to start finding chicken breeds!  Next week we’ll talk about bringing babies home and how to care for them in infancy.  Cute little buggers, you’re going to love them!

IMG_0084

 

Definition of a Farm, Please!

Image

We were sitting around waiting for Joel Salatin to speak.  It was a lovely day this past August, the weather was cool in the morning and just perfect the rest of the day with sweet breezes and sunshine.  The folks that sponsored the event had a nice tract of land hidden in the pine trees that, with a large rented canopy, served as a meeting place, classroom, and stage for Mr. Salatin.  The question that kept coming up as we milled around talking with other attendees was, “Do you have a farm?”  My girlfriend, Nancy, answered, “No…”  Nancy and her husband and beautiful farmgirl daughter have a large herd of goats, make mouthwatering goat cheese, and have a spacious garden.  I said, “Yes, you do!”  I don’t though.  But then a funny thing happened, we started talking to people with little to no land, few if any farm animals, small gardens, lots of dreams.  Holy smokes, I do have a farm!  I sell eggs at my shop, and tend a garden (I also have a CSA for insurance; high altitude gardening could make anyone start drinking).  That is why I love the term ‘mini farm’.  How cute.  I think I have one.

In my mind all the real farmers I know are the ones we’ve done farmer’s markets with all these years.  They won’t hesitate to tell you they are farmers.  I haven’t really sold much, have no extra produce (I can currently garden enough to feed us for roughly, say, about a week out of the year), and rent no less!  That is not the iconic farm I grew up thinking about.

So, what is a farm?  Therefore, what is a farmgirl?  In two years I want fleece animals.  As soon as I learn how, I am going to be the spinning queen!  Then will I have a farm?  When I manage to not need the CSA so much, then will I be a farmgirl?  If I ever own land then will I be?  I am vegetarian, all those pet cows will make a delightful farm!

farm [fahrm] 

noun

1.a tract of land, usually with a house, barn, silo, etc., on which crops and often livestock are raised for livelihood.
2.land or water devoted to the raising of animals, fish, plants, etc.: a pig farm; an oyster farm; a tree farm.
Hmmm, well my land is devoted to the raising of animals; 9 cats, 2 dogs, 5 chickens, and 3 teenagers.  By golly, I am a farmer!  I am dubbing this place The Silly Chicken Farm.
So, for all of us that don’t quite fit the description yet, farmgirl is a state of thought and doing.  A balcony of lettuces outside an apartment, a plot in the community gardens, the urban beekeepers, goat babysitters (uh farmers), and the two-thirds of an acre rented in a small town with silly chickens and a garden.  Long live the farmer in all of us!