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!

Act 2- Culinary School

I was about six years old when I received my first cookbook.  I enjoyed cooking from it and helping my mother with dinner.  I made delicious desserts to take to youth group.  At sixteen I filled in as a cook for the daycare I worked at and created gourmet meals for the little ones.  I have always devoured food and wine magazines, watched every Martha Stewart episode, and never miss a good foodie movie.  Even as a vegan I read carefully how to make chorizo.  I won a national cooking contest through Frey Vineyards and have written four cookbooks.  Yet, it still surprised me (and my husband) that I would want to go to culinary school.  I have never even worked in a restaurant before! (I assume three weeks at Taco Bell doesn’t count.)  And yet, as I look forward to the second half of my life, it sounds like a very intriguing possibility.

I applied for the Culinary Program at a college an hour away.  I excitedly read the class offerings; knife skills, sauces, sustainable cooking, wine and spirits….

It didn’t take long for me to start doubting the whole thing.  What if I don’t get any financial aid? (I simply cannot take out another student loan!)  I want to spend time with my daughter and granddaughters at the store when they are there working, when will I go to school?  What if I have to drive at night?  My goodness, it sure didn’t take long for me to stand in my own way, did it?

I believe I will stop sabotaging myself and see how it all unfolds.  What’s the worst that can happen?

Whispered ideas and passions in your ear, what do you want to learn, create, do?  Follow that!  Life is waiting!

Improving My Quick Garden Bed Method and Marvelous Summer

20180717_075151There were pros and cons to my quick raised beds but overall they are a success.  I had first put down a layer of cardboard, surrounded it with logs, then put in thick slabs of straw, then compost, then organic gardening soil.  The whole thing cost about twelve bucks.

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This row was planted directly in the soil and is doing just as well as the beds but has a lot more bind weed!

At the beginning I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough gardening soil but was tapped out of funds so couldn’t get more.  It took a lot longer to water because I think too much sand (we have sandy soil) got into my compost.  Don’t forget to check your beds after watering.  It should be wet to your second knuckle.  Beds can be deceiving, they look wet, but aren’t!  I will add more soil this fall or next spring to build up the bed.

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The second issue was an obvious one, but I didn’t think about it.  Some of the corn has to be staked up with re bar because the roots can’t get through the cardboard.  The beds aren’t that deep and the straw takes up most of the space.  So, some of the deeper reaching plants can’t get enough space and nutrients.  They are doing fine now though.

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The potatoes are prolific planted directly in the soil.

The weeds certainly found their way through the cardboard but not nearly as bad as in the regular beds.  I have had a much easier season this year with much less work keeping the beds clear of weeds.

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20180717_07533820180717_075405My yard looks pretty and more organized with the makeshift beds.  Doug can mow easier around them.  It’s been so incredibly hot and dry here that the grass all died early in the season, but at least the weeds are green!  Because of the early heat, my spring crops came up (if they came up) and promptly died or went to seed.  I will be planting the same crops today as fall crops and hoping for better luck.  I need radishes!

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I planted a tomato seedling in the porch planter and it is doing amazing!

This fall I will build more of these beds and let them sit for the winter before planting in them.  How quickly logs (that I can still use in the wood stove this winter) and railroad ties make creative beds.  I like the look of them.  The bark gently peeling off, the varying colors, the moist soil within.

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20180717_075436The lizards dart here and there, drinking water from small leaves.  The birds come for their seeds.  And the cooler morning breeze rustles the sunflowers into dance. I hope you are all enjoying your gardens.  How I love summer!

 

A New Farmgirl and the Family Farm

A new little farmgirl is joining our family this November.  During Emily’s ultrasound yesterday I watched in awe as the little skeleton baby moved her knees into her chest, moved her arms, and turned her head.  Is there anything more amazing than new life?  My daughter is five months pregnant.  Her five year old, our beloved Maryjane Rose, is overjoyed to have a sister coming.  We have so much to show her!

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New life is everywhere.  My garden beds overflow and bees, goldfinches, and hummingbirds delight in nectar as a baby squirrel eats walnuts from the tree.  I am not sure if there will be any left for us again this year.  There were plenty of mulberries to go around though.

No matter what new endeavors I take on, no matter where my life and studies take us, I always end up back to this place.

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“I keep asking myself what I do I want to do now?  What are my goals?” I told Emily while we were waiting for the doctor.  “And all I want is to be able to live on a big family farm, take the grandkids to see what is growing in the gardens, check on our general store and restaurant, and be together living sustainably.”

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“That’s all I want too,” she responded.

At dinner the other night, my son has it all planned out.

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In the end, all I want is to live close to the heartbeat of the earth, surrounded by family and community, and live sustainably.

It is time to can peaches today.

Hypocrisy and the Homesteader’s Guide to Saving the Earth

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First things first, a compost bin.  The very weekend we move in I do hope Doug can build me a compost bin.  He makes it with pallets, three open spaces to move the cooking fertilizer through.

The thing about apartment living is that it is really difficult to be ecologically friendly.  They don’t recycle in this town.  There is nowhere to put scraps (no chickens to be found).  There is nowhere to compost (piles of coffee grounds on the balcony would be a bit weird).  There are hills of trash here, eye-opening, mouth gaping amounts of overflowing trash near the dumpsters.  I am shocked and saddened.  And yet, my things join the piles.

I am very much against the pipeline going through Indian land. I am also very much against the fracking, hideous wind mills, and pipelines going through farmer’s land (who don’t get to protest, by the way, they just get the land stripped from them) across the country.  I can get mad and share a post on facebook about stopping the black snake then I go get in my car and drive to work.  I understand that I am among the billions of hypocrites on this lovely planet.

The answer lies, perhaps, in mindfully (perhaps maniacally) opting to use less electricity, oil, and its many ugly faces.  We know we are killing our beautiful Earth (we know she is getting mad as hell) but we seem to not know what to do about it.  Our life has woven itself so thickly through the oil reserves that we don’t know how to function.

Once I step into my new homestead tomorrow I will be starting a compost pile.  I will find recycling.  I hope someone still does it.  I will reuse.  I will be like my elder generation where one is not sure if the contents of a container in the fridge is butter or leftovers.  I will get chickens and feed them my scraps.  I will use organic methods to grow as much of my food as divinely possible.  I will get oil lamps again and still crazily unplug appliances and Doug’s IPOD.  I will use carbon neutral wood to heat my home (though it will be nice to have that back up furnace!).  I will be more mindful.  I will do the best I can.  I will walk.  I will ride my bike.  I will purchase less.  I will sew more.  I will….

We must….

The Problem With Blanket Statements (making our own way)

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“The meat industry is the largest contributor to global warming and pollution.”  I knew it! said my vegan self years ago when I heard this statement.  That was before I moved to the country.  What the statements and news articles should have said was that the factory farms and huge dairy and meat operations were the cause of so much mass pollution and run off.  John’s fifty head of cattle or Deb’s humanely raised and killed beef are not really huge contributors to the world’s pollution problem.  In fact, by raising healthy, grass fed, humanely raised and processed meat they are actually saving the planet by providing local food.  Smaller footprint.

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“Milk is bad for you.”  Many articles are promoting this right now.  On the flip side the posters put out by the USDA in schools tout that “Milk is good for you!”  What?  My vegan self saw the first one and said, “I knew it.”  I know that conventional milk causes excess mucous, brain fog, and contributes to osteoporosis. (Pasteurized milk leaches calcium from the bones.  America has the highest population of dairy consumers and the highest rate of osteoporosis in the world.)  I was smug.

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A few years ago a student of mine, Liz, who works on a dairy farm in Fort Collins, sent me an email so not to cause an argument in class.  She said that I was wrong about my blanket statement.  There was a big difference between raw milk from a small dairy, humanely raised cows and goats, and the large conventional dairies and pasteurized milk.  I don’t know about that.  She went on to tell me how her allergies had been decreased and she felt better after drinking raw milk.

Liz was friends with Nancy.  Nancy shortly after brought me a pint of raw goat’s milk.  “You don’t have to drink it,” she said.  We were gluttons, looking for more milk.  One taste and something in our bodies begged for more.  Chocolate milk became our vice and we felt great.  So, we started eating other dairy too, conventional dairy.  The same problems we experienced before we went vegan (stomach problems, weight gain) happened again.  Raw goat cheese and raw milk do not have that effect on us.  Goat’s milk used to be used as formula replacement if a mommy couldn’t nurse.  It is packed with nutrients and vitamins and is so easy to digest.  It is very similar to human breast milk.

Now that we have our own goats, we are even closer to the source and can control daily kisses and hugs, what they eat, and provide a local source of milk and cheese.  Smaller footprint.

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“All gluten is bad for you.”  I know a lot of people that will repeat this.  But, it is a blanket statement.  A diagnosis that a doctor will give if they do not know what is wrong.  Yes, processed flour products and non-organic flour are pretty bad.  They have a lot of additives and non-organic flour was hybridized to increase gluten content to extend shelf life so it is harder to digest.  It is also a highly sprayed crop.  Fertilizers and pesticides do affect how we feel.  Processed gluten-free alternatives are probably not much better.  Organic grains, especially whole grains, provide needed energy, nutrients, and anti-oxidants.  They contain anti-cancer properties as well.  Bring on the homemade wheat baguette!

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“All vegetables are created the same.”  Please be aware that if it isn’t organic in the store than it probably has been sprayed with pesticides and may be a genetically modified crop.  If you don’t know about GMO’s yet, please research them!  Stay far, far away from non-organic soy, canola, and corn.  If you see a few and far between article on their safety, see who is benefitting from the “research”.  Monsanto?  They are the attempted killer of the farmer that you know and love.  Also remember that just because the store has a clever marketing slogan (Sprout’s Farmer’s Market) or if it is at a real farmer’s market, that doesn’t mean that it is organic.

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Then there are the blanket statements that change, yet we listen all the same.  One glass of wine is good for the heart, two causes breast cancer.  You must only have this much salt (sodium in processed foods is not the same as the use of sea salt in your own home)…oh wait, now you can have more sodium.  This is the perfect number for blood pressure.  That number was recently changed.  Brown eggs are better.  Wait, brown eggs are the same as white eggs, people.  Eggs are bad.  Eggs are good!  We are constantly at the mercy of USDA food pyramids, the medical community, and research put out by whoever will benefit.  Our government and large companies are paid ridiculously large sums in order to keep us a consumer, keep us in fear of not being healthy, fear of this ailment or that. (They will have a medicine for you though.) Enough relying on everyone else telling us what to do.  No wonder Americans are so stressed about everything!

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Does that food make you feel good?  Was it locally produced?  Did you produce it?  We can trust ourselves to see what is causing harm to our environment, what foods are healthy for us, what our bodies should feel like and function like.  We can grow our own food, we can milk our own goats, we can make our own medicine.  We can have a second glass of wine!

We can make our own statements.