Six Years of Farmgirl School (and the adventure continues)

1005625_697090816973051_350125397_nSix years ago today I sat down and wrote my first blog post.  I had just recently heard of blogging.  I was writing regular columns in a few local newspapers but I was excited to take my words onto a bigger scene.  Even if I didn’t get any followers, I would enjoy typing away in the morning while watching out my window, holding a cup of coffee and watching the chickens play.  We were still fairly novice at everything from chickens to growing lettuce so the blog has chronicled our vast and adventurous journey and the life of a family, and inadvertently has become a comprehensive site to find out how to do everything from making witch hazel to milking goats.  My “How to Make Chokecherry Wine” has had thousands of views over the years.  Tomorrow, we will bottle homemade mead.

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This photo was used in an article in the Washington Post about our family.

I remember seeing a blog that had five hundred followers.  I could not believe it.  500!  I wondered what that would be like.  This morning I have one thousand, one hundred, and two followers.  Over 142,000 people have read my blog since I began this journaling journey six years ago in a rented farmhouse with nary an idea of how much to water crops.  We’ve come a long way!

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Maryjane
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Six years ago I was preparing for my first granddaughter to arrive.  Today my second granddaughter is twelve days old.  Many people watched as we moved to what we thought was our forever farm, only to become homeless.  You cheered us on as we got back on our feet and purchased a home of our own with a third of an acre and a chicken coop.  You have watched me make friends, mourned over deaths with me, read as we created new businesses, patted us on the back as they closed, shared holidays with us. laughed with me, and befriended me.

Turns out that folks don’t keep blogs going for very long, maybe just a few years.  I love blogging.  Anyone who enjoys writing ought to start a blog.  It is easy and so restorative.  I just want to thank all the readers out there right now for giving me an ear, a place to be, for following along on this Farmgirl adventure.  It is far more fun to write for an audience.

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I read through the November posts from 2012.  The first ones.  Man, that’s some funny stuff.  Typos and all.  (Amazing how much one can edit and still overlook typos!)  Thanks for purchasing my books. (AuthorKatieSanders.com) I have seven, but Farmgirl School; Homesteading 101, which covered our first few years and my memoir, The Making of a Medicine Woman are near and dear.  I will have a second Farmgirl School book out by the end of next year.  We have much to discuss about urban farming and lots of projects to do!  (Let us turn the back porch into a greenhouse.  Should we get ducks?  Let’s make a walk-through arbor with pumpkins and twinkly lights!)  Oh friends, six years later, we are just getting started.  Thanks for coming along for the ride.

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Sleepover with a newborn goat at Grammie’s house.

If you have been a follower since the beginning please make a comment.  Here’s to another six years of living the good life.

Life On An Urban Homestead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daring to Imagine a Different Life

“You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life!” Birdie says in that delightful movie, You’ve Got Mail.

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I have been a working herbalist for a decade now.  It is day in-day out phone calls, with my entire identity wrapped up in it.  I will still do it on a smaller scale, but it is exhausting full time.  I loved having my identity be a stay-at-home mom, and a dance teacher, and a professional model over my life.  It takes courage to seek out a different life as businesses falter, or the children move out, or new dreams move in.  It is very difficult to close doors on some aspects in life in order to explore new ideas and dreams.  Whispered inspirations nudging us forward.  Ends of eras, sleepless nights, courage that nudges you past the fear of failure and into the unknown where you can fly is all worth it.

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I have a great passion to help people simplify their lives, lessen their bills, get out of debt, live the life they dream of, put down the phones, pick up a child, be in nature, make your own, sit on the front porch and create a grow-your-own kind of life.  My new shop will create inspiration, a place to get supplies and know-how, a place where women can gather to knit and sip on tea, a place where children learn to make cheese and crochet, and young families can get tips on growing in this altitude.  A back to the land or an urban homestead mentality.  A peace of mind, deep satisfaction kind of grin.  This new shop with my daughters will be so fine.

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The key to being brave and changing your life is changing the “what if’s.”  What if we fail?  Then we fail.  I did not take out large commercial loans for this.  What if no one comes?  Then I will have time to catch up on quilting.  What if….what if we succeed?  What if we have this shop in our family for thirty years?  What if we help change the lives of hundreds? or thousands?  What if?

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What if one door isn’t closing, it’s just changing paths and what if it is even better?

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Oh my dear, imagine that you could have a different life!

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What is your dream?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s Farmgirl Good!”

 

 

The Evolution of a Homestead and the Original Carryall

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

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

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

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

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

Homestead Gardens and Winter Rest

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

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

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

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

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Actually Moving and the Garden that Keeps Giving

20171025_14592720171025_150124In many ways I haven’t actually “moved” to Pueblo.  Perhaps because out of all the places I have lived Elbert county was the first place that ever felt like home to us.  Slowly, slowly I am moving to Pueblo.  We have been here nine months now.  I changed my bank last week.  I do my shopping here now.  I go to Elizabeth to work my shop just once a week.  I work from home and am rewarded with many new customers that seek me out here.  I still greatly love my old town and I pine for the country but I am gradually moving here.  The garden is helping me do so.

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Garlic planted for fall. The bok choi keeps coming back!

I am not sure that I could go back to gardening at 6500 feet.  Yesterday two more overflowing baskets of produce came into the kitchen.  It is late October and the gardens in Elbert county have been sleeping for awhile now.  In my gardens there is more…more vegetables to be harvested, another month’s worth at least.  I am astounded and thrilled at the farming conditions in this valley.  The soil that has not even been amended has produced the most flavorful and prolific crops I have ever grown.  I am smitten.  The weather here is heavenly.20171025_150112

20171025_15010420171025_150011I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished on this little homestead in just nine months time.  It will be beautiful seeing what it all looks like as months turn to years and years turn to decades.

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This is also the first time in two decades that we have a mailbox in front of our house.  If you would like to exchange letters you can write me at Mrs. Katie Sanders, 1901 Brown Ave, Pueblo, 81004.

My Homestead Kitchen and Root Cellar

 

20170927_161036This is always a happily busy time of you year in my homestead kitchen.  There are lots of things being canned, lots of frozen items, lots of dried items, lots of staples.  Colorful eggs decorate the counter.

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We could walk to the grocery store.  Everything I need is already canned and frozen there.  We went from five plus people to just two of us here, why so much food?  Potential weather disasters, power outages, sh*t hits the fan, just in case, lots of reasons, but my grocery bill was only $36 this week, and that’s pretty great.

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I also love to cook.  I am rarely happy with restaurant meals or packaged foods.  I like my own sauces.  I love creating my own pickles, red chile sauce, sauerkraut, but also having lots of really fresh vegetables canned swiftly in glass containers.  No preservatives.  No Monsanto.

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We are busy folks.  It is nice to come home and have everything at the ready to make an amazing meal.  I enjoy the methodical time putting up the food and the pride I feel looking at my humble root cellar.  215 canned items.  I still have a bit more to do.  I will just leave the pressure canner upstairs this year.  That way I can quickly can more broth, beans, or soups as I go.  There is no real “end of the season”, homemaking pleasures continue through the year.

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If you had walked through my warm homestead kitchen this last week you would have smelled the cinnamon apples being canned, watched the apple cider vinegar and kombucha brewing.  Thick halves of pumpkins baking to be put up, their seeds washed and drying on the counter to plant next year.  A wheel of farmhouse cheddar was being waxed.  Sauerkraut fermenting.  Frozen meat from friends’ ranches.  Lots of beans and whole grains and spices.  Just need more flour, sugar, and coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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There is still much more in the garden.  I was pleased to unearth a sweet potato, something I haven’t been able to grow in higher climates.  More tomatoes, winter beans, burdock, carrots, beets, kale, zucchini, peppers, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, potatoes all await our autumn meals.

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Donning a cute apron and working quietly in one’s own homestead kitchen brings a peace I cannot even describe.  Food security, health, and peace of mind permeates the air along with the smells of chilies and pumpkins.  This is the life for me.

How a Farmgirl got Her Groove Back

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It seems a very long time ago that I stood outside on our prairie farm screaming.  I watched the last of the chickens be swooped up and driven away by other farmers who didn’t rent their farms.  The sheep were gone.  The goats were gone.  My dog had died.  I continued to give away or sell my precious antiques for next to nothing, all of my homesteading items, my life.  We moved into our friend’s guest bedroom.  And the landlords continued their scam on other people.  Ah well, that was a long time ago.  Two years.  A lot can happen in two years.

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We would have never studied under Native American elders that became great friends.  We would have never opened our Apothecary, White Wolf Medicine.  We would have never thought to move to Pueblo.  We OWN our own home now.  The American dream is still very much alive.

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Odd looking pumpkin!

 

I certainly didn’t plan on moving to the city.  I am a country girl through and through but the great Unknown knew darn well that if I wanted people coming to me for medicines and teas, they weren’t going to drive out to the middle of nowhere.  This central location in town sure keeps me busy.  People know where to find me.  I am so blessed.

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We could have easily fallen into a city lifestyle.  We sold our truck.  Bought a Fiat.  Doug has an IT job.  But the shed was so easy to make into a chicken coop.  The yard quickly became gardens.  The back is planned as an orchard.  Hundreds of jars of preserves are already lining the shelves of the root cellar.  The clothes line does just fine.  The dishwasher is wasting space.  The cuckoo clock tells the time.  The light from the oil lamp is soothing.  Suddenly I look up and I am a Farmgirl again.

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I guess Pumpkin Hollow Farm never really went away.

Homestead Anywhere and How to Preserve Rhubarb

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This sentiment is going around facebook and I read some of the comments.  Impossible.  You need at least so many acres.  Too hard of work.  But it isn’t all or nothing, folks. We are all where we are supposed to be through circumstances of decision or fate.  I am in an incredibly urban environment right now, decidedly un-homesteady.  But, there are still many things I can do to homestead because the result is so delightful.  I will have a freezer stocked with nutritious food, a gallery of canned goods in the living room, healthy drinks at the ready, flowers and herbs and a community garden.  No one is an island, Lord we learned that on our last farm and we’ll remember it on our next, but it isn’t all or nothing.  One can homestead anywhere.

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Putting up rhubarb, for instance.  A reward all year!  Aunt Donna had us over to harvest some of that delicious, crisp summer treat, a celebration of getting through winter, a testament to survival, a perfect meal to surprise folks with at Christmas should you have any left!  I have mentioned it before but it bears repeating how Aunt Donna taught me to put it up.  I have canned it and it is good, syrupy and soft and still quite fine, but the easiest way, and the way to keep it crisp and fresh as the day one snaps it off at its base, is to freeze it.

Cut stalks, discarding far ends and rogue strings, into 1/2 inch chunks.  4 cups of rhubarb go into a quart sized freezer bag.  Now, don’t skimp, you know how cheap trash bags are….same with freezer bags, get the good zippered ones.  I despise freezer burn.

Add 1 cup of sugar.  Zipper to one inch then suck the air of the bag with your lips and finish closing it.  Label and freeze.  One large bag yielded enough to share and 5 quarts of frozen rhubarb.  Thank you, Aunt Donna!

It was lovely to have a glass of my own homemade raspberry mint kombucha while chopping.  For dinner we had a pile of freshly harvested dandelions prepared in a Cherokee fashion  with crisp bacon (from a local heritage pig farm) and the fat from the pan poured over the cold, tart greens sprinkled with salt.

Self sufficiency on any level is quite nice.