Brier Hill Permaculture

1 02 2012

We are official. I picked a name for our little gem of a farm, and I’m sticking to it.

I finally gave in and started calling myself a farmer. I have wanted to be a farmer since I was about 10 years old and living next to a horse pasture. I remember looking out the window at the neighbor’s horses and thinking “Yes, that is what I want; a horse farm is in my future.” As I grew, my dream evolved and changed with my growing knowledge. I wanted a permaculture farm before I even knew what permaculture was. In my young mind’s eye, every farm should be permaculture, with all the different systems supporting each other. I thought real farms were living, breathing organisms, with a life and pulse all their own.

It turns out I was more or less right. I don’t think of industrial agriculture as farming anymore. I think I only ever did because that is what children’s stories and books depict modern farming as: some man of ambiguous age riding a tractor through a monoculture crop of some type of grain. Either that or an idealized version of Old MacDonald’s farm.

In reality, the truth is so much better. I wake up more or less around 5am every day, shortly before the rooster starts crowing. I toss and turn until the urge to relieve myself gets to be too much to ignore. Check the baby one more time before I get up. Starting the day with dawn is just lovely. I step out while the water is boiling for my first cup of tea, breath in the new day’s air, get a feel for what today’s weather might bring. Check the goat’s water and hay, feed the chickens and check for eggs in their new nest buckets. Come back inside, grab my now-cool-enough-to-drink tea and head back into the bedroom so I can wake the baby for another snack, if I keep her full she sleeps later.

As I drink my tea and nurse the baby I think about what I want to get done for the day. Since the snowstorm mid-January, the weather has been nice enough that the house is making a lot of progress on the garden and animal housing. Echo, Bean and I recently spent an afternoon clearing old stubby blackberry canes into a pile for our new hugelkultr bed in the garden while Tricks made some sweet new underground chicken nests since our hens FINALLY started laying eggs. We got 5 the first day!!

Last week I put in my seed order with Sustainable Seed Co, arguably one of the best seed companies I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with. Everything they sell is heirloom and open-pollinated.

So, going back to my original point, I finally gave in and decided to start calling myself a farmer. I feel like I finally got to join some secret club. Like, now that I call myself a farmer, do I get a badge, or an id card? “It’s okay folks, I’m a farmer!”

I have always wanted to be a farmer. My success with growing things it hit or miss, but I keep trying and I keep getting better. I am giving some serious thought to trying to join the local farmer’s market this summer. It runs from mid-May to mid-October, and would be cheaper and easier to start doing than a CSA, at least until I have an established clientel. But I am already about to start hardening off my first seedlings of the year, a mixture of salad greens and radishes. I think I should be able to get the hang of succession planting between now and May, and with all these blackberry vines and manure sitting around, I have an endless supply of materials for more hugelkultr beds.

Once I embraced the woman I have always wanted to be, and I mean I grabbed her by the dirty pigtail braids and gave her a damn good shake to make sure we were all on the same page, everything sort of started falling into place. I don’t feel like I am fighting myself anymore. I am happy more. And I’ve found a way to combine my passions – good food, animals, and gardening, with some more recent needs – working from home so I can also raise our daughter in a way that lines up with my morals and views, with a long time need of making money.

Bean will never have to fight it. She has been born into farming. She’s known goats and chickens since before she was born. She knows goats and chicks now. She has been strapped to my back while I chop wood, cut down trees, clear blackberry vines, build garden beds, herd goats and more. Her first taste of food will be of real food, grown and raised right here on this property. We aren’t that far from the city. We could just let the land keep sitting and it will just do what it does. We could keep trying to find a way to make a living in the corporate rat race, we could struggle trying to make ends meet while living on welfare and food stamps. Or we could use some of those food stamps to buy vegetable seeds (yes, it’s true, you can!) and start a garden. We choose to make a life rather than live one doled out to us one unsatisfying portion at a time.

I’m happy with my choice. I am happy there is dirt under my nails at the end of the day, and that my muscles are so sore that sitting up straight hurts. I think this is a good life we are creating here and I can’t wait to share it with others.



17 10 2011

I know my last post was all about venting and feeling sorry for myself. I don’t deny that I go through periods of depression always being so broke here on our little corner of land. But getting it out of my head allows me to look at my “problems” from multiple angles and ruminate on what I wrote and why I felt that way.

This morning I was making myself some breakfast, and while washing down my daily dose of cod liver oil, I had an epiphany. I realized that despite all of our financial woes, the Mr. and I are actually doing pretty well for ourselves. Yes, we don’t have extra money to go shopping, some days we barely have enough gas in the car to get him to school and back. We have no savings and walk a tight rope every day, hoping we aren’t hit with some problem that will cost a lot of money to fix.

But thanks to the fact that we are willing to live simply, and in fact have found quite a bit of joy in living simply, things aren’t all that bad when I really think about it. Sure, almost all of our food comes from WIC and food stamps, but we qualify for those services for a reason: we both paid into the system through years of hard work so that if we ever needed them, they would be there for us.

And here’s another great thing. Because we have food stamps and WIC, we are able to make what little bit of income we do have go so much further. It actually allows us to survive. Most of the time I have to choose to buy animal food over treating myself or the Mr. to something nice, and we have to budget our shopping trips to the thrift store. But we have become so much more resourceful at finding what we need and what we want while maintaining a pretty nice quality of life. We live Occupy Wall Street everyday. We live within our means. We don’t ever use credit. If we can’t afford cash, we choose to do without. Mr. already has a credit union account, and I am going to try to get one this week. It will be more of a challenge for me as I have bad credit from years of poor decision making in my early 20’s.

But back to eating, I really feel like my quality of life revolves around the quality of food I can feed my family and myself. $50 a week for groceries for each of us was hard to adjust to at the beginning. Back in the day when I was a stripper and bringing home hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of dollars a week, I ate pretty darn well. Most of my shopping happened at the local organic co-op or at Whole Paycheck. We drank a lot of beer. We ate… well, actually, we ate pretty much the same. Probably a lot more take-out then we do now, but our cooking style wasn’t much different. We bought more expensive “packaged” and “convenience” food products, which add up quickly.

These days, I usually stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when I do my shopping. We hit the local ethnic grocery store (I freaking LOVE LOVE LOVE 99 Ranch Market) for our meats, as the meat from Safeway or QFC is often rancid within 2 days of bringing it home, and quite overpriced. At the ethnic market, we get fresher animal products (organs, meat and seafood) at a much more reasonable price. We STILL go for the cheaper, tougher cuts of meat unless I am craving steak because we have found that the slower it has to cook, the better it tastes when it is done. I learned how to slow cook chicken so it always comes out tender, juicy and delicious.

We cook from the ground up. Most of the things we eat take time to prepare, so we cook in larger batches and then reheat for a few days. Sunday we made a huge breakfast. We made lacto-fermented blackberry pancakes, with enough batter to sit in the fridge until next week. These come out so delicious! The fermentation process gives them a kind of sourdough flavor that you just don’t get from bisquick. And we made so many extra pancakes that we can just pull some out of the freezer and pop them under the broiler for a couple minutes, and voila! instant hot homemade breakfast.

As I washed my morning dishes, I looked at what I had cooking, and what I had just cooked, and I felt really good about myself. Because we eat so simply and make almost everything from scratch we can afford “luxury” items like cod liver oil so my baby is healthy, organic produce so we aren’t riddled with pesticide residue, and chicken and goat feed so we can have fresh eggs and fresh milk (when the season is right). We stay away from packaged foods, especially anything containing sugar, corn, corn syrup, or high fructose corn syrup. Those things never fill us up, and they cost more than you realize.

We eat a lot of fats, produce and soaked beans and grains, and have meat on the table several nights a week. We never feel like we are going hungry, or have to go without. Because we cook for ourselves, our taste buds aren’t burnt out on too much salt and sugar, so we can actually taste what we are eating.

The next thing we have to do is build up our garden with the fertilizer our animals so graciously provide us with so we can produce our own organic produce and rely on store-bought food even less.

I sincerely hope that all of this good nutrition will mean that my future child will avoid the dental problems that plagued me as a child, such as needing braces due to a malformed jaw, and the dental problems that continue to plague my nieces.

So yeah, some days are hard to cope with mentally. Some days I get caught up in the consumerist woes. But honestly, it isn’t all that bad. And I can take this opportunity of lack of money to retrain myself and develop better spending habits for the days when we won’t be so broke.

Thanks for reading!

Oh, and by the way. I am 41 weeks pregnant as of today. I will post about the birth as soon as it happens and I am able.

Green In Ways You Never Thought Of

2 04 2008

Date: April 2, 2008

Mileage: 5.1

April Mileage: 5.1

Year to date mileage: 97.5

Temp/Weather: 40F-54F, partly cloudy

Days until RAGBRAI: 108

In my mug:Yogi tea Green Tea Active Body, Tazo tea Berryblossom White, and Tazo tea Lemon Maté. I really like to drink tea, it helps me get my liquids in for the day, and it’s tasty, without all the sugar. (For non bitter tea, steep in water that is not quite boiling for 5 minutes, then remove the tea bag.)

My tea quote for the day: “It’s not life that matters, it’s the courage that we bring to it.”

Cycling as a greener, simpler way of life? Sure, in the obvious ways. I don’t drive, so I don’t have to buy gas, oil, and all the other fluids and lubricants an old, falling apart car needs on a weekly basis. I don’t have to get oil changes (filters?). These things are not Eco-green-environmentally friendly. Sure, I could replace my car with some shiny fancy hybrid thingy and be “cool.” But then I would have to buy oil, gas, fluids and lubricants, get oil changes, new tires, and outfit my car with Eco-cool bumper stickers to tell the world where I stand. Not to mention car payments and insurance.

So that is one way that cycling is better for my corner of the world. But HOW ELSE does it change things? Oh! I’ve got one for you. I buy less stuff, and I am pickier about WHERE I shop. By virtue of the simple fact that I don’t have a trunk, I must think long and hard about any item I might consider purchasing. Can I carry it home in a back pack? No? Well, I probably don’t need it. That might change at some point, but right now, this is how my life is evolving. I go to the store more often for groceries (it’s on my way home anyhow, I literally cut through the grocery store parking lot on my way home). But I only buy what I NEED. We are eating healthier because junk food takes up precious space that something healthy could be using. Since we are eating healthier, we are also eating fresher. I can’t carry 2 gallons of milk (1% for him, whole for me). So we get the smaller milk cartons, drink them up, and replace them. Fresher, mmmm.

Another way it has made my life feel green is much more subtle. I am exploring. I feel more creative and curious. It probably has something to do with increased blood flow to my brain since I am getting, horror, exercise. And having a better time when I am out commuting. I know that if I have to run an errand, my day is most likely going to revolve around running (biking) that errand. it means I am forcing myself to slow down and enjoy tat actual process of running my errands. It isn’t just about getting to point A, it’s also about HOW I get to point A. And I am meeting my neighbors. I can make eye contact with them. I can wave to them as I peddle by. Conversations get struck up. People feel inspired. All of these things make the world a little better. Just imagine what the world could be like if someone each of us knew (me? you?) went through their day in a better mood because they felt connected to their life and their world? Is it easier or harder to hate someone that you don’t know, don’t feel connected to?

Yesterday I drove. I already admitted it. I can’t believe how foul my mood was just 5 minutes after getting in the car. I felt empowered, strong, invincible. On my bike, I feel humble, delicate, fragile. I read a quote from somewhere yesterday that basically said that riding a bike as a primary mode of transportation is the closest that a lot of people of my social/economic class ever get to being treated like second class citizens. I thought about that a lot on my way into work this morning. The quotee also went on to say that those of us the CHOOSE to ride a bike instead of driving a car try to fancy themselves and their bikes up so that people will look at us and see the choice we made, instead of seeing us as having a lack of a choice. I say, who cares? If they want to look at me and see poor, fine. I really don’t care. Buying expensive bikes, rims, components, clothes, helmets, shoes is not going to change the way the person feeling more entitlement to the road than me is going to treat me. It just isn’t. They are going to go whizzing past me at 20 mph over the speed limit seeing nothing more than a chick on a bike taking up road space that doesn’t belong to her, if they see me at all. All the bright little blinky lights and reflective and neon colored clothes in the world can’t force people to open their eyes and see past their front bumper. But I am changing MY world and I am opening MY eyes. They can stay in their self-important-better-than-the-Joneses-inflated-debt-bubble for all I care. These things are making me more aware of the world around me.

I hope that if I am diligent on my bike, I can make it through life without some idiot driver plowing through me at an intersection some day. But it is a risk I take. The benefits are so worth the risk. I can’t say that about driving: last night I was trying to park at the grocery store so I could mail some packages, and I got stuck behind a women driving a HUMONGOUS dodge ram pickup. She seemed too tiny in that giant truck, and the perception I got was that she wasn’t comfortable parking it. She spent 5 minutes trying to squeeze into a parking spot that she barely fit in because she didn’t want to park 20 feet further away from the store entrance, where there were plenty of wide open parking spaces she would have no trouble fitting in. It was like a switch was flipped in my mentality. I immediately started screaming, waving my arms, flipping her off, calling her nasty names; all because I didn’t want to wait 5 minutes for her to park her behemoth. I am very uncomfortable with the sense of entitlement that seems to automatically accompany any person behind the wheel of a car, including myself. It’s scary how fast my attitude changed. I might someday miss the a/c on hot hot days, and the heated seats on frigid mornings. But I am really not too concerned at this point about what I might miss someday.

I was so glad to get on my bike this morning. My outlook about riding shifted quite a bit yesterday. I am going to try to sell my car this week. With the proceeds, I am going to get my rack, panniers, and a trailer. With the rest of the money, I am going to pay bills. I am not saving it for a down payment on a car in the future. I want to be car-less for now, I don’t need a car. If I can’t get somewhere by my feet, my bike, a bus, a cab, a ride from a friend, or a ride from my boyfriend, I have no need to go there. The hard part will be convincing my boyfriend that I don’t need a car. He seems very worried that I might be motor-less very soon. F*** ’em. If I can deal with it, so can he.

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