The Apartment Farmer

19 06 2012

We live in a very… uh. How do I say this. Flimsy, overpriced apartment. It looks nice, but I can hear my neighbor going pee right now………………………………………………. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hands.

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about my daughter. And then I’ll talk about farmin’.

Bean has discovered a new way to vocalize. She is now fluent in “scream” in at least 3 languages, but I’m pretty sure it will be five languages by bedtime tomorrow. It is SO. LOUD! And she doesn’t save it for when she’s mad. She screams in delight. In frustration. In every emotion her little body goes through each day. And that’s a lot of different emotions.

I wonder what my neighbors think about my little screamer? She’s cleared out the pool on more than one occasion by screaming. She does it at the grocery store. She does it in the car. She screams in the bathtub. I know it will pass, but its just new and different and fun and exciting, and ooh look at the way it gets mommy to react!!!111!!1!!

Everything really cranks up to 11 when she’s screaming, hanging from my dreads and trying to pick my piercing off all at the same time. I’m going to have the piercing removed next week. Then she’ll probably starting picking at my tattoos. Oh well. That’s being a parent.  It’s all kind of cute, I am just going to have to learn sign language if she doesn’t stop screaming right into my earmeat. She’s been asleep for half an hour already and my head is still ringing.

So. I keep saying I wanna be a farmer, I wanna be a farmer. I have made some pretty pathetic, half-hearted attempts at farming in the past. To give myself a little slack though, I WAS pregnant last year when I was trying to put all that effort into farming. And then I went and had a kid, and burned myself out. Then I threw my hands up in the air and said “I quit! I quit goats, I quit chickens. I hate that fucking garden full of bindweed, nettles, blackberries and slugs. I am sick of this cold, wet, dismal, grey state. I’m moving. Fuck this.”

And I did. I moved. Now I live in a human habitat with wafer cookies for walls. But its better. It really is. It has heat! It is so nice not spending my last bit of energy and strength trying to stay warm on top of everything else. I never got out of bed at the old place. It was boring. And exhausting, physically and emotionally.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I am a farmer at heart. I am such a farmer. I love livestock, animals in general. I love knowing WHO my food came from, and WHERE it came from and WHEN it came from. I am more conscientious about my body when I think about the things that feed both it and my soul. Food is just more meaningful when I am involved in how it gets to my plate and not just what’s on my plate.

And it is even more than that. Getting good food while living in an apartment is a pain in the ass. And expensive to boot. And most of the people that live around me won’t care. But some of them might become customers…

So with that being said. I am putting together a coop (after days and days of head scratching, and reams of graph paper I finally settled on a design), I ordered heritage ducks eggs to hatch, and heritage laying hens (although they will be chicks when they arrive of course.) I am going to brood them on our porch balcony until they get big enough to take to the farm. And then they will live on pasture and produce delicious eggs. And in exchange for their hard work, I will reward them with excellent care, GMO-free soy-free food, bugs to eat, and a compassionate death when their productive life is over. And if I get lucky, I will even make money while doing all of that.

So thats it. Pretty boring really.

How ’bout a picture?

Bean and friend at Solstice Festival 2012


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.

The rooster crows!

17 01 2012

Our rooster, Vin, finally crowed for the first time this morning. Mr. Ewe, Laydn (the globetrotting housemate) and I all heard him. Laydn chased after him and tried to give him a hug (he’s normally quite amenable to human interaction), Mr. Ewe came in the house to find him a tasty treat, and I hollered out the door “Good Job Buddy! Keep it up!”

I honestly didn’t think he would ever crow. We had our chicks shipped late last June, and by the time they were coming of age, the days were getting drastically shorter, so the chickens reproductive cycles basically went dormant. I understand this can be changed by supplemental lighting in their coop, but they don’t really have a coop yet. They have an old goat shed that we put fencing on the front of, and roosts inside. So they have somewhere to sleep, but not a real, honest-to-goodness coop. Besides, I think I am not too sure about the supplemental lighting. I think I would rather honor the natural rhythm of the chicken and give them some time off from laying in the winter. It means we get an extra year with our hens, too. Because once they are done laying , they will be going to the soup pot.

We have the framing for a coop, but in order to erect the chicken coop, we have to move a compost pile the size of a car, and no one is too eager to do that yet.

But now the days are getting longer, and the rooster has started crowing. Which means my girls will be looking for somewhere to lay their eggs soon, and I don’t want to miss out on fresh eggs because the hens are laying them in the goat beds, or hiding them somewhere. Our chickens have been free-ranging on pasture since they had feathers, and these eggs are going to be amazing.

I am glad eggs are imminent, but this now also means we need to fast-track a building project in the heart of winter. Mr. Ewe and I are just so swamped with projects. Someday they will all be done, and we will feel happy and comfortable here at Brier House, and that should be right around the time we decide to move to southern Oregon.

One idea I’ve had rolling around behind my forehead lately is to use the framing for the chicken coop, and to cob in the walls. I would love if our first cob-project was a chicken coop! I want to put a living roof on it, and a rainwater collection barrel for the livestock drinking supply. The nest boxes could be little cubbies in the back wall, and we could put a hatch door over the top of the next boxes to collect eggs without having to go inside.

I can see it now when I close my eyes. When I open my eyes, I see a lot of work, and the fact that it has started snowing again. Reality sets back in, and I realize this is one more project that is going to have to wait a little while longer.

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