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.


Homestead Crafts Series: Intro

24 01 2012

I’ve come to realize that I have a duty to learn permaculture gardening techniques. I owe it to this piece of land we live on/off of to treat it with respect, and to leave it better than we found it. Part of treating this place with respect is to rid it of invasive species like Himalayan blackberry, the bane of just about anyone with open land in the maritime Northwest. The berries are delicious, but the canes are a monster to deal with if you so much as turn your back on them for even one season.

Lucky for us, goats LOVE blackberries. Well, the leaves actually. I was under the impression before we got goats that they “eat anything.” Sure, they seem to have iron stomachs, but my goats are quite picky eaters. They love blackberry, as long as it is young leaves, tender tips of fresh canes and shoots, and unripe berries. They want nothing to do with the old, tough, woody canes that are left over after picking the choice bits off.

So I am left  to remove the leftover vines with a set of hand pruners (I’m upgrading to a machete or a sickle this year), a pair of leather gloves and a box of band-aids. And then what do I do once I have a big pile of thorny trouble? I have tried making giant piles of old thorny canes in places I don’t want the goats to go, but that keeps me from venturing in those places as well, and it only lasts so long before the goats decide they can just carefully walk over the pile. In goat world, the grass is always greener on the side of whatever you don’t want them crossing.

I’ve tried cutting the canes into pieces small enough to break down relatively fast in the compost, but this takes a lot of time that I would rather be spending doing PRODUCTIVE things. Regardless of the time of year, there are only so many daylight hours in a day, and I don’t want to waste them cutting things into smaller things.

So after a little research and some help from Echo’s amazing google-fu (seriously, where does she find half this stuff?) I have come up with several creative uses for blackberry canes that I hope to blog about with pictures of the finished products in the near future. I may even post some photo-tutorials after I teach a few classes.

I am so excited about this! I have been having a real hard time thinking up solutions to some of my most vexing problems here on the farm. Money is so tight that even finding free supplies on freecycle doesn’t guarantee a solution to my problem: I still need to use gas and drive the car to get things. So the more I can produce, create and reuse with what we already have at our disposal to solve problems, the further what little money we do have goes when I can’t avoid spending it.


Things That Scare Me

23 01 2012

24 Stats To Crush Anyone Who Thinks America Has A Bright Economic Future

Americans Keep Cars Longer Than Ever

It’s happening people. It’s the beginning of the end. It has been for quite some time. But the collapse is like a tumor. First it’s just one mutated cell. But then it divides and grows, next thing you know it’s a lump the size of a pea. Now, if you are observant or lucky, you notice the pea-sized lump and do something to get rid of it. Less observant people won’t notice the tumor until it is much larger, and a few unlucky ones will never notice it, and live on in denial as it grows and consumes them.

The collapse is just like that.

It’s funny. I can remember being a kid, maybe 10 years old and thinking of my future. I never once believed I would grow up in the same world as my parents. I always felt so sad about my future. It felt bleak even when I was young. Sometimes I would just start crying for no reason. I learned to do that in private after it freaked my mom out. She thought something was wrong with me, or I had some bad secret I wasn’t sharing. I just felt sad because my world didn’t feel rosy and full of promise. It felt tired, and used up and short on time.

It turns out I was right. We are finally short on time and we are also short on resources. Welcome to a new, peak world, kids. Our predecessors raped and pillaged this planet, and left us with so many messes to clean up, where do we even start? And how do we stop it from getting any worse? You think because you are 40, 50, 60 or 80 you’ve lived, and you have rights to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, because that’s the way you’ve always done them. Guess what, your refusal to change, grow and learn is what got us into this mess in the first place.

I will never be a rich woman, and I am okay with that. But what if I can’t afford to buy land in the next 5 years? What if 5 years is too late? I’ll be lucky if I can ever consider myself “middle class.” I am a farmer at heart, and I am trying to be a farmer in real life. That means I will probably work very hard for very little money for most of my life.

I don’t want much, nothing fancy, just a good life for my daughter and future generations. We all deserve to live in a good, healthy, clean world, to hear birds chirp in the morning, breathe fresh, crisp air and drink clean water.

I’m scared that I am out of time. What if I can’t learn enough skills and get the right tools to keep my family alive and healthy? What about my livestock? I don’t know how to grow, cut, dry and store my own hay. I saw a youtube video once, but that in no way makes me qualified to go out and try. But I have to try, and hope that I get it right.

I have to believe I have enough time to learn what I need to. Otherwise the fear will immobilize me.

Poverty Isn’t Just a Feeling Anymore

10 10 2011

Don’t mind me here. I’m 40 weeks pregnant as of today! And I woke up feeling awful. Like a failure in life. This recession has been really hard to deal with the last couple of years. But today I woke up thinking of all the ways I’ve failed myself the last couple of years, and it really has gotten me down. So I guess today’s post is just me needing to vent.

I’m one of those “moochers” that the “rich people” are always talking about. I live off of disability, food stamps and welfare. Literally. My life partner, the man I love, is in college full-time. He decided to finally use his GI Bill because the prospects of finding full-time, permanent work through the winter, with a new baby in the house, were close to nil. He has no education right now other than his GED. Do you know HOW HARD it is for a 30-year-old man to find work that pays more than minimum wage if he doesn’t have a college degree? Wanna take a guess? I would say it is about just as hard as a former stripper with no college degree trying to get work that does not involve flipping hamburgers.

We really set ourselves up for failure here, and now we are struggling. I never thought I would be considered “lower class” in this country, especially not a month before my 30th birthday. How are we ever going to get ourselves out of this? Do you have any idea how hard it is to live off of $300 a month? I can tell you it is nearly impossible, it is heart breaking, it is hard and depressing.

We have no one to turn to for help. Our families are both struggling equally hard, and have nothing extra to share. My family is spread all over the West coast, and I can tell you that each and every one of them struggles to make ends meet each month. My partner’s family is all on the East coast. They have nothing to do with my day-to-day life, and as far as I know, they are all struggling too. I would never ever dream of asking for help or for a handout from anyone I consider part of my family.

But listening to people who never have to struggle, that never have to wonder how they are going to pay rent, or find enough gas money to make it to a crucial doctor’s appointment, or choose between feeding themselves or their animals complain about how people like my partner and I aren’t trying hard enough, that we are what’s wrong with our country, well, it makes me want to scream.

I don’t know how we are going to make it. We have cleaned out our closets, we have sold most of the stuff that has any value. It seems we really don’t even have proper Winter clothes, and how am I going to keep my partner and child warm without winter clothes? Most of the things we own that we can’t sell are because they are old and ratty and were given to us or found by us for free. We have the goats, and I have been selling my herd off one at a time as we need the money. But pretty soon I will have no goats left to sell.

I feel like a mooch, like a leech, like a drain on what little bit of family I have here. Being so broke and not being able to do anything about it makes me feels so badly about myself. I watch the man I love struggle with thinking he is not good enough and smart enough to stay in school. I see him struggle daily because no one has ever believed in him before, not even himself. The media tells us daily what bad people we are for being “poor.” That we are bringing down society for having a child we really can’t afford.

I would give anything I could to be able to support my family and no longer be on welfare. It is embarrassing going to the store and having to pay for groceries with WIC checks and welfare. I laugh it off, have friendly conversations with the teller because I know I am holding the line up. But inside, I’m slowly dying.

The welfare people tell me that after I give birth to our child, I will have to spend 20 hours a week in life skills class in order to continue to qualify for $180 that they “give” me each month. Like it is some sort of gift. “Merry Giftmas, here’s your welfare, you bum.” How does that even come out to financially feasible if I will have to pay for daycare while I’m in that class all week? 80 hours of class time each month for $180 comes out to $2.25 an hour. So my time is worth less than minimum wage to them? If I don’t take the class, then my welfare gets cancelled, and I lose 60% of my income.

I wish I knew how to run a business, how to build a website, how to do my finances. I wish I could find a way to work from home. I think being a doula is a great idea, but I don’t know how to run a business. I would end up running myself into the ground. I wish I could have afforded to not let my professional affiliations lapse this year due to lack of income. I will have to become re-certified as a doula if I want to pursue that as an avenue of income.

I am not opposed to accepting charity. In fact, I have been the recipient of some wonderful, generous gifts the last few months in order to keep my animals alive and healthy. One woman helped us out with 8 doses of about to expire Frontline so we could de-flea the cats and dog. Another helped us with goat and chicken feed right when we were about to run out, and had a negative bank balance.

Why are we keeping these animals when we can barely afford to take care of ourselves? It is simple. Hope. I have hope that it won’t always be such a struggle. That we will be able to feed ourselves with the gifts these animals provide us in the form of sacrifice. Our males goats will turn into a freezer full of meat. Our female goats give us milk to drink. Our chickens provide more meat for the freezer and eggs. The cats kill and eat the rats that threaten our animals’ food supply. Believe it or not, animal feed is cheaper than buying these things, because it is spread out over a period of time. But that is the crux. It takes time. It is an investment. An investment of time and patience.

Hope is really the only thing that keeps me going these days. Hope that my partner and I will make it through this struggle together. Hope that we will survive as a family. Hope that I won’t have to sell all the animals in order to make it through the winter. Hope that I will give birth soon. I really want to give birth. I want to meet my baby, hold him or her in my arms. I want to begin the recovery process so I can start building a business. I Hope that I will be able to contribute financially to my family’s well-being, so I can help raise us out of this pit of despair we find ourselves mired in. I want to be tired in the morning from waking up several times a night to feed my child, not because fears of poverty keep me awake. I want to feel like I am not letting my family down. I want to feel like I am not letting myself down.

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