Friday, April 9, 2010

clucking and canning giveaway!

I met Ashley English a few months ago, she emailed me to talk about homesteading and writing. It turned out that she was also a designer, blogger, and small-scale backyard homesteader so we had a lot in common. Over the months we swapped emails and stories, getting to know each other a long the way. She lives in Western, NC and I live up here in New England. Consider us a pair of Highland Girls: north and south. (Districts represent!) You can read her blog here, and follow a farm girl in her southern homestead stories.

Anyway, we became fast friends and I'm here to proudly announce her first pair of books in the Homemade Living Series. She just came out with a guide to chickens and canning—both fully illustrated with beautiful photography and geared towards beginners. (And, ahem, if you flip them over you may see a familiar quote from someone you know...) We'll be giving away a set of these to the winner of a random drawing from the comments section. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment about you and your stance on chickens. Do you have them? Want them? What breeds and for what purpose? We'll all share our stories and I ask that you end the post with your city and state. I find that a lot of future farmers reading this blog didn't realize someone in the next county over shares the same desires to get back to the land. (Perhaps a few small homesteading community projects or bartering could rise out of this post!)

So add your stories and yarns to the comments and check back to this post Sunday night to see who the winner is. They'll be getting both hardcover copies and a goose feather from CAF. Happy clucking and canning!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

chickencentric giveaway tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

why homestead?

If you knew me growing up you’d probably be surprised to find out that after a perfectly normal suburban childhood, I ended up standing in a chicken coop at 5 a.m. ankle-deep in straw and chicken poo.

After all, that was never the plan. I grew up in the complacency of small town America. We had a fine house with a beautiful back yard, neighborhood friends, and wonderbread sandwiches. Once a year near Halloween, my parents would take us three kids to a small family farm with a pumpkin patch. I’m fairly certain that annual trip was the closest I ever got to the farmlife.

Now, 26 and on my own in rural Vermont — things have changed. Bread comes from my oven — not plastic bags with twist ties. Eggs come from the chicken coop — not a styrofoam container. And vegetables come from the garden not the produce section (though technically, the garden is the produce section of the property, but you know what I mean.) My life went from an urban design job in the city to the path of an apprentice shepherd. While I still have a 9-5 job, my weekends are spent at sheepdog clinics and lambing seminars. The dream is to raise lambs up here in the gambols of Vermont. And the road to that reality is a lot different than the one I’ve been trained for in college. (They don’t teach you how to pull out an inverted lamb from a stubborn ewe in typography classes, just a heads up for any designers-turning-farmers out there.) Anyway, I’ve been sweating, tilling, and stepping in random feces for a few years now and whenever someone who knew me before all paths lead to sheep runs into me, they always ask me the same question.

Why?

Why would a perfectly normal middle class gal, who had a nice city job, and a pleasant apartment pick up her life and shake it till trowels and feed sacks fell out? Why spend a year learning to raise chickens and keep bees and nearly pass out of heat stroke in the garden when eggs, honey, and broccoli are all for sale at the grocery store for less than the cost of that hoe in your blistered hands?

There are a lot of canned answers to this and you know them already. As fellow homesteaders (or friends there of) you get the whole “homegrown-satisfaction-quality-of-life-green-living” bit. All those reasons ring true for me too, but there’s something else writhing below those surface answers. Something deeper that makes me smile in the garden or laugh from my belly in the bird yard.

It’s the honesty of knowing what I do everyday directly helps keep me alive.

It’s that simple.

Gardening, farming, raising animals — these are seen as labor or hobbies to most. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “Farming isn’t my thing” which is always said with flippant arrogance masquerading as either city-slicker inadequacy or self-effacing ambivalence. Which is fine. If it weren’t for people not wanting to farm, farmers wouldn’t have any business in the first place. But here’s the thing. If you ever ate anything that had to be raised, slaughtered, or planted — farming is definitely your thing. Actually, It’s the only thing.

We can sit on the porch and talk all day about philosophy and religion and what people want. But the conversation about what the human animal needs is pretty short — food, shelter, water, protection. While I love the literature, art, and amazing questions people ask about ‘what we want’. I find true peace and purpose taking control of what I need.

Raising and growing your own is more than a lifestyle — it is life. Contrary to popular belief there is nothing altruistic about it. Homesteading is the most self-involved way to live. But it’s exactly how most animals do live, and there’s no logical reason for any of us to think we have the world figured out better than anything else stumbling around the planet. Animals live a wild life of procuring food and creating life. The shepherd with a lamb in his arms is no different than the wolf with a lamb in his jaws. Two animals with food being the center of their present lives. I love that so much about farming, you just can’t know.

So I suppose that is why I homestead. The correctness of survival. The wildness of understanding basic needs. It all draws me in and keeps the bit between my teeth. It lets me feel more a part of the world in the most basic sense. Thanks to the egg, garden, and lamb — I too can gain all the satisfaction I need from being in charge of my own life. You know, there’s a reason eating a salad you grew yourself tastes so good, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask that wolf.

First published on Motherearthnews.com, 2008.

Monday, April 5, 2010

pretty cocky about my truck

carolina chocolate drops: a must listen

Sunday, April 4, 2010

foundation stock

I'm going to start out by saying Rabbit Tastes Amazing. I mean it. Cooked correctly, it may be the most delicious and satisfying meat I've ever eaten (and I am a butcher's granddaughter). When yesterday's three-hour crash course in running a small rabbitry concluded five of us sat around a kitchen table passing around a cast iron dutch oven of rabbit, covered in a a tomato sauce with black olives. It was my first taste of the white meat and it was kind of like chicken, but moister, denser, and had more flavor. A 4 oz portion made me feel like I had just put aside a prime steak. I noted how full I felt and Bruce, the man of the hour who's farm I was visiting, explained I just experienced the rabbit effect. Less food, more protein, little fat, and good flavor. Simple satisfaction.

I showed up at Wanabea Rabbit Farm mid morning. Two college students were with me to see the set up, Caroline and Connor. They were Green Mountain College students of the homesteading class and future farmers. When we pulled into the farm's lawn, Bruce was talking to one of his growers, who had just delivered a batch of stock to be delivered to a restaurant in Massachusetts later that week. Bruce was happy with the animals and seemed to be in a good mood despite his sore knee. The 60-year-old farmer walked with a cane, and his flannel shirt, beard, and felt hat made me feel instantly comfortable (and made miss Tennessee something awful). I beamed as I shook his hand.

Wanabea is not interested in agritourism. The place is a working production farm, not a still from the Waltons. People who drove by might not like the look of the metal pole/tarp garages that made up the rabbit barns or the collection of wire cages, goat pens, cats and colorful kitchsy decorations. I think a lot of people expect all small farms to look like upstate summer homes with sheep as sporadic lawn ornaments hoofing on mowed green grass. Wanabea was scrappy. I loved the place, it was growing healthy food right in my neighborhood and providing me with my first foundation stock: two bred does to start my own operation.

Bruce showed us around his barns and explained his hutches and watering system. He showed me all his animals without hesitation. From kits to older girls on their way out—all the animals were out in the open fresh air and seemed bright eyed and healthy. Well, save too who had to be culled due to age and wasting away. He offered to show up how to kill and clean the rabbits right there. All of us were keen on seeing a demonstration.

Bruce killed the rabbit by slipping it's head through a small noose attached the the door-frame abattoir, and in one quick jerk the animal's head popped off the neck with a crack. It was instant, painless, and the now dead rabbit's head hung to one side, still attached and bloodless, but clearly broken. Then Bruce hung it upside down by it's back feet and showed me how to skin and dress the animal. He explained what to remove, and what to keep inside, and the whole time all of his students had questions and stories. It may all sound grotesque but this wasn't the mood at all. It felt as normal as talking over coffee or as benign as four people baking bread at once. We were all excited about our future farms, hungry to learn. Chatting over food comes in many forms.

The demonstration was priceless, and while I felt I had a knack for it he offered to help me process my first animals at my own site. What a gift. With the confidence that I would have a mentor I felt even more excited about filling the back of the truck with used cages and my own does. We walked around the rabbitry trying to figure out which animals suited me. I told him I was leaning towards Californians (he called them Calis) and we found a 9 pound doe with thick loins who was already bred and due around the 16th to kindle. Then I saw a giant Papillon/New Zealand cross I couldn't take my eyes off and when I picked her up to inspect her eyes, ears, and frame I was taken back by the density. Nearly 13 pounds!

When all was done outside, the rabbits loaded in the back of the pickup, we went inside to talk and eat. Bruce handed me a copy of Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits and showed me my speckled doe was a cover girl: her mug was right there on the cover of my publisher's rabbit book! Storey had just released a new edition, and without having any idea I did it: I had just bought the icon on the cover for 1.50 a pound. It's a small world after all started to chime in my head. I was a farm writer who just bought her first meat breeding rabbits from a man who's animals posed for the cover of the book she was reading to prepare for her own farm.

So it's Easter. I just realized my rabbit report falls on today, but bad form was not my intention. I have a feeling people who read this blog and have come to know me aren't phased in the slightest. They may even consider the timing delightful.

No offense EB, but you are delicious.