Farm update, November 2017

To start, a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago. I shared this story at a recent educational event I put on at the Cooperative called “The Future of Food”. I thought it held some lessons in that context, but I also want to share it here.

Red Ranger broilers, May 2017

I was really proud of our homesteading efforts this year. We have gardened for several years, but this was the first year we raised some of our own meat. We raised about 30 chickens for meat this spring, butchered and processed them ourselves in early summer, and tucked them neatly in our chest freezer to use over the course of the year. We learned so much and felt so self-sufficient – so connected to the process. I was using them sparingly because I wanted them to last us several months.

The other day I went to grab a chicken for dinner only to find the entire freezer had thawed. I panicked! Not only did it contain our remaining chicken for the year (17 of them), but also gallons of bags of blueberries, frozen soup, paw paws… so much food. I investigated and determined the cause- a kid, about 8 days prior, had unplugged the freezer to plug in something else. A simple mistake, and we hadn’t opened it since. All I could do was wring my hands at the sky, calmly tell all children involved to ask an adult when unplugging anything, and clean up the mess. Nothing was salvageable. We put the spoiled chicken in the woods where scavengers could find them, mildly comforted by the idea that someone would eat.

Our freezer, filled with spoiled food.

I experienced a minor crisis of faith at that point. How, at what I felt to be the height of my homesteading experience, could all of our harvest be lost over something as simple as a curious kid pulling a plug? I read internet accounts of fellow homesteaders experiencing devastating losses after electricity failures. With the exception of canned food (which also takes a fair amount of specialized material and energy to produce), the majority of our culture’s food is stored using electricity. Is this wise or ethical? Beyond the risk of loss of food, I started to worry that we are losing skills that could diversify our methods of storage and preparation. I also dealt with the guilt of having essentially hoarded and then wasted all of those lives. It was devastating and inspiring all at once.


I used this sad event to fuel my interest in alternative food storage, and I made and served 3 different kinds of jerky at the event. We have since ordered a cool device that will alert us when the freezer gets above a certain temperature, so we are unlikely to experience that scenario again. But even that tool is rooted in the same fragile technology. I’m all about reckoning with what is, lately. We have real work to do, and I don’t want to look the other way. 

Jeff helps me plant garlic and shallots in the garden for harvest next year.

There is a lot in the way of good around here, too. At the very least, I’m learning a lot and feeling really activated in my purpose. I read a great line in a book recently that felt meant for me. It said something along these lines: If you are lucky enough to feel that you’ve come into some kind of purpose in your life, at first you won’t be very good at it. That’s humbling, but it’s real.

We finally got to expanding the duck yard. Now they have a much larger area to forage and enjoy, and the little ducks can start to integrate as they feel comfortable. It feels good to finally have a space done for them that feels like it does right by them.

It’s a tough thing to reckon with, the idea that the thing you feel called to you kind of suck at. But that’s the only way right now. I’m not even saying it in a self-deprecating way, I think Jeff and I have a lot to be proud of and we work hard and are creative and try to do our best. But we also suck right now. We are living paycheck to paycheck, we are only just learning how to really care for this place and do right by our kids and animals, let alone ourselves, and we continue to fall short as stewards. But the real challenge is not in getting it all right, it really seems to be in waking up every day ready to go at it again, to try to clean up the ecological and spiritual mess in front of us. 

Our big ducks, exploring their new range.
Milton and I checking on the bees. One hive died, one hive is alive and doing well. We have given the living hive some extra food and insulation for the winter, and we’ll hope for the best!
Living hive, full of honey for the winter.

Cornelian cherry.

I’m really loving getting to know (and planting) perennials right now. I love the idea that I’m helping to add to the bank of living things, with a mind to fill up the world with life rather than planting with a mind just to harvest at the end. I’m planting these Korean Nut Pines, which yield a nice big pine nut at maturity… maturity happening in 15-40 years. Who knows? I might be lucky enough to harvest it, but maybe not. Makes me wonder, what would happen if, for everything I planted for my own benefit I also planted something as an offering? We are most certainly indebted to the natural world at this point. I’m thinking about ways to be generous beyond the obvious, to make my influence on this earth include an attempt at amends for what we’ve done. I want to be a good ancestor to this place. For now, maybe planting some trees is good. Giving the coyotes and turkey vultures the chickens we lost.  

Pictured below are the little bulbs that the “walking onion” produces. It’s a great perennial green onion that spreads by producing these bulbs at the end of a stalk and then it falls with the weight creating this “walking” effect. I have some of these planted by the house, but just planted a portion of a bed in the garden with them.

Red veined sorrel. Deliciously sour, beautiful perennial green.

Below are the beds planted up this fall, many more to prep for the spring. It’s nice to have the excuse to get my blood pumping and go outside during the cold weather. Feels gratifying and refreshing in a way that summer work doesn’t.

Since I am intentionally slowing down for the next year, I’m keeping writing dates and doing more of this kind of work. It’s already working somewhat, I’ll have done two posts in a week! That hasn’t happened in a while. Anyway, I’d like to do more talking this winter about food, since it’s such an integral piece of the what and the why of we’re doing. I want to take time to discuss things about local food that are near to my heart- the sourcing, the politics, the pricing and accessibility, as well as recipes and ideas for seasonal eating and frugality that might help others (as well as lend me some more motivation and accountability). If any of you reading have interest or ideas about something you’d like me to address here, comment and let me know. 

Oyako Domburi, a dish from the “More With Less” cookbook that was one of my favorites as a child. Cooked here with our homegrown chicken, mustard greens, and eggs.
Broth made for wellness (we have some sick floating around us), using chicken bones, shitake stems, dandelion greens, cinnamon, garlic, lemongrass, etc.

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