Archive for April, 2012

27-Days of Change

Monday, April 30, 2012


So far the first week of our 27-day challenge has been an easy one thanks to a well stocked pantry and freezer. The trick has been to use what we already have in new and interesting ways. New marinades, different seasoning combinations or interesting cooking methods can bring new life to routine meals.

For breakfast Brianne and I have poached eggs on toast. The eggs are collected daily from our own hens and the bread is baked from ingredients I have on hand. Brianne eats an extra piece of toast with blueberry jam, canned last summer from berries picked a few miles up the road. It is the perfect start to our morning (and our challenge).

I contacted my friend Angela who buys raw milk from a private dairy. It’s not in the county, but I think it will be within a hundred miles; still waiting on a response.

Lunch has been egg salad sandwiches on baked bread with sliced peaches canned this past fall from our own peach tree or chicken salad made from broilers we raised by hand, processed ourselves and frozen to sustain us throughout the year. While running errands to the feed store we snacked on Grandpa’s homemade venison jerky, made last fall from his wild harvest, and lemonade made from my neighbors lemon tree.

One of our dinners this past week was grilled lamb chops with an Asian marinade, sticky rice and cucumber salad drizzled with rice vinegar. The cucumbers were hydroponically grown and came from the farm market. The lamb was home raised and harvested last fall, and the rice and other marinade ingredients came from the pantry. We washed it all down with a refreshing glass of mint tea, fresh picked from the garden right before brewing.

All-in-all this week has been a great start to our 27-day challenge.

Asian Marinated Lamb Chops

1 pound shoulder chops (any chop will work)

1 cup soy sauce

1 Tablespoon fresh minced garlic

¼ cup brown sugar

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

½ Teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 Scallion, sliced thin

½ Can crushed pineapple

  • Combine all ingredients except lamb chops to make marinade.
  • Place chops in baking dish and cover with marinade. Cover and let sit for 3 or more hours.
  • Grill until about medium doneness, but still pink in the middle.
  • On stove, cook down marinade for topping on rice.

Department of Labor Attacks Family Farms

Saturday, April 28, 2012

In an unprecedented “brain fart” on the part of the Obama Administration and the Department of Labor, governmental officials try to regulate the chores kids can do on their own family farm. The family farm section was part of a sweeping labor bill mainly directed at farm labor contractors hiring under aged youth to work in Ag related entities without proper training or protection. But, as with most governmental interference, what started out as a good intention quickly lead to an overreaching intrusion into American farm life and the way we choose to raise our children.

“A proposal from the Obama administration to prevent children from doing farm chores has drawn plenty of criticism from rural-district members of Congress. But now it’s attracting barbs from farm kids themselves.” from The Daily Caller Read more:

Due to public outcry, this really stupid idea was withdrawn by the Obama Administration

“Under pressure from farming advocates in rural communities, and following a report by The Daily Caller, the Obama administration withdrew a proposed rule Thursday that would have applied child labor laws to family farms.” from The daily Caller
Read more:

But—we’re not rid of them yet. Unfortunately, the DOL will now help teach us about working on a farm and with livestock.

“Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.” Read more:

WONDERFUL!!! The government is going to teach our children how to properly and safely catch a hog. This I’d like to see.

Moreover, the Obama Administration and the DOL can’t possibly know anything about 4-H or FFA or they’d already know that “educational programs” is what these two youth organizations are all about. There is a reason that the 4-H motto is “Learn By Doing” and the FFA motto is “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve”. These organizations TEACH…all the time and with every project!

Remember this in November, folks, otherwise we are doomed to more stupidity.

The Duck Diaries

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Counting Down

Well folks, the countdown is on. This time next week I’ll be packaging up twelve freshly processed ducks for the freezer. So far this has been a relatively easy meat project; just as simple as raising meat chickens, if you discount the water issue. But, I think the water would be a non-issue if I used an automatic water bowl similar to those used for dogs. That way the ducks could have an endless supply of water to drink and wash their faces in and I wouldn’t have to refill one-gallon water fonts four to five times a day. In reality the ducks use more water for washing themselves then they do for drinking. I have also decided that if I raise ducks again I will build a dedicated area that has more space and housing and figure out some way to manage the water splashing so the whole place doesn’t become a muddy mess. Right now they are in a corner of the barn. Although they have plenty of room there is no way for me to put together a set-up that allows them to go outside. I also think that more space will cut down on the manure build-up and I will use fewer bags of shavings for bedding.

I was asked if the ducks I raise will be less expensive than those you can buy in the stores. To be honest, I’m not sure. I haven’t calculated out all my expenses yet. But, what I do know is that I will have used 150 pounds of feed and about 6 bags of shavings by the time we butcher next weekend. I’m sharing the cost of the feed with sis and one bag of feed was free with a buy-one-get-one free coupon Brianne won at a sheep show. The cost of the ducklings was a trade with the hatchery for our Sebastopol gander that died shortly after we brought him home last year. The water is a big mystery because I don’t use a meter to track it. But, a rough idea of cost for someone thing of raising ducks would be:

$57.70 — 12 ducklings

$37.00 — 3 50# bags of feed

$40.50 — 6 bags of shavings


Only our local gourmet stores and some ethnic stores carry duck meat. The gourmet stores charge almost $20 a pound for breast meat and slightly less for thigh and leg combos while the ethnic stores sell frozen packaged duck meat for about $16.00 for a package that is less than 3 pounds. This is one of the reasons we decided to raise our own. With the above numbers, our ducks will end up costing about $11.26 per duck. BUT…the big difference is our ducks will process out at about 5 pounds each—twice as heavy as anything in the markets.

For now though I’m keeping my eye on the ball and getting ready for butchering day.

Sandy and I are doing things a little differently this time. Instead of me packing up a load of birds and traveling to her farm she is coming to mine and bringing all the equipment with her—scalder, plucker, stainless steel table, cones, knives and scissors. I’ll supply the electricity for heating up the water in the scalder and an endless supply of water for rinsing and washing. We’ll set up on the patio where we will have easy access to electrical outlets and water, shade and the kitchen for ice and other necessities.

Should be interesting, folks.

Stay tuned. The whole process will be posted here next week.

Putting Pen to Paper

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I just finished putting a pot of chicken soup on the stove, made from a simmered down homegrown chicken carcass cooked months ago and frozen waiting for such a day as this. An April storm rages outside; lightening illuminates the house and thunder crashes so loud it shakes the windows, making the cat run for cover. There is a warm fire crackling and popping near where I write; glowing hot with wood collected in the fall. It is still keeping us warm. My new dulcimer stands in the corner waiting for me to pick it up and strum the new cords I am teaching myself. We are happy and content to stay indoors and revel in simple pleasures on this wet spring morn.

What a life we have created for ourselves! A half finished flannel quilt sits patiently on a makeshift sewing table, made from scraps collected over time during shopping trips to thrift and second hand stores. There are lambs outside; the last vestiges of Brianne’s show career. A new batch of meat ducks huddle in a pen of wire, bedded down on a thick layer of shavings, keeping the chill of this stormy day at bay. Sophie, the Sebastopol goose, sits on a small clutch of eggs, ignorant of the fact they will never hatch…they are not fertile. But, she may be a mother yet. When I gently pulled back the warm covering of straw on top of the nest I found three chicken eggs. She must have gathered them from a wayward hen and made them her own. They have a better chance of hatching.

There are eggs in the fridge, laid by the hens who roam the yard. There is lamb and chicken in the freezer as well; all raised here on our suburban farm and butchered by the people who cared for them. Homemade sausage lays frozen in patties and links; taught to us by our friendly butcher Kent. Aside from the meat we have raised we’ve also baked bread from scratch, canned jams and relishes, peaches, made cheese from fresh goat’s milk. The honey we use comes from “the bee man” who pollinates a family farm. There are two trucks and a livestock trailer parked in the drive, waiting for the next farm chore or livestock show excursion.

We’ve held just hatch chicks in our hands, offspring from our little flock this time last year and watched as new born kits wriggle in the warmth of a soft fur bed. We’ve grown a garden full of vegetables and picked pumpkins that would make Cinderella weep with joy. We’ve fished for our supper and learned to shoot with both gun and bow. We’ve laid in bed on a cool summer morning and heard the songs of birds that call our farm home. We’ve stopped dead in our tracks as the cry of a coyote shatters the dark silence of our nightly rounds. We’ve built with lumber, sewn clothes, knitted scarves and quilted blankets to keep us warm in winter. And, we’ve captured it in a blog. We have customers that buy our products and seek our knowledge.

But there is still much left to do. We’d like to feel the biting cold on our face as a sled and dogs pulls us through the blue glow of a winter morning. We’d like to drive a carriage and use horse power instead of machine power to work a farm. And, we’d like to see dogs run the yard once more. We’d like to restart our sheep flock, long ago lost to a pack of feral dogs and feel the thrill of bringing a new crop of lambs into this world. We’d like to start a CSA of wool and meat and vegetables and fruit. And, we’d like to share what we’ve learned with others.

Tonight our plans are quiet. No hot dates or people to impress with shallow small talk of inconsequential matters. No…tonight is dedicated to this small suburban farm, plans for the future and life lived simply; a life that didn’t even exist a few years ago. Tonight I’ll help a new college student follow her dream and work on a few of my own. I’ll learn about raising and processing a pig, making plans for a new pig pen and I’ll read about heritage cattle to determine if this will be a new addition to our farm. This is normal, at least for us. This is everyday life for us.

I’ve been told by family and friends that I’m a fool to be wasting my time and energy on things that can be bought just a few miles from my home, that don’t require trudging out in the rain or sweating in the sun. I must be a fool then, to trade the shallow wasteful easy comforts of modern society to live this way, to do all this and dance at dusk to the sounds of sweet mournful instruments long past forgotten. They can say what they like. I wouldn’t change a thing, not for anyone. This is our life—sometimes messy, sometimes hard, sometimes sad. But, we like it. It suits us.

We may not have the riches of some and we certainly aren’t surrendering ourselves to the simpering, giggling, nauseatingly fake form of womanhood that so many feel necessary. But we are pretty dang happy tonight. We feel like the richest women in the world. Why you may ask, do we feel this way. Two simple reasons:

One: I always wanted this life and knew it could happen, not hoped but knew, and

Two: I wrote it down.

May sound strange, but it’s true. I believe this with every ounce of my being because I’ve seen it happen time-after-time. Years ago I was reading a piece written by a well-known motivational speaker. He had written about a “Dream Book”. A place to keep, write, draw and plan ALL the dreams you have for your life. He went on to state that 98% of people never plan or make goals for their lives, and even fewer take the time to write those dreams or plans down. Of the people to do take the time to put pen to paper 90% actually achieved their written goal. Amazing, right? There’s just something about making a written commitment to yourself. It makes the dream more real, more achievable. I strive to be part of the 90%

When I was going through my divorce I knew I wanted a place where we could have animals and gardens and trees. I wanted a REAL wood burning fireplace, a nice kitchen where I could make dinners from scratch, and most of all zoning that would allow us to do all the things we wanted without the prying eyes of a small minded HOA. So—I took pen to paper and wrote it all down. I drew out a barn to house the animals we would raise. I laid out cutting gardens, vegetable gardens, trellises, arbors, even a green house. I collected magazine clippings of flowers I would grow, recipes I would make and animals I would raise. All in anticipation that “one day” I would find what I was looking for. I carried my “dream book” with me everywhere so I could write down new ideas that came to mind. And I think because it was so much a part of me, so close to me at all time those ideas and dreams pushed me to never give up. But, time and trial can take its toll. I was discouraged, tired, pushed to my breaking point. Divorce is not easy folks. I WAS giving up, but trying not to. I was resigning myself to a life less than I wanted, but still holding out some hope that I would find what I was looking for.

Life is strange. It happens when you least expect it. I was sitting in a small café with my sister. It was Sunday. I had decided to take a break from the search for a home that would give us the life we so dearly wanted when the couple seated next to us got up and left. Lying on the table was the Sunday paper. I stared at it a while and then picked it up. I didn’t look through it for the longest time, just held it looking at the front page. I guess I was deciding whether or not to risk disappointment. But, I did open it. Thumbed through the housing section, reading about all the grandiose homes that were not only over my budget, but would not give me the life I wanted, until the bottom corner of the last page caught my eye. It was a barely noticeable ad for a house just outside of town. The ad said “small farm”. I looked at sis and she instinctively knew without me saying a word. She grabbed the paper and found the ad. We both sat there, silently staring at each other. We knew. We just knew.

We paid our bill and left. I was breathless driving to the address; excited, afraid, unsure. I had never bought a home before, never had a mortgage. I wasn’t even sure I could do it. We walked through the front door and my heart stopped. IT WAS A WREACK!! The house had been a rental for 12 years and it showed. But…it had a big wood burning fireplace, almost 3-feet wide, and land, enough for barns and gardens and greenhouses. The kitchen needed work, but it was roomy with lots of space. This wasn’t the little farm I wrote about in my dream book, but it had bones to build on and room to grow.

I say all this because I want you to know this doesn’t happen by magic. This farm didn’t just fall into my lap. It was thought of, conceived of and dreamed of. It wasn’t given to me either. I worked hard for it, scrimped and saved and did without to make it work. I had to be tough, wheel and deal and put people in their place when they tried to cheat me. But I pulled it off, paycheck to paycheck, a little at a time until it grew into something wonderful. There is a barn we build ourselves, fences, an orchard, berry patch, flower gardens, vegetable beds and grape vines; and—a new kitchen. Many hands have helped to make this farm possible and many hands have enjoyed the fruits of their labor. If a single mom raising a child alone can buy a home and build a farm out of a suburban lot so can you. I promise.

I guess the moral is…if you want your own land, want your own farm then please sit down and put pen to paper and write it all down. All the wants, all the dreams, all the crazy notions. Carry it with you and keep it close to your heart. It may take years before you can dance at dusk on your own land with chickens scratching in the background, but those years are coming anyway—why not have a farm at the end of them.

And keep dancing at dusk, folks. It couldn’t hurt.

The Duck Diaries

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Movin’ On Up

Baby ducklings

In this case though, moving out instead of up, out into the barn. I fenced off a 4 x 8 foot corner of the barn using extra livestock panels. An old metal tray, the bottom of a rabbit hutch, serves to collect the water the ducks splash out of the water fonts. Or, at least it tries. One thing I have learned from our small duck operation is they love to splash in any amount of water which can dampen a good portion of their temporary home. It is logical when you think about it. They are waterfowl after all. Not all their water loving instincts have been bred out of them.

An old rubber feed tub holds their grower ration. They eat about 4 to 5 pounds each day, but honestly I haven’t been keeping track. Each time we walk into the barn the feeder is topped off so they never run out. What I can tell you is we have gone through almost 100 pounds of feed—50 of a chick starter ration and almost 50 of a grower mash. I have one bag left and that should hold out until the scheduled butchering date in May.  What we use the most of is shavings, both as bedding and as an absorbent material for the water. Every few days the tray is cleaned out and refilled, and the rest of the pen is topped off to give them a dry unsoiled place to live. The shavings are used again as a weed barrier in garden paths or around the base of fruit trees. When all is done I may have more invested in shavings than in feed.

It’s amazing how much they have changed in a short period of time. Read the rest of the story »

27- Days to Change the Way We Eat

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I once read that it takes 27 days to change a habit, either good or bad. 27-days to stop smoking, start a diet and stick to it, or make exercise part of your daily routine. In 27 days the “new” habit has formed in the brain and becomes second nature, you do it without thinking.

So why am I telling you all this?

Because today is Day One of a 27-day family challenge to eat more locally, buy locally and consume locally. It’s a personal challenge I know, but one I hope many of our readers will champion as well. If we stop and look (or research) what is available in our county I think we would all be surprised at how many of the ingredients needed to make a meal can be found in close proximity to where we live. I have to admit that even I sometimes forget what can be found just a few miles from my home.

The challenge will mean a lot of cooking at home, eating harvested animals, shopping in the pantry (or the garden), at farm stands and Farmer’s Markets, and much more. What it doesn’t mean though is giving up on condiments, spices, tea and staples I already have on hand like flour, sugar, olive oil, rice, beans and pasta. I’ll document our progress, and be honest about the pit falls: added work of making bread on a Tuesday after work, the challenge of gardening with a full-time job and a kid in school and the sabbatical my hens sometimes go on, leaving us with no eggs for days.

It will also mean a few sacrifices (swearing off Dr. Pepper and Mint Chip ice cream for starters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.). We’ll be eating within 60 miles of our home (the size of our county) and sometimes 60 feet from our own back door for the next 27 days; and not for the reasons you may be thinking of – supporting the local farm economy, increase in transportation costs of goods, factory farms, high intensity animal feedlots…that kind of thing. Nope, none of that.

We’re doing this for a lot of reasons, but mostly because we want to make a permanent change to the way we think about our food. We want to jumpstart our dedication to growing even more of our own food and buying what we don’t as locally as possible. I want to know how much effort it will take and how much cheaper (or expensive) it is to truly eat where we live. So, for the next several weeks I’ll be writing about all the gory details and shining triumphs, along with some of the recipes I used just to entice all of you to jump on board.

Here are a few of our ground rules:

  • Shop at home first (freezer, larder, pantry, garden, barn).
  • When needed, shop local farm stands and farmers markets.
  • Buy, barter or trade for local meat we don’t raise ourselves.
  • Bake from scratch (wheat is a CA crop, but not farmed locally. It comes from 100 miles away, but is milled into flour 50 miles away. Works for me).
  • Source relatively local dairy products.
  • Cold turkey on candy, chips, sodas, fast foods, etc. (although these are not big items at our home, just the idea of it may kill Brianne).
  • Eat three square meals a day, plus snacks.
  • Staples, condiments, oils, spices and seasonings already on hand are allowed.
  • Drink at least ½ gallon of water a day.
  • Walk at least 3 miles day.

Sound like a plan? Stay tuned to see how we faire.

Tips for a Quality Harvest

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

When harvest time begins we all want to gather the fruits of our labors at the right time to ensure the highest quality produce for our table.  When that time comes, keep these harvest tips in mind:

  • Pick cabbages when the heads are solid and before they begin to split. To prevent splitting, cut or break the roots on one side after a rain with a spade.
  • Pick sweet corn before it gets beyond the milk stage when the kernels are first filled out. Silks should be brown and dry with the tips of each ear filled tight.
  • Harvest cucumbers every day at season’s peak, while fruits are slender and dark green, before their color lightens.
  • Eggplants should be picked when half grown and before they become dull.
  • Muskmelons are ready to pick when stems slip from the fruit, leaving a clean scar.
  • Wait to harvest parsnips until after a sharp frost. The same holds true for rutabagas.
  • Root crops such as beets, radishes, carrots and turnips are best picked before they reach the largest size.
  • When the underside of a watermelon turns yellow or when thumping on the melon produces a dull muffled sound instead of a metallic ring, it’s time to harvest.

As a general rule of thumb, pick all underground vegetables, like beets, carrots, onions, etc. in the morning. Above-ground crops like lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage and the like should be picked in the late afternoon or at twilight.

WHY? you may ask…because the sun’s energy runs from the foliage to the root at night, which is why you should pick root veggies early in the day; when the sun’s energy is still in the root. The sun’s energy is still in the foliage during later afternoon when above-ground crops should be picked.

Following these few easy tips will ensure your harvest is at the peak of its flavor for you and your family.

The Duck Diaries Movie

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Just one week after we picked up our batch of meat ducks, they are growing like weeds. See them and their warm brooder home on The Duck Diaries Movie.