Horn of Plenty

It’s hotter than the devil’s hiney in east Tennessee & we’ve started harvesting and clearing out the summer garden crops – cabbage, basil, carrots, garlic, tomatoes (lots & lots) – to save them from the scorching heat and hungry caterpillars.

 

We’re making way for the fall plantings – swiss chard, lettuce, kohlrabi, radishes, kale – that will be used to feed folks in our dining hall as well as the critters in our Nature Center. I’ve never planted fall crops before, we’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty jazzed about fall gardening – but not so excited to sit in the sun and put the seeds in the ground – whew! It’s worth the pay off in the end though, right?

At least I will have some company…

Praying Mantis - Who says gardening isn't a form of meditation & spirituality?

 

We might even let the chickens do their “thang” in the garden before planting the new stuff, but that requires vigilance, chicken tractors, maybe leashes… but it’s oh, so good for the dirt. Maybe –¬† if I am feeling particularly adventurous…

Sow What

Temperatures are climbing, the sun is shining, green buds are peaking, birds are singing, daily walks with toddlers are commencing, compost is turning, CSA farm updates are flowing, Environmental Ed is gearing, seeds are being started – spring is in the air in East Tennessee.

Basil: pizza, pesto, egg/tomato/basil sandwich, fresh tomato sauce
Peppers: tacos, fajitas, fresh salsa, stuffed, raw
Tomatoes: Sauce, salsa, pizza, chili, salads, pizza sauce, tomato&mayo sandwich, sliced

 

Let’s all take a minute to breathe it all in.

Ahhhhh… mmm…tastes of springtime.

(Rotten to the) Core of Composting

You know when the excitement of a Home Depot gift card has you losing sleep at night dreaming of all of the homesteading goodness it could provide, you are one of a few things:

a. Old

b. Rural

c. Simple.

d. Sustainably living as best you can.

e. Easily amused

f. All of the above.

I know which one we are. I’ll let you decide which category you fall under.

In the midst of chicken/coop planning, CSA-joining, green cleaning, toddler-chasing, and working for a living we have jumped in head first to home-composting – well, not physically in the compost. Our piece of Home Depot gold bought the Ford Casa a sweet piece of simple composting machinery:

We’ve been composting our kitchen scraps for a while now, maybe a year give or take, but we’ve been taking¬† it down to the center’s compost heaps – which for lack of better description, is a heap of nasty, stinky, unbalanced mess. When you look at it there are definitely things growing out of it – just not sure it’s anything I would willingly consume. Or touch for that matter… more on that another time as it is now one of my projects.

If you’ve never thought about composting, you should. It’s incredibly satisfying on many levels – it’s good for the earth by keeping organics out of landfills, it’s good for your plants because the soil it creates is so very rich in nutrients, and it’s good for you because you and your little people eat the fruits of your harvest – and then the cycle starts anew.

We keep a kitchen compostor on our counter made by BioBag lined with a compostable biodegradable bag – they are about five bucks for twenty-five at local natural food grocers – and we go through one or two a week depending on what we eat. We drop our “greens” – banana peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, fruit/veggie stems, soft spots cut out of produce, crushed egg shells – into the container, wait for it to fill up, then take the whole bag and its contents and toss it in the composter.

Inaugural greens...

Cover the “greens” with twice as much “browns” – dry leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper, shredded cardboard – and turn the composter a few rotations a few times a week.

...followed by the browns.

Make sure it has moisture (but not too much – think stew not soup), sunlight, and air and in a few months we will have rich soil to put on our baby tomato and pepper plants. Easy peasy.

There’s a well of information out there on composting waiting for you to unearth it. Here are a few folks making dirt that I found interesting, entertaining, or informative:

Learn it. Love it. Get dirty doing it.

Fall Friskies

Orange. Red. Yellow. Crunching. Leaves. Chai Tea. Thanksgiving. Hammocks. All Things Pumpkin. Cool Breeze. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Socks with Chacos. Long Sleeves. Festivals. Halloween (OK- really just the candy). Harvest. Change. Fireplace. Crisp Air.

I. Love. All. Things. Autumn.

I think I am not going to call it Fall anymore. Typically when something falls it breaks, shatters, hurts itself – all not-so-very-fun things. And Autumn is so very fun.

I have decided to make a list – a list of projects I want to take on this Autumn for no other reason than they will bring me joy:

  • Dig up hosta plants that have taken over my yard. They are pretty and apparently expensive but I don’t have a desire for 9,374 of them in my yard. I would like to plant other things – like tulips or carrots.
Hosta la vistaHello, pretty spring time flowers!
  • Build chicken coop (I originally spelled this “coup” – and then laughed at the image of a bunch of chickens living in a rag-top hatchback) with my dad. Yes, it’s happening. This spring we will get chickens. I haven’t decided yet if we will try to hatch them or try to acquire them post-brooding, depends on how in touch with my roots I am willing to go. Chicken pox, you don’t scare me.
Welcome home, chickens.
  • Hang our hammock. Sadly we have moved two hammocks to three houses and have yet to put either one of them up to enjoy since Kansas City where it’s a frozen tundra three-fourths of the year. (I’m not bitter.) Operation: Hammock may happen this afternoon – I have to check with my boss. The little boss.
I need a lot more of this in my life… just up off the ground.
  • Sew. Sew. Sew. My goal is to make a stockpile of hand-grown goodness to sell on (deep breath) Etsy and then the Market Square Farmers Market next season. I also have Christmas gift dreams to fulfill as well. I think I will need to tune up my machine to prepare it for the storm – anyone know how to do that? Cinderelly, Cinderelly…
The dress I made for a little one who is loving life in the womb.
Come on out and meet the world, sweet girl.

  • Research and plan a year-round garden based on the Vegetannual starting in the spring to further our attempt at becoming locavores (Folks who eat local, in-season food as best they can). I gladly welcome any pointers. I am not trying to feed Roane County, just our little family and enough to can/freeze for the cold months.
Yummy – now when do I plant y’all in East Tennessee?
  • Paint our dreary living area. I say “living area” because it is just that – our kitchen, living room, dining room, entry way, sewing nook are all one big room. And the color on the wall is about as exciting as a root canal.
I am digging this color or something similar – bright and inviting.
I also like the green of the next room.

  • Create a business card. (Listen, I know I am nothing fancy, but a girl can dream.) Tell me what you think.
  • Throw my almost-one-year-old the most incredible birthday celebration this side of the Mississippi. I know, I am running behind, but this chicken pox stuff has thrown me for a loop – and now I am rethinking the original theme. This is what happens when I have too much time to think…
Celebrating a little early with Uncle Matt & Aunt Heather.
We are working on the whole “thank you” thing…
  • Carve pumpkins and reminisce on previous pumpkin carving parties. Do they have pumpkins in the northwest?
We’ve got mad pumpkin-carving skills in this neck of the woods.
Too bad half of our neck has run off…

  • Take a trip or two to the mountains. It’s always good to go home.
Back porch view from HiZi – such is life.

Whew. I better stop while I’m way already way behind. Three days, folks, until the Autumn equinox. I’ve got a lot of goodness on my plate – how about you? What are your favorite things about the season formerly known as Fall?

Hi Ho the Dairy-O

…the Farmer in the Dell.
Remember that game Hi Ho Cherry-O? Oh my word, it was one of my all time favorites. I am sure I owe a lot of siblings, cousins, and friends many apologies for incessantly asking to play this game. But I was really good at getting those little cherries in my bucket.

And we’re back…

We have been going down the road, literally, about once a week for the past couple of months to a local farm. And I mean local, as in, it doesn’t even have a name. So “backyard” that I have tried to introduce myself to our “Farmer in the Dell” and I can’t understand what he says when he tells me his name in response…and I’ve been raised a southern gal, still can’t catch it. He probably thinks I am a stalker, always asking his name.

He has all sorts of stuff: corn, beans, melons, okra, tomatoes as big as your head, cucumbers, peppers, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, potatoes, sunflowers for a quarter a piece. They are open ten in the morning til sundown and you can buy as much or as little as you want.

Just put your money in the jar that is screwed shut and bolted to the table to which Chris commented, “I don’t even know how he gets his money out of the jar,” when I asked him if he thought we could make change in the bucket.

And if you buy seven bucks worth of stuff and only have a ten, leave the three extra. It’s going directly into local economy. It couldn’t be more direct than that. Farmer Dell will greatly appreciate it and it will likely be fruitful for you next season. More money = more seeds = more crops. The plenty is bountiful.

These melons were beyond huge… like 42 weeks pregnant huge.
Corn anyone?

Find a Farmer in the Dell and take your kiddos. They will love it, too. And what could be better than feeding your kid fresh goodness grown in the same dirt you walk on everyday?

Noah is especially fond of the cantaloupe…and his daddy.

And get your canning britches on because your kitchen will be covered in garden goodness…that you can enjoy all year. Local and in season. Legit.

Holy Cow: Part Two

And finally what you’ve all been waiting for.
All four of you who read this (thanks, Mom).

We are buying a cow! Yep. As in meat on the table, not Pet Bessie in the backyard (though if Chris would let me I would do it in a heartbeat). That means ground beef, steak, burgers… you name it, we will have it in our freezer by the end of the summer. And by “we” I mean our family and three others are going in on the heifer because frankly we can’t afford the whole thing by ourselves, not in one fail swoop anyway. Can you taste the freshness in your mouth… ohhhhh yes.
We were originally thinking of going with River Ridge Farms down the road from us to help support local economy…the huge and bustling economy of Ten Mile. We will likely purchase other things such as chickens or eggs from them, but after casual conversation with one of our summer staffers we learned that his family has a farm outside of Knoxville. It’s a small family-run farm that has about fifty head of cattle right now. Forrest, whose father owns the farm, told me that those cattle would likely pay for his college. I was sold. Hands down, these were the folks that we would get our slab o’beef from. I was elated and began to ask several questions of the poor boy who graciously humored me with answers and repeatedly told me he would give me his dad’s number and I could talk to him… I guess I just couldn’t contain my excitement and got a little bit of tunnel vision – eyes on the prize, if you will.
Our beef is free-range, grass-fed up until the last two weeks before it’s sent to slaughter, in which those two weeks it is given corn in addition to her regular diet to fatten her up. I can live with that. And even better, Mr. Stroud has a relationship with the folks who process the meat, his family has used them for years, so theoretically we will “know” the hands that have prepared our food. God bless them.
In other food news, I am reading this book:
 I’ve also read this book of hers:
This woman is my hero. Seriously. She kept me entertained through the first book and now has my complete and intense focus on the story of her family’s life-altering decision to move across the country so that they can eat (mostly) locally and tend a garden themselves. Hero.
Chris and I have been tossing around the thought of doing this ourselves, even before picking up her book, and now I just feel affirmed in the decision. Now, I know this isn’t something that can change overnight or without a ridiculous amount of planning and calculating, but I wish I could start tomorrow. I think we will start after a rest from our busy summer season. Here are some things I am considering and loopholes we may create:
1. Noah won’t be totally included in our “local only” harvest, at least not at first. There are certain things he needs and enjoys that I don’t feel is right to cut out for him right now (e.g. Yo’Baby from Stonyfield, whole grain cheerios, etc.). But I am considering figuring out how to make my own yogurt…could be interesting.
2. We live in the country. We have a local farm right down the road that sells produce six months out of the year which could potentially cut out our once a week grocery runs… which the closest store is seventeen miles from our house. That’s a big deal.
3. Local equals in-season produce and Barbara’s website provides seasonal menus and recipes. Score.
Now, I will likely have to alter her meat selection because of the whole cow we will own in a few weeks.
4. We are considering joining a local co-op, Three Rivers Market. This will help us in the local and in-season part.
5. Chickens. I really really really want chickens. You all should message Chris, phone or facebook, and push for chickens for me. ‘Preciate it.
6a. I’ve already canned (halfway) my first mess of beans. I’ve learned that one bushel is equal to twenty quarts… I opted for half a bushel. I don’t like green beans, but my boys love them. I am giving two away, but the other eight should last us a good while. Next up on the canning menu: tomato sauce. Six to eight quarts of it. This will be my trick: stock up now, can, enjoy in the winter when there isn’t much “fresh” to choose from.
6b. If anyone has a pressure cooker they would like to donate I would gladly take you up on it. Or a deep freezer.
Whew. I am wearing myself out and the work is just beginning. We will be busy in the upcoming weeks sorting out the details, making a plan, and hopefully we can hit the ground running after the summer heat. Lots to do. Maybe there will have to be a Part Three to this saga.
So I will leave you with a thought from my dear friend, Barb:
“It is not my intention here to lionize country wisdom over city ambition. I only submit that the children of farmers are likely to know where food comes from, and that the rest of us might do well to pay attention. For our family, something turned over that evening in the diner: a gas-pump cashier’s curse of drought was lifted by a waitress’s simple, agricultural craving for rain. I thought to myself: There is hope for us.”
Taken from “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, page 8

Holy Cow: Part One

Ask and you shall receive, right?
Well, we received alright. A swift kick in the reality rear, delivered by:

Holy cow. 
If you haven’t seen it, you need to. Not so you can jump on some radical activist bandwagon or become president of PETA, rather so you can be informed, for your health and your family’s health. How do we, as a country on the whole, not know or care what we put in our bodies at least three times a day, every single day? Blows my mind. 
Here are a few things the film has me thinking about:
  • Did you know that there is ammonia in most of the beef you consume? Yes, a “meat filler” is doused in ammonia and then added to the beef to help reduce the risk of E.coli.  And why is there a rise (73,000 cases in 2007) in E.coli ? Because the cows are overcrowded into small confinements where they spend most of their time “knee deep” in their own waste, are corn-fed, not grass-fed, which increases the risk of the virus because their digestive systems aren’t producing what it needs to fight off the bacteria. Nice.
  • Corn is in everything. EVERYTHING. Thirty percent of the land in the United States is used for mass corn production. Corn products include, but not limited to: ketchup, cheese, Twinkies, batteries, peanut butter, Cheez-Its, salad dressings, Coke, jelly, Sweet & Low, syrup, juice,
    Kool-Aid, charcoal, diapers, Motrin, meat and fast food.
    Even better.
  • Seventy percent of processed foods have some genetically modified ingredient. There are approximately 47,000 products found in an American supermarket, most of which are made by a few companies. Awesome.
  • In the largest slaughter house in the country located in North Carolina, 32,000 pigs are sent to their death each day. EACH DAY. Most of the workers there are immigrants from Mexico that are bussed in daily from a 100-mile radius…and the company has an agreement with the government to turn them over for immigration violations, fifteen per day. This is the thanks they get for slinging bacteria-ridden pork for you and me to consume for the past fifteen years. Sweet.
  • And this one absolutely makes my skin crawl: In 1972, the FDA conducted 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006, the FDA conducted only 9,164. In 1998, the USDA implemented microbial testing for salmonella and E.coli 0157h7 so that if a plant repeatedly failed these tests, the USDA could
    shut down the plant. After being taken to court by the meat and poultry associations, the USDA no longer has that power. Yep, that’s right. Keep on cranking out that bacteria, big meat companies, we can’t stop you. Are you kidding me?
  • How are the farmers fairing these days, being “owned” by the big man? The average chicken farmer invests over $500,000 and makes only $18,000 a year, making it next to impossible to break free from the “man”. And that’s only if their contracts aren’t terminated for things like refusing to build chicken houses where the birds literally never see the light of day. Then what? Farming, the backbone of our country’s short history quickly dies to mass-production meat and produce factories. Heartbreaking.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg, a glimpse into all that the film uncovers that I believe everyone needs and deserves to know about. Once you have the facts, you can decide for yourself what you want to do about it, if anything at all, but don’t we at least have the right to know? The film mentions that we are actually buying the processed foods at a much higher cost than the price that is being sold to us: the cost of our health.

As the title of this post mentions, this is Part One. Keep checking back for what Chris and I plan to do to change our habits and routine. I will tell you this much, I have been all over the web this morning researching local beef and chicken farms. After we consume what’s in our fridge, as to not be wasteful, we will no longer turn a blind eye to the source of our meat. It will cost more financially, but so worth it in the long run.

I may not be able to have Bessie in the backyard, but I will come as close as I can. I can maybe finagle a chicken or two for fresh eggs…
As anyone semi-local interested in going in on a local, grass-fed heifer? They run about $600 – 800 for a whole cow, approximately $4/lb…

These facts are all taken from the Press Materials for the Food, Inc Movie, directed by Robert Kenner.

Fruit of the Vine

We just collected our first  harvest (of hopefully many) of herbs from our growing garden! (Not to be confused with Second Harvest which is a part of Feeding America that strives to provide low-income and impoverished families with a chance for meals and nourishment where they would potentially be absent, right here in our own backyards.)
Our herbs are growing out of control, specifically the cilantro. Chris snipped a few sprigs and brought it right in and made some simply amazing, fresh salsa. It doesn’t get much fresher than from your porch to your kitchen… Of course our tomatoes, for now, are canned, but by the end of summer we should be able to produce this delish recipe from all of our own ingredients (minus the spices).

 From top left: tomato, cilantro with basil, mint & rosemary, big bertha tomatoes with bell peppers…

We also have another type of growth happening in our little garden…baby birds! They have yet to hatch but we have been watching the mama and papa birds diligently building and protecting their nest. It is right outside of our front window so we can see them throughout the day. From what I can see there are six eggs inside, blue with brown speckles. I am not sure what type of bird, so if those eggs sound familiar to you, let me know…

Nest & eggs, if you look closely

I tried to get a close up of the eggs – no go – mama/papa bird rushed out of the nest at my face and I squealed like a three year old. Noah was none too pleased with my shriek.

And now for the deliciousness that is the Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant Style Salsa (her pictures are much prettier, but I am sure the salsa rendition is just as tasty):

 Chris has found my weak spot…fresh-made salsa. Holy yum.
Come see us this summer and we just might make you some. And then send you home with some because the recipe, shown halved, makes a butt-ton (actually used this word for “Unit of Measurement” in Scattergories…it counted, thank you very much).
Try it. You will never go back…