Late July

When the Bo’s were here a couple of weeks back we ventured into Earth Fare to stock up on a few things after picking up our CSA. Mom stumbled upon these amazing chips that are a little party in your mouth with every bite – Noah thinks so, too.

But, wait! That’s not all! Chris discovered the best part of all (because he does things like read labels): with every purchase of a bag of chips, 10% of the sale goes to sending a kid to camp through ACA’s Send a Child to Camp Fund.

Buy a bag of chips, kids go to camp. Yes, please.

 

Amazing. And I’m not just saying that because I am the wife of a camp director, thought that does help a little.

Camp will change your life – the independence, faith in yourself and your higher being, lifelong friendships, adolescent hardships, life lessons, wads of memories that you will inevitably gain in a couple of weeks away each summer will intertwine into the very fabric of your being. Every kid should be afforded to opportunity of camp.

If you have kids of your own, neighbors, grandkids, friends, friends with kids, coach a team of kids, etc. that are camp age encourage them to go to camp.  Everyone knows at least one “qualified” kid, even if  only by proxy – buy a bag of chips or two and spread the word.

And enjoy a tasty snack. Everyone wins.

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.

Made in China Challenge

Made in the USA = Awesome

Made with sustainable resources and practices = Phenomenal

Made locally = Homesteading happiness

All of the above together in one product = Stand back so you don’t get hurt and enjoy the celebratory dancing- or join in, whichever you choose is fine by me.

As a young homesteader of a budding brood I have made it one of my life missions to tread lightly, show love and respect to the world around me, learn ways to reduce our impact inside and out, and spread the good word – and if I had a report card I think it would say: Above Average – Needs improvement in certain areas, but overall steady progress.

My main motivation? My child . It is him and his little comrades who will inherit the earth one day – whatever I do to it, they have to deal with. And I may not pass on much in the way of money or riches, but I want him to have and learn something he can be proud of – proud to frolic barefoot on, proud to produce rich harvests in, proud to eventually pass on to his wee ones.

Back to the original purpose of this post.

As a family, we have made the conscious decision and goal to remove  products from our purchases that do not reflect our values and beliefs of our land and resources. Simply put – if the process or materials used to make said product have been acquired irresponsibly or inhumanely (including the labor), we no longer bring it into our home. Even more simply put – we try our best not to shop at a particular big box store that rhymes with MalWart (isn’t that an interesting twist of letters?).

So how is it possible to know the innards of everything we consume? Well, it’s not. We have to do our research, trust the manufacturer’s label and mission, and hope that they aren’t misleading us intentionally.

A few things to watch for on labels to help make a decision:

  • Made in China – Just put it back and walk away. You probably don’t even want to know.
  • Animal Testing – It likely contains something historically harmful to some degree if it’s being tested in the first place.
  • Organic – Obviously an overall good choice, but check to see the country of origin. Just because it’s “organic” doesn’t mean it didn’t travel 674,587 miles to your store. On average in America, food travels 2,000+ miles to your plate. There may be a more viable, closer to home option you weren’t aware of that chooses not to slap “organic” on the label – and you’d be supporting local economy.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup – Processed. Processed. Processed. Your arteries will thank you later.
  • Natural – The definition of this word varies. Keep reading the small print to make sure your definition matches with theirs. This one is a lot like “organic” – it might be good in theory, but there may be a better option.

I am not suggesting (and we are not doing) that everyone should throw out the products in their homes that reflect these things – that would be silly and wasteful. Making an effort to reduce your consumerism from this point on is an all around sigh of relief for mother nature.

I read somewhere that there aren’t just three “R’s”, instead there are five – Reconsider and Refuse. Check the label and ask yourself if you really need it – if you do, check for local/sustainable options – if you don’t, leave it on the shelf. Every purchase you make is a vote of what you expect and demand from suppliers.

A few things to try instead:

  • Make it yourself – cleaning products, clothing, accessories, compost, food, etc.
  • Try out your local Farmers’ Market or Community Supported Agriculture farms – they typically have way more than just food – clothing, art, jewelry, candles, soaps, music, etc.
  • Check out Etsy – this place is overflowing with handmade goodness.
  • Research – find out what’s close to you and your home and get involved.
  • Take a class – educate yourself. Knowledge is (em)power.
  • Visit your local natural foods store. EarthFare has freebies all the time and a program where you can swap out all of your not-so-healthy products for more wholesome choices for free.

I will be the first to say that these healthier options are sometimes more cumbersome to find and not always the most affordable – and it is challenging at times to put forth the extra effort or fork over the extra cash. If this is your conundrum, don’t beat yourself up over it. Make the choice the reflects your family’s needs the most and go with it. Sometimes you realize that you don’t really need that fourth bag of potato chips – organic or not – and now you are a few bucks richer. Save that few bucks for next time when you splurge on the locally-farmed honey. It’s all about balance and good choices…

So here’s the challenge: For the next month, starting February 1 (shortest month, aren’t I a gem?) “reconsider and refuse” anything that doesn’t reflect your family’s needs, values, and beliefs. Look for a more sustainable or local option and give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised. Let me know how it goes – leave a comment detailing your surprises, shocks, or realizations – there may be something in it for you.

Bonus challenge: Count the number of items in the smallest room in your house (for us, the bathroom) that are made in China. I got to the double digits, discouraged, and quit when I saw that Noah’s rubber ducks were MIC. Bummer. Leave the number and most shocking MIC item in a comment – there may be something in it for you.

Stay tuned for details on the “somethings in it for you”…

 

 

(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.

Rocking in the CSA

Noah is jazzed about the upcoming party in his belly…

You would be, too, if your family just became proud owners of a small share in the Colvin Family Farm’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the 2011 harvest season (May-October)!

There were several options, surprisingly, in the 100-mile radius of our bustling metropolis. I researched most of them from what I could find – they are farmers, not internet gurus – and there was something about this simple family (if you can count having thirteen children as simple) that I was drawn to, that I could relate to (give or take twelve children), that I could appreciate.

A few things that I deemed important that set them apart:

  • More convenient pick-up location – about thirty-five miles rather than sixty.
  • Maw Colvin provides recipes for the goods in the box each week – now I will know what to do with three pounds of parsnip and arugula.
  • All of the children are an integral part of their family business. We eat well because of them, they eat well because of families like us. It’s a win-win.
  • The farm hosts various events where their CSA members can come out to the farm, meet them, feel the dirt under our boots, put a face and a handshake to a name, take hold of a unique situation and nurture the relationship of farmer-locavore.

With our cow being ready sometime this month, the CSA, Farmer Joe down the road, fresh breads made at home, the chickens, & our non-chemical cleaning supplies – our monthly grocery bill will be cut in half by our projections. Sure, there are start-up costs and care for the birds, upfront payments for both the cow & farm, and bulk orders for various herbs and plants – but the improvement in our family’s health and lifestyle and the relief – though small it may seem – on the earth’s resources is worth every penny, whether it’s more or less pennies in the long run. Though the beauty and reality is that we have more pennies at the end of the day to put toward other things. Good things. Good people doing good things.

So…between now and harvest season my plan is to collect recipes, stock up on canning supplies, find a second-hand pressure cooker, start seeds for our garden, build our chicken coop, and make new friends to invite over to share in our bounty. Here is your official invitation, friends, to join us for a meal this summer/fall – just give me a day’s warning and bring your favorite dessert.

If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, please visit Local Harvest. You will find information there about CSA, farmers’ markets, local produce, and a host of resources to help navigate your decision.

Local agriculture – it’s the new black.

Merry Christmas to Me – Again.

Remember way back a few weeks ago when I may have dropped a small hint that I really wanted that book about chickens – I may have even begged a little?

Ask and ye shall receive, my friends (and sometimes double – more about that in a moment):

Think "cat lady" but with chickens.

Not only does Santa(mama) love me and want to indulge in my chicken love, Santa(sister) loves me, too – hence the double gift. And if I weren’t a practical person, I would keep them both because it is THAT good. I have already designed-revised-improved (mentally) an enviro-friendly sustainable coop, all but ordered the cutest chickens on the block, named them, and salivated at the delish meals that are going to slide across my kitchen table in the near(er) future. Whew.

And it gets even better.

I’m not sure I can contain my excitement. Like – for real – I think my heart may beat right out of my chest.

The author, Ashley English (henceforth known as my new best friend) is local. Well, semi-local. To me. In Ten Mile. Ten Mile. She and her chickens live in Candler, NC – ten minutes from my sister and twenty-five from the family homestead in Balsam.

Shut the front door.

And wait… wait. I haven’t even gotten to the part that’s got me doing cartwheels.

Ashley (you know, my BFF) is teaching a Continuing Ed class in Asheville at the community school the first and last weeks of February – a two-and-a-half hour chat. About her and her chickens. And her fabulous sustainable life. And probably her blog and naturally creative endeavors – like her lip balm that I am already mentally collecting supplies to make.

AND I GET TO GO FOR THIRTY-NINE CLUCKS – I MEAN BUCKS!!!

Be still my pounding heart.

If any of you local Ashevillians would like to come with me on my chicken adventure the dates are February 4th and February 23rd – I’ll treat the first person who agrees to come with me to a local lunch/dinner at Tupelo Honey in downtown Asheville.

So one last time for 2010 – Merry Christmas to me. And my future chickens – I will learn how to love you and care for you and make you my very own.

Ford Excursions

Cheesy, yes I know.

In case anyone was worried, Hotel de Ford is back in full swing after a sweet little lull right at the close of the summer season. As mentioned before, we kicked it back off with the Giusti family escaping the heat of their AC-less house and getting in one last footloose jaunt before the booger picker, I mean, Mason started Kindergarten. (I am wrestling with whether or not I should re-word the previous sentence because I could potentially make my sister cry for two different reasons in-between that capital letter and period containing only thirty-five words. Well, if she’s going to cry anyway, might as well leave it.)

This past weekend Matt and Heather, the married ones, made the eight hour trek from Savannah to come and spend a way-too-short weekend with us. This was their first time to our house (Matt came last summer to the first house we lived in at camp, remember, the big one.) and we were so glad they came up. The funny thing with them is that we go long periods of time without seeing each other, like since Christmas, and then it seems like we see each other a few times close together, like in two weeks in Tallahassee.

We ventured out to the Market Square Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, admittedly our first time going since we’ve moved here, and let me just say, I may have found my heaven on earth – or at least my heaven in Tennessee.

Fruits, vegetables, fresh bread, jellies and jams, handmade goods, hippies, diaper-clad bathing beauties, and sideshow-Joes galore. Heaven. We even got on “the list” to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in the spring! We could have joined now for the rest of the year, but we decided that we would save up our cash and join next May – $17/week for a half-box containing 5-7 variations of farm-fresh goodness. I wish I could remember the name of the farm, but crazy enough, I didn’t write it down or take a picture of their stand – come next May, say good riddance to Kroger’s produce aisle.

The five of us grabbed lunch at Tomato Heads which happens to be right in the middle of Market Square – how convenient. And delicious. They are all about the local, in season, and fresh – music to my ears.
Our pizza was phenomenal and a victory all in one – it’s not very often you find ONE pizza that all four folks, especially with me around, will agree on and love. And that’s saying a lot considering I typically pick off at least one topping on every pizza I eat, but when you know it’s so fresh and local it’s hard to disregard the hours of love that have been put into that mushroom and olive.

Matt, Chris, Heather & Noah at the Market
Accordionist on stilts and his lovely lady.Noah and his daddy playing in the water.

Next year he will be one of the naked babes running around.This kid loves the water. Loves.

You would think after being surrounded by food galore we wouldn’t be able to eat for at least a week. For us, this is not so. In Ten Mile fashion, we had to take Matt and Heather to eat at the Marina – it’s a must if you stay with us for more than one day. And the Braves game was on – bonus!

Noah is trying out new smiles these days.
I am partial to this one.

The gang outside the Marina.Matt & Heather at Watts Bar Lake.

Sadly, or not so sadly depending on how you look at it, the more I educate myself about food, our food industry, where it comes from, where it doesn‘t come from, I find myself more and more picky about what I eat. Maybe not so much picky as I expect food to look good, taste good, and that I feel good about eating it. For me, this was not so with my selection at the marina. Breaks my heart because I love the little place, but it opens up a whole world of questions about the quality that they are serving when I can visually see the problem – makes me wonder what I can’t see.

Anyway, that’s for another post.

We had a briskly wonderful weekend with the married Uncle Matt and Aunt Heather…they have to come back when they can stay longer.

Oh… and one more thing:

Happy Birthday to my mama!
She had me 26 years ago so that makes her at least 37.
Here’s to a year full of blessings and bliss!

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.

Brush Your Teeth and Save the Earth

I will start with a confession of sorts: I rarely shave my legs. Maybe twice a week in the summer, twice in a once in while during the colder months. (Insert whatever synonym of weird, gross, and repulsive here…feel sorry for my husband here…continuing reading when done.)

I have much better things to do with my time than remove hair from my body that God obviously put there for some rhyme or reason. I think I have the woods to blame for this… camp, Second Nature, being married to a fella who doesn’t really care about the hair on my legs…it all kind of melds together.

But I have had my eye on an amazing razor that I stumbled upon several months ago in the “Natural” section of the Kroge. It’s bright greenness – color and earthloving – called to me.

The beaute that may change my hairy legs forever.

And what, one may ask, is so special about this seemingly normal and disposable looking piece of green plastic?

It is made completely out of recycled yogurt containers, minus the blade part of course.

Scratching your head at this one? I know I was blown away.


Yep. This company,
Preserve, has been around since 1997 when they made their first toothbrush out of recycled #5 plastic. And they have been making and developing more products -tableware, razors, kitchen utensils, etc.- ever since. There is tons of info available on their website, but the gist is this: The founder, Eric Hudson, was committed to the need to use our earth’s resources more efficiently and responsibly. Starting small with the toothbrush he recognized the growing market for recycled products and capitalized.

Amazing. It made me wish that I shaved more to justify the purchase at the time. Unfortunately, it’s price, at first, didn’t beckon quite as friendly as I had hoped. Considering I still had several disposables at home, I could’t justify the $6. Ugh.

But the thrill of living on a budget is watching and waiting for products that you really enjoy to become affordable. And today, ladies and gents, was our lucky day. The razor and refill cartridges were on a closeout sale at Kroger, for half price! Not only did I score a razor (feel less sorry for Chris here because I may just be enticed to shave more) but we are the proud owner of two new toothbrushes, also half price. (Sidenote: I also found an expired coupon that would have saved us another buck. Blast.)

Can it get any better? Shaving, brushing, and recycling all at the same time?

Precious.


Being the good earthloving nerd that I am I came home and researched all about the company, who they are, why they do what they do and I stumbled upon the greatest thing I’ve seen in a long time: Toothbrush Subscriptions.

What does that even mean?

Well, it’s simple. For $13, Preserve will send you one toothbrush every three months as the dentist recommends. They send your first one in a travel container, the remaining three in mail-back packages for you to send your used one back so it can be recycled into lumber used to make picnic tables and park benches. Oh yes, it just got better.

I think I am in love.

And I think I’ve just found my new favorite gift to give…I just need to know your bristle preference.