September 2010


I am off for a few days. We are processing our honey harvest and I am up to my ankles in honey and wax. My son is away on a business trip  and, as he is a single dad with sole custody of his kids, Bruce and I are also taking care of our grandkids until Sunday. We have to drive them 20 miles each way to school each day and I’m feeling a bit frazzled. I will start posting on a regular basis on Monday. My very best wishes to you and yours.

Fondly,

Kathy

I had the absolute coolest, most informative, exhausting, tremendous three days ever. The MEN fair was all I expected and more. First, my workshops went really well. They were some of the best attended at the fair and the people were there to learn. They were taking notes and asking questions and making plans. Excalibur dehydrater sales should be up today.

The only problem with an event like this is that it’s hard to organized the information into a usable plan. I went from heritage livestock breeds to water pumps to solar systems to windmills to beekeeping to seed saving to composting to chicken tractors and back again. I was struck by how convinced so many are that we are headed for big problems down the road and how willing they are to put their money where their worry is. So now I need to spend a few days just organizing the information and getting a priority list going.

All of this is further complicated because it looks like my MIL’s house may have buyer. That will give me a bit of cash to work with. The furnace  and chimney are high on the list but so is the barn, the outdoor kitchen and the new stairs in the bulkhead and replacing our car and truck with one diesel truck and the list goes on. And now I want a chicken tractor. I’m incorrigible. Really.

I came home with only one book on food storage (always buy them) but a ton of magazines. I got some MEN anthologies so I can get rid of all of the old copies and donate them to our Sustainability Library and get some more space in the bookshelves.

I do want to say that I met some rock stars in the preparedness, alternative energy, food and livestock fields. Carol Ekarius is the nicest person and so dang smart she could be intimidating if she weren’t also funny and friendly. If you have livestock you already know her. She’s the man (well, the woman). She knows everything! I was introduced toa gy named  Matt Stein. We had been talking for several minutes before I realized he was MATTHEW STEIN!!!!! The guy who wrote When Technology Fails. I gave him an internet blip when the second edition came out. I met the man who made the 107 MPG car in his backyard. How cool!!!

So this is what I learned. The world will not be saved by politicians or academics or economists or generals. It will be saved by what The Archdruid Report calls the green wizards, backyard inventors and barn tinkerers. If there is hope, it lives in someone’s basement or kitchen. It is there in the homemade solar dehydraters or the breed that has been brought back from the edge of extinction by some dedicated farmer. It lives in that saved seed and in the odd-looking car. Hope lives.

PS I got to meet some of you. Thank you so much. It felt good to know I had friends there.

As you all know, I think our just-in-time food delivery system puts us at great risk in the event of a disaster that prevents the trucks from running. I advocate not only storing food but also knowing and supporting your local suppliers from dairies to beekeepers to truck gardens to orchards. There is a bill coming up for a vote in the senate today that cold have a dramatic effect on our ability to access local food. It is called the Safe Food Act. While it sounds benign, it has the potential to put all of us who even minimally process food for sale to the public right out of business. It calls for far more stringent safety inspections for all food producers and imposes standards that would be difficult to meet without huge price increases. Most of us wouldn’t bother.

There is an amendment to the bill, The Tester amendment, that would exempt small and mid-sized family farms from the language, as long as we are selling direct to consumers or retailers. I urge all of you to take a look at the bill and the amendment, make an informed decision about what it contains, and if so moved, call your senator’s office today and encourage them to vote.

Let me give you an idea of how the bill would affect me and people in my neighborhood. We supply honey and honey products to people in town. I just purchased the tools, supplies and equipment to begin to make a creamed honey product. I ordered my supplies from a distributer located about an hour from here. If I can’t sell this creamed honey unless I submit to kitchen inspections I will have to stop production. I don’t have a stainless steel sink and I don’t have a separate refrigeration unit. I can’t afford to put either in. It hurts me, it hurts the distributer and it hurts the families that count on our honey as part of their diet. I will still raise bees for home use but my business would probably be gone. Now I don’t make much money. (I actually mean Bruce-he does 99 % of the work) but the business matters to me. It has the potential to grow and it has the potential to help feed my community.

This stuff makes me crazy. The odds are that this was no conspiracy designed to drive Barefoot Farm out of business but the unintended consequences could. When are we going to wise up and recognized that the small farmers are a necessary part of the food picture. We are so food insecure and it may well be our downfall.

Now that that little rant is over, I am off to PA this morning for the fair. I hope to see some of you there. I am sure to lots to tell you when I return. Expect a post next Tuesday.

Fondly,

Kathy

We had a frost, a light one, just enough to get the basil and some of the tomatoes. Until now, I have been able to pretend that winter is still far away, so far I could forget about it. I have things I meant to do. We were supposed to have an updated energy audit done and meet with out gas company to look a furnace options. I meant to update my canned food inventory. I know I’m short on some staples like canned pineapple and oranges, tuna and condensed milk. I meant to buy new pillows. I meant to make an inventory of winter clothing so I would know just what snowsuit and boot sizes I have and fill in for visiting grandchildren. I had every intention of stocking  up on some good paperbacks so I wouldn’t be left with nothing to read. The best laid plans seemed to get sidelined by too much heat and malaise and the feeling that the dark cold days might never come.

Of course, they always come, whether I’ve prepared or not. Today, I’m taking an hour and making the phone calls to the gas company and I’m scheduling the energy audit. I know I would benefit from more insulation and weather-stripping. Our furnace is 25 years old and not meeting our needs. Ideally, I want one that burns wood and one that uses propane. I need a new chimney too.

So what have you put off? Look at your preparedness like a lasagna, with lots of layers. The first is personal. Have you had a physical lately? Are you up-to-date on dental care? Should you quit a ba habit? Do you have a skill you need to learn or perfect? What are the things you need to see to that can be tackled today? How are your finances? Do you have a will and healthcare proxy? Are you still in debt? Can you work to eliminate some soon, even if it means an extra job or cutting out the cable or selling something that you don’t use much. What about the family layer? Have you made and practiced a fire escape plan? Do  you need to reduce the time spent on outside activities and do more as a family? Have you planned for meeting the needs of you kids in a disaster? Do you have extra diapers and warm clothing?

You can see where this is going. We are probably all guilty of a little procrastinating. Today is a good day to set a couple of achievable goals and set out to meet them. Winter is coming. It’s getting colder every day.

I was reading a very good article about peak oil and the collapse of civilization this morning (way better than coffee as a wake up call!) when I realized that I would never have time to finish it. My daughter caught me noodling around, trying to figure out how I would find it again when she asked why I didn’t just bookmark it. Say what? Now I know about bookmarking. I have actually bookmarked a few things in the past but it was way past and I didn’t remember how. She showed me (it took all of about 2 seconds) and now I have the site bookmarked. I know that I will spend the next rainy day, assuming it rains again, bookmarking a lot of the blogs I find here. We have a ton of great bloggers  here and it annoys me when I can’t remember the site name of one I really like. And you know how it is. If you get out of the habit of visiting, it’s hard to remember to go back.

This leads to a point. Really. It does. Practice of any skill is necessary. I led a food preservation workshop for NOFA this weekend. For me, the best part, aside from the collaboration with other foodies, was getting the chance to walk through the processes for preservation in an intentional way. Why do I do things one way and not another? Why is that dangerous? What step makes this easier? Presenting the workshop makes me rethink everything and that makes me better at what I do.

I also had the chance to look at the photo album one of the woman brought along. She had great pictures of her freezer and her root cellar. Now I would way rather look at pictures of somebody’s GORGEOUS root cellar than pictures of their grandchildren or their trip to Europe. I found it inspiring to see how organized this woman was. I want tobe  organized too but it’s so darn hard to keep it up. But I’ll keep on trying. It’s good to have a goal.

It was an amazing weekend. The Creamery held their 10 year anniversary celebration on Sunday. There was an ongoing slew of musicians and jugglers and magicians to entertain us. There was wonderful food to sample, free Creamery pizza and cake and ice cream samples. Local authors autographed books.  Bruce and I pressed about 30 gallons of cider from gleaned apples (I thought the bushels of apples would never stop coming) and gave it out for free. I was shocked at thow many people had no idea how cider is made. We had a constant stream of kids helping with the press. One little guy asked his dad for a press for his birthday. Now this sounds like the Creamery must be a huge place. It’s tiny. The whole event took place in the parking lot. People came and went all day. It was really fun. I love my community.

I am off to PA on Friday for the Mother Earth News Fair. I usually hate to travel, hate to be away from home, hate to leave Bruce and the kids behind but, this time, not so much. I can’t wait. Two full days of collaboration with like-minded people sounds like heaven. I plan to take every workshop I can squeeze into when I’m not presenting myself. I’ll be sharing lots of news and views when I return.

I’m sorry. I was so busy setting up for tomorrow’s food preservation workshop that I just this instant realized that I never posted today. I don’t have time for much but I would like to share my ten principles of food preservation.

1. Pick the best food. No bad food was made better by being processed.

2. Use the right equipment for the job. Grama’s old canner may have sentimental value but if the seal is cracked it won’t do a good job for you.

3. Use up-to-date recipes and instructions. Check out the USDA standards for the best information. Gramma might have water bathed her green beans but You really shouldn’t.

4. Follow the direction exactly. 20 minutes means 20 minutes, not 15 minutes.

5. Start with the basics. Don’t get fancy until you have some experience.

6. When unsure, ask. This is no place to guess.

7. Assemble all food, tools and equipment before starting. Nothing is more annoying than finding out you have no dill when the cukes are waiting in ice.

8. Practice excellent hygiene. Wash! Wash! Wash!

9. Respect the work. Get the kids occupied. Turn on the answering machine. You need to be paying attention to times and temperatures. This is work!

10. Back to ready. Clean as you go and don’t leave messes. It will be a lot harder to deal with in a few hours.

And last of all

EAT THE FOOD!!!!!!

I did some shopping yesterday, not the way I usually spend my time but I had some things I really needed at the same time I got paid for some work so off I went. I have canned so much that I found myself woefully short of wide mouth quart canning jars. If I had it to do over again I would have never purchased any narrow mouth jars other than pints. I have access to lots of peaches and they need wide mouths. So off I went to Florence Hardware, a true hardware store with lots of great stuff from tools to food preservation and kitchen stuff. I got the jars I needed before my canning class on Saturday, as well as some decorative jars for some honey products I want to market. Then I found a nice kitchen scale. The one I have only goes up to two pounds and I needed a larger one. I also found some low muck boots for Bruce. He’s been wanting something for those early morning treks to the garden and these are so nice, I’m thinking of getting myself a pair.

We had some excitement around here last night. The young woman who bought the cows that I’m getting a share of called to say that they were  missing. Bruce went out in the truck, looking high and low but he saw no sign of them. Cows don’t generally travel far so I’m hoping they’ll be home this morning. I hope we don’t have cattle rustlers.

I put up another big bunch of tomato sauce yesterday. For some reason, ‘Im flying solo a lot this year and it isn’t anywhere near as much fun as canning with friends. I’m thinking of starting a canning cooperative. If Bruce gets the outdoor kitchen finished (in all his spare time) I could offer the space and equipment in exchange for a small fee to pay for the gas. I have no idea how it would work but I know there must be a model out there.

I’m looking for a recipe. I want to make a pure honey lollipops. I have recipes that call for cream (more like a caramel) but I just want a plain, clear candy. My friend, Barbara, is one of the best cooks I know and confections are her specialty so I’m hoping she can come up with something. I went on-line but most of what I found was just offers to sell me candy.

On a final note: We are going over the garden and have given it a c- for the year. Between the woodchucks and the drought we had no brassicas, a poor potato harvest, a lousy green been harvest and terrible peppers. The only thing I can say about the sweet potatoes is that I at least I learned that they will grow here but there is no use trying again without woodchuck protection. They loved the tops and ate them to the ground until I wised up and devised a cover for them. Tomatoes nearly made up for it and the corn was amazing. Squash did well as did the onions and root crops. But this points out why I store food. I still hear people say they will grow a garden when times get tough enough but growing a good garden is a work in progress and Mother Nature always bats last. If it isn’t blight, it’s drought or varmints or early frost or late frost or locusts or deer. It takes a huge investment of time and money (you heard me-money) and experience before you get things right and even then you are at the mercy of luck and beetles. We are investing in more row covers and fencing and buying one hundred pounds of potatoes to get us  through the winter.

But there are life’s little pleasures to make up for no sweet potatoes. I loved surprising Bruce with the muck boots. Phoebe is loving  her new bike, salvaged from the dump by a friend who not only got it for her but revamped it to fit her perfectly. She’s getting the hang of the gears and brakes and looks so darn cute tooling around on it that it just makes me smile. Looking at the sweet little farm is fun but it mostly makes me appreciate things like a walkable community, new windows and great neighbors. Our house is very fine house, to borrow some song lyrics, and one of life’s little pleasures is noticing that.

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