Category Archives: soapbox

On extended absences

P1110221December flowers (calendula, good for hand cream) inside a snow-surrounded greenhouse #2

Ah, wherever have I been?  I have noticed that most blogs which go dark do what I just did:  no warning, just a waning quantity of posts and then poof!  no new posts.  For most bloggers, the end is unintentional.  I am not quite sure if I wish to end FGtW, but I have not been keen to post to it.

To answer the question, I have been where I have always been.  We have added homeschooling to our list of daily tasks, and like most start-ups, it has been overwhelming, mostly because nothing else in our lives has changed and we still have the same holes to dig or get out of every day.  I will say this about choosing to school one’s child fully at home:  It feels complete, full circle.

P1110206Sit and spin a while with us (Daughter’s Lendrum and my Ashford Traddy.  Dyed wool at right above blending hackle…lots of low-tech fun).  The front porch has become a fiber haven.

With the turning of the calendar pages come harvests made and plantings begun.  The garden calendar is as cyclical as all others.  Sometimes I flatter myself because I have been able to eke out larger harvest windows for many things (via season extension or milking through or even leaving a light on in the coop for three extra hours of ovulatory trickery in the egg birds) but most days I understand that these tricks, these hoop-jumps, are less time-saving than lifestyle-making.  I couldn’t HAVE a year-round CSA without the greenhouses, a traditional dairy calendar says I would be done with milking* about now, and no extra light means two eggs a day, and not thrice that.  It is simply a matter of commitment.  I want this so therefore I need to put the work in to make it happen.

P1110217Chickories and lettuce in the newest greenhouse

So when visitors marvel at the amount of labor they perceive is required to keep this place afloat, I kind of snicker inwardly.  I realize that, partially, it is the infrastructure that confounds them.  It sure looks like a lot of gardening, and wow, three goats a-milking?  And I will admit that often I am very tired.  But really, I have a secret.

Truth be told?  Global warming has saved my ass on most harvest windows.  It sickens me, but it is true:  the usual cessation of farm-related tasks that attends winter has simply occurred later and later each year.  We only just harvested our honey** this week:  the kitchen remains quite sticky.  And I finally cleared out the oldest greenhouse on Saturday.  On that fated day, baskets of green and hot peppers were pulled from living plants, forty pounds of sweet potatoes were unearthed under fading vines, and about 250 pounds of curing squash made the wheelbarrow commute from greenhouse to root cellar.  These tasks (honey harvest, pepper/sweet potato harvest and curing squash) should have been completed in October, not mid-December.

P1110209Livvy checks if the fence is live (it is) while T-bell and Cricket look on

So, sure, I have figured out some tricks.  I think most of human innovation involves some risk-taking, be it on a personal scale or a more species-wide one.  I still think high-nutrient food-growing is a terribly important thing, that our current system of growing food is horribly broken, and, if one is willing to risk it, a person who grows food for her own family’s consumption can scale up to year-round, then scale up to growing for others.  It really is not that hard to do once you have mastered the basics.  If I, with my rather limited time, can produce enough food for six other families on top of what I already grow for us…well, you get the picture.  Doing so, however, might not allow for much blogging time.

But I am still here.  And the gardens still grow.

P1110204Yarn fun

*we now have three goats:  T-bell, Cricket and new girl Livvy, a prima donna of a purebred doe.  I have elected to not breed them this fall, and instead continue milking them.  T-bell has been milking continuously since Jan ’10.  Of this writing, I get about 9 pints per milking.

**we have four hives this year.  Of the four, two are healthy and two are not (probably need to be replaced in the spring).  We leave them their honey through the winter, taking the top super off…four supers are about four gallons of honey, in this, an awfully stressful, year.

On heirlooms

Jimmy Nardello’s sweet Italian frying peppers:  find them in my garden and on the Ark of Taste

The true spirit of this holiday season, Greed, showed up right on time for me with Tuesday’s arrival of the 2012 Fedco seed catalog.  Whee!   Time to get out the highlighter and tally my wish list for next year’s seeds.

I have had to become a lot more serious about my gardens now that I’ve started a pseudo-CSA.  My usual mania for no unplanted ground has been a good policy, but keeping up with my customers’ vegetative demand has required that I likewise be ruthless about harvesting and doing away with any spent plants.  Precious, every square inch, that garden space!  So you would think that I would be stocking my garden with hybrids, right?  Grow big, grow fast, grow uniformly, grow hardy F1 seeds:  the great guarantee for yield!

Yeah, right.  Perhaps you should step over to a very non-judgmental description of hybrids and heirlooms right here; read it, get educated, then come on back.

Okay.  Here’s the deal:  I love heirlooms.  Heirloom, or open-pollinated, or standard plants (the names are interchangeable) appeal to me on many levels.  I am naturally thrifty, so having a plant whose seed I can save and perpetuate puts these puppies in the LIKE category for me:  I will go through the trouble of growing seed if it spares me from buying them year in and out.  I enjoy the natural variation found in a planting of seed:  they’re not all exactly alike, either as seedlings, as growing plants or as the yield of seeds (fruits) they produce…close, but no cigar.   This slight variation enables me to save seed from the plant whose qualities most appeal, whilst eating its slower-growing or smaller or leafier siblings…very nice, especially in a row of, say, cabbage, when having 18 heads of F1 plants ready and huge right now is more burden than blessing.  I’d prefer the variation of the small, the big, the wooly and the sprouting.

(Not all heirloom seed produces such crazed variation.  I’m generalizing here as there are loads of other factors all along the plants’ growth that could cause those differences.  Also, I like to pick on cabbages.)

My other insistence on heirlooms has to do with the vast gene pool from which they spring.  When I picked up a copy of The Vegetable Garden (web version here) about ten years ago I began to understand just how few varieties of open-pollinated seed are available to home gardeners today.  The more I looked into it the more ill I became by how little of that seed heritage remains.  Here’s a graphic that should shock you:

which can be found in a probably more legible view at National Geographic, make sure you read its attendant article too.  We’ve squandered our inheritance, it seems to me, with our happy pursuit of Early Girls and Big Boys.

I won’t step into the waters of patenting seeds (you don’t have all day, do you?), trademarking life forms and bioengineering.  Producing F1 seeds typically enriches just one seed producer.  Problem is, a successful hybrid will most likely get bought up by a seed conglomerate who also is in the gene-splicing business.  And frankly I am not keen to support the likes of Monsanto and Cargill, even by buying a lowly packet of hybrid onion seeds.  Why feed the beast?  Here is a list of seed sellers that have signed the Safe Seed pledge, wherein they don’t knowingly* produce or sell GMO-tainted seeds.  (*”Knowingly” is telling.  It’s up to you to research that the hybrid you wish to buy is not owned by or modified by a company that genetically modifies its seeds.)

Probably the biggest reason I love heirlooms is that they’re an unbroken link to our past.  Perhaps I am simply a romantic at heart, but it’s truly humbling when I hold a handful of that savoy cabbage seed over a freshly-scratched trough of earth, as it’s a link to the past.  Think about it:  SOMEBODY, actually a whole chain of somebodies, has tirelessly grown and saved the very seeds in my palm.  It is living history.  In growing and saving seed myself, I become the latest link in that unbroken chain.  The only other thing that I have actively done that has even come close is to become a mother:  that, likewise, is a mighty long chain.

Sigh.  So Tuesday night I curled up onto the couch with my highlighter and my catalog.  Sure; 1/3 of all the seeds therein are hybrids:  hybrids equal cashmoney, after all, and even Fedco isn’t above that.  (I read and circle Fedco for its politics and its writing, of course, and not necessarily for its offerings.)  And it is equally true that my garden, likewise, is home to a few safe hybrids.  I might be strident, but I am not an absolutist, except maybe on GMOs….

Here’s a great source for home-saved heirlooms:  Become a member of Seed Savers and get their annual catalog. I love Fedco but I also support TerritorialVictory Seeds and Southern Exposure, but please, I hate Baker Creek so don’t try to persuade me otherwise.  You Canadians have lots of options:   Salt Spring Seeds and a whole bunch of others in the comments.  Lucky ducks.

Oh:  You may also be wondering why I would need more seeds if I save so many.  ahem.  Avarice!  Rapacious greed!  and an overwhelming sense that I “need” more types of veg! that’s why.   I am an American after all:  consumption is my birthright, isn’t it?

On personal transformations

And sometimes growing a lot of food happens easily with an active compost pile (all the butternuts you see above are from the pile)

If you had told me 25 years ago that making food for a lot of people was in my future, I’d have, if not laughed in your face, at least told you you had your facts wrong.  Cooking for others would’ve seemed too trad fem for someone raised in a feminist household, and 25 years ago I was on my way to pursuing a butch-enough profession (architecture).  “Nursing and teaching were the only professions open to me, and I didn’t like bedpans,” my mother often said.  “You should do something I could not,” and so I did.

Yet here I am, scurrying about on a Monday morning, assembling four boxes for my CSA customers and sticking 12 loaves of bread into a carrier to take to our daughter’s school for the kids’ mid-morning snack.  Food growing and making IS a large part of my life, at least as big a part as my code books and my drawings.  And like making buildings, making food is terribly enjoyable to me…and I happen to be fairly good at both.

Like most transformations, my shift from either/or to both was gradual.  Certain imperatives hastened my decisions, of course:  our move from our small city lot to five country acres; parenthood; global warming/climate change:  the world is small, and growing more crowded daily.  This is the world I am handing my child, and it’s a world with many problems.

So I can show her that consuming less is a laudable goal…and it’s hard in a culture that only celebrates “more.”  But I can also show her that one can be a producer, too.  Whether it’s just for ourselves or (at this point) six other families, I can demonstrate that quality home-grown food can be made (despite? in addition to?) while someone has a full-time job.  And yes, it might mean that she helps too, and her dad as well.

But what I am also trying hard to demonstrate to her, and to you, is that the world is going to need a lot more people like me who’re willing to produce food for themselves, and eventually for others.  The transformation might be gradual.  But we’ll certainly be eating better food…and better serving our earth and each other.

Viva la revolucion, gardeners!

On spring cleaning

This is a bit of a “taking care of business” post.  Apologies for its strange list-like format.

  1. BEES ARE OUR FRIENDS. I find it quite hopeful that 120 people showed up for the Introductory Beekeeping Class that my husband attended this past weekend.  The Kalamazoo Bee Club can now boast 500-odd members.  And if only half of those attendees start their own hives this year, that’s sixty new hives.  This is a great and positive thing, and I look forward to home-grown honey topping our home-grown breakfast yogurt!
  2. MO’ MONEY, MO’ MONEY. I have been watching with interest the kerfuffle over the apparent trademarking of the terms Urban Homestead/Urban Homesteader, among other oft-used terms.  I’ve been looking at the debate as one of morals (simply, individual working orders) versus ethics (collective working orders that don’t necessarily apply to everyone).  It seems the point of most people’s frustration is the graying of the moral/ethical line by a grabbing of the commons to the benefit of an individual.  The folks who are the center of the controversy started their home food-producing endeavor with what I can only assume were the best of intentions (a moral choice).  With time and the internets, it appears money has blinded them (an ethical matter).  This happens so often to individuals in the business world (that someone’s personal compass gets de-magnetized from one’s moral true north) that it barely bears mentioning…and 99 times out of 100 it is because the idea of “more money” is behind it.  In point of fact, “more money” is a laudable, revered goal in the business world (it’s the business world’s ethic, if not any one individual’s).  So my first response to this controversy, frankly, was why would anyone be surprised? What makes it galling, of course, is this one family’s land grab over anyone else’s use of the term as it would now infringe on their ability to make (more) money for themselves.  They’ve gone way beyond the mere sharing of gardening ideas to the copywriting of an idea.  This is morally suspect in the personal world but in the corporate world, it is par for the course.
  3. TRADEMARK THIS. So I of course have been thinking about how I would never be motivated to trademark anything.  Goodness, why?  Money has never been much of a motivator for me, and the idea of making money on how-to-grow-food advice is distasteful.  Collectively and individually, we all need to learn how to grow some of our food, and the sooner the better.  But over the nearly six years of my writing this blog, I have been contacted by two publishers expressing interest in me writing a book that codified and expanded on its ideas.  I have considered the proposals with all seriousness and have rejected them mainly because a book would not be free, it’s instead a money-making venture off of the commons.  The blog and its contents are free to those of us lucky enough to have access to the web, and likewise I do not accept ads.  (If indeed I were to write a book, it would probably be about something else entirely.)   However, if I were to rip off anything, how about my personal spin on Michael Pollan’s food recommendations?  You know:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.  This is what I advocate for myself, and thus by extension, anyone else who can do so:  “Grow food.  As much as you can.  And share it.” I wouldn’t trademark it though.
  4. VEG GARDEN BOOK. Speaking of books, I have a fabulous one to recommend to you.  (Full disclosure of course is that I do know the writer, and, in point of fact, she interviewed me for the book…but I get no kickbacks from this, peeps.)  Michele rocks, period.  And her argument is completely convincing.
  5. MEAT CHICKENS. I have ordered my meat birds for this year.  This, indeed, is quite early…however, I won’t be getting them until the first week of July.  For those of you considering it, I annually raise 25 meat chickens within a chicken tractor that I drag around the back 40 twice a day for 12 weeks.  In other words, I expend a lot of energy just for a freezer full of chicken dinner.  And like last year, I am ordering the godawfully named Freedom Rangers because  honestly they are more tender than the usual slower-growing meat chickens I have raised in the past.  Marginally more tender, that is; they taste the same.  And despite the problems I had with them (splay legged chicks: a nightmare to resolve, frankly, and general meanness in the flock) I am going with them again.  Shoot me now.
  6. GREENHOUSE STARTS. Indoors and out, many things have begun to sprout, and it makes me happy.  I have two toads that have come out of their hibernation hidey-holes in the old greenhouse, too.  It’s fun to visit them.
  7. SWEAT EQUITY. I finally finished my bleeping kitchen renovation.  Ergh.  Took me eight weeks.  Now I can spend my extra time outside!

Ah.  That’s quite enough of a list.  I wish you all spring cheer.

On eating live foods

Bangbang:  making her spice mix for the table.  That knife looks closer than it is…her hand is about 4″ above it, have no fear

I have never been particularly trendy, or guru-worshiping.   It goes without saying then that I’ve never been one to follow a fad, except architectural ones.  Perhaps this is my inner (eek!) conservatism speaking, but doing something because a bunch of other people are doing it generally trips my bullsh*t-o-meter.  I’m also not particularly preachy or prone to the picking of nits.

All the above?  I mean In person:  the blog is something else entirely!  So, here, let me spew forth on the idea that you (you!) need to eat a lot more live foods!  Be trendy, and go raw, and go cultured!

Nothing like the funky ferment of freshly decanted kimchi out of the pickle crock first thing in the morning!  Five days in the crock, then into the fridge for the CSA folks.

Ahem.  For the last twenty years or so, I have been stuck in the loop of research/practice/direct observation of two things:  the growing of food and the making of food.

I have always believed in compost.  It makes sense that the addition of live microflora and fungi and microbes into your soil will nourish the soil that in turn nourishes the plants that nourish you.  And in my studies of peasant cuisine, there is one constant that can be found in societies as geographically and culturally different as the Laplands are from Micronesia, the desert Southwest from the Czech republic, and that is that all peoples nourish themselves with cultured, live foods, daily, and usually with most meals.

American people?  Not so much.  Our grocery stores guarantee that everything we buy is either dead or has never been living.  And the few “live” foods they do sell are suspect (e. coli in salads, sprouts; salmonella in eggs; pesticides on apples) and even the “active culture” yogurt is made from very dead milk that’s been inoculated, after the fact.  Our American fear of what we cannot see is so extreme, it’s like we’re more successful at the war on microbes than the war on terror…witness the proliferation of hand sanitizers and antimicrobial everything if you think I exaggerate.  Likewise, the “convenience” aspect of all food preparation has generated whole industries to ensure that the bother of, say, cutting up a head of broccoli (that most time-consuming of tasks) need not be done, as you can easily pick up a package of microwave-ready florets.  And then the experts wonder why we won’t eat our vegetables, and why we’re so fat.

Osmosis in action:  a mix of four types of cabbage for the pickle crock, tossed with salt first to bring out its moisture.  In two weeks or so this will be sauerkraut.

Why do I natter on so about “live” foods?  I guess it doesn’t take a genius to see that what we eat has radically shifted lo these last 75 years, and one of the first things to go has been cultured or microbially-active food.  Whole, unadulterated, unprocessed foods went next.  Out with the milkman, in with the ultrapasteurized milk carton that can sit on your pantry shelf forever.  In with the boxes and cans of food or microwave-ready comestibles, out with the idea that one needs to actually MAKE dinner, or breakfast, or even lunch (as you can now find in your grocer’s freezer section crust-less peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for your kid).  And don’t get me started on getting food through your car window, okay?

Sprouting wheat berries for bread

Me?  I like life in my food.  I have a lifelong aversion to leftovers and old food, so…this seems a contradictory stance.  Bear with me though.  Our recent food tradition has been such that, if we cook at all, we cook to death just about everything (hey, our milk is even cooked) and eschew that which is uncooked, mainly to worship the god of Convenience.  This is a new development, one in which our bodies (it is my belief) have not evolved to completely tolerate.  I will admit that I too cook nearly everything:  even my bread is well-baked even if its starter was alive.  But I do try, in every meal, to feed my family something un-dead.

The un-dead:  Camembert and peach jam on sourdough toast

Un-dead!  Zombie food, really?  Not really.  It’s more like this:  breakfast is sourdough toast with homemade raw-milk cheese (camembert, chevre, etc.) topped with fruit jam, or maybe a bowl of cultured oatmeal.  Lunch might mean a small bowl of kimchi, a handful of almonds, and a bowl of yogurt with some fruit and local raw honey.  After-school snack is a glass of chilled kombucha tea with a few homemade herbed crackers, or some cubes of feta, or a fruit/kefir smoothie.  Dinner includes cooked foods (mostly vegetables) paired with a huge salad topped with buttermilk dressing and walnuts, dessert is a couple raw apples.  Nothing terribly radical here…except that it’s me and not the food industry doing the making.

Listen.  I have seen what the introduction of compost did to the nearly-dead soil on my farm.  I can only wonder about the pleasing interaction between fungal hyphae and the root nodules of my own broccoli…what this unseen magic does for the plant.  Likewise, one’s own gut flora is a near imponderable to me!  Who knows how many unseen things I am host to, those little untold billions that sustain this corpus?  I believe it can’t hurt to have them nourished by live foods to help them do their job.  I expect to be around for a long time…and can only believe that feeding every little bit of me, well, will help me live long and happily.  And:  it’s a tasty way to be.

I figured out this weekend that the masonry oven can handle 15 loaves at a time.  All hail the Loven!

You can, too.  Just think about what it is you eat, and why.

On freedom from the grocery store

The new greenhouse at dawn:  it’s a fun in-between season in here.  New lettuces transplanted from outdoors in the foreground beds, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes in the back yet to be harvested, and hot peppers, beans and corn hung from the purlin to dry

Another October 1st is here:  2010 makes it six years since we purchased our house and started down the road of food self-sufficiency.  A seventh growing season, likewise, has come and (nearly) gone.

Would I say that complete freedom from the grocery store was my goal way back when we bought the farm?  I would say no, it was not:  I had the small goal of simply having a big garden and (eventually) eggs.  Let’s just say we’ve come a long way from my initial modest goals.*  But last Thursday morning, after dropping my daughter off at school, I could be found…trolling the aisles of a grocery store!   What’s up with that?

Listen, I am not what anyone would consider “an average American food consumer,” and never have been.  Sure, I love to cook, and I love to eat good food.  I have never, however, been a fan of what clogs the shelves of your average grocery store.  For most of my adult life, I was a car-less vegetarian city dweller who shopped at walkable specialty food stores, food co-ops, and, later, got my vegetables from a CSA.  I also loved to garden and spent part of each season canning big purchases from the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market.   I am not saying this to toot my own horn but instead to point out the obvious:  if anyone, I was probably more prone to the Grow Your Own (name your item of choice) than not.

But fast-forward to last Thursday morning.  Yes, we do use the grocery store on occasion, for cow milk, butter, and the occasional bag of sugar (and indeed, local sugar and canning lids were my reason for stopping).  If we don’t grow it, we buy it in bulk (coffee, tea, fish, beef/pork, flour, grain, oil, etc.)…and truth be told, it’s Tom who does the non-bulk shopping.  As I zipped through the huge long aisles, I thought about all the sections of that store that I have completely written off over these last six years, and it’s here that I think my experience will be relevant to you who endeavor to do the same.

Perhaps, next year, you can try to make one or two items home-produced ones too.  And after six years of adding one or two more home-produced items, you might have whole sections of the grocery store that are worthless to you too!

  • It’s fall, even though I am in denial:  fall is a perfect time to get new garden beds made. If you do it now, you will have all winter to read up on tomato varieties so you can make as much salsa, say, or ketchup/barbecue sauce, or just plain tomato paste, to last you a year.
  • It’s fall:  if you own land, why not plant a few fruit trees?  Some larger trees, though you’ll pay more for them, will reward you with a harvest in just a year or two.  Raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries likewise can be transplanted in the fall.
  • If you build a greenhouse, or even a low tunnel, you can easily be self-sufficient year-round in salad stuff.  Plant some herbs and a couple of rows of shallots and onion plants next spring, you can be self-sufficient in the basics for salad dressing.  (But as I have repeatedly said, greenhouses are wonderful for more than just salads.)
  • If you build a coop, you can easily have three hens to supply you with at least a dozen eggs a week.
  • If you buy a milk goat and make cheese, my goodness, you will make a lot of new friends.  Even if you only make yogurt and kefir, believe me, you will have more than you can consume…thus, more for those friends.  You’ll also be self-sufficient yourself in dairy, making everything from buttermilk to creme fraiche to chevre to cream- and cottage cheese:  in other words, even if you don’t like to drink straight goat milk you won’t need to.
  • If you make a very small initial investment, you can have a three-compartment hutch, a breeding doe and buck, and all the rabbit meat you can consume by this time next year…and you can feed them very inexpensively, or even free, with your garden scraps.
  • If you learn how to make decent bread, you will never be satisfied with store-bought again.
  • And if you buy a chest freezer, the world is your oyster.  You can stock it with fruits as you pick them for winter eating; you can find a local grass-fed meat farmer and buy yourself whole, halves or quarters of cow, pig, lamb or goat; you can likewise stock up on chicken by buying your yearly needs, cut them up yourself, and freeze portions and whole birds.  Freezers are also great places to stash bulk grains and flours.

Listen.  I know it’s hard to start from zero, and I also know that not everyone has the cash to just go out and make huge bulk purchases of things or buy chest freezers, fruit trees, chicken coops and the like…and land most of all!  But gardening is seriously one of the cheapest pleasures in life, one that yields the biggest returns, and fortunately you don’t always need to own land to garden it.  A shovel, a fork, a hand tool or two and a few packets of seeds…these can be had for under $100, and the library has scores of vegetable-growing-how-to books.  You don’t need a fancy compost bin; a pile on the ground will do…or put it in a pit if you’re worried about what it looks like.  And once you find a friend who gardens, you will be trading know-how and zucchini in no time.

You can do it, I know you can.  And:  I think you want to.

*Major steps by years:  2004, house and land, first fruit trees planted.  2005, garden, canning, first chest freezer.  2006, egg chickens, pressure canner, blog!.  2007, greenhouse, guineas.  2008, 2nd greenhouse, meat chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese.  2009, home-hatched turkeys and geese, milk goat, rabbits.  2010, home-hatched chickens, winemaking, outdoor kitchen (masonry oven/rocket stove) and mini-CSA. 2011:  who knows?

Let’s continue that last blog post conversation, shall we?

Is there anything cuter than a bowl full of baby bantams?

Many, many good points and questions were brought up in the comments section of my last post on the cottage industry law that recently took effect in Michigan.  The legality of home-baked, home-produced goods was but one facet of the conversation, with bartering, taxes, and general farm-based living issues wrapped up in it too.

So again, the obvious.  I wouldn’t mind being taxed on my egg money, not at all, which is why my CPA knows about the contents of my farm earnings  jar.  My point in the last post is that the farm’s output has repeatedly exceeded the consumption pattern of its residents.  What to do with this excess?  I could bank it against a cold and rainy day, and do.  I could give it away to the food shelves, but I have been discouraged from doing so:  the ones in town don’t want anything that’s not already in a tin can or box, thanks.  I grow and can things for my daughter’s school.  I could give it away to friends and relatives and generally, this has been my operational model.  But my friends think they’re taking advantage of the bounty, especially now that there’s a high-value, rare item involved (goat’s milk products).  Thus, the filling jar.

Let me first make a personal state-of-the-homestead/farmer statement.  I am avowedly on the left side of the political spectrum, and I surely do not think I am taxed enough.  In my particular worldview, I am taxed little and get little in return.  Locally, our property taxes are a pittance, and I suppose that grants us the pittance we receive:  our roads are plowed and paved, and we have 911 service if we can afford to have a telephone.  One example: Despite the hefty share they receive from local and state funding, the public schools in my area are awful.  Every referendum on an increase in millage (basically a percentage increase to pay for school “improvements” based upon property taxes) has gone down in flames.  I consider this short-sighted, crass, and anti-community, and really a part of a larger social problem that is frankly beyond the scope of this blog post.  (And no, my daughter is not in public school, and won’t be:  this in no way affects my opinion on paying for those children who are.)  But the (non)value of schools is an illustration of my larger point.  If we don’t care for school-aged non-tax-paying children, we’re probably not caring much for many others in my community.  But hey!  What about them low property taxes?

Bringing this one-sided conversation from this particular person to the general readership.  The bigger picture is how do you, dear reader, take the next step in your own little homemade-food world?  If you live in Michigan, the steps for putting up a tent in a farmer’s market are now a lot clearer.  Those cookies everyone raves about?  Wrap them up, list the potential allergens, the ingredients in descending order, your home phone and address and you can legally sell them, if you’re so inclined!  Likewise your home-decanted vinegars, dried herbal teas, killer pickles, jewel-toned fruit jams and more can be legally sold.  Grow enough vegetables, you can start a CSA along with your Saturday stall.  The world is your oyster, or at least your zebra mussel.

If, however,  someone were to ask me the course I would chart to, say, move from city to country and make a livable wage off the products of one’s labors, I would snarkily ask to see their trust fund disbursements.  It’s more than a gamble, frankly, and there’s a lot of work and head-banging ahead of you.  For the foreseeable future, one needs off-farm income to make a go at this kind of life.  I feel I am in good company (Wendell Berry, Gene Logsdon, Barbara Kingsolver) when I say this.  You can raise as many heirloom vegetables, meat animals, and make as many artisan cheeses and wool products as you would like to sell but it will in all likelihood be a losing venture, economically.

I am still trying to ride the razor of the livelihood/lifestyle that is what it is that I do.  I like producing food because I like CONSUMING food.  I like to share; so do others, which is why barter is fun.  I like the idea that I could be a bigger part of something should the lights go out and my neighborhood worries about its food supply.  I like to teach.  Money is in no way a motivation for me mainly because I am as yet secure in my off-farm income.  This cottage food industry bill that has become law is a boon to me, should I really fire up the Loven more than once a week, or if I should decide to can more veg than we consume.

My point to all of this:  For me, it is not about the money, and so far has not been.  It’s about the life, and about sharing that life with others.  We moved here knowing we’d make a third of our city income.  That income still stands, but the quality of our life has vastly improved, of which diet is the first obvious part.  Am I saying “follow me”?  No, not unless you’re already so inclined.

But hey:  those taxes are sure low.

Okay, so it’s not quite a full bowl.