Monday, April 1, 2019

Good Riddance Winter

Finally, winter is moving on and with it, I hope the crap storm of bad and sad. My immediate family, our children and their families, are well but the periphery about all of us (friends of relatives and relatives of friends) was filled with cancer related deaths and serious medical issues. March came in like a lion and acted rudely all thirty-one days.

Today though it's better. Temperatures are creeping up, the sun was brilliant, I was able to hang up laundry and there are no funerals or visitations on my calendar. Gardens are being cleared of last falls debris and tomorrow we'll sow radishes, lettuces and peas. Hope springs eternal as the cliche' lovers might spout. 

Keith further lifted my spirits by installing some garden gates. The first one closes off our large main garden sitting west of the grain bin house a couple hundred feet. He  made the gate from an old hog panel I've been hanging onto for years because I loved the vintage red and yellow paint on it. He used vintage black hinges that HE has been hanging onto for years. Now that it is installed I may paint it white to match the white picket gate on our kitchen garden below. We shall see.

The smaller kitchen garden gate was a birthday gift to me from our son Colton last May. He built it, painted it and gave us all the hardware to hang it. Keith put in the posts a couple days ago and VOILA' I have the quaint garden gate I have always wanted. This summer we will build the rest of the picket fence from salvaged wood harvested form the 1868 house which is still under deconstruction. I love our cute little kitchen garden where I grow my herbs and salad veggies, plus numerous spirit lifting annuals.

What is everyone else doing to welcome spring and/or lift spirits? 

PS. I have no idea why Blogger is messing with my blog by highlighting words and corrupting my font. You get what you pay for eh?

Saturday, March 2, 2019

It's a Fact, We're Low Class

Ice Capades at the Grain Bin House. Winter 2019

Years ago at our "finest" (it's debatable) Keith and I had an income of over $135,000/yr. Our farm was certified organic and we sold to four grocery stores and ten restaurants in the Chicago area, plus one in Champaign. In addition we managed our own retail farm store on our property. Neither of us worked an off-farm job. We were considered upper middle class.

We also ran ourselves ragged and paid a huge hunk of income tax.

But now on our new farm, coming up on our four year anniversary, we've realized one of our key financial goals, to obtain lower class status. In Illinois, where the median income was $ 62, 992 in 2017, lower middle class was considered at $37,473 per year. Less than that, for a family of two, is considered lower class.

Keith and I, with his county custodian job and my small nursing pension, bring in about $26,000 a year. Now, if we made less than $16, 910 we'd be considered "impoverished" or just plain poor. But, we don't think much of the state's definitions anyway, they've done a horrible job of managing their own money, so it's all a moot point, except for the fact that we pay far less income tax than we ever have, and that makes us giddy happy. We completed our taxes last week and we will receive $17 back from the Federal government and a whopping $78 return from the State of Illinois.

How shall we spent this huge mother lode? Should we invest in stocks? Take an Alaskan cruise? Purchase some diamond earrings for my trips to Aldi's? Put a down payment on a car less than twenty years old? No. I believe we'll buy some OSB plywood panels for Keith's shop in the barn.

That's us. Always living on the wild side.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Windows 4.0

 The weather has eased a tad, and in between snow and ice storms, fog and floods, Keith has managed to work on the barn build. Winter 2019 has been a serious challenge for outside work here.

Today he and our son Jason put in the four large, double pane windows (36" x 48") that Jason sourced for us for just $40 each. His boss was remodeling and no longer needed them. 

It took Keith many mornings to get the framing done, all with recycled wood form the 1868 house,  but tonight the two of them made this homesteader very happy. 

After the electrical is complete, the upper windows installed, the walls are finished, the doors put in place and the ceiling installed we'll have a room big enough for our large farm table, about 16 x 24 feet.  The room, not the table. 

The Upper Loft Area 
For Non-feed Storage
This means in good weather we can host larger groups of folks for meals, holiday get togethers and the like. It also means that we'll have a green house area since the windows face south.
A few tall metal racks, which I'll be looking for at future garage sales, will hold our garden seedlings and/or extend our growing season.

Up above this room will be our storage loft for non-feed items like soap making supplies, extra furniture, my canning supplies, seasonal clothing, our bee keeping items and all the stuff we need but not on a daily basis. We have discovered over the last four years that although small house living is nice in theory, it sucks for storing the items homesteaders need to function. 

I'm so excited to see these two rooms coming closer to completion!
The animals are too since the window installation will now slow the wind and snow from blowing into their areas just to the right of Keith in the picture below. 

 I see red geranium filled window boxes below those windows, don't you?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Outrageously High Cost of Cheap Milk

Our single can milking system for our single cow.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was in Walmart the other night, a store I abhor, (I was buying fabric for a sewing lesson my daughter graciously bought me as a Christmas present) when I noted that milk was on sale for $1 per gallon.

It chills my blood to see that. Sure, it might seem a great deal to the consumer, but it is the producer, the dairy farmer, that suffers. Walmart loves doing it because offering this milk as a "loss leader" brings in additional customers who will no doubt pick up ten other items they don't need on their way out of the store. It's no coincidence that this bargain is located at the back of the store, so many other useless items to see on your journey back there.

But when milk is offered at this cut rate price everyone suffers. The dairy farmer cannot exist on the payment they receive for their product as it is.  Currently in the US, they collect $15.30 per hundred weight of milk if they are selling conventional (non-organic) milk to a large conglomerate like Prairie Farms. That's right, they receive jut $15.30 for every hundred pounds of milk . Since there is 8.6 pounds of milk in one gallon they are therefore getting approximately $1.32 for every gallon they produce. At least this month they are. Milk prices for conventional famers fluctuate widely in the US.

In addition it is unlikely they are able to produce that gallon of milk for $1.32/gallon which is why so many farmers work off farm jobs to pay expenses or, they will increase their herd size in order to spread out expenses. But more cows means more feed, bigger barns, more equipment, more land, more insurance and increased debt. This move towards bigger farms began decades ago when Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz spewed his mantra "Get Big or Get Out".

Thus the reason so many smaller dairy farmers, those who own 200 cows or less, have run screaming from the dairy business, and why more mega dairies like Fair Oaks, have erupted with their Factory Farms. There they keep over 35,000 cows which produce nearly 300,000 gallons of milk a day. Don't let the red wood veneered barn on their web site fool you, this outfit is a full blown profit centered corporation that offers restaurant dining, gift shop cruising, and bus tours. Because you know, one can really get an accurate sense of true farming from the inside of a cushy-seated, climate-controlled bus!  

If you do take a Fair Oaks tour (only $10 for a three year old) don't expect to have the opportunity to actually pet one of these bovines.  Heaven forbid. Fair Oaks is "bio-secure" so as to protect their herd from any nasty germs visitors might bring in and furthermore, we can't have wee Sally leaving the farm with manure on her shoes can we?

All of this is to say that small family farms are rapidly disappearing from our landscape.  Over the last eighty years in the US the number of farms has decreased from more than six million in 1935 to less than two million in 2019. Meanwhile, the farm SIZE has more than doubled. Gone are the days where a drive in the country revealed sheep, pigs, cows, chickens and goats on pasture. Instead they are kept "bio-secure" in sterile metal buildings often with concrete under their feet and fluorescent lights over their heads. Their lifespans are short and they have virtually no immune systems. They are fed cheap corn, prophylactic antibiotics, and confined to inhumanely small areas. 

And every time you as consumer purchase that cheap milk you are compounding the problem.

What to do? Take a bit of time to think about your purchases. Explore the small farmers in your area who sell milk (or meat or vegetables) directly to the consumer and consider buying from them more often. If every consumer just purchased 10% of their food directly from the farm, through farm co-ops or at farmers markets, a difference could be made.

Either that or the only farm livestock you or your grandchildren will see fifty years from now will be from a helicopter tour.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the Love of God and All That is Holy PLEASE TURN UP THE HEAT!

Good Lord! (I say that as invocation, trust me) but could you please ease up a bit on the deep freeze? The past few days we felt like we've been homesteading in Antartica, and it's predicted to get worse. Before I drudge on, if indeed you are a homesteader in Antartica please feel free to leave a comment mocking my weak nature, I'm sure you've had it much tougher.

But for us wussy Illinoians who are used to winters that dip only now and then below zero, this double digit stuff below ought is mad I tell you. Mad.

Winds started kicking in yesterday and have been steadily whipping about for over thirty-six hours. Coupled with the snow we're getting on and off and now the horrific wind chills the temps outside are literally life threatening. In Chicago today fires had to be lit along some of the railroad tracks to allow the trains to keep running and huge ice blocks are forming in the river.

Tonight it is expected to drop to -23F with wind chills possible of -50 to -60F. Schools are closed all over Livingston county, many businesses have reduced hours or are not open at all and the United States Postal Service announced no mail delivery tomorrow.

Good for them. No one is going to die if they don't get their daily allotment of junk mail or subscription to Martha Stewarts Living delivered to them. I did however order a box of Barry's Tea from eBay which probably won't turn up until Thursday which will make me crabby but not terminal. I've already been out for two days. I guess it's Jameson for breakfast again.

Chores tonight were no fun a'tall.  Double socks, double gloves, double hat and double dogs! Our two guardian dogs walked on either side of me like they knew I needed the extra warmth. All our animals are doing ok though as Keith worked hard this am bedding everyone well. They are also getting extra feed and water to keep body temps up. So happy we have the small farm now and chore time takes less time.

Biggest concerns are for two of our sons who work outside. Middle son is employed by another farmer whose cattle herd is in the midst of calving. Most are inside a large barn but some are not and if their labor is not caught early enough to move them indoors, there is loss of animal life and risk to the farmers trying to get them indoors.

Oldest son works for a large utility company and is required to stay at his place of employment around the clock until Friday morning. As folks crank up their heat and more natural gas flows at higher speeds there are more breakdowns which is where he comes in. Sometimes the electrical repairs and programming issues take place in the office, and sometimes out in the field.

On the mad, mad, and more mad side, temps are predicted to go back up with a high of 45 degrees F on Sunday!

I might have to break out my shorts and tank top.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"I Don't Have the Time" and other ridiculous phrases.


People. People. People.

You do say the silliest things.

Recently, an acquaintance said the following to me when I mentioned that I make my own soap, deodorant, and toothpaste. "Oh, I'd like to do some of those crafty things but I don't have the time."

I'm sorry (not really) to break this to you, all of you who spout this nonsense, but you do indeed have the time. You see, here's the kicker, we all have been gifted the exact same amount of time each and every day-twenty-four hours-no more, no less.

What gets in the way, is the Free Will thing. I have it and so do you, unless you are currently being held captive in some hippie freak commune just outside Podunk Pennsatucky. And if you are, get off the World Wide Web and take the next rutabaga truck out of there.

My point, is this. It's up to each of us how we spend our time. I chose to leave a well paid nursing gig, and a few years after that, we chose to sell our big farm. After purchasing our new farm and building our small grain bin house, we were left with minimal cash but tons more time. We now choose to spend this time growing much of our own food, building barns with recycled materials, heating our house with scrap wood that we gather and cut, and making most of our meals and personal care products from scratch.

You, on the other hand, may have choosen to stay within the proverbial rat race where you work hard for others every day, earning enough money to buy the food and personal products you desire at the restaurant or mega store of your choice. Because of your dedication you might choose to travel more, to purchase a newer car, or to buy the people you love nice things from Amazon. No one is holding my feet to the rocket mass stove fire or your Guccis to the corporate grindstone.

Every time I hear that phrase "I don't have the time" I want to flick that person hard in the middle of their forehead with my formally Cheeto stained fingers, as in,  Hello! You do have the time to do whatever you want, take accountability for how you spend it!"

Perhaps it seems an overreaction on my part, but this annoying phrase is indicative of a major flaw tearing through society's moral fiber these days, the avoidance of personal responsibility.  Kids who misbehave at school and their parents who pass the buck onto TV shows and video games is just one example.  Unplug you wee one once in awhile and/or monitor the shows that you use to anesthetize them, and their behavior might improve or perhaps...and this action is really out there I know...apply a little discipline when they misbehave. Take away some of the hundreds of toys/phones/screens they scatter all over your home, make them do regular chores, and require them to earn the money to buy items they covet. Hold them accountable. Hold yourself accountable. Use your time wisely.

The hourglass does not refill for any of us.

Another phrase voiced by yet another acquaintance when I gifted them some homemade soap for Christmas was, "Someone really has some extra time on her hands." Grrrrrrrrr. That one absolutely made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and wave the Bite Me flag.

 A simple "Thank You "would have sufficed. I hear that phrase often when one person gives another a gift of art, poetry, or homemade food. Obviously, that individual thought I had recently purchased extra hours at the All The Time You Need in the World Store. When I choose to make a gift for someone I am also choosing not to do something else, such as clean my bathroom, weed my garden, email an old friend or scrape dried sweet potato left on our bedroom floor. Don't ask. 

Regardless of which essential task I neglected in order to make a gift, so be it.  It was my choice. So, guess who will not be receiving handcrafted soap from me next year?

I'm sure I just won't have the time.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

New Year, New Goals, New Stairs

As I write, we are in the midst of snowmageddan  2019. A one thousand mile swatch of snowy, icy weather has graced the Midwest. St Louis was hit the hardest last night with up to 14 inches of snow in some areas, while we here in central Illinois are dealing with 4-7 inches. Winds are moderate but drifting is rearing its ugly head and travel is not advised. This makes for a great excuse to stay inside and do some serious farm planning. 

We were gifted with several aerial farm photos over Christmas and we're thrilled to use them to complete one year, three year and five year plans for The Poor Farm. I was even more thrilled to see that from up on high, our piles of "inventory" were not so noticeable, nor did they consume as much land area as I thought they did.

It's good to put things in perspective. 

We'll be working with this main shot, which shows are entire seven acres, all  bordered by conventional (chemically treated) fields on three sides and one county road on the north side. Our grain bin house is hidden behind the evergreen trees to the far right of the driveway. The pig area is even father right. Our small pond is to the left of the drive, with yellowish tree cover, near the road. Family cemetery area is lower left.

Below is a flipped view (with north on the bottom) which shows our Grain Bin House and it's relationship to the other buildings. I used the Microsoft paint program already on my pc, for the lettering. Old dog, new trick. Woof.

On yet a third picture, which we had made into an 11 by 17 poster size, (thank you Vistaprint) we slid it inside a large plastic sleeve and used dry erase marker to plot out existing pastures, cow paths etc...It worked great, just draw and erase. Pink lines designate current pastures, black is our cattle path, black square in upper right is family cemetery area, and pond is in lower right. Once satisfied with our plan I'll take a permanent photo to use for future reference. 

Primary goals for 2019 include (but are never limited to)

-Complete the teardown of the 1868 house
-Complete new barn build (two enclosed storage lofts, one open hay loft and Keith's shop)
-Build picket fence to enclose kitchen garden
-Start h├╝gelkultur area behind barn with wood from two large oaks we felled last year.
-Install small propane heater for studio so I can use in winter

I'll share three and five year goals and financial budgets later this month. 

Now, about that 50 foot by 60 foot barn build. Before this recent storm Keith had many mild days to work inside the barn. Stairs are nearly complete up to the loft area which will house the last of the stuff we still have in storage in the surviving half of the 1868 house. An end is in sight! Our shepherd/husky mix Ashland and Keith demonstrate correct use.

It doesn't look like it in the picture below, but floor to ceiling height in the upper loft is seven foot. This  area will be walled in with a door and windows to keep out birds, rodents and the occasional free ranging horse.