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There are few things as fulfilling to me as heading out to the garden or the chicken coop and collecting food for a meal we will soon be eating. As we continue to learn about healing our land and producing food in a very different terrain and environment than we came from, there have been only a handful of vegetables we have been successful with.
Sweet potatoes, beans, lettuce, the few beets I skeptically threw into the ground which are now shockingly healthy and huge in our clay soil.
And then there are the collard greens. It all sounds very southern, but if we could just grow these nutritious leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and beans – all in abundance – that that could be a huge part of our food needs. A couple of calorie crops and some greens is all we really need.
That hasn’t stopped us from planting perennial trees and shrubs – 3 more apple trees, a couple of fig trees, and another blueberry bush are all going into the ground today. Oh and the cabbage, peas, red potatoes, garlic, onions, herbs, tomatoes, tomatillos, okra, and peppers are coming along too… because we just can’t help ourselves.
But these collard greens have been a consistent source of nourishment for us over the past few months. From approximately 6 plants we have gotten a generous bunch of greens pretty much every other day.
- I have made big pots of greens with bacon and onion and garlic.
- I have made stir fry after stir fry with collards and carrots and all of that pork I canned this winter.
- I have made frittatas with homegrown eggs and a bit of bacon and a generous amount of greens.
- They have become pork stew and rooster soup and simply a delicious side dish when sauteed in lard with an onion.
I think we’ll be able to squeeze a few more weeks of harvest out of these guys before they bolt. When we ordered seed in January I found a couple of heat-tolerant heirloom varieties, Green Glaze & Variegated, that I’ll be planting as soon as the rest of those beets come out.
They say the Green Glaze variety could produce greens for us for years due to its heat and frost-tolerance.
I’m all for perennial collard greens.
So, I drafted this post over six months ago. That might tell you about the state of things in my inbox, comments, and the blog in general. When Anders asked the following on our facebook page I wondered if anyone else had the same questions.
Q: How did you do it? How did you get yourself to the point where you had a 300 sq ft home on land? Were you in any debt before hand? My husband and I are trying to get out of debt ASAP so we can live our dream of land and a small home…we feel like we are spinning our wheels and have no clue what to do first…I know this is a lot of questions..lol But I would love to hear your journey and how you were able to get to where you are….
In case someone does, and in case this might help or encourage someone, I thought I’d start a random Q&A series here on our journey.
Well, the short answer is by God’s grace because, looking back, sometimes it seems like it was impossible. But I will back up and start from the beginning.
We were in debt before hand. I had student loans from college which Stewart took on as a reverse dowry when he married me. I wish I was kidding.
We knew we needed to homestead and we prayed for a way to make it happen by the time our eldest son was five. We didn’t know if we would make it by then, but we tried to be as diligent as possible in paying off those loans and saving enough to buy a couple of acres so that we could avoid going into debt again.
So between 2005 and 2011 we paid it all off. During that time I predominantly worked as a stay-at-home mom. So, on one income we paid off $25,000 and saved enough to get started modestly.
I don’t think there’s one “right” way to do it, but I personally think paying off existing debt and avoiding any debt going forward is hugely important. If you can do that, minimize any expenses on things like electricity or other monthly bills, then you have the option of living on very little income.
And living on very little income gives you the option to do what you need to with your time.
That is what we have chosen to do. We were willing to live ruggedly and build from the ground up. We had actually planned to live in a tent for a little while to get started, but a camper came our way at a price we couldn’t refuse so we started there.
We have prioritized food production over a larger, more comfortable living space (for now) and we have prioritized our time over the things that we might be able to buy if we spent more of our time working off the homestead.
So, our four-part process has looked something like this:
- Pay off loans with one income while I scrimp and save by doing things like cloth-diapering, scratch cooking, gardening, etc.
- Buy only as much land as you can afford and can reasonably develop within a few years.
- Start your homestead from scratch with only the basics of water, shelter, waste disposal, etc.
- (What we’re currently in the beginnings of): Build up your food production through sustainable means, create infrastructure like water catchment and root cellars, and then eventually build a larger (maybe underground) home that will double as food processing area/homeschooling central/office & workshop area.
But, obviously, there is more than one way to skin a cat as they say.
So, how have you made the jump towards sustainable living?
A while back Stewart started planting small test patches of cover crops and food fodder crops around the property. Somehow, on those days, we all seem to drop most everything else we’re doing to gather, kneel down in the dirt, poke holes, and plant seeds.
There’s just something about playing in the dirt that attracts all age groups.
So Belle and I headed out to join the big and little men at a corner of the property where we have put in some swales and planted nitrogen-fixing autumn olives.
The plan was to plant a bunch of Sunn Hemp around the swales to see how they would do. This is a potential fodder crop for goats and we wanted to see how well it would do on a patch of land that I lovingly refer to as the face of the moon.
Everyone got in on it, poking holes with sticks, dropping seeds, waiting for rain. And eventually it came up, though it doesn’t look spectacularly healthy.
Also planted in various patches around the land are buckwheat, hairy vetch, and clover. We’re hoping to continue to throw seeds out when rain is in the forecast and, if the chickens don’t eat them, we’ll most likely practice a chop and drop technique.
Something about these days where we’re all working together on a project just makes my heart overflow with gratitude for this little family, this little piece of land, and this precious time we spend together, sowing.
What are you sowing these days?
Milk kefir is one of the first fermented foods that our family began eating solely for the way it made us feel. We already loved the flavors of yogurt, kombucha, and sourdough; but milk kefir was definitely out of our normal flavor range.
Since then I have experimented with it for a few years and have read up on it fairly extensively. Kefir is now the only cultured milk product I keep around regularly. Right now we don’t have access to fresh milk so I am using store-bought milk simply to keep my grains alive.
That’s how much we like this stuff. Here is why…
Despite the fact that we didn’t love the taste, we began eating it a few years ago – at first hiding it in smoothies and mixing it in equal parts with our beloved homemade yogurt. And then we started noticing how we felt after eating it – energized, light, refreshed, lacking that weighed down feeling that often comes after a meal.
Just in the last couple of years we began to drink it straight up, as a salad dressing, or with a touch of honey or jam mixed in. It’s my version of the “cure-all”. Got a stomach ache? Drink some kefir. Feeling fatigued? Drink some kefir. Pregnant/nursing/dehydrated/have symptoms of mineral deficiency/constipated/diarrhea/you-name-it? Drink some kefir.
Kefir isn’t just like yogurt, as some might say, in fact some (myself included) think that it is more beneficial than yogurt. If you’re interested, you can read an article I wrote about the differences between milk kefir and yogurt.
Long story short, kefir contains beneficial yeasts as well as many more strains of bacteria than yogurt does, meaning it may help to colonize your gut more thoroughly than yogurt. Oh, and the word kefir actually roughly translates to mean “good feeling”, which totally explains why I’ll even rub it on a child’s skin when they have a rash – it’s just that awesome.
It’s Easier than Most Cultures
Even though I love cultured foods, even though my family eats them regularly, even though I use them as a method of food preservation and as medicine; I still struggle to reboot the kombucha, feed the sourdough, and rotate the milk kefir.
Which brings me to the second reason I love milk kefir: it is easy. I kill cultures with wild abandon, I almost never get around to washing all the dishes, and I often accidentally wander out to work in the garden when I probably should be working in the kitchen. Woops.
So there is a reason milk kefir stays on our counter. It is hard to kill, it’s fairly forgiving, and it is as simple as “add milk” to the culture and leave it on your counter top. No, really, that’s all.
It is Diverse
Because of my inability to remember anything on a regular basis, I know I’ll never be able to keep several types of dairy cultures alive at once. Kefir allows me to keep one culture for making every type of dairy product I could want. Yes, you heard that right.
You can use kefir to make cultured cream, cream cheese, hard cheese, and cultured butter. If you’re interested, you can read more about it in my article on how to make and use these different “kefired” dairy products.
Because they’re all based off of the kefir culture they will be flavored by those bacteria instead of the cultures you might be used to tasting in cream cheese or butter. But we have a “If we can grow it, maintain it, or sustain it then we will eat it” policy, so it’s cool with us.
It is Sustainable
Sustainable, to me, means that not only can you continue to do something indefinitely given your current resources, but it can also be maintained given your time and circumstances.
Milk kefir is my preference for a sustainable milk culture. It is self-perpetuating, meaning not only can you reuse the kefir grains for the next batch of kefir, but it actually makes more kefir grains with every batch, if the conditions are right.
So, if we get the a point where we keep goats, and if we can feed them from our land, and given that milk kefir is self-perpetuating, and given that it is easy enough to maintain the culture on a regular basis… milk kefir can be completely sustainable in a closed-circle food system.
Oh, and you can feed it to chickens and pigs – another long-term goal of ours.
Thus ends my love letter to the milk kefir culture. And today – Tuesday, April 30th – we’re giving away five milk kefir grain starter kits over at the Cultures for Health blog!
As y’all might know, I am passionate about interacting with like-minded women and mamas, cultured food, and writing and photographing those adventures. So it only makes sense that these three culminate in a project that was just launched this morning.
For a while now I have been working for Cultures for Health to design and implement their vision for a blog. Julie asked me to come on as the editor of the project, meaning I will be sharing my thoughts and photos on all of the fermented foods our family has come to love… five days a week.
Also joining me are a crack team of contributors who also happen to be mamas, homesteaders, homeschoolers, and DIYers. Oh, and they also guide CFH customers through the many questions they receive as Customer Support Representatives.
I am hoping that this turns into a community of people coming together to nourish their family and move towards more sustainable food practices through the world of cultured foods.
I would so appreciate seeing you all over there – in the comments or as a subscriber. And, as always, thanks for being here.
my (grain-free) cookbook
All information found on Nourishing Days is editorial in nature and therefore meant to motivate and inspire rather than be construed as medical advice.
Any statements or claims about the health benefits of supplements or foods made here have not been evaluated by the FDA and as such are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease..
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