December 11, 2010

Free Food - Preserving Food - Save Money - Eat Local - Frugal - Medicinal Herbs

Our first year was so lean, with 2 extra mouths to feed, that it was necessary to learn about the wild food available. I would search for them then put them in paper lunch bags and staple it to the wall of our shack to dry. I was amazed over 50 different plants we identified and preserved to the winter. I truly believe that the medicinal properties of these plants and mushrooms help sustain us through the tough winter.

It is not natural to buy nutrition from countries far away.
I bought some cinnamon the other day, it was such a bargain. I threw it out as soon as I got home, compared to my other cinnamon, it was cut without a light coloured substance. I am not a paranoid person, but I wonder if a country can put white poison in baby formula, what is stopping them from slipping it into food destined for unknown privileged tables.

Herbs and seeds dried for spices, are the perfect example of how easy and free preserving food can be. Parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, and mint should be grown and dried in every household. They grow like weeds and pound per pound more nutritious than vegetables. Their flavors enhance any recipe. More about this in my book, Life Through the Cracks: A Place to Start

It is my job to save money and I do it at all costs. This time of year money is particularly tight as winter stores of rice, coffee, sugar, flour and the like are purchased. We buy in bulk at wholesale saving 80% of store prices. We also buy a beef and pork from other farmers in the fall. At just over $2 a pound for both steak and hamburger, clean meat is a bargain. Mostly we grow the only vegetables and fruit consumed during the summer for the winter. All our meals our whole foods as fresh as possible, cooked at home.

After 10 years, the farm produces without needing money or bringing money in. Of course one could argue that it is part of my mortgage cost. Money was also used to pay for the infrastructure and upgrades here. Fencing, pens, raised beds, soil, energy efficiency upgrades costs eventually pay for themselves in returned savings.

I could tell you we have 10 mature nut trees, 30 mature fruit trees, 12 mature grape vines, a large raised garden and all the food they provide and you could be all impressed. I wouldn't tell you of the hazelnut orchard with 100s of trees growing wild on the hill (no doubt the work of squirrels), or how easy it is to grow a new grape from a cutting, or how one of the biggest jobs in the orchard is to keep the self-seeded saplings cut down. Packed away is 5 pounds of seed saved for planting. We have vinegar and too much wine. Wild herb and mushrooms fill my apothecary cabinet. This time of year clean lake fish fill the smoker. The wood grows here that heats our home. The cats get the rodents and the dog the predators. There is enough weed seeds and worms to feed enough chickens to keep us in eggs and crispy fried all winter. I haven't bought a chick in 7 years. This year alone more than 30 chicks were born and raised without intervention from me. (No really, free ranged in the yard with the mom I didn't even need to feed or water them.) All this is available every year, with variance but without fail.

We used to raise our own pigs and goats too. It is impossible to do this for only one family. A family will eat a couple of pigs a year. A mother pig can have a dozen piglets 3 times a year! A good goat will present over 2 litres of milk twice a day. Even if one makes cheese it is far more milk than can be used in one kitchen. The goat only has milk after pregnant. To maintain these animals you must keep a male and female. They are herd animals and thrive best if you can keep a little herd. They must be fenced always and monitored to protect them from predators. They must have fresh feed available all year all year and their health maintained daily. You can see where the expense of time and money would make total sustainability prohibitive for a single family. I don't have the time or the money to feed, raise, process and market this many animals.

You can see this patch of nature we've nurtured for years can produce enough for 3 or 4 families. Nature certainly does her part and I do mine by reaping what was sown.
I am shocked to finally realize, without a doubt, what is missing to make this farm self-sufficient is people. If only I had the seed to grow a community, hmmm . . . . .


  1. Ruth, my thinking is going in the same direction, establishing a small community. As you say, for just one family a well run farm is too much, both in terms of workload and productivity. As far as having to spend money to arrive at a virtual moneyless state: Mark Boyle, the Moneyless Man compares it with a slave buying himself freedom from his master...

  2. I love that your chickens are so efficient at feeding themselves. Do you have a particular breed that seems to do best in you colder climate or a mish mash of different ones? Very nice post...I love hearing about all of the wild edibles you are able to take advantage of.

  3. Ruralrose,

    Nice post. It reminds me of a poem that is on a beer stein given to me by my Nana a bunch of years ago. The poem is called "God Speed the Plow":

    Let the wealthy and great
    roll in splendor and state
    I envy them not, I declare it
    I eat my own lamb
    my own chickens and ham
    I shear my own fleece and I wear it
    I have lawns, I have bowers
    I have fruits, I have flowers
    The lark is my morning alarmer
    so jolly boys now
    here's God speed the plow
    long life and success to the farmer

    Of course, your friend Helko is right, too. It all works better in community. Keep well!

  4. Thanks for the sweet comments. Am afraid farmers are an endangered species, the poem does reflect the same sentiment in a different century. Mike I have a mix, started with Rhode Island Reds, then buff orpingtons, then some bantees all are excellent winter egg layers. Peace

  5. I can see where the preference would be to maintain a farm that maintains itself with as little human intervention as possible. I am happy to hear things are going so well for you on the homestead. :)

  6. I do feel like we broke a yolk of bondage, it seems these are natural feelings common to all men who walk this path. It is good to know this, gives me hope seeing people like you working so hard.

  7. I really like this post. It's late and I am going to bed, but I'm definitely following :)