Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tastes Great

We feasted yesterday on a locally produced broiler chicken, with local carrots, onions, and green beans. Early this Spring we took a pledge to attempt to eat half of our food from local sources (within 100 miles of our home). We believe we've been attaining this goal. Our harvest basket from the Cooley CSA provides us with almost all of our vegetables and greens. We have been getting apples, peaches, and tomatoes from my parents' place. We picked blueberries at Prelock's, and strawberries from friends Sharon and Tom. Our milk comes from a local German Baptist farm, and for the most part our meat is also from local small farms. Our bees we'll give an update soon...we still don't know how well or not well they are doing.

As much as possible we've been canning and freezing excess for eating this winter. It has NOT been difficult. We have enjoyed learning and trying out various techniques and recipes. We spend very little time or money in the grocery store, and more time at the wonderful Sagamore West Farmers Market in West Lafayette.

One of our goals is to raise a good part of our own food on our small farm, starting with Beef calves and chickens.

Wilderness Man No More!

Letting go of things that hold us back help free that space in our lives to be real, new, imaginative, and see life with new vigor. For me it is time, finally, to move beyond the stigma of being known as the local wilderness man, primitive living expert, etc. In the mid 90's for a few years, I lived a mostly primitive lifestyle in the woodlands near the Great Lakes. I did this for many reasons, some seemingly noble, but some because I was also running from my own fears and emotional hurts. The skills I gained from this period are perhaps still good to know...like making a fire by friction methods, or medicine plants, building a shelter, etc. But being known primarily as "the guy who lived in the woods" is not a good thing....especially since this is not who I am today.

Coming to grips with all of this, I decided to rid my life of all the primitive "trappings" I gathered and have held on to for more than 10 years. I put them in a huge pile (except a few items we are selling on ebay for helping with land fund and farmer's market fun money), and gleefully burned them. I think it might be the biggest fire I've burned in 10 years. Ah, the release. The new freedom. I'm no longer wilderness man! Instead, I'm really marching forward with Beth on the Big Good Path.

As we locate items in our lives, we decide if they are useful or meaningful to us. If not, they are getting ebayed, given away, or tossed out....or even burned!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ebay for the Big Good!

What do an old wedding ring, a fetal doppler, a fraternity pin and a birthing stool have in common? They are all things from earlier eras of our lives that have needed to be let go.

You probably have a place like that too; a box, a closet, a shelf, maybe even a whole room. A place you don't want to go because you'd rather not think about what is in there. You close the door, the things in there get dusty or moldy and time moves on. But one day you realize that you really need to take a look, push aside the dust, and let go.

That's what we've been doing. Beth sold her birth stool, some midwifery textbooks, and her doppler. It was kind of hard both emotionally and physically to crawl into the closet under the basement stairway to sort out these things and send them out into the world where someone can use them again. But it felt great to turn what had become leftovers from another era of my life, into extra funds for the land quest. Just yesterday I took the final box to another local midwife for her to "redistribute" to other aspiring midwives.

Brent had delved into his unopened boxes & bins too. First to go--his first wedding ring. That put money into his pocket that he traded at the farmer's market for the the sweetest apple cider I've ever tasted and the most expensive chicken he's ever bought in his life. He said it was a good trade.

Next he sold a fraternity membership pin on ebay. The money from that has put lunch money in our son's pocket, bought us lunch yesterday at a cute little cafe we found just down the road from "the land," as well as sundaes at the Frozen Custard; AND he still has some in his wallet for this week's farmer's market.

So a new endeavor is set in motion. You could call it "Ebay for the Big Good." We're going to keep purging the things that we don't need anymore but that for some reason we have held onto. If it brings us a little cash in hand that we can trade for good local food and fun, all the better. If it gives us a lot then we'll put it in our land fund. If it brings us nothing other than peace of mind, we'll send it out into the world anyway and be glad that we're really moving on.

"You think by now we’d be a little further on
For all this tumbling we’ve been through...
I feel like I’m finally getting closer to you."
--Carrie Newcomer

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eating Locally - High Summer

It's the time of year when it would be hard NOT to eat locally.

We realized everything on our plates at this meal was local! An heirloom melon, broccoli and "Slaw Chez Nous" (from the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen)all from Cooley Family Farm. Plus my favorite Indiana summer time sweet corn; this bunch was the best I've had all year (and I consider myself a tough critic on that topic!)

In addition to the fresh local abundance that fills our table, we are having fun working on our early spring goal to preserve as much local goodness as possible to take us through the winter. In addition to the early strawberries (jam & frozen), we now have blueberries (also jam & frozen), early transparent apples (sauce that really is more like apple butter because we cooked it down a little too much), and our first attempt at tomato sauce. This was easier than I thought it would be. We're planning a 2nd sauce production run this weekend.

I used what didn't go in the jars to make a never-the-same meal from what I like to call my "Cooking for Poor People" cookbook. It is really a booklet I got when I took a class sponsored by Purdue Extension as a part of a WIC program years ago. The most useful recipe in it is really more of a formula for using what is on hand. When what is on hand is fresh and wonderful, it is even better!

In addition to tomatoes, we got a sack full of green beans, some crisp winter apples and a bag full of peaches at Brent's Mom & Dad's. The green beans will get canned and if the peaches ripen successfully in a paper bag, some slices will go in the freezer. We picked the peaches a little early to save them from the Japanese beetles. I thought we would store the apples, but they seem to just be getting eaten right now, which is all the better.

Natural Building with Straw Bales

One of our dreams is to build our own home using natural materials that provide energy efficiency, beauty, and elegant design, while allowing us to become mortgage free all in one. We spent two July weekends in a row near Kankakee, Illinois learning the nuances of using straw bales and earthen plasters for walls of building. The workshop was organized by Center for Sustainable Community in Stelle, IL.

The structure was a small guest/play house. It took much more labor and attention to detail than I had previously imagined. The bales of straw, once baled and dry, are stacked like large building blocks. The finished wall can provide up to R40 insulation value and this greatly reduces the need for mechanical heating and cooling systems of a building.

Here Beth is shaving a straw bale using a weed whacker to carve a depression so that the straw bale will fit the corner bracing. There was much attention to detail in terms of making sure that all crevices and gaps between the courses of bales were completely plugged.

This is a photo of Brent using earthen plaster to coat the inside walls. The walls will need two main coats and a final plaster coat. With 16 people in the straw bale workshop and the structure being only 13 x 15 there was plenty to do, but sometimes not enough room for everyone to get involved. We learned a lot about plasters and getting a solid, straight, strong wall using straw bales.

An nice benefit to the straw bale workshops is that Beth and I camped at the nearby Kankakee River State Park (sans kids). We ate a lot of good food, rode our bikes, explored the river banks, and greatly enjoyed our company together.