Monday, February 28, 2011

Blending Philosophy With Reality

It was 73 degrees, I saw both robins and mocking birds, the first buds are on the trees and shrubs and we had another thunder storm. The chickens gave us four eggs again today. The sow Isabella slimed my leg while I was cleaning out her water pan. We had to move hay again. The oxen sensed that it was a work day and met me at the gate all ready to work. Joe thinks George checks the depth of hay in the rings and knows when we are going to work them. William moved into position to take the yoke without being told and later got on the chain when he was told without prompting. Spring is battering on the door. We are talking about gardens and starting to plan.

The real issue is not what we are going to plant, or where. The question is how we make sustainable living a lifestyle. We have to factor in shelter, transportation, food storage, and clothing and provide food. We need sources of information and enough money to give us some maneuverability and acquire capital items needed to transform the farmstead. This is a tall order. Some things are obvious. The house is inefficient: Too much wasted space, poor insulation and a site that is someday going to get wiped out by a flood. We want to build a more survivable house up-hill where it will get more solar energy and pick up more wind. We have steadily reduced our use of the car and truck to about a single trip to town a week, bunching errands or simply staying home. Maria has almost single handedly reduced our electrical consumption to a quarter to an eighth (depending on the season) of our previous level. We have our sins, however. We are addicted to our computers and Netflix. Still these can eventually be supported by electricity we can produce ourselves.

Our plan is to move steadily toward a largely self sufficient sustainable lifestyle: Growing what we can, using draft animals where we can, making whatever we can do ourselves, bartering, trading or selling those skills we have to provide the capital needed to keep the place going. We believe that this course will fit with the changes we see in the environment and economic situation. We are not survivalists in the Y2K form, but it would seem to be provident to design a life that will not collapse if gas at the pump does hit $15 a gallon. We spend a lot of time here talking about the philosophy of living responsibly. At this time of year, the reality of carving this lifestyle out a hollow in southern Kentucky rears its ugly head and we are faced with making it work.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Since we specialize in preserving traditional skills like building log cabins with nothing but axes, working draft animals, spinning, and a host of others, people are often surprised that we advocate and use modern technology. It can not be an either/or situation.

Let me explain this, I believe the world environmental and energy situation is becoming so critical that we have to put all our intellect and effort into creating a stable, sustainable culture on this planet. We cannot afford the luxury of dwelling on the past. Sustainable farming has the potential of squeezing out more food value per square inch than any corporate farm, but to do this, we need to blend every bit of skill and technology that we have. We have to be careful, some of the modern is dangerous, certainly the herbicides and insecticides of modern agriculture have been linked to the alarming increase in cancer in our population. But traditional methods led to soil erosion, deforestation, air pollution, disease, malnutrition, and inordinate occupational hazards.

Creating a sustainable farmstead requires designing a livable pattern of agriculture, energy, personal health, and nutrition. It may be comfortable to occupy spacious quarters, but heating the airspace in winter may require more work than can be sustained. Do we concentrate on feeding ourselves? Or raise a surplus that can be bartered for items we cannot produce on the farm? Or start evaluating and eliminating what we think we must have/do/make? We have to seek a balance. There are skills that we will need such as blacksmithing, coopering, tanning, harness making, and medicine that we can learn, but may take too much time and thus not be effective.

When I am at an historic event, it may the best answer to have a wooden wheeled Virginia wagon, but for every day use, a steel wheeled cart may serve my farm better. If we are going to survive, we have to be practical, not romantic. We have to pick the most survivable tool.

In writing about survival on the Overmountain frontier, I have said a number of times that it was not the tools that came from the East on the packhorse that enabled the frontiersmen to survive, it was the tools that came in their heads. If a plow breaks during spring plowing, life cannot go on hold until a new one is bought or the broken plow repaired. The farmer needs to be able to repair it himself or make a substitute. This is where the frontiersman had it all over us. He came out knowing he had to be self sufficient. We were raised in a culture of mutual support (even if that support has to be paid for).

I am not a nuclear physicist nor a plant biologist. But, there are things I can do to contribute to the solution to the energy depletion and environmental crises that are facing us. And, I will do them. I am experimenting with methods to find those that work and can be replicated by others. I am training myself to live a sustainable life. Even if I am imperfect, I can and do teach others what I have found out. This largely takes the form of working livestock, but that seems to be what I am best at.

At this stage, I think the biggest contribution that all of us involved in the sustainable lifestyle can do is be a loud example. When we can live well without compromising our principals, it encourages other to try. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get discouraged when I see the excessive consumption surrounding me. As people speed by in their SUVs, I know that they are using one third more gas than they would if they were driving conservatively. I pick up a vegetable and realize it is something we grow here, but this one came from the Philippines. Our local electrical co-op brags about burning coal they get from mountain top removal and collaterally all the good that does for Kentucky. The list is endless, and I cannot fight them all. I can be an example.

The Frontiersmen crossed the Appalachians in small groups, families and often alone. What they were doing was illegal (the Proclamation of 1763). They fought Indians and often outlaws. They were dragged into the Revolution by events, not ideology. We are very much in the same situation. Those of us fighting to make a difference face politicians owned by the corporations that created this mess. Certainly they are not going to support anything that might adversely influence corporate profits. We live among a populace that has been raised to expect the comforts and ease of cheap oil. They don’t want to see it change. Demagogues manipulate them to think that we can return to the status of the victors of World War II and the economy of the 1950s. We meet resistance at every turn, we are isolated and alone. That is what it means to be a frontiersman. But, the frontiersman of 1775 was the truly modern man of his time. If there is a future, historians will look back and see those of us fighting for responsible living as the modern "Man" of our age.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A sad journey

Early, early morning, we are off for an 8 1/2 hour drive to North Carolina to see Gerry's beloved sister.  They have been best friends their whole lives, and she is dying.  We are spending the rest of the week with her to help during one of her chemotherepy treatments

She is intelligent, funny, brave, savvy, a bit bossy, loving, independent, staunch, and outrageous.  I admire her tremendously, and wish with all my heart her life was not ending thusly.  My heart goes out to my dearest friend, my husband, as he struggles to make himself believe the truth that his sister is passing. This is made more difficult by seeing that her daughters, who have been estranged from her, don't seem to know how to grieve now, which is causing more hurtful acts and feelings between them.

This is not the first of his family to be taken by cancer.  His mother, brother, and first wife were so taken.

I ask you, as you look at your family today, if there is any estrangement there, that is salvagable, work to salvage it.  You don't know what will happen to you, or to any of them.  Don't let pride stand in the way of reconciliation.  Don't let the thought, "It's good enough," get in the way of making something better.  Why wait for someone else to make the first move?  Why waste time thinking you can fix it later?  Even if you do fix it later, look at the time you can spend in joy and friendship now.

Once again, be good, be kind, be green, be frugal.  Be light.

Janis, we love you so much, we'll see you tomorrow night.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Foreign Aid

Here are some things I found out about foreign aid:

Most of our foreign aid dollars are spent on armament. There are strings attached. In most cases, they have to be used to buy weapons from the United States. Obviously, this helps our industry. Next, we give aid to countries that we have a business interest in. The big three in our present foreign aid program are Israel, Egypt and Pakistan. All three receive more in military aid than in any other form of assistance. All three are markets for American products, especially agricultural products, not just foods, but GMO seeds, and fertilizer. Doing a little research, I found that the largest dollar amount of business with each of these three countries is done by Monsanto. I think you could make the argument that our foreign aid dollars are spent to protect Monsanto’s interests.

Israel received 2.4 Billion dollars in aid in 2009. Seventy-five per cent of this had to be spent on military hardware purchased from the United States.

Egypt was the recipient of $1.7 billion, $1.3 billion went to weapons alone.

Pakistan received $798 million of which $20 million went for infrastructure, the rest was spent on security related requirements.

Brazil has lodged a formal complaint and Canada has asked for discussion of our agricultural aid practices which essentially force our Monsanto engineered, genetically modified corn on the world market. In Mexico, for example, this has destroyed the local corn varieties and put Mexican farmers out of work. (Then they show up on our doorsteps as illegal aliens because they have no other way of feeding their families.)

You notice that Congressional candidates speechify about cutting foreign aid, while incumbents do not. The big arms manufacturers and Monsanto make political contributions to incumbents in far larger amounts. No relationship between the two is there.

I am not sure this is responsible.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This looks like fun!

How many of you have some waste paper waiting to be burned, or tossed? Far too many trees are felled only to make our paper envelopes, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. What a good thing to do with some of it!

How to Make Homemade Paper

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is all food wastage the same?

Penniless Parenting is an amazing blog, and has posed a most thought-provoking question.  What are your thoughts?


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Perennial Foods

Gerry and I watched another great documentary last night (Thanks, Netflix!) called Dirt, The Movie.  Wonderful handling of a topic most of us never think about.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope you will see it. It entertained, educated, enraged, and most of all, encouraged! by turns.

Now the connection to the blog title offering today.  One thing that really stood out and impressed me was the demonstration of the difference in root systems between the annuals and the perennials. It was mindboggling.  And they demonstrated how much more important perennial root systems are when we have shallow dirt levels to work with.  Here in the hills of KY, we have bedrock very close to the surface, which means that perennials would be best.  But I am an ignorant and conventional woman, whose only food growing experience is with standard annuals, and the standard rototillered seedbed.  I am switching my mindset to include mostly perennials, and find myself at a loss, for the most part, on how to feed my house without contributing to the destruction of what little flat land I have.

Here is what I have come up with so far...

Tree foods.  I need to do more with the native nuts and fruits that already grow here.  I need to rebuild the orchard, plant new trees, and learn to make pine needle tea, and learn to harvest pine nuts, too.

I have gobs of brambles (they absolutely flourish here), but they are in my pastures.  I need to put brambles in a place that is not competition for grass, and that I can easily reach and manage.

Foraging "weeds".  I have long known that many of the weeds I was discarding were more nutritious than the vegetables I was protecting.  But I knew what the vegetables were, and what to do with them.  Ignorance has not been my friend.  I do know how to recognize and cook dandelion and plantain.  I recognize cattail, but know not what to do with it.

I will plant perennials as food whenever I can.  First on the list of on purpose plantings will be daylilies, jerusalem artichokes, and asparagus.

I will choose hardy plants over those I know need babied.  There is no real reason for a fine seedbed for squash, for instance.  Other than custom and convenience to the rototilling.  I can plant squash by using a mattock to chop a hole in the ground, planting the seed, and mulching the hill.  And it won't use any gasoline, either!

I will make a special bed for the rootcrops I deem indispensible that really need a good seedbed, rather than make the entire garden pulverized.  This will include carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc.

Dried Beans.  Hmm, tougher.  They are the mainstay of our diet, and need a good seedbed, and I need more of them than I can fit into a garden bed.  This requires serious consideration.

Meat and Dairy...  Also tough.  Hunting is obviously in the works (Gerry is an excellent hunter, and never takes a shot if there is a possibility of only wounding the animal)  We will be switching to making our own dairy products from goats, our hens are laying eggs, and we have a sow, but no boar yet.  Most of the horses will be leaving for a new home in 2 months.  Our only cattle are, and will only be, the 4 oxen.

Animal Feed.  We recognize that trucking in grain for all of them is economically and ecologically unsound.  We will be switching from a mainstay of hay and grain to browse (of which we have lots) and squash.  We truly have plenty of browse, it just needs managed better.  That is one reason we are heading for goats rather than more cattle.  We will still have 2 horses, which need good pasture and some grain. We will need moveable runs for the poultry as we have many, many predators here.  I love watching the Broadwing Hawks, I just don't want to feed them!  Same with the foxes.  I will put the moveable runs in the horse pasture to try to renovate it.  It has been horribly overgrazed, overrun with weeds, and desperately needs attention.

Still don't have an answer for Yin and Yang.  So will keep buying dogfood for now.

We are commited to doing our own killing, another reason we are heading for goats.  I can handle a goat, a full grown steer is something else.  No more slaughter houses for us.

Needing help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have heard I can use Stinging Nettle to make cheese.  Also thistle flowers.  Can anyone tell me how?  I need other ideas on perennial foods and foraging.  Very willing to make a difference and change, but need specifics.

Are any of you good at foraging?  Would you be open to me visiting and learning?

Thursday, February 3, 2011


No one is interested in the issues of climate change and environmental destruction any more. Hard to blame them. We are talking about something that has taken centuries to catch up with us and after all, it may be at least a couple more generations before it actually touches us individually. It takes imagination and intelligence to face a problem now that is not going to come home to roost for another fifty years. It is going to kill my great grandchildren, not me.

Our problem is getting the point across to the public. There is no thought, we are wrapped up in our sitcoms and football games. I know the argument that environmental action/controls will hurt existing industry, jobs, and the economy. I actually think the big political issue is that the corporations that run this country see it as an obstacle to their astronomical profits. We do not look around. I go deep into the woods at times on these historical adventures of ours. In the most inaccessible of places, there will be a plastic Wal-Mart bag. Drive any interstate highway, look at the brown in the leaves of the trees alongside you. Our powerline right-of-ways show die-back from the defoliants that are supposedly inert and completely safe in minutes or hours after they are sprayed. I could go on with this forever, and I have not even mentioned the biggie, violent climate change that cannot be denied.

How do we make an oblivious public (and their leaders, elected officials, politicians, etc.) wake up? What do we do to create a sense of urgency? How do we make it real?

I know this is just a rant. Better minds than mine are working on this problem. But, I live in the state that just elected Rand Paul to the Senate. We have a Neandertal electorate that just put a person in office that seems to be totally incapable of even the most basic logic. I know we humans are contributing to the disaster, but logic says that even if it is totally out of our control, we have to start taking steps to face the crisis. There are enough examples around to show that things are changing.

When do we become mature, thinking people?