Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Am I smart, trendy, or nuts?

When people meet me and learn that we live on 32 acres and grow a good portion of our food, their reaction tends to fall into one of two categories: we must be really smart or nuts. Although they are not quite so blunt, it is obvious how they feel. If they think we're really smart, they get excited and start asking all sorts of questions. If they think we're nuts, they just raise their eyebrows, nod, and say something like, "Oh."

But lately I've been getting a third reaction, and I've been reading about it too. It is now the "in" thing to be sustainable and a locavore and to have a vegetable garden. Just Google "sustainability" and discover that everyone -- fishermen, cities, schools, even Coca-Cola talk about moving towards sustainability. I don't think I even used the word "sustainable" seven years ago. The word, "locavore," had not been coined yet when we moved out here in 2002. I just wanted organic food and was sick of trying to navigate corporate America's definitions in the grocery store -- what's the difference between regular eggs, cage-free, and organic? And how much time does an organic cow really spend outside? The sustainable movement was well on its way a year ago when "locavore" was declared the word of 2007, then the bottom fell out of the economy, and now growing your own is the thing to do to save money. Or, as Business Week put it,
The message seems to be: If you buy organic, you care about your own body; if you buy local, you care about your body and the environment.
Although we do care about our body and the environment, when we first decided to move out here, it was because we didn't trust big business to be honest with us about what they were doing. We'd been eating organic since the late 1980s, but as organic became trendy, BigAg got involved and started splitting hairs. The ink wasn't even dry on the organic food legislation when businesses starting looking for exemptions -- can we call our product organic if we want to use organic grain, but none is available for 100 miles?

I don't think I'm particularly smart or nuts, and I am definitely not trendy, since I chose to live and eat naturally more than 20 years ago. So, what's my point? I don't think you have to be smart or nuts or trendy to eat healthier, have a vegetable garden, and shop at a farmer's market or join a CSA. As humans, we are teachable. We can learn new habits and skills. When we hear that our diet is not good for our bodies or our planet, we don't have to wring out hands and declare, "Woe is us! We are doomed!" Without any sort of extraordinary intelligence or rabid enthusiasm, we can:
  • shop at a farmer's market
  • find local farmers through Local Harvest and join a CSA
  • start a garden
  • grow a tomato plant on the patio
  • grow herbs on the window sill above the kitchen sink
  • grow alfalfa sprouts on your kitchen counter
  • or grow tulips in your living room (see photo)
When I say, "Anyone can do this," I'm not being preachy, I'm being humble. I seriously mean that if I can do this, anyone can do this. I know ladies 10 or 20 years older than me who live a similar lifestyle. When I first moved out here, I couldn't lift a 50-pound bag of grain, and I would only fill water buckets half full, because they were too heavy for me full.

As for brains . . . well, no one is born knowing how to grow tomatoes, incubate chicken eggs, milk a goat, or birth a lamb. I've read lots of books and found mentors over the Internet. Without the mentors, I'd have made a lot more mistakes than I did, and that's why I'm always willing to help new people.

So, if you find yourself saying, "I wish I could do that," stop wishing and start doing something. Just because you don't have sheep for wool to make an afghan doesn't mean that you can't start with something as small as a pot of herbs. Figure out exactly what you want to do and decide how you can start to make it a reality. If you only have a small apartment, you can start growing alfalfa sprouts, herbs, and tomatoes. If you have a yard, you can start planning a small garden for 2009. And if you have more land, start looking into what it would take for you to have a small flock of chickens or a couple of goats for milk. It's really not that hard -- really.


clink said...

I was featured on tv. Why? Because I can 700 jars of produce a year, I spin yarn and I raise chickens. That's it! Living like my grandmother is worthy of tv time?????

I started doing it because it was the only way we could justify the "flower farm". I needed to off-set the loss of income.

I think you are smart -- I also think you are trendy. But you are definitely not nuts!!!

Of course, that statement comes from the rest of the choir! Great post, Deb!!!!

Kara said...

Deb that is why I am glad to have found these farm blogs and started blogging. It is great to know there are others out there to support and inspire us in our endeavors on our 43 acres and that if we are completely nuts, we are at least in good company! :) My husband made his first mozzarella the other day. It was very good and didn't bother my stomach. Yeah!

MaskedMan said...

700 jars? My grandmother did that in a few weeks... Literally. Regularly. *shrug* It's what she grew up doing, no big deal to her (though a lot of hard work for us kids!).
Different times, different yardsticks.

Don't buy into the hype or trends - Do what works, what makes sense. If people congratulate you for being "in the trend," well, you know why you're doing what your doing.
Keep on keeping on.

Deborah said...

Clink -- I figured I was preaching to the choir, but congrats on an excellent canning job! There are so many benefits to home canning. Every time I use a store-bought can of food, I wish it was a home-canned jar because that would be one less can that needs to be recycled, plus it would be organic. We're getting there though!

Kara -- Congrats on your first mozzarella! You'll get addicted so quickly, and store bought will never satisfy you again.

MM -- Different times, different yardsticks; I like that.

kristi said...

I truly enjoyed reading your post! I am moving slowly in the direction of "homesteading, growing my own food etc." I learn, I make mistakes, its all a process but one that I enjoy! I am always surprised at individuals, even close friends, who are totally reluctant to try my farm eggs, like they think there is a real chick growing inside. I am thinking the store eggs have far more issues than mine do:)

Deborah said...

Kristi, It's great that you're willing to try. We all make mistakes! I hope that by sharing my mistakes with people, it will shorten the learning curve for them a bit.

I know what you mean about people being reluctant to try your eggs. What really surprised me once was when I took a cheesecake to a potluck dinner of goat breeders. One woman complimented me, and I said, "Thanks! It's made with goat cheese." She paused with her fork in mid-air, stopping chewing, and after a several long seconds, she said, "It's good." It amazes me how many people raise goats, milk them for shows, and dump the milk. Very sad!

JK said...

I am glad I found your blog. I can relate to so much :-)
The hubby says if it were easy everyone would be doing it. Though I think like you, if I can do it, anyone could.
I grew up watching and learning from my grandmother and grandfather in working their gardens and can. Back in their day it was the only way to survive (depression, WWII-victory gardens). We do it now because we enjoy the way of life.
Thanks for sharing :-)

Claire said...

I love this post. We joined a CSA when we lived in town. I loved it, and put raised beds in my backyard, but it wasn't enough. We now live on 8.5 acres (which seems tiny compared to yours) but we now have 20 goats, 7 sheep, 2 donkeys, loads of chickens, and 4 llamas. We have a huge veg garden and do all we can to grow our own food. I have regular egg customers and enjoy sharing our harvest. What really irritates me is the lack of recycling in our area. That's something I can't fix on my own. Nowhere takes coloured glass! Why not?! I am collecting my blue bottles for an art project....although I don't know what it is yet!

Deborah said...

JK -- I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's latest book, "In Defense of Food." We may soon discover that growing your own or at least buying it fresh and local is the "only way to survive" for our generation. It's interesting and frightening!

Claire -- I found a company on the web that takes old wine bottles and turns them into glasses. We've been saving ours, and I want my husband to see if he can do it. He has a tile cutter, which I'm thinking should work since tile is brittle like glass They also make glass tile, and I should ask the people at the home improvement stores if you have to do anything special to cut it. We might wind up with a huge mess on our hands, but if not, we'll have some very pretty glasses. I think the company on the web is called Green Glass or something like that.

Claire said...

Great idea for the glasses! Thanks! We also have a rock tumbler. I was thinking of breaking the bottles (carefully) and putting pieces in the rock tumbler to make "sea glass" of a sort, and then using it in mosaic tiles for my garden pathways. Might work?


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