Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Growing your own is in!

Molly and calf
There are some things in life that you would prefer to forget, and up until a couple weeks ago, the Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo was one of those things. Six years ago, I was scheduled to speak in two separate sessions, one on homesteading and one on heritage livestock. The homesteading talk was attended by four people. No one showed up for the heritage livestock talk, and when a volunteer told organizers that no one showed up for my talk, they asked him to sit there and listen. I told him he didn't have to do that, but he insisted. It turned out that he was a college ag student who grew up on a modern farm. With only him in the room, my talk quickly turned into a debate as he was firmly convinced that organic agriculture just didn't work in the real world, and heritage livestock really had nothing to offer real farmers and ranchers.

For days -- no, weeks -- I kept thinking, "I should have said ___ or ___!" It was the first time anyone had ever argued with me about organics and sustainability, and I was not prepared at all. When we told everyone we were moving to the country in 2002 to grow our own food, they all looked at us like we had lost our minds. They really didn't know what to say, so most didn't say much. My father, who had lived on a farm his entire life until I was three years old, looked at me quizzically, paused for a long time, then finally said, "What do you want to do that for?" The goal in his life was to have a real job so he could make enough money to buy all of his food. And so I grew up eating canned ravioli, frozen pizza, and lots of hamburgers and burritos from local fast food places.

Thinking about the past month is like traveling to a new universe -- one where people are concerned about their food and want to grow their own, one where my lifestyle is cool instead of weird. In the past month, I've had five speaking engagements, two newspaper interviews, and a radio interview. Here is one of the newspaper articles, and here's the other one. Another reporter is coming over today to interview me. I spoke at the Illinois Sustainable Living and Wellness Expo on homesteading and backyard chickens two weeks ago, and both sessions were packed with about seventy people. From young couples to retirees, people want to take control of their food. Thirty-one people spent a whole day at a Homesteading Conference a few weeks ago, learning to raise livestock, compost, and preserve the fruits of their labor by canning.

But the good news doesn't stop there. Tractor Supply in Blomington, IL, can't keep up with demand for its livestock feed. For the past month, they keep running out of various feeds, and a friend from Kentucky told me her Tractor Supply down there is having the same problem. I also noticed that every time I went into the store for the past month, their chick brooders have been empty. Yesterday, they were full, and there was an employee giving them food and water. I started talking to her and learned that they can't keep the chicks in stock. Every time they get a shipment, they sell out within a few hours. They have only had chicks in the store overnight once this spring!

I'm really excited about this new consciousness, and not just because Homegrown and Handmade is coming out this fall, which by the way, is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I'm excited because there are so many positive aspects to growing your own food -- you get exercise, you eat healthier, and you get outside more. And this leads into tomorrow's post about why we should do our best to avoid Big Ag and Big Biz products as much as possible. Although we're growing most of our own food now, there are still plenty of things on my to-do list, including bee hives and mushrooms. But I love hearing about what other people have started to do or are planning to do, so don't be shy -- share your successes and your plans for the future in the comment section.


Mr. and Mrs. Hoosier Homesteader said...

We pre-ordered a copy of your book. My husband and I are still fairly young, and I can remember 6 years ago my sisters making fun of our gardening hobby (at 21 years old we were supposed to be enjoying the night life). Now my sisters are asking for gardening advice, having us help them build raised beds, and buying meat and eggs from us. It's nice to have more folks on the same wavelength now.

Anonymous said...

We moved back home to VT after living in MT for three years to start our "farm". Within two months we had three sheep, a few laying hens, two dairy goats, and 20 meat birds.

Today our farm is home to 23 laying hens, 12 adult Shetland sheep, 9 lambs, 1 Nubian-Alpine goat and her twin wethers, five piglets, and soon we'll have a variety of turkey poults, new layers, and a new batch of meat birds.

Over the past three years we have: milked a goat, been witness to live births, made goat cheese, eaten only our own eggs and chicken, stocked our freezer with pork and lamb, skirted fleeces, built fences, learned how to drive a tractor, and planted a 17,000 square-foot garden.

In the future we plan to expand our flock of Shetlands, plant more fruit trees, and learn how to turn our Shetland fleece into something useful.

My life is fulfillng and productive; there is never a dull moment on the farm!

I can't wait to read your book! I LOVE reading your blog. You are truly an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

(In addition to Annonymous above)

And I almost forgot to mention our English Shepherd, Gus! He is a huge help herding chickens around the farm.

Sheryl said...

We are part of the "back to the country crowd". We both grew up in the city. But for the last 15 years as we raised our 8 children, we have been looking for land. Finally, we bought 40 acres. This last fall we started creating our little farm. We now have Dexters; one bull and four cows, three dairy goats and a buck, a rooster and 15 chickens, St Croix; a ram and 5 ewes and now six new lambs, bees and fish. It is really exciting. We are trying to get in our garden but the rain is never ending! I love your blog.

The Headstrong Housewife! said...

Reading your blog is what keeps me going! There are days when I just want to give it all up and just buy food I can throw in the freezer, but when I read your blog and others about homesteading it reminds me why I want to do this! It inspires me to keep going!

We have 15 chickens, 6 are for meat, and 9 are for eggs, and that is just the beginning!!!

Penny said...

I work in a small town library and have noticed how the gardening, homesteading, urban farming books are flying off the shelves. I requested many of those books be purchased so I'm very pleased to see them checked out most of the time!

When I have an opportunity to talk to customers they all say the same thing "I want to know the source of my food."

Jane said...

I think growing your own is wonderful,we are growing two gardens,I hope they do good. Food is getting so high,don't know what people are going to do if they don't grow their own. Blessings jane

James and Marin said...

We're relatively new to homesteading. We purchased our farm three years ago, but both my husband and I continued to work in the city for the first year and a half, leaving little time for the farm side of things.

I'm now staying at home and building our goat cheese business. We also have chickens for eggs and meat, and we're going to try a few (10) meat turkeys this year. If we like them then I intend to track down breeding stock of the Ridley Bronze, a heritage turkey developed in this province.

We've done small amounts of gardening, but we're going to have a large one this year.

I have a toddler as well, and I've started researching home-based education so I really enjoy reading your blog as you cover a lot of what we intend to do.

Marin Waddell

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Yes. Homesteading is hot. But is it real ? We often have folks come to our farm looking for a day of flirting butterflies and soft cuddly baby animals but when we suggest that manure must be spread, cows udders must be washed and pigs moved from one pasture to another, including the 600 pound boar who smells like..a boar, they will shy away. The "Idea" of homsteading in sweet, the reality is very tough. We need more farmers to take in students for weeks at a time, to get a real taste of sustainable farming. Who is willing to do that ?

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

I love hearing what everyone is doing! And Penny, it's great that people are reading and learning more. That's how it all starts.

Donna, I know what you mean. We've had people talk about volunteering or apprenticing, and after spending a day out here, they decide it's not for them. But the good news is that so many people are thinking about it now. And based on the sales of poultry from hatcheries, seed catalogs, and my local Tractor Supply, a lot more people are actually doing it. And we have two apprentices lined up for this summer.


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