A Year of Picnics


The Essential Book of Homesteading
















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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Guest Post: The Road to the Farm

I’ve got another great post for you. Today you’ll be meeting Anna, the blogger behind The Road to the Farm. From her apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota, she and her husband are carving out a handmade, homemade life, and not letting a lack of land stop them. Here Anna shares her thoughts on and solutions for homesteading on a small scale.

Home Grown Dreams
Anna Hewitt

“Do you dream of having a few acres, growing your own food, keeping chickens, maybe a goat or two? Do you fantasize about walking out your back door and picking buckets of berries or apples or fresh corn? If your backyard is anything like mine, it has a few patches of grass and several cars occupying the parking spaces. As an apartment dweller and renter, I have all of these dreams and not a scrap of land to call my own. Although I hope to have a farm or homestead someday in the not too distant future, I am not letting my circumstances keep me from living the life I want.

A farm, or homestead, means different hopes, dreams and ideas for different people. My interest is strongly connected to my love of food (growing, cooking, preserving and eating it) so I focus my landless efforts on this. While I think it is crucially important to work toward your dreams and long-term goals, I believe in the importance of living your dreams now, despite your circumstances, rather than waiting until everything works out perfectly to make them happen. Here are some of my ideas for bringing your farm to you, no matter where you are.

Growing – You don’t need land of your own to start growing your food. You could start as small as a jar of sprouts on your kitchen counter. I have a shady area outside my back door and have filled it with containers of herbs, flowers, greens and a few vegetable plants. They could use a little more sun, but having plants right outside my kitchen brings me immense joy. I urge you to embrace your green thumb wherever you are and plant some seeds or seedlings.

Many towns have community gardens where you can rent a plot of land to grow on. If you are new to gardening this is a great way to learn from other growers and start on a small scale.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a system where farms sell shares of produce to customers. Often, CSA farms also offer works shares. If you are interested in learning about farming on a larger scale, you can learn by working on the farm in return for your share of produce. You can also join by paying up front for a whole season of produce. Frequently, CSAs encourage their members to become involved and get to know each other, which is an opportunity to join a community of others who are interested in local food.

Eating – If you don’t have time to grow it yourself, there are still many opportunities to find fresh produce to fill your kitchen. Farmer’s markets have sprung up all over the country. Buying directly from the farmer not only supports local agriculture, it is also a chance to get to know the people who grow your food. If you have questions about growing and eating in your region, your farmer probably has answers.

Pick-Your-Own farms are a good way to get lots of fruit (and sometimes vegetables) for freezing and canning. It is part of my summer ritual to pick and freeze strawberries and blueberries so we can eat them in pancakes, muffins, and smoothies for the rest of the year.

Throughout the summer, I keep in mind that all of the local abundant food isn’t going to last. If I have something extra, I try to freeze it. When tomatoes are piling up on farms and in markets, I buy an abundance and make salsa and sauce which I can for us to eat all winter. Even though I’m not growing it myself, I am still planning ahead and providing for the winter.

Making – I satisfy my need to create, grow, and make it myself by making as much of our food from scratch as I can. I don’t have a cow or a goat, but I can get organic, locally produced milk from my co-op. I make yogurt weekly and make crème fraiche, butter and a soft cheeses whenever I can. My sourdough starter lives on the counter and I tend it with the care I will eventually bestow on a flock of chickens. Weekly bread baking is a ritual that keeps me connected to our food needs. Building, brewing, fermenting, and crafting are among many other ways of cultivating your creative side.

Connecting – Though I hope to one day produce much of my own food, I don’t believe in self-sufficiency. No one can do it all themselves and, if they did, they would miss out on the benefits of what their neighbors can provide. Community thrives in urban and rural areas, in gardens and on sidewalks.

Wherever you live, chances are there are other people who are interested in growing, eating, and making from scratch. Some may already have land or practice skills that you want to learn. Connecting with other people who are living handmade lives can be an incredibly rich resource. Here in the Twin Cities, I attend a monthly food swap where I get to meet other people who love homemade, share something from my kitchen, and try what they’ve made. There are meet up groups, skill shares, canning classes, farm tours and neighbors out there ready to teach you more and learn from your experiences.

Whether you have a field, a window box, or a worm bin, how are you bringing your homemade and home grown dream to life?”

Thank you, Anna, for your inspiring post! If you’ve got something you think might resonate with small measure readers, hit me up! We’ll see if we can’t work something out.

The Pleasures of Slow Food (+Giveaway!!!)

I’m not certain of the exact time I became acquainted with the Slow Food movement, but as soon as I did, it immediately resonated with me.

The movement’s stated mission of seeking food that is equally “good, clean & fair” cuts to the core of my food interests. Slow Food’s claim “we believe that the food we eat should taste good; be produced in a clean way that does not harm the environment, animal welfare, or human health; and that its producers should receive fair remuneration for their work” are words that flow just as freely from my own lips.

In the summer of 2008, I traveled alone (someone has to stick around to care for our little homestead, this being before we’d secured a trusty house-sitter!) to San Francisco for Slow Food America‘s “Come to the Table” conference. It proved to be a life-changing, immensely transformative experience, that won’t soon be forgotten.

We’re all about “slow” living, chez English. From drawn-out, rambly meals with friends, to spontaneous pancake breakfasts with my mom (we added fresh blueberries & wineberries from the yard to Hub’s “pancakes of perfection” this past Sunday!), we adore taking time, care, love, attention, precision, and fascination with all things food related.

And so, in recognition of my slow food love affair, today I’m offering up The Pleasures of Slow Food, a gorgeous book loaded with recipes that take a bit of time, but are worth every delicious bite. To enter, simply list the food you love to make that takes a bit of extra time, love, and/or elbow grease. I’ll offer mine: salted chocolate chip cookies. Not the sort of affair you whip up and consume in 30 minutes, these tasty morsels require the patience of 36 hours before their sweet salty goodness is yours. Do it, though. Bide your time, read a novel (this is my recent fascination), make some lemonade, count fireflies, and then, finally, eat your heart out.

The giveaway will run through next Monday, July 11th (which, incidentally, is my 35th birthday!), midnight EST. PLEASE leave a way for me to contact you, should you be the winner, via either an e-mail address, blog, or website. I’ll randomly choose a winner (via the random widget) and post the winnings the next day.

I’ve had inquires about why I only open my contests to U.S. residents. The answer is that I’m just a simple, stay-at-home writer and mom, on a budget like so many others. If international folks would like to try their hand at winning, that’s fine by me, just know that I might need you to go in on the postage with me, perhaps via Pay Pal, as one small measure wrote and suggested.

*If you’d like to read another “slow”-focused small measure post, check out this little ditty on “slow design” from awhile back.

This Is How We Do It

We three Englishes enjoyed an al fresco lunch today. We nibbled on a cobbled together “Ploughman’s lunch”, featuring local cheese from Spinning Spider, meat from Hickory Nut Gap farm, dill spears, an olive & caper berry medley (thanks, Nicole, for passing these over to us after last week’s picnic!), an aged Cheddar, beet pie with horseradish cream, and fresh iced tea. The wee-est amongst us feasted on N.C.-grown sweet potatoes.

Nothing beats eating outside. Its long been my favorite way to dine. When Hubs lived in Vermont long ago, he used to eat outdoors even during the cruelest winter days. Huxley seems to dig it, too.

We’re off to Charlotte tomorrow to celebrate my nephew Jimmy’s first birthday. It’ll be a treat having the cousins, only 3 1/2 months apart in age, play together, giggle together, and just be boys together.

May you all have a lovely weekend. I’m thinking we’ll gather some folks chez English this Monday for the holiday. We picked up a kiddie pool for Huxley, the blueberries & wineberries are in high gear, the breeze is just fine, and we love entertaining.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, may it be grand!