|Homegrown meal: barbecue goat ribs, corn on the cob, and salad of|
tomato, radish, cucumber, carrot, and a volunteer lettuce. The only
purchased items were the salad dressing, barbecue sauce, and salt.
When we first bought our homestead, I envisioned a garden full of the vegetables we love, an orchard producing our favorite fruits, bins of homegrown grains, jars of honey and homemade vinegar, a greenhouse for fresh, winter vegetables, and a pantry stocked with everything we love to eat. The fact of the matter is that some things don't grow well in our part of the world, not everything grows equally well every year, and some things are very time consuming and labor intensive to keep on hand. On top of that, this year's summer weather has made gardening a real challenge. I'm guessing most of you will agree. If you haven't had endless sunless days and rain like we have, then you've likely had horrific heat and drought. Neither extreme makes for good gardening.
All of this points to the often unspoken uncertainties of working toward a self-sustaining food supply. There simply are no guarantees, which is probably why folks were so willing to leave the farm when the industrial revolution swept through. Yet here we are and, if you're still reading, you likely have the same yearning to return to a closer relationship with the land, to know where your food comes from, and to be involved in the process of taking care of yourself.
|As difficult as it has been to learn to kill our animals for meat, grains are the |
thing that remain elusive in terms of success. Hand processing homegrown
wheat for one loaf of bread is labor intensive but doable. Threshing, winnowing
& grinding a quarter acre of wheat by hand is daunting. Corn is much easier.
I have come to realize that, for this endeavor to be successful, there are some things that I need to rethink. I need to relearn concepts I have about food and eating if I'm going to consider our lifestyle a success. I come from a grocery store background, where variety and picture-perfect produce are the norms. The time of year doesn't matter; everything is always available and always beautiful.
I've had to rethink our diet. While it is certainly possible to grow everything we like to eat, it isn't realistic. Perhaps if all we had was the garden I could do it, but our life is more than just the garden. It makes more sense to simplify our diet. This is the nitty-gritty of local and seasonal eating. We eat what we have and we preserve or store the extra. This means learning to live with less variety ("What? Eggs again?") as well as many non-traditional meals ("Vegetable soup for breakfast?)
I've had to rethink quality. It's interesting to read books such as Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle , or Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister. Both of these books point out that grocery store standards are not the norm in the natural world. In the real world foods taste different (usually better) and look different (usually worse). I've had to discard my standard of perfection. Nothing is thrown away simply because of a bad spot or a few bird pecks. Just cut that off and feed it to somebody else; chickens and goats are only too happy to fight over such tidbits.
I've had to rethink my expectations. I can't "count on" anything. Last year, breeding season was a failure and none of our does had kids. That meant no milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, kefir. This year, our blueberries and figs have produced bumper crops, but the garden has not. Some things were a no-show such as peppers and egg plants. Other things have produced, but not in huge quantities: cucumbers, tomatoes, and okra. Even my 9 laying hens are only giving me 2 or 3 eggs per day. I can say it is likely due to too much rain and too little sun, but my plans of bulging my pantry shelves with pizza sauce and pickled okra have dissolved into wondering how we'll make it without pizza every Friday night.
|This year's carrot crop. I planted a bed but got just one, which I only |
found when I was clearing the bed to plant fall beets and lettuce!
I've had to rethink food habits. This is actually a tough one because we get used to preparing and eating certain foods. Sometimes it's the convenience of grabbing a box out of the cupboard and simply adding water. Sometimes it's because these foods comfort us, our personal "soul" foods, the foods we grew up with (like macaroni and cheese made with velveeta.) These are the foods we tend to crave.
The biggest challenge is learning to be content with my life, just as it is right now. Learning not to be dissatisfied with what we have, learning not to fret when abundance isn't there, learning not to worry about what the future will be. The late Larry Burkett likened worry to paying interest on a debt one didn't owe.
|Zed and Buster Brown, anxious for their bottles. Ziggy's triplets turned 3|
months old on Aug. 27. The boys have been neutered and now live with the
bucks. They still get bottles of milk, increasingly diluted with water.
Most things in the self-sufficient lifestyle, even when I'm doing my best, are beyond my control: weather, germination rate, animal death. Ultimately, it makes no sense to worry about them. Yet human nature likes things predictable and wants a guarantee on every outcome. God's natural world isn't that way; the point being, I think, so that we learn not rely too much on ourselves. True contentment implies trust.
Dissatisfaction, often disguised as ambition, is what keeps us unhappy. We assume contentment means complacency, but we humans want to make our mark upon the world! That may be a virtue in worldly society, but for the homesteader it is a liability. Yes, we need to be realistic about our goals and how we plan to achieve them, but we need to balance that with thankfulness for what we've already accomplished.
I wish I could say I've mastered all this, but I can't. I can say that these are things I am working on learning, new habits I am cultivating. I see them as being key in our quest for self-sufficiency, and truly, for all of life.
Taking Stock © September 2013