One of my favorite books is The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour. I love this book not only for its information, but for its inspiration. Reading it makes me feel that, eventually, we just might be able to have an actual homestead (beyond our 1/8 acre in the middle of the city) to call our own! Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot to learn, but I do trust we will get there someday … and hopefully sooner rather than later!
With fall upon us, I most recently pulled out this book in order to glean a bit of information on how to string up some onions. We didn’t harvest many, but even a few onions can look nice all strung up! According to the book, once you've made sure they've dried/cured completely and that they all have long enough stalks to support them being tied together, the next steps are pretty simple:
- Start by knotting four of them together (using their own stalks - I used string)
- Then add onions, one by one, to the original four, twisting the stalks around the string (I added a few at a time and then tied the string around the stalks).
- Once all the onions have been added, you're supposed to braid the remaining stalks around the string. Then, simply hang 'em up.
- Being a complete novice, I forgot the braiding part and just tied a few knots before cutting the remaining stalks off. Ugh. You’re supposed to leave the stalks attached so the onions are less susceptible to bacteria and molds.
- Then, hang them up in a cool, dry, dark place (ours go into the pantry)
Simple as the project is, apparently there is still room for Newbie mistakes! But they sure look good hanging next to a professionals garlic braid, don’t they? I look forward to the day when I can string up some onions without even having to think about it! Like I said before, we’re a long way off from owning a piece of land, having a million tools under our belts and becoming self-sufficient, but we will get there, one step at a time (even if we stumble a bit on our path)!
I grew up in a small city in the high desert; my partner grew up on the outskirts of a big city in the Midwest. Neither of us grew up with our hands in the soil with the intention of growing our own food or chasing chickens and collecting eggs or participating in seemingly endless canning marathons to preserve the bounty for later consumption. Instead, we pounded the pavement, swam in city pools, and participated in regular trips to the grocery store, like the majority of people in our and similar generations. We are very familiar with all of the conveniences that society has slowly put in place over the past 100+ years, and we are grateful for them.
So, why did we embark on a life that is less convenient? A life that requires us to work more and rest less? Well, I wish I had a quick answer for you! The truth is, there wasn’t a single A-Ha! Moment; it was simply an evolution of our collective curiosities. You know, the “What if we tried this?” kind of mentality. This started with a few tomato plants, then growing a few more veggies and quickly evolved into tearing apart our front and back yards to add even more green and goodness into our lives. It also started with five chickens, kind of on a whim, and has evolved into 15 laying hens and what we call their “Chicken Mansion”. Oh, and let’s not forget the bees we have kept and will keep again, despite my newly discovered allergy to their stings … Or the compost that started in a small black bin and has grown into a living organism all on its own, contained only by the straw bales that create its boundaries!
Aerial View of Our 1/8 Acre Urban Farm
The truth is, we like to learn as we go, and we evolve constantly. We like to read and research and try things on our own. If those things fail, it’s OK, because the process was probably fun (or, if it wasn’t fun, it probably imparted a little wisdom). And, our evolution has led us from an outside/external/consumerist focus to an inside/internal/productive focus, physically, mentally and (for me personally) spiritually.
For now, let’s stick to the physical.
The soil moving, fence building, chicken chasing, raised bed constructing, physical labor of it all. There is the sweat and smashed fingers, the splinters and sunburns to contend with … not fun, not pretty and definitely not convenient. But the rewards are plenty and come in the most delicious form: Food! The hard work of the past few years has brought us over 800 pounds of food and well over 5000 eggs! And every single ounce of it was tended by our own hands, cared for from seed and chick to fruit and egg … delicious, organic, healthy, ours. And from that bounty, we are being given the opportunity to learn yet another skill; food preservation! So, we are dehydrating and canning and fermenting our own foods to keep in the pantry and garage until they are needed or simply craved.
Our First Attempt at Fermentation: Homegrown Cayennes into Hot Sauce
Now, we live right in the middle of my hometown, right in the middle of the little city I pounded the pavement in, so what’s the purpose of growing our own instead of making the three minute trip to the grocery store or the 11 minute trip to the Farmers’ Market twice a week? I guess the simple answer is because we can. We are simply choosing to do things the hard way because it feels right, it is fun, it is healthier for us personally and for the planet and it is helping us learn skills that were (unfortunately) not passed down to either of us growing up.
It is our hope that, through these processes, we can learn enough skills to eventually make the move to a larger piece of property and our own farm eventually. In the meantime, we hope to inspire our children and community to choose, on some level, a less convenient life as well … simply because it is fun and so very fulfilling and really, who doesn’t like fresh eggs?!
P.S. You can read more about our experiences in urban farming at http://skymindedandevergrowing.blogspot.com/.
I have vivid memories of playing in nature as a little girl. I still hold visions of my three-year-old self watering my mom’s plants on the front porch of our tiny little adobe house on Polaco Street … the warm sun on my little body … my long hair pulled back in a ponytail … the buzzing of the honey bees around my ears … the crisp blue sky high above my head … the sweet texture of the soil in-between my toes … the smile on my mom’s face.
I remember running through the fields of wildflowers by my grandmother’s house in Truchas, collecting peacock feathers from the property next door and climbing every tree I could get a foot hold on. I investigated arroyos, teased the horny toads and actually took time to stop and smell the flowers that, along with countless cacti, sprinkled the expansive land around our temporary home in Lamy. I was hopelessly in love with the quiet nature I found all around me.
Growing chamomile to make our own teas in the winter has been such a wonderful experience! There really is nothing like homegrown tea!
As I got older and we changed homes a couple more times, I found myself spending every waking moment I could outside. It didn’t matter if I was simply playing in the rocky dirt or lying on a soft patch of grass, I simply longed for the expansiveness of the world outside the four walls we called home. I enjoyed watching my mom plant cosmos and tomatoes, carrots and sunflowers, but rarely helped out. Despite my early love of nature and all the beauty I could access around me, I didn’t find my passion for cultivating any small patch of earth until I was in my early thirties.
Trying our hands at DIYing everything we can has been quite the adventure! Grinding our own garlic powder has been one of my favorite experiences over the past couple of years!
My mom had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen, and while I wish I had had the foresight to glean some of her gardening wisdom from her before she passed, I simply wasn’t interested until a few years ago. It seems, though, that once my interest was sparked, it took off like a wildfire. One tomato plant became six, which quickly became 16. This year, our garden includes several different varieties; canning, cutting and (of course) cherry tomatoes are among our most favorite. In addition to the tomatoes, we are also growing a multitude of other vegetables, herbs and seeds, including, but not limited to, spinach and kale, cucumbers and butternut squash, bush beans and potatoes, basil and mint, broccoli and cayenne peppers, sunflowers and zucchini. Our garden has become a continued effort to grow as much of our own food on the 1/8 acre we purchased in 2007 as is possible. Our garden also works in a beautiful collaboration with our flock of laying hens. Everything is connected, and through that connection, we are learning how to grow, harvest and preserve as much as we possibly can despite the limited time and space we have.
Now, if I could just figure out my mom’s famous tomato sauce, I’d be set.
We were not taught to put up food growing up, so we are doing our best to learn now. It's never too late, right?
Though I couldn’t tell you what exactly sparked this newfound passion, it could be a variety of reasons … The continued uncertainty of the economy and rising food prices balanced by the certainty of what we can grow on our own little plot. The cost to the environment of our food production methods and perceived necessity for planetary food imports and exports, and the excessive use of fossil fuels used to feed our wants and needs balanced by what I can find locally and sustainably. The pervasive use of genetically modified organisms in everything from corn to wheat to tomatoes and beyond balanced by my newfound love of the gorgeous heirloom varieties that so desperately need to be protected. There is much uncertainty on our planet right now, and cultivating a garden not only feeds my family, it also brings me a bit of comfort.
We absolutely love our laying hens, not only for their production of amazing eggs, but also for their silly antics!
So, while I don’t remember a particular “a-ha” moment, I do believe that my passion may be rooted in my life-long fascination with seeds. Those tiny pieces of organic matter that, when cared for, contain endless possibilities. One seed, when placed in a warm, sustaining environment, taken care of and fed, given love and attention, will grow into a plant that produces beautiful foliage as well as vegetables or fruits. This inviting environment becomes a haven for the organisms around it (be they microorganisms, bugs, bees, birds, or any number of animals and amphibians, depending on your individual ecosystem) which can be both harmful and helpful to the plant. If the plant can survive the heat, downpours, munching of bugs and a variety of other challenges, it can grow to produce delicious sustenance for humans and animals alike. It is all quite fascinating and reminds me of our own human existence on this planet.
Fresh peas from the garden ... what more could you ask for?
What we have before us is a collective dream to produce more and consume less, to experience this world at its richest and leave it in better shape for our kiddos than it was made for us. Our collective goal is (most generally speaking, of course) to grow more, drive less, compost scraps, raise a few chickens (eat some good eggs), help the bees, know where our food is coming from and relish in the knowing that we are not alone. We do all this on our own itty bitty growing spaces in the middle of towns and cities and thousand acre parcels. We are all pieces of an intricate and beautiful puzzle, all working through the mud and the muck and sharing a common vision.