Archive for the ‘Sustainable Farming’ Category

I haven’t posted in so long that I’ve never even posted about our chickens.  Chickens became legal in our town in April of 2013, and we got our girls in September 2013.  This is our coop that we built ourselves from mostly reclaimed/free/used materials from craigslist, and a few new things that I couldn’t find there, like a few pieces of lumber and paint.


And here are our ladies….







And that’s it for tonight.  I can’t wait to show you more soon!

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Whew!  I got all of these huge nails out of ONE of the 4×4’s. 
I also got seven 1×6’s cleared of nails.  Hard work, but I’m going to love my chicken coop all the more for the work, sustainability, and thrift that went into it.
Tomorrow night, I’ll take off the tarp and have at it again!

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In between ratcheting bolts out, ferrying giant pieces of channel-molded galvanized steel out to the trailers, finding and fetching tools, making sure people had water, and being available wherever a hand (or a foot) was needed, I took a lot of pictures and even a video.

Just a small disclaimer:  Please don’t ever, ever try any of this at home, or at somebody else’s home.  The property owner Kfir is a very smart man and had a lawyer friend write up a waiver that basically said if you fall off a ladder and flail to the ground in a heap, that is a bummer but you can’t sue Kfir.  And if you fall off the ladder AND cause damage to Kfir’s property, I’m afraid you’re going to be having a very bad day in many ways because you’re responsible for the damage, too.  We all signed the waiver, and immediately started doing very dangerous things of which our mothers would severely disapprove.  (Richard’s mother Donna very much disapproved of most, if not all, of the activities being performed on ladders.  She was vocal, adamant, and not at all swayed by our repeated justifications that “if the ladder wasn’t in a pool it wouldn’t be that high off the ground at all!”)

Here is a video of these brave souls taking one of the ribs down using nothing but a pool rake handle and ingenuity.  I think the takeaway here is that it’s very, very important to have friends and relatives just as optimistic and willing to sign away their rights to life and property as you are.

In this video, they make it look ridiculously easy.  Don’t be fooled.  This is never something you should ever remotely consider doing, especially if it takes place over a pool.  Ignore my voice at the beginning; not sure why it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in my own defense, we had been at it for something like seven hours by then.

Taking Down a Rib of the Beast

Again, thank you to the people who made this happen:  Brian, Steve, Lisa, Dick, Donna, Kfir, and Kfir’s FIL (I truly suck at names, I’m so sorry, Kfir’s FIL, it’s nothing personal, TRUST ME), you are all full of win.  Full to the brim with win.  Let us all drink deeply from the chalice of win, and be sated.  Huzzah for teamwork!!

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At 10:00 am today, there was this.

By 9:00 pm, there was this.

Because of this.

Nephew-in-law Brian, BFF’s Steve and Lisa, Muriel and Richard, FIL Dick and MIL Donna

The very, very best crew in the entire world you could ask to bring down a 42′ x 31′ greenhouse built over a giant green-slimed pool.  (Kfir and Kfir’s FIL were right in the thick of it, working their tails off, but aren’t in the pic.)

Guys, thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.  We could NOT have done this without you.

This is gonna be AWESOME.

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Aren’t they pretty?  These beautiful oblong orbs came from a couple who lives about 15 minutes away in Washington County.  They contacted us in response to a Craigslist ad Richard posted for some 2′ blue spruce trees he’d dug up out from our yard so he could plant peach trees in their places.  The couple offered to trade eggs for trees.  I asked Richard to inquire as to how the chickens were raised, were they pastured, free-range, etc.  It turns out their 16 chickens are friendly, hand-raised pets with benefits, and allowed to wander wherever their hearts desire as well as live out their natural lives.  The husband and wife, Dennis and Ann, were enthusiastic about inviting our family to come visit and meet their chickens and Shetland sheep.  They delivered our first dozen today, and we all chatted non-stop for almost three hours about all things sustainable and frugal.  We’re also taking the girls out to their house on Monday afternoon.  I can’t wait to see all of their chicken contraptions they were telling us about!

So of course now I want nothing more than a small, mobile chicken coop to house 4-8 lovely laying ladies.  The unfortunate fact is that all of Ozaukee County forbids backyard chickens on properties zoned as residential.  I’ve combed the last two year’s worth of my town’s meeting minutes for any mention of motions to amend the zoning restrictions on chickens, but I can’t find a single one.  Is it possible nobody has ever even ASKED for chickens in this town?  How can that be?

And is it coincidence that just a few weeks ago I was suddenly (and VERY inexplicably, especially to myself) inspired to become the secretary of the PTO board at Jessica’s school, when I’ve never attended a single PTO meeting?  A position that allows me to observe polished, assertive, diplomatic women deftly navigating the choppy waters of such a politically-charged group as a PTO?  Somebody has plans for our new sustainability endeavors, I’m telling you, and it’s certainly not me driving the bus here.  There are bigger forces at work.  With absolute gut certainty, I know I’m heading true north, where the air is sweet and sharp and impossibly, achingly, clear.

I’m so glad you’re here with me.

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Tiny little flowers Abby and Jess picked for me

What a weekend!

Rhubarb pre- and post-hacking.

This basket is much fuller than it appears.  Trick photography.  Then, the final gallon-size bag of rhubarb for future goodies.

Abby and Jess ran through the sprinkler on Saturday during our unseasonably warm, pre-rain 90 degree day.  Afterwards, Abby wanted to watch her “bee friends”, so she curled up by the hive entrance to watch them all working.

How much do you love those little toes peeking out from under the towel?  I didn’t think it was going to get this warm this soon, so I hadn’t bought her a running-through-the-sprinkler suit yet.  She’s wearing one of those suits with the floaties built into it, which is why she looks like she has a belt of bricks around her middle.

We have a very thick row of strawberry plants that we moved last fall to be out from under the eaves.  They are loaded with little green berries.  Their production may actually outpace the kids and the birds this year!

We had a campfire in the backyard Saturday night, complete with s’mores.  No, I did not make the graham crackers or marshmallows.  We DID use a Green & Black Organic milk chocolate bar though.  I’d have to say that I do not have the same taste for s’mores that I used to.  Next time I think I will make the grahams because Nabisco isn’t doing it for me anymore.  Anybody got any ideas for marshmallow substitutes, or a decent recipe?  I don’t know how you’d make marshmallows without processed ingredients, considering I’ve never seen a marshmallow tree nor do I expect to in my lifetime.  Well, I guess one shouldn’t underestimate Monsanto’s gene technology, though.  So really, there might be a jet-puffed marshmallow tree at some point.  But I wouldn’t eat them anyways because they’d be GMO marshmallows.  So, moot point.

Richard with his two girls, and his new compost bins he made last week.  He got the pallets for the compost bins for $2 apiece on, you guessed it, Craigslist.  He has alerts set up with keywords so as soon as any postings are put up he gets an email alert.

On Sunday we called on a craigslist listing for retaining wall blocks.  The guy wanted $50 for 75 of them, then $.50/block after that.  We ended up with 200+ blocks for $110.  We had to disassemble the guy’s retaining wall and load them up on our 8-foot trailer, and it took us 3 trips altogether.  We only live about 5 minutes away from where they were so it wasn’t that big of a deal, except it was 90 degrees out and starting to rain, so we managed to get it all done in a little under two hours.  It’s such a good feeling to be able to be in such a win-win situation, with reusing materials and getting a great deal on it at the same time.

And…. you’re not going to believe what we else we got on Sunday.  We are going to disassemble it on June 2nd with the help of some family and friends.  Want to see?

Yes!  We found it on Craigslist.  It’s a 50′ x 20′ galvanized steel frame greenhouse.  The two endcaps are polycarbonate, and it comes with the blower motor for the double-paned plastic walls, and the ventilation fan, and all the wiring.  It’s gorgeous.  Right now it’s over a pool, but the new owner of the house it’s at wants to fill the pool in and get rid of the greenhouse so we were able to make a great deal for both of us.  We are going to grow so much stuff in this thing!

Bonus points if you recognized the post title as the title of a Calvin and Hobbes book.

(This post also shared here on http://FrugallySustainable.com.)

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After seeing the documentary Fresh, we decided a family trip to Growing Power would be a great idea.  Growing Power is a non-profit organization and land trust that was created in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by its founder and CEO, Will Allen.  The original Community Food Center is located in what is still considered a food desert, with the average resident needing to travel 3 miles to get to fresh produce.  However, this is cut down from 5 miles, which is what it was before Growing Power was created.

From the website:

“Community Food Centers are local places where people can learn sustainable practices to grow, process, market, and distribute food.  The prototype for Community Food Centers, as mentioned in our mission, is the Growing Power facility at 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  This historic two-acre farm is the last remaining farm and greenhouse operation in the City of Milwaukee.  Since 1999, our Community Food Center has provided a wonderful space for hands-on activities, large-scale demonstration projects, and for growing a myriad of plants, vegetables, and herbs.  In a space no larger than a small supermarket live some 20,000 plants and vegetables, thousands of fish, and a livestock inventory of chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits, and bees.”

How inspiring!  We are in the process of planning a greenhouse complete with aquaponics.  It will probably go on the 30′ x 50′ cement pad out back.  We’re thinking a geodosic dome would be the way to start.  It’s efficient to heat and inexpensive to build compared to standard greenhouses.  We could use the vertical space efficiently too.  Richard is reading a book right now called The Essential Urban Farmer (Carpenter and Rosenthal, 2011).  It’s written like a textbook so it’s very easy to follow with lots of illustrations, great ideas, and frugal approaches to start-up and problem-solving.  The authors have proven that their ideas work through their own experiences with urban farming.  All in all, a great book to read, learn from, and reference going forward.

I’m reading The American Way of Eating (McMillan, 2012).  Tracie McMillan goes undercover in the fields of California, a Michigan Wal-Mart, and a New York Applebees to discover why the working poor eat the way they do.  I’m about halfway through and so far she hasn’t covered much about food.  I wonder if that’s the point, that the working poor are so busy surviving that there’s not much energy left to focus on food.  Well, I guess I am being a bit disingenous – of course that’s her point.  This makes food deserts even more defeating.  If you barely have energy or resources to obtain and prepare food when it’s readily available, how are you going to afford go the extra mile (or five, or ten round-trip) to obtain fresh produce?

This is a real problem, and one that costs billions of dollars in healthcare every year.  There’s no monetary motivation for companies to make whole, fresh produce available when there is much more money to be made from processed foods.  It’s the seed companies, the fertilizer and pesticide companies, the pharmaceutical companies (who supply the antibiotics in the CAFO chicken, pork, and beef feed), and the food processing companies who make the real money, not the farmer who grows the food.  General Mills’ biggest profit center is their cereal division.  They’re taking the most inexpensive commodity available (GMO corn subsidized by the government, aka the taxpayer) and charging a premium by making it into many different forms that are essentially the same product.  This is what is in the middle aisles of the local supermarket; aisles and aisles of the same three ingredients in different iterations.  GMO soy, GMO corn, and GMO canola.

I’m not really sure where we’re going with this greenhouse we’re planning.  I don’t think it’s going to end with us being merely self-sustaining.  I think I’ve got too much to bitch about for that to be the case.  Apparently Richard and I have too much energy for it to end there as well, because we wore out the chicklets at Growing Power.

This post was also entered in the blog hop over at Frugally Sustainable

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