“Michael Pollan likens consumer choices to pulling single threads out of a garment. We pull a thread from the garment when we refuse to purchase eggs or meat from birds who were raised in confinement, whose beaks were clipped so they could never once taste their natural diet of worms and insects. We pull out a thread when we refuse to bring home a hormone-fattened turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. We pull a thread when we refuse to buy meat or dairy products from cows who were never allowed to chew grass, or breathe fresh air, or feel the warm sun on their backs.
The more threads we pull, the more difficult it is for the industry to stay intact. You demand eggs and meat without hormones, and the industry will have to figure out how it can raise farm animals without them. Let the animals graze outside and it slows production. Eventually the whole thing will have to unravel.
If the factory farm does indeed unravel – and it must – then there is hope that we can, gradually, reverse the environmental damage it has caused. Once the animal feed operations have gone and livestock are once again able to graze, there will be a massive reduction in the agricultural chemicals currently used to grow grain for animals. And eventually, the horrendous contamination caused by animal waste can be cleaned up. None of this will be easy.
The hardest part of returning to a truly healthy environment may be changing the current totally unsustainable heavy-meat-eating culture of increasing numbers of people around the world. But we must try. We must make a start, one by one.”
― Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating
Today was a very enjoyable day. We spent a few hours crocheting, and reading. Sabrina learned to crochet in circles, so she can begin learning to make hats, mittens, and many other fun things. Caroline learned to crochet a double stitch.Fun to learn something new and useful.
Before lunch, Caroline reminded me that today was the day we were supposed to call Farmer Sara to get an update on our baby goats. She said they had been born! The first Saanen on their farm was born yesterday, and it will be ours. Sara said that she would send us pictures tomorrow, find out when the vet is coming to do their check-up and give us a pick-up day. Hopefully it will be the next weekend. We will see…She said that there were several Alpine’s born, so Caroline will do her choosing tomorrow. She is hoping for a tan and darker brown colored goat. That is her favorite in the Alpine colors. We are beyond excited to get those pictures.
I did find out last night that a newborn dairy goat weighs between 5 and 7 pounds. So, it is possible that they could weigh more than Lolo at their birth. Lolo weighs about 6 pounds so now we can visualize the size of the box we need for our first week in the kitchen.
Tonight, after going into Marengo to the library, Sabrina, Jemie and I wandered around outside with the chickens. I picked up some tar paper that was on an old dog house that we tore down. It was showing through the snow because it got so warm today.( We are hoping to use the wood from the dog house for the nesting box construction.) While I was working hard trekking the tar paper form here to there, our Gold Lace Polish named Frannie, was making a lot of noise, She almost sounded like a rooster. I was distracted with my tar paper task, but I finally looked up to see what was going on. It was dusk, so it was time for all of the chickens to head into the barn. Frannie had decided that Sabrina needed to be in the barn too. She crowed louder and louder as Sabrina got further from the barn, and she followed her wherever she went. I told Sabrina to let Frannie herd her into the barn, so she did. She walked behind Sabrina the whole way and only stopped making all of her noise when Sabrina was safely inside the barn. Sabrina wasn’t willing to sleep in the barn under Frannie’s guard, so I snuck her out.
Frannie has taken over the rooster roll, thank goodness. It is always good to have someone watching out for everyone. Caroline read that when you do not have a rooster in your flock, this is what happens. A hen takes on the role and will sometimes even crow exactly like a rooster. They may also stop laying eggs.
We are getting a few more chickens this summer, and I am thinking one rooster might be a good idea. We want to find a Porcelain rooster to watch the flock. We had a Porcelain named Ferreed that we loved so much and was such a good rooster. He did not chase the girls and he made sure that everyone was in the coop at dusk. He was awfully pretty too.
Two eggs in the barn today. Buttercup is doing great. Her foot looks like nothing ever happened.
“…but the old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So, he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.”
Chief Luther Standing Bear
I love to see connections to other living creatures. That is what builds compassion and love for all beings, not just humans. Change a person’s relationship with food, animals and nature, and I really think we can change the world.
“When I go into the garden with a spade and dig a bed, I feel such exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Picked out my seeds last night for the garden. I love looking through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog. It makes me happy seeing all of the beautiful veggies, especially the potatoes, tomatoes and the onions. All of the wonderful things I can make with those ingredients.
Sabrina and I visited the chickens today and found that Chicken Melissa laid an egg in the new spot we created for nesting. We used old plastic bins and stacked them on top of each other. Filled them with hay, and voila… a warm spot to lay eggs. Melissa is our chocolate egg layer. She is a good size chicken, but her eggs are very small comparatively. I think I remember the eggs getting larger as they mature.
We are acting like expectant parents these days. The goats are expected to be born between now and February 6th. Farmer Sara said that the earliest we could be coming to pick them up is February 4th. We will be stopping by our property to pick up the electric fence posts the morning that we pick up the goats. They are so easy to move around and not very costly to run. Hopefully it will be enough power to keep the goats on the right side of the fence.
Oh… we have names. Drum roll, please. Sabrina’s Saanen will be named Luna. She is the color of the moon. Caroline’s Alpine will be named Areida (U-reeda) from a book, Ella Enchanted. They listen to the audio book almost every night, so it has lots of meaning.
I am hoping to have pictures of the newborns very soon.
“We are the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. And reclaiming democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom.” Vandana Shiva (Earth Democracy)
I will begin this journal entry with a paragraph from the book The Locavore Way by Amy Cotler:
Creating a healthier food system- what the food and agriculture writer Michael Pollan calls “sun-driven” rather than cheap oil- driven–is not just a dream. But it requires major policy changes to help cure some of the most pressing crises of our time. Our current food system, supported by once cheap oil, contributes up to 37 percent of greenhouse gases (by some estimates). Industrial agriculture is second only to cars in use of fossil fuel and is a major contributor to climate change. Food produced by our current system is fattening us beyond recognition, clogging our hearts and the health system, degrading local economies and our land, and leaving us with flavorless food. We need to re-think how we produce food and work for the policies that advocate those changes. So, let’s get going!
Ok Denise… Let’s get going. Even though I am struggling with this here in Riley Township, Il, I need to dig in.
The reason why I felt so good about living in River Falls, Wisconsin was I loved shopping at the food co-op that was just down the road in town. We visited the farm, Rising Sun, that grew most of the produce that was sold at Whole Earth Grocery. ( We made sure to visit the farm on days that the farmers were not practicing naturalistic farming. Look that one up). We invested our time and money in that local economy, we grew our own food, raised our chickens, and bartered for goods and services.
So, today, I am making a pledge to look deeper into the community we live in today, and find farms that are humanely raising their animals and sustainably farming their land, and patronize those businesses. I will continue learning about canning and dehydrating my “extra” produce for the winter months, from our garden. I look forward to the years of goat’s milk, from a very local place, my back yard. I really hope to grow, raise, and harvest all of our food sources, right here on this land, within the next 2 years.
I guess I am a locavore. It just does not always work out perfectly. Sometimes I have to think about how much money is left in the grocery budget or how far we are going to have to drive to buy local, or I just feel lazy. My heart is very local though. My heart is driving me to be the woman who sells the beautiful, humanely raised, sustainably grown food to the community I live in. I need to be and create what I want in this community. Gosh, I think I might want to be a farmer!
“The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today, I went out to the barn and found that one of the bantam chickens (Buttercup) had a bloody foot. I brought her in the house and soaked it in some warm water as she nibbled on oatmeal. It made laugh that Caroline commented on how nice it was that I was sharing my spendy gluten-free oats.
Her toenail seemed to be missing a bit. Sabrina held her as I used the hairdryer to dry her foot and then applied a bit of antibiotic cream. We went back out to the barn and Buttercup called for her sisters with a few distinct calls. I did wonder though if maybe she was bragging about her time inside eating expensive health food. Who knows.
I clipped the last of some wire mesh that was being stubborn on the wall in the barn. I thought maybe that stuff could have hooked Buttercups foot, and caused her injury. I probably won’t ever know unless I find a bloody nail somewhere. That wire was put up with that wonderful staple gun that I recently learned to refill. After seeing how difficult it was to get those staples out of the wall, I started feeling a bit of remorse about my possible over use of the tool. I think I went a little staple gun crazy. I am sure there is another tool out there that will help me when I need to deal with the staple aftermath.
I titled this writing Grateful for one very good reason. I feel grateful today. I am going to type the one good reason why, so I can look back and remind myself on those harder days that all is well, but never perfect.
So, here it goes: I love my daughters.
I laughed really hard today with Caroline and Sabrina as they read funny quotes from their new books from the library. (Of course it was about farts and thongs. What else is there to laugh about?) We ate homemade pizza at the kitchen table, and talked about how much better this one was from the last. Caroline and I discussed the way we used to eat when she was really little. She remembered eating Dinosaur Egg oatmeal. It is where the dino eggs (sugar) slowly dissolve as you eat and you are left with babydinosaurs. She informed me that would not fly today.
I love being these girl’s mom. They impress me continuously. I can say that because they have just come through me, and I don’t have a darn thing to do with the beauty that shines right from within them. I am so grateful for making the choices we have in our life to make it so we can all learn together during the day and learn through active engagement in our life. I love that these girls get to spend a little less time ” being trained away from true self, towards images of acceptability”. I have real hope that they are really getting to know themselves and are already claiming their “giftedness”, which is their birthright, as Author Parker Palmer says. I am reclaiming that birthright as they are digging deep into who they are, and loving what is there. I am learning as we go, but I sure am grateful.
“There is nothing noble about being superior to some other person. True Nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”
I have had several conversations this week with a dear friend who has reminded me of something so critical to my spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health, I have to write it down. It is probably the single most important thing for me, today, to keep blooming. So here it is: Let go and love…
Instead of explaining what that means, I want to describe what it looks and feels like for me:
It is going out to the barn today and being Denise. Spending 3 hours pushing out old straw out and moving in the new stuff. It is looking at the bare cement in the barn, for the first time, and feeling so happy because I made that happen. It is feeling my arms ache, and loving it. It is seeing something I fixed yesterday in the barn and it works.There is no longer snow and rain getting in that area. It is watching Sabrina work so hard at getting those cobwebs out from between the wood slats, sweeping so diligently, and truly working her buttuski off raking the hay out the door. So proud of her. It is making calls to friends and feeling how much I am loved and they are loved right back. It is being so excited when we called Farmer Sara today to get an update on the goat’s arrival. It is really understanding when I let others be exactly who they are I get to be exactly me. It is being in this very present moment and feeling so glad to be myself.
My focus is on myself, which sounds so selfish, doesn’t it? If I am taking care of myself fully though, I really do believe that I will be a better mom, better friend, better wife, better farmer… All of the comparing and judging and trying to figure out everybody elses lives, only causes me anxiety and passifies my mind with emptiness.
I am learning how to focus on my own life, and to be open to being a positive force in others lives. I know that if I am not taking care of these deep passions that feel like are a sort of calling, I can never really be there for others in a healthy way.
So, today I celebrate taking action that celebrates me, like cleaning a barn. In doing this, I am letting go and loving.
Oh and by the way… it was Chris’ idea to use something like a cereal box to staple down over the plastic on the wood slats, so snow would not come in. The plastic continued to pop off after stapling it down over and over. I used dog food bags cut into strips and it is working great! Thanks Chris.
” I am more than I appear to be; all the world’s strength and power rest inside me…within me lies the sun, the moon, the sky and all of the wonders of the Universe and you too…”
I am feeling quite reflective this morning as we get closer to the arrival day of our goats.We are preparing and decorating the “goat box” today and going shopping for goat supplies in Harvard, Il. Harvard is in a direction that I have never been before, so it makes for a new adventure.Nipple and hay shopping are never dull.
No matter how much joy I feel about our soon to arrive goats, I have felt sad about the goats that we had to leave behind in River Falls. If you are not an animal person, it maybe hard to relate to what I am saying.. What I am saying goes beyond being an animal lover. Those goats, especially Moe, were apart of the beginning of knowing myself enough to risk looking like a failure to others and start embracing who I am. All of the long walks through the woods with the goats at my heals was so healing. It reminds me of the quote I love so much:” If a person does not keep pace with their companions, perhaps it is because he or she hears a different drummer. Let them step to the music which he or she hears.” I seem to hear that “Goat Song” that has been written about. I know I am not so unique but I know that I do not always fit with our cultures norms.
There were so many wonderful and frustrating times with those goats. I will never forget when our neighbor Mark came over and told us that the goats had been wandering over to his house when we were not home. He finally had to put his foot down (laughing). Mark said that he used to leave his cigarettes out on his porch and one day he came out and all of the goats had his very expensive cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. Makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Those goats loved to be anywhere they were not supposed to, like on top of my dad’s Fiero, in the garden, ripping the insulation out from under the porch, or eating the chicken feed in the coop. No matter what, it was one of the hardest things I ever did when we packed them in the van and dropped them off at our dear neighbor Marion’s house. They have a wonderful home today, and are loved, so we are choosing not to move them, but I miss them everyday. That is life though, isn’t it? We are open to lots of pain when we feel and love fully.
In this reflective mood, I have decided to add a writing I did several years ago while living on our property.
My family and I have been living on 11 acres of land in rural Wisconsin for over 2 and
1/2 years. I really count our time here in winters, which is 3, because that is when time and lessons are deeply felt.
The four of us live in a 27 foot travel trailer with an illegally attached porch (which is a whole story in itself), so winter has a more profound effect on day-to-day life. Our travel trailer was supposed to be a temporary dwelling, just until we built our house. Chris lost his job a week after our little home was delivered, at one of the most inopportune times in our nation’s financial history. There was no job to be found, so there was no house to be built. Our situation shrank both our bank account and our egos. All of the plans and designs we had were quickly shoved aside to reluctantly greet many difficult questions about our life. One of those questions was “What is really important?”
There have been many evolving answers to that one question, but there has been one answer that has stood out from the rest for our family: There is such depth in the simplest things of life. The most ordinary, mundane, uneventful things of life hold the greatest beauty, meaning, and mystery. They hold the lesson that the simplest things of life are not ordinary, mundane, or uneventful at all.
Electricity was our gateway into mindfulness here. For our first 6 weeks here, we charged our travel trailer battery with our vehicle. We found out quickly which features used the most electricity, like the television and the fridge. We didn’t want to have to go out into the cold and hook up the car to the battery, so we began to conserve more than ever. It is funny how when something becomes inconvenient, it is taken a bit more seriously. It was amazing to see the drain in power each time we chose to run water, watch T.V., or leave lights on. There would actually be a surge, where the lights would dim, when we were using a lot of power. It was a great visual lesson about a resource we completely took for granted.
During our first two years here, we did not have our own access to water. We started out by buying a 35 gallon tank on wheels that we brought to the nearest RV Park, that had water access, for 2 dollars. Our family actually has very fond memories of what we called “dump station night”. (This was also a place that one could dump the contents of the “black” tank, which we also utilized). We would fill up while the kids played at the park, bring it home, and fill up the travel trailer tank. That water would last for about 3 days, if we conserved well. (I have recently learned that there will inevitably be a water shortage for all of us in the not so distant future. It does matter how much we use!) We got a membership at our local YMCA and took most of our showers there. (I remember once showing up there so embarrassingly dirty because the kids had been playing on our temporary dirt mountain, from driveway construction. I met a man who worked there that noticed that we really only came for showers and commented that he did the same thing. He had no running water, in his old log home. That connection made me realize that we were not alone.)
Once winter was upon us, we had to change our strategy for water because the RV station closed (We did receive a bulk water permit from the nearest large town, but their water source was shut down shortly there after due to freezing also). Our neighbor, who sold us our land, graciously let us come over and fill up our tank weekly. (That neighborly helped make it possible for us to continue to live this adventure) Usually Chris would drive the quarter of a mile, with our little tractor, over to the neighbors and fill up, even when it was 20 below zero. I have to admit there were days that I cried when I heard the travel trailer pump making its loud grumbling noise that proclaimed “I am almost dry!”
That struggle taught me so much though. All of my family realized that water is not something to be taken for granted and that just because one has unlimited access to something does not mean that it should be wasted.
I listened to a lecture, shortly after we moved here at the Unitarian Church of River Falls WI, about women in regions of Africa that have to walk 5 miles to get about a gallon of water that may or may not be clean. I know I really don’t have any concept of what they have to endure, yet I am grateful that I have begun some mindfulness in that part of my consciousness That is one of those core beliefs that I always wanted to align with my actions in our previous life, with heated, running water that came without any thought. I wanted to take shorter showers, wash dishes with more mindfulness, water the lawn less or not at have grass at all, and plant gardens that were native and hardy that did not depend on anything but mother earth’s rain showers. I wanted to do all of those things but did them with half measures. I was inconsistent and sloppy in my thoughts and actions around conservation of water and other resources.
So, after two years of learning about the importance of clean and accessible water, we put in our 240 feet well. We are now able to connect directly to our water source during the non freezing months, and enjoy water without much worry, but not without thought. During the winter months, we have to disconnect our direct connection, and “fill-up”. Our line freezes if we remain connected, so we have to go back to the familiar noises of a water pump.
Chris built an insulated house for our well. (Can you believe our well got a house before we did?) Usually, all of the well’s pressure systems would be routed indoors, where it is toasty warm, but ours was exposed to all of the elements.
Shortly after our well was completed, we had a water celebration with family and friends… The first time that the hose worked, and water came gushing out, it was truly magical. How could it be that I was so in awe of such a regular thing? It is hard for me to look at a lot of things in the same way that I used to. There seem to be gifts in going without. It shines a new and wonderful light on something that once seemed so ordinary.
I do not advocate for misfortune or disaster, yet I would not change anything about the progression of our journey here on this piece of land. To be able to look deeper into what the self-reliant life is really about, is a gift that I hope to never return. The simplest of actions have become some of my favorite moments here. To slow down enough to see the meaning in watching our chickens roam the forest, collecting, washing, eating or selling eggs, noticing and identifying the changing flowers in the woods, creating a bountiful, organic garden and spending almost all of our leisure time in her graces, digging potatoes with my dad, cooking entire meals with only food we have grown, feeling connected to a community who really care about the health of it‘s people, marveling in my joy as I walk with the goats in the woods, walking down to my neighbor Auntie Joni’s little cabin, using the fallen wood in our forest as our main source of heat in the winter, supporting our local grocery co-op through patronage and volunteering, hanging our clothes on the line, feeding the birds, sweeping instead of vacuuming, hand writing a letter instead of using my computer, taking a walk instead of taking a drive, bartering for services so that my family doesn‘t need to make so much money to exist, bringing my own bag to the store, and taking the time to seek out a vocation instead of a career even if the path there is more complicated. The list truly goes on and on …
I need to feel like what I can do, does matter. I can’t afford to buy a Prius, exclusively use solar power, or put up a wind turbine, but I can be mindful. All of these simple actions not only have an effect on our planet, but on me. They are the most grounding things that I have ever had in my life. I truly believe that all of those simple yet meaningful actions have a profound impact on the universe.
I was once asked why we have hung on so hard to living our life here in the woods when our path was so altered from its original plan. I answer by saying there have been many difficult days along our path, yet one thing that has stayed constant. It is our growing love for this piece of land. We can see the importance of conserving her resources, and making her a classroom for ourselves, family and friends. Not having the financial resources we had once become accustom to have created a new awareness of nature’s resources that are so abundant around us.
This is where we continue taking action, and let the resources we do have, mold our new future. We hope that our new future does have the house we once dreamed of, but it will be very different from its original design. We have learned too much to not utilize our new vision and like a dear friend once wrote, “This is when I see the journey is the goal and let the goal find its own way”. The important part is the integrity of the journey. This beautiful, rugged, and untamed piece of earth has permanently changed who we are and how we will forever see the world.
“A meaningful life is made up of a series of daily acts of decency and kindness which ironically add up to something truly great over the course of a lifetime.”
Journal Entry: River Falls, WI
December 11,2008 Yesterday I went into the coop and was startled to see that the baby chicks were not in their new enclosure that Chris had made. I honestly thought they could have been eaten by the big chickens. (That is about as realistic as when I wondered how long chicks need to nurse before they start eating food).
When I first walked into the coop, the baby goats followed me, and they immediately went to the feed bags. They were jumping all over them. I shooed them out and started my search for the chicks.
I started to hear peeping coming from behind the feed bags. The chicks were all huddled up between the bags. The first chick I pulled out seemed fine. The second one, which is our runt, did not. She was limp and barely moving. Every few minutes she would stretch her neck out and open her beak a little. It looked like there was gooey stuff in her mouth. I felt so sad because she had such a difficult start to her life. Her egg was so little. I couldn’t believe that a chicken could be inside there. We knew it was bantam chicken and most likely an Old English.
On a previous day, when I went out to the coop to check for new chicks, that same chick was all curled up in the back of the nesting box, newly hatched, looking very dead. Cranberry, her surrogate mom, was not quite keeping her warm enough. It seemed like she did not even know she was there. She could have been just born. I took her inside the travel trailer, and told the girls she probably wouldn’t make it. We laid her in our makeshift brooder to keep her warm while she passed away. We continued to hold her and talk to her, and then things started to change. Her eyes opened and she started to peep very loud. That is when I knew my assessment of her health was very wrong. Within two hours, she was moving around the brooder and making new friends. It was so exciting to see her transformation.
When I saw her current condition, I was again so certain she would die very soon. I wasn’t sure what to do with her body because she was still alive, and she was getting trampled when I put her back with the other chicks.
Caroline, Chris and Sabrina came in the coop soon after I had made my discovery. Caroline held the dying baby and I left and went and sat in our warming car. Chris made the decision to put the dying chick with a hen in one of the nesting boxes. The hens name is Bumblebee, a beautiful white Silky who has never had her own chicks. Chris said that when he laid the chick next to Bumbles, she immediately took her wing and pulled the chick underneath her. That is so sweet. It made me feel better to think of that baby dying warm underneath such a kind hen.
We then went to Minneapolis at about 2:00 for my Chiropractic appointment, and spent some time after at my mom and dad’s house. We returned home at about 10:00 that night. The girls and Chris rushed out to the coop to see if the baby chick was still alive. They were very surprised at what they found.
Chris looked in the nesting box that Bumblebee and the baby were in, and found that neither of them were in there. He then searched the nesting box below to makes sure that he hadn’t mistaken which one he put her in. Empty…
Then, they all turned and saw something miraculous There stood the baby chick on top of the feed bags, looking healthy and strong. Chris placed her back with her friends and she took a drink of water and went about her business like nothing had ever happened.
When I went out to the coop today, there she was running around with her seven other buddies. Lessons learned: Never assume anything, and pull someone under your wing every once in a while, even if you don’t know who it is. It could make all the difference in the world.