What Does Homesteading Mean to You?

For me, homesteading began with food. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, all I wanted to do was find, grow and eat local food. I was convinced the only way for my family to eat a grassfed turkey for Thanksgiving was to grow it myself. That’s the moment I became a farmer.

Unfortunately, I was still living smack-dab in the middle of suburbia, so raising livestock just wasn’t an option. While I waited for my farm dreams to come true, I focused my energy on things I could do immediately to feed my family more healthfully, while saving money, so that we could one day be able to live on a farm.

At that time, my oldest child was only a few months old, and we were drinking organic milk and eating organic vegetables, but we were still fully engaged in the industrial food system. I made it my goal to visit the Farmer’s Market every week that summer, and found a wide variety of foods I had never heard of. And boy, was it expensive! I realized immediately that if we were going to be purchasing real food, from real farmers, we were going to have to spend less in other areas of our life to make up the difference. And it was something I was committed to.

That summer was the first time I ever cooked a whole chicken, and after three years I can finally say I feel comfortable with that. We started out roasting the whole bird every time, but I felt we were wasting a lot of meat {not to mention the carcass} so last year I started cutting the bird before cooking it. Now we eat the breasts and tenders one night, the legs another night, and save the carcass for making stock.

The challenge of cooking a real, whole chicken was just the beginning of my journey to homesteading. In the kitchen, we started baking our own bread, making our own jam and apple butter, and eating fresh, local vegetables nearly every night of the week. One way we save money for fresh veggies is pretty simple: we purchase less meat, and instead rely on other non-meat forms of protein, like beans. I now have hundreds of delicious vegetarian recipes that allow my family to enjoy our meals together – and feel satisfied –without eating chicken breasts every night. Those three meals we get out of our Farmer’s Market chicken? They last us three weeks. We limit our dinners out, and buy almost no prepared foods, opting instead to make our own popcorn, rice crispy treats, fruit bars, and more. Making our own food means I know exactly what goes into everything, and allows me to eliminate sugar almost entirely. We don’t buy “instant” oatmeal, and rarely do we buy cereal. Instead we make our own oatmeal, granola, muffins, and scones and spend those dollars we save on pasture-raised chicken eggs which we enjoy almost every other day.

Rather than purchasing canned beans, we buy dry beans in bulk. They’re ridiculously affordable, and really not that hard to prepare, so I feel good knowing my kids are eating organic beans, organic rice, organic barley, and organic oats. We buy bushels of fruit when they’re in season, meaning we pay much less for “low-spray” fruit that was grown right around the corner – which is good for us, and good for the farmer who grew it.

But homesteading means more than just where you shop for groceries. To me, it’s a lifestyle. And what’s interesting is that a lot of our frugal family choices are ecologically-friendly too. We chose cloth diapers for our children because we couldn’t stand to send bags and bags of paper diapers to the landfills where they would never decompose, so we reduced our environmental impact while also saving thousands of dollars in disposable diapers. We use cloth napkins, towels and washcloths in the kitchen. The kids and I use cloth wipes at home, meaning we buy about ¼ the toilet paper we did two years ago. We shop at thrift stores and consignment stores for nearly everything for the kids and myself {My husband works a “real job” so he shops the big sales for his work clothes, or uses Christmas money to purchase new items}. Clothes, shoes, toys, books, canning jars, bookcases – whatever you need, you can probably find it used and for a lot less than what you would pay at a retail store. I still use Amazon for hard-to-find books, but purchase them used whenever possible. We utilize Craigslist for big-ticket items like our {1996 Ford F150} farm truck, our {1974 Massey Ferguson 135} tractor, and the trailer we’re using for our eggmobile. Every purchase is made with re-useability and longevity in mind. I absolutely abhor re-buying things, so I sometimes spend a little more now {say, $30 on a set of enamelware picnic plates} instead of spending more over time for something that will be thrown away.

We try to save money and do-it-ourselves in other ways too. We believe children deserve a better education than what is being offered in public schools today, but the cost of private school is insane, so instead, we plan to homeschool our two children. We will have the opportunity to spend countless hours of quality time with them, not just rushing them to and from the bus every day. We get to take extended vacations – any time of year, like during the “off-season” when attractions are easily half as expensive. We can really get to know them, and they us, as we grow and learn as a family.

We eliminate unnecessary expenses wherever we can and utilize free programs and events in town like story time at the library, music in the park, parades, festivals, etc. And though I can’t seem to get my husband to give up the television, we only pay for basic, basic subscription now. Don’t get me wrong, we both have iPhones {good luck trying to get mine away from me}. We choose to spend a little extra on our cell phones and instead gave up having a landline.

And now that we have moved to a place with a little more space – we’re doing more “real” homesteading. We built a garden and have planted mostly beans, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash and a few other things, with the hope that we can dry and can the excess to use over winter. This is our first real attempt at stocking a larder, so my expectations are very low. Saving seeds will allow us to spend less next year when it comes time to replant the garden. And eggs? The biggest expense in switching to a whole food, grassfed diet, is animal protein, and eggs are no exception. We were paying $4.00 per dozen in Georgia, $5.00 over the winter, and found a farmer at our local Farmer’s Market here in Pennsylvania that will sell them for $6.00/doz. For a family that now eats about 2 dozen eggs per week, it was easy to see what our second farm enterprise would be. Growing, feeding and caring for 12 laying hens will not be very cost-effective this year {we don’t expect to get eggs until late fall}, but with plans to feed our birds entirely on grass and then hatch out our own chicks next year, we hope to reduce our off-farm inputs dramatically in the future.

I have grand plans for our little farm {like, maybe someday it won’t be so little}, but in the mean time I’m doing everything I can to make living closer to home more comfortable and enjoyable. I experiment with everything in our CSA box; learning to cook once-foreign vegetables has become somewhat of a delight for me. I read books. All the time. I’m getting a thorough and enjoyable “free” education in composting, organic gardening, raising grassfed meat, raising chickens, living more sustainably, homeschooling, sewing, knitting, and more. I attend free seminars, did a few months worth of an un-paid internship last year, and have joined every club and Facebook Group I can find involved in the local food/local anything community where I now live. And I write this blog, where I can share my experience with you, and hope that you will share yours too.Image

Homesteading Hack #3

I think of Homesteading Hacks as little tidbits of knowledge that can be used to make our homesteading experiences more enjoyable. Sometimes that means a hack saves us money, sometimes it saves us time, sometimes it does BOTH!

dry erase markers for food storage
Colorful & Reusable? Awesome

This week’s hack is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. A few months ago I wrote on a window with my dry erase markers, hoping they would wipe off of glass without an eraser or cleaner. They did, so I was looking forward to using them at our health food store when I purchased bulk items. All you have to do is tare the container as you walk in and write the weight on the jar or lid with your marker. Then, when you fill it, write the PLU on the top so the cashier can ring you up. My new store in Easton, PA doesn’t sell as much bulk as my old one (I’m heartbroken) and they don’t seem to use PLUs as much either. I haven’t tried weighing my containers yet, but I will next time I make the trip up there.

Oh, I try to write the throw away date on my leftovers, not the date I put it in the fridge. That’s a great tip for making it easier to know what’s good and what’s not that I learned from my Auntie Kim – she got it from her days in the restaurant biz. Thanks, Aunt Kim!

*Sidenote: Yes, those are the plastic mason jar lids. I’ve been putting off buying them for almost a year, but I kept thinking, “man, I wish I had some of those plastic lids…” so I finally caved and got 8 regular and 8 wide mouth lids. I have lots and lots of Classico lids which I use all the time on the regular mouth jars, but I didn’t want to “waste” my rings and lids for the wide mouth jars. So far I’m okay with my decision. They are BPA free and they never come in contact with the food – mainly used for fridge storage. We’ll see how long they last before they go the way of most of the other plastic in my kitchen… :0)

Send me your Homesteading Hack and maybe I’ll feature it on the blog!
Email ideas to owlmoonfarms {at} gmail.com

Homesteading Hack #2

I think of Homesteading Hacks as little tidbits of knowledge that can be used to make our homesteading experiences more enjoyable. Sometimes that means a hack saves us money, sometimes it saves us time, sometimes it does BOTH!

For instance, did you know Classico Pasta jars are Mason Jars?? Well, they are, and though you cannot re-seal them for canning with the Classico lids, you can use new lids/bands and process them just like any other jar! And, if you’re still to nervous to use them for canning, they make awesome storage for beans, rice and other dry goods. Plus, you can use the lids on any of your other Mason Jars for food storage/travel containers. So if you are buying pasta sauce from the grocery store, keep any eye out for Classico coupons and watch your weekly grocery store mailer and stock up! Think of it as buying pasta AND Mason Jars and the savings are even better!

nevermind the tacky temporary labels...

Send me your Homesteading Hack and maybe I’ll feature yours on the blog!
Email ideas to owlmoonfarms {at} gmail.com

To ‘poo or not to ‘poo…

I’ve been thinking about writing about this for quite a while, but honestly, I’ve been more than a little nervous to admit my showering habits… Or lack thereof… Then, I came across this story recently (thank you, Facebook!):

Some people have all but abandoned the idea of soap, shampoo and deodorant and yet still manage to have friends, romantic relationships and even office jobs.

A few years ago I decided to eliminate aluminum from my life wherever possible. It was easy to give up canned drinks and even canned supermarket food. But deodorant, one of the biggest offenders, and the fastest way for a woman who shaves her underarms to introduce this neurotoxin to the bloodstream, was a little more risky. But I went for it, cold turkey, in the summer (in Georgia) of 2007. I opted at the time for Tom’s All Natural Deodorant and found that although I was clearly perspiring more than I had been used to in the past, it was pretty easy to get used to. Plus, it felt good to know my body was working the way it was meant to. After a few months, I gave up on Tom’s, and I’ve been au natural ever since. If you know me, and wish to chime in now on my odiferousness, please do so via private message. 🙂

So, after baby #1 was born at the end of 2008, I wanted to try to phase out another major pollutant in my life, and decided to stop using shampoo. As you might imagine, giving up shampoo cold turkey is a bit difficult, especially for people with normal to oily head skin. Most proponents recommend easing your way into it, by trying to extend your time between showers, while also slowly weaning yourself off commercial shampoo. To be completely honest (a little late, right?), I found the transition to be extremely difficult, and have waited to share my method until today, now that I feel like I am getting consistently positive results. Many no ‘poo people insist that ceasing the use of commercial shampoo will add body to your hair, reduce frizz, and will allow curly or wavy hair to be more curly or wavy. It is the shampoo/conditioner residues that weigh your hair down, causing it to be limp and lifeless. I have found that my hair does have significantly more body when I go “no ‘poo,” (even after sleeping on it) and I have gone back and forth a few times over the past few years. Now when I use commercial shampoo I find my hair to be softer but much more frizzy. I believe my hair today is in its “natural state” of health and beauty.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Before my shower, I grab two peribottles. (I can’t help it, I think they are awesome.) I put about a tablespoon of baking soda in one (I fill it to the half-ounce line), and about the same amount of apple cider vinegar in the other.
  2. I put a small amount of very hot water in the baking soda bottle, and swish it around, making sure the baking soda is completely dissolved. I turn off the hot, and fill it the rest of the way (totaling 8 ounces) with cold water, and I add about 4 ounces of cold water to the vinegar bottle.
  3. I always brush my hair before getting in the shower – it’s easier to wash when it’s not full of knots.
  4. In the shower, I rinse, rinse, rinse my hair with cool water.
  5. I squirt the baking soda bottle on my head here and there, being sure to get my temples, part, and other oil-prone places. I only scrub my scalp, leaving the rest of the hair to get washed/rinsed on its own.
  6. After about a minute or so I rinse thoroughly with cool water, being sure to get all of the baking soda out of my hair.
  7. Then I squirt the vinegar bottle on my head. I’m a little more cautious about this one – I only put a little directly on my scalp, and try to make sure that my hair gets most of the treatment. This is your conditioning step; it moisturizes your head skin and also helps cut down on frizz, but too much on your scalp could make you look greasy.
  8. After another minute I rinse my hair very well again with cool water.
  9. I find that towel drying adds to my frizz problems, so I usually just wring out my hair (upside down) and let it air dry naturally.

Some things I have found:

  • I don’t recommend using this wash routine every day because the baking soda is very drying and could cause discomfort and/or flaky head skin. I have read numerous accounts of people going a full week without washing (rinsing in between washes) without looking greasy. I am washing every other day and feel like that’s just a little too frequent for my head skin; over the winter I have found more dry skin than I usually do.
  • The first few weeks of ‘no poo are going to be kinda icky. I tried it first while I was on maternity leave, so I wasn’t worried about seeing too many people. When I finally committed to it I was home with baby #2. Again, no one but me and my family to notice how shiny my head was…
  • If you’re getting started and you think your hair is just too nasty after one day, wash it again with baking soda, and your head will eventually establish its normal oil-making routine. When using shampoo to strip your hair of oils, you are also stripping your head skin of oil, causing it to over-compensate by making even more oil.
  • I have had to tweak and adjust the process and the quantities, so give it time.

This is just one way to go no ‘poo – there are tons of resources online for more information. Just know that if you decide to make the leap you are not alone.

And have fun!

While acres and acres of farmable land lie fallow..

Many of you know we moved to Pennsylvania for Tripp’s job. We chose Bucks County because it is in the middle of the two offices at which he will be working over the course of the next few years. As anyone who as been here will tell you, Bucks County, PA is beautiful. Rolling hills, 150+ year old farmhouses on literally every road, and I don’t know how many miles of the Delaware river. However, due to its proximity to Philadelphia (45 mins) and New York City (less than 2 hours) it is expensive! We were lucky to find a home to rent because even just a few acres in the area will cost you over a million dollars. That’s right. Even though the place is plum covered up with historic and not-so-historic farms, estates, and homes on any number of acres, if you don’t want to live in a cookie-cutter subdivision, you’re gonna have to spend some serious dough. (Don’t misunderstand me, typical suburban homes are expensive too).

New Hope, PA
photo credit: tripadvisor.com

I say all this in an attempt to illustrate how completely and totally out of place I feel here (as a wanna-be farmer). I love the quaint villages sprinkled across the countryside, and the Pennsylvania Dutch barns are certainly lovely, but to see all this land just sitting here… “Lawns should be turned into food production places…all that land going to waste…around rural residential estates just to provide a place for people to drive lawn more tractors around.” (Joel Salatin, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise) I was very used to seeing lawn maintenance trucks and “lawn mower men” in my old neighborhood in Athens, but I saw one today, on a quiet country road, miles and miles from town. Why did they move out the country if they’re not even going to mow their own lawn??! Then it dawned on me – Bucks County may be rural, but it is by no means country. I keep thinking I’m going to see chicken houses in every backyard, but I’ve only found a handful so far. The vast majority of folks in this area are not living here to live off the land; they’re living on the land.

One of the amazing things about the book I reviewed yesterday, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, was how Essex Farm got started. Mark and Kristin had a dream to create a full-diet CSA and for 9 months they searched for farmable land. A friend of a friend heard they were looking and offered them 500 acres in Essex, NY. The owner had been holding on to the land for years, hoping to use it recreationally, but his busy job as an attorney in NYC made it impossible for him to spend any time there. So, he called them up and said they could farm it, however they wanted to, for free. Yes, for free. A few years later they were able to purchase 80 acres and now reside there permanently. What a great deal, right? Joel Salatin mentions a similar scenario in his book as well; a former intern of his at Polyface did exactly the same thing. There are programs out there to link wanna-be farmers with landowners or farmers that want to retire but have no children or whose children do not want to become farmers. Check with your county extension agent, too, s/he is sure to have an idea of who is looking to sell/lease/lend their land.

While I am pretty sure Bucks County, PA is out of reach for my family’s long-term farm dreams, I am still hopeful that we will find what we’re looking for someday – we just have to know where to look, and let people know we’re looking!

Book Review: The Dirty Life

I am not ashamed to admit that I consider Audio Books just as good as reading an actual book, especially when a person is so busy (or tired) s/he cannot sit still for even 15 minutes (without falling asleep). So I often listen to audio books to keep my sanity while driving, doing the dishes, unpacking a ba-jillion boxes… Recently I “picked up” The Dirty Life after a search for farmy books on Audible.com.

The author, Kristin Kimball, writes of her decision to leave a very normal, urban life in New York City for a completely foreign existence on a 500+ acre farm in Upstate New York; all in the name of love. The retelling of her journey was touching, infuriating, heartwarming, heart-wrenching and absolutely perfect for me right now. While I occasionally felt I identified more with her sometimes-militant off-the-grid farmer husband, Mark, than I did with her, I found her perspective to be extremely eye-opening as I journey to take my own steps toward an agrarian life. She conversationally touched on basic things like chicken breeds, as well as complex issues like farm management, customer procurement, and marketing.

It was an exciting story full of every aspect of farm life, even the activities inside the farm house. She wrote about the stress of leaving a life of comfort and convenience for one of near total isolation. Mark Kimball (he took her last name when they were married) insists on farming purity – they eat a diet consisting of farm-grown/foraged foods and grown their own hay for their livestock. And they utilize horse-power in all but extreme situations, reducing their off-farm inputs to next to nothing. And for all their devotion and hard work, they now own an 80 acre parcel amidst a 600-acre sustainable farm, providing a full-diet CSA for more than 100 people. This story was inspiring, encouraging, and practical. I absolutely loved it.

The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball

Homesteading Hack #1

I think of Homesteading Hacks as little tidbits of knowledge that can be used to make our homesteading experiences more enjoyable. Sometimes that means a hack saves us money, sometimes it saves us time, sometimes it does BOTH!


This one is especially useful for renters – we use Command Damage-Free Hooks to hang all those scrub brushes we seem to accumulate. Now my cast iron scrubber, re-useable straw cleaner and my jar/bottle scrubber are all right there where I need them, dry and free of mashed bristles. Nice.

Send me your Homesteading Hacks and maybe I’ll feature yours on the blog!
Email ideas to owlmoonfarms {at} gmail.com


I have been making oatmeal the Sally Fallon way for almost a year now, but today I tried my first variation on the simply delicious recipe. As the recipe (from Nourishing Traditions) dictates, I soaked two cups of organic rolled oats overnight in two cups of water. Then, this morning, I put two more cups of water in a pot with a little less than 1 teaspoon of salt. {Sidenote: my family uses salted butter; if you prefer unsalted butter, you may want to use a teaspoon or more salt at this step.} While the water was coming to a boil, I chopped 1-1/2 apples into tiny bits. When the water was boiling, I added the soaked oats with their soaking water, the apples, and one teaspoon cinnamon. I reduced to the pot to simmer and let the oats hang out until almost all the water was cooked off and the apples were tender. I turned off the stove and added about two tablespoons salted butter and a generous amount of maple syrup. It turned out really great and the kids seemed to love it as well!

Book Review: Making Your Small Farm Profitable

I have had this book on the shelf for almost a year, and finally opened it earlier this month. I quickly realized it is an essential book for anyone planning to own a profitable small farm or market garden.

The author, Ron Macher, is publisher of Small Farm Today, “the original how-to magazine of alternative and traditional crops and livestock, direct marketing, and rural living. His writing is practical and the information relevant, at any stage of farm planning.” It gave me plenty to consider, even years before owning or leasing farm land.

Macher takes the reader through some basic planning steps, beginning with evaluating your skills and resources. A significant portion of the book, he shares some very useful sustainable farming tips, including the use of crop rotation and livestock to increase soil fertility. He also shares some interesting recommendations for planning and marketing yourself and your products. The final chapters of the book deal specifically with farm management considerations.

I like the emphasis Macher places on not only environmental sustainability, but on economic sustainability as well. It is critical, in my opinion, that our small farms support our families, and our local communities, but that they leave something healthy and growing for the next generation. Something I have been worrying about lately is the tendency for “farm kids” to leave the farm after college and never return. We need educated, passionate people working our land, not just me and my generation, but our children as well. How can I encourage that level of commitment in my children? For one thing, I can work tirelessly to make sure the farm and farming are productive and enjoyable. I want to make sure they never feel a sense of useless drudgery or monotony but rather I want them to hold a true understanding of what is required to bring healthful, flavorful food out of the earth and onto our dinner table. Here’s a link to a talk Joel Salatin gave on this very subject. It’s on my must-have list:

Getting Your Hands Dirty:
How to Teach Your Children to Love Work
Joel Salatin

So what is a small farm? From the Making Your Small Farm Profitable:

The confusion between small farms, family farms, and sustainable agriculture is somewhat understandable, because all three share similar characteristics.

  •  A small farm is any farm that comprises 179 acres or less, or that grosses $50,000 or less per year. Small farms are usually family farms but may or may not be sustainable.
  • A family farm is any size farm – small, medium, or large – in which family members supply the majority of needed labor. A family farm is not necessarily sustainable.
  • Sustainable agriculture is an economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable system of agriculture that may be used on any size farm.

Where do you fit in? Where would you like to?

Ready to read the book? (Affiliate Link)

Making Your Small Farm Profitable
Ron Macher

Homesteading in the 21st Century

I have been struggling for months to establish my farm philosophy. One thing I often consider is how to incorporate technology into my life, without allowing it to take away from the non-technical aspects. Whether to purchase paper books, or e-books is an issue that I think about a lot. And this blog, for example. I want to share my farmsteading experiences with people all over the country (and the world!), and in this era, blogging is the best way to do it. I can write about what we’re doing, share pictures, resources, whatever! And I get to hear the feedback from my readers,

I have watched this video quite a few times over the past year, and twice again last week. I’ve been roasting whole chickens for a few years now, but I’ve never been able to get more than one meal out of each bird, so I thought parting the bird might help me extend the investment. So I was inspired to give it a shot! I got my whole chicken from Athens Locally Grown and after it was completely thawed, I was ready.

21st Century Chicken

I had to pause and rewind the video a few times, and I regret that my knife was not truly sharp enough, but I got it done without any real problems. We’ll be eating the chicken breasts & tenders with spinach and noodles tomorrow night and I put the rest in the freezer.

The result!

The most important thing I learned from the video, other than how to part the chicken, of course, is WHY and when to do it, when selling chickens off the farm. Birds that weigh less than 5lbs after being butchered, should be sold as whole birds. Carcasses over 5lbs can be parted because you’re likely to get at least one pound of chicken breast from each one.