Workshop Review: Fermentation Basics

This past weekend I attended a fermentation workshop at Blooming Glen Farm in Perkasie, PA where I knew I would:

Learn the basic principles of this ages-old, simple and fun preservation method by getting hands-on with yogurt, sauerkraut and seasonal vegetables. Everyone will leave with a jar of pickles or kraut and a culture with which to make their own, very simple yogurt at home! You will also leave (hopefully) with an appreciation for the role of the microbes living all around us!

Although I have been making kombucha for a few years, I have never had success with yogurt, pickles or sourdough; three delicious and useful ferments I am determined to master. Amanda’s workshop was just wonderful and because we had so many fresh veggies at our fingertips {thank you, Tricia & Tom!} we all left with a pint of fermented pickles {ready to eat July 7} and some sauerkraut {ready July 21} plus a tablespoon of villi, a 100-year-old yogurt-like culture from Finland.

Amanda of phickle.comIt is clear that Amanda has done workshops like this one before. She was friendly, informative, and answered all of our questions without hesitation. She was engaging and a joy to listen to. I have a tendency to ask a LOT of questions, and I felt like I was in a safe environment, so I went with my gut and asked away; she answered all of them. I even had a follow-up for Amanda today via her Facebook page!

The thing that I already knew that bugged me the most: you can’t use raw milk in dairy cultures because the good bacteria in un-pasteurized milk will actually kill the good bacteria in your yogurt {or kefir} culture. Ultimately, you have three choices for how to deal with that:

  1. Buy pasteurized {but not ultra-pasteurized} milk.
  2. Home pasteurize your raw milk, or
  3. Maintain a mother culture made with sterilized or pasteurized milk to preserve the viability of the culture {www.culturesforhealth.com}.

For now, I am going with #1 – I picked up a half gallon of pasteurized, grass-fed, whole milk today, so we’ll see what happens. I started 1 cup milk + 1 Tbsp. villi starter around 1:30 today, and I have to work all day tomorrow, so I’m hoping that by 5:00pm tomorrow we’ll have some yummy yogurt!

The most memorable thing that I didn’t already know: using whey in your ferments will speed up the process, kicking the good bacteria into hyperdrive. So it might be useful when you want to have pickles for a certain event, for example, or if you’re giving pickles as gifts. But since the one experiment I’ve done with whey yielded less-than-tasty dilly carrots, I wonder if I don’t like the taste or if I messed something else up along the way…?

Overall, it was a lovely afternoon spent with old and new friends and I am re-energized about stepping back into the world of fermentation. Amanda’s workshop made home fermentation seem easy, affordable, and enjoyable, so I look forward to sharing some successes with you in the near future!

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

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!

So Much to Share!

Okay, first things first: my husband has accepted a job that requires our family relocate from Athens, GA to Pennsylvania – IN APRIL. We made our first trip up there this past weekend to scope out the area and searched for three straight days for a home to rent that is reasonably close to his new place of work. The problem is – he will be working out of western NJ for the majority of this year, and then from Central PA starting in the fall. That means, finding a place that is “reasonably close” means not really close at all. We’re talking about 45 minutes or more – each way. Coming from our current commute time of less than 15 minutes, that’s going to be a pretty huge adjustment for our family. We are working on a few different ideas to make it as easy as possible, but some compromises might mean putting some of our homesteading plans on hold. We have a few cats (and dogs) so finding a pet-friendly rental will be difficult to begin with. But finding one that allows for a substantial garden, laying hens and bees is probably going to be next to impossible. Luckily, we found one that’s for rent, allows pets, HAS CHICKENS, a GARDEN and BEE HIVES already in place! Only trouble is, it’s about 45 minutes to work. Right now it is #1 on our list, but we will most likely make at least one other trip north before making our decision.

Future (temporary) home of Owl Moon Farms?

NEXT: Tomorrow is my first day interning with Cyndi Ball of Lazy B Farm in Statham, Georgia. Cyndi and I met in July at the Ladies Homestead Gathering which she generously hosts in her home. I knew right away that she would be an important person in my journey to farming, and sure enough, over the past 6 months, I have grown to care for her, her farm, and her family very deeply. Truth be told – she was the first person I told about our possible move to PA way back in November. We had begun talking in September about me doing an internship beginning this month (now that both of my children are in a morning program two days a week) and it is this opportunity and her friendship that I will miss the most. BUT – we get to enjoy a few months of fun and sweat before we make our move, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be out there tomorrow and every Thursday until we leave this place, and you’ll hear all about it!

Folks, This Ain’t Normal was my favorite book of 2011. I loved it so much I sent a copy to my mom and one to my dad, insisting that it would change their lives. Well, Folks, I was RIGHT! Just two weeks into it and my Dad has made HUGE progress in taking his hard-earned money OUT of the Industrial Food Complex and has, in his own words, “begun to locate sources for local food; eggs, raw milk, produce, meat, butter. Grown locally, purchased right off the farm.” How cool is that?!?! I was so thrilled to read those words (in his entertaining blog, Tadventures©) that I had to call him straight away, grinning ear to ear. I have a couple of friends making the extra effort to eat locally, but it means so much to me to know my Dad is doing it too. Just last week I was telling a friend that my Dad and I had recently started talking food (he is, afterall, the first person I knew to own a modern pressure cooker, and the person that encouraged me to get one) and here he is going out, talking to farmers, and buying RAW MILK! [For pet consumption only, of course.] Needless to say, I’m beside myself excited to have such an important person on this journey with me.

Compostiong Class: I am two weeks into the 8-week program and am, therefore, 1/4 of a Master Composter. I hope that after this program I will be able to not only start and utilize my own compost, but have the depth and breadth of knowledge to teach others to do the same. Before the end of the class we have to present a project, it can be just about anything, to the group, showcasing what we’ve learned, and demonstrating how we will use that knowledge to teach others. I’ve asked Cyndi if I can present a Compost 101 for the LHG in March, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

One of the blogs I unabashedly adore is Soule Mama. Amanda Blake Soule is an author, an artist, a sewist (sewer just doesn’t seem right), a mother, a gardener, a homeschooler and an inspiration. I was introduced to her a long time ago I have no idea how, and have found her constantly weaving her way back into my life over the past two years or so. So I was reading her blog last week when I came across this:

And today I joined up. From the website:

Whole Food Kitchen will be a place for absorbing, exploring, and transforming. This workshop will teach and speak to a mostly plant-based diet, but is not exclusively vegan or vegetarian. You will find [the] classes infused with a non-dogmatic, inclusive approach to nutrition. In life and in food, [the] focus is on simplicity, patience, keeping it real, and common sense.

Having already committed myself to a local, whole foods diet, I think this workshop will do great things for my less-than-stellar abilities to come up with something to have for dinner, based on the seasonally-appropriate foods and bulk items I am able to procure through the local food co-op. I feel like I’m in college again – only this time I’m taking ALL the classes I LOVE! Plus, Heather has already inspired me to take back my pantry! LOOK:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

We are due to finish up our first book club selection, Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin, and after a vote, we have chosen to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver next. I read this book a few years ago, shortly after The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. AVM had come highly recommended from more than one good friend, so I knew I would at least like it. But when I discovered the author was writing about her family’s farmstead in rural Virginia, I knew I would love it. And love it I did.

It’s been a few years, and while this book certainly helped get me started down the path to homesteading, I look forward to re-reading it. I hope to find even more great information and ideas.Animal Vegetable Miracle Barbara Kingsolver

Book Club & Ladies Homestead Gathering

I was first introduced to Joel Salatin 5 years ago by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. At the time, the concept of a local, seasonal diet was something I had considered, but never really explored. The chapters in the book devoted to describing Joel’s innovative grass-based farm were so inspiring, I haven’t stopped thinking about farming since.

A few months ago I started attending monthly meetings with the most intriguing group of women anyone should have an opportunity to know. Cindy B., the proprietress of Lazy B Farm in Statham, GA hosts, in her home, monthly Ladies Homestead Gatherings. Topics of discussion range from gardening, bread-baking, and wine-making, to chicken butchering, rainwater collection and herbal remedies – and that’s just ONE meeting’s agenda! After years of private exploration of my farm dreams, it is the most incredible blessing to have found this group of women that share the same goals!

Anyway, a few of us are reading Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin and we’re really loving it. After our first meeting this week we’ve pretty much decided the Book Club is a permanent thing and are already looking forward to our next title!

Folks, This Ain't Normal

Folks, This Ain't Normal, Joel Salatin, 2011

First Priority

After an inspirational weekend, I’ve decided to start fleshing out our farm plans beginning with our first priority: Weddings and Corporate Events.

I’ve been collecting photos for a while, so today I put them in an online album. Here’s the link And here’s a preview:

In his book, You Can Farm, Joel Salatin suggests we begin putting our farm plans into action immediately. Start growing and selling rabbits now if you have space. Bake bread, sew something, make applesauce; whatever you can do, do it now. I am still trying to figure out our first move in the short term, while at the same time starting to work on the big picture.

Once we find a suitable location, assuming there is at least a barn, there are certain improvements we will need to make:

  1. Restroom(s)
  2. Coat Closet
  3. Wet Bar
  4. Storage Area for chairs, tables, linens
  5. Prep Kitchen

I am in the process of collecting information about rates for events. I have a very good friend in the  hospitality industry who has offered to help me get started. In the beginning, we plan to rent most of what we would need to host an event, and purchase things a little at a time which will enable us to provide everything necessary. Due to the unique challenges of decorating the space, there are a few things we’ll need to purchase. Curtains and lighting are on the top of that list.