“I’m Gonna Pop Some Cans – Only Got 20 Lbs of Strawberries”

“Whatchu know about making jam? Whatchu know about doing some can-nin’?”

This guy gets it...

This guy gets it…

OK. I’m done with the Macklemore references.

It all started when…..
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We got invited to a blueberry farm with some friends last year & we froze most of our bounty. It far from lasted us through the winter, but it was a start. It doesn’t SEEM like freezing really counts, but I think it does. If you deliberately stock up on produce for the purpose of freezing it, I write that as a self-preserving win. Freezing has its drawbacks, but this is true for all forms of stockpiling.

Later in the summer, Mr. Ender’s boss swung by a roadside stand & snuck a box of apples & pears into the back of our car. Did I say box? I meant a banana-shipment size box, half full. It was probably the end of that summer (before we even started blogging or fully committed actually), I decided that I needed to learn to can because all I could think to do with this huge box was make applesauce & pear butter — but had no means of keeping it from going bad quickly.

Canning!? Isn’t that… like… what Grandmas do so they can gift you jelly for Christmas?
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Well, yeah. But canning is actually SUPER cool. If you are going to be self reliant & don’t want to eat hearty crops of kale & broccoli ALL winter long, canning is totally the way to go.

So, how DID our first venture into canning go?

I present: Danny & Brian’s Adventure into Midnight Canning

Mash ALL THE BERRIES!

Mash ALL THE BERRIES!

Boil & add nearly a friggin bag of sugar & whatever the hell 'pectin' is

Boil & add nearly a friggin bag of sugar & whatever the hell ‘pectin’ is

Sanitize for safety!

Sanitize for safety!

Learn how to eyeball 1/4 inch of head space

Learn how to eyeball 1/4 inch of head space

Scald your face on steam trying to dump the things back into the bath canner

Scald your face on steam trying to dump the things back into the bath canner

Attempt not to burn one self, thy spouse & give plenty of room in case you drop it & it kersplodes all over the floor

Attempt not to burn one self, thy spouse & give plenty of room in case you drop it & it kersplodes all over the floor

Listen to the POPs & admire your handy work

Listen to the POPs & admire your handy work

Wake up & cringe the next morning at insane amount of dishes

Wake up & cringe the next morning at insane amount of dishes

All in all, I’d call this a success. I was told by veteran canners that I was going to have a love-hate relationship with canning. I find this to be true. I love the end results. Seriously. Best damn jam I’ve ever had in my LIFE.¬†I love feeling like I accomplished something awesome. I love that my husband took interest in doing this. Much like myself, he enjoys learning. The nerd in him says, “This is chemistry! I f*ing love chemistry!” The future farmer in him says, “This is smart, economic & necessary”. I hate how hot it made the apartment. I cannot believe you crazy heads down south where it’s like 80,000 degrees actually do this in the dead of summer! We were dripping buckets of sweat & the house was so disgustingly humid after we were done, we both had issues getting to sleep. I hate that my kids aren’t the type to listen when I say “GET OUT OF THE WAY! Boiling strawberry jam crossing! Unless you want to look like that Rocky kid from Mask, get the hell out of the way!”, so if I want to can…. I get to can at midnight. And dishes… they suck! Among other things I hate: the inability to reuse lids, not knowing what people used instead of pectin back in the day, pressure canning scaring the hell out of me &… the fact I waited so long to try this!

It really was a lot of fun & I’m excited to share with my friends & fam bam.

I seriously walked out of the kitchen & strutted into the bedroom like this…

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Yeahhhh, boyyyy!

PS: I’d also like to give a super big shout out to the following people who helped me BIG on this one….

– Sherry Brooks Vinton, whom I saw at Mother Earth Newsfair first thing, first day & it was like a sign. I said I was gonna do it & I needed to get on it.
– “Pammykins”, my heterosexual life mate & probably the greenest Mama I know. Thank-you for rolling your eyes at my bazillion questions behind the computer screen rather than in my face ;D You said, “JUST DO IT ALREADY!” & I DID IT!!
– Auntie Amy: Couldn’t of done this without you…. rather, I couldn’t of done this without your potato masher & ladle after I got started & realized I didn’t own these particularly handy kitchen utensils.
– The Dickinsons for helping us pick 17 lbs worth of strawberries at Biringer Farms.
& of course, Mr. Enders… Always willing to get his hands dirty with all my crazy ideas. You? Me? Pineapple chunks in quart jars? Tonight? ;D

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Christmas in June? No! It’s Farmer’s Market season!

Here are the highlights from our trips to Opening Day for Mukilteo Farmer’s Market last Wednesday & our first time at Everett’s Original Farmer’s Market on the Marina in which I was recognized for being their 1,000th Facebook fan!

Mukilteo, Wednesday the 5th

Not many places in the world you get to travel by ferry boat often

Not many places in the world you get to travel by ferry boat often

If you ain't shopping farmers markets, you're doing it wrong

If you ain’t shopping farmers markets, you’re doing it wrong

 

 

Don't mind if I do!

Gladly bite into Bite Me Cupcakes!

Monster Kid's favorite & must have every trip to the market, Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co.

Monster Kid’s favorite & must have every trip to the market, Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co.

Liked your service? Tip a farmer!

Liked your service? Tip a farmer! Thanks, Pioneer Farms for letting me snap a photo.

Our haul for the day: Hayton Farm strawberries

Our haul for the day: Hayton Farm strawberries

 

Everett, Sunday the 9th

20 years & going strong!

20 years & going strong!

The bell has rung & the farmer's market mayhem has commenced!

The bell has rung & the farmer’s market mayhem has commenced!

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I know quite a few monkeys who would agree.

Princess Cthulhu loves the Everett Farmers Market -- & strawberries!

Princess Cthulhu loves the Everett Farmers Market — & strawberries!

I spent the entire $10 credit Everett Farmer’s Market gave me for being their 1,000th Facebook fan on three-pints of strawberries. $10 well spent.

Everett Market, over & out.

Everett Market, over & out.

Shopping at Farmer’s Markets is my favorite time of the year. Looking at the photos, you’d be right in assuming there isn’t much in the way of produce at this time of the year — but some of the local U-Picks I follow are announcing opening this weekend for berry picking & there was still quite a few vendors with specialty items & handcrafted wares making the markets worth checking out this early in the season still.

Why shop at Markets? You get to shake the hands of the people who grow your food! You get to ask questions about how it was produced, what methods were used & how much love went into getting it from soil to table. I’d like to see you get any kind of answer beyond deer-in-the-headlights at a grocery store produce section. You get the freshest available, meaning the highest nutritional value & tastiest And sometimes, it’s even cheaper believe it or not. A head of organic lettuce runs me about $2.49 on a good week at the store & although organic means less pesticides, it doesn’t necessarily mean it came from a nearby farm. At the market, one stand had romaine for $2, another red leaf for $2 & another had a crazy guy shouting “LETTUCE SALE! 2/$3!” FRESH & ORGANIC lettuce for $1.50 a head? I’m there! Most importantly, you’re keeping your voting dollars in your community. Farmers are just like YOU. You want to send your kids to college. You want to go on vacation. You want a new car or television or to be able to reshingle the roof. Buying from a farmer means you’re allowing a farmer to afford to do the things you’d like to do.

They just prefer to hawk carrots & eggs instead of sit in a cubical to get thereūüėČ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making shelves on the cheap.

We moved into a new apartment last month. We outgrew our last place and desperately needed a washer and dryer for the amount of cloth diapers we were doing.

One thing I always wanted was wall hanging shelves. Danny could never agree with me on what she would like them to be like. One day she suggested that we get shadow box shelves for our DVDs.

Me being the tinkerer I am, I thought. “I could MAKE shelves!”

So I set out to figure out the best way to make sturdy enough shelves for the wall. I had the best idea ever!

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So I got to working and gathered a bunch of them. Folded the flaps to create strength and copious amount of glue. I also put a wood brace on the top part so that I can screw it into the wall and not have it break through.

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Now I have a bunch of boxes with braces to hang with.

I then painted the outside and papered the inside Green and Brown to put on the walls. And here is the final result!

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I only had to purchase two items for this project. A large piece of flat wood to create the backing and some construction paper. I already had the glue, paint, and boxes. I did have to put some wood kabob skewers to provide some strength on the bottom of the boxes to prevent bowing. So far, it is holding pretty well.

Here is to more home projects!

Mother Earth News Fair: Day 2

Just been sitting here an hour & a half for an hour long demo.. no big deal...

Just been sitting here an hour & a half for an hour long demo.. no big deal…

I was adamant about leaving as early as possible Sunday morning. I was NOT¬†sitting in the nose bleeds for Joel¬†Salatin’s chicken processing demonstration. This was, after all, the MAIN reason I had purchased the tickets to begin with.¬†If only I knew how much planning ahead would benefit me later in the day…

When we arrived, (besides the bathroom) we high-tailed it to the Modern Homesteading Stage where the demo was going to take place. Errr… Or not! A big sign met us to let us know the chicken processing demo would be taking place on the Mother Earth News Stage. So, again with the high-tailing but to another part of the fair. We made it & took some seats, hoping that there wasn’t another last minute change of plans & this was where we actually needed to be.

The “Slow Money” presentation would be happening first & I’m really glad we got to sit in on that. I wasn’t planning to – but it was super informative & the crowd-sourcing aspect for supporting small-scale agriculture was immensely uplifting. Being broke, you tend to often want to do more than your finances allow. But combine a lot of those people together, you can do a lot. Make your investments stretch further & look into Slow Money.

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Can you sign this while I yammer on about my life story & why I’m here…. Oh, can I also get a photo… & a hug?

A little story… On the way to the Fair Sunday morning, I was telling Mr. Enders about my Grandparents’ pseudo farm & the fond memories I had. My cousin & I still laugh to this day about chucking a piece of bread to distract the rooster & running like hell to get the eggs, making a mad dash out with the bastard hot on our heels. I remember their big fat goat “Meatball” & to this day, I still walk super slowly to the front door & observe the goats & their duck, Nippy. As they aged, my Grandparents stopped replacing the chickens. They did recently acquire a new duck who was wandering the freeway, but they’re not egg producers or dinner.

Once, PETA got a hold of my brain cells & watching what happened in factory farms turned us vegetarian for a while. Now, mind you, vegetarian to a couple of young 20-somethings who were working long hours was more like soy dogs & chick’n nuggets as opposed to actual vegetables. No lie when I say we would still go to McDonalds, order a Big Mac sans meat patty & replace it with French fries & call it “vegetarian”.¬† Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. Eventually we gave up vegetarianism, because chicken was just too darn tasty.

But something profound happened when I started checking out food documentaries from the library. Something about that crazy lunatic farmer guy, yammering on about salad bar beef, taking such an interest in the different varieties of grass & clover in his field & lovingly lounging in the¬†pasture with a pig foraging behind him. It’s like something snapped. Aside from the beginning seeds of inspiration planted by my Grandparents, I fully credit Joel Salatin for the reality slap that something is severely wrong with our food system (& vegetarianism isn’t THE end all, be all answer). Supporting local farms & small agribusiness is. Shopping in your own backyard & within a 50-mile radius, which means for us in the PNW, pineapples, guavas, mangos, heck oranges — those suckers are OUT. But we get to keep apples & pears (my favorite fruits anyway).

The conversation is a bit hazy & I had to sit down promptly after shaking his hand & jabbering my jaw off….

How would you look if you met your idol?

“Mr. Salatin, Danielle Ouellette, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. Could I get an autograph?”
“Sure thing! Your name again?”
“Danielle. Can I just say you really truly changed my life? I was the type of person who would pound Big Macs & not even think about it.”
(He gave that humored smile you saw in the photo.)
“But I saw you in Food Inc & it’s like something just clicked. It all made sense. I couldn’t keep living that way. And now… I care. And I want things to change. I want to be a crazy farmer! This is Brian, my husband, he’s been supportive this entire journey & now he wants to be a crazy farmer too. Mind if we get a picture?”
“Not at all!”

After the photo, I was seriously shaking like a leaf & I thought my knees were going to give out from under me. It’s really funny how nervous I was about approaching these amazing people who truly have helped me see a better way & a community I want to be a part of, they’re totally fine. They’re humbled & happy to see my enthusiasm. But me… I think I’m going to pass out =b

I was going to share the before & after photos -- but I might offend some people.

I was going to share the before & after photos — but I might offend some people. Though if you’re offended by that notion, you couldn’t imagine what goes on behind big factory doors…

Speaking of passing out, I really truly thought I was going to hawk my cookies & have to leave during the chicken processing demonstration. BUT I DIDN’T! In fact, I kept my cool & found it extremely educational & insightful. It’s very obvious & well known the reason you buy from small farms is the attention to detail & their love for their craft to produce a quality product to their customers. But Joel & David Schafer were very upfront & comforting regarding the death “issue”. They discussed how slaughter day is a very solemn day. You brought this life into the world, kept it alive, you are responsible to make sure the bird leaves this earth with dignity. I would much rather slaughter a chicken with¬†attention & care for the animal than think how they just process thousands a day in factory farm slaughter floors.

Don’t ask how, but after watching the processing demo, we were still hungry & indulged in organic nachos & a gluten free crepe.

OooO. Shiny.

OoOoO. Shiny.

Brian decided he is going to attempt to make a solar powered set up to charge cell phones for next year’s Relay for Life.

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Not so shiny but equally amazing!

Danny oogled over Mountain Rose Herbs booth set up. Sign reads: Everything in our booth is made from recycled, reclaimed or reused materials.
This is pretty much what I want our home to be like: recycled, reclaimed & reused. So the booth¬†made me¬†super happy!ūüėÄ

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So, I’m a car girl. Don’t judge.

And we swung by the electric cars one more time, just because we thought they were SO cool. We’re pondering the benefit of an electric truck over plant-based¬†biodiesel.

In between, we checked out Ed Begley Jr’s (of Arrested Development & Living with Ed fame) discussion “Live Simply so Others Could Simply Live”. He really hit home with us about doing the little things you can do now, because let’s face it — solar panels are EXPENSIVE. Electric cars are EXPENSIVE. But biking and just turning off the light when you leave the room or adding weather stripping around your door are all fairly inexpensive & totally obtainable goals for someone in our financial state of student loan hell.

We split up so Brian could go learn about “Passive Solar Design, Straw bale homes & Masonry Heaters” while I claimed our seats & refused to move during Linda Gilkeson’s “Your Year Round Harvest Starts NOW” regarding the divine temperate climate we Pacific Northwesterns get to enjoy, which makes growing year-round possible. Due to that inspiration, I decided to swing by Botanical Interest one more time for a few hardier varieties (kale, carrots, etc) to grow over the winter (stay tuned for those updates!)

And we ended the day watching Joel’s presentation: “Don’t be Scared. Be Strange!” He covered seven of the most common fears of going into farming full-time, hitting the nail on the head for us. Every. Single. TIME. We have a lack of money. We have a lack of land. We have a lack of work force & supporters. We have a lack of tools & knowledge & in general, a lack of EVERYTHING — except passion. Passion & determination & true belief this is what our calling is, we are abundant in those things.

On the way home I asked Brian, “Did you feel like he was talking to us? Like, he was talking to the crowd but did you get the impression he might of once or twice been looking at us & directly saying YOU — stop being scared & just do it”

“Yeah, a little”

He’s a hell of a man that Joel Salatin. I went to Mother Earth News Fair just to see him & walked away with so much more…

Anytime I have one of them hard days… when I’m wondering if this is really what we want… when the siren call of a Big Mac hits me harder than a freight train… when everybody is wondering just what to make Danny for dinner because well, she’s a “food snob”… when we’re eating lentils again because we put so much money to the student loan debt we forgot to factor in buying groceries because we want the debt gone to save up for the farm… when the strawberries are 99c a pound but they’re pesticide ridden… when my turnips won’t grow because it’s friggin January & we had an unexpected Arctic gust shit snow on us…. when I lose a chicken to a coyote or the damn tomatoes have blight AGAIN…¬† I have a little scrap of paper that sums it all up…

"Welcome to our side of the food system. Blessings on your journey. -- Joel Salatin"

“Welcome to our side of the food system. Blessings on your journey. — Joel Salatin”

Someone out there is rooting for me.
And that someone happens to be the person who inspired me to be a lunatic farmer.

Mother Earth News Fair Day One

Just add super workshops, awesome food & all the organic, sustainability you can stomach & you too can be this crazy

Just add super workshops, awesome food & all the organic, sustainability you can stomach & you too can be this crazy at 9AM without caffeine

Mr. Enders & I had the immense privilege of spending this ENTIRE weekend¬†¬†in Puyallup attending the third Mother Earth News Fair to take place in the Greater Seattle area.¬†Happy Birthday to me. I bought the tickets back in¬†March for my birthday & by the time the event rolled around, I was reluctant to make the drive back & forth TWICE. If I could time travel, I’d smack myself in past because I seriously had more fun this past weekend than anytime in the immediate past I can recall.¬†I met so many amazing people, learned about so many amazing products & got a little star struck when I ran into some¬†folks who inspired my journey into self-sustainable living & keep me going strong when I feel like just eating a Big Mac whole & picking up the free stick of Lady’s Speedstick instead of whipping up a batch of my own…

So, what exactly is Mother Earth News Fair? Umm… In one word? AMAZING! In many more words, Mother Earth News is a publication. You can guess by the name (& my interest in it) that it has to do with all things Earth-lovin’… Bees,¬† farming equipment, soap making, solar panels,¬†goats ya know — the usual. They got this crazy little idea to hold a fair out in Pennsylvania. Things worked out so well, a West Coast fair was started & Washington is so fortunate to be allowed to host the event. This year, they’ve grown to include a Kansas fair sight as well. According to the magazine’s editor, Puyallup saw some 6,00-8,000 visitors…. PER DAY this year. That’s a whole lotta Earth love!

Without further ado… take a little walk with us through our first day at the fair & join me tomorrow as I explorer the second day (which includes meeting the brilliant, Joel Salatin¬†¬†& answer the question, “Did Dani manage to hold her cookies during the live chicken processing demo?”)…

Sherri Brooks Vinton on canning & preservation methods

Sherri Brooks Vinton on canning & preservation methods

First up, we started our day with a little canning knowledge. I fully plan on taking my first trip into boiling water canning this summer once Biringer Farms announced the strawberries are getting out of control & start letting in the U-Pickers. Sherri Brooks Vinton has written some brilliant books on the subject & brought preservation down to its base elements: What do you have time to do & what is the best method for what you got on hand? You can pick up her books: here & here.

We decided to skip the next hour worth of workshops (though I did swing by the bookstore to catch a glimpse of Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s RedMill products!) I kind of wanted to check out this “What Happened to Our Health?” presentation but something was a wee bit more important… LUNCH!

On our venture to finding some grub (& boy, let me tell you! Those Mother Earth News folks did not spare any detail! They made sure every avenue was covered: local beef, organic French fries, gluten free crepes, gyros, organic ice cream! They had it all & I attempted to eat it all!), I saw the ginormous Botanical Interest banner. I got all giddy & excited because I had already pre-planned stopping by their booth to pick up some seeds for the season but what I didn’t expect was who I was going to run into….

A gnome for every garden & a garden for every gnome!

A gnome for every garden & a garden for every gnome!

I literally stood in the aisle way with people pushing past me for like 10 minutes (fine… 2!)¬†with my mouth just hung open. I’m surprised I didn’t catch any flies. I went for seeds & ran into Mavis Butterfield of One Hundred Dollars a Month. Remember how I was talking about those people who inspire me & keep me going even when I want to take the easy way out & just live a NORMAL (see: wasteful, unsustainable, don’t-get-looks-from-strangers-for-digging-in-dumpsters) existence… Mavis is one of those people for me. She shows you can save money and eat real food, garden and raise chickens on limited space, bring back¬†the¬†lost art of bartering & cook from scratch.

That’s all fine & dandy, but WHY IS SHE DRESSED LIKE THAT? Operation Send in the Gnomes. Check it out. I know I have gnomes to send in (& hope to snag some more garage saling this summer before she hits the road to St. Judes headquarters in August) This fundraiser is even further proof how down to earth (despite uber goofy!) & kind-hearted she is. Super approachable & really eager to share her knowledge & meet her fans. I should know. I was shocked she could identify who little ole I was just based on my name. Out of all her fans, she KNEW who Danielle O. was. I also met her “Boyfriend Ryan” from Botanical Interest & scored free radishes seeds by reaffirming he is definitely¬†in fact one gardening hottie!

After sharing some lunch & grabbing a couple scones, Mr. Enders & I split up. He went to check out “DIY Solar Panels” & I sat in “Adapting Food Production to Climate Change” which was actually way more fascinating than I originally thought it was going to be. Reuniting, we checked out some of the truly awesome exhibitors & the beautiful animals!

Just park it in my front yard, Jeeves.

Just park it in my front yard, Jeeves.

The electric cars were pretty legit. A couple Telsas, some converted VWs, but my DEFINITE favorite was the Ford F250. I usually love old farmin’ Chevys, but I do have to pay much due respect to this one. I think pretty soon we’ll see some post of Brian tinkering with the idea of converting my ideal truck into an electric truck. That’d be interesting to see all the blinkie lights & computer boards in a 1960s body.

Do not adjust your computer monitor. Ducklings are as fuzzy as they appear.

Do not adjust your computer monitor. Ducklings are as fuzzy as they appear.

One of the curses of being a woman: Everything fluffy & cute. I want to smuggle it out in my coat. The cutestness overload¬†gets worse….

I warned you! Didn't I!? CUTE! CUTE! & more CUTE!

I warned you! Didn’t I!? CUTE! CUTE! & more CUTE!

Davie Bowie called. He wants his Labyrinth hair back.

Davie Bowie called. He wants his Labyrinth hair back.

Alright, the photo explosion is over for Day 1. Afterall the oogling of the animals, we decided to cut out early because we KNEW the next day was going to be even more intense & needed some time to digest everything we had experienced & everything we were going to encounter the next day.

Oh wait. SWAG!

See those radishes. I got those seeds for embarrassing myself & hitting on Ryan from Botanical Interest. Totally worth it.

See those radishes. I got those seeds for embarrassing myself & hitting on Ryan from Botanical Interest. Totally worth it.

I was *SUPER* excited to see Happy Family brands passing out free pouches. The Spawns *LOVE* those things. (Personally, I hate how wasteful the packaging is — but I do reuse the tops for toys. Seriously, why buy your kids toys? They could make anything into a toy with enough imagination). Those are also my beautiful Bontanical Interest seed packets I bought: spinach, microgreens for winter under the grow lights, tomatos, chard (my current obsession) & romaine because I’ve been eating my weight in salads lately. $1 for seeds or $3.29 a head at the store…. Do the mathūüėČ Also, shout outs to Theo Chocolates from Seattle! If everyone spent that kind of cash on (good quality!) chocolate, we wouldn’t eat so much of it. Totally recommend any & everything on their menu! Can’t wait for winter to indulge in some of the Chipotle Drinking Chocolate.

Other tasty stuff I really enjoyed but didn’t purchase that day but most likely will in the future: Mama Chia drinks & Mary’s Gone Crackers snacks.

Disclaimer: I was not paid for any of these opinions. They’re my own. I don’t do cue cards. I tried the products. I liked the products, so I give it the Save Just Three thumbs up for being tasty & more green than some of the products on grocery store shelves. I watched the presenters & liked what they had to say & think it’s a good fit for anyone who is into sustainable living who want more information from more professional people than myself. I’m a peddler of knowledge & I like sharing that knowledge & I didn’t make a penny in writing or sharing this knowledge. None of these are affiliate links. Just regular old links to the products or products website where you can learn more if you are interested.

Make sure to come back tomorrow to see how Day 2 went!!

Why I Gave Up My Community Garden Plot

I’m the type of person who likes to jump in with both feet — & either sink or swim. Most times, I end up flailing for dear life & then float down river a bit. The same is true for the experience in farming. I daydream often about standing on a back patio at¬†dawn & just staring across the horizon. The¬†ground is littered with carrot tops & lettuce heads ready for plucking. The chickens need to be let out for foraging. The scent of the air. OH! The scent of the air! When we drive up to the butcher out in farm-country, I just instantly feel happier smelling the air. Who knew you could get high on clean air? It’s slightly nippy out since it’s so early in the morning. There’s still dew on the grass blades & I’m rockin’ some stylish rain boots after Washington’s glorious bipolar weather downpoured the night before.

And I open my eyes & I’m back in reality, which is the complete opposite of what I dream about.

My husband is the opposite kind of personality. He likes to ease into things. He started college wanting to do computer programming & it’s taken nearly 10 years to get to a point where he makes money doing that (& it’s still not a living wage). He knows I’m rather sporadic or indecisive about things: diet fads & hobbies; working out & life goals. So, he tries to force me to slow down & ease into things to make sure it’s what I want.

I wanted a farm. He wanted a garden. And not just any garden, a 4×8 garden.

I agreed. If anything, we’d get some produce out of it & self satisfaction that we aren’t ultimate black-thumbs. We could introduce the kids into nature & they’d enjoy digging in the dirt. We’d meet some of our neighbors & gain knowledge from the master gardeners. We’d feel good about working the food bank beds, helping other people who are financially strapped have access to organic, local produce. It’s be a precursor into my dream coming true.

But none of those things happened.

I will admit – NOTHING felt quite like harvesting our first batch of radishes. Last year, I got tops¬†& no radishes. This year, there was actual little red bulbs & boy, were they the spiciest & most delicious radishes I’ve had my entire life. But things weren’t working out as planned…

The Spawns were having a difficult time staying out of the garden bed (& I don’t mean digging, I mean STOMPING in it). They would mess with other peoples’ garden d√©cor or scream about bugs. We rarely ran into other gardeners & when we did, they weren’t the chattiest. I’m not saying they were judging, but my paranoia tells me they might of been. We never were able to make time to commit to our 10 hours of community garden bed working.

But there was at least seven other people on¬†a waiting list who could…

We got the email that all the beds were rented for the year & there was a waiting list. I mulled it over a few days. Ultimately it was decided since we weren’t meeting our expectations, we would forfeit our bed this year.

And I’m OK with that.

Aside from zombie apocalypse preparedness & self-sustainability, part of the reason I want to farm is I am passionate about food. To see others questioning the food system & seeking the knowledge, that strikes a cord for me. I want a farm, but can’t have one at the moment. I’d hate to hold on to my plot when it’s not what I truly want, preventing someone else who truly wants just a little patch of soil & can’t have one because the availability isn’t there.

Although this journey is about “saving just three”, really, it is about all of us. Your actions to save just three grow into the bigger picture of helping many others. I can still “save” us by visiting farmers markets, u-pick farms, canning & learning — & most of all, sharing that knowledge & passion with others so they too will feel the need to save themselves… save their family & friends…. save our planet.

And it starts by giving someone else the opportunity in Plot #21.

Summer Tiiiime… & the Living is Green

(I’m a closet Sublime fan. Don’t tell my ex who I always swore I hated Sublime too).

It’s been a while. Why for? Well, we MOVED!! Sometimes part of living a healthier, greener life means relocating. We are much happier in our new apartment. We are close to family & friends who support our¬†endeavors¬†& two steps off my back porch is a patch of wild blackberry bushes.

We haven’t been doing anything tremendous towards our ultimate goal of self-sustainability lately, because we have one giant hiccup in our way: $23,000 in student loan debt. We can draw up all the eco-house plans we want & research real estate sites for hours for acreage but until that bad boy goes away… We’re stuck in the city & that means living by apartment complex rules. No farms. No freedom. And ABSOLUTELY no livestock.

There isn’t room for my compost bin but the complex has a recycling station. My patio doesn’t get much in the way of natural light for growing anything, but my aunt’s does!! There’s grassy areas for the Spawns to run around on instead of a concrete parking lot & there’s community areas like BBQ pits & a swimming pool.

So, what exactly will I blog about since it won’t be milking goats, planting heirloom tomatoes & driving my tractor?

Here’s a List of Things I Hope to Dabble (see: Blog) About Summer 2013 Regarding Our Sustainable Lifestyle:

You can expect to hear me gush about our local farmer’s markets. Most of them in the area run between June – September/October. That being said, May is half over, so expect to see regular posts about what I’m picking up at the market & what I’m learning from the people who grow the food. My little brother is coming up for a week from Tennessee too, so a trip to Washington’s ultimate farmer’s market, Pike Place is definitely in order along with probably Uwajimaya.

This summer, along with some friends, we also plan on hitting some local U-Pick farms. I already have plans to hit the Biringer Strawberry Farm in Arlington & Mountain View Blueberry Farm in Snohomish. Because we plan on picking a lot, I also plan on dabbling in canning FOR THE FIRST TIME! I hear I’m going to have a love-hate relationship with the experience.

For my birthday, I splurged on weekend passes for the Mister & I to attend the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup. This will probably end up being a multi-post mini-series, because there just truly is *SO* much going on at the fair that I am stoked out of my mind about. Everything from straw bale houses to solar panels…¬†Rennet-less cheese to milking baby goats… Joel Salatin‚̧ *swoon* to the guys at Botanical Interest. I’m getting giddy again just thinking about it. I promise you are not going to want to miss all the photographic Earthy eye-candy I’ll be posting.

Of course, we’ll continue to check up on our community garden plot (check out Plot #21 here) & chronicle the (mis)adventures of our second ¬†year trying to grow something.

There’ll be other fun stuff too… Groovy garage sale finds. Brilliant books we’re reading. Sketches of the Future Omlet Hobbit Homestead. Funky farmer foodie documentaries & wild times of us trying to rewild our lives. Oh! & I might even VLOG for you once or twice! Wouldn’t that just be nutty?

I hope you’ll stay tuned because everyone knows, summer is when the memories are just waiting to happen.

“I want to be that crazy, eccentric farmer person!”

I asked my 3 year old, “What do you want to be when she grows up?”. She looked at me innocently, without even the remotest bit of stress on her face regarding the situation & said “I don’t know”. Fair enough. At 3, I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a painter or a dancer or a singer. At one point, I wanted to be like my mom whom at the time was a vet assistant. Eventually I wanted to be a rock star. As I exited high school & had to make some kind of concrete (realistic) decision, I opted for an elementary school teacher. After decided four years of college was too much, I chose a photographer. Once I saw the cut throat market, I opted for stay-at-home-parent (on accident, twice over).

But being a stay-at-home parent, although fulfilling in so many ways, doesn’t fill a void I have to answer that question with something more permanent. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. Eventually, my position as domestic goddess will expire as the children will be able to take care of themselves. I stay awake at night wondering, “What will I do with myself then?”

On a particularly low day, I recently googled “How to Find Your Life Purpose”. Sifting through the typical religious sites & a few with more of a Fight Club theme (“You are not a beautiful or¬†unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else… Oh & by the way, you have NO LIFE PURPOSE!”)… I finally found one that semi-helped.

It told me to write. Write & write & write & don’t stop until you write the one thing that makes you cry.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t take it seriously. And I didn’t until I was watching Hungry for Change & I started crying with Frank Ferrante when he described how much he hated himself & how painful it was to let other people love him. I realized, food is my passion. Not JUST food — but¬†GOOD food. My actions may not always show it (I’m drinking a Monster Java after I had a donut for breakfast), but I care about the food system. I care about farmers & farm land preservation. I care about animal welfare & soil nutrient balance. I got teary-eyed as Michael Pollan described Polyface Farms in The Omnivore’s Dilemma & the beautiful orchestrated balancing act of animals nurturing the land & the land sustaining the animals residing there. I feel so warm & moved when I read about people who have essentially saved their own lives through diet change or gave their¬†food desert¬†neighborhood access to fresh vegetables by starting a community garden. ¬†I feel so connected & like part of¬†something greater¬†when I go to farmers markets & chat with growers.

Oh La La! Ciscoe Morris!

Oh La La! Ciscoe Morris!

This weekend, we went to the Evergreen State Spring Fair. I was primarily going to listen in on Ciscoe Morris’ garden talk, but Monster Girl getting to enjoy a carnival ride & The Mister indulging in some BBQ were perks worth the $5 parking fee. Ciscoe’s talk was packed. There wasn’t even any seating available. People were drawn to him because not only is he one of our state’s master gardeners — he’s entertaining & he’s funny… & he’s passionate. I didn’t say anything to any one of the audience members. I didn’t even get to say anything to Mr. Morris himself. But I smiled so hard at seeing so many people taking interest in their own backyard & what they could do with it.

The beauty of talking to people who make your food is information. Knowledge is power. And people deserve the right to that power (which is why there are so many petitions & bills being presented requesting labeling of products with GMOs in them! Contact your state’s legislative team today if you want access to that power!) — We found out at the Spring Fair why our beloved Tribley’s BBQ sauce has high fructose corn syrup in it (& how they are working to try to find an alternative). We were able to talk to many BBQ’ers about who sources their meat & what they add to their sauces. But my favorite part of the event?

We got to chitchat with the proprietors of R Heritage Farm. Based out of Gold bar, they raise natural, pasture fed heritage breeds of pork & poultry. Their booth was full of so much information, I STILL haven’t even gotten to process it all & the photos of their beautiful animals made me green with envy… & terribly hungry! Recipe sheets & photo slideshows can only tell you so much though. Actually getting to talk to Ben, his energy is just electric. He truly beams with pride about his products & their sustainability on the farm. Again, there it was… that passion.

WHAT IS IT about being out in nature that makes people so passionate they come off as being totally CRAZY!? Funny story, I first noticed this when we were watching Food Inc for the first time. Brian, being a man, is very visual. He has to SEE things rather than listen to his nagging wife tell him why GMOs are bad & the damage the current food system inflicts on the planet. He knows his wife is a tree hugger. He also knows I have a tendency to overreact. That being said, food documentaries are how I’ve convinced him otherwise. While watching Food Inc, I’d refer to¬†probably the¬†most well known “grass farmer”¬†as “that crazy farmer guy”. Brian would be chasing Princess Cthulhu or washing the dinner dishes & he’d ask from inside the kitchen, “What’d I miss?” — “Oh ya know, that crazy farmer guy is back on… He’s on the ground with some pigs”.

And now… 6 months later… I’m totally smitten over “that crazy farmer guy” & forked out mucho dineros to be able to watch him process a chicken at the Mother Earth News Fair next month.

800px-Joel_Salatin_and_hen

Ladies & Gents, the most eccentric farmer EVER — Joel Salatin *swoon*

As we walked away from R Hertiage’s booth at the fair & Ben’s speech on the benefits of cooking with lard (I promised I would give it a try), Brian looked at me & said “That guy was kind of crazy”

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“Yeah… Kind of like Joel… But that’s going to be me one day.”
“I want to be that crazy, eccentric farmer person”

Cheap Organic Food?? Check Alternative Sources.

The other day, I got in a “heated debate” regarding the recent story covering a petition to urge Kraft Foods to remove additives in their US version of their classic blue box macaroni & cheese that are not included in the UK versions due to concerns over cancer-causing ingredients. (Read about it & sign the petition if you feel so inclined here)

To put it bluntly, a¬†user¬†implied supporters of this petition are¬†“on a high horse”,¬†that we “all can’t afford a Whole Foods meal”.

Hold the phone.

I’d like to think we eat relatively healthy, but I’ve never stepped foot into a Whole Foods. Even if I had visited this “designer health food store” as I like to refer to it as, we certainly couldn’t afford to do our regular once-a-month shopping trips there.

Yet, somehow, we manage to budget to eat GOOD food.

I get asked this question more than anything when people want to ask about our more natural lifestyle: “How do you afford the organic food?

As with any method of saving money, you need to combine methods, mix & match what will work for your own individual situation. But here are some suggestions….

I use coupons. Primarily, they are ones I receive from emailing companies or following my favorites online. Annie’s Homegrown, Earthbound Farms¬†& Bob’s Redmill are all popular natural products that put out coupons occasionally or will send them upon request. I scan sales flyers & check for clearance quick-sale meat & often find salad mix bags or precut fruit cups at 50% off, nearing their expiration date. I use my loyalty rewards¬†from shopping on things that don’t normally have coupons (fruits, veg, fresh meat) & buy from bulk bins.

I shop farmer’s markets & with my local butchers. Two summers ago, I would of paid .59 cents for a conventional cucumber in the grocery store, because the $1.49 organic cucumber was “too expensive” in my opinion. Last summer, I would buy cucumbers at the local farmer’s market for .79 cents each & while not USDA certified organic, the actual harvesters who maintained the produce & were selling their hard work assured me they were not treated with pesticides (USDA organic certification is an expensive & lengthy process, making it unreachable for many smaller scale farms). Draper Valley Farms produces chicken is available in most QFC stores. However, you can also go to the local butcher who works with the same distributors & get the same breasts for a fraction of the price the grocery stores ask.

Know the BIG ones to splurge on: Meat. Dairy. Vegetables. Fruit. Wheat. Corn. Sugar. Soy. & any product that contains any of them. Always aim for local. If not local, organic. If not organic, natural. And print up a copy of the Dirty Dozen. 88 cent a pound broccoli is nothing to shake a stick at, but maybe 99c conventional strawberries may be something to walk away from.

Stop relying on convenience foods. This is the big one. This is where the masses have come under this delusion that organic food is somehow significantly more expensive¬†& thus significantly out of their reach. A bag of¬†Cheetos can run you $1.99 whereas a bag of say, Pirate’s Booty can run you $3.49. But do chips really need to be a staple food in your diet? American “cheese” slices (I use the term “cheese” loosely) are pretty cheap… Say 99c a pack on a good sale. So, why fork out $4.99 for a block of Tillamook? Because… the Tillamook block will give you at least 3 packs of 99c “cheese” plus some shreds. Don’t even get me started on the sheer laziness of using shredded cheese & those adorable baby carrots you can easily cut yourself…

But I can’t! I love my convenience foods! I could never give them up!

Fair enough. While I usually push localvorism, there are a few items that are just easier to buy off a shelf instead of making from scratch or trying to find a vendor for (like ketchup). To which I say… You don’t need to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or heck, even Albertson’s.

Feast your eyes upon the organic, natural & reasonably priced wares I found at “alternative” grocery stores.

New ImageBoy, that’s an awful lot of green & white USDA organic symbols….

FoodCollage

For those who aren’t scratching their head because they don’t know what they’re looking at:
Yves vegetarian lunch meat for $1.49
Organic chicken broth for 79c a can
Back to Nature macaroni & cheese for $2.99 for a 3 pack (that equals about $1 a box — Take that, blue box!)
Pacific organic soup starter for $1.29
Stretch Island fruit leathers: 6 for .99!!
among others….

The above items were found at two stores: Grocery Outlet & Big Lots.

I shop these stores occasionally (also not my primary source for groceries), but I recall these stores being once upon a time labeled as the “second-stores” or “grocery thrift stores”. This is where cast off dented cans & that one flavor of Kool-Aid went that nobody liked to be sold for pennies on the dollar.

Really? Because from the looks of it these stores meant to serve the under-served are serving up the good stuff that the rest of the population complains are too expensive in their conventional grocery store.

I even found natural-brand leaders in more than just food:

Toiletries
Softlips Organic for 99c
Earth’s Best diapers for $15 for 64 count (that comes to about 23cents a diaper — about a 3cents difference from the Target generic brand)
And don’t give me anymore excuses why you CAN’T change your incandescent light bulb to CFL! 2/$1 energy-saving light bulbs.

A few things to remember about “alternative” grocery stores…

1. Because prices are already so low, most of these stores do NOT accept manufacturer coupons. They often times will have an ad that DOES contain some coupons that pertain to only their store.
2. Inventory is often sporadic & unpredictable & often will not restock. We went into Big Lots to get more Bob’s Redmill gluten-free brownie mix, but ran into only the granola & bean soup mixes… But we did find Earth’s Best organic cookies (“Cookie Monster cookies” as the Spawn likes to call them) for a $1 a box! (These retail for about $3+ a box). I certainly wasn’t looking to find buy one, get one organic Kettle Chips at Grocery Outlet, but I knew they had $1.99 packs of Tillamook cheese (usually).

IMAG1046

3. It’s really… really… really… REALLY easy to get distracted & buy something (or 6 somethings) that may not be entirely organic or natural (or of any nutritional value beyond taurine & a mess of B-vitamin supplements). Make a list of things you hope to find¬†& know how much you usually pay for them to know if the deal is worth stocking up on. Also, be prepared for deals you may not know you need because you never know when a wall o’ Monster Energy… err… I mean $5.49 100% organic maple syrup will be in stock or out of stock.

There you have it. How we manage to survive on a peasant’s budget yet eat local, organic, natural — or highly caffeinated.

Now go forth & improve your diets – whether at the designer health grocers or your own back yards!

PS: YES! I know. We need to kick the energy drink habit. They offer nothing to value & are a waste of energy to manufacture, package & ship. But man, having a 3yo & 1yo make for some long nights & sometimes… you just gotta do whatcha gotta do to make it through the day.

Get Rewarded for Greening up Your Life with Recyclebank

Want to green up your lifestyle but don’t really know where to start? Overwhelmed by all the choices to the point you forget the simplest steps can lead to a huge impact? Veteran eco-ally looking for a few tips or discounts on your favorite sustainable products?

One of my favorite new sites since starting our voyage into sustainability has become Recyclebank.com.

1. Sign up here
2. Complete¬†pledges to earn points.¬†For example,¬†tasks can range from pledging to turn off your lights for Earth¬†Hour to learning about the process to recycle aluminum & vowing to recycle your cans (Did you know recycling just ONE can saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours! ‚ÄĒ I learned that from Recyclebank!)
3. Earn points & cash in for rewards!

According to my reward summary, I’ve saved $30 to date by printing exclusive, high-value coupons from Recyclebank. I’ve gotten free cans of Bumble Bee tuna by pairing their $1 off 2 coupon (NLA) with Albertson’s Twice the Value deals & BOGO Happy Tot squeezy pouches (which I then turn around & send to TerraCycle to be made into new products!)

Right now I’m really excited for the $2 off ANY Alba Botanics product. I LOVE their lip balm & will be cashing in for one of these coupons to get it on a good sale. There’s also cash off Regal Cinema ticket coupons, $10 Applebee’s e-gift certificate & $1 off 2 Blue Diamond almonds (we go through A L O T for making almond meal).

Check it out & come back to let us know what your favorite reward is or something new you learned during one of the pledge infographs.

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