Category Archives: Lessons Learned
“I’m Gonna Pop Some Cans – Only Got 20 Lbs of Strawberries”
“Whatchu know about making jam? Whatchu know about doing some can-nin’?”
OK. I’m done with the Macklemore references.
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?
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
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…
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
Mother Earth News Fair: Day 2
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.
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….
“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
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.
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.
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! 😀
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…
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
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?”)…
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….
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!
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.
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….
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!
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 math 😉 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 décor 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.
Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Home Shows Aren’t Eco Shows
I’ll tell you a secret….
I’ve never been to a convention.
I was super excited to check out the Northwest Flower & Garden Show this year, but the frugal in me said “$20 ticket? Just so you can see a Hobbit House?” (& fight Seattle traffic then pay Seattle parking prices to do so?!). I suppose I could tried harder to talk myself into going on Friday when most cubicle dwellers were working the grind, most children were in school & thus most of the crowd was absent — PLUS Casper Babypants was performing that day! (Even tho I had already seen Chris Ballew perform with the Presidents the weekend before for PUSAFest). Needless to say, I couldn’t bear to part with the money. Besides, we were supposed to go volunteer a few hours harvesting potatoes for a local food bank (which, unfortunately, got rained out. That being said, I don’t have any awesome blog post to write about it. Tragic.) So, when the opportunity arose to check out the Everett Home & Garden Show for cheaper, closer (Yay! Less carbon emissions!) & free parking… I was stoked.
But remember… I’ve never been to a trade show.
Salesmen. Salesmen as far as the eye could see. Maybe not nearly as skeezy as Danny DiVito in Matilda, but salesmen none-the-less. “Interested in new windows?” “You look like you could use a new bathroom” “When’s the last time you had your roof replaced? We offer free estimates!” I don’t quite understand why so many diet fad items were there though. It was overwhelming while being underwhelming. While I can’t say I was impressed by the lack of recycled and eco-friendly options offered, I was thrilled with one thing.
Part of me wanted to refuse the Made in China, mass produced, free-advertising trinkets. But the stuff I did snag, I talked myself into for their eco-friendliness:
– CFL bulbs to use 1/4 the energy of incandescents, courtesy of the Snohomish County PUD.
– Reusable totes to keep plastic bags out of landfills (& shockingly, I’m actually pretty good at remembering to bring them). As you can tell by the logos, these were provided by SnoCo PUD & AlaskaUSA Mortgage Company.
– Water bottle because I can’t even begin to explain how ridiculous it is to pay for bottles of water from the health implications to the environmental impact. (Courtesy of those nice guys at Judd & Black who answered all Brian’s questions about the energy efficiency of their washer/dryer units on display)
– & my personal fave, the gorgeous hyacinth from Coast Cabins (which make adorable cabins that could easily be converted to tiny houses)
We also supported some local artisans for not much more than we would of spent supporting companies based in other states & shipped in to WA:
Tribley’s BBQ from Ferndale & Just Heavenly Fudge out of Lopez Island.
Just Heavenly Fudge is — well — just heavenly!
It’s probably a good thing Lopez Island is 2 1/2 hours away or I could get really chubby, really fast. Other cool, thought provoking things we saw?
When we have too many potato towers & tire swings, tires apparently make really fantastic roofing. I love the green (er… black?) idea of this, but as an even crunchier friend pointed out, “Why would you buy it from someone else when you could make it yourself?” Besides, terra-roofs don’t need shingles.
Look at the water heater to the left… Now look at the water heater to the right… Now back at the left…
This was a display at Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating. Do you know what you’re looking at? They’re water heaters. The right used well water. The left… not so much. I’ll let you take a guess what was flowing in that one. Clue: It’s what most of us use. (City water). Not what I was expecting when we asked about it.
Props to the Snohomish County Conversation Society! They’re booth was full of so much awesome information & resources, my mind wanted to explode. I wish they would of had more people manning it to allow me to green-geek out.
So, it wasn’t a complete waste. We managed to learn a lot… Like most the people at home shows aren’t trying to save much of anything.