What is a Transition Homestead?

“The government can’t do it and the corporations won’t do it…we need to look at ourselves.”  
-Jules Dervaes

A loosely woven ‘homesteading’ movement has emerged and is now gaining wider popularity.  It is a response to a society filled with overconsumption and imbalance.  The gold standard is a middle class family that sells everything and moves off grid.  However, there are endless variations to this lifestyle and my family is a living example.

Our story began a few years ago when we watched a 10 minute video, Homegrown Revolution.  We accepted that we needed to become the solutions we wanted to see in this world.  Similar to people who are volunteering to live in transition towns, we have dedicated our home and lifestyle choices to ‘transitioning’ to a post-peak existence in the retrofitted suburbs with the following aims:

* Sustainable food production

* Relocalizing our economy

* Living in a restorative relationship with the natural world

The Business of Spring

No doubt spring is the busiest time of the year.  By this time next weekend we will be in full blow production mode with the installation of the 2018 apiary, the micro-greens grow room will be at full capacity, and we still have infrastructure to build on our 10 plots at the community garden.

And then there are our ‘real’ jobs that pay the bills…

Chicks

It’s a time of a lot of work, but it is also an energizing time.  New life abounds in spring!  Flowers break through, bees hives hum anew, and baby animals are everywhere.

This is the most treasured time of year.

 

Being Called

They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.  Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.  All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.  Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.  They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.  And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  (Acts 2:42-47)

In the last 2 year I have befriended an apostolic Dominican sister.  The deep respect I have for the life she lives is impossible to overstate.

Sister grew up in a time that complete dedication to living God’s call was not an extreme rarity.  When the sisters were called to build a hospital and serve the community’s need, without guarantees they trekked off committed to build.

The sisters kept a ledger of all transactions as they spent 15 sacrificing years paying the new hospital off.  The ledger had entries like, ’25 cents found on the sidewalk.” One Christmas each sister was allocated $5.00 for stamps to correspond with their families in the upcoming year, each sister donated their stamp allowance towards the hospital debt.  This doesn’t take into account the decades of free professional labor that each sister contributed.  When the hospital was valued for sale it was worth over $65 million dollars, yet the sister’s sold their hospital to the Sisters of Providence for $1.

In a world that idolizes successful entrepreneurs and executives, I admire Sister for her commitment to our Lord’s kingdom.  And in a time where social justice has been reduced to a political identity, the Dominican sisters saw it nothing short of a life’s calling.

Simple Peace

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.  (Jeremiah 29:5)

When I was coming of age I wanted to move to the woods and ‘live off the fat of the land’.  One of my most treasured birthday gifts for my 18th birthday was, Old Fashion Recipe Book: An Encyclopedia of Country Living.

At 18 years old I didn’t have enough money for land, so instead I went to school and the next thing I knew I was 40 years old.

Praise God that my 40’s ushered in a new phase of my life.  My new life is a simple one.  I’ll admit that sometimes I envy others who make different choices, but mostly I am just so thankful.  Thankful for my relationships with God, my husband, my son, and my community.  I thank God that for the last 4 years, through God, I have lived in simple peace.

How Many Acres?

At Fruit Hill Farm we are looking to expand our footprint ‘under cultivation’ and that has sparked conversations around the dinner table.

“How many acres should we be aiming to get?”

It is a question every traditional homesteading family asks.  Not enough acres and we will not be able to meet the goals of our family’s homestead.  Too many acres and we may be ‘trapped’ under a list of projects that are too ambitious.

Our challenge is compounded since we are not a traditional homestead.  We chose to ‘grow where we were planted’.  We didn’t move to a rural area to live our homesteading dream.  Modeling ourselves after inspirations such as the Dervaes family, we are homesteading in the suburbs.

Our goal is to purchase enough small parcels within walking/biking distance of our home to cultivate.  Ideal plots will be greater than a half acre and not have any buildings on it.  So beyond being limited by what we can afford, how do we determine how many acres?

What are we trying to achieve?

There are 2 primary desires for why we want to farm land:

*  Heal our land (sequester carbon, establish mycelium network, restore biodiversity)

*  Food security

In regards to healing our land, that desire does not provide us helpful guidance.  In our hearts, every acre on earth should be restored back to Eden.

Food security is a better guide for us.  With our 1/3rd acre lot we already have enough land to provide for enough food for our family.  That is we could survive off our current land base, but it would be a diet unlike that of even the strictest American plant-based diet.  We can grow starch with potatoes, sweet potatoes, and sun chokes.  However, we don’t have enough land to grow enough grains for our family.  We are experimenting this next growing season with growing grains like oats and sorghum, but how much land that will take is still to be determined.

During our most ambitious conversations we ask ourselves, ‘Is Millwood capable of growing it’s own food base?’ 

Millwood Statistics

*  ~2000 citizens

*  2 lbs/day plant based diet per person to sustain

–  1,460,000 lbs. of crops/year to feed Millwood at sustaining levels

–  If we use the Dervaes family’s yield as the upper limit of yield (6000 lbs/yr on 0.1 acre) = 60,000 lbs./acre max.

–  24.33 acres at optimal yields (which is dependent of quality of land and skill-sets we do not yet have)

Next Level Considerations

Keep in mind the above thought experiment is just to sustain.  There is no dairy and few grains in a diet that can be provided on 25 acres for 2000 people.  However, if individual households would also integrate their yards into the food security plan, the diet could also provide for meat (primarily fowl and rabbit).

If we include ducks, it would significantly increase cooking possibilities as duck have excess oils.  Also, female fowl can provide eggs to the diet.

Homesteading Rules of Thumb (results vary based on breed and skill level of homesteader)

*  A milking goat provides on average 457 gallons/yr. (1.5 gallons * 305 lactation days; goats cannot be raised in solitude)

*  A chicken can produce up to 250 eggs/yr.

*  A duck can produce on average 1.5 cups of rendered oil

*  1 rabbit buck and 3 rabbit does can provide as much meat/yr. as a cow (and will consume half the feed)

*  A beehive can yield up to 0.5-1.5 gallons of honey (our yield has been closer to 0.5 gallons/hive)

Season of Advent

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.  (James 5:7)

Last Sunday our pastor shared a parable about a woman entering a store that is run by Jesus.  She was invited to travel the aisles, filling the shopping cart with her heart’s desire.   Packages with labels such as ‘end starvation and poverty’, ‘resolve wars’, ‘strengthen families’, and ‘heal the natural world’.  Jesus rang her up and handed her seed packets.

Jesus said. “This is a catalog store…this is a place of dreams.  You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds.  You go home and plant the seeds. You water them, nurture them, help them to grow, and someday someone else reaps the benefits.” (Gail Duba, 12/17/17)

As we wait for our Savior’s return, will we plant and nurture the seeds of His Kingdom?

The Wife He Deserves

 With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

I love my husband!

He has been my hero, the one who adores me, and my partner as we build something bigger than ourselves.  Yet on occasion he can really disappoint me (no doubt I disappoint him too at times).

It is in those moments I am reminded, God calls me daily to fulfill my full promise as a wife, regardless of what type of wife my husband deserves.

Love Drives Out Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  (1 John 4:18)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.  (Psalm 23)

All you have to do is turn on ‘the news’ for 10 minutes to become painfully aware that we live in a scary world.  Fear is a tool of this world, used to distract us from God’s perfect love.

You are loved!

Honey Harvest

Honey harvest is a September activity.  After the first frost, or sustained temps of less that 50 degrees, I personally don’t like to breech the integrity of the hive and expose the bees to cold temperatures.

After the hives have been broken down and readied for the winter, I bank honey frames in the freezer for spring supplementation for the hive if necessary.  Lastly, I bring in the surplus frames to harvest the family’s share.

Our family does have a centrifugal force extractor.  It was gifted to us by a dear friend.  If we ever have a multi-site apiary or a large apiary we will use it to harvest.  Our current apiary only has 6 hives.  When we used the extractor last year, we noticed the inefficiency created waste we could just not tolerate.  We only harvest 2-3 gallons a year, and every drop is precious to us.

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Since we are so small scale, we harvest the very old fashioned way, by gravity.  After scraping the framed we first strain the through a large strainer.  This is just to remove the largest particles of beeswax.

After the honey has been strained through the large strainer by gravity, it is then double strained through smaller strainers to ensure that what is bottled up is 100% pure honey.  It takes our family about 2 weeks to gravity process our honey for the year.

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Above All Love

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

I have found that it is necessary for me to seize every opportunity to let people know that I love them!

Without fail over time, I will say something insensitive, forget something that was important to another, or have to deliver news that others don’t want to hear.

Hopefully before that happens I will have built up enough love surplus, that my imperfection will be met with grace.