Building Soil is Job #1

In 2015 we were inspired by the short-film Homegrown Revolution, featuring the Dervaes family. The short film shared the story of one man’s path to freedom for himself and his family by building a self-sufficient farm on 1/5th acre in the suburbs of Pasadena, CA. That story sparked a flood of new dreams and ideas for my family. A new journey had begun!

Getting Started

With more ideas, than time and money to support the ideas, we struggled with where to start.  After watching the movie Back to Eden, we decided job #1 in building a restorative relationship with the natural world needed to be rebuilding our soil.  Our lawn had died off previously in 2 of our 4 yards, leaving us with a fair amount of exposed ground.

Uncovered ground is both a symptom and a contributing factor to dying soil. The part of our yards that still had growth were covered with English Ivy and other invasive species, which is also a clear sign to the condition of the soil health (or lack of) underneath.

In the spring/summer of 2015, we arranged for a local tree trimming service to deliver 2 truckloads of wood chips and used them as mulch in garden areas we assessed they would be the most beneficial.

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Summer 2015

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Summer 2015

Then we heavily seeded the rest of the property with a cover crop.  Next to the primary veggie garden area, we set up a composting station in the yard to help grow fertile soil amendments and encourage the return of worms back onto our property.

Last, we bought chickens and in the fall rabbits to partner with us in our soil building efforts. The rabbits put out a steady stream of ready to use ‘organic fertilizer’ and chickens provided needed disturbance and aeration to the soil.

The result was the next spring we had this…and we were delighted how much more fertile our yard was becoming.  Yet we still had a long way to go.

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Spring  2016

Slow. Stop. Sink.

The same chickens that were a godsend the year before, were little destroyers of our growing efforts in 2016.  They pecked and scratched the land bare, exposing the soil again by the end of the growing season.

To compound problems, it was a hot summer and our food forest area is on a slope. What little rain that did fall during the 2016 growing season didn’t seep into the soil in the same way it did in flatter areas.

As we observed the area we selected to develop into a perennial food forest, it became apparent that we needed to improve the hydration to the area by increased mulching and building a hugelkultur mound around the perimeter.

We wanted to prime the area to slow, stop, and sink rain water into the soil.

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Fall 2016

Food Forest Project

As we cleared the last of the invasive overgrowth and brush from another area of the property, we used the larger pieces of green waste to built an animal deterrent around the food forest area.

Our plan was to let the sticks and small logs dry out and they would serve as the foundation of our hugelktur mounds for the 2017 growing season.  We heavily mulched the area every time we cleaned the rabbit hutches and we seeded the area in the late fall with a nitrogen fixing cover crop mix.

As the snow melted, we started to fill in the gaps of the hugelkultur mounds with small pieces of organic matter and compost. In early March we planted a spring nitrogen fixing cover crop on the mounds themselves.

In April when we moved the chickens into their new enclosure, we built a keyhole garden for our annuals where the old coops used to be right outside the hugelkultur mound.

We also took out 2 trees that didn’t survive the winter. We replaced them with 2 peach trees to accompany the pear and 4 apple trees already in the forest area. Last we added 2 hazelnut trees, gooseberry and boysenberry bushes, and a bunch of perineal flowering plants to round out the layers of the food forest.

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Spring 2017

Beyond 30:1 Carbon Nitrogen Ratio

In the last 2 years we have learned so much about building soil. One of our favorite teachers has been Dr. Elaine Ingham and we have watched every video of hers we could get our hands on. We encourage all growth, including edible ‘weeds’, to keep our soil covered and healing.

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Summer 2017

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Summer 2017

On Fruit Hill Farm we consider building the soil job #1. Every garden area that we have approached with soil building as our goal has given generously during the growing season.

Whispers From Eden

“You were in Eden, the garden of God…Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.” (Ezekiel 28:11&17)

Today I was working on my garden, struck by how beautiful it is starting to look. I wondered if this is what it is like to walk in the garden with our Lord?

My heart was stung by a faint whisper, ‘As you walk through your garden you delight in the fruits of your labor, the garden you built. In My garden there is no toil, the garden is a gift and a testament to My glory.’

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Busted!

It was finally bee package day, every beekeeper in our region were picking up their bees. For me this was an eventful day with a myriad of obstacles (including the loss of a queen) to install 4 new hives.

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(the chaos of bee package day, a work in progress)

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(The Fruit Hill Farm Apiary)

After hours of work, I finally took a rest to sit on a bale for a while and proudly gaze upon the apiary.  My peaceful respite was suddenly interupted when my husband called from the porch, “Babe we just got a letter from the city…”

My family had been reported to the City Code Officer for 3 Violations:

*  Owning a rooster (we never have)

*  Owning too many female fowl (guilty)

*  Owning too many rabbits (guilty)

I was so angry! How dare the city try to interfere with my family’s vision to provide for ourselves?  Why didn’t whoever turned us in not just let us know how they felt, instead of passive aggressively turning us into the city?  I felt like at the core, our lifestyle was being threatened.

Eventually I calmed down, and my husband Scott and I started to put together a plan to come into compliance within 14 days as not to face financial penalty.

The importance of staying compliant with codes is always a passionately debated topic among homesteaders, some will argue that the government has no right to rob citizens of the ability to provide for themselves.  If enough of us ignore the laws they will loose their potency.  “They can’t stop us all!”, is a popular mantra.

Others argue that there is no point in fighting city hall and if we break laws along our homestead journey, then we get what we deserve.

Our family believes that laws and codes that prohibit reasonable homesteading practices are unjust. We should therefore challenge them, yet we must always be willing to face the consequences if we choose to ignore the law.  Our family challenges such laws primarily through modeling and educating others on the benefits of ‘suburban farming’.

At Fruit Hill Farm, we believe the suburbs are extremely viable locations for families to establish homesteads. As we look to the future, and the likely challenges society will face, we believe retrofitted suburbs will play an important role in the response to a changing world. In the suburbs families can enjoy shared comforts, safety, and the resilience of being surrounded by a proximal community.  The average suburban lot (1/5 to 1/2 acre) provides enough space to grow a significant amount of the food for the household.

Being good neighbors is a very important aspect of us sharing our beliefs. Not everyone in the neighborhood is ready for a suburban farm next door, those who reported us felt we were not being good neighbors. We remedied the situation and came under legal compliance, but the mission continues.

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My Grandpa

I lost my grandpa almost 10 years ago…he was a good man.

Like many men of his day, my grandpa stood by his values even when they became inconvenient to his fleeting desires. He was a man of great compassion sometimes yielding his own self-interests. As a lifelong republican/classical liberal, he started leaning toward the libertarian party from the 1970’s onward. He believed in the gold standard.

My grandpa didn’t view independence and community as being at odds. He valued self-reliance and took great care of his family. My grandpa also served in his community through his job and volunteerism. He believed relationships are how we all stay stronger together.

Grandpa attended church every Sunday. He cautioned the coupling of the evangelical movement and the political right in the 1980’s was horrible idea. He warned that such a coupling would erode the traditional core beliefs of both groups. I believe it has. Republicans are a worse versions of who they used to be. Christians too have forgotten who they are and the God they serve, in favor of supporting a party platform.

In today’s hyper-partisan world that appears void of empathy or reasonable thinking, he would of been called a cuck, snowflake, misogynist, or a deplorable. He wouldn’t of called anyone names at all.

I call him a ‘quiet hero’.

My prayer for this country…is that more people will choose to be like my Grandpa.

(originally appeared on Shawna’s former blog, Lion’s Thunder, 2/4/17)

Pennies on the Dollar (Part 2)

After writing Pennies on the Dollar, I thought it would be beneficial to provide an example of a 5-Day dinner plan. These recipes use ingredients from the Pennies on the Dollar shopping list. The Day 1 meal only feeds one person. All other recipes will feed 3 people.

Typically I try to do the majority of my prepping and cooking on Sunday, starting with a whole animal (chicken or rabbit). The yield of my efforts are a family dinner of a stew or chicken noodle soup on Day 2; a half gallon of bone broth and leftover meat to provide the foundation for family dinners Days 3-5.

Day 1 (Fried Organ Meat & Salad)

Harvest organs when small animal is butchered and cleaned.

*  Liver
*  Kidneys
*  Heart

Lightly fry organs in butter or bacon fat. Serve with your favorite leafy green salad.

Day 2 (Stew)

Placed 1 small butchered and cleaned animal (chicken or rabbit) in a crockpot on Day 1. Add to crockpot:

1-2 Tablespoon of ‘Better Than Bullion’ (I use chicken)
2 cups of chopped carrots
2 cups of chopped celery
1 onion diced
4 cloves of minced garlic
Fresh ground salt and pepper

Add spices and herbs to taste (I like to add 1 lemon squeezed with zest -or- Basil & Thyme)

Pour water over all the crockpot contents until covered and cook on high for 2 hours, then reduce temperature to warm for an additional 12-22 hours. When done spoon broth and veggies into bowl over meat separated from the bone. Serve warm with fresh bread.

Storing leftovers: After stew is eaten, I only save meat and bone broth…everything else is given to animals or put into compost pile. Separate all meat from bone and store in refrigerator in bag or container. In a half gallon mason jar pour broth (through strainer to separate out bones and veggies).

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Day 3 (Tomato and Wine Sauce)

A valuable cooking lesson is that tomatoes, onions, and garlic can add depth to any leftover dish.

1.5-2 lbs of leftover meat
1 onion diced
4 cloves of minced garlic
1-2 cans or mason jars of tomato sauce
1/2 cup of white wine
2-3 cups of rice or noodles
parmesan cheese

Add all the above ingredients to crockpot on high for 2+ hours and on warm until served. If the sauce is too thick, you can add 1/4 water and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on dish when served. Salt and pepper to taste.

Day 4 (Pho)

4 cups of bone broth
2 cups of water
1 onion diced
1 small ginger root shredded (or 4-5 ginger slices)
Thai basil
Scallions, leeks, or garlic shoots
Mung sprouts
Leftover meat
1 package of Rice Noodles
Hoisin sauce

In stockpot add broth, water, onion, ginger, and meat at simmer of 1-2 hours. Soak the noodles in warm tap water for 1 hour. 20 minutes before serving, add noodles to stock pot and add scallions, leeks, or garlic shoots. Serve warm in big soup bowl with basil, mung sprouts, and hoisin sauce to taste.

Day 5 (French Onion Soup)

4 cups of bone broth
3-4 onions, sliced
1 cup of red wine
1/4 cup of butter
1-2 Tablespoons of flour
parmesan or swiss cheese

Melt butter in a pan, dust onions in flour and caramelize. In pot simmer broth and wine, add caramelized onions. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes and serve in bowl with sprinkled parmesan or melt swiss cheese on top.

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(originally appeared on Shawna’s former blog, Lion’s Thunder, 2/2/17)

Pennies on the Dollar

Last week I was part of a conversation about someone who was ‘caught on tape’ buying soda pop and junk food with food stamps. I don’t share the outrage that others expressed about someone on food stamps buying processed junk food, but I did feel deep sadness. I feel sad that along with pretty much everyone else in America, the person in the video is missing out on the opportunity to experience true peace that comes with having a well-stocked larder/pantry in their home.

After our conversation, I wondered if it is possible to establish a well-stocked larder on food stamps. I looked up the max. monthly amount of food stamps available for a family of 3 (the size of my current household). The maximum benefit available is $526/mo. With that amount of money, a larder could be established in 3 months using the following lists at your guide for a family of 3 (please adjust according to your family size).

Monthly Staples – $404.50

4 dozen eggs – $8.00
4 gallons of milk – $10.00
Butter – $5.00
Veggies (per personal tastes) – $75.00
Tomato pastes and sauces 24 cans – $12.00
Lettuce/Cabbage ($2.50/head) – $40.00
Onions 5 lbs. – $10.00
Garlic 1 lb. – $5.00
Potatoes 20 lbs. – $16.00
Fruits (per personal tastes) – $50.00
Rasins 40 oz. – $6.00
Oranges 20 lbs. – $26.00
Apples 10 lbs. – $20.00
Lemons 10 lbs. – $7.50
Oatmeal 18 oz. (4) – $13.00
Honey 1lb. – $8.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 8 lbs. – $6.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00
Meat & Cheese $2.50/day – $75.00

Building the Larder – $114.00

Beans 20 lbs. – $15.00
Spices – $7.50
Oils 50 oz. – $16.00
Vinegar & Salts – $17.50
Sweet potatoes 6 lbs. – $8.00
Rice 25 lbs. – $29.00
Flour 25 lbs. – $21.00

Monthly Total – $518.50

Mason Jars 4 Boxes/month (not covered by food stamps) – $32.00

Following this buying guide will give you all the food you need to eat very well and under budget. If you aren’t practiced at cooking all your meals, you will need to learn. A tip, I bet there are a handful of mentors just waiting for the ask at your local church. I for one would jump at the chance to share what I have learned on my own journey with someone who is taking their first steps towards true freedom!

For couples or singles the time to establish a well-stocked larder will be longer if you go it alone. The maximum benefit for a single is $200/month. Try to find a couple friends in the same circumstance and pool your resources. With 3 singles pooled together for just a 3 month agreement, you could use the above table and to establish your 3 separate larders and have about $80/month left over.

After the first three months, things get pretty exciting fast. First you may notice that once your larder is established and you can cut your monthly spend by $135/month*. Or you could start enhancing your larder with a diversity of flavors the first three months you couldn’t afford. Coco powder, fresh roots like ginger or turmeric, seasonal fruits/veggies, or an organic small animal like a rabbit or chicken to make bone broth and experiment with organ meats** are all great choices. Or you could use your extra resources to buy and dehydrate pounds of carrots, celery, and onions to use later to brightened up your recipes for months to come.

Getting to Pennies on the Dollar

After some time cooking out of your larder, you will likely start feeling drawn toward the full freedom of being able to provide for yourself and your family. When you start feeling pulled to self-sufficiency it will be time to start your own garden and maybe even buy a few animals. Chickens and rabbits are a great jumping off point on the full freedom path.

My family has chickens, turkeys, rabbits, bee hives all on our suburban lot. Check your local laws before taking your journey to the next level, and make sure you take great care of your operation so there are no complaints from neighbors. In my town we can keep 4 fowl and 4 adult rabbits (bunnies under 90 days don’t count). The amount of food produced by such an operation may surprise you. Also the beehives don’t just produce honey, our bees increased the garden yield for us and our neighbors. When we started gardening and raising animals, in addition to cooking, we started to learn traditional food preservation techniques. Mentors, YouTube, books, and classes are all ways I learned on my journey to establishing a traditional kitchen.

With a garden and a few animals, your monthly quarterly food expenses could start to look closer to this:

Quarterly Staples

Dairy Needs – $40.00
Amish Butter – $8.00
Fruits (not able to grow) – $50.00
Veggies (not able to grow) – $50.00
Oatmeal 18 oz. (8) – $26.00
Sugar/Brown Sugar 20 lbs. – $16.00
Peanut Butter 28oz. (2) – $12.00

Maintaining the Larder

Beans
Spices
Oils
Salt & Vinegar
Potatoes & Sweet potatoes
Rice
Flour

Replace based on your stores ~$60.00

Quarterly Total – $262.00

* Examples used in this article used the amount of money for a 3 person household on food stamps. However, the model works even better for someone who isn’t receiving public assistance. An independent person is free to start spending the money that was previously spent on building your larder in the first 3 months, on buying animals and planting a garden. Food stamp can only be used for food from approved grocers.

** I do not recommend eating the organ meats or making bone broth from animals that you didn’t either raise yourself or trust the organic practices of the person who did.

(originally appeared on Shawna’s former blog, Lion’s Thunder, 1/27/17)

Living Our Faith

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

A loosely woven ‘homesteading’ movement has emerged and is now gaining wider popularity. The gold standard model of the movement is a middle class family who sells everything they own to move off-grid somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Idaho Panhandle. However, there are endless variations to this lifestyle and my family is a living example.

At the core, ‘homesteading’ is about:

* Living increasingly self-sufficient

* Deep respect for the natural world and the skills of production

* Living free according to ones moral code

For us, homesteading is also the ‘turning away’ (repenting) from consumerism.

The wickedness of consumerism:

*  Consumerism has shortened our attention spans and transformed us into reactive beings

*  Consumerism has eroded our faith communities

*  Consumerism has empowered both corporate parties, to use the coercive hammer of legislation to force Americans to act in corporation’s benefit

Worse of all, consumerism has brought many elements of our natural world to extinction and badly damaged the rest in service of a ‘prosperous civilization’. Although consumerism isn’t the only sin, an honest relationship with Biblical scripture can leave no doubt it is a sin.

Living increasingly self-sufficient

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)

Our initial steps toward living more self-sufficiently spotlighted how 100% dependent we were on the systems of society. We didn’t have food and water stores in case of the unforeseen. We had zero backup plans or resources to lean upon if the power, sewer, water, hospitals, or emergency services became unavailable.

Realizing how unprepared we truly were created anxiety and fear. It’s a common response, and one that stops many in their efforts to strive for self-sufficiecy.

Another common pitfall is getting entrapped in envy, if an off-grid homestead is currently beyond your reach. Pray that God helps you grow through these feelings and take steps toward your goal:

*  Establish a larder or food stores in your house

*  Establish a backup water stores

*  Start a garden (indoor/outdoor, big or small- just get started)

*  Consider adding a beehive or egg laying hen to your home (this can even be done in an apartment with balcony)

*  Store candles and back up lighting sources

*  Develop backup plans for most likely to occur incidence (i.e. weather event, sewer or electrical outages)

Deep respect for the natural world and the skills of production

“Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:11)

Perhaps we will never know how it was to be in the Garden of Eden with our Lord…but it is not lost to homesteaders that God originally instructed humanity through the natural world.

How did we veer so far from truth as to believe that the natural world isn’t a divine gift and something to be treasured? One of my most deeply spiritual practices is the communion with God I experience through gardening and tending to our animals.

In this overly politicized world that is designed to distract us from truth, protecting the natural world is one of a few temporal issues that I engage.

As you add to your homesteading skill-set, and refine your skills of production, I encourage you to consider the origin of all the resources and materials you work with. How did the fiber that your yarn is made from get made or harvested? If the tools you are working with broke, how would you rebuild or replace them? If you are raising animals, what moral code guides you?

Likely you won’t be able to influence much of these factors in the beginning, but I believe asking the questions will lead you to the bigger revelations God has in store as you provide more for yourself and depend less on society.

Living free according to ones moral code

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

I find myself sometimes romanticizing the Amish lifestyle. The Amish are exempt from the norms of modern day society. They are surrounded by a community that shares their journey and they don’t spend their time defending their ‘alternative’ lifestyle to the world.

Similar to the early Mormons, Quakers, Mennonites, monastic Catholic communities, and First Nations; when their faith became temporally inconvenient, they still live their faith. In many ways they are set apart from the modern day world.

Theologically we don’t belong to any of these groups, but I respect how they live their faiths. I yearn for that same ‘set apartness’, and in some way homesteading has provided my family with a distinction from the consumer driven society. We look forward to the possibility of building our community with others that have voluntarily turned away as well.

(originally appeared on Shawna’s former blog, Lion’s Thunder, 2/19/17)