Monday, October 27, 2014

Saving the family farm

If you want to be entertained while learning about modern agriculture, Gaining Ground: A Story Of Farmers' Markets, Local Food, And Saving The Family Farm by Forrest Pritchard is the book! In a laugh-out-loud funny story, we learn about the problems facing modern conventional farmers and farm owners who find themselves stuck in a system where they never make money.

Warned repeatedly by his father that there was no money in farming, Forrest went to college and got a degree in literature and geology, but towards the end of his college days, he began to feel a pull back to his family's farm. Around the same time, their farm manager decided to plant corn with promises of big profits. After the grain was harvested, however, the family received a check for a whopping $18! At that point, Forrest decides to take over and begins looking at all sorts of ways to make money.

The first thing he tries is selling firewood because after making $18 on their corn and soybean harvest, he needed to make money NOW, and it was already fall. Firewood seemed like a quick way to bring in some much needed cash quickly. Although it does make some money, Forrest discovers there is a lot to be learned about selling products to the public, as well as how far you can push your equipment. Ultimately Forrest crosses paths with Joel Salatin at a conference and decides to start a pastured livestock operation and sell meat at farmer's markets. His path to success is filled with snowy roads, steep staircases, and lots of colorful characters from Pedro the goat to Travis the farmhand.

One thing that I have often felt was missing from similar books was humor. Having lived through quite a steep learning curve ourselves on our own farm, and having lots of funny stories, I usually wonder where are the funny stories when I read farm memoirs. Well, Forrest delivers a bumper crop of laughs! I had purchased the audiobook version to listen to while milking goats, and sometimes I had to try to suppress my laughter because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to hear the narrator over my own guffaws! Not only is Forrest a successful farmer, he is also a gifted storyteller.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, either as entertainment or education, as it does an excellent job of both. In fact, I'm sure I will be listening to it again. Whether you are an aspiring farmer, a homesteader, or a consumer of food, you need to read this book.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mistakes do not mean failure


Whether you are raising goats, knitting a scarf, or making a homemade pizza, you will find that you learn a lot more from your mistakes than from any book or article. True learning is in the doing. Unfortunately, fear of making mistakes holds back a lot of people from going after their dreams!

When we first moved out to the country in 2002, a lot of my friends asked if I'd grown up on a farm. When I said "no," they asked, "Well, how will you know what to do?" I told them I was reading books, and I was met with skepticism or silence. A few brave souls asked, "What if you make a mistake?" I have to admit that I really didn't think we would make many mistakes, and it never occurred to me that they could be tragic.

We had been on the farm for two years when one of our goats died. We were devastated. How could that happen? I'd taken it to a local vet a week earlier, and it actually died at the university vet clinic. They said it died from internal parasites, more commonly called "worms." A few months later, two more goats died. If you've read Homegrown and Handmade or Raising Goats Naturally, you know that those deaths were just the beginning of several years of fertility problems and untimely deaths. But I wasn't about to give up, and because of those challenges, I did lots of research and ultimately learned far more about goats than I would have if everything had gone smoothly.

When working with living creatures, we have to appreciate that every one of them is unique, so there will always be more to learn. But what about something like knitting or cooking? As I said earlier, true learning is in the doing. You can read about how to do something for years, but until you actually do it, you don't really know how to do it. And of course, nothing is perfect the first time you do it. My first scarf had lots of dropped stitches, and my first pizza had a soggy crust. I didn't particularly like either one, but I was determined to try again. With practice, I dropped fewer stitches when knitting. Through trial and error, I learned what temperature worked best in my oven and for how many minutes.

People tell me they're inspired by what my family has accomplished on our homestead, and although I'm happy to hear that people are inspired, I want everyone to appreciate the value of mistakes we've made along the way. Whether you are at the beginning of your journey towards greater self-reliance or you've been at it a few years, you'll make mistakes. So will we. Ultimately it is not mistakes that scare people. It's fear of failure.

When people used to ask me if we were afraid of making mistakes, what they really meant was, were we afraid of failing. What would we do if we completely and utterly failed? In spite of all the mistakes we have made, we have not failed. We're still here, still trying, and have actually succeeded in learning to do lots of things.

Always remember that you have not failed until you have given up. You have not failed simply because something didn't work. You have not failed until you've stopped learning and trying.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ecothrifty creams and moisturizers

Creating a product that works for you is really a matter of figuring out which oils and butters have the properties that suit your skin. Typically, people with drier skin prefer butters, and people with normal skin or combination skin prefer lighter oils, such as grape seed or sunflower oil. If you have oily skin, you may not need to put anything on it to keep it from drying out. Even dry skin may improve dramatically if you simply try a soap that is gentler. Because we’ve all been exposed to advertising that leads us to believe we have to use complicated products to stay beautiful, the idea that skin may need no additional moisturizer or only needs a single oil seems too simple.

I typically start with something that I already have on hand and go from there. If you have sunflower oil in your pantry, try that. You won’t have to buy anything special if you like the result. For something that’s more moisturizing, try jojoba or olive or grape seed oil or one of the butters, such as shea butter or avocado butter. Cocoa butter is rock solid at room temperature so if you want to use it in a cream, you have to melt it and mix it with a softer butter.

There are commercial creams and lotions, and some companies market moisturizers, which can be either. The main difference between a cream and a lotion is that a lotion has a larger amount of water, which makes it easier to spread across your skin. It appears white because the oil and water have been emulsified by the addition of an emulsifying agent to prevent separation. I don’t make any lotions because once you add water, you introduce a medium for bacteria growth, which means you have to add a preservative. Many times alcohol is also added, which has a drying effect on the skin. When making your own, however, you can use only the purest ingredients and avoid the need for chemical preservatives.

RECIPE: Body Butter

2 ounces shea butter
1 ounce avocado butter
1 ounce apricot kernel oil
1 ounce sweet almond oil
a few drops essential oil (optional)

Weigh all the ingredients on a digital scale and then mix together using either a mixer or a fork. Add essential oils for fragrance or aromatherapy benefits, and mix well. 

Savings: This body butter is similar to a high-end cream that boasts 25 percent shea butter and retails at $42 for seven ounces. This recipe, which has 40 percent shea butter, costs $1.65 to make five ounces, not including the essential oil.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann

Monday, October 20, 2014

Recipe: Peanut butter chocolate chip muffins!


Last week I reviewed the book, Cooking With Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife, N.D., and I promised to give you one of the recipes this week, so here it is! All of the muffin recipes in the book make six muffins, and because I have a 12-muffin pan, I doubled this. I also made a couple of adjustments. I used 3 duck eggs instead of 6 chicken eggs, and I used 1/4 cup maple syrup as my sweetener. (Remember I doubled it to make 12 muffins.)

3 eggs
1 tablespoon coconut oil or butter, melted
5 tablespoons sucanat or brown sugar
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sifted coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Blend together all of the wet ingredients then add the dry ones. The book suggests using a whisk, but I actually used a blender, and it worked great because then I could pour the batter into the greased muffin pan. What about the chocolate chips? After everything was blended up, I added 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and did a couple of short blender bursts to mix them in. Then pop into the oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

You can eat them right out of the oven -- as long as the chocolate chips have cooled enough that you don't burn yourself. They are also great when a day old! I simply stored them in an airtight container on the kitchen counter.

Nutrition Facts based on doubled recipe.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The London Dispatches: A Gentleman Gardener's Paradise

A couple of months ago I wrote about my visit to the Garden Museum and the phenomenon of British gentleman farmers and gardeners who transformed it from a utilitarian craft to an art form. Well it turns out that one of the best examples of this…was a Yank! I might be a city mouse but I headed to the country this month and got a chance to view one of the gardening gems of Britain: Hidcote Manor, near the Cotswolds.

The manor house itself.

One of the many entrances to the garden.
The brainchild of Major Lawrence Johnston, who moved to Britain in 1900 and worked on his garden for the next several decades, Hidcote is an absolute beauty. At one point, he had 12 gardeners working for him! His vision set a new standard for gardens in England and his style has been widely imitated ever since. The layout is based on a series of “rooms” or sections, each with different types and colors of plants represented.







Gardens serve as statement of their time and place as much as architecture. In the 17th century the passion was for severely symmetrical layouts with geometric designs—largely representative of man’s dominance over nature. In the Enlightenment and into the Romantic periods, this severity was thrown out the window and replaced with the idea of a natural landscape. The irony here is that a tremendous amount of effort was often expended to make a garden or park look “natural.” The grounds at nearby Blenheim Palace, for instance, were rearranged so intensively by the wonderfully named landscape designer Lancelot “Capability” Brown, that an artificial lake could be introduced. Hidcote is no different. To my untrained eye a number of the “rooms” looked like forest or messy mixes of foliage, but the number of gardeners and volunteers working to get the land ready for fall and winter clearly showed that even the wildest looking landscape was a carefully manicured illusion.

The thatched house in the back was actually one of the homes Lawrence provided for his many gardeners.
I found the formal gardens very beautiful, but what I really enjoyed was the Kitchen Garden. At one point in history all manor houses (indeed most houses in general) would have had an attached food producing garden that would have been worked and harvested throughout the year. At Hidcote I got to see how the beds were being seeded and harvested in strips according to the season so that it is kept in almost constant production. Even at the very tail end of summer, when I visited, fruit and vegetables were growing and being picked for sale and consumption. They might be less glamorous than the manicured lawns that Major Lawrence dedicated his life to, but it was great to see how they formed a vital aspect of the household. Beauty and function side by side.


Early fall in the kitchen garden.
Some beds are empty, others are full. The leeks to the left are just one row of increasingly large and thick ones. Further out of frame were older, more massive leeks ready to be harvested
It is apple season.
I have absolutely no issues with gardening for pleasure and tremendously enjoyed Lawrence’s work, but I did find it interesting to see how much effort was expended on land that “produced” very little. While just behind the hedgerow a much smaller amount of land produced a great deal, and probably with less intensive labor. Modern yards and lawns are one parallel that came to mind, I know that in many areas a lot of work is put into them, but they can be a horrible drain on water resources and often come at a high environmental cost. And in the end, we get very little out of them. I had to wonder about the amount of work we put into aesthetics in our home and land spaces, and how much more we could be doing with them.

What do you think about modern aesthetic gardening? Do you think it serves a worthwhile purpose or has it replaced food and production gardening entirely? What would it take to bring the idea of an everyday “kitchen garden” back into wide use?

Cadence Woodland is a freelance writer, editorial assistant, and marketing consultant. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Who needs vitamin D supplements?

Roughly ten years elapsed between the time that I learned about the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and when I learned that in spite of my knowledge, I was personally deficient in vitamin D. It seems that most people know nothing about vitamin D deficiency until they have been diagnosed with it. However, even those of us who do our homework on such things will likely think that it's not a problem for us because what is written usually does not stress how common the problem is, as well as the many different health problems that can be caused by it.

According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vitamin D deficiency is a pandemic. It further states:
The major cause of vitamin D deficiency is the lack of appreciation that sun exposure in moderation is the major source of vitamin D for most humans. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D are often inadequate to satisfy either a child's or an adult's vitamin D requirement. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children and will precipitate and exacerbate osteopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures in adults. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with increased risk of common cancers, autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and infectious diseases.
I first became aware of vitamin D deficiency when I was suffering from overall muscle soreness about ten years ago and an online friend suggested I might have fibromyalgia. When I started reading and researching, I learned that vitamin D deficiency caused the same symptom, and since my problem only occurred during the winter, I decided it would be a good idea to start taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. After all, I live in Illinois, and my skin gets zero sun exposure starting around this time of year and going into April. It seemed to help until the last couple of years, and I started to worry that something was seriously wrong with me, although my doctor and chiropractor couldn't find anything other than osteoarthritis.

According to the AJCN article cited above, many patients with vitamin D deficiency "may be misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia, dysthymia, degenerative joint disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other diseases." But I hadn't read that article yet and was just terribly frustrated that no one seemed to know why I was in so much pain all the time. Even though it wasn't winter, I thought that maybe I was deficient in vitamin D, so I started taking a 1000 IU supplement every day. After a few weeks, however, I didn't see any difference, so I quit taking it because I didn't think it was doing any good.

Then a year ago, my husband's employer had a health fair where employees and spouses could get an extensive list of blood work done for free. It seemed like a good idea, and I discovered that in spite of my wintertime supplementation and summertime sun exposure, I was quite deficient in vitamin D. My level was only 16 ng/ml. Anything less than 20 ng/ml is considered deficient, while anything below 30 is considered insufficient. And although conventional medicine in the U.S. says your level should be at least 30, many alternative practitioners say that 50 is better.

Why had I not noticed a difference when I started taking vitamin D more recently? Simply because at my level of deficiency, 1000 IU was not nearly enough to make a difference. A person who is not deficient would need that much to simply maintain their level. When I talked to my doctor about my test results, he said that he takes 3000 IU a day, even though he is not deficient, simply because he works indoors every day. Also, unlike vitamin B12, which I wrote about last week, vitamin D is fat soluble and it takes much longer to increase your levels. After seven months of taking 5000 IU, my level was up to 28 ng/ml, and now after a year, my level finally reached 36 ng/ml. Because I am still under 50 ng/ml and a long way from the upper limit of 100, I am going to continue supplementing at 5000 IU per day. If you are going to take more than 4000 IU per day, however, you should first have your blood level checked to make sure you need to be actively working to increase your level.

More recently, I've heard others talk about sublingual vitamin D and how it helped to increase levels on people who were having trouble correcting deficiency with pills. So, when I discovered Kind Organics vitamin D spray, I was pretty excited about giving it a try! So, here's the scoop ...

A single spray delivers 1000 IU of vitamin D3, which is the form that is best utilized by your body. If you need more, just spray more. I don't know why this surprised me, but the spray is an oil. If you think about it for a minute, that makes sense because vitamin D is fat soluble. It also contains some omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, and omega-9 fatty acids. The spray is vanilla flavored though, so it doesn't taste bad. It actually makes me think of vanilla pudding when I use it. Like other Kind products, it is organic and certified non-GMO. It is also vegan.

Want to know where to buy it? Check out their website and you'll find a "Where to Buy" search box at the top of the homepage.

Give-away!

In addition to sending me a bottle of the vitamin D spray to try for myself, the nice folks at Kind Organics are also happy to provide bottles of the supplement to three of my blog readers. As with the vitamin B12 give-away (which doesn't end until tomorrow, so click here to enter!) you must have a US street address where they can ship your vitamin D if you win. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 13, 2014

Coconut flour is for everyone!


If you've never given a second thought to coconut flour, you're not alone. Most people have never cooked with it and never thought about cooking with it. If they've ever eaten it, it was probably something that was prepared by a friend who was gluten-intolerant. That's unfortunate because coconut flour is delicious and it's good for you!

A few months ago, a friend of mine shared some amazing banana muffins, and when I asked for the recipe, I saw that it used coconut flour. The recipe came from the book, Cooking With Coconut Flour: A Delicious Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Alternative to Wheat by Bruce Fife, N.D., which I decided to buy.

The book starts with a 40-page introduction to coconut flour, it's benefits, and how to cook with it. If coconut flour is new to you, you really should read the introduction. The first thing that I did was find the banana muffin recipe and make it! One of the interesting things about cooking with coconut flour is that you use very little of it compared to wheat flour or any other type of flour I've ever used. The reason? Coconut flour is higher in fiber than any other flour available. It's more than twice as high in fiber as pure wheat bran! But unlike wheat bran or oat bran, it doesn't taste like sawdust. The fact that it is high in fiber means that it absorbs a lot more liquid than other flours, so do not succumb to the temptation to add more flour, thinking that the recipes in this book are wrong.

Since most of us don't get enough fiber in our diet, cooking with coconut flour is a very easy way to increase your fiber consumption. Although I'm recommending this book for anyone who wants to eat a healthier diet, I'd classify it as "must have" for anyone who has celiac or can't tolerate gluten. Most processed foods labeled "gluten-free" are filled with unhealthy ingredients, such as rice starch, potato starch, corn starch, and flours that have zero fiber in them, as well as xanthan gum and other "stuff" that normal people do not have in their kitchens. Other than the coconut flour, all of the ingredients in this book can be found in most kitchens.

Next Monday, I'll share with you my experience of making the peanut butter chocolate chip muffins from the book, as well as the recipe.

In case you missed Friday's post about B12, check it out here and enter for the opportunity to be one of three people who will win a bottle of B12 supplements!
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