Monday, October 31, 2011

Seed swap perils

I host and attend a variety of seed/plant swaps during the year. It's a great way to share seed, learn things and meet people. I just attended a great swap hosted by Phoenix region people from Dave's Garden (an online gardening forum). I brought tons of seeds (because as you all know by now, I'm a seed hoarder) but most of what was at the swap was plants. I don't mean a giant pile of aloe vera pups and a few spindly leftovers from experiments that didn't quite work out. These were beautiful, top-notch plants people were sharing. I came home with an amaryllis, an 18" lime basil plant, two big tomato plants (it's 90˚ here, we're good to grow tomatoes for awhile yet), rain lily bulbs, a bulb of heirloom garlic, broccoli starts, some uncommon hot pepper seeds, and a few small pots.

At the fall seed swap I hosted one of the things I brought home were some kale seeds that a woman had saved from her garden. For some reason, amongst my hundreds of varieties of seed, I never seem to have any kale. I was pretty stoked. I got everything planted and that kale shot up so fast it seemed like it was out of the ground the moment it got wet. Pretty unusual in my experience with kale. Here's a picture of the kale bed I shot today:

What's that you say observant reader? That's not kale? You are correct. That is a bed full of mustard. Which grows like a weed out here. In fact wild mustard is one of our rampant spring 'weeds'. The woman who donated the saved seed, inadvertently saved mustard-- one of two crops (turnips being the other) that have been retired from Rachel's Tiny Farm due to household-wide disdain for eating them.

Now this is obviously not a big deal, I'll just take out entire plants to eat instead of only the outside leaves and we'll get through it quickly enough and replant with kale. If the worst thing that happens to you from going to a seed swap is a bed full of unwanted mustard, what have you got to lose? Seed swaps are a great thing to have in a community... and may I recommend the book Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth for the generous seed savers amongst you. ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Farm to trash.

This story has a moderately happy ending, but is an excellent illustrator of insane regulation being applied to the wrong people. Cut fresh vegetables are a biohazard, but the little lathed carrots soaked in chlorine, stuffed in plastic bags and shipped hundreds of miles are not a problem.
A link to the story reproduced below is HERE.

Farm-to-Fork Dinner Fiasco
By Laura Bledsoe | October 24, 2011

When an over-zealous regulator shows up at a farm dinner demanding that food be destroyed as hungry guests await, who do you call? Here's Laura's account written as a letter to her guests who had come to Quail Hollow Farm expecting a meal of foods harvested from local small family farms.

This incident shows the value of the 24/7 legal hotline for farmers like Laura who need help...even on a Friday night! A member benefit like the hotline is available thanks to the financial support of the many FTCLDF members and donors.

Dearest Guests, (You have all become dear to us!)

What an evening we had this last Friday night! It had all the makings of a really great novel: drama, suspense, anticipation, crisis, heroic efforts, villains and victors, resolution and a happy ending.

The evening was everything I had dreamed and hoped it would be. The weather was perfect, the farm was filled with friends and guests roaming around talking about organic, sustainable farming practices. Our young interns were teaching and sharing their passion for farming and their role in it. (A high hope for our future!) The pig didn’t get loose.

Our guests were excited to spend an evening together. The food was prepared exquisitely. The long dinner table, under the direction of dear friends, was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The music was superb. The stars were bright and life was really good.

And then, …

for a few moments, it felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath us and my wonderful world came crashing down. As guests were mingling, finishing tours of the farm, and while the first course of the meal was being prepared and ready to be sent out, a Southern Nevada Health District employee came for an inspection.

Because this was a gathering of people invited to our farm for dinner, I had no idea that the Health Department would become involved. I received a phone call from them two days before the event informing me that because this was a “public event” (I would like to know what is the definition of “public” and “private”) we would be required to apply for a “special use permit”.

If we did not do so immediately, we would be charged a ridiculous fine.

Stunned, we immediately complied.

We were in the middle of our harvest day for our CSA shares, a very busy time for us, but Monte immediately left to comply with the demand and filled out the required paper work and paid for the fee. (Did I mention that we live in Overton, nowhere near a Health Department office?) Paper work now in order, he was informed that we would not actually be given the permit until an inspector came to check it all out.

She came literally while our guests were arriving!

In order to overcome any trouble with the Health Department of cooking on the premises, most of the food was prepared in a certified kitchen in Las Vegas; and to further remove any doubt, we rented a certified kitchen trailer to be here on the farm for the preparation of the meals. The inspector, Mary Oaks, clearly not the one in charge of the inspection as she was constantly on the phone with her superior Susan somebody who was calling all the shots from who knows where.

Susan deemed our food unfit for consumption and demanded that we call off the event because:

1. Some of the prepared food packages did not have labels on them. (The code actually allows for this if it is to be consumed within 72 hours.)

2. Some of the meat was not USDA certified. (Did I mention that this was a farm to fork meal?)

3. Some of the food that was prepared in advance was not up to temperature at the time of inspection. (It was being prepared to be brought to proper temperature for serving when the inspection occurred.)

4. Even the vegetables prepared in advance had to be thrown out because they were cut and were then considered a “bio-hazard”.

5. We did not have receipts for our food. (Reminder! This food came from farms not from the supermarket! I have talked with several chefs who have said that in all their years cooking they have never been asked for receipts.)

At this time Monte, trying to reason with Susan to find a possible solution for the problem, suggested turning this event from a “public” event to a “private” event by allowing the guests to become part of our farm club, thus eliminating any jurisdiction or responsibility on their part. This idea infuriated Susan and threatened that if we did not comply the police would be called and personally escort our guests off the property. This is not the vision of the evening we had in mind! So regretfully, again we complied.

The only way to keep our guests on the property was to destroy the food.

I can’t tell you how sick to my stomach I was watching that first dish of Mint Lamb Meatballs hit the bottom of the unsanitized trash can.

Here we were with guests who had paid in advance and had come from long distances away anticipating a wonderful dining experience, waiting for dinner while we were behind the kitchen curtain throwing it away! I know of the hours and labor that went into the preparation of that food.

We asked the inspector if we could save the food for a private family event that we were having the next day. (A personal family choice to use our own food.) We were denied and she was insulted that we would even consider endangering our families health. I assured her that I had complete faith and trust in Giovanni our chef and the food that was prepared, (obviously, or I wouldn’t be wanting to serve it to our guests).

I then asked if we couldn’t feed the food to our “public guests” or even to our private family, then at least let us feed it to our pigs. (I think it should be a criminal action to waste any resource of the land. Being dedicated to our organic farm, we are forever looking for good inputs into our compost and soil and good food that can be fed to our animals. The animals and compost pile always get our left over garden surplus and food. We truly are trying to be as sustainable as possible.)

Again, a call to Susan and another negative response.

Okay, so let me get this right.

So the food that was raised here on our farm and selected and gathered from familiar local sources, cooked and prepared with skill and love was even unfit to feed to my pigs!?!

Who gave them the right to tell me what I feed my animals?

Not only were we denied the use of the food for any purpose, to ensure that it truly was unfit for feed of any kind we were again threatened with police action if we did not only throw the food in the trash, but then to add insult to injury, we were ordered to pour bleach on it.

Now the food is also unfit for compost as I would be negligent to allow any little critters to nibble on it while it was composting and ingest that bleach resulting in a horrible death. Literally hundreds of pounds of food was good for nothing but adding to our ever increasing land fill!

At some point in all of this turmoil Monte reminded me that I had the emergency phone number for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) on our refrigerator. I put it there never really believing that I would ever have to use it. We became members of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund several years ago as a protection for us, but mostly to add support to other farmers battling against the oppressive legal actions taken against the small farmers trying to produce good wholesome food without government intrusion.

The local, sustainable food battle is being waged all across America! May I mention that not one battle has been brought on because of any illness to the patrons of these farms! The battles are started by government officials swooping down on farms and farmers like SWAT teams confiscating not only the wholesome food items produced but even their farm equipment! Some of them actually wearing HAZMAT suits as if they were walking into a nuclear meltdown! I have personally listened to some of their heart wrenching stories and have continued to follow them through the FTCLDF’s updates.

Well, I made the call, told my story and within a short period of time received a phone call back from the FTCLDF’s General Counsel, Gary Cox. When told the story, he simply suggested that we apply our fundamental constitutional right to be protected against “unlawful search and seizure.” I simply had to ask Mary two questions. “Do you have a search warrant?” “Do you have an arrest warrant?”

With the answers being “No”, I politely and very simply asked her to leave our property. As simple as that! She had no alternative, no higher power, no choice whatsoever but to now comply with my desire. She left in a huff making a scene shouting that she was calling the police. She left no paperwork, no Cease and Desist order, no record of any kind that implicated us for one thing, (we had complied to all their orders) only empty threats and a couple of trash cans full of defiled food. I will get back to “the inspector” and her threats shortly. Let’s get to where it really gets good.

While I am on the verge of a literal breakdown, Monte and Gio get creative. All right, we have just thrown all of this food away, we can’t do this, we can’t do that, what CAN we do? Well, we have a vegetable farm and we do have fresh vegetables. (By the way, we were denied even using our fresh vegetables until I informed our inspector that I do have a Producers Certificate from the Nevada Department of Agriculture allowing us to sell our vegetables and other farm products at the Farmers Market. Much of our produce has gone to some of the very finest restaurants in Las Vegas and St. George.)

The wind taken out of the inspector's sails, Gio and his crew got cookin’. It just so happened that we had a cooled trailer full of vegetables ready to be taken to market the following day. Monte hooked on to the trailer and backed it up right next to the kitchen. Our interns who were there to greet and serve now got to work with lamp oil and began harvesting anew. Knives were chopping, pots of pasta and rice from our food storage were steaming, our bonfire was now turned into a grill and literal miracles were happening before our eyes!

In the meantime, Monte and I had to break the news to our guests. Rather than go into the details here, you can see the video footage on Mark Bowers and Kiki Kalor’s (our friends and guests) website at:

We explained the situation, offered anyone interested a full refund, and told them that if they chose to stay their dinner was now literally being prepared fresh, as just now being harvested. The reaction of our guests was the most sobering and inspirational experience of the evening.

In an instant we were bonded together.

They were, of course, out-raged at the lack of choice they were given in their meal.

Out-raged at the arrogance of coming to a farm dinner and being required to use only USDA (government inspected) meats.

Outraged at the heavy handedness of the Health Department into their lives.

Then there was the most tremendous outpouring of love and support.

One of our guests, Marty Keach, informed us that he was an attorney and as appalled as everyone else offered his support and counsel if need be, even if it be to the Supreme Court. He was a great comfort in a tense time.

With their approval, Giovanni and crew got cooking and the evening then truly began. The atmosphere turned from tense and angry to loving and supportive. As soon as I heard my brother Steve sit down and begin strumming his guitar, I knew something special was happening. Paid guests volunteered their services. Chef Shawn Wallace, a guest, joined Gio and his team his knife flying through the eggplant and squash. Wendy and Thierry Pressyler and so many that I am not even aware of, were helping to grill and transport dishes. Jason and Chrissy Doolen offered to run quick errands. Jeanne Frost, a server for the Wynn hotel, didn’t take a seat and began serving her fellow guests.

Before long we were seated at the beautiful table and the most incredible dishes began coming forth. It was literally “loaves and fishes” appearing before our very eyes! We broke bread together, we laughed, we talked, we shared stories, we came together in the most marvelous way.

Now this is what I had dreamed, only more marvelous than I could have ever imagined! The sky being bright with glittering stars, we had the telescopes out and invited any guests who desired to look into our starry heaven. While we were looking into the heavens, heaven was looking down upon us! I can’t tell you the number of times I have felt the hand of providence helping us in the work of this farm.

As hard and demanding as this work is, I KNOW that this is what we are meant to do.

I KNOW that it is imperative that we stand up for our food choices.

I KNOW that local, organic, sustainable food produced by ourselves or by small family, local farms is indispensible to the health and well-being of our families and our communities now and in the future! If this work were not so vitally important, the “evil forces” would not be working so hard to pull it down.

We were victorious, we will be victorious, we must be! Our grandchildren’s future is at stake!

Back to the inspector. She did call the police. You must remember that we live in a small town. We know these officers. They responded to the call dutifully but were desperately trying to figure out why they had been called. Never in all of their experience had they ever received a call like this.

Mary, the inspector, demanded that they give us a citation. The officer in charge said that she was to give us the citation, she responded that no, they were to give us the citation, which they then asked her for what violation. Even with the help of her superior on the phone she could not give them a reason. They asked her to leave which she did. The police were very kind and apologetic for the intrusion. All of this was done without fanfare and out of sight of our guests. The police officers are commended for their professionalism!

Now that we have come to the last chapter of our novel, I realize that it ends with a cliff-hanger. As happy as the ending was, it isn’t “happily ever after” yet. This will remain to be seen in the ensuing days, weeks and even years ahead.

Tom Collins, our County Commissioner, furious by the events that took place, having formerly been a board member for the Southern Nevada Health District is putting together a meeting with himself, the current board members and ourselves to make sense of all this mess.

As so many of you have related verbally and through emails your desire to help and be involved, we will keep you informed as events take place. I feel that we have been compelled to truly become active participants in the ongoing battle over our food choices. This is just one small incident that brings to our awareness how fragile our freedoms are. We are now ready to join the fight!

We would encourage all of you who can to contribute and to become a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. They are not only fighting for the farmers, they are fighting for the consumers to have the right to choose. You can find them at

As I close, I am reminded of the passage written so forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

The same battle continues. I pray the result of the battle will be the same, that we have been “endowed by our Creator with … life and liberty”.

We love you all, and thank you with all our souls for your continued love and support! We will stay in touch.

With warmest wishes for you and your families,

Monte and Laura Bledsoe
Written from Quail Hollow Farm
October 24, 2011
Email Laura at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Summer break is over!

There just isn't much to blog about for me from June through the Equinox. All of the blogs will sound the same-- "Gee, it sure is hot here... 30 days in a row over 110˚... lots of dust, no rain, still hot.. etc" But now that the weather has cooled enough to go outside in the mornings and evenings and my annual desire to give up this crazy farming stuff has passed, I'm back. :)

A recap of recent events:
Fall planting is getting started. I've put in lots of lettuces, carrots, beets, herbs, peas, parsnips and flowers with more to get planted in mid-October. I'm really going to focus on keeping the gardens well-mulched as a step to help improve soil and plant quality for the long haul.

A few of the people that came to the seed swap

I hosted a seed swap for the Valley Permaculture Alliance (as well as my monthly "Raising Chickens" classes for them and other organizations). I love seed swaps. They are a dream for someone with a seed habit as serious as my own, but it's also great to share with brand new gardeners and watch them get excited when they find out what all they can grow.

In neighborhood news: For those of you that read the post a few months back about the people in my neighborhood, you may be interested to know that the mosquito has added to his impressive bicycle fleet and now has a very homemade bmx-ish bicycle built for two. No more hauling the wife around on the modified wheelbarrow attached to the back of his (sort-of) regular bike. Though the one time I've seen him on it he was alone. We also have a new addition whom I'll call the operatic jingleman. He scoots around the neighborhood in a motorized wheelchair on trash pick-up day and grabs things (recycleables maybe?) out of the trash cans with one of those claw-on-a-stick things, all the while belting out what seem like old commercial jingles or tv theme songs. As hard as it may be to believe, I don't think he's crazy, he seems more like he's just out having a good time and thrilled about autumn.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sour oranges and Marmalade

We have a giant sour orange tree in our yard, which most people consider a great big waste of space. However when you consider that it's very similar in many ways to a lemon (and can easily replace them in most recipes), the tree starts looking a little more valuable. When you realize you can make a margarita out of those things, they become infinitely more valuable.

My basic recipe for the Southwest Sour Orange Margarita (only a little less good than the legit lime kind):
Two shots sour orange juice
One shot of good tequila
Half shot water
Big squirt of agave nectar
A few ice cubes.

Shake. I leave the ice cubes in. Drink. You can also add a splash of grenadine which I think is extra tasty, but at some point it stops becoming a margarita and turns into some weird Red Lobster "hurricane splash" type drink.

Earlier this year I made marmalade with some of the sour oranges. I always remember that making marmalade can be a frustrating process as getting it to set without adding pectin can be a pain, however I often forget that there is a soul-crushing amount of sugar in there. This year I left all of the oranges soaking in water for a day, that seemed to help as I got a good set. Recipes abound, I won't include the one I used because I'm still not 100% happy with it, maybe next year I'll add ginger, cardamom, vanilla or something else to give the taste more depth. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I think I'm the bird lady

Because I teach a lot of backyard fowl classes around here (and wrote a little pocket guide about raising chickens) I get a lot of emails from people asking for help with their birds. I think the birds in the neighborhood have gotten word of that over the years as well as they seem to show up here when they need a little help too. Here are some photos of a few of the birds I've helped/raised. (Please excuse the bad hair days, birds seem to show up when you look least presentable)

Our favorite wild bird of all time, Jasper. We raised him/her from about day 2. Here Jasper's trying to find any remaining seeds that might be stuck on my fingers...

This is Jasper with some newly hatched (unwild) Khaki Campbell ducklings

This was from bring your wild bird to work day. Long time readers may recognize this photo. As Jasper grew up we let him/her fly around and return when he felt like it. I thought he had left for good one morning and was quite sad, until I went to work in my backyard studio and Jasper had flown in through an open door and was there waiting for me.

A little woodpecker

The woodpecker thought my messy hair might be a good place to look for bugs!

My hands are very small, and this hummingbird makes them look like man hands

It's that time of year again, so I'm keeping an eye out for little birds. So far it's just been a few sparrows I've had to help (begrudgingly, as they are a bit of a pest around here). Mockingbirds, my favorite, should be hatching right about now!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inspiration at the Permaculture Design Course

First off, the pair of mallards came back for a visit (read: they came back for more mulberries) How exciting!

Many of you local readers know me as the chicken lady, as I'm the person who has been teaching the majority of classes on raising backyard chickens in the Phoenix area for the past several years. For those that don't know, I've been lucky enough to teach the "regular" chicken classes for the Valley Permaculture Alliance (formerly known as the Phoenix Permaculture Guild) and also the animal part of the Permaculture Design Course. It's always a blast to teach people who are so interested in becoming active participants in a positive and more complete relationship with their environment. This year I had the privilege of teaching at the VPA's newest version of the Permaculture Design Course being headed by Toby Hemenway (author of Gaia's Garden), that felt like kind of a big deal. I followed Toby and after my presentation was an amazing talk about seed saving by Bill McDorman, formerly of Seeds Trust, now the Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson. Also teaching, though not on the day I taught, was Brad Lancaster (of water harvesting fame). All of these people are accomplished and well-respected in this field, and I realized that they all live in Arizona. With all of the crazy press AZ gets over our often idiotic state government amongst other things, it's really inspiring that we have such vibrant permaculture, sustainability and service-oriented communities. I won't bore you with long lists of local groups and their accomplishments, but the list is long and the membership in these communities is in the tens of thousands. It makes me want to try even harder to learn, experiment and share more with my community. Maybe someday the headlines about Crazy AZ will take a backseat to the eco/forward-thinking powerhouse we could become? We have a little ways to go to catch up to parts of the Pacific Northwest for example... but the solar cooking's better out here. ;)

Monday, April 18, 2011


Over the years I have made a lot of bird friends. I don't mean people who also like birds, I mean birds. Most of them are ones that I've saved but every once in awhile a bird shows up and decides to spend 15 minutes or an hour with me and these are some of my favorite memories.

Last night I was picking mulberries from the tree over our driveway (I know, not the greatest place for a tree that makes a HUGE mess for 3 weeks a year, but that's where the birds planted it.) and my husband saw these guys fly our way...

Introducing Cowboy and Kickass

They hung around in the street for a few minutes and then wandered towards us. It turns out mallards like mulberries. I fed them berry after berry, 15 minutes or more later they followed me up the driveway and into the backyard. I didn't want them to get sick from eating too many berries so I switched to sprouted bread. They wandered around our backyard for a long time and we just sat there and watched until finally it was getting pretty dark (way too dark for photos) and they both stood up as tall as they could like little antennas and flew off together. It made my week.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

New Blog-- The Integrated Tiny House

This is a new blog about a project I'm hoping to embark on. I know there are currently people building very sustainable "normal-sized" houses, there is a growing awareness of permaculture and a small (no pun intended) tiny house movement, I'd like to combine all three and build:

The Integrated Tiny House

I'll need to do a little fundraising to get the project off the ground, but once it gets a little momentum I believe I have all of the resources to accomplish a proof-of-concept house. This would not just be intended to be a one-shot house for one family to live in, but would also serve as a teaching institution about the different processes involved in the structure and surrounding landscape.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

These are the people in my neighborhood

I've been working on converting the front yard to ebdibles for a couple of years, it's a long process-- getting rid of bermuda grass, palm trees, planting fruit trees rearranging the dirt to create swales and lowered garden beds and so on. I hope to have it all finished by the end of this year, but spending a lot of time in the front yard has made me grateful to be an urban gardener (urban homesteader if you will). I see lots of people pretty regularly while I'm out there working, my close-by neighbors of course, and those are varied, kind and interesting people for sure, but today I'd like to talk about the other folks that pass by. So here are some brief profiles:

Backwards man: One of my favorites, he goes around the neighborhood several times a day in his wheelchair, backwards. We have brief conversations; when he sees me out working, he stops at my house to light his cigarette. Apparently he used to garden when he lived in San Diego. For awhile he got a motorized wheelchair and went forward, but he's recently returned to going backwards in a regular wheelchair. I asked him what happened to the electric chair (I'm sure this term isn't ideal) he replied, "It got a flat tire man, I'm totally bummed out!"

Murphy, the mayor of 14th St: I learned about the "mayor" part from a guy that lives a few streets away (on 14th St) that works at Home Depot. We figured out we were neighbors once when he was helping me with some appliance questions. Ironically, I see him nearly every time I'm at Home Depot and get caught up in neighborhood news, but have never seen him once around the neighborhood, but I digress. If there ever existed a man that would be well-served pedaling a bicycle instead of riding a converted one (powered by a lawnmower engine) it would be Murphy. However, he has lots of "business" around the neighborhood and must need to make his pick-ups and deliveries expeditiously. He's recently branched out from his uhm, herbal sales to making those irritating motorized bicycles. His sounds like a big giant bee, which sort of fits with his appearance, another one that he's made for a neighborhood guy sounds like a sputtering fart, and a third that was made for a possible business partner sounds like a mosquito, which brings me to....

The mosquito: Built like a mosquito, otherwise looks like a hippie. Almost like a cross-dressing hippie. He tends to wear a lot of tank tops and very short cut-off jean shorts. He used to ride an old ten speed around but then switched to this. He has a long-time lady friend that sometimes doubles up on the bike, but I have also seen him taking her around in a cart attached to the back of the bike that I'm pretty sure was made from an old wheelbarrow/dolly with the handles bent upwards for gripping. She looks a bit like the grandma from Beverly Hillbillies so the sight of this contraption going by will make anyone laugh and really brighten your day.

That old whore Lois: She's the neighborhood nuisance. Really the only regular pass-by that I really don't care for. I have no idea what her actual name is, but the term comes from a family member several generations back whose husband left her for, "That old whore Lois" Lois is always drunk/high and is often seen dressed bumbling around looking for business in a Jackie O-style outfit/sunglasses/scarf, with old beat up sneakers. She begs you for money with a variety of obviously untrue excuses and curses you if you don't give her any. No one gives her any. Her one positive point (that I've been able to find) is that she walks the dog that used to just stay chained up in the yard where she stays (I think it's an invalid's house who may be her grandfather). She peed on my neighbors wall a few months back.

The non-speaking dog-walker: A slight girl who looks to be in her early 20's that walks a great big hairy dog most everyday... in heels... that she can't walk in very well. I hear her clopping down the street and know who it is immediately. I usually say hi to her and she never says hi back. I don't think she's being rude, probably just shy, or maybe too focused on not falling over.

Jose: Jose unfortunately died of a stroke this past year, but he was one of my favorites and deserves recognition. His English wasn't great, my Spanish isn't great so our conversations were choppy. He always wanted to see what I was growing, we would talk about plants and cooking tips. One day he showed up in my front yard with some different agaves and instructed me to plant them, so I did. :) I showed him my two cotton plants once and he doubled over laughing saying, "You gonna beee reeeech!" I miss Jose.

I could go on, as there are a lot more, but this post is getting long. I'm so grateful to have this huge mix of folks surrounding me, maybe I'll do a part two to this post down the line.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Urban Homesteading at Rachel's Tiny Farm

Most folks by now know about the Path to Shooting Yourself in the Foot AKA the Dervaes family's trademark of "Urban Homestead" and "Urban Homesteading". For those of you that have managed to miss it, the brief summary is that a prominent urban homesteading family in Pasadena got the phrases Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading trademarked late last year. They then sent intimidating cease and desist style letters to other urban homesteaders or that dared use that decades-old term in their name or events. They had Facebook pages taken down of some folks and small businesses like Denver Urban Homesteading, a small farmer's market in Denver that also teaches and promotes self-sufficiency. There's a lot more that adds to the egregiousness of the situation, but a quick search will pull up dozens+ of stories about it, so I'll refrain from writing another one here. The long and short of it is that essentially the entire urban homesteading movement is upset. This is not a great move when your income, via donations and an internet store that sells urban homesteading-related items (with a pretty hefty markup so purchasing from them also includes an implied donation) depends primarily on other urban homesteaders.

I remember picking fruits and veggies at my grandparents house starting when I was very young, my grandmother also had shelves full of what seemed like hundreds of jars of canned foods that I liked to sit and stare at, though the only thing I wanted to eat were the cinnamon apples. She didn't teach me how to can, but she sparked the thing in my brain that made me want to do it, and has helped me along the way. It probably started in my grandparents gardens in the Ozarks when I was too small to remember and slowly snowballed into what it has become today, picking up bits of information and skills as I roll along my way.

Enough about that. In response, here are some things relating to self-sufficiency that are practiced here at the tiny farm. This is a post standing with my fellow urban homesteaders showing an overview of some of the things we do, illustrating that urban homesteading is a widespread phenomenon, deeply rooted and not something that one family can own. (No pics this time, sorry!)

Aquaponics: We're about 8 months into raising tilapia in a small (200 gallon tank, 100 gallon grow bed) home-made aquaponics system and loving it. I love the results and the concept, it's almost like having my own tiny biosphere in the backyard, without the late-night pizza deliveries... for those of you that remember that little fiasco. My goal for 2011 is to get the bigger system set-up and running. We're half way there, the pond is built and has gambusia (mosquito fish) swimming around eating any would-be baby mosquitos, I've just got to get the grow beds in and the mechanics finished. Another goal is to switch over to feeding the fish completely with homegrown feed (black soldier fly larvae, duckweed etc).

Food preservation: We do both dehydrating and canning. I prefer to dehydrate because the resulting product takes up less space and it uses only the arid AZ weather to create. (We use a solar dehydrator that I built which you can read about HERE.) This last year I found a brand-new pressure canner for cheap, so I'm able to do both water bath and pressure canning now. The pressure canner still makes me nervous and the safety monitor in me wants to wear a helmet and goggles while using it. For now I'm resisting the extra apparel and am I'm grateful to have the option to can low acid foods.

Chickens and Quail: We raise these (in separate areas!) mostly for eggs, occasionally meat. Because you can have quail roosters in the city, I'm able to breed the quail. In fact there's a batch in the incubator due to hatch the first week in March. The birds' manure can't be overlooked either, with attempting to grow as much as I do, that valuable fertilizer is necessary!

Composting: Because of composting, re-using and recycling, our household of two, including our businesses, now creates a small bag of trash every two weeks. Of course there are the other obvious benefits of composting.

Year round food gardens: Although we hit a new record low this year of 19˚ (how do you cold climate people get through winter??!!) our winters are pretty mild, generally with only a handful of freezes. Interestingly, the September through February season is often the most productive time of year in Phoenix, so 365 days a year there is something in the yard available for eating.

Solar power: The house, though on grid, creates 100% of the electricity it uses annually from photovoltaics on our roof. We also often cook with a solar oven, and dehydrate with the aforementioned solar dehydrator.

Rainwater collection: We have one 275 gallon rain collector and a few other smaller ones. Someday we hope to have a cistern, but that's likely a year or two off.

Household miscellany: I do our haircuts, we repair rather than replace when possible, use a clothesline, use a lot of homemade cleansers, make gifts or buy them from friends or other individuals that make neat things.

Seed Saving: With the exception of one Super Sweet 100 tomato I'm growing this year all of our seeds are open-pollinated. I love both the action and the idea of saving seed. As many of my friends know, I'm a seed hoarder. I'm trying to divest myself of this problem(?) but it's tricky. With all the horrible things that are going on in the mega-seed world, preserving open-pollinated varieties seems like an easy way to do some good deeds.

Helping others: Helping other folks that want to be more self-sufficient is one of the most important things an urban homesteader can do. You've got some skills or books you don't need anymore? Pass it on. Even if it's just taking the time to answer someones email questions. This year I feel lucky enough to have the ability to not only continue teaching chicken raising classes for the Valley Permaculture Alliance (formerly Phoenix Permaculture Guild) but to be recently added to their board of directors (It's unpaid, so don't get too excited about the possibility of the Tiny Farm adding acreage or anything). I was also able to host two seed swaps for Arizona Homegrown Solutions and donate about 700 packs of seeds (Remember that seed-hoarding thing?).

Our reasons for doing all of this are many-fold. Lessening our environmental impact is a big one. Another one is financial. My husband and myself are both self-employed freelancers, I'm a painter (art not houses) and he's an animator. As you can imagine, our income is sporadic and not huge. The relief of not having to worry about paying an electric bill is great. Due to saving rainwater, using many native-adapted plants and earthworks to use water most efficiently, our water bill is no higher than a house with a standard lawn. Our food tastes good, I know where it comes from and that it hasn't been genetically modified or covered in pesticides and our grocery bill is reduced. Finally, it's just a good feeling to live as self-sufficiently as possible, tens of thousands of people agree.