Making the transition from sorrow to soil

I wonder all the time, if other folks know how often I think about the woman I was… just six years ago. Even though that human is so dang different, than the one they meet now. She feels like a whole other person to me, but she is no stranger. I was her for 31 years. I remember so clearly how unhappy I was, how dissatisfied and confusing it was–hating the life I was living. Thinking about how unprepared I felt for the state of what was going on in the world and the environment around me…. was downright terrifying.

Since I taught my first workshop and gave my first farm tour out here in 2013–so darn many people seemed so intrigued by how in the tarnation I did it. Stepped out of that cubicle, convenience based, city life and just went homesteading… when I had zero experience, when I’d not gotten raised on a farm, or ever even grown a garden. When I was so darn heavy at the point that I started walking down the path to being a homesteader. I’d get asked all the time… What in the world made me think I could do it? 

Here’s the real simple deal–I didn’t know I could do it. I just knew I couldn’t NOT do it. 

And here I sit, just six years later… 142 pounds lighter, a certified permaculture designer, kicking my bare feet up on 9.87 acres my wife and I own, planning to cook a breakfast that we farmed and foraged, and I’m feeling fantastic about it.

I also think a lot about what I would have done differently, if I’d had someone to reach out to in the beginning. What if I could have gotten to this point a lot earlier, with a lot less mistakes? What if I had gotten some inspiration and empowerment from someone more experienced than I was at the time?  Someone that could talk to me and tell me the truth about making this transition – from heavy to homesteader, from sorrow to soil.

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If that resource was there at the time, I didn’t know where to find it. I applied for farm internships, but couldn’t get one. I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I had to… so I just dove in and figured it out myself. I used YouTube, books, and mostly–experimented a lot. That’s why it took six years, for me to be the human that is sitting here writing this to you now. Yet, here’s the rub that used to send me in a tailspin just a few years ago… it could have taken more like six months or a year or two. If I’d just gotten some affordable, attainable advice. Some direction and inspiration, from someone who had actually done it themselves. Someone who had designed a life that kept them happy, healthier, and well balanced. Someone that was sustaining it long term.

Someone just like the woman I am today. 

I’m not an expert, and in fact, the beauty in all this for me is that I don’t aspire to be one. For me, it is all about the journey. I never want to plateau or stop trying to get even better at living the way I do. But, that being said–I have a ton of knowledge in my brain that I didn’t used to carry around with me. I have many a funny story, on what worked for me and what didn’t. I learned so much from every single mistake and side step I took on this transitional journey. I know exactly what I would go back in time and tell myself if I was standing at the trailhead of homestead hill. 

And, I want to share it–with a lot more folks than I’ve been able to fit on this farm for the last few years. I want the legend of the eight owls to spread its wings and fly further out. I want to inspire and empower folks on a larger scale. It’s why a couple weeks back I wrote and said we will now be putting more and more of our energy online. And it’s time to tell you the first way I have planned to do just that.

Are you finding yourself a bit spun up about the state of the world? Are politics sending you into a total panic? Are you feeling unprepared for the unknown that lies ahead? Is there a scurrying little animal inside you running in circles, squealing, telling you a storm is coming and you better do something right flipping now? Are you heavier than you want to be? Or discontent and don’t know why? Are you trying to carve a different path and don’t know where to start?

Well, straight up – I don’t know if I can fix that for you. But, I hear from many a folk that I can be pretty inspiring to have a conversation with. So, this farm now has a new service… sliding scale online consultations via Skype or FaceTime. You can send me your questions, and I’ll sit down with you by the wood stove and have a chat with you about them. And I’ll answer them incredibly honestly. I have zero problem sharing mistakes I’ve made. I have a lot of advice to give–on what doesn’t work and what does. On the education and experiences that I’ve loved….and the ones I haven’t. I have a ton of product, gear, and tool advice. I have 18 years of marketing and advertising experience that can likely help you promote your new farm or homestead based business when you are ready for that step. I can tell you what this transition was actually like… and not just the pretty pictures in your newsfeed kind of way. The good, the bad, the poor or poop covered, and the freaking bad ass parts too.

I can’t keep you from making mistakes, an awesome member of my intentional neighborhood just wrote the other day–you’ll find a million creative ways to make your very own. But, I may just be able to show you something… that with a bad ass attitude, a willingness to do hard work, and a seriously adaptable attitude–this transition can be made, you can transcend those mistakes and thrive. 

“Wanting can be done sitting on a couch with a bong in your hand and a travel magazine on your lap. Deciding means jumping in all the way, doing whatever it takes, and going after your dreams with the tenacity of a dateless cheerleader a week before prom night.” Jen Sincero, writer, funny lady, farmer motivating, superhero and badass

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I can’t tell you how to do you, or what your journey will look like. But I can share more of mine with you, and I can do that from wherever you are with the appropriate technology that is my wifi connection and iPad. I can tell you how I turned sorrow to soil in my own life.

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I can tell you about how dang good it makes me feel, to grow my own, to connect to nature, to have stepped out of what I view as a broken system and learn to design my own.

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I can share with you the feel good that the first figs I ever got off a tree I planted can be. I can tell you how we have gone about making a living, while also making our life.

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I can tell you all about what it was like to get my permaculture design certificate via a self designed 16 month, 160 hour permaculture education. What instructors I liked, which ones I didn’t and why. I can tell you all about why I decided to put a program together for myself instead of just banging out a 72 hour 12 day course all in one shot. I can tell you why I’m so dang grateful I did that. I have a big ass book list to share of the ones that changed my whole world, these are just 4 out of probably 400 or so.

There is a ton, that I can share with you… to inspire you, to empower you to find your freaking rope of awesomeness, grab it, swing on it and not let go… whatever that may look like for you.

So, I gave it my first shot yesterday… sending my owl energy all the way up to Canada, to a woman that I just know I can call a friend now.

Review from my first online consultation: 

“I contacted Rain on a whim after reading her blog Kicking 150 Pounds of Anxiety and Depression through Farmingblog on the website Women Who Farm while sitting behind a computer screen at my 9 – 5 job in a suburb just outside of Toronto. I read ‘inspiring’ blogs all the time, but for some reason, this one spoke to me more than the rest. I have never contacted anyone like this before but I just decided to go for it and shoot her an email to find out a little more info about how her and Mika actually managed to jump into this homesteading life with no experience and land on both feet. I told her half my life story (which basically explained that I am struggling just like she wrote she had been six years ago) and she got back to me within hours in a way that I would only expect a good friend to do. While it would be a first for both us of, she suggested we get in touch via Facetime or Skype so that she can help me get a better idea of how it really can be done. A consultation. To learn that I too can jump into an entrepreneurial lifestyle and kick start a farm with minimal funds, a lot of hard work, faith and determination. We basically sat down to tea with each other from opposite sides of North America. I came out of it with a renewed sense of purpose and a new sense of excitement to get a plan going instead of just complaining over and over again that the life I am living isn’t for me. It was the little kick in the butt that I needed to start following my instincts. I would highly recommend anyone who has been thinking about making a big change in life – particularly in the direction of farming or homesteading – to take the time to sit down and chat with this ladyboss.”  –DANI ALEXANDRA FROM TORONTO, CANADA   

It was awesome, using technology to connect to someone that I never might have had the pleasure of speaking to otherwise. I’m so grateful that she was willing to step out and be the first woman that helped me carve yet another new trail. To something I so want to do this year.

So, if this whole thing sounds like it might be for you — all you have to do is shoot me an email (rain@eightowlsfarmstead.com) and I’ll get right back to you as soon as I can and tell you how this works. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to today–and my rainy self care Sunday…. I’ll wish everyone well and hope you do the same!

-the farmer

 

Seeing soil through new eyes

Six and a half years ago–I didn’t think about dirt. Not even a little tiny bit. I thought about the dots per inch in my designs on a computer screen. That 300 pound me thought about food a lot. Yet, I certainly didn’t seem to have any concept of where it came from. I couldn’t even conceptualize the chemical covered dirt that food was grown in at that time. 

The 158 pound permaculture farmer that stands here today, on a steep, scrubby 9.87 acres at the tippy top of a mountain… thinks about the glory that is soil all the dang time. I realized it yesterday, as I raked up every little morsel of compost I could get my hands on and tossed it on my garden beds. Soil is my life now… and I’ll never take it for granted or call it simply dirt again. I’d trade it for the fat paycheck I used to get staring at a screen any day of the week. Because I don’t just grow food and flowers in it. The woman I am today got sown and grown in it too. 

The soil, it showed me I had just gotten sown in a poorly chosen place… in a monocropped, chemical sprayed row inside a broken system. One that seems to me to have been designed to make me depressed, unhealthy, and overweight. One that seemed to just want me to spend and not sow or grow. 

When I hit 300 pounds at 31 years old and my depression hit new heights–I didn’t know what else to do. But I did know, I was fed up. So, I stood up out of that row, shook that nasty stuff off my roots, and said no. I refuse to continue to grow this way. I’ll hoe my own row, thank you very much. 

It was hard and slow going. Trying to find a different way. Bushwhacking that path myself. But, the soil–it was always there. Allowing me to grow. A new view of what was possible became clear, as I started to shed those pounds that had weighed me down. I connected to mother nature in ways I never had before, with bare feet and hands digging down into the earth. New eyes started to show me just how much I could grow. 

I went through this whole transition with a partner, that grew into a forager and rewilder. My life in the garden has even more balance for it. The time in the forest helps me see how to grow in better ways. How to work with nature and not against it. The forest, marginal spaces, and the edges shows me that is where life happens. It keeps me more connected, it helps to keep me calm. 

I feed the soil in my soul by trying my best to share what we’ve learned so far–about how to grow in an organic way. I hope to inspire and empower others to do the same, I pray every day that they will all do even better than we did. 

I’ve kept that weight I lost off for almost three years now. I’ve designed a life that keeps me healthier and happier than I ever was before. Granted, I still don’t feel great physically a lot of the time–my body is doing big work, detoxing out 31 years of poor soil. My doctors keep telling me to just keep doing what I’m doing, because it is working for me. To be patient and realize, I’m not done getting regenerated. Yet, I’ve grown the faith that it can continue to heal right here in my garden. I’ve grown an insanely positive attitude too. 

So, I keep doing what I’m doing. I keep growing organically. I keep reconnecting to my wilder side. I eat my vegetables and play outside. I laugh and learn a lot. I continue to try to find ways to step outside of the system and into the natural world. I stay eternally grateful–for having had all this time I was already given, to grow. I try not to worry about what could be and focus on living and growing. I don’t take my life for granted, I just live and grow in the right now. 

In this humble farmer’s opinion, the planet we’ve all be planted on is in real trouble. Our environment and its soil–it needs our help. It needs us all, to come together and grow. In quite different ways than most of us were planted. In my heart I know it is not too late, we humans–we are such incredibly capable and amazing creatures. There are so darn many of us. If we could just let go of what we were taught and pick up some common sense…. can you imagine what we could cultivate? I can. We can create community with each other and not chaos. If we would be willing to do the work on our environment that it so sorely needs… it has the potential to become an eden we could all eat and live in safely. We could build soil and save our souls. We can truly do so much to help. I know we can do this… we humans, we can come together and grow. 

-the farmer

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I got contacted by this amazing organization called Kiss the Ground. They wanted me to submit a story about our ability to regenerate land and reverse climate change by building back healthy soil. They are a non-profit that is doing truly great things. I encourage you to follow their page, show your support, or submit your story about how you interact with soil! 

Chop wood carry water

For the last few years I find myself chopping a lot of wood. I carry a lot of water. I had no idea when I started doing it that it was part of finding the path to enlightenment. Yet, I’m so grateful that I know that now.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” … And once you finally achieve “enlightenment” you still must chop wood and carry water. Do your work, do it well, and when you find success, do it again.

When we bought our homestead in 2012, we knew we planned to heat with wood. However, I had not given a single thought of how that wood would get in the stove. I weighed 260 pounds when we moved over from the rental farm to the land we purchased. I could not carry an armload of wood, I certainly didn’t carry the skills to chop some. Neither of us knew how to use a chainsaw. We didn’t own an axe. But, we purchased our now infamous little Jotul wood stove and had it installed right when we got here. I know it will keep me warm as I sleep, even though it is due to be 19 degrees tonight. It’s stuffed full of wood I split right now.

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Chopping wood was a huge part of this farmer’s exercise routine. I couldn’t do it right when I got here, I wasn’t strong enough and didn’t have the confidence to try to do it.  But, I could carry wood. First two or three pieces. Then four or five. Then an armload. The walking back and forth from the wood pile, the carrying of wood–it was part of what helped me start to lose weight. By the time I weighed 220 pounds, I was ready. I picked up that axe and learned how swing it myself.

Today, at 156 pounds–I’ve split I don’t even know how many cords of wood. I’ve taught a good number of other women how good it feels to chop wood too. I do it almost every day this time of year, even if I don’t need to because there is already plenty. Because it is good for me. It gives me bigger biceps, builds my confidence and it certainly helps me find my zen calm and happy place. I may not be able to do it when I get to be a much, much older lady–but I do know this… I’m going to do it as long as I can. Because I love to chop wood.

My forager of a wife does too. She talks pretty often about her great-grandfather and how he had huge guns of arms until he died at ninety years old. That even after alzheimer’s and old age set in–he just kept chopping wood. All day. Right until the very end. It’s always quite obvious to me as she tells this story with a far away smile on her face that she plans to be this way too. I believe her. I can see her ninety year old guns too. It wouldn’t surprise me a single lick if this life she loves and chopping wood gets her past a hundred.

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When we bought our land, I certainly didn’t have any intention to be carrying water. In fact, we spent the first few months we were here (and plenty of pretty pennies) getting the foreclosed house we bought wired and plumbed. We put in a fancy kitchen with things we thought we couldn’t live without like lighting, an electric stove, a dishwasher, a microwave and refrigerator. There was a sink and a faucet. We didn’t have any building, plumbing or electrical skills–so we hired several other folks to do it all. We borrowed a bunch of extra money on our mortgage to do it. We had no idea that sometimes ladies can get taken advantage of by builders, electricians and plumbers who want to part them from their money and might not do the greatest job. It’s taken the last four years to pay that repair work off and start paying off our land.

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We only had that fancy faucet for about six months before I got insanely sick. Then the forager did. By the time the doctor in the emergency room got ahold of me and told me it had to be environmental–I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life. A burst pipe and black mold found us having to rip out that kitchen much quicker than we had put it in. All that money, effort and stress went right down the drain–I washed it all away, right before I ripped out that sink, carried it outside and tossed it in the yard.

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Black mold changed the way that I looked at water being in my home. Total catastrophe showed me how quickly nice things, convenience and comfort can disappear overnight. Destruction of my home from mold, or droughts and wild fires rolling through just this year always shows me how many things are out of our control. That having money or nice things…. doesn’t always end up mattering much when disaster hits.

Being so easily separated from what was in our wallets was not an experience we wanted to repeat. So, we decided to do the repair work ourselves, even if it was slow going. During the last few years it took to teach ourselves how to remodel the house, we began to live and sleep outside for most of the year. That found me getting connected to nature in a way I never had been before and I fell in love so deeply. Since a lot of the walls had to get ripped out, we decided to make our house off grid rather than replace the wiring a second time. Which found me loving a kind of quiet I’d never heard over the hum of the fridge. We only had a water hose attached to the back of the house. That meant I carried a lot of water.

I took baths from a camping bag style shower. I washed my hair in a 4 gallon stock pot. I washed dishes and laundry outside in rubbermaid totes. I did it because I had to, it was the only option I had at the time. I had a large number of water related sobbing meltdowns to my wife. (#homesteadtruth)

Since our house hadn’t had power since fall of 2013, I also read a lot more. By candlelight. About the environmental impacts of grid powered electricity. I came to understand what the implications could be if I kept using power and water like they were an infinite thing that had no impact on the world I lived in. I teared up as I read about the miles a lot of other women in the world have to carry water every day just to drink some. To keep their children from being thirsty. I learned a ton about just how much water Americans use every day compared to people in other countries. I started to feel incredibly guilty for having flushed away so much potable water my whole life. I started to whine about the thirty feet I had to carry mine a lot less. I kept carrying a lot of water. I kept finding ways to use less. I do my best to catch and store every drop that falls from the sky. Permaculture keeps me focused on doing that better and better with each passing season.

I found that for me, carrying water had a side effect I didn’t expect. My biceps got even bigger. I can even do pull ups these days. And, it helps me find my happy, zen place too. Because I use less water today than I ever have in my whole life. I find it so precious and I have a firm understanding of the fact that it is a our most important resource. It’s not infinite, it’s not something I’m entitled to. It’s something I’m blessed to have. So, I do my best to treat it that way.

2016 found me finding a happier balance. Between bigger muscles and my zen… and tears or toting water for bag showers. We had finally learned to build in the women’s basic carpentry workshop we hosted in 2015 by Build Like a Bird. That workshop and some amazing ladies built a kitchen and bath house for this farm.

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I hooked that water hose to an outdoor shower and a sink for dishes. For now, I heat it with propane while I continue to work out plans for wood fired hot water. I love my outdoor kitchen and bathroom so much I can’t stand it. It’s mold free, it has a faucet I feel good about, and it works just great for me. I’ve been so blessed that a couple other folks have let me shower and do laundry at their places over the last couple winters–but I decided a couple weeks ago I just don’t need to anymore. I still have that stock pot and washing my hair or clothes in it in winter doesn’t send me into a special emotional place anymore. It just helps me remember what’s important to me. I can be darn sure that when spring comes, I’ll be filled with gratitude for having my outdoor shower back. And I’ll be making a plan to close it in somehow for next winter!

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I don’t know how I’ll feel about it when I get older, I’m sure it has the potential to be a pain in my butt. Since honestly, it already is sometimes–especially in winter. When hooking up the hot water is a huge hassle or not always possible. When freezing temps might mean we can’t turn our well on for weeks. But, I figure–every day between now and old age that I can handle doing it… I will. Because in my opinion that behavior will save some water for others that need it. It will keep me respectful of this amazing life giving resource and I won’t be able to easily take advantage of it.

Not to mention, I never have been able to just assume that I’m entitled to even get older either. So even though I’m sure other folks find it irresponsible, I don’t usually spend much of the precious time I have have now worrying about preparing for it. Instead, I try my best to just enjoy the right now and I carry water. I lift it with my knees and not my back. I take care of my body and eat good food. I plant a ton of marketable perennials for a retirement plan.

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I know it isn’t for everyone, especially those that are older than me or with little humans in their houses that have a tendency to get dirty often or need to get to school on time. And I totally get and have a ton of respect that. But, that’s a huge part of why I’m doing it too–to save water for you fine folks that are older and wiser than me and that I can learn so much from. Or that are raising the amazing little humans that we all need to shape the future of our world so that it continues to be habitable for humans to live in. I mean, I ain’t raising anything but rabbits! They don’t seem to mind drinking rain water I collect for them and they don’t have anywhere to try to get to on time. That means I have the time to carry my water.

I found that for me–having less easy access to power, chopping wood and carrying water…. it is a HUGE part of what keeps me feeling empowered. I can care take myself under a lot of different circumstances that I could not in my old life. The power could go out, our house could burn down, we could lose our property… and I’d still be carrying something around that would help me live. The skills in my mind that I need to survive. The adaptability to endure any circumstance and thrive. And the body that is capable of doing the work.

So, I chop wood. I carry water. I sure don’t expect anyone else to. I’d never ask anyone else to. Well, unless of course–they immerse or work here on my land. But, it works for me in so many amazing ways. It helps me stay thin. It helps me find my zen. And if it also leads me to enlightenment–that’s even better. But even if it does… I’ll still keep chopping wood and carrying water when I get there.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

-the farmer


So, I usually write what I write on here because I get asked the same questions a lot. Since 2013, a hugely popular one is how in the world are we going to do this when we get old? What’s our retirement plan? I know it gets asked because folks care about us and I love that they do! But, I have strong opinions on it. Mostly because I ate a terrible diet and lived a sedentary life for 31 years. To me, that means it’s a least possible that I don’t even have the possibility of getting old in the first place. But I sure try to focus most of my planning energy on making better choices these days with what I eat and how I spend my time. I pray every day that I do have a long happy life!! But, I also focus on living, right now, and don’t focus all my energy on getting older and what I’ll do then–and at 37 years old, I feel fine about it. And yes, we talk about it some–loose plans for when we are older ladies. We plan to laugh a lot, love hard, spend a lot of time in our gardens and forests…. the forager plans to be taking on bears still.

An amazing 75 year old homesteader visited us in February of 2013 that gave us some great advice… go ahead and make our steps short and put our wood pile close. Now, while we are young. We listened. We’ve been doing just that. Over the years when my friends, family, or former co-workers visit and express concern about our retirement planning… I just take them outside and plant some perennials or plug some mushroom logs. We went to visit Eustace Conway at Turtle Island Preserve this week. He is 55 years old. He asked us if we had any questions or if there was anything he could help us with. I told him I had just one. Did he think I would ever get too old to want to homestead… To keep living close to nature and without so much convenience? Because I want to be a teacher that actually does what she teaches about too. His deep chuckle and homestead seasoned laugh lines made me smile so darn big.

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He told me that yes, he can feel it in his body… the life of homestead work. So, he wants to get better at delegating out all the digging, at picking his battles. But that he’d never give it up or change it, it’s what makes him want to live. He told me an awesome old story about a dream of riding a horse across the country and about getting underestimated that he could do it. That he got laughed at because he didn’t even have a horse. But that it didn’t stop him. and he sure does have them horses now and he uses them for some truly amazing work and education. He showed the Forager how to split wood easier and how to make pegs and joints fit with less work. Then, he gave us a squeeze and scampered back off to his own work with two quite young men running behind him trying to keep up. It meant the world Eustace, thank you. I listened. I’ll do my best… to pick my battles, that’s why I finally added a drop cord to the grid power house our intentional neighborhood shares and a lamp back to our winter system–to save my eyes for when I get older.  I’ll go ahead and try delegating out some of my business-y bits and digging so I don’t run myself ragged. I’ll try to learn to do it now, while I’m younger.

Everyone has to do what’s right for them… and I’m just doing what is right for me. I just LOVE the way I live. If that ever changes, then I will change the way I do things. But, for me, for now… this homestead life just WORKS. And when other folks make me get in my head about it or second guess myself–I just put this song on repeat on my mp3 player and it sure does help!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food challenge 2017 – 2 weeks in!

We proved that we could homestead away depression and 150 pounds for the farmer–and keep it gone for going on three years now and turn her into an inspired permaculture farmer. We proved that we could rewild away incapability and fifty pounds for the forager–keep it gone and turn her into an empowered wild woman. We proved to ourselves that we could learn to impact our environment in a very different way than we used to when we cut our power usage, began to implement wild permaculture, and radically change our diets. We proved that you can skill up, learn about living in the real world, and connect with nature when we stepped out of our cubicles, left the city, and landed in an owl’s nest atop panther mountain…. even if we didn’t have any experience with doing so. We’ve proved two people can sustain it, for over six years now. And, we still love it…are still so passionate about it… every single day. Even on the hard ones.

So, back in the fall of 2016–we realized we had another challenge brewing in both our minds. Realized that even though on some days these two homesteaders feel SO different from one another… we had one thing in common. We realized that, in our opinion, we have no business teaching about organic farming, foraging, primitive living, wild ways, and permaculture if we aren’t providing something pretty important. For ourselves. And doing the work to get it ourselves too.

THE FOOD.

It’s what we two have in common. It’s what we think everyone has in common. And, since this is all about getting real this year, even if it offends some folks…. we think it is what is hurting us all. It sure appears to the two of us like it is making a lot of people overweight, sick, and unhappy.  That is certainly what it used to do to the two of us. The way food is bring grown and raised these days is a big part of what is making our environment a disaster. So, we talked about it for a few months and decided to go for it.

We wanted to answer the question that was burning in both our minds–can two women with not many years of experience farm, forage and trade their way to providing 80+% of their diets? For a full year? On steep, marginal land with poor soil? What will happen to our bodies if we try? How will it impact our world and acreage? And…. Could we share our journey and hope to inspire other folks to try to grow more of their own? To impact their environment in positive ways? So that we will all have a planet left to practice permaculture ON? (We have a new youtube channel we are just starting to build up, so if you haven’t subscribed yet and are interested in hearing more of our stories – please do! We’ll be sharing a lot on it this year!)

Well, we are two weeks into finding out… and guess what – we are still alive!! And have been eating great. I’m not starving to death. In fact, also in the sake of being honest… I’ve actually gained a pound! Hysterical! (insert laughing to tears emoji here, because for once… in the face of this food challenge… I’m thrilled about this!!)

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For the last few days, we’ve actually eaten all our meals from 100% farm, foraged, and traded for food. And we took it to another level too–almost all of it has been fresh, in the dead of winter, and not even pulled from our food stores. I’ve been able to get us fresh salads from the garden, the forager has been finding mushrooms and adding chickweed to our salads, and we’ve both been snacking on many a black walnut.

We are also doing and documenting this thing better too, than we did the first time when we lost all the weight. We went to our doctors and did a check in on where we were at… and we will continue to do that once a month all year. (If getting your weight in check via whole lifestyle changes is something that interests you, head over and check out the amazing support you can get from Drs Marty and Glenn Ingram from Through the Woods Natural Health. Those folks have provided us some great service over the last few years we’ve been seeing them! And they are homesteaders too, so you can ask Dr Glenn to show you his “chickshaw” pictures or ask Dr Marty about how she manages her homestead with an amazing little human in tow!) 

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We’ve been tracking everything we eat on a spreadsheet–so that we have hard facts data on exactly what percentage we pull off.

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We’ve navigated obstacles and picked battles too… like when friends come over for dinner that we are cooking for them–we’ll accept a trade of their delicious spicy pickles and a bottle of wine. Because they made a great point… if we are feeding them our food, they want to give something back to us. And we don’t want to make this challenge suck or make our friends and family not want to visit us. This farmer certainly does not want to stop cooking her homegrown food for folks she loves. This is supposed to be fun and we sure intend to keep it that way. It’s all an experiment after all–one we just want to try and share with you. We’ll all see how it shakes out…. together. We’ll see what we can grow.

Because I’m sure you’ve noticed a common theme on my posts lately… and that is, that I sure feel like it is time for us all to do so. In my opinion, we have to all come together and connect to each other like never before. It’s strange times out there in the world–but we people, we can do such amazing things. We can repair our environment, by just doing what we can do–by just doing our best and taking less from it. We can build soil by learning how to step on it in quite different ways. We can empower and educate each other. We can connect our communities and not come apart. I just KNOW we can, I grew the faith in that right here on this farm too… when I, someone with no experience, turned a fat, sad lady into a permaculture farmer. 

The Forager read the other day in an article that most people give up their New Year resolutions by January the 15th. Today is the 14th. That’s why I’m writing this post now, at 7am. To say we’ve not given up ours yet, and no one else has to either! We’ll continue to do our food challenge and share with you about it. I’ll continue to embrace my word for 2017–GROW. I know I can do it, and I can do it organically. I am fully aware this whole food challenge thing was an interesting choice. Ballsy. Bad ass. Insane. Awesome. Or at least these are just a few words our people have been telling us over the last couple weeks! But, it’s also fun, neat-O as all get out to the two of us, and we are so excited to see how it shakes out. We’ve grown the resolve to at least try and not give up right here too. And right now, that feels so dang good I could just about squeal over it!

-the farmer

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We got our donation from Sow True Seed for 2017 last week and this farmer is over the flipping moon about it! I just know I’ll grow with this awesome seed. If you are doing your seed orders for the growing season now…. geeking out on the farmer porn that is seed catalogs in winter–I sure do hope you will check out the seed from Sow True. I’ve been using it for years now and I swear it stands taller and does better than anything else I’ve tried.

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The Forager helped me forage some snow for snow cream this last week – homegrown ice cream, I’ll take it! And, she keeps foraging this amazing venison steaks from the freezer too. So dang good. 😉

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We also got gifted this sprouting box from HoneyTree Permaculture to do some off grid field testing. It took a couple rounds to get sprouts and a system that would work for us – but we sure are loving having fresh sprouts to add to our meals these days! Thanks HoneyTree! For all that you do!! (Everyone has been asking about this sprouting box when i post pics, I’m going to try to make a video in the next couple weeks. Stay tuned to our youtube channel!)

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Another big thanks to Drs Marty and Glenn from Through the Woods for our monthly check ins. We are so glad we are doing them–because we both found out our blood pressure was high when we went in for our appointment. EEP! Stress management – it’s SO REAL. We were both totally wiped out when we went in, working too much and not sleeping enough. IT SHOWED. So, they hooked us up with this custom tincture for stress management and blood pressure. We took a few days off. We’ve been monitoring our BP for a couple weeks now and are well back within normal range. Thanks again guys, for supporting our health care with plant based medicine, diet suggestions, and giving us stern looks over our stress levels! 😉 You’re tops!! (And, as someone who used to only be able to survive her life with a anti-anxiety Rx — I’m super grateful to have not taken one in six years and have my tinctures instead!)

 

Making a homestead mess

When we first landed on this foreclosure 4 years and some change ago–it was already pretty messy. Then, we piled a new homestead mess on top. Wondering what I mean by a homestead mess? Here’s some visual examples.

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Make more sense now? Homesteaders…. hoarders…. silly semantics! Aren’t we one in the same? ;-p I’ve found we have a tendency to literally save EVERYTHING. God help you if you are riding around town with one of us and we see a curb crammed with stuff someone is tossing. We might literally squeal and grab your steering wheel. We’ll even grab your empty beer bottles, plastic jugs, and cardboard scraps. We’ll steal your paper recycling for the sake of our compost piles. Us two homesteaders, I have noticed we’ll take on just about anything folks are throwing away. We may not have any flipping clue what we are going to do with it… we REALLY might not know when we will have time to use it–but, we’ll take it anyway. Put it in a big ol’ heap of a pile and be all kinds of fired up about it.

So, what we end up with is a homestead mess. It looks insane to other people, I’m sure of it. (I’m sure, because we have been open to the public and I’ve literally gotten told that. A lot!) But, it’s the reality of our life. It’s the homestead truth, we take on just about anything–to keep it from getting tossed.

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Future wood fired bathtub tank!!! Top of my homestead dream project list!

The first two years we were here, I was what was a mess about it. As someone who not only used to live a very clean and suburban sort of life, but also bordered on a little bit OCD about how my home looked–I thought I was going to lose. my. dang. mind. People coming out and looking horrified, or worse yet–saying something about it practically pushed me over the edge. I’d run around for days before and after visitors, frantically trying to straighten it up–because back then, somehow…. I thought I could….like… clean it?

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This area of our homestead is called “Forager Land” – it’s like SO dang useful!

But here’s what I’ve found to be the homestead truth. I can’t! All I could do was clean up my attitude about it. By 2015, I was over trying. I was realizing I was wasting precious homestead life time. Worse yet – I was making everything harder for everyone to find by my straightening or stuffing things in a REALLY big pile in some hidey hole (a.k.a. our storage building or storage room). I was realizing that I literally had to go to town less for this behavior… because just about anytime I needed to drive to the hardware store for something for a project, I could just ask the forager. And she would give me a huge grin, scamper off, practically skipping, and forage just the part I needed from her pile of SUPER USEFUL upcycled bits. It’s been about 2 years now, since I started trying to not keep giving a flip about what other folks thought about the homestead mess. Since I stopped trying so hard to clean it or hide it. img_2764

I always wonder, do people think we drink all this beer? No! we just LOVE natural building!!  We actually don’t drink beer at all–but we need’a your cool shaped and colored bottles for cob and cordwood walls! 🙂 That is, when we have time for that–which unfortunately is rare. Hence the half finished cob wall in our house that we have been working on for two flipping years! ;-P But one day, we’ll have more time for it, I just know it. 

And I tell you what, I’M SOLD. On the not worrying about it so much. It was a hard behavior to let go of at first–like all bad habits. But, it quickly paid off in something I love…. TIME. To actually get more projects done. Finding things to get started on those projects became less frustrating. After about a year, even other folk’s comments about our “trash piles” stung a ton less. For a lot of reasons, mostly because I knew if they were saying something ugly or harsh about it… I could at least take a guess that they must not own land or have a real homestead life yet. Or good lordy… wouldn’t they have all this super useful stuff around too?!?! Anyway, if that guess is the case… Then they will SO get it one day, when they have piles of their very own!

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And of course, it helps that progress is actually getting made. Above are two pictures of what we’ve been calling “the scary room” in our house for the last couple years. The walls need gutted. The floor needs replaced. It needs a new door, windows, and could seriously use some insulation as it is usually just above freezing in there. We likely won’t have time for that anytime soon. We don’t even know what we want to use this room for yet, so it’s not been a priority. That means for now, it is for storage. It WAS “scary storage”, until last week when I finally found myself with the mere 30 minutes it took to get it organized enough to walk inside it! I’m so glad I’d bought myself that time, by not wasting it trying to clean up piles outside!

Plus, I was here in the beginning of this homestead–and good lord do I remember just how much bigger the mess used to be. Every year, it gets beat back a little more as everything finds its use and place. What we are doing is permaculture at its finest… we were producing no waste–even before we knew what the heck permaculture even was.

I know that one day, our spaces will be set up so much better than they are now. It may never look perfect, and I’m so okay with it. But it will be sorted in a way that we can literally find everything without frustration. And until then magical day, I shall embrace the piles…. the ones that will one day go away and the ones that are here to stay alike. It seems good for me, to realize that I do not have control of the piles. They grow, they shrink… and I can’t control them. All I can do is dictate how I feel about them. I can let go of my old expectations that this homestead is ever going to look “clean” or “perfect” like I think my old house in the city probably did to other folks. That old life’s house might have looked clean to other folks, but the person at the center of it looked a mess. Now, I live in a place that some other folks may think looks messy… but the person in the center of it looks a heck of a lot healthier and happier for it. And to me, that is all that truly matters.

-the farmer

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This homestead mess is right outside our house. It’s there, because it is a intentional stacking station with a convenient relative location. It’s where useful bits get piled until there are enough of them to make up a car or truckload. Then they get distributed to where they will go to their respective piles. I can toss stuff outside and into it with just a couple little side steps. So, it may not be pretty – but it sure works for this homestead housewife. 


I’ve been thinking about this post for a long while now, and wanted to finally write it. For a couple reasons. I have a good sized handful of new to homesteading couples in my life that I JUST LOVE to bits. And sometimes, I can see what I think is homestead mess stress on their sweet faces. I know they all read this blog, and I want them to hear what I’ve said here. That I love them so much, and I embrace their homestead messes TOO! It shows me they love permaculture and useful things as much as we do!

And also, because we are going to be sharing and posting a lot more this year. I’m so tired of trying to contort myself into crazy positions to keep the homestead mess out of the background of photographs and videos. Maybe if I do, I’ll save some time and ACTUALLY get to do the yoga I so know I need to be doing but never seem to have time for!!!! There are messy parts of our lives here, and y’all I’m super over being scared to share that part of it. I don’t want anyone that follows us to have an expectation that they won’t also have a homestead mess, especially in the beginning of setting up homestead. So, if messes and poop and uncomfortable things and seeing us do things that you would never do at your place scare you–I swear I won’t be offended if you don’t follow our real homestead life journey! I’ve got nothing but big love for one and all and every way that all sorts of folks move through their lives. Like always, I’m only talking about how I move through mine here!

 

Stitching together a patchwork quilt

I never knew perfection or easy circumstance in my life–unless I worked really hard and did my best to try to create it myself. That was just my experience and I feel so incredibly blessed about that now. I’m quite sure it was what got me so into and kept me loving art. I love finding the beauty in seemingly unusable or not stereotypically pretty things. I adore seeing what I can create, what I can build. I’m married to a forager that is an even more extreme version of this than I.

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Looking back to just four years and four months ago to when we first drove over to this 9.87 acres from our rental farm feels like a hundred years ago and a blink at the same time. I was still so incredibly overweight then, so inexperienced, so disillusioned that this simple life was going to be easy. That the two of us were going to just agree on everything. I’ll never forget the first day the forager and I drove up to this foreclosure. I had no idea until much later that what I saw a farm, and what she saw a lot of forest and living off the land. Yet fortunately, we both saw the homesteader’s life we could stitch together here.

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 (spring 2013 left, summer 2013 right)

After we closed on our property, I saw my family’s and friend’s faces–as they shook their heads and expressed concern over what we had just bought. I don’t think anyone thought we would stick it out… there was no soil to speak of, it was too steep and scrubby to be a farm. There were houses that were falling down or apart, the property was in total disarray. Yet, from the very first moment we saw it–our hearts fell for it, with complete and total abandon.

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(spring 2014 left, spring 2015 right)

Now, it’s four years later–and I love it more with every passing day. I lost so much weight here, grew a ton of skills and confidence here, learned to sew together a simply amazing life here. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the whole wide world to me, because two women I just love to bits–make it more so every day. And I’m so darn lucky that I get to be one of them. 

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(spring + summer 2016)

What I love more than anything in the world is the journey. The experiences you have along the way. To me, my homestead life feels like a patchwork quilt. And I would so much rather make my own… than be given a perfect one that had been created for me. Even if I have to learn how to do it as I go along. In the end, I always find myself loving the uneven stitches or unexpected patches the very most. They make me smile–because they are where I learned, where I grew. Somehow those spots always mean a little more, keep me a little warmer when I wrap that quilt around me on my self care Sundays.

Even better than that, when other folks see the quilt of my real homestead life–they won’t expect that theirs will be perfect either. Because I can almost promise it won’t be. But yet… they might just be inspired to try quilting one of their own. And I just love that part of it so dang much I could weep over it. It makes my heart so glad it feels like it could bust.

This homestead life, it’s simply stunning to me. I spent the first 31 years of my life in a very different sort of world. It was all computer screens, jobs I disliked, cell phones, convenience and disconnectedness. Money and paychecks and bills and trading my hours for dollars. Six years after making a huge switch, I’m not yet sick of homestead life–I love it so much more every day.

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It is not a cake walk. It’s amazing and crazy and awesome and simple and complex and easy and hard and inspiring and infuriating and crying and laughing and stress and relief. It’s I want to get the hell out of here for a vacation and oh my god I want to do this every minute of every day until I draw my last breath. With your homesteading partner in crime it can be all romantic oil lamp lit nights or big ol free range poultry poop on the porch fights. It’s good things and bad things. I’ve found that in real homestead life, it’s always both–no matter how it looks when homesteaders share their social media posts.

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Real homestead life seems to always be about learning. Times and priorities change constantly. I find the most important thing I grow here on this farm is adaptability. The confidence to be totally cool with change… to find learning SO legit. And most importantly to me, to never stick my nose up in the air and think I’m too cool or too experienced to be an eager student of this homestead. I’ve known from the very beginning that I would be for the rest of my days, and any attitude otherwise sure would find the farmer getting schooled by this land or nature herself.

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These days, I look out into the world and see that there seems to be a lot of unhappy folks getting bogged down by turbulent times. It appears from here that there are very few threads holding their life together. It truly looks like it makes for a weak bolt of cloth. I often wonder why is that? When we are the ones that stitch together our own experience? We are the ones that have the power to gather the scrappy pieces of cloth we like, a needle and thread. We are the ones that have to begin to stitch together whatever we’ve got that makes us happy. We sure are the ones that are going to be cold if the times and conditions out there in the world get even more harsh–and we don’t have a quilt.

-the farmer

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HOMESTEAD TRUTH = These last few pictures are from a photoshoot one of my awesome students did in July of 2016. It was a couple months after I gave up my college teaching job and was trying to be the full time farmer for the first time. Our spring staff had been gone for 7 weeks and we were carrying the workload of high summer. I’d barely slept and was completely and totally exhausted. I was flipping out about our finances, about our farm life and I was quite fussy with the forager about it. About the fact that she had slept great and I hadn’t at all. I had so wanted some pictures of us and I wanted to see my former student as well–but I had gotten up that morning with a crabby attitude and just didn’t want to see anyone. I wanted to go back to bed. I wanted my huge to do list to kiss my butt, burn up and die. But, Shannon came out and took pictures anyway. And I’m so glad she did, because they were the only pictures we had time to get taken of us this summer. I’ve saved this one for last because I hadn’t shared it a ton, like I had the three above it. Because I think I look tired and cranky in it and I know the reason why. If you follow our social media and blog then you’ve likely seen the other three plenty. But, this is the homestead truth. Some days are damn hard. You’re crabby and tired and pissed and want everyone on the farm to kiss your butt and leave you the hell alone. Yet, there are a plenty of other days that are wonderful and amazing and stunning and fun and easy – and those days make the former, SO worth it. And make you SO dang grateful for them too!! And I am at least finding that with each passing year, the good days outweight the bad ones more and more. Thank the homestead gods for that!

 

The Farmer + Forager’s 2017 FOOD CHALLENGE!

The Farmer and the Forager…  we move through the world and like to spend our time in quite different ways. One of us loves being around people, one of us likes more time alone. One of us loves mornings, the other one loves nights.  One prefers to permaculture farm, one prefers wild permaculture. Yet, we have at least one major thing in common. We think all people have at least one thing in common.

We humans…we all have to eat. 

Folks may sometimes think that it is silly, how often we talk about trying to create community over carrots. Making peace with peas. Farming our way to better bodies with broccoli. Skilling up while sowing seeds. Hoeing rows of radishes in the hopes to grow radical humans.  Helping ladies find their inner wolf-woman in the forest over fiddlehead ferns. Cooking up connectedness in the outdoor kitchen over a wood fired stove.

Yet…we don’t think so, because it is one thing we all have in common…. FOOD.

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We may make different choices about what to put on our plates and how it gets there, but we all gotta eat. We may farm it, we may forage it, but we have to eat… to live. To survive and thrive. So when we bought this homestead, we had at least one common goal.

We both wanted to provide as much of our own diet as humanly possible. 

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We wanted to see how much two people could grow, raise, forage, and preserve. We wanted to see how little we could buy in. We wanted to raise or hunt our meat and process it ourselves. Yes, the farmer wanted to lose a 150 pounds, the forager wanted empowerment and independence… but we both wanted to take responsibility for our diets in a huge way. But, we weren’t sure if we could.

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When we started taking permaculture classes in the summer of 2015, it felt like a door cracking open in many ways. This was the biggest one. Farming and foraging the majority of our food, without it killing us with 80 hour work weeks, started to seem possible. Yet, we started getting told by our own customers and followers… that although permaculture sounds great, they have yet to see a permaculture farm or homestead in this area actually  feeding the majority of its humans’ diets. They sure do seem to have been right, we’ve not seen one yet either. (But we sure would LOVE to, so if you are anywhere close to WNC and are growing/raising/foraging 80+% of your family’s diet, omg …. PLEASE EMAIL US. WE SO WANT TO VISIT + SHARE ABOUT YOU!!!!) 

We’d like to tell you what we’ve spent the last few months planning. We’d like to answer our own question, by doing what we do–yet another Eight Owls Experiment.

Can marginal land with poor soil, the two of us and sixteen months of permaculture education–provide at least 80% of our diet? And not just for a little while… but for a FULL YEAR?

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Well, starting today–we are about to find out. And we invite you to follow along during 2017 while we do it!! (You can subscribe to this blog, our youtube channel, follow us on facebook and instagram or sign up for our mailing list.)

Six years ago when we were in a city and spending our days behind computer screens, it sounded crazy to aspire to be a farmer and a forager at all. We certainly had no idea we could homestead off a collective 225 pounds and grow a ton of skills. Yet, here we sit! Much stronger, healthier, empowered, a hell of a lot more skilled, and darn happy about it.

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We are ready to take our next step in the succession of being two homesteaders atop Panther Mountain. We want to take this to the next level and see how it shakes out. We are willing to change our diets again in big ways and phase into being practically paleo. Both of us are ready to see what it will do to our bodies to be eating the most local food we can get. We are going to get super real with sharing our journey, the good, the bad, and the (possibly) hungry–with you!

CAN WE DO IT? Will we survive? Will we thrive? Will the farmer lose this last ten pounds she’s been working on for a couple years? Will the forager hunt and gather her way to total empowerment? Will we prove to ourselves that we could caretake ourselves under just about any possible circumstance? Will it prove that even fledgling permaculture systems can feed a family?  Will our families and friends want to strangle us over yet another difficult diet choice that makes it actually impossible for them to feed us when we visit? We will find out in 2017. And if you choose to follow our journey, you will too! (Don’t worry friends and family, we love you and we’ll bring our own! We swear we are not doing this just to make you nuts!) 

And of course, what if we took this one step further and challenged YOU too? Are you willing to try to farm or forage more of your food in 2017 too? Or become a locavore? Or eat more whole organic foods that you cook with your family instead of the pre-packaged processed stuff? Or shop at farmers markets more and supermarkets less? The two of us sure hope we have shown over the last six years that making simple changes, one step at a time, can have a HUGE impact on changing your whole lifestyle! We also saw this awesome graphic, just this morning and it really hit home. If you decide to accept our challenge and take one step towards making a food challenge of your own–we would LOVE to hear about it!! Please feel free to comment below or on our social media if you decide to do a food challenge of your own in 2017.

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-the farmer + the forager

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So here’s the logistics for those who love’a the details.

We chose 8 things we are allowed to buy in (5 that will stay, and 3 that will hopefully phase out over the year):

1. Spices + Salt

2. Fat (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Coconut milk)

3. Beverages (Coffee, Tea, wine, spirits, cider, apple cider vinegar, and of course, the occasional greenheart juice)

4. Sweeteners (Sugar, Honey)

5. Buckwheat

As the year goes on, we hope we won’t have to buy these things in past a certain point.

6. Mushrooms (ours should start to come in in spring, then wild ones in summer and fall)

7. Eggs (we finally got our feed them for free system in place! So, we will be getting hens again in spring and hopefully, not buying in our eggs will soon follow)

8. Garlic (ours didn’t do well this year, but we planted a ton in fall of 2016, so here’s hoping it will do well and we can stop buying this in in 2017)

We already have some things too, since we had bought bulk food in summer before we planned to do this challenge. There are grains in there–but we do plan to phase them out slowly over the course of the year. We are already gluten and dairy free–but want to be grain free one day as well, since we likely can’t grow much of that here. And that’s really our goal, we would just LOVE to be providing or trading for 100% of our diet one day–if that is even possible. And, of course, we don’t know the answer to that question yet.

What we already have:

45 pounds of brown rice, 75 pounds of corn grits,  5 pounds of various gluten free flours, 40 pounds of coconut oil, 20 pounds of flax, 110 pounds of winter squash and pumpkins, 10 pounds of dried beans and peas, 10 pounds of venison, 15 pounds of venison bones, 4 whole chickens, 3 whole rabbits, 3 gallons of mixed salt water fish, 5 gallons of frozen greens, 3 gallons of frozen green beans, 2 gallons of kraut, and then there are roughly 25 quart jars of miscellaneous dried veggies from the garden this year (peppers, sweet potatoes, greens, herbs, onions, garlic, beans, dried berries, raisins and tomatoes).

(We also have a failsafe. In the form of having close friends that either work at or own the only two health food stores in the area. They both follow this blog. They’d likely give us a lot of hell if we try to sneak something through the check out line that’s not allowed! We also have a pretty darn decent network of homesteading friends we could trade with if we get in a pinch. And hey, trading counts–it’s sure not like the pain of spending real money.) 

 

A huge thanks to two of our sponsors for 2017!! Through the Woods Natural Health and Sow True Seed. (If your business is focused on the health and empowerment of our community and you would like to get promoted heavily by us in 2017–email the farmer!!) 

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