Raising Our Own Food in a Food-Dependent Society.

Vegetables from our garden.

Before we had kids we were pretty mainstream.  We bought the products we saw advertised.  We ate our (non-organic) vegetables.  We shopped for the best deals.  We cleaned with harsh cleaners.  We threw away our plastic and pretty much happily lived our life with our heads in the sand.  Until we decided to have children.  And couldn’t.

After years of trying to conceive I was diagnosed with severe endometriosis.  The lining of my uterus was growing not only in my uterus, but outside it as well, on my bowel.  My bladder.  My ovaries.  This all created a toxic environment for fertile embryos, and I couldn’t get pregnant.

I started researching my disease and discovered that there was no cure, and no definite cause.  There was some indication that diet could help control it, and some indication that toxins absorbed by the body through food and body/cleaning products could have caused or exacerbated it.  Major changes started to be made in our lives.

Our own goat’s milk.

I started choosing green cleaning and personal care products.    The food we ate was “free range” or “hormone-free” or “organic”.  Eventually, we did become pregnant and gave birth to our son.  We went on to conceive two other children, although not without difficulty.

While raising our children, we became more and more aware of the food we were putting into our and their bodies.  A gradual change occurred.  We started questioning where the food came from, and what the ingredients really were.   No longer were we interested in putting just plain organic food into them.  We wanted to know exactly where the ingredients came from.  Exactly what the animals were fed that we were eating.  Exactly what organic meant.  We wanted NO pesticides, not just “safe, organically-certified ones”.  We didn’t want produce picked on massive production farms in Mexico.  We wanted our own.

We live on just under 2 acres in a city on the coast of Western Canada.  Most of the acreage is forested.  We have learned to make good use of the unforested areas.

A pumpkin growing in our garden.

I have always had a garden. But each year my garden doubled in size, to what it is now.  This year, we have a good sized glass greenhouse with 58 tomato plants, various pepper plants, lettuce and more growing in it.  We baby our vegetable plants through typical wet springs and fight slugs with ducks rather than pesticides.  We are growing carrots, corn, cucumbers, squashes, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, potatoes, onions, leeks, herbs, peas, beans, chard and more.  We have raspberries, strawberries, currants, blueberries, blackberries, cherry trees, apple trees, pear, plum and apricot trees.   We can, dehydrate, juice and freeze our produce.

We stopped buying processed, prepared food.  We began to make our own bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, granola bars, crackers, yogurt, cereal, soup, dinners and so on.  Our meals are prepared from scratch with a lot of our own food produced on our own property.  That way, we know that the food we are feeding our children is not genetically modified, contains no BPA, preservatives, artificial ingredients, artificial color, or fillers etc.

Our homemade bread.

A few years ago we decided to raise a few chickens for eggs.  It grew from there, and now we regularly have 40 layers (we sell the extra eggs)  and we raise our own meat birds every year.  We feed them organic feed and kitchen scraps, and they free range on our property.  We process them ourselves.  We know exactly what food has gone into them and how they were processed.

One of our Black Copper Marans hens and babies.

Not long after, we decided to raise dairy goats.  Organic milk is expensive, and we go through a lot of milk.  Unpasteurized goat milk does not taste or smell like store-bought, pasteurized milk.  It has no scent and tastes like rich, creamy cow’s milk with virtually no stereo-typical “goaty” after-taste which comes from the pasteurization process.  We have Nigerian Dwarf goats which are capable of producing up to 1 L of milk a day.  Nigerians are compact, clean, friendly and full of fun!  They are just the right size for our small property.  Our goats add a flare of personality and a whole lot of fun to our homestead.  We know what our goats have been fed, how clean our barn is, how clean the goat was before she was milked, and how good that milk is!

Lulu, our milk goat, and her babies.

Honeybees seemed to be the next logical step.  We built 2 top bar hives and now have thousands of bees making pounds of honey.  Bees survive the winter in their hives by eating their own honey.  Store-bought honey is typically made from bees who have been fed sugar-water or even worse, high fructose corn syrup and water.   Nature makes a perfect food for the bees, but we greedy humans prefer to take their honey and sell it, and provide sugar which is essentially the same thing as baby formula: a substitution.   We allow our bees to keep some of their honey so that they can overwinter as nature intended.  From our bees we receive perfect, raw honey and pesticide-free bees wax for candles and body products.

Our honeybees at work inside our hives.

Raising our own food hasn’t come without its difficulties.   Farms require maintenance and my “muscle-in-the-arm” who also has to work a full time job always has work to do around the farm.  My husband has to work long hours so that I can stay home and raise our family.  This places a lot of the daily workload squarely on my shoulders.  As a result we don’t go on holidays a lot, we stay near the farm during the day, and the daily household duties including childraising and housecleaning add to the workload.  Good hard work only makes you stronger!

One of our daughters and a baby goat.

We have lost animals to predators from mink and bears to neighbouring dogs and coyotes.  Bad weather has almost wiped out our bees and our gardens.  I have to do things I never thought I would ever do in my life, such as disbud baby goats, put down suffering chickens, hunt mink and chase away bears.  But we also reap the benefits.

Fresh eggs!

My children have learned the value of food.  They see the hard work involved in harvesting it, preparing it and storing it.  They see the sacrifice made when lives are given for our food.  They have learned how to love and let go of animals that have left our farm by sale or by death.  They have seen and handled the heartache of loss and the rich satisfaction of plenty.  They pick their own snacks, and help make their own meals.  In a day and age where many children have never seen a dairy animal or tasted a carrot fresh from the ground, our children have milked a goat, picked berries and vegetables, held baby chicks and collected eggs.  Food is very real to them.  And valued in a way that many children do not have the privilege of experiencing.

Overall it has been a very rewarding experience.  We have learned so much in such a short period of time.  There is very little that is more rewarding than preparing a meal that was produced entirely on your own land.  We are a far cry from being fully sustainable, but we are thrilled with what we have accomplished and look forward to the next step in our journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

Our son with blueberries from our bushes.

This post was written in conjunction with Farmer’s Daughter’s Green Mom’s Carnival: Food Independence.

This post has been shared on TheMorrisTribe’s Homesteader Blog Carnival #16, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways # 36, Homestead Revival Barn Hop #72 and Fat Tuesday.

Scorned by big business. Beloved of small gardeners. Food Waste Part 1.

To purposely misquote Emily Carr: “Scorned by big business, beloved of small gardeners“. 

Walk into any supermarket and have a good look at the produce.  All of it is perfectly colored, and uniformly shaped.  Those businesses providing the produce don’t grow all of their products that way though.  Those are only the cream of the crop.  Do you know what happens to produce that doesn’t fit the bill?  Vegetables and fruits that aren’t the right color, shape, texture, size and so on are often discarded.  Some of it goes to production (ie. is used in prepared foods etc) or reduction but some of it is thrown out.  In a world where 1 billion people are going hungry, we cannot afford to throw food out. 
When you grow your own food you can enjoy the same fantastic flavour and nutrients of the misshapen and lesser-colored.
Celebrate the beauty of imperfection from my organic food garden with me.  If you have your own odd-looking but great tasting produce, please share!  Follow me over the next few weeks as I dig deeper into food waste and find solutions that are actually possible in your own home!

Organic vs. Local Produce

I was thrilled, a few weeks back, to find organic grapes back on the shelf.  Most produce suppliers don’t stock organic grapes year-round because the price is too high.  Finally, the price has dropped and for a little while now we will have organic grapes.  I don’t even bother buying non-organic grapes since the pesticide usage on grapes is among the highest of all produce.  So I was pleased to pick up a package, priced at $3.29/lb and give my family a sweet treat.  Then I saw the label: Product of Mexico.  My elation sank back to realism and I soberly added it to my basket. 
I buy organic food, quite frankly, so I don’t expose my family to toxic pesticides that are sprayed on non-organic produce.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, certified organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free… but that’s for another post.)  There are studies that claim organic food has better flavour and higher nutritional value than non-organic food.  I also buy it because it is more environmentally friendly.   The soil isn’t fed a chemical cocktail to improve growth rates.  But organic produce may travel thousands of miles to reach me, and it is the carbon footprint from these miles that disturbs me.  Naturally, I would buy organic, local produce over anything else, but local food is often not organic.  I don’t live in a gardener’s paradise where you can grow anything, all year round.  I live in a climate where, if you are lucky, you can grow a variety of (non-tropical) produce during a few months of they year.  Rain can ruin a garden season in a matter of days, here.  So local farmers don’t always choose the organic route.  They choose the most successful route.

Produce that is fresh from the farm, that hasn’t sat in a shipping container for days (or weeks) before it is placed on the shelf, often has a higher nutrient value.  It looks, feels, smells and tastes better.  But has it been sprayed with chemicals to protect it from pests?  We don’t know.  Probably.
Buying local produce supports our local economy.  Buying from a local farmer will mean his money will go back into our local economy, and will contribute to our taxes, bringing us education, medical coverage, and parks and recreational benefits.  I love to buy local.  But I don’t love to buy anything that may harm my family.
It’s a tricky question and one that I think can only be answered by personal choice.  We can contact local farmers and see if they are using pesticides.  We can grow our own organic produce.  We can trust our Canadian government who allows (or refuses) the use of certain pesticides on our crops.  Or we can buy strictly organic, regardless of where the produce comes from.  Me?  I am leaning towards organic for health’s sake.  Give me local AND organic and I will buy it in a flash.   What I can’t grow I will have to make a decision on whether or not it will be an acceptable item to feed to my family.    And in the mean time, I think I will buy the organic grapes and hope my own garden will offset some of the fuel burned getting organic grapes to the local grocery shelves.  You can’t win them all but you can certainly do what you think is best for your family.