SOLAR!!!

I honestly never thought we would be getting to this point. We installed our solar panels this weekend. We have fourteen 325 watt Canadian Solar solar panels. They are HEAVY. At peak (most solar panels can be expected to run at 80% in full sun), but at peak they can product 4550 watts of energy. Considering that we have a much lower energy draw than most homes (no heating or cooling and the two appliances that would be high energy, the stove and dryer, are propane), and we have a huge battery bank, this should do us quite nicely. If now we are also planning on having a backup propane generator and are adding a wind turbine or two next year. I am so thrilled to have these up. C started wiring them too. The wiring from the panels to the battery house is finished (but not connected) and 1/3 of the batteries are in. My hope is that by the end of next weekend we may have power to the house! This would be quite exciting. The second two pictures are of us putting in the panels and building the frame.

Daydreaming and role models

I don’t have much time during the day for things like daydreaming, so unfortunately I daydream at bad times, like when I am driving (which causes me to turn when I mean to go straight, oops), or when I am talking to people (which is really bad because my mom says I am not as good at multitasking as I think I am and have a hard time formulating coherent sentences when I have so much going on in my head). I just have so much going on right now and I need to daydream to keep it all straight (because my daydreams are mostly figuring things out for the future).

Right now I am trying to figure out our brand. What exactly do we want the farm to stand for and how to we get this out to people and make sure that the steps we are taking are the correct steps in this process. Well, we know that our main stance is to help people break away from the corporate greed that has so many of us enslaved. Currently I would say we have large companies that control the wealth of the country, and because they control the wealth they also control the government and every aspect of it. These companies are insurance, pharmaceutical, packaged foods, oil, utilities, and banks to name a few, I am sure I am missing some but these are the big ones. We dish out most, if not all, of our money every month to almost every single one of these guys. Very few people do not have one of these industries taking money out every month. We want to help break this cycle by showing people how they can lower their carbon footprint. The second thing we want to do is show people that eating an “organic” lifestyle doesn’t have to be expensive. We pay more for food that is good for us because we think we have to, but we don’t. The third thing we want to do is show people what good food really is. What different food labels mean, why it’s important to be able to visit the farms that grow your food. I encourage people to visit our farm, see what goes into the soil, how the chickens are raised, what the cows eat, whatever they need to see to make them feel better. We shouldn’t have to hide what we are doing, If we do then we know what we are doing is wrong.

This also got me thinking about my role models in this field we are getting into. The two that stuck out in my mind the most are Ed Begley Jr. and Joel Salatin. When I was first introduced to the work of Ed Begley Jr he was always being portrayed as the crazy environmentalist actor who runs his kitchen appliances with a bike. I am very impressed with his work though. I am impressed that he can step away from the life a “traditional actor” would lead to follow a position he feels very strongly about. He lives in a modest house with renewable energy sources, drives an electric car, and even rides a bike to the Academy Awards. He has books and gives talks about the importance of maintaining a low carbon footprint. Heck him and Bill Nye are competing for who can have a lower carbon footprint. That’s so cool.

I know I have talked about Joel Salatin before but he is definitely my role model in building the food part of the farm. I greatly respect his ideas that a farm should build on itself, and that animals should be animals. If you take care of your farm the right way there really should be no need for non organic soil additives, mass produced chicken feed, even silos. Everything on his farms builds on each other. The cows “mow” the grass, his chickens eat the bugs in the grass that the cows “mowed” for them, It’s all very cool.

What we want to do is take these same ideas and mesh them together with the idea that neither one has to be expensive.  We dont care about being a million dollar farm, or build a $200,000 home because our goal isn’t how much money we make or spend, it’s how many people we help.  If we can show people that they can build a house with a low carbon footprint and renewable energy sources and grow or buy  really good natural food while living at or below the poverty line then we have reached our goal.

I would love to hear these two speak in the near future, but more than that I would love to meet them someday. When I say I want to meet them I don’t mean in a “I’m gonna stand in line and spend a second shaking their hand or having them sign a book” kind of way. I mean that I would like to meet them because we are involved in some sort of activist thing together. Be that a talk, or a film, or whatever. I want to meet them as a colleague, not just a fan, if that makes any sense. I want to publish books and give talks, and have real conversations with people who are already in it. This gets me excited. This is what I have wanted to do my whole life. Now I just have to get our building permit….

Frustrated

We are STILL waiting to apply for the sewage permit.  I have been calling the guy we bought the property from every day for almost a week and he isn’t returning my calls.  We need to get the plat of the property from him in order to apply for the permit.  once we turn in the paperwork we have to get a backhoe for them to do a perc test.  Once THAT happens C can take the test to get certified to install septic systems (which is thankfully free), and actually GET the permit.  We want this all done in the next week or so.  Time is ticking if we are going to be able to get the outside of the house complete before the snow hits, or it gets too cold to work outside.  There is a lot of work to do and none of it can be done until we get the building permit.  Plus the fact that this guy is stalling on this stuff is really getting me upset, because until he does all this we technically don’t own the land.  I don’t like that we worked so hard to get to this point to just be stalled.  I want this house built!!!!  The sooner we get the house built the sooner we can start saving for C’s retirement from the 9-5 and moving to 100% farm life.

Please take a moment to pray for us, send good thoughts, whatever you do in hopes of speeding this process up!

First World Problems

It’s amazing the things in life that we take for granted.  We are so lucky to have power in our home, clean running water, the choice of how we want our children to be educated.  I am visiting this topic because yesterday our cistern ran out of water (or at least I thought it had, it ended up being a malfunction with the pump which was easily fixed) and it got me thinking about how much we as Americans take for granted.  We are so wasteful and many of us dont even care.

It’s funny, it’s almost as if this is my form of fasting.  It’s a way for me to become closer to the earth and to the things God gives us so that I don’t take them for granted.  I am blessed to have these things at my disposal, it’s my job to not be a glutton to them, and to be thankful for them everyday that we have them.

Some of what we do comes from being so poor for so long, but most of it comes from our views on the environment and how we should be treating it.  So here is a brief look at the life we live.  We have about a 300 gallon cistern under the cabin we are renting.  Until we get the rainwater collection set up we are relying on filling the water tank whenever it is empty.  It takes us about 7-10 days to empty the cistern.  Lets look at this critically.  We have six people living in a household that uses 300 gallons of water in a week.  We can run 3 loads of laundry, take about 2 showers each, 2 baths, and wash dishes every day.  How can we do this in a time when most households use 100 gallons of water per person every day?  Technically we should be refilling the cistern twice a day.  We have changed the way we do things in order to conserve more water.  i wash my dishes with a soapy dish towel before i rinse them off.  The water is only on while i am rinsing.  We take short showers.  When the kids take a bath we use the same bath water.  The washer uses less water than other washers.  We also don’t wash our clothes after every single time we wear them (unless they need it, like diapers or underwear).  I have some people who call me gross, I have some people who have stopped being friends with me after finding out how we use our water, and that’s fine.  We have been conditioned over the years to believe that showering everyday, washing your clothes after every wash, etc, was more “sanitary” and that “normal people” do it.  These things have actually been shown to not be better for us, or for the fabrics in our clothes, but we have been conditioned by those who benefit from the profits of us doing these things (shampoo companies, laundry detergent companies, etc).  The one thing that I do is wash my face everyday and the places that i sweat a lot, but i do this with a washcloth.  I don’t care what people think because this is the life I want to live.

We also spend about $200 on groceries every month, nothing is packaged, we have very little food that we waste and what is wasted gets fed to the dog or the chickens.  We throw away 2 bags of trash a month, and hopefully soon we will be down to 1.  Most of what people throw away is some sort of packaging, both food and non food.  If you reduce the amount of packaging you buy you reduce the amount of trash you have.  I feel much better about adding 1-2 bags of trash to a landfill every month than i did tossing 3-4 a week.  We reduce the food waste too by only buying what we need.  Yes, by the end of the 2 week pay period our fridge is looking very bare, but it should.  I find if it doesn’t we tend to not eat certain things that end up going bad.  This way we are forced to figure out how to incorporate these things into our meals, or just not buy them again for a while.  Once our garden is up and running we also will be spending much less on food.

We conserve electricity too.  We don’t keep appliances running during the day except the ones that have to (like the fridge).  We almost never have the tv on.  We also make sure to turn the lights off when we leave a room (or at least try to, our 10 year old is terrible at this).  Although part of what helps is that we are almost never home.  I find that we get cabin fever even if we are home for a few hours with so many of us in such a small space.

All in all our footprint on the environment is very low and we want it that way.  We are always looking for more ways to cut back without compromising on our heath and well being.  I have trained myself to stop and ask “what is the least wasteful way I can do this”.  I recommend trying it sometime.  It really does make you appreciative of the things you have.

Stuff is growing!!!

Our garden is doing really well.  I am so proud of it.  The house is still currently at a standstill, but I should hopefully be getting the sewage permit this week, or at least getting the perc test complete.  I’ll feel better once we really get the ball rolling on this.  In the meantime we are diligently working on the garden!  We have been weeding at least every other day.  We have 20 poblanos that have actually started growing.  That doesn’t count the HUGE number of buds and flowers on each plant!  There are also hot banana peppers growing, and there are buds on at least 1/4 of the tomatoes and two habanero plants.  I have to start planning what I am going to do with them so that I’m not scrambling to put stuff together and letting vegetables go to waste like I did last year.  We also picked 3 pints of black raspberries yesterday and are hoping to get at least another 3 pints before the end of the season.  The blackberries should be starting to ripen in the next week or two and we have at least 20 times more than we have raspberries (although C has said I am not allowed to sell anything with blackberries since they are his favorite).

raspberries

Also once the farm gets an address, which is any day now, we will be setting it up as an official farm, business license and all.  I will also be taking the class that the state offers to allow me to start selling my canned goods.  It’s only $50 and one afternoon and I’ll be able to, which is very exciting!!  Here are my thoughts so far: I would like to can a BUNCH of sweet relish.  It’s impossible to find sweet relish that doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it.  Here is my plan for selling the canned goods: We will charge a $1 jar deposit which we will waive if you bring us a jar (or bring your jar back).  The cost of the goods will be different depending on what is inside but most everything will only cost about $2.  Preserves will be closer to $3-$4 because of the amount of effort it takes to collect the berries (since they are wild and have thorns, tons and tons of thorns).  I will also be selling baked goods like sweet breads, doughnuts, artisan breads, and french bread, all for about $2-$3 each.  I know I am not asking much for these things but the amount I am putting into them isn’t much and the whole goal of the project is to show people that you can eat really healthy for the same, if not cheaper, than what you are currently spending on food.  It’s not going to make us rich, but that isn’t our goal anyway.  We want people to start making the switch away from processed food to good healthy non-man made chemical foods.  We use organic cane sugar (if we dont use our honey), unbleached unenriched flour, sea salt, etc.  Plus everything we make is low sugar so that also helps.  I can’t wait until we start selling our processed chickens too.  once we really get going (our five year plan) my goal is to be selling about $500 a month through the farm.  That will pay for supplies and all of our bills.  We have a long way until we get there though.  One step at a time.

Time to get back to work

I love my job.  It’s work, and it forces me to be motivated, but when I am working I love it.  For those of you who don’t know I am a Mary Kay consultant.  I have been for over 9 years.  I was a director for a period of time until my son had major surgery and I stepped down to take care of him for 4 months while he recovered and we adjusted to his new lifestyle.

After my son’s surgery I had a hard time bouncing back.  It’s almost as if I felt defeated.  Like I wasn’t good enough to remain a director while going through such a tough time, and that’s ok.  It’s ok and perfectly valid for me to have felt that way, but it’s time for me to go back to work.  We are having trouble putting aside much of anything for the build because C’s job pays all our bills and enough money for gas and food with a little left over and that’s it.  If i go back to work as much as I was for the several years before i became a director then we can put aside a lot more.  It’s not even full time work and I can still be basically a stay at home mom and run a farm, especially since I am getting really good at time management.

So what would that look like?  I just hired someone to watch the kids two days a week for 3 hours each time (that’s 6 hours a week).  That time will be spent networking, meeting new clients, and catching up with existing clients.  I would then spend 1 hour a day the other 3 weekdays contacting clients and doing paperwork stuff, then i would hold 3 selling appointments a week totaling 3 hours each (1 hour for driving and 2 hours for the appointments).  That’s a grand total of 18 hours a week working.  When i am working like this I typically bring in $800-$1000 a month.  i know my numbers, i know my stats, and now i just need to get working.  I need to see 30-60 clients a month which is totally doable when i am holding that many selling appointments.  it’s not about people buying stuff either.  Some people i see will buy $300, some will buy nothing, that’s not a big deal.  The individual numbers don’t mean much, it’s the relationships i am building and the number of people i am servicing every month that matters.  LETS DO THIS!!  LETS BUILD A HOUSE!!

More digging

The new excavator arrived yesterday.  They hauled the old one away to fix and now we have a new one that works like a charm.  C went out to the property on his way home from work and spent 2 hours digging.  it looks amazing.  Although we still have about 2 more hours of digging left, the house needs to go back about 5 more feet.  The doesn’t sound like much, but if you think about it the walls are at least 12 feet deep at that point.  Standing next to the back walls right now (which are about where the living rooms will be) is pretty crazy.  The walls are about 3 feet taller than i am!!

digging 3 digging 4 digging digging2

I am so excited about how the whole thing is coming together.  I still can’t believe it’s really happening.  We will be meeting with our architect soon to finish up the plans so we can take them for approval.  We will also be flattening out the excavated area and digging for the grey water filtration, the cistern, and the pipes this weekend.  we will also be planting the last of the garden this weekend, and i will be attempting to build a chicken coup!  On my to do list for next week is getting the health department out to approve for a septic system, moving the hens to the coup, tending the garden, and working on promoting our farm so we can get some donors.  Whew!  busy busy!!  Stay tuned for updates

the excitement is building

Things are starting to wrap up as we get closer to the signing date.  We are starting to work on some rough blue prints of the house.  it looks like we have settled on a 50 foot circle 20 feet deep.  When you factor in the tires, walls, etc, the house will be approximately 1500 square feet which is about where we wanted to be.  We are including a loft for our bedroom, two bedrooms for the kids (a girls room and a boys room), and possibly a guest room.  The 1500 sq feet doesn’t include the size of the loft.

We are also starting to budget for the excavation, the plumbing that has to go down next, and the concrete.  Once we get the paperwork signed I will start calling around for tires.  We are estimating we are going to need about 1000 tires.  That’s the part that is making me nervous.  We are going to need a lot of people working every Saturday for at least a month to finish these walls.  We are considering having a big bonfire on Saturday nights to entice people to help.  Build on our house and we will feed you and throw a party for you.  I think that sounds like fun!

Our garden is coming together too.  The brussel sprouts came up about 3 days before we anticipated, which meant we couldn’t get the grow lamps up in time.   It’s not a huge deal, it just means that they started off long and spindly, but they are recovering nicely.  Our cherokee tomatoes, romas, spinach, and tomatillos have also sprouted.  They will grow in their grow wells for about another two- four weeks, until they have at least 3 or more sets of leaves.  Then we are moving them to larger pots.  Those will be their final pots before we plant them.   They will also have better soil by then too. One of the first things we are going to do in the excavation process is start the garden and dig out a small greenhouse.  Last year we got our garden started way too late and didn’t have a great harvest.  This year will be so much better.  Also the running total we have on our garden so far is about $50.  I am keeping all the receipts from everything garden related we buy so we can compare the cost of homesteading to the cost of buying food.

Right now our main concern is getting this $3000 down payment together.  Currently we are about $250 off.  I am really confident that we will be able to make it.  It’s gonna come down to the wire, but if it didn’t it wouldn’t be fun!

My plan right now is to work my butt off.  I only need to sell about $550 with my business to be able to put in the $250.  I’m pretty excited about that.  i have a bunch of appointments coming up before the 1st and I think I can do it!  I know I can do it.

It’s still a bit surreal that all this is happening….

It’s Februrary!!

Last Sunday I had just gotten home from church when C looked at me and says “it’s February, we should start thinking about planting”.  I turned to him and said “ok, we’ve got $30 to play with, lets head to lowes!”.  So we did.  We had some 72 well starter greenhouses left over from last year, so we bought more of those, some seeds to go with the ones we had saved, and starter soil.

garden 2 garden 1

That was the best feeling in the world.  Last year it took us until the end of march to be able to afford to start growing.  I know it made C feel good too.  I also realize it’s a bit early in the season to be planting, but last year we had such a hard time getting the seeds started we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time this year to work out all the kinks.  We planted 6 different kinds of peppers, 3 kinds of tomatoes, spinach, brussel sprouts, ad maybe some other stuff?  Our plan is that once it starts to get warmer and we are past the fear of frost we can start planting on the property.  We expect to have at least an acre garden this year.  We would like to have a yield that will take us through the year.

We have been talking about these plans for so long it’s so surreal….  This is going to be fantastic!

The Challenge!!

I did a lot of thinking after writing my post yesterday.  I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine after publishing my post about cost of living vs budget, and how my $100 a week food budget was unrealistic in places where the cost of living is much higher.  At first I agreed with her that yes budget restrictions are limited by cost of living, but that statem

ent REALLY bothered me because deep down I don’t agree with that.  So I did a little research…

The whole premises of this blog is teaching people how to be able to live a happy fulfilling life, being able to eat well and save money for the occasional fun activity, and not have to live in poverty when you are, well, living in poverty.  There are two numbers I want to throw at you.  The first is, acc

ording to the National Conference of State Legislatures the highest STATE minimum wage currently in effect as of 1-1-15 is $9.50 in D.C(1). so that is the number we will use as the highest cost of living we will address.  This is because that number is the highest of the lowest people have to live on, so that is the highest someone is expected to be able to live on when assessing cost of living.  That is $380 a week if NO taxes are taken out (so about $285 a week).  Basically this person would be on food stamps, they would have to be.  The second number is the cost of land.  As of 2014 the highest cost of agricultural land per acre in the US was Rhode Island ($13,700) (2). So basically if an acre of agricultural land would become available it should only cost $14,000, of course that numbe

r is completely arbitrary because it also is based on where it is, but usually only residential or commercial land costs more than that.  Based on these figures there are several things I want you to understand about this project:

This project takes work and dedication. Period.  You have to want to do it.  It also takes sacrifice.  Over the course of the past two years we have had to train ourselves to say no to ourselves, and that’s hard, but it’s important.  I think as a society we spoil ourselves too much and we come to expect that these things that we spoil ourselves with are needs and not wants.

ducks

Our current $100 food budget figure is based on several factors.  The first is how much we know we can afford.  Based on C’s current wage increase we can afford more than $100 a week, so the second factor comes in, how much we WANT to afford.  When we were on food stamps we were expected to live on $270 a month.  There were times we really had to scrimp to make it because we really couldn’t afford more than what they gave us.  We don’t want to have to scrimp like that anymore, but we don’t want to over-indulge either.  We also want to show that you can eat well, and very healthy, with less than what the government thinks a family of 4 needs ($150/wk).

I also understand that it is difficult to find land in some areas, especially around cities.  If you are considering something like what we are doing then you may have to either move a little outside your comfort zone, or outside where you work to be able to achieve these goals, or figure out how you can urban-farm where you are (below are some great ideas, keep reading!!).  Yes city farming does occur, but many times you have to deal with city laws and crabby neighbors, but it’s still completely possible.  We chose our piece of land because it was within our price range and exactly what we wanted but it’s almost an hour from Cs work.  That was a sacrifice we were willing to make.

This is not an easy task and really I only recommend it for people who really want to homestead.  Yesterday’s blog was not a “this is a quick fix” post.  These are major life changes I’m talking about here.  My friend was talking about high food costs despite the fact that they cut coupons and look at grocery store fliers each week.  I don’t.  I don’t do any of that.  I am the worlds worst couponer ever.  When I do find a coupon I want to use I forget to use them, or don’t bring them with me, or whatever.  So how do I do it?  How do I expect others to do it?  Hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and imagination.

First off we grow a lot of our food.  We also have become close with our local homesteaders.  This goal is hard to achieve if you don’t.  Homesteaders are GREAT.  They are a fantastic community of people who want you to be educated on how to live like them.  We got out there and met our local homesteaders.  When someone would say, “hey you need to talk to so-and-so” we DID.  We asked questions, we went out to learn things, we exchanged services for goods.  We made deals to help buy feed in exchange for eggs, we exchanged produce,  If you don’t take advantage of the homesteading community you are missing out on a lot of resources that would greatly cut down on your food costs.  This is especially helpful if you live in an area where land isn’t available or if you can’t grow your own garden.  I know people who rent space in either public gardens or private so they can grow a garden without having the space.  Be creative.  It’s going to take time, it’s going to take energy, but it’s totally worth it.

So here is my Challenge.

I Challenge each of you to live on my food budget for a week, wherever you are.  I want you to show me it can be done, and done well, without eating non clean foods.  Our food budget is $100 a week, but that’s based on 2 adults and 2 small children who don’t eat much.  C and I discussed in detail what we think an accurate food budget should be and here is what we came up with:

$50 per person over 13

$25 per person 5-13

$10 per person 0-5

Here is an example of a week or groceries at our house:

Meal Plans:

Breakfasts: pancakes, eggs with cheese, banana smoothies, oatmeal

Lunches: lunchmeat Sandwiches, Beans and rice with cheese and sour cream, grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, fruits and veggies for sides, leftovers

Snacks: homemade crackers, pancakes, fruits and veggies

Dinners: Fajitas, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Salad Sandwiches, pizza, stir fry, hashbrown surprise (potatoes with meat and a cheese sauce), sweet potato cakes with cheese sauce
Grocery list (I am not adding everything you need to make these items because many of them you only need to buy every 3-4 months so I will leave out the cost of some of them)

Whole wheat pastry flour $6 (we buy every 2-3 weeks)
Milk (un-homogenized low temp paste pasteurized) $3.75 (sometimes we buy 2)
butter $3.75 faometimes we buy 2)
baking powder (most people already have this)
2 doz eggs (these are typically free for us, but this is winter so we will say $3 per doz) $6
3 blocks Chedder (we can get antibiotic free cheese at lucky’s for pretty cheap $4 per block) $12
1 block Lucky’s mozerella $4
bananas LOTS $5
cream (un-homogenized low temp paste pasteurized) $8
2 lbs oatmeal $2.50
1lb sale lunchmeat $7
2 cans blackbeans $2
sour cream $2
natural peanut butter $4
carrot sticks, celery (or whatever veggie kids like that’s on sale) $5
strip steak for fajitas $5
Whole Chicken (bake half to make chicken salad, cut up rest of raw meat for tikka masala) $10 (if it’s not already in your freezer!)
cumin $2
garlic $.50
bag of onions $3
bag of potatoes $4
sweet potatoes $4
oil (this is an expensive item, but one you really only need once a month) $8 (I keep olive oil and expellor pressed safflour oil both of which I get at about $8 a bottle but it takes me a while to go through them)

Total = $107.50. I went over but the flour and oil I don’t buy every week, plus we wouldn’t be spending the $10 on chicken either. I know what you are thinking “you didn’t buy bread, or many veggies”. For one I make my own bread, for two ….

bread

Here is the list of stuff that’s already in our freezer, fridge, or pantry:

stewed tomatoes (I blend and boil down to make the tikka masala, and pizza sauce)
Peppers for the fajitas
mayo (I make my own and everything I need is in the above grocery list)
berries (I bought some when they were on sale but we also freeze them if we pick a lot

rice (I buy a large bag 2-3 times a year)

I do believe that’s everything. We eat really well, don’t go hungry, and stay pretty close to our budget. There are some weeks that we rely more on freezer/ pantry goods so we can splurge and make huge batches of beef jerky or granola.

So how about you? How can you eat clean on a food budget?