When you think of a farm, you think of the whole ordeal…you think of the sprawling fields, the big red barn, sounds of a tractor and of course each animal you sing about in “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Well, that was what I grew up with, but our barn was white and our farm primarily had cows instead of all the variety of animals.
I did not grow up in your normal setting. I grew up on dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania, approximately 45 minutes outside of Pittsburgh. My father is a West Virginia University graduate with a bachelors degree in agriculture and my mom has worked in a variety of management positions within the steel industry. My two sisters and I were required to help on the farm at times, minimal by farming standards, but encouraged to explore other areas of life. Our dad always wanted us to go into a field of study that we loved and wanted to do, not one we did simply because we were raised with it.
Each of us girls studied different facets of business. My concentration was Marketing and Advertising. Currently I work part time as a Marketing Coordinator for a steel company (like mother, like daughter). I love my job, the industry and activities that I deal with a regular basis.
In 2015 my husband and I built a home on family property (not the farm). We own 2.5 acres, but are surrounded by about 18 more. We are about 10 minutes from the closest grocery store and 20 minutes to large suburbs in 3 different directions. We’re not “rural” by some standards. We are in suburbia.
But, we had land and room to stretch…the farm girl in me kicked in.
As we became settled in our new house, I was very interested in the aspect of buying local and knowing where our food came from. I grew up always knowing where my beef, milk and some of our vegetables were from, why not now?
A big step was this past March, we walked into our local Tractor Supply and it was “Chick Days!” My daughter was in love (and so was I). We had always said one day we’d plan to have chickens at the house…it appeared the time had come.
I’m a researcher/OCD/control freak by nature. So I had to make sure that I knew what I was doing. We did not come home with chicks that day, to my daughter’s disappointment; but we did come home with a book, which led us to buying supplies online (at Tractor Supply), and after the recommendation of a friend, bought our chicks from a hatchery one state over.
Our chicks arrived the day before Good Friday. We were prepped and ready, and my husband picked them up from the post office. The lady there told him he was not allowed to have, she had already named them.
Chickens have brought a new dynamic to life that’s for sure, plus some learning as we go. We had ordered eight chicks, mixing over three breeds, Buff Orpingtons, Welsummers and Plymouth Barred Rocks. For various reasons, we had setbacks our first year. Over the course of four months we lost three different pullets.
We really enjoyed the chickens. The kids loved feeding them! They were fascinating to me and a great stress reliever. My husband…he tolerated them. But I’ve left for work multiple times seeing him in the chicken run petting several chickens while they flocked around him.
In late summer, we ordered four more girls, Patridge Rocks and Silver Laced Wyandottes. We now have a mixed breed flock of nine, that provides us eggs and entertainment galore! I have become the crazy chicken lady, but that’s okay with me. I relish the title.
Although we started with a small prefab chicken coop, we’ve expanded…aka the Chicken Expansion Plan. My handy husband built a wonderful coop that is ample for our flock
with room to grow. It’s great, and has been a godsend especially now that we are in the freezing winter.
Being new and needing landscape on our property, we decided to add fruit trees along our property line. We added eight trees, in varying varieties including several apples, pears and cherry trees. While they’ve yet to produce fruit, they are growing and establishing themselves.
Along with chickens and the small orchard, this past year, I began to plan for a garden. We had gardens at our previous house and pre-kids. None of them ever really made it past July. I believe mostly because we’d rush to put the entire garden in over Memorial Day weekend every year. And wanted the result of food, but not the effort it took.
I was determined to have one that was going to go the distance this time.
This was our first true garden. Personally, it became a place of peace for me. Plus, our kids would play outside while I worked in it. Win/win for this mom. It flourished and we cut so much of our groceries down with what we grew. The kids loved it, and ate what we grew because they helped to pick it. We were able to bless people around us by giving our extras to people around us and the chickens had a ton of treats!
I have to admit, I planning so much more for this year.
Funny enough, the gardening lead to canning. Again, I grew up with food being canned and frozen each fall. Some of it was what was grown on the farm, and others were from orchards within the state. My mom would can fruit and freeze vegetables to keep costs down. While I didn’t remember much other than it was a big endeavor on the day she was canning. Yet, I always remembered having cans in the pantry or freezer bags stuffing the deep freezer.
Apparently I’m not the only one heading this way. Mother Earth News stated in the Winter issue that Ball Canning reported a double in sales for their Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. That’s HUGE for any company!
In the fall, a family friend asked if we’d be willing to help them make sauerkraut from cabbage they had grown. So one Saturday in September we shredded and stomped two 5-gallon crocks with cabbage. It took every bit of 6 hours. It was exhausting and I ended up with these crocks fermenting in my garage for the next 6 weeks. In that time, I had to find a way to store the finished product. I found that people canned their sauerkraut. So a plan was formed.
Not wanting to make that my first attempt at canning, I decided to take an abundance of habanero peppers we had from our garden (I may have grabbed the wrong plants at the local nursery…whoops!) and tried my hand at jelly making. It was a blast! I loved making jelly. After canning the sauerkraut and our own cranberry sauce (a Thanksgiving hit), I began planning what we’d can for 2018. The growing list is also affecting our garden expansion for this upcoming spring.
The list is ever growing and impacting our garden layout!
I have found a great peace and love in doing all of this work. Let me clarify, while it may seem we’re heading this way, my family is not going off-grid. However while we’re situated in suburbia, our family is using a lot of the processes and sustainability aspects I grew up with.
Some would call us a homestead or farm, I look at us more of a “halfstead.” Yes, that’s a made up word, but homesteading is everything to those who do it. It’s a daily process that touches every bit of your lives. We aren’t there…yet…
But we are enjoying so much of working and owning what we produce. It’s healthier, being fresher and far less processed. It gives our kids so many lessons in work ethic, science and nutrition. And it gives us pleasure to know we’re cutting costs, not because we have to, but as a side affect of what we are doing. Along with feeding our own family the food we produced, we gift it to others!
I’m digging into my farming roots in a different way. Come on my journey of finding ways to be healthier and take control of where our food comes from.