Greetings, IBFITC readers!
I've been hard at work on the farm with my sweetheart and fully gruntled farmhand, Jeremiah, so I haven't had much chance to sit down and pound out a proper update to the ol' blog until today, our last day!
We were thrilled when Heidi, Esteban the Disgruntled Farmhand (typing 'gruntled' makes me giggle), and Ute welcomed us to their home. We were both looking forward to spending some time out of the 'burbs, frolicking with goats and watching chickens act chicken-like. Since both of us have become interested in the urban homesteading movement (it's big enough to be called a 'movement', right?), we were particularly excited to learn more about what goes into creating a more self-sufficient household. And ooo-wee! We got us an edumacation!
Contrary to common belief, I was not a farm kid. I grew up in Bodega Bay, which I call a town but the tourist brochures call a quaint village, and my dad was a fisherman. Aside from our kleptomaniacal dog Skipper, thousands of nameless feral cats, and one Muscovy duck named Buddy bought on a whim at the feed store (when I lost interest and realized the duck couldn't live on love alone, my brother rechristened him Guido, took him to his house, and later ate him), we didn't keep animals. I liked to look at them, and like many little girls, I wanted a black pony with a star on his forehead more than anything in the world, but for the most part I viewed farm animals as big, smelly alien creatures who magically provided us with beef and chicken. My sole contact with livestock came when I was a teenager living with my sister, Deb, who for some reason decided she needed to have two goats penned up in the backyard. Their names were Orion and Snowy, and I hated them. Yeah, I said it. I hated them. I don't know if they were mean or just acting, like, goat-y, but no matter what I did, those damned goats would rear up on their hind legs and jump on me, like they were trying to dance with me or something, and then they'd drop to the ground, rev themselves up, and butt me. They wouldn't even let me pet them without butting me. Though I'd expressed no interest in the goats, outside of the desire anyone would have to keep them safe from Chupacabra or goat rustlers, Deb felt that it was my job to take care of them. I'd go outside, grimly clutching the feed bucket, as the goats fixed their walleyed stare upon me. I'd open the gate and BOOM! the assault would begin. I think my sister had purely sadistic motives, because she found this uproariously funny.
I'd related this story to Heidi and her DF, and Heidi was a tidge worried that I may have been too traumatized by my sucky goat experience to take proper care of her farm. But no. I told her that I've grown up and I think animals are fun now, not to mention the fact that her goats are cute, a little skittish, and much sweeter than the snarling beasts my sister kept. Jeremiah was just excited to play chicken farmer for two weeks, and he had no fear of goats to speak of.
We arrived at the Itty-Bitty eager to get our hands dirty. We read through Heidi's instructions, and set about divvying up the chores, though we liked doing the work (and we're still in that gross snuggly stage of our relationship) so much we ended up abandoning the list to do everything together. The work was pretty straightforward--clean food and water for all the animals everyday, rake the pen a couple times. J and I immediately loved the scent of the goat's feed--molasses, corn, oats--and even grew to enjoy the loamy smell of the pen in the morning, earth and dewy straw and sweet alfalfa. The goats weren't down with us petting them, but we were consoled by the fact that they regarded us with curiosity, not malice.
Chickens are amusing creatures, and we enjoyed watching them cluck and peck. That's their jam, you know. I'm sorry to say that Lorraine has departed this mortal coil. She began acting strangely midday Wednesday, and took her last breaths by evening. Jeremiah brought her inside and made her a bed of shavings, and tried to feed her bits of fruit; we knew she might not make it when she took no notice of an earwig crawling over her beak. No matter how large or small the creature, it's always bad news when it refuses to eat. She died a peaceful, natural death. I have to admit that I was terrified I might have to euthanize her, especially after reading Heidi's harrowing post on that subject. RIP, Lorraine.
I guess I don't have anything earthshaking to share on the topic of animal care. It was fun and cute. But I have to say that my experience here has raised a lot of questions about the food I eat and the lifestyle I lead.
With Heidi's permission, I pillaged her cabinets and found homemade preserves, home-canned beets and asparagus, and homemade applesauce. The freezer is full of the meat of ethically raised animals who didn't die in abject misery, stuffed full of corn and drugs before being cruelly slaughtered. Apples from the neighbor's tree are waiting to be turned into cobbler in the refrigerator. Heidi's tomatoes--both home-grown and out of the CSA box--are rich and flavorful. All the great things about ye olden dayes, with the added benefits of penicillin and hair dryers. Cooking next to Jeremiah, I found myself stating the obvious: "Honey! Taste this apple! It's real and tart and hasn't been engineered to do unnatural things! We're eating a REAL apple! Wow!" Poor guy. He's very patient. I've become very aware of the fact that even though I eat quite well--whole foods, mostly vegan (I really love honey), little to no artificial yuckiness--I'm still eating products. My Safeway tomato isn't bland because it's a dud, it's bland because it's been sitting in a greenhouse, artifically ripening. It's the result of a process designed to sell more tomatoes, not provide nourishment. I've already collected a bunch of containers so I can start my own tomato and herb garden, to begin the process of reducing the amount of products I consume.
Most people were incredulous when I told them I'd be farmsitting in the city, especially when I mentioned the goats. People have no qualms about keeping Rottweilers and Mastiffs in a city home, but goats! Well, that's just crazy talk. But the fact is, there's no reason one can't keep a couple of foodbeasts in the city (yes, okay--there may be zoning laws and boring stuff like that. But I'm talking about something DEEPER). There's no reason one can't raise a 3' x 3' patch of corn or make homemade yogurt. We don't have to live the way we were taught, and we don't have to pigeonhole ourselves into city or country boxes.
My homestead may never be self-sufficient, because I am all too happy to pay someone else to make my bread or collect my honey. But I liked the way it felt to peer into the pantry and find a stockpile of handmade food. So, it's baby steps for me--Heidi gave me a home canning kit as a thank-you, and I plan to can the hell outta anything I can find. I'm excited to rehabilitate my plant-killing black thumb, and I have a good lead on a free vermiculture bin so I can rightly call myself a worm farmer.
It's going to be fun.