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Our Tastes Are Simple. . .
(Part Three)

Table of Contents

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Greenhouse

After our first homemade greenhouse (12x20 ft, based on ideas in Eliot Coleman’s Four-Season Harvest) succumbed to winter’s assaults, we upgraded six years ago to a 20x48 ft model, using a purchased kit. In it we grow salads and cooking greens right through the dead of winter (Zone 6b). I also grow green forage (grain grasses and mixed crucifers) to cut for the poultry in the winter housing. I installed my expanded worm bins in the greenhouse, so the vermicomposting can continue uninterrupted through the winter. Last fall I installed a couple of pens for chickens in the north end of the greenhouse. During the winter, the pens housed a couple of flocks of about a dozen birds each. Though I have no way of measuring their effects, I believe their body heat helped moderate the temperature in the greenhouse overnight. Also, their exhalations boosted to some degree the carbon dioxide levels in the greenhouse, a benefit to the growing plants.

Lettuces-2

The view from here

We are seeing a growing interest in the homesteading life, and we do what we can to encourage it. We serve as local chapter leaders for the Weston A. Price Foundation, and maintain a food resource list to help local consumers find small producers of high quality food in our area. We are doing an increasing amount of public speaking, writing, and other forms of education on homesteading and food quality issues. I offer classes in starting and managing the homestead poultry flock, and hands-on workshops in poultry butchering.

We offer our homestead as an inspiration to others who, for whatever reason, have concluded that a personal investment in homesteading skills is a wise investment indeed. Would-be homesteaders visit with increasing frequency to see our place and the methods we are using. The following are some of the key points we try to emphasize.

It’s a great way to live

Ellen and I choose to be more self-reliant through homesteading first and foremost because it’s a richly rewarding way of life—productive, challenging, creative. It engages us in the dance of the seasons, and with the whole web of life. Homesteading is an active life, making good and all-round use of the body, supportive of the health of both body and mind.

It’s a great way to eat

Perhaps you’ve seen that T-shirt with the slogan: “My tastes are simple—I like the best.” That sums it up for Ellen and me. Not, however, with regard to car, home furnishings, stereo equipment, or the vast array of the latest toys—for such things our tastes are quite modest. But where food is concerned, second-best is never good enough. The story of our life at Boxwood has been the story of an increasing unwillingness to compromise on food quality, and an increasingly radical rejection of the mediocre food available in the industrial market.

Even the US Department of Agriculture—foremost proponent of the superiority of the American way of diet—recognizes that the nutritional content of our food has been declining for decades. Industrialized food production has also meant the ultra-processing and insipidity of food; toxic residues; the shameful abuse of animals in high-confinement, high-stress systems of production; and the narrowing of the ingredients base to a few mass-produced, highly refined components. The result is food that, in our opinion, is not fit to eat. We are opting out of the industrial food market to the maximum extent possible. I estimate that 85 percent of the food on our table at this time is produced either in our back yard, or purchased face-to-face from local small farmers, personally known to us.

Food security starts in the back yard

The era of easy prosperity most of us grew up assuming almost as a natural right may soon come to an end. The house of cards we have thoughtlessly erected for ourselves—unsustainable levels of national and personal debt; human-influenced climate change; total dependence on cheap and abundant oil, natural gas, and other forms of energy, profligately used; destructive agriculture; exploding population levels—could come crashing down at any time. The economic crisis will be characterized perhaps most of all by the collapse of a complex, energy-intensive agricultural and food distribution system. Nothing makes more sense than to acquire the tools and learn the skills to produce more of our own food through our own efforts, and to seek out sources of high quality food close to home.

A severe economic dislocation will also be an opportunity to be of service. The vast majority of our citizens have become completely divorced from the sources of their food, and from the life forces and the human resources required to bring it to their tables—they will be “clueless” when they have to turn to the backyard garden, chicken pen, and rabbit hutch for an increasing portion of their food. Those who have already climbed some of the necessary learning curves will be in a position to assist others in relearning lost skills.

Tooling down

Broadfork

Broadfork

My own preference is strongly in favor of hand tools almost exclusively. In a time of economic constriction, it will be even more critical to have a good set of hand tools, and experience using them. Several years ago I gave away my power tiller (along with its noise, vibration, and stink), in preference for the broadfork, which is not only more pleasurable to use, but better for the life and structure of the soil. Though I still use two power mowers for some chores, each year I rely more on the scythe. Both broadfork and scythe make wonderful use of the body, engaging the user in a meditative dance that makes the work a joy rather than drudgery. (By the way, I garden about seven thousand square feet, and manage one acre of pasture. I’m sixty-two.)

Failures, and success

We’ve had more than our share of failures—planting too deep or too shallow or at the wrong time; seeing that first beautiful garden transformed seemingly overnight into intractable, weed-tangled jungle; the grisly death of nineteen young chickens because I never dreamed how small a least weasel could be. We always urge our visitors to see their inevitable failures as opportunities for learning; and quote my long-time mentor, Joel Salatin, who defines success as “getting back up one more time than the number of times you fall down.”