The Old House at White Flint Farm

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When I was a boy we called the old “home house” on our farm “the old house.” That name has stuck over the years and it is fitting I suppose.  The part that remains was built, we think, in the 1880s, being the final addition to an even older and larger house that is now gone.

It’s a simple house, but it has character.  And sentimental value of course.

We considered trying to renovate it and make it our residence, but we weren’t sure it could be saved and we didn’t want to risk sinking a lot of money into it and not ending up with a home we could live in.

The place needed a little work

The place needed a little work

So we built a new house on the farm, intending possibly to renovate the old house when we retired.  But one thing led to another and without planning to do it so soon we renovated the house and made it livable.

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Of course we didn’t need two houses on the farm and we struggled to figure out what to do with it.  Friends of ours lived in it for a couple of years.  We let a family that was between jobs and without a home live there a while.  Our interns live there two weeks during the summer.  We’ve loaned it out to our neomonastic friends in town for weekend planning retreats.  Missionaries have stayed there to decompress for a few days. A couple of years ago a band stayed there for a week to finish work writing the songs for their new album.  But most of the time it just sits there empty.

In our quest to find a good use for the place, this year we’re going to try something new.  It’s now available for “farm stays,” a form of agri-tourism, like a B&B without the breakfast.

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Whitney photos

Folks who stay will be able to enjoy the sights around the farm, go fishing and hiking, and generally escape the rat race for a while.

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It’s an experiment and we’ll see how it goes.

Our hope is that it will be a fun and relaxing getaway for folks who want to unwind in the country.

Whatever the result of this experiment, we’re glad the Old House will be around for a few more generations.

Grasshopper Weed Pizza

On Fridays we have “pizza night.”  That means that, most of the time, we have a pizza for supper that night.

Last night Cherie made a pizza using plantain, along with feta and mozzarella cheese.

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My half

Plantain grows wild here.  When I was growing up we called it “grasshopper weed,”  and the only thing I knew it to be useful for was making pistols in the summer. (That will only make sense to people who know this plant.  Maybe I’ll do a post this summer to explain.)

Leave it to my city-girl wife to teach me that grasshopper weed is food.  If you want to see a “before” picture, Cherie has one up on her blog (HERE).

Last week we had asparagus and wild onions on the pizza.  I wonder what an organic asparagus and wild onion pizza would cost at a restaurant?  It cost us very little.  I bought the asparagus crowns and planted them about ten years ago. I don’t remember what they cost, but it wasn’t much.  And they have been reliably producing asparagus every year since then.  By now they’ve paid for themselves hundreds of times over.  And the wild onions?  Nature provides them gratis.

We have kale, spinach and baby collards that we could have used on the pizza too.  Those seeds cost $1/ounce at our local feed store.  The seeds are tiny, so an ounce would probably plant an acre or more.  A tenth of an ounce would be far more than the amount necessary to provide a family’s needs for a year. Assuming they’re planted generously, that’s ten cents for a year’s supply of spinach, kale or collards.  Now if you’re thinking a dime is a steep price to pay for a year’s supply of fresh spinach, kale or collards, keep in mind that when they go to seed at the end of the season you can save the seed to plant next year.  So the ten cents actually buys a lifetime supply.  Not a bad deal.

And of course if you don’t have a dime to spare, there’s always plantain and wild onions.

Outsourcing Cooking

For the first time in history, in March Americans spent more money at restaurants and bars than at grocery stores.

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As the chart shows, we’ve been trending in this direction a long time.

Keep in mind that as a society we spend less of our income on food than any society in the history of the world (less than 10% on average for Americans). And now the amount we spend on food prepared and eaten at home is less than half of that historically-low amount. Because food eaten away from home is more expensive than food prepared and eaten at home, it would be possible for us to spend even less of our money on food if we quit eating out so much.  Yet the claim/myth that we can’t afford to eat healthy diets persists.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the declining state of our health corresponds to our increase in meals eaten away from home.  While it’s possible to eat meals of nutritious health-sustaining food at a restaurant, it’s much more difficult. It’s darn-near impossible when the meal is from a fast-food restaurant and is eaten in a car (as about 20% of our meals now are).

So why are we eating away from home so much? According to a food culture study by the Hartman Group, 52% of Americans don’t want to “spend time or energy even thinking about cooking.”

This new change has also led Americans to expect customized meals. Americans no longer feel that their meals are limited to ‘mom’s cooking’ or their own knowledge in the kitchen, nor do they feel the need for meal planning. In fact, 63% of people (and 78% of Millennials) typically decide what they want to eat within an hour of eating because they have adapted to this new ‘made to order’ lifestyle.

We’ve been shocked to discover that many people these days don’t know how to cook.  They’ve simply never learned to prepare food.  I’d wager that while many of the people who are driving the red line on that chart ever higher would say they eat away from home because it’s more “convenient,” for an increasing number of them a significant reason is simply that they’ve never learned to cook.  And of course the generation growing up in homes where little or no cooking is occurring will enter adulthood without that basic skill as well.

We all have to eat of course.  Just as we’ve become dependent on the industrial system to supply our food, now we’re increasingly becoming dependent upon it to cook it for us too. We’re essentially outsourcing our cooking. It is just one more way we’re embracing dependency.

As Wendell Berry put it in his 1989 essay “The Pleasures of Eating”:

The food industrialists have by now persuaded millions of consumers to prefer food that is already prepared. They will grow, deliver, and cook your food for you and (just like your mother) beg you to eat it. That they do not yet offer to insert it, prechewed, into our mouth is only because they have found no profitable way to do so. We may rest assured that they would be glad to find such a way. The ideal industrial food consumer would be strapped to a table with a tube running from the food factory directly into his or her stomach.

If we are to stop our cultural descent into poor health, we must find a way to convince people to spend their money on whole foods and to prepare and eat them at home.  For that to happen, our culture might first have to recover the ability to cook.

Busy Bees

About 18,000 new residents arrived on the farm Monday.

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They’re now buzzing happily in their new homes, busy building comb and tending to their queens.

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We’ve been busy too, getting ready for our Open House on Saturday.

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Every year I worry that no one is going to show up, and this year is no different. We’re keeping a nervous eye on the weather forecast. We’ve had great weather every year, but this year’s forecast is dicey. Hopefully we’ll have a dry afternoon.

Optimists

Every one of the great revolutionists, from Isaiah to Shelley, have been optimists. They have been indignant, not about the badness of existence, but about the slowness of men in realizing its goodness.

G.K. Chesterton

Reading Books

I enjoy seeing what books people are reading.  I’m a fan of the what-I-read-last-year blog posts that show up in January.  So much so that I kept track of my reading in 2014 and put up a list of my own.

Selka at Permaculture Grin just finished reading 100 books in a year (in about 10 months actually), and she published the list of books read on her blog. Having read a mere 32 books in 2014, I’m impressed.

I try to spend an hour a day with a good book, usually just before bedtime and preferably accompanied by a glass of wine. So far in 2015 I’ve read 13 books, and I’ve enjoyed all of them.  At this pace I should end up reading about the same number of books I read last year–not bad, even if well shy of a hundred.

I know that lots of folks who read this blog are book-lovers.  I’d wager that a lot of you spend time in a book or two everyday, as we do.  And I think it’s very cool that so many readers of this blog are published authors.  Those that I’m aware of have been added to my list of books I intend to read.  It may take awhile, but it will happen.

On the advice of one of you (Dawn from Sailorsmallfarm, I think), I’m reading Ben Falk’s Resilient Farm and Homestead now and it is rocking my world. Permaculture is still new to me. I read Mark Shephard’s Restoration Agriculture earlier this year (on the advice of either Dawn or Farmer Khaiti). I wish I’d been aware of this philosophy when we were establishing this farm. I’m already making plans for some changes around here, incorporating permaculture principles.

Just before starting Ben Falk’s book I read frequent-commenter Curt’s book The Bush Devil Ate Sam, a delightfully entertaining (and informative) memoir of his time in the Peace Corps in Liberia in the 1960s. The book is a page-turner, and I highly recommend it.  Curt enrolled at UC-Berkeley just in time for the beginnings of the student rebellion there, putting him on the frontlines at the beginning of one of the world’s greatest movements for social justice. Some of that story is told in his book, and a fascinating story it is. Most of the book tells the story of the time he and his wife spent in Liberia.  I laughed out loud and I learned a lot, which only happens with good books. The story of his dog Do Your Part crashing the grand opening of the community’s first mosque (Curt having been mistaken for “the international media”) is alone worth the price of the book.

The book closes with some insightful thoughts about Liberia’s tragic history of the past few decades.  It caused me to think of a Liberian woman who was a classmate of mine in seminary, a kind and gentle person who lived through the horrors of the civil war there.  Whenever she tried to talk about it, she cried. Something she said about Americans has stuck with me.  She said that here when we say grace before a meal (if we bother), it just seems perfunctory. In Liberia, she said, people are truly grateful for every meal and they offer thanks with joy at the miracle that food is.  I wish I could recall her exact words, because I’m not doing them justice.  Suffice it to say that Curt’s concern for Liberia and the Liberian people resonated with me, even though I’ve never been there.

By the way, Curt is also one of the rock-stars of the blogosphere. Go check out his blog (HERE). You can buy his book from Amazon, but I recommend you contact him directly for a copy.

Self-Reliance

A self-reliant nation is built upon a citizenry living in resource-producing and relatively self-reliant communities. Self-reliant, tenable communities are composed of self-reliant households. And relatively self-reliant households are the basic building block of any culture that is viable over the long term without requiring war (stealing of resources) to sustain itself. No democratic civilization can last long if it is built upon a citizenry that consume more than they produce; that’s debt and debt is inherently unsustainable and ultimately undemocratic. If our goal is a peaceful, just society, self-reliance at the home and community levels must be a central focus of our lives.

Ben Falk
The Resilient Farm and Homestead.