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Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

Chickens!!

I have lived my whole life in Minnesota, and being a dedicated Minnesotan, the weather is always something we talk about. If it ain’t 90 degrees and humid with mosquitoes buzzing in your face, it is 10 below zero and you had a near miss with frost bite on your toes while shoveling the side walk. Now anybody who has spent as much time as I have up here in the great white and wooded north, knows we have had winters where we have not received much in terms of snow fall, but nothing compares to the winter we are experiencing right now. Since the autumn equinox through now, we have had the most mild, and temperature – record setting winter to date. We have been breaking records for high temps almost weekly. Tonight as I write, it is the ninth of January, and depending on where you were earlier in the day here in the Twin Cities, it was almost 50 degrees!! 50 degrees on January 9!! We spent the afternoon outside in our backyard watching the chickens, enjoying the warming rays of the sun in just sweat shirts, and wondering to ourselves what the hell is going on with the weather.

Collard greens that have never quite died!! We were still picking off of them up until about a month ago!

We are not the only ones wondering what is going on with the weather right now either. The plants are also starting to get confused. Here is one article about a maple sugar producer whose trees are starting to have their sap flow. This would be great if it were March, but right now it is a little too soon. Being new to maple sugaring, I don’t know how this will impact the sugar season, I am not sure if anyone does at this point. Another example, a friend of mine who is only a few miles from my house told me that his irises and tulips are starting to pop up. Seasonally, irises and tulips are always some of the first things to green up and come back to life, do they know something we don’t or are they as clueless as the rest of us. Another concern of mine, due to the extremely nice temperatures we have been getting, and the almost non-existent snow, how are certain perennials and fall sown plants going to fair this winter. Because of the constant freezes and thaws and no snow to insulate the ground, will bulbs like garlic or potato onions be harmed or not? How about the hop and rhubarb rhizomes? How about the larvae of my arch enemy, the Japanese beetle. Those little bastards over winter in the ground and if we never get a huge ground freeze like we should, are they going to strike with a vengeance this coming summer? There are a lot of questions I have right now about the weather, and not just here in Minnesota.

Look at all that snow!!

2011 set a record for extreme weather events, events and storms that cost over a billion dollars each in destruction and other economic losses. This past year there were at least twelve of them. Gigantic snowstorms and record snow falls here in Minnesota and elsewhere, tornados, floods, wildfires, and huge droughts. The kicker, these extreme weather events are not isolated to just America. This is a world wide predicament that in my humble opinion is all the evidence we need to prove human influenced climate change, or as I once heard it put, not global warming, but global weirding! As much as a 50 degree day in January is nice and comfortable to be in, it also scares me a bit. Are we seeing the beginnings of a rapid climate shift? In my life time am I going to see a more temperate or Mediterranean climate here in Minnesota? Whose water tables are going to permanently dry up and see the rest of their topsoil blow away? Whose forests and wild areas are constantly going to be jeopardized by over harvesting of resources and wildfires? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do know one thing. It is all the more reason to be prepared for the unexpected. Having a wide variety of seeds to plant is always a good idea. Variety equals success! When one thing dies because it can not handle drought, having another one already planted that can survive a dry spell will insure some kind of harvest. Something I have learned this year is that having some way to extend your season (cold frames, large and/or small hoop houses, and greenhouses) is a great option to have ready. If I would have been more prepared and could have known about the mild winter we have had so far, I would still be pulling salad mix, spinach, and other greens from the garden! Maybe next year! Well, I hope everyone gets through the rest of the winter with a little bit of normality, I for one would love to see some real snow and at least be able to pretend that things are still somewhat normal! Cheers!

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Owen and Freya at the pumpkin patch this autumn.

Welcome, all my dear and loyal readers. After an unplanned, and too long of a hiatus, Autonomy Acres is back! I am glad this blog is not one of my kids, I would be arrested for neglect and punished properly! However, I do not live a life of regrets and will not apologize too much for not posting for the last four months or so. Life has been busy, with some unexpected road bumps and hurdles, ups and downs, and tears and laughter. Life is amazing in the fact that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is written in stone, and the most unexpected things can happen. An example – this last fall, our son was suppose to start kindergarten. We were excited and nervous at the same time, Owen is a challenging kid who is very stubborn and strong willed, smarter beyond his years, and is the bane of any authority figure. We walked him up to the bus stop, said good bye holding back tears, and drove to the school to meet him and make the transition easier for him. We walked him to his classroom, said hi to the teacher (whom we had already met), made sure he was ready, and then said goodbye. We drove home with the expectation of seeing him in a few hours at the bus stop, but our plans were thwarted. We received a phone call in less than an hour telling us to come pick up our son. They couldn’t get him to go to the kindergarten rally and he had proceeded to shut himself in his locker. Without going into every little detail about what else happened, I will just leave it at this: The school fucked up in a bad way – the proper steps were not taken to help our son in adjusting to his new environment. Without the advice and consultation of trained social workers, we were told he needed to see a doctor if we wanted him to come back. We were told he had disturbing behavior and all this was said in front of him by the PRINCIPAL!! Needless to say we pulled him out of school and decided that day to start home schooling. It was not a decision we made blindly, it was something we had already been talking about, but we just weren’t sure if we were ready to commit to such an endeavor – well our mind was made up for us. After a period of extreme anger (at the principal and the school district) and mourning, we are the proud parents and teachers, of an awesome six year old! It hasn’t been easy, and some days it can be very frustrating, but we are figuring it out as a family. One aspect of home schooling that is hard for us is finding cool people to connect with. The majority of home school families do fit a stereotype – strict religious zealots that don’t want their kids taught evolution, want prayer in school, etc, etc… Here at Autonomy Acres we are atheist leaning agnostics, so it makes it hard to find like minded people to do home schooling projects/field trips/events with. But we are figuring it out as we continue moving forward. That is one of the main reasons I have not been posting lately, my brain has still been coping with, and trying to adjust to our new situation. Moving on…..

The sacred cow of Anarchy!

World events lately have been both inspiring and incredibly scary at the same time. Some days it seems like we are teetering on the brink of world wide revolution. The middle east and its’ Arab spring, the uprisings in Greece, the Occupy movement that has been sweeping the U.S. and other western countries. A general feeling that people know something is wrong with business as usual, and that something has to change. It is awesome to see so many people getting active – people coming together and marching and having their voices heard, people taking control of where their food comes from, having real conversations with their families, friends, and neighbors. When people start living – when they wake up from their TV shows, and their designer drugs, their Franken food, and their shitty jobs and long commutes, real change can happen and it is!! We don’t need talking heads to tell us that the economy is still in shambles, it is on the face and minds of everyone who has decided to wake up. The economy is not getting better, and most likely never will. This is the hard reality, we blew our load and now we got a huge mess on our hands. The answers don’t lie with more bailouts or a new president. Look what our congress is capable of – NOTHING. If congress had their heads up their collective ass, they would not be able to even agree upon that. This system is finished and I think we all kind of know it; it is just a matter of what comes next. This is where I get scared; I am not one for conspiracy theories, but there are a lot of powerful corporations and ruthless people out there who are still making a ton of money off of the sweat of the 99%. They don’t want this power and control to go away and are doing things to ensure they keep it. I truly believe they are scared by the potential power, we the people have if we can just stop fighting amongst ourselves and start creating the world we want to live in. This is where our power lies. It is in our refusal to keep playing their games, and by following their rules that gives us the power to change the world. Our power is in boycotting where ever we can the giant corporations that control our food, our communities, our abilities to think for ourselves, and our personal lives. Our power is in the DIY ethic – experts are overrated and we are all capable of so much more than what we have been told by all the “experts”. Our power is the realization that the bosses, the 1% need us, we do not need them. We are capable of changing this world on our own terms into a place that is based on mutual aid, respect for the natural world and its’ resources, a place that people are well fed and have access to real food. I don’t think this is too much to ask, in fact I believe it to be the only option if we are to move forward as a human race. Facing these challenges head on with all of our own unique talents is not an easy task to accomplish, but at least it is real. It is time to unplug the TV and get our hands dirty.

So, enough of the soap boxing. Yeah, we have a lot of challenges ahead of us – social, economic, and environmental/climate change issues are all demons lurking in our closets and hanging out underneath our beds. This brings it back to one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place; to share my ideas about what I do in my personal life to confront these issues. I have some projects in the works that I hope to discuss in upcoming posts. Beehive construction, our plans on starting up a CSA, possible greenhouse/hoop house plans and designs, some more on DIY home brewing, basics on making your own soap, more From the Garden to the Table recipes and stories, and other topics that will be familiar to all you homesteaders out there. It is great to be back! ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!! Cheers!!

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Outside it is dusk; the sun is going down, the chickens are finding their way into their coop, I have rhubarb cooking on the stove, and here I am in front of the computer, writing down thoughts of the day, or maybe of the season or of the world.  As I was doing my nightly Google news reading, I came across this article.  Modern tomatoes – worse than factory raised chicken and CAFO raised beef and pork.  Human slavery, a condiment on the all American California burger and BLT sandwich.  Who cares if it is January or February, give me my ripe tomatoes, and give them to me with extra mayo.

It is too easy to not pay attention to the fact that the tomatoes on that sandwich are harvested by hand; hands that are taken advantage of, hands that are poisoned, hands that are starved and are cold with pain, and hands that are over worked and underpaid.  It is these hands that make our home gardens so important and relevant to our times.  It is these hands that make Urban Homesteading/Farming a lifestyle.  It is these hands that we need to help.  We need to lighten their load by making ours a little bit heavier.  By growing our own produce, even if it is only one tomato plant out on the deck, we take a little pressure off these hard working people.  By adjusting and changing our lifestyles and diets, we can start to eat more foods in season that are grown in closer proximity to where we live.  Maybe those tomatoes on your sandwich aren’t so important; you know what, maybe that fast food sandwich isn’t so important either!   Maybe we need to rethink our whole setup!

It is only in the last 60 or 70 years that Americans started to step away from the production of their own food.  Many things came out of both WWI and WWII, one being the advent of modern industrial agriculture.  Synthetic petroleum based fertilizers, refrigeration, food preservatives, an ever SUB/urbanizing population, and the American idea of instant gratification.  There was no longer a need to stay on the farm, or to keep a backyard garden going.  The cities are where the new modern jobs were, lawns were a sign that said, “Yeah, I made it into the big time!”  Along with the suburbs came the advent of the fast food joint.  Burgers, fried chicken, pizza, and tacos could now all be purchased from the comfort of your car on your way back home from work.  Food no longer came from the farm or from the garden, or even from the local corner market, but instead from the big box grocery store or the fast food joint.  And this is where we are now.  Food shipped for thousands of miles and out of season to fulfill our American desire for instant gratification.  Asparagus and pears from Argentina, tomatoes from Florida – all just a quick car ride away.

In response to all this modern, high speed consumption are many positive steps we as individuals and communities can take to lighten the load of migrant farm workers and the planet alike.  Be aware of what you eat – check ingredients, pay attention to where it is coming from, is it in season?  Move towards a more local diet – join a coop, shop at an all growers farmer’s market, support local restraunts and bakeries, and do more cooking for yourself at home.  And lastly get your hands dirty – plant a garden if you have the room, if not find a community garden to join.  Get a few backyard chickens (they are great entertainment, plus you will get eggs!), start a compost pile or build some rain barrels.  It is those of us who have a privileged lifestyle that will have to make the most changes in the near future.  Peak Oil is a reality and we can either evolve to the circumstances of the near future, or that future will force changes upon us.  Either way big changes are coming, it is just a matter of if we are ready for them or not.  Go out and plant some tomatoes, enjoy the time in garden, and know that you can help lighten the load of someone who can use a little bit of help.  Cheers!

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All you need to make yogurt yourself! Milk, yogurt starter, and a crock pot!

Here at the Autonomy Acres urban homestead, we tend to eat quite a bit of yogurt. So much in fact, that for a long time we special ordered it by the case from our local food co-op. A case of organic, Stoneyfield yogurt would cost us around $21.00, and that was with a ten percent discount because of our membership and by ordering in bulk. A case consists of six, 32 oz. containers, and we could burn through those in about two weeks depending on our routines and schedules. That got to be a pretty expensive yogurt habit. We knew about makings our own yogurt, and even tried it once about a year ago and did not have very good luck. That all changed this past Christmas when we received the book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea. It is a cook book dedicated to cooking with a crock pot. My wife came across the crock pot recipe for making yogurt and that rekindled our interest, so we gave it a try. I was a little apprehensive at first, but soon got over that by the time I tasted our first batch. We did it! We made our own yogurt and it turned out great! We followed the recipe as it is written and did not deviate at all. O’Dea’s recipe is based on one half gallon of milk, yogurt starter, powdered milk/gelatin (optional), a crock pot, and about twenty-four hours of spare time. Using this recipe was a great starting point for us, but we soon realized that starting with one half gallon of milk was not enough for our family, and figured out a recipe using a whole gallon of milk. To help us with this, Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, filled in the missing gaps that O’Dea’s book did not cover. The key to making yogurt is bringing your milk up to about 180 degrees F and then letting it cool to about 116 degrees F. O’Dea’s yogurt recipe was based on times rather than temps, and if you are only making a half gallon batch, that works. However, when you add more milk and bump the recipe up to one full gallon, you need to go by the temperature instead. So the combination of the two recipes works this way: pour 1 gallon of whole milk into your crock pot, (on high) warm up the milk to 180 degrees F (this will take a few hours), once 180 degrees is reached, turn off your crock pot, crack open the lid and let the milk cool down to around 116 degrees F. This is where the other ingredients are used. From your cooled down milk, remove four cups of milk and put into a mixing bowl. If you want a thicker yogurt (which I do) add one cup of powdered milk, and your yogurt starter (use the directions included with the starter to determine how much to use). Mix these together and then add back to the rest of your milk. Cover with the crock pot lid, wrap it in a towel and let it sit over night (you want the ambient air temp to be around 65 degrees F). In the morning you will have yogurt. We drain ours using a colander and cheese clothe for about an hour and you will end up with about a pint and a half of left over whey (save the whey – it can be used in other things). A few important things to keep in mind – if your attempt at making yogurt is successful, you should only need to purchase yogurt starter once, from there on out substitute one half cup of yogurt in place of the starter (your home made yogurt has all the beneficial bacteria still in it – it is alive and wants to reproduce itself). The left over whey after draining the yogurt is not garbage! Whey can be used in baked products like bread or muffins, we have used it in soap making (in place of the water), or just feed it to the chickens or pigs if you have them (they will love it)!

Finished Yogurt! Yum!!!

The yogurt we make tends to be a bit thicker than your conventional store brought brands, and also a bit more tart. We like to add a little honey or fruit to cut back on the tartness, and if you don’t want it so thick, just don’t drain it as long. Looking at home yogurt production from an economic standpoint, we are now saving a ton of money by doing it ourselves. We use chemical/growth-hormone free whole milk, and it costs about $4.50 a gallon. We end up with just shy of three quarts of finished yogurt and are now saving a lot of money. We make our yogurt about every other weekend (sometimes every weekend if we have been eating a lot), just remember to save one half cup for your next batch. I suppose now the only thing we are missing is a goat to produce milk for us! Maybe that will happen sometime in the future when we are sick of taking vacations! If you like yogurt, I recommend making your own – it is fun, easy, and cuts out some of the middlemen in food production. Happy eating! Cheers!

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Some of tomorrow's shining lights - My two kids at Split Rock Lighthouse!

I sit here this afternoon with a pint of my latest finished homebrew (a hoppy, brown lager), honoring the late freedom fighter Martin Luther King Jr. and thinking about all the current events of late. Another thing comes to mind, today is also the one year anniversary of this blog – Autonomy Acres! Yes, Autonomy Acres is one year old, and what a year it has been, not just for the blog, but for myself and family and the world as a whole. I look back at the first post I wrote, and compared to some of my most recent ones, I truly feel that I have grown as a writer. My motivations and intents for the blog have also evolved, I no longer feel obligated to post once a week (not that I ever really did to begin with!), but I feel more compelled to write quality articles rather than quantity. I have also been inspired by so many others out there doing similar things as me – El at Fast Grow the Weeds, Rob at One Straw, Novella Carpenter of Ghost Town Farm, Mike at New Growth, Ran Prier, John Michael Greer and all the folks at the Sustainable Country forum. The world we are entering due to climate change and Peak Oil (and most likely peak everything) is going to be a much different, and difficult world to live in. Autonomy Acres is just my response to our current predicament, so do not look here for a single answer to our problems. One thing I have learned in the last few years is this, if we are going to successfully survive and navigate this new planet and paradigm, then we need a thousand, or a million answers and responses to the problems we face, not just one. I live in Minnesota, and what works for me most likely won’t work for someone living in Florida, and vice versa. Also, we all have different skills, passions and hobbies. I write about what I know and love. As much as I’d like to tell you how to convert an alternator from a truck into a power generating, backyard wind turbine, I can’t (at least not right now!), but I can tell you a bit about apple trees, gardens, and home brewing (to list a few!). I really enjoy sharing my thoughts through a blog; when I was a punk rocker back in high school and college, I put together a few different ‘zines, and a blog is a lot like that. Blogs are not as personal or as fun to look at, but the information is there and the audience is much bigger and broader. As long as we still have the internet I will be publishing articles here at Autonomy Acres, but on a more sober note, it is all of our duties as citizens of this Good Earth, to be shining lights for our neighbors and communities. Peak Oil along with a chaser of climate change is forever altering our homes and lives and landscapes; and skills like knowing how to grow and preserve a portion of your own food, keeping yourself warm, animal husbandry, home repairs, and so many more will become a necessity in the near future – Peak Oil doesn’t just mean gas and fuel-oil rise in price, it also means transportation and production costs go up for everything. So in the mean time, hunker down and keep warm (we still got a little ways to go this winter!), read some good books, brew some beer, and continue adding skills and ideas to your tool box. See ’ya next time! Cheers!

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This says it all!

During one of my recent Google News searches, I came across this article.   For a long time I have known that America is in debt, but not to the degree that this article illustrates.  There was a time in this country when we provided for ourselves, when we grew our own food, kept our people employed and had a true sense of freedom.  I know our past wasn’t perfect either; the decimation of the Native populations,  the shameful period of slavery, unfair treatment of women, reckless use of our Natural Resources, and the lost opportunity to be the truly great country we could have been. 

When a country is in debt they cannot live up to their full potential.  Their jails are filled to the brim, their natural resources our squandered, unemployment rates rise, depression and drug use spreads like an infection, they pave over their best farm land, and enslave themselves to video games and television. 

These are the symptoms of a nation that is in decline.  A nation in debt cannot provide for itself.  A nation that relies on money from foreign governments to pay the bills and make payroll will not be able to sustain itself.  A nation that cuts down it’s forests will no longer have a home.  A nation that pollutes it’s water with industrial effluent will no longer be able to drink.  A nation that clouds the skies with smog and poison will no longer be able to breathe.  A nation that has built suburban subdivisions on it’s best farm land will no longer be able to feed itself.  A nation that no longer produces its own useful goods and products will have a disgruntled work force.  A nation that relies on war for a sense of purpose and pride will eventually be defeated.  A nation that considers money god, will eventually go broke and fail. 

In the coming years of Peak Oil, some of these wrongs may start to be righted, but it will be a long uphill battle.  We have many wounds to heal and many gardens to plant.  The way we live in our communities will have to change.  The way we think about and grow our food will have to change.  The work we choose to do may actually start to have some meaning again.  We will have to trade our convenience for physical work and activity, but we might find a new enjoyment of life free of the TV’s and computers.  We have along way to go, but I am confident that we can walk this new road and thrive in the post-oil age.  I want to end with one of my favorite songs, “Power and Glory”, written by Phil Oachs back in the hey-day of protest folk music: 

C’mon and take a walk with me through this green and growin’ land, Walk through the meadows and the mountains and the sand, Walk through the valley and the rivers and the plains, Walk through the sun and walk thru the rain 

Here’s a land full of power and glory, Beauty that words cannot recall, Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom, Her glory shall rest on us all 

From Colorado, Kansas and the Carolinas too, Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new, Texas and Ohio and the California shore, Tell me who could ask for more? 

Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of the poor, Only as free as a padlocked prison door, Only as strong as our love for this land, Only as tall as we stand 

   

 

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