Berry Picking

This weekend we got to go to a local U-pick berry farm.  Raspberries and strawberries and a good time was had by all.   We were so happy that this was suggested by our new friend, Kristen, and her daughter.  Bonus – they live in our neighborhood.  Also, as you can see, we got a new camera!  Woohoo!

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Categories: Community, Food | 2 Comments

Late Summer Snapshot

It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve made it onto the computer.  I’m sure you were wondering if I had some sort of mysterious injury related to a grub hoe and a compost bin.  But I assure you, everything is fine.  The sun has been out, and things have been growing like mad, including both boys and C.  So the blog has been collecting dust!  In the mean time, I’ve been able to get a few things done around here.

We picked cucumbers up at our CSA and put up 48 quarts of pickles.

We got the tree trunk and stump hauled away to a mill.

And we put some 7 pounds of elk meat into the dehydrator to become jerky.

We harvested corn and our first potatoes with the neighbor.

I have to say that harvesting potatoes is one of the funnest things ever – it’s like a treasure hunt!

We ended up with 40 pounds of fingerlings and 50 pounds of Desirre red potatoes!  We will have plenty for seed next year and hopefully enough to store through the winter.

We also have a neighborhood BBQ in the works and have been spreading the hens’ good will via eggs and some extra garden onions.

We are getting ready for some berry picking and peach picking in the next week or two.  I am excited to get some preserves into the pantry as well.  We are going to take a walk tomorrow to the house with the concord grape vine and see if the new family there will share some grapes with us this year like the last tenants there did.  We are bringing some 2010 jam with us to give them as an incentive!

The late summer/early fall is one of the busiest times around our homestead.  Harvests are coming in, the dehydrator is running, and we are trying to see if we can manage to get the yard back in shape in time to participate in the second annual Denver Botanic Gardens chicken coop tour.  If you remember, I made some improvements on the coop this spring with the tour in mind, and last year was a lot of fun, so it’d be really great if we can pull it together in time.   More updated posts in the coming days – I am finally getting back on the ball around here, I think.  😉

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Community, DIY, Garden, Independence Days, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Virtual Homestead Tour

Welcome to the Schell Urban Homestead’s end of July virtual garden tour!  I was really excited when Erica at Northwest Edible Life invited me to participate in letting all you Nosy Neighbors peek over our garden fence!

Here’s how the Lazy Homesteader does the Nosy Neighbor Virtual Homestead & Garden Tour:

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The first part of this tour that makes me really excited is that I’m actually documenting what the whole garden is doing at a given point in the summer.  I never remember when we get the first tomato (this week!  A Silver Fir Tree Russian heirloom).  The kohlrabi is a giant variety that Rick’s grandpa brought us from Slovakia.  It will get to be over 8 pounds and will not be woody.  It also keeps great all winter, and it’s starting to bulb up to about baseball size in the last few days of July.  Rick’s parents shared cucumbers with us last week and the week before, but ours have only just begun to flower.

The unexpected thing that I am loving about this tour is the truth of it.  In the pictures of the onions and watermelons, you can see both the weeds I’ve neglected to pull, and the light-colored, hard clay that we grow in here in Colorado.  Normally, I’d make an effort to hide both the weeds and the soil, because the shiny-happy blogger in me wants you to think that my garden is perfectly groomed and full of rich, dark, beautiful loamy soil.  In fact, some people do think that.  Rick’s grandparents even commented this week on how they couldn’t grow something that we could because their soil (about 25 miles from us) is hard clay.  Rick and I burst out laughing.  So here’s the proof.  We don’t have perfect soil.  This is how it looks after eight years of work amending it.  And I’m glad I let it show.

Some of my other favorite highlights from the slideshow (the shiny-happy stuff):

Corn from our neighbor’s garden, actually.  His corn is peeking over our front yard fence.  Well, not peeking, so much as towering.  We are actually sharing our harvests this year, so that is how I’m justifying including crops that belong to someone else in my garden tour.  😉

The hundreds of tiny cherry tomatoes on H’s plants make me giddy.  And I can’t believe how big those two plants are.  Over six feet high!

The garlic I harvested in the week before C was born is drying in the garage, and the beets I pulled a few days ago are beautiful, although we might have pulled them about a week earlier if we weren’t in new baby mode.

We’re still waiting on the first eggs from the pullets, but we are getting two or three a day still from the older hens.

I was really hoping to include a picture of our raspberries this year, but they suddenly quit producing just last week.  Luckily I found something in the strawberry bed to show you instead!

Be sure to check out the other homesteads and gardens in Erica’s Nosy Neighbor Tour.  Thanks for stopping by!

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Conquering Fears: Homeschooling, Josie and Postpartum Depression

Sometimes you begin writing about one thing, and it turns into something totally different.  Be prepared, this is a more personal post for me than I’ve written in a long while. And it’s long.  While it started as an intro to us beginning our homeschooling journey, it became more about my fears all last year, where I was at (since I was not blogging) and where I think we’re headed(?).

The idea of homeschooling has been discussed in our household for the last four and a half years.  Since we had H, in other words.  Rick was all for it from the beginning.  Me, on the other hand, as the one who would be doing the “home teaching,” I’ve been unsure.

We can see a lot of benefits of homeschooling.  One of the biggest draws for us is that our kids can move at their own pace, and hopefully will always be able to be challenged and not bored.  Boredom, I think, is one of the worst things that can happen in education.  I know it really made school tough for me, especially in high school when we were graded on attendance, regardless of test scores.

A big drawback/fear in homeschooling has been whether I can actually teach our kids.  I’m pretty type A.  Take for example the time that we did a craft project at E’s birthday party and three year old H started putting the stickers (a sun, some clouds) at the bottom of his project instead of the top.  I started to correct him (the sun and clouds go in the sky, of course), when my sister, who is a preschool teacher, shot me the relax-and-let-him-do-it-you-crazy-control-freak look, wherein I promptly backed off.  Quite literally.  I had to leave the project table to prevent myself from squashing his creativity.  I have to constantly remind myself that he is perfectly within his rights to color an alligator purple instead of green – without comment from me. The fear is that I will crush their creativity out of them and turn them into neurotic perfectionists or something.

Oddly, my fear has never been about socialization.  That question just never made sense to me.  We socialize with all kinds of people now, and I don’t anticipate that changing, no matter what kind of education our kids get.  I also have always thought the structure of public school – where everyone is the same age together, is a little odd.  As an adult, you have to work with and live with people of all age groups, and meet them where they are at.

When we put H in preschool one day a week last summer, he started coming home with all kinds of new behaviors, habits and sayings.  Some of which were fun and cute (new songs, funny phrases), but the majority of them went from annoying (nose picking)  to down right against what we’ve been working for four years to teach (foot stomping, talking back, fit throwing).  Of course, some of those behaviors happen naturally at certain ages, but when my veggie loving four year old tells me he doesn’t like spinach (when I know for a fact he loves the stuff) and I ask him why, he says “Sam always says that – he doesn’t like vegetables.”  I find myself cursing little Sam and having to hear for weeks now about all the things H “doesn’t like” even though he goes right on eating them.  Annoying and now a habit that we have to try to change.

Of course that’s a minor example.  There have been words we have to talk about not using, even though friends at school use them and behaviors (like that foot stomping).  And it was helpful that my sister taught in the next classroom and could provide us with insights like, oh that Brady kid, he always throws fits when he doesn’t get his way… fits that look oddly similar to the ones H’s suddenly trying on for size.  This is not the socialization I’m loving.  I feel like that forces us to do more damage control than teaching.

One thing that has been extremely helpful to me in aiding our decision to start homeschooling has been the great variety of people we met at the farm that home school – all different reasons, shapes, sizes, etc.  Some un-school, some follow a curriculum put out by the state, some do it for religious reasons.  They all look different, but they all have a few things in common.  Their kids are getting educated, they are well spoken, polite and very well behaved.  And they have no problem conversing with both adults and the littlest kids on the farm.  These were never the kids that I had problems with H being around (like the kid to wanted to torture toads, the liar, or the one who pushed him down in the sandbox every week).

But, even with all these great and different examples before me, I still felt uncertain.  All last year, I really struggled as a parent.  I had major symptoms of postpartum depression (or maybe just depression?), but not the more morose symptoms, I had the angry, raging symptoms.  It was part of the reason we put H in preschool that one day per week.  So I (and he) could get some tiny break and maybe take a nap once in a while.  I was completely overwhelmed with life and parenting, and the idea of adding homeschooling to our lives was nearly enough to send me over the edge.  I felt like my sanity was hanging by a thread as it was.  I was taking supplements, trying to get out of the house and get some sunshine, trying to exercise, I even went to see a therapist twice.  I was praying a lot.  Mostly not to mess up my kids and that love would cover over everything – God’s love, since mine was not that apparent, though it was there, buried under all the rage.  I knew breastfeeding hormones were contributing, but I wasn’t about to cut E off, and I didn’t want to be on medication.

One very helpful resource for me during this time was my friend, Annie.  She is a doctor and married to a doctor and home schools four kids and has a real life and is honest and kind and genuine.  She invited me to her house and to the zoo a couple times last summer.  She shared bits of her homeschooling journey with me, and was a gentle listener as I lamented feeling alone and far from all my friends and scared of messing my kids up.  I met her at the farm our first year and I wish we lived closer to each other.

When I got pregnant unexpectedly 31 weeks or so ago, I was totally freaked.  I was overwhelmed with two kids and felt almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of adding a baby to the mix.  But a good thing happened then too.  See, when I’m pregnant, I have to eat an insane amount of food to counter the insane amount of barfing that comes with my pregnancies.  I realized that food was the thing I had been missing for all those months of anger and depression.  Not that I wasn’t eating – I love food and I was eating.  But I wasn’t eating enough.  I realized my habits went from a tiny rushed breakfast at around 7:00 to waiting until 2:00 when both boys were napping before I carb-loaded myself with lunch.  Then dinner (the only real balanced meal I had everyday) around 6:30.  This was not enough food to sustain anyone, let alone a breastfeeding mom.  No wonder I was crabby all the time.  Not to say that this was the only reason for the depression, but so much was relieved when I changed that pattern.  I just didn’t see it until I HAD to eat more, being pregnant.

Another big change happened when I got pregnant.  We finally realized we could no longer put off the bad situation we were in with Josie.  Poor Josie.  Our wonderful, horrible, funny, crazy, ill-behaved mutt.  Things were never easy with Josie.  She had food allergies that caused us to spend unreasonable amounts of money on her diet and separation anxiety that destroyed so much of our house and the apartment we had before it.  She was ridiculously athletic, able to jump our six-foot privacy fence in pursuit of a squirrel… and she did this with some regularity.  She was not good at socializing with other dogs, although we did all the right things when she was a puppy.  And she didn’t like sharing us with the boys.  Add to it the fact that at eight years old, her hips were really, finally hurting her, and we had a one-year-old with a toddler’s balance that could (and would) easily fall on her while she laid in her bed by the couch.  She growled at E every time he came near her.

One day, E fell on her back legs and she snapped at him.  All of this added up to a dog that was unhappily chained in the back yard when she was outside (so she wouldn’t jump the fence) and being shooed around the house from basement to kitchen amid a tangle of baby gates when inside (so she wouldn’t have to be afraid of getting fallen on and hurting her legs).  It wasn’t working anymore.  She was miserable, we were stressed.  After months of me “jokingly” asking our neighbor if he wanted Josie, he wisely suggested that maybe we should honestly look at either finding her a new home or putting her down.

I don’t think I would have heard anyone else.  He told us that he knew we were worried about her biting one of the kids and that it wasn’t worth the risk.  And he even offered to take her to the pound for us.  I am very thankful for his frankness in a really tough situation.  I cried and he brought us smoothies.

It was still a few months before we decided to actually do something.  I loved Josie, and I didn’t want to be one of “those people” who treated their dog like a child until they had kids and then just tossed the dog to the wayside.  But we were in a holding pattern with her and no one at all was happy.  We couldn’t risk a bite to one of the kids, not to mention the fact we now had another on the way and we couldn’t possibly ask Josie to wait out one more toddler.

We went round and round with trying to find her a new home, versus a shelter, versus putting her down.  We really felt like we were asking a lot of anyone to adopt an eight year old dog with hip problems, food allergies, separation anxiety, who liked to roam and that could not be with other dogs, cats or kids.  We really felt that no matter what, in the end, she’d end up in a shelter at least once, but most likely multiple times, finally getting put down.  I couldn’t bear the thought of her thinking we abandoned her and then having her put down by strangers regardless of how we tried.  We decided to put her down ourselves, out of respect for her… she’d never have to be frightened in a shelter and we’d be with her until the end.

We should have done it right away after making this decision, but by then it was only a couple weeks until Christmas and we wanted to wait until afterward (I don’t really know why, looking back now).  So I spent that few weeks, incessantly crying and questioning whether we were making the right decision or not.  We tried to make the last few weeks extra special for her – spoiling her with every kind of food and table scrap and letting her on the furniture.  Then Rick took her and we switched roles.  Now he cried and questioned.

Oddly though, as soon as it was over, a huge weight was lifted from me.  I was suddenly much more patient with the boys and I realized I was yelling a whole lot less.  We were all happier, even though we all missed having our dog.  I’d like to get a dog again at some point (Rick says when the new baby is around two we’ll talk), but I have large reservations about it even then.

Now, I was missing H on his school days too.  It was nice to have extra time with just E, but I dreaded the two days recovery H would need after his school day to get back into our routine.  And we realized that his school’s new curriculum was not teaching anything to help him prepare for kindergarten.

Additionally, he missed the cutoff for being able to start school in 2011 because his birthday is in November.  I have huge reservations about holding him back a whole year based solely on his birth date.  The school district we live in is one of the worst in the state, and when I called to get info about School of Choice to enroll him out of district, I was basically laughed at for wanting him tested to see if he was ready for kindergarten early and wanting him to go out of district.  The people I talked to were condescending, rude and impersonal.  I couldn’t help but wonder why these are the same people who are always harping on the socialization question for homeschoolers.

I got off the phone and cried to my mom about not being able to put H through all the drama and cog-making that I saw happening in public schools.  Once, Annie shared on her blog about how the neighbor kids “learned to stand in line” on the first day of school.  Barf.

So Rick and I decided that I’d home school H for kindergarten.  We figured it’s a year “early” for him to start anyway, so if it doesn’t work, we can always have him repeat kindergarten in public school (or private or charter?).  And, maybe I’d find that I liked it.  I already had plenty of friends from the farm doing it, offers to join home school groups, etc.  I feel pretty supported in the decision.

And I feel good mentally and emotionally.  I’m a little afraid of what it will be like with three kids.  A little afraid the postpartum will come back and bite me again.  But I do know that I learned a lot last year, and Rick did too.  And we’re planning on being proactive on that front this time around. And I’m taking joy in my kids instead of just trying to manage.

All in all, I’m excited to start school with H this year.  And for what the future holds for all of us, including the new little baby who helped clue me into what was wrong with me and nudged us towards taking care of things that needed taken care of – no matter how hard they were.

Categories: Community | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

When the Power Goes Out

All across the country this spring, there have been storms taking out power (and, of course far worse).  My cousin in Alabama was affected earlier this year.  Thankfully she is ok, and was able to drive to Nashville to stay with family for a few days until the power came back on.  This makes me think a lot about disaster preparedness, and I know I’m not the only one.  Sharon Astyk and Greenpa both commented on the CDC’s article about the impending zombie apocalypse last week.  Northwest Edible Life asked about balancing energy consumption and preparedness (which gave rise to this post for me).

We aren’t really in a great place yet as far as being prepared for a natural disaster.  We’re pretty good about preserving food in the summer, enough to get us through the winter, but really nothing long term.  While we’ve been living without a fridge now for the last four weeks, I know we couldn’t hack it without our freezer.  The ice to keep everything from spoiling is pretty crucial.  We keep the majority of our preserved food in there as well.  Without power, we’d be coming up short pretty quickly, especially in the summer time with regards to our meat.

Happily, here in Colorado, the most likely time for a prolonged power outage would be the winter, and that in it of itself mitigates some of the potential damage to the freezer-stored food.  In the case of a power outage that was not during the cold or not soon to be resolved, I really think this is a place where community can help.  Our neighbor, for example, has a couple of generators. But he is a bachelor and has no food stock piled what-so-ever (I’m pretty sure he buys food everyday for each meal). So we could really come to a mutually beneficial arrangement, wherein, his generators help keep our food from spoiling, and we feed him. Of course, generators are only temporary as well, and in the event of something extending past that, we’re pretty much screwed.

We could definitely dehydrate, but only if we do it ahead of time, as both our food dehydrator and oven are electric and power company dependent.  While we could prepare a lot of herbs and some veggies this way ahead of time, I’m not a huge fan of jerky.  So that still leaves most of our meat vulnerable.  We don’t have a pressure-canner either, and a boiling water bath is not enough to safely preserve meats.

One meat preservation option we’ve considered is the possibility of smoking meats. We’ve been on the hunt for an oak barrel that we can use to make a smoker in our yard, as I saw done at the local living history museum last summer. We watched them smoke two chickens in a barrel over bricks dug in the ground. It was super cool and we’ve been wanting to do it ever since. This could even be done in the winter, in an emergent situation, provided you already had the hole for the bricks dug.

This reminds me a lot of Little House in the Big Woods.  I love how detailed the descriptions Laura gives for how the Ingalls family preserves meats for the winter.  Smoking venison and hams, freezing sausages, and putting up salted pork in the attic.  This always makes me wonder what exactly salted pork is and how it tastes, and what the process is.

So I’d like to know what systems others have in place?  Are you prepared for a disaster, whether a short term one, like a weather related power outage, or a long term one, like peak oil or zombie apocalypse?  How are you preserving meat for long term storage?  Are you building community food systems, so that in the event of a disaster you have resources other than your own to draw from?  Is it practical to store meat in the summer time?  (The Ingalls family did not, all their meat storage was just for the winter.)  How else, besides freezing, are you storing food – canning, root cellars, dehydrating, salting, smoking????  Do you have recipes to share?

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Community, Food, Preparedness, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Gardening and Culture: Are Food Gardens Just for the Poor?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening and different cultures in America.  As you know, I’ve been reading City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson.  In chapter two of the book, Johnson talks a lot about gardens at the White House.  Not only the one planted by Michelle Obama in 2009 in response to the Eat the View petition, but the also the many various gardens planted there throughout the history of the White House, both for the pleasure of the first family and for patriotism.  Despite many people’s view that the Obama’s garden is just another exercise in “green-washing” (especially since the President seems to be alright with living in Monsanto’s back pocket), the first lady’s organic garden does seem to be having a positive effect.  People are asking how they can do it too.  It gives a little ammunition against HOA’s that prevent vegetable gardens, and inspires many people for whom garden would not otherwise be on their radar.

Why would home owners associations ban vegetable gardens to begin with?  I wonder that a lot.  A few years back as we were digging into our own earth, setting up our first compost bins, and telling people we had chickens in our back yard, we got a lot of funny looks.  Urban homesteading was still a relatively unknown concept around these parts (to my mind anyway), and although a lot of people thought what we were doing was cool, most people felt they couldn’t do it themselves.  One friend exclaimed “You can have a garden in the city?!”  It was our turn to be shocked.  Granted, this friend lived in a suburb with strict HOA regulations, and they might not have been allowed to do the same, but our response was, “Sure, you can grow food wherever there is dirt.” So with some people, particularly in our generation, possibly there is just a level of ignorance that is dissipating over time with this issue.

Another friend’s response made me wonder if there is more at work, keeping some people from getting that compost under their fingernails.  In the midst of all our learning a few years back I had a friend that would constantly tell me to my face how great she thought everything we were doing was, and even ask me for advice about things.  She even got to the point where she bought a huge, expensive composter and a couple cherry tomato plants for her back yard.  But I found out that all the while, she assumed that we did the things we did because we were “poor.”

This friend lived in a big, expensive house in a new sub-division on the outskirts of metro-civilazation.  She had a Starbucks allowance, a shiny new SUV, a son in Montessori school and her hair and nails were always done.  Erica at NWEdible would call her a YuppieHippie.  That’s just not the way I roll.  I get my hair done when I can no longer stand it anymore (maybe every 6 months?), our SUV is going on 12 years old, is used to haul compost and roadkill, and just rolled 140k on the odometer.  Our house is small.  These are all the same for me now as they were when Rick and I had two incomes.  And we were gardening then too.  So I was shocked about her assumption.  Also, gardening and chicken coop building is not all that cheap.  Our CSA share and buying whole, locally raised, organic hogs and beef certainly weren’t either.

I generally think of gardening and self-sustainability as something that informed and educated people do.  I think about cities in the Northwest with bike lanes and wind power and wish our state would catch up.  I think about solar panels and how much they cost and what they’d save.  I guess I view urban homesteading as something that you don’t do because you’re poor and have no other choice, but as something you do because you want to make a better choice.

Not that we are rolling in the dough.  Far from it.  There have been some pretty lean months in the last five years for us.  But… hadn’t my friend just bought that $400 compost bin?  Certainly she had to know this is not just for the poor, right?  This made me think.  Why would she assume we were poor (well, besides the roadkill)?

Johnson addresses this in her book as well.  As many families immigrated to the U.S., they brought seeds and gardening knowledge with them.  They planted their gardens where they lived and kept up with the old ways, unaffected by social status and motivated to provide good, fresh food for their family.  But their children, who were likely looked at as poor, being recent immigrants, were quick to dump the old ways and buy their food from the supermarkets.  In many minds, growing your own food was a sign or symbol of not having the means to buy the same things.

I generally picture people immigrating in centuries past.  In Colorado, while we have plenty of immigrants from Mexico and other places, I tend to think about immigration in terms of Ellis Island and my husband’s great-grandparents from Slovakia.  His great-grandfather coming to America ten years before this great-grandmother, saving his hard-earned money to get her and their children here.  It would never occur to me to think of modern-day immigrants in this way.  But in some places, California for example, there are many hispanic families that have lived in the U.S. for generations as well as many recently immigrated Mexican families.  Their cultures are extremely different.  My mom’s husband, though born in San Diego, is often mistaken for a Mexican, to the point where he carries his passport and I.D. when visiting his family in California.

As I sat and thought about my friend’s view of our choices, I realized that she is from a state that is still flush with recent immigrants.  It’s likely that she was brought up seeing the immigrant families planting gardens, while her family never did.  The truth of the matter is that many immigrant families are poor when they get here.  Perhaps many of the HOAs in those new, expensive sub-divisions are set up just to keep the images of the poor, front yard veggie gardens separated from the green, water guzzling postage-stamp lawns that symbolize American success.

Have you experienced this?  Do you or did you view gardening and self-sustainability as a sign of status or culture?  Has anyone made assumptions about your choices based on their views?  Is gardening cultural?  Does your perception of the culture or status of gardening affect your own efforts towards sustainability?  What about HOAs – do you live where one restricts your ability to garden?  Should they have the right to do this?

Categories: Community, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Why I Blog and How I Became an Urban Homesteader

Four years ago, at the beginning of March, I started this blog.  At first I began tentatively, not sure who would ever read what I had to say, unsure of if I even had anything to say at all.  Unsure of what my blog was about (I hadn’t even really read other blogs), I titled it “Journeys and Adventures” and just sort of typed whatever came to mind, the latest happenings in our lives, reviews of articles I read or documentaries I watched.

I quickly noticed a theme.  I wanted to be a farmer.  But I lived (live!) in a city.  During my first month of writing I covered the garden or buying our first chicks in at least every-other post.  I did not know anything about “urban homesteading” or that people called themselves this or that other people we like me at all – playing farmer on little patches of earth, where ever their feet had landed them in life.

There were lots of Monday morning posts chronicling the progress of our garden over the weekend or the construction of our chicken coop.  And I began to understand that this was therapy – the gardening, the chickens, and the writing about it.  I took more pictures, I squeezed more into the dirt we had.  I found more dirt and eeked out more spaces to grow things.  I dreamed of a bee hive.  But this space remained a sort or personal journal.

One day, as Rick was reading, he asked why I didn’t make the blog public, since only friends and family had access to it at this point.  I thought about it for a while and decided I was afraid to put myself out in the open to any and everyone.  But he encouraged me to do it, convinced that people would like what I had to say, and enjoy reading about our crazy adventures in playing at urban farming.  So I did, and I decided to change the name of the blog too, so that it would reflect more of what it was now about.

I thought about the name change for a long time, mulling over terms like green, dirt, crunchy, city, suburbs, farming, etc.  Through lots of reading, I discovered the term urban homesteading and found it described what we were doing.  I still thought we virtually were alone in doing it, but I knew the phrase was the right one for our family and our journey.

A search engine led a writer for the Denver Post to my blog, and he contacted me, wanting an interview for a story he was doing on urban homesteaders.  Because I was skeptical (hey! I didn’t know this guy), I refused to be interviewed without Rick home, so I missed my chance.  Timing was off and he couldn’t come on the day Rick could be here.  But I was so excited when the article came out.  I discovered we were NOT alone.  There were people in my own neighborhood doing this.  People all over Denver!

Now look:

There is a reason I’m taking the time to write this trip down memory lane.  It’s not because it was my blog-iversary. It’s because today is the third Day of Action for Urban Homesteaders across the internet.

Back in February of this year the Dervaes family of Pasadena, CA trademarked the terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading.”  I am not linking to who the Dervaes family is, but in short, they are a father and three grown children growing lots of food in a small area in California.  They are a family church, with the father being the pastor and to my knowledge, the children are the members.  A church of what is pretty unclear.  From what little I know of them, they’ve done a lot with their space and many in the urban homesteading community admired them.  I never really read much about them until now.

So the big deal?  They sent out cease and desist letters to bloggers, businesses and organizations (even a library) who were using the two trademarked terms.  They want credit with links every time the phrases are typed.  I’ve seen the letters.  They sent one to Denver Urban Homesteading, our local indoor farmers market, and had their Facebook page (and main marketing tool) shut down.  Problem is they don’t have the legal grounds to do this.  They didn’t invent the phrases, nor were they the first to use them.  And their trademark does not give them the right to restrict the use of the English language in the way they claim.  I know this because I know the owner of Denver Urban Homesteading.  James, the person I worked with on Denver’s inaugural chicken coop tour (with the Denver Botanic Garden’s) last year, and the one I helped to make the Free the Chickens video with, also just happens to be a lawyer.  Apparently the Derveas picked on the wrong homesteader.

Bloggers and urban homesteaders across the country have been outraged by the actions of people who were supposed to be leaders within our community.  A Facebook page was created and quickly grew to over 6000 fans supporting the canceling of the trademarks and begging the Dervaes family to, at the very least, help us understand.  There have even been claims that the Dervaes’ are plagiarizing others‘ work (some of it used to support their claim to the trademarked phrases?).  But the D-family closed all the comments on their many blogs.  They temporarily took down their facebook page.  They refused to answer email and letters.  The only communication was denial of any wrong doing and to claim they were being persecuted, they were under attack.  They did not (and still don’t) approve of the fact their letters were put out in the open.  A quick Google search will lead you to the letter if you want to read it.

Through all of this, over the last month-plus, I’ve stayed silent.  All this uproar literally struck fear into my heart.  I called my mom, nearly in tears.  I told my BFF.  I temporarily changed my blog name.  I followed fellow bloggers as they posted and united in two previous Days of Action (read my favorite post on all of this here, from Northwest Edible Life).  But I was afraid.  This blog holds my heart.  Like I said it is my therapy.  And it’s my personal journal.  And it holds videos of my boys’ first steps and first words.  I don’t want to loose any of it.  Not over words.

But I’ve collected my thoughts.  I’ve decided I can’t be silent because all of this is too important to me.

So, today, on this Urban Homesteader’s third Day of Action, I’m asking for your help.  Please go to and sign the online petition to Cancel Trademarks on Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading.

This petition is addressed to Jules Dervaes, and despite fears that he won’t listen to this community, the petition can be used to help support our cause in other ways.  It is a petition, a protest, and a plea to the Dervaes family.  Whether or not they listen, legal actions are also being taken.  Because like all the others, I too, am an Urban Homesteader.  Thanks.

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Independence Days, Simple Living, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Saying No to GMO

So we finally got our seeds ordered this week for the garden.  I’m excited, since it means spring is around the corner.  And, because it’s the first time we’ve ordered seeds.  We usually go to the local garden center, but their selection of organic, non-GMO seeds has been pretty limited in the last few years.  And beyond organic, non-GMO is very important to us.

There has been a lot of buzz recently about GMOs.  President Obama approved Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa, Round Up Ready sugar beets and a new biotech corn for ethanol production.  This is sad and scary news for all of us. Many of my readers know about GMOs and why they would want to avoid them, but I know there are quite a few people who don’t know anything about this issue.  So I thought I’d shed some light and share my knowledge of the subject, which contributes to the reasons for many of our own food choices.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and companies like Monsanto have produced and patented these organisms, mainly seeds.  The seeds have been genetically modified to be able to withstand harsh herbicides like Round Up, so that fields can be sprayed with the chemicals which will then kill the weeds but not the crop.  Sounds like a plan, right.  Except they are seeds.

Let’s set aside the health effects of eating foods and food products made with these GMOs for just a minute and look at the idea of patented seeds.   Currently there are patents on certain GMO grain crops like corn, canola, and soy.  Think for a minute what that means – when these crops grow up, mother nature does to these seeds what she does to all seeds – throws them to the wind, feeds them to the birds, and mice, and squirrels.  She doesn’t know these seeds are patented.

So Farmer A is growing patented GMO corn.  And when his corn is ripe, a few birds come and pick at his corn, eating some.  And they fly a few miles away, and poop out the seeds.  Seeds that have been genetically modified, and those modification carry through the generation of seeds.  But they poop on Farmer B’s land, he doesn’t know, and he hasn’t paid for GMO seeds.

The next spring, Farmer B tills his land and plants his non-GMO crop of corn from seeds he saved for generations.  But those seeds the birds pooped out spring up too.  The company that Farmer A uses to get his corn from, knows Farmer B is down the road.  So they send out someone to take a sample of  Farmer B’s crop (without his permission) and sure enough, his crop turns up as GM positive – their genetically modified corn is growing right there, in his field.  He didn’t buy it from them – he must have stolen it.  And then they sue the pants off Farmer B and win because they own the rights to that seed – to that genetic strain- and he literally loses the farm.  Farmer A is not allowed to save seed, and Farmer B can’t steal it.  The company owns all rights to that seed and it’s future generations.

This is not far-fetched.  It’s happening today, in America.  The problem with patented seeds is that we humans can’t control everything.  Wind and birds and all of nature happens.  For more info on this check out or watch the documentary, The Future of Food.

So back to health, and how this affects you, the consumer, the eater.  Well, you can just read labels, right?  No.  Sorry.  The USDA and FDA doesn’t require that foods containing GMOs be labeled as such.  You’ve probably been eating GMOs for a long time now.  But it’s not like you sit around munching nothing but corn all day, right?  Well maybe, or maybe not.  In this case, you can check the label – corn and soy are in everything these days.  Really.

According to the USDA, in 2009, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO. It is estimated that over 90% of canola grown is GMO, and there are also commercially produced GM varieties of sugar beets, squash and Hawaiian Papaya. As a result, it is estimated that GMOs are now present in more than 80% of packaged products in the average U.S. or Canadian grocery store.*

GMOs are used to feed cattle, to make soda, in your cereal, your bread… you name it.  If it has high fructose corn syrup (and many other ingredients I can’t type or pronounce) it’s made from corn.  So a fast food meal – the burger, the coke, the fries cooked in canola oil, all corn and probably all GMO at that.

With Obama’s recent approval of alfalfa and sugar beets, two crops along with corn, that feed the majority of America’s commercially produced meat animals, we are in for more trouble.  And try keeping alfalfa seeds contained in a Kansas windstorm.  Yikes!

Ok, ok, they are hard to avoid, right.  But are GMOs safe?  Well the Non-GMO Project web site states:

In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale.

A few independent studies have been done on the subject.  Generally independent studies have been blocked by Monsanto and other producers of GMOs, but what has been found leads to questions over GMO safety.  Here’s a link studying  The Effects of Diets containing GM potatoes on Rats done in 1999, as well as an article siting many more recent studies that have been done.

It is possible to avoid GMOs, but it takes some research and planning and sometimes giving up a favorite snack.  Especially helpful is the True Food Shoppers Guide (a download-able iPhone app or printable guide).

Here is an article that I found very helpful as well, concerning ways to avoid GMO foods.  “Making My Family GO GMO Free”.  One of the simplest steps is to buy organic, or direct from a local farmer, whom you can ask what he’s growing.  You can also look for labels certifying that products are GMO free.

A while back I was told that the PLU codes on produce were used to indicate organic, conventional and GMO foods, however this is not exactly true, since using the five digit codes are optional.  (see PLU Codes Don’t Indicate GMO Produce and The Myth of PLU Codes and GMO Foods).

If you grow your own garden, like us, please be aware that Monsanto recently purchased a number of seed companies, so you’ll want to know what to look for when buying the seeds you’ll use this spring.  I found this resource most helpful:

I know this post is a bit preachy for me – but it’s a subject that I’ve been very concerned about for a while, and I couldn’t think how to share this info another way.  I hope you look further into this subject and take action (write a letter or sign a petition to help ban GMOs in America).

For more ways to take action go to:  and
Also check out

Categories: Community, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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