Farm where you are....

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A gardener's journey of faith....

My word for this year was serious, but now I think it should have been journey.
I've only recently reconnected with my faith. A few years ago, my grandmother passed away and then my aunt. They were both 99 and 95. They had had such wonderful glorious years on Earth. They were the original suburban farmer's. Raising most of their own food on quarter acres of land in the middle of the 'burbs of Chicago. Canning, baking,preserving. The meat they ate was either hunted or fished by my grandfather. All that life they raised every year as the food grew from the ground and in all their years with life cycles and life and death, first as hungarian tenant farmers', and then suburban farmer's, and they were agnostic.

I was shaky in my own faith and so it made me wonder; How can a woman who has lived that long in life  believe that once you die that's it? You go in the ground and compost is your only legacy, your only reward? For some reason, that revelation shook my entire faith existence and for a few years, I was actually ambivalent.
After years of having been raised in a Roman Catholic church; for  a moment my eyes were opened to the possibility that this was all there was. The light grey sky above me and the dark grey road in front of me. The revelation hit me while driving home one day and suddenly I felt so small and so uncertain. Suddenly there were no rules to life and I floundered. It made me feel  scared. 
And so alone.
It was easier not to think about it, but deeper inside, I craved. I felt hungry, or thirsty, I just couldn't put my finger on it. I had thought about going back to church because it was what I wanted for my children and my family, but never really gathered the courage to make that step. 
I hemmed and hawed for  along time about what to do, all of the time this deep ache inside from  a place I couldn't name. I wanted there to be more, but for some reason I was more afraid to believe than not believe.

Just before Christmas this last year, I took my children to church. It was a run-of-the-mill 5 o'clock service, but when I went up for communion and knelt at the bench, the minute I took the wafer and the wine, I felt as if some one had given me a cool drink of water after days in the desert. I felt tears come up through my throat and burn behind my eyes. My only thought was, I should have been doing this all along, why did I stay away?
Suddenly my eyes were opened once again. To all of the good things in life. To all of the possibility and growth that faith brings. My walk isn't alone any more and it was such  a heavy burden lifted off of my shoulders. To everything that He's given us in the dirt in the ground, and the air, and the sky.
And suddenly I wondered... how can someone who was so intimately connected to the earth and all that God has provided not believe in His existence? 
My friend Jeanne told me, "When you use the talents that God has given you, you honor Him." I truly believe that, but on the same point, isn't honoring God also taking care of what He's given you? Your body, your family, your Earth? When you give  a child a toy and he ruins it, how can you not  feel anything but disappointment? The chemicals we use, the poison's, the waste and trash and plastic. How does this honor God to ruin the beautiful thing He's given us?
I think that is a part of being eco-conscious, organic and earth friendly. Respect for what we've been given. It's a connection that even an agnostic might have to agree with.
Every time I think  about my Aunt and Grandmother and wonder what they have discovered and hopefully for them, it was a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Planting with purpose

I realized that one thing that holiday retail has capitalized on is the ability to charge us from what really comes for free from Mother Nature. I know if someone doesn't have  a yard, it's  a necessary evil. I have no excuse.

   They don't think twice about charging $10 for a small bundle of boxwood branches.

 Or $8 for  a bag of pine cones.
They know they have you.

 I am taking this winter to look around my yard and what I like to decorate with, and make notes of all of the things I could plant to not only save money in the holidays, but make my own yard prettier, and greener.
 Pine trees, bushes, red berried plants, boxwood, more dogwoods.
While much of my vary is for fruits and veggies, there are yard places where I can't plant food that I could use.

So in a few years, I can also be independent in my choice to decorate naturally and green.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Only kind of crazy, trying to remodel green on a budget

I have found that it is very very difficult to remodel and stay true to health and environmental concerns when you are on a budget. It's all about concessions and compromise.
I can tell you when you tell some contractors that you don't want any press board or laminate materials in your house because of the off gassing, they look at you like you are crazy.
I opted for  a butcher block countertop because we couldn't afford natural stone. Laminate off gasses formaldehyde for up to 7 years and there is no way to dispose of it once you are through with it in an environmentally friendly way. Quite a few of the contractors I interviewed would only tell me about the down side of a wood countertop, or they didn't understand why I wanted to up grade to plywood frame construction on my cabinets, and I even had family that didn't understand the difference between engineered wood and regular hardwood.
And then I had the people that asked me why my kitchen wasn't going to be done totally "green."
Because I don't have  a million dollars, that's why. I would have loved to have done reclaimed lumber on my floor and special plywood cabinets with soy glue. I could drool over a vintage reclaimed sink and  even completely VOC free floor materials. But all of those things make the job 4 times as much and I needed to just make my house safe for my family on our really limited budget. So I conceded. And compromised. 
I've found that being green is about reasonable choices.

Plywood sub-flooring instead of OSB.
Plywood cabinets instead of pressboard so there were less VOC's and off-gassing.
Real wood flooring of local wood instead of engineered lumber. It was the second cut (grade b) (most people throw it away because it has too many flaws.) as well so it's using waste lumber from the first milling. I would love bamboo. Bamboo is gorgeous. But, Bamboo while fast growing and renewable, comes from far away.
Butcher block countertops so the material is easily recyclable, reusable, and less toxic.
Our sink was an enamel/ cast iron one but it was made from 93% recycled materials.
We painted the cabinets  and walls with No VOC paint.

We were able that way to keep our costs somewhat low, but not have our home be as toxic as it would be using other materials. With what we could afford.

Reasonable choices.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A what kind of farmer?

My husband told me the other day that if we wanted to get a farm one day  that we could do it , but he only wanted to be a vegetable farmer, no animals. 

I might have to sneak one of these little guys in though,

But if I can't I could always be a dill farmer; I seem to grow that great :)


Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's all fair... in pictures...

My family and I took a ride up in August to the Wisconsin State Fair.  I love that my children can get an opportunity to really see where our food comes from. Even I forget what the enormity of a  cow is until I stand next to one.
Look at these sweeties...

It makes me want to trade in this small bit of earth I own and get room for a few of these myself...
Until then, I am  a vegetable farmer...

Late September/ early October is a good month for planting new garlic, harvesting pumpkins, reseeding salad greens and most of all, planning crop rotation, companion planting and new planting beds.

Can you guess what  a planting bed and  a kiddie pool have in common?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some days....

Some days are faced with heavy hearts.

One of my daughter's has been officially diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome. Even thought this is something we were kind clued into from early on, we kind of skirted around the issue for a long time. Recently,we needed to bite the bullet so she can get what she needs in school. To finally hear the official diagnosis is something that makes my chest just  a bit heavy. 
Today was just a bit hard.
She's one of the main reasons that I have gone so into left field with organic/non-toxic living. There is so much about life I can't control for my children, that feeding them good food, and giving them a safe place to be is something I can control.
To me food is like medicine, and the fact that people are messing with it really upsets me, because it affects my children. And that it's not so accessible and expensive doesn't make me happy either.

Along with the organic food, we've had her on a  modified diet for  a while. I think it  has helped her immensely( organic food, no artificial dyes, preservatives,additives, high magnesium, balanced omega's). But it still breaks me to my core when I face up the reality of what faces her in life. And even though nothing is going to change with what we do for her, there's still a piece of me that wishes it were different.
Maybe it's more selfish on my part because it's just not what I want for her.

I know my kids are going to have challenges in life, I just don't want them starting from behind.
The thing is, she is really smart and funny, and bright.
But also just  a bit difficult as well. She doesn't have what you would think Tourette's is... the classic shouting swear words and uncontrolled uncensored thoughts that they show in movies.  It is classified in a tic disorder spectrum, and for her, it manifests as eye rolling, throat clearing, grimacing and a few other motor/vocal things.  We already have her in OT which has helped a lot, but it's  a long road. We've been told many times it's genetic and not caused by anything outside, they think, but that doesn't stop me from thinking back to my pregnancy and wondering if I should have done something differently; You know that classic mother's guilt.

I keep reminding myself that it's not a terminal thing and tons of people have this, and their lives are very happy and very normal. But, even though there's many things we are doing for her, there is nothing as  a mother I can do to take it away.

So for me the journey for cleaner and purer living is so much more that buying  into the hype. When I read studies that there is a direct link to pesticides and ADHD, I really sit up and take notice. Today was one of those days that really affirms that I am taking the right road for the right reasons.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The choice of GM food...Can it be taken away?

Genetically modified food.
We may soon not have  a choice.

I just read a report that GM canola has escaped fields in Canada and is found growing wild along the side of the road and in PARKING LOTS.
It makes me sick.

If they can't control their plants in farmlands surrounded by nothing else, who is to say when there are fields upon fields that eventually all canola and other crops will be GM and there will be NO WAY to actually grow non-GM, organic foods? Our choice is being taken away.
And people think it's okay.
Why does the government not do something about this? Why is it going to be okay for one company to own all of the food in the world someday? That certainly worked out well for the oil industry didn't it? They certainly are taking every precaution for safety, right?

Where is our right as a consumer and when will they realize; you cannot control a living thing.

MY other questions are: What happens when the plant dies? Do the GM genes remain in the soil? Can you ever get rid of GM genes and start over? What about cousin pants like broccoli? Can they cross like pumpkins and watermelons?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer rain...

One thing I love the most about summer is sitting up late and listening to the rain hit against the metal roof fan. I hate air conditioning, I could swelter all summer long and be happy. I feel like the warm times are much too short in Chicago. I hate the cold. I ache all winter from it and long to be outside in the sun.

I can hear it drizzling now and want to open the windows. It always amazes me how loud summer is. Between the different cadences of the cicadas, the trilling of the toads, croaking of the frogs and the crickets kind of chiming in; it actually makes for the loudest noise pollution ever.  But why is it a neighbors party half as loud would keep us up, but the nature lulls us to sleep?

And then the  heavy rain comes and for  a moment the night is still and quiet and warm.
But then suddenly the  rain subsides and everyone starts to put their two cents in again.

The next day when the sun comes out and starts to burn all of the moisture from the grass, I love to go out and weed. 
It amazes me how good it feels to get down on my hands and knees and just start pulling out everything that just popped up over night. It's like perfect work for the soul. I love tall weeds the most; they come out root and all with the wet ground.We have these grasses that lay flat against the regular grass. I have to gather them up to pull them out and it always surprises me how long they really are because they lay so innocuous against the ground. Sometimes I have to dig my fingers into the  dirt to get the root, and then there's that damp loamy, earthy smell that comes up as the dirt kind of crumbles and clings to my fingers, mushing itself under my nails to be tortuously scraped out later. But in the moment, the smell is grounding and almost primal, and the minute I get that out, root and all, I feel just  a little bit accomplished.
There is something so satisfying about clearing even a small patch and seeing the possibilities of the bare earth. Whether it to let other plants get bigger, just clean up an area or even start something new, it's such instant gratification to toss a huge pile of green into the compost and think for just one moment that I beat nature; even if it's just  a little.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Corn woes...

I decided to grow my own corn. It is so hard to find non-GMO corn even at whole foods and I missed the summery flavor of eating it right off the cob.
Except bugs love corn, specifically ants and earwigs, as much as we do.
All I have to say about earwigs is eeeeeewwwww...gross.

After googling about a million ways to keep ants off of the corn, and find a deterrent for the raccoons who one year stripped my entire patch of popping corn clean, the day before I was going to pick it. I thought about hanging a 'coon skin Godfather style as a warning near my garden; but thought it might be a bit over their heads.

I did finally come up with a concoction of olive oil, cayenne pepper and crushed garlic dribbled on the silks, into the base of the silks. 
When I first poured it in, the ants went running for cover which I have to admit gave me some shameless satisfaction. I also dribbled it in the joints when the corn meets the stalk. It worked well for the earwigs, but in a couple of days  the ant's were back and I had to reapply. 
They obviously like their food a bit spicy.

I think it was the oil that really worked. So far my three sisters planting method with soybeans and squash  has managed to  keep the raccoons out, but my ears are only partially developed. They were full on the bottom of the ear but teeny on the top.

After some searching I found out it's from lack of pollination. What you are supposed to do in a small patch is feel up the tall stalk on the top and rub it into the developing tassel to insure proper pollination. Kind of like artificial insemination for veggies.
I did it, but then I felt a bit dirty.
I'll let you know if it works. I have a few I just did.
I need a shower now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Garden surprises...

 Lately I have a few things in my garden that keep me guessing...
These are my compost pumpkins.Well, I think they are pumpkins. They look pumpkin-y. One day a small trailing vine started and I thought, let's see what happens. The next thing I knew, my poor compost pile was buried.
What's interesting is while I may have put a jack-o-lantern or two in the compost last fall, I did not put any on the other side of the yard where I have another gourd-like thing growing....
I may be doing pumpkin giveaways this fall...
And these guys.. Japanese beetles. Gah.
I sprayed my yard last year with a "very green" beneficial nematode for grubs, which worked, the grubs were gone. Grubs are what Japanese beetles come from. What I  didn't count on was my neighbors beetles deciding my yard was yummier. I am actually considering getting one of those traps, some people say it actually attracts them, but how many more can it possibly attract? I'm already"dispatching"30-50 a night in what we refer to as "the cup of death". It involves dish soap, a lot of swimming  and finally a watery grave. It's totally crazy. It's a regular beetle love shack in my backyard. I'll knock piles of 5 and 6 having "a party" at one time with each other at all hours. I have to say, they are very non-discriminating; it's all 1960's free-love in the Rizzo's yard, until I come along of course and stop those shenanigans.
It's a good lesson to learn, though.
Note to self: reaction times are slower when fornicating.
Though they might not be too happy with me for ruining their fun. They've actually started buzzing me when I approach.
And there's my lemon balm, I've heard it referred to as Lemon BOMB. Now I know why. Unlike me, it loves to run ( it is in the mint family, you'd think I would know better.) and is quickly taking over everything including my poor Golden Oregano. I've had it in it's neat little spot for the last 5 years, it smelled so nice when I walked past it  and this year... Kaboom! I swear it's in cahoots with the pumpkins. And the beetles.
And finally, I'm explaining to my girl's how to do the beetle control. They were very enthralled until they realized the little suckers don't go down without a fight and will hang onto your fingers for dear life  if you're not quick enough.
It was not a pretty sight.
There was a lot of screaming involved.
  But life's full of surprises, isn't it? :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer reading

I am an avid reader and am trying to take full advantage of the kids splashing in our kiddy pool. There are a few books I've finished that are definitely worth browsing if you have the time.
I really enjoyed,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barabra Kingslover chronicles the dilemma of eating totally local with a teenager.

This Organic Life: confessions of  a suburban hometeader by Joan Dye Gussow. I love Joan, she was recently in my last issue Organic Living and discussed how we accept toxic things in our food because we don't know any better.. she's brilliant, that leads to this segue...

If you really want to read an interesting book on where all of our popular food additives come from you can pick up Twinkie:Deconstructed.

I have to be honest though, as interesting as this book is; it made me want to throw up just  a little bit when I realized some of the thing's I had been eating. We are 85% organic at my house, but there are things I let slip by. I don't know if I can ever touch a Dorito again after reading that book. I cry over that. Also, my brother had brought us some boxes of Pastaroni. After I made it for the kids thinking what the heck?... then I read the box...half of the ingredients in it were chemical based. It really affirms whole food eating on an entirely new level. I've now branched out to making my own jarred brownie mixes and cookie mixes. If I have to give up my favorite snack food (sniff,sniff I guess Oreo's are out now too.),  I sure as hell am not giving up the sweets, so I might as well find a new way to make my fat quota with out all of the extra crap.

What ever happened to food being food, not full of chemicals? When did it become okay to wash trees with hydrochloric acid to give us cellulose gum or make imitation butter flavor out of nothing that is really edible, just chemicals and petroleum? No wonder people are so sick or overweight and have all kinds of weird allergies or even strange new syndromes. We as a population are putting things in our bodies that were never meant to be there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry summer...

In Chicago, it's a fleeting strawberry season. In fact, so quick that it's only around for two weeks before the peaches move in and reign. This is the time of year when the berries have that full, sweet, "real" strawberry taste, and not that bland, disappointing, dense nothingness when they are out of season.

Even though I've made freezer jam;I wanted to make strawberry syrup. My kids love that crappy, junky goop in a squeeze bottle that is stirred into milk and I wanted something natural that they could put in instead. I must admit, 2 tablespoons in milk is pure heaven.
I love this syrup recipe. It can even be poured over ice cream, pancakes, almost anything, and I keep it in my deep freeze in little freezer-safe canning jars to have summer memories all through the dark winter months.

All you need is 2 cups crushed, hulled strawberries ( I used a hand blender.)
(After you puree it, you can run it through a sieve to get the pulp and seeds out.We don't mind it and I am lazy, so I left mine in.)
1- 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar depending on how sweet the berries are.
1/4 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Put the puree and the other ingredients in a sauce pan and cook it over low heat, stir until the sugar melts.
Bring it up to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, simmer over low. Skim the foam from the top. Save it though! You can still use it!
(Be careful on the stove not to splash, because it's basically a boiled syrup and burns can be bad.)

This recipe made enough to fill 8 of those mini-canning jars. Let cool, pour in, put the lids on and keep in the freezer for up to 1 year or the fridge for 3 weeks. So easy!
Take the left-over stuff you skimmed and give it a quick 30-40 second zap in the microwave, making sure it doesn't boil over and let it cool before handling. The foam will settle and there will be much less to skim off and less syrup wasted. You'll end up with almost one extra jar.

Eat that one first, and then enjoy the fresh, sweet summer taste all year 'round.

: ) Jen