The Accidental Farmer

Food Fights

April FreemanI have friends who are in the “eat clean” camp. In this place there are different levels of eating clean.

Of course, there are the “eat clean” in name only. These people eat clean sometimes. They spend extra money on organic and GMO-free foods at the grocery store for the family to eat at home. They’ll even talk a big game about eating better food and “all those hormones and chemicals in commercial food.” But, the true story is they only eat at home one meal a day. The kids eat organic Pop Tarts for breakfast and mom and dad pick up fast food for lunch. A few times a week, they grab a hot dog at the ball field and of course, Friday night is a good time for the family to go out to eat.

The opposite end of the spectrum are the Eat Clean Nazis. These people would rather die than give their babies commercial formula or baby food, and they grow as much of their food as possible. If they can’t find a “clean” source of a particular food item, they go without rather than contaminate their bodies with something that’s not natural, organic, and GMO-free. Theirs are the kids who are carrying tiny baggies of carrots on field trips because a Cheeto had better never cross their all-natural lips.

Of course, the people who exist on Big Macs and French fries are looked down upon by both groups. And these folks aren’t really sure what to make of folks like me.

I garden, raise chickens, and try to raise as much of our food as possible. I strive to minimally use pesticides and herbicides on our farm. I cook from scratch, and we don’t go out to eat very often. I seldom buy processed foods like snack cakes, Doritos, and other unnecessary munchies. My son bemoaned to a friend of ours who works for a bakery, “My mom never buys those snack cakes. All she ever gets is ingredients.”

That said, I don’t bake all my own bread. We eat tortilla chips and, when the cow is dry, buy commercially-raised dairy products. Yes, I buy canned tomatoes, and *gasp*—Friday night I made a crock pot of my Once-A-Year Rotel Dip and Chips. With Velveeta.

So I don’t really fit into any group. I try hard to feed my family the highest quality of food that I can, but I don’t get crazy about it. I don’t have the time or the money with a house of six people. I do hope to raise my kids to appreciate the food that they eat, and, really, they do. My older two teens have a fairly well-developed palate. They feel gross after eating fast food and eagerly look forward to eating Mom’s food after spending a few days at camp or some other place with cafeteria-style fare.

To the Eat Clean Nazis,” I give a thumbs up. Good job. But don’t live your life in fear of eating something that’s not perfect. Once a year, indulge in the Rotel dip at a Superbowl party. Or at my house at a cookout. Have a birthday cake with artificial coloring on it.

To the “'eat clean' in name only,” I’ll give you points for knowing how to eat well. Just do it a little more often. It doesn’t take much more effort to pack an (organic) yogurt cup and some fruit for lunch. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that overly processed foods are okay because they’re organic. Whether a pop tart is organic or not, it’s still a pop tart, and it’s still not good for you and your kids on a regular basis. Make some whole wheat toast with jam instead.

We all can probably use some work cleaning up our diets. The biggest change can be simply learning to cook well. Cooking is a skill that takes time, and that’s why it’s one that’s so hard to improve upon.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about cooking:

• You will get better at it. Just be patient and keep trying.

• Simple is good. Learn a few basic seasonings, and flavor stuff with that. Eventually you’ll be able to branch out and know what herbs go well with what foods.

• Have someone else help with the cleanup. Cooking is less daunting if it’s not followed by 45 minutes of cleaning.

• The more you cook, the quicker you’ll be at churning out home-cooked meals.

• Talk to experienced cooks and get a menu plan from them.

• Use your crock pot on busy days. It’s awesome to walk into an empty cold house at the end of the day and smell your supper fully cooked in the crock pot.

Eat wellFood Buffet by Danny Ayers via Flikr

Eating well is so important. Relax and enjoy your food and its preparation. But don’t look down upon those who don’t know as well as you do. Or those who have other priorities in life. It’s all good!

Happy Eating!

Mandarin Orange Spinach Salad Recipe

April FreemanYesterday I was craving something cool, sweet, and tangy. I began tossing things into my shopping cart at the grocery store, and this is what I came up with.

This salad is sweet, tangy, and has a satisfying crunch, too.

Here’s what you'll need to create a delicious summer salad.

Mandarin Pecan Spinach Salad

Ingredients

• 1 bag of prewashed baby spinach
• A bottle of Ken’s Strawberry Vinaigrette salad dressing
• 1 15-ounce can of mandarin oranges, drained
• 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
• 2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Instructions

1. Place the spinach greens into a large salad bowl.

2. Drizzle the leaves with a few tablespoons of salad dressing. Take it easy. You can always add more later, but you don’t want the dressing to overwhelm the flavors of the salad as a whole.

3. Toss the salad to lightly coat all the leaves.

4. Scatter the mandarin oranges across the top of the salad.

5. Top with pecans, and finally, sprinkle sesame seeds over everything.

6. Serve immediately.

Mandarin Chicken Salad

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Overcoming Evil With Good

April FreemanMurder.

Terror.

Violence.

Rage.

Politics.

Anger.

Just turn on the evening news and it doesn’t take you long to figure out that we’re in a world of hurt here. It seems that every time you turn around something awful is happening. Maybe it’s the heat of the summer.

Almost a month ago, my heart leaped into my throat when I heard about the bombings in Turkey. Was this the day that my baby brother was flying into Istanbul? My relief was incredible when I got a response to my text. “Yes, I’m still in the States.”

And again, the relief was sweet when he made it back with three days to spare before the coup occurred.

This isn’t the only place in the world where things are tough. Europe and South America have more than their share of troubles, and Africa’s problems have been going on for decades.

While my family felt sweet relief when we knew my brother was safe, many families learned firsthand on those days that sometimes bad things do happen to good people. Hurt, tears, and sadness became someone’s constant companion, and they’re left wondering why. This time my own family was spared, but in past years we’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death and felt evil’s clammy hands touch people we care about.

None of us are spared from hurt here on this planet. If you live long enough, you’re going to love and you’re going to lose someone you love. Politicians like to act like they can spare us from this part of the human experience, but, in reality, there are no easy answers. Life is HARD.

It’s too easy to get overwhelmed when you see a constant stream of horror flowing through your home on the six o’clock news, popping up on your Facebook feed, and auto-playing on your Internet home page. What’s the point? Sometimes it feels that the bad guys ARE winning.

But is that the whole story? Are we all just doomed to eke out a living on this planet and experience a miserable existence?

The sadness and difficulty of this world sometimes feels too big. My heart hurts for those people who are touched by evil. And there’s just not much that I can do about it. Despite what many political parties say, they really can’t do much about many of the awful things that keep happening. The solution to the world’s ills will not come from a law passed or a particular foreign policy.

So what’s the point?

I think that when the evil starts getting me down, the real solution is not to stand on a street corner with a sign. It’s not to “like” someone’s Facebook post or pass on the next popular hashtag on my Twitter account. The solution is not just to mourn the state of the world with friends.

I think the things that really will make a difference are the small things. When life gets hard, we all need to stop watching the news, turn off the computer, and get up to do something.

We may not be able to impact much of the evil that’s happening across the globe but we can do something.

We can take a bag of tomatoes to the neighbors.

We can toss a football with the grandkids.

We can offer to weed the flowerbeds of the old gentleman who lives up the street.

We can go to church and pray for the hurting.

We can stop offering pat solutions to those in difficult circumstances and just listen, and then we can give them a hug.

We can take some of those extra veggies that will go to waste because we’re so sick of processing stuff down to the homeless shelter.

We can start looking for the good in everyone regardless of their political affiliation.

We can stop blaming this group or that group for the “demise of our country.”

Basically we can choose to see the good in others. We can open our hearts and our arms to those within our reach and bless them in the way that is most accessible to us.

Not everyone can be politically active, give tons of money to a cause, or open their home to an oppressed person.

But we can do something.

And somehow, I think that if we all really focused on changing our areas of influence and doing what we can for those people around us, the world would be a better place. Of course we should vote. Of course, we should try to involve ourselves in greater causes.  But we shouldn’t get down because we can’t do something “big.”

I mean, I’m just a mom. But I have to work where I am and bloom where I’m planted.

This world does have some ugly things in it. But when we obsess over the ugly, we tend to miss the beautiful.

Grocery basket for a neighbor
Photo by Fotolia/highwaystarz

Open your eyes. Choose to see.

See the lovely moments in life.

See the hurting people around you and help them.

Look deeper for the reason behind why people act as they do and reach out in compassion.

Starting From Scratch

April FreemanSo you want to homestead? That’s great!

But if you’ve never done anything like this before you probably have more questions than answers. We’ve been at this for years, and we’ve learned it all the hard way, by trial and error. When we bought our property there was nothing here at all. It was just an over-farmed tobacco field. No trees, no fences, no barns. Now 15 years later, we have a nice home, an orchard, gardens, and a few barns. We also have cattle, horses, chickens, and sheep.

Here are a few things we’ve learned about starting a homestead from scratch:

1. If you’re buying empty property, think carefully about the layout for where the house should stand, where the driveways are located, and where all the gardens and orchards will be planted. If you ever even think you’ll buy livestock, plan for plenty of space between your house, outbuildings, and other things to get a truck and trailer wherever you need it.

2. Before you add animals, you may want to plant your orchards. It takes a few years for the trees to bear, so do this in the first few years.

3. If you’re building from scratch, have the piping put in for a few yard hydrants. These will keep you from having to trail hoses all over the place to keep your orchard alive.

4. Do one species of animal at a time. Each kind of livestock has its own unique needs. Don’t try to jump into 3 or 4 different kinds of animals from the beginning. Of course, the big plan is to have lots of different kinds of critters, but you don’t have to do it all at the same time. Go slowly and learn as you go.

5. Before you buy a large animal like a horse or a cow, research how much that thing will eat. It’s WAY more than you ever imagined, especially in the cold winter months. Be sure that you can afford all of the upkeep for that animal, too. Horses especially need regular infusions of cash, such as vetting, dental care, and foot care. Also, figure out how you’re going to feed the animal, even in the cold. Square bales require lots of handling, and large rolls need a tractor with a loader.

6. Check with your county agricultural agent about classes and opportunities for farmers in your area. Taking a class and being certified in certain areas of production may pay off by giving you access to grants that can improve your farm.

7. Cultivate friendships with other farmers in the area. Those who have been at it longer than you have will have knowledge and advice that you need.

8. Don’t invest in registered, purebred anything until you’ve raised a few cross-breeds. You want to learn on something that’s a bit less expensive and hybrid animals are a little more resilient.

9. Animals can enrich poor ground. Mob grazing is one way to rapidly improve the soil fertility of your place. We began feeding out our slaughter steers in our garden area, and now the poor, stripped-out soil has been replaced by black, rich, crumbly earth.

10. Don’t plan on making any money from your farm for many years. It’ll take you quite a bit of time to recover money invested in equipment, animals, and fencing. Be patient and slowly build your farm.

Barn and rainbow

Angel Food Cake Recipe

April FreemanMy chickens are laying eggs like crazy. When the eggs start rolling around in the fridge, I make an angel food cake for my family. Light, slightly sweet, and not too hard to make, angel food cakes are a great summer dessert, especially accompanied by whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
12 egg whites, or 1-1/2 cups egg whites in a carton
1-1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, and 3/4 cup of the sugar.

3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer set on high speed, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and the salt until they form soft peaks. Drizzle in 3/4 cup of sugar, whipping until stiff peaks form.

4. Fold the flour mixture into the egg white mixture a little at a time with a rubber spatula. Spoon the cake batter into an angel food cake pan. Do not grease this pan.

5. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes until it’s lightly browned.

6. Hang the cake upside down by setting it on an inverted funnel for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the outside and inside of the cake and gently shake it out onto a platter. Serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Angel Food Cake

Photo: Angel Food Cake With Strawberries Flickr/Christine Urias

Bottle Lambs

April FreemanYesterday, a ewe we’ve been watching for quite some time lambed. We’ve been anticipating her lambing because she has something wrong with her udder and her babies will be required to be fed on a bottle.

The kids are excited. Of course, I understand. Lambs are totally cute and cuddly. Feeding them is like having a quick growing infant around. The kids like this stuff.

I’m less excited. This is a lot of work.

You see, baby lambs, especially bottle lambs, are quite fragile. For the first two or three weeks, they require close monitoring. In the first week, they must be fed every four hours, even at night. I stopped having my own children because of stuff like this! And now I’m doing it for a couple of lambs!

First thing yesterday afternoon after they were born, we had to make a trip to Tractor Supply Company. There I bought a small bag of colostrum powder. This stuff is all a baby lamb needs for its first 24 hours of life. Colostrum powder is not as good as the stuff that comes straight from a ewe’s udder, but it’s better than nothing. It does have extra minerals and antibodies to help get the lamb off to a good start.

I also bought a large bag of lamb milk replacer. In the past, I raised bottle lambs on fresh, raw milk from my dairy cow and they did thrive on it. However, Millie won’t calve until early September and so she is in her dry period now. I have to pony up the extra money for milk replacer for these lambs.

The milk replacer and the lamb colostrum cost about $60. If all goes well and we have a couple of lambs to sell in six or eight months, we can probably make $200, depending on the prices for sheep at that point.

It’s going to be a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. I hope it all turns out well. Our last bottle lambs died, but that was in January. They froze to death. Now it’s July. Don’t think freezing to death is likely. Thankfully, since it is warm, I won’t have to have bottle lambs running through my house.

Back in January, we had to keep them indoors to try to keep them warm enough. I learned to diaper them in order to protect my carpet and furniture. I’m so glad that’s not going to be an issue in the summer.

Unless it’s in the middle of the night, the lambs will continue to stay with their mother. She really wants to look after them and she’ll provide an amazing service for us: “pooping” the lambs. The mother sheep licks the lamb’s bottom and stimulates them to poop. If there’s not a ewe available to do this, someone has to rub their bottoms after they eat to keep them from getting constipated. This is gross. I’d rather allow a sheep to do what Mother Nature equipped her to do.

Bottle Lambs

Tattooing Cattle

April FreemanEach day is a little different here on the farm. Yesterday, we had to tackle a little job that I deeply dislike. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite cattle handling tasks.

Yesterday, we put three of our registered Black Angus bull calves through the chute and tattooed their ears.

I hate this job. The idea of jabbing a bunch of ink-coated needles in the ears of an animal makes me cringe. Thankfully, the man of the house tackles the icky part and I stand by and assist.

Why Tattoo?

The main reason that we tattoo animals is because when you sell registered stock, they must have a permanent identification mark. This can be a hot iron brand, a freeze brand, or an ear tattoo. Ear tags rip out and could be falsified. If someone wants to pay the extra money to get stock from verified bloodlines, they want to make darn sure that the animal is what they’re paying for.

How It’s Done

The biggest thing about tattooing is making sure the animal is properly restrained. We have a head catch and a chute and we ran our bull calves through it. When they were in the chute we squeezed them down to keep them from hopping around. It seems uncomfortable, but we’ve had animals get in odd positions from having too much space to move around. They can easily injure themselves if you don’t squeeze them down. They can slip and fall or get their feet in a weird place. Also, squeezing them allows us to more quickly do what must be done. With cattle, unpleasant things must sometimes take place and we try to get through those tasks as quickly as possible.

The ear is gently cleaned of all wax and dirt. Yes, cows do have ear wax! We use an old rag to wipe out the ear. We only tattoo one ear, so we only have to do this once. If the cow’s ear is fuzzy, we trim back the hair to make sure we can see what we’re doing.

(I keep typing we. What I mean is: my husband. I stand by and hand him things. )

Once the ear is prepped, it’s time to tattoo. Before the animal ever enters the chute, we’ve prepared the tattoo pliers. This tool holds small needles in letter and number configurations. The needles are coated with tattoo ink. We clamp the tattoo pliers into the ear real quick. It hurts but not for long. Then we rub the ink into the holes with an old toothbrush to make sure it’s penetrated the skin. We want to get it right because an illegible tattoo means that we’ll have to repeat the process.

After that, the animal is released from the chute. I like to give them a treat of grain afterward. It makes me feel better after being so “mean” to them.

Clean-Up

After we’ve finished, I get to clean up. I use rubbing alcohol to remove the ink from the tattoo digits and anyplace else it ended up. This job is messy. I use cotton swabs and paper towels to get it all off. This also sanitizes the needles so we don’t end up with infections on any future cattle we end up tattooing.

Cleaning up after tattooing

And yes, I end up with green ink all over my hands when the job is done.

I've always said I had a green thumb!