By Jen Ubelaker
I first got the idea about some sort of ‘homestead education’ when a friend of mine called me. She’s got her first flock of chickens, just like me, and mentioned that she thought she might need to clip some wings on her city birds. My husband and I had previously researched this very same thing and had clipped wings on the Peeps a week or so before. So when she asked for help I went over with my little kit and held a chicken while she trimmed the wings with my meager instruction. It was wonderful to hear from her a few weeks later that she and her daughter had clipped wings on their second flock of chickens (30+ birds) all by themselves. I thought “Yeah! That’s what it’s all about!” Learning and sharing our skills helps all of us live a better life.
After sharing this story and talking with other friends in the community, we realized that we all have some modest skill that we can teach one another; soap making, canning, etc., and after seeing that September was Homestead Education Month, we decided to take the month to host small gatherings and have “Homestead Ed” be part of our community life. We could provide education, and further support to encourage more sustainable life for our families.
We love our little urban homestead, but my Hubs put it best when he said: “When we have a bad day on ‘the farm,’ we can still have pizza delivered.” We’re blessed to know a lot of folks with the same lifestyle and lots more who want to make changes and learn new things. We decided to open our home for the weekends of September to teach classes, hold demos and host teachers. It was a fantastic time and we only had to call for pizza once.
I taught the first group of women the basics of canning. We did a small batch of raspberry jam that (thankfully) set perfectly and was delicious. We sat around eating the jam foam on toast and listening for the ‘ping’ of our jars.
Next, V., a local spa owner, taught a class on making cold-processed soaps. We did a lovely lavender-mint soap that is currently curing and making several houses smell wonderful.
Hubby (and Dexter the Wonderhound) did a demo and class on making homebrew. The class got to see everything that goes into the brewing of making a porter, and we’re racking it off to the secondary fermenter this weekend.
I held a demo on backyard chickens with A. (the aforementioned wing-clipper), and A. gave us the basics on backyard beekeeping while V. showed us more about making homemade butter.
I talked vermi-composting and composting in town so that you can still keep the neighbors on speaking terms before teaching a second canning class where we made salsa with some tomatoes and peppers that a friend gave me from her overflowing garden.
P. showed us how to pick and steam concord grapes for juice, and gave us the low-down on taking cuttings and starting our own grapevines at home.
Through all of this we learned from each other. It was great to see everyone showcasing their skills, and even if it is something that we won’t do for ourselves (as soon as I heard it took six weeks for the soap to cure I was like “yeah, right, I’ll do that”), it is wonderful to have the knowledge that, if our lives depended on it, we could survive amongst ourselves and in our community.
The best part was that all these skills take time. While we’re waiting for water to boil, we’re sharing stories, connecting our futures to our pasts and gaining incentive to keep going. We’re currently working on a plan to help revitalize our local agriculture museum by starting to have monthly classes with other friends who know how to card wool and make yarn, or make cheese, candle eggs, etc. I can’t wait to see where this takes us all!
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