Friday, October 24, 2008

I Used to Love Wal-Mart

Yup, I used to love it. I remember when they opened a Super Wal-Mart about 20 miles away from where I grew up. It was the new cool place to go. After all, they were open 24 hours. That was when I was just starting to do my own grocery shopping and buy my own stuff. I would always get nervous at the checkout trying to organize my coupons and find my debit card, and I remember more than once having to put something back because I had miscalculated and gone over my meager budget. For all those reasons and more, my favorite time to shop was the middle of the night. I would go to bed early and get up at 3 or 4 to go. Besides, you couldn't beat the traffic.

I remember getting e-mails way back then encouraging me to "boycott" Wal-mart because of their crappy treatment of workers. I even read a great book in which the author experimentally tries to live on the wages she makes working for Wal-mart. That was awhile ago but I remember liking the book and would recommend it if you're interested in such topics. I'm still not sure that I have a big problems with their policies and such. The Wal-mart in my town employs a lot of people and sad as it is to say, I guess they all think it is better than unemployment.

When I moved out here I would go to Wal-mart for our groceries and such. My husbands' 92 year old grandpa was forever trying to get me to stop buying there and start supporting the little man. My own family (rather my Mom's family) owns a small grocery store and I know the fear they have about losing business to the big guys. I could relate, I just couldn't get over the low prices and convenience. The other place in town was small and, I'd always heard, expensive.

Then things changed. First, Wal-mart started to become a big pain in the you-know-what. They never had enough cashiers. I remember Brian waiting in line for over 15 minutes to buy batteries that had taken him 2 minutes to find. Next, they started a major remodeling project which meant it took 15 minutes to find things + 15 minutes to check out. We decided we were done with the place. I soon started working at the other end of town which means the smaller store is right next door. And you know what? They aren't so expensive after all. I almost always buy on sale and stock up. Our grocery bill had gone way down anyway now that I grow and preserve a lot of our own food. My husband was really pushing me to buy local and when I found this great blog community, that sealed the deal.

It's a pretty big sin around here to buy any sugar except Pioneer or Big Chief. They are made right here is Michigan from sugar beets that grow in our backyard. A lot of our extra income comes from hauling beets and helping out the farmers who grow them. I'm pretty sure Wal-mart's sugar comes from sugar cane in South America. Nice.

My boss loves Wal-mart. I harass her about it all the time, mostly in a teasing kind of way. I realize that if I'm crabby and demanding people will just get mad, they won't necessarily take me to be a good influence. I had to speak up though when she mentioned that Wal-mart had pumpkins for sale. "You're not seriously going to buy pumpkins from Wal-mart are you?" I said. "Well, where else would I buy them?" she said. "How about a local farmer who grows them?" I suggested. She pointed out that the mini pumpkins she bought there came from Indiana and that they were probably farmers too.

It is amazing to me how so many business owners here completely miss the point that buying local supports our local economy, in turn keeping everyone's doors open. I am learning so much about how to be patient and gently share this with the people around me. It is so nice to check in here and not have to feel like a crazy hippie for liking fresh produce & recycling.

Speaking of hippies, that's what I'm going to be for Halloween! More on that later...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Independence Days Challenge Update



Okay, time for an update:

1. Plant something.
Well, I should be planting garlic. Instead, I'm about to order some. I kind of forgot now was the time to plant it until I saw the post about it over at Children in the Corn. So that's next for planting.

2. Harvest something.
We've been busy lately harvesting our cash crops (soybeans & corn currently) and doing all the fun stuff that comes along with that, such as paying crop insurance and deciding when to sell our bounty. Crop prices have been a big roller coaster with the economical issues going on lately.
In my home garden I have vegetable spaghetti that needs to be picked and probably some peas. Our apple trees are finally done.

3. Preserve something.
Ugg. I didn't know canning season was so long. I've made a big dent in my apple stores but bought some more the other day. I've got 2 dehydrators going making apple chips and their is no room to even make a sandwich on the counter with all the cans of applesauce and pie filling. The end is near, I hope. Then I'll be canning pumpkin.

4. Prep something.
I finally got Brian to find a little time to help me build a new chicken coop. The dogs (specifically the puppy) launched 2 major attacks on the chickens this summer and successfully cut the size of the flock in half. She almost got one of my hens this weekend so that was the last straw. The new coop will be much more secure and more suitable for winter. I'm still wondering if I will need to supply the hens with a lamp to keep them laying all winter. They stopped for 2 or 3 weeks and I thought that was it but now they've started again and are up to 5 or 6 eggs a day, which I think is really good for 7 hens. I'm still looking at waterers for the winter, any suggestions? What works for you in freezing temperatures? I've looked at the metal kind with a separate heated base but I'm worried about that base sitting on the floor with the bedding.

5. Cook something.
I'm still trying to find a better bread recipe. I'd like something soft enough for good sandwiches. I bought cream cheese on sale last week so I can try Farmer's Daughter's Butternut Squash Cheesecake.
Last night I tried a new recipe from Brian's mom. You mix 1/2 cup melted butter with 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers. Add 2 cups powdered sugar and press in to the bottom of an 8x8 pan. I would suggest using more graham crackers (maybe 1 or 1 1/2 cups) because mine didn't quite cover the pan. Then melt chocolate chips and spread on top. Chill for 1/2 hour in the fridge and you'll have one big peanut butter cup! Brian really liked it, it was a little rich for me.

6. Manage your reserves.
With all this canning I've been doing I have lots of jars to label and arrange downstairs. I've been trying to slowly replace things we buy with homemade alternates. I made some homemade granola bars that we both loved and I've been taking homemade popcorn instead of potato chips when I want something salty. I'd like to buy some more potatoes to store for winter, I didn't get many out of the garden this year.

7. Work on local food systems.
I've been trying for months to get some flour from Hampshire Farms. I finally was able to place an order but have yet to receive it. I'll let you know how that turns out!
I also put in a call to a local church that is supposed to be affiliated with the Food Bank. I have some body wash and other supplies to donate and would like to talk about preserving some of the pears off of a large tree in the church's yard. I watched them all rot this year and I found that sadly ironic considering they work with the Food Bank. I'd like to volunteer to teach people to can, but of course no one has called me back.
I'm not making a lot of headway in this area, but I'll keep trying! :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What is that sound!?

Okay, so first a little backstory. When we moved here last year Brian's aunt asked if she could still come and pick some walnuts in the fall. We said sure. Last year I was so busy fixing up the house and going to college that I didn't even notice the walnut trees. Well, I did notice one Black Walnut tree hanging over the new horse pasture. Black walnut trees are poisonous to horses.
Here's a video a Brian pulling it down with the tractor. Our friend Ron is a professional tree trimmer so they had the job done in no time flat.

video

Anyway, this year the dogs developed a craving for the English walnuts that we have. Those are the ones you see in the nuts mixes. The dogs have gotten very good at cracking them with their jaws and getting the meats out, so I picked up a lot before Brian's aunt came, and a lot more since she was here. We've got this nice box almost full.

Then we noticed the black walnuts. Everrrrywhereee. There is a small half dead one out by the shop so when you're walking out to do chores in the morning it is a lot like trying to walk on marbles. Then there is a huge one in the front yard, right by the road. We've got a LOT of black walnuts already:
These...


these...


all of these...


and THIS!!



So anyway, today I woke up and wandered sleepily out to the front porch to let the dogs out. I fought the urge to duck and cover as I wondered - what the heck is that sound!? It sounded reminiscent of a machine run on some old time war money. I could barely see in the dark... guess what? It was raining walnuts.

Now my hubby and I have both struggled to keep the yard and road clear of these things, and we have done pretty good. Well, with the winds last night I would say there are at least twice as many more walnuts in the yard then we've got so far.





I was a little worried about the six cars that make up our morning traffic driving on all these things. It was making a big mess all over the road and I can just see someone suing us when a walnut flies up and dings their paint. So this morning I spent a little time outside, in the rain, sweeping the road. I'm still wondering if we should make a sign BEWARE: FALLING WALNUTS to protect ourselves. If someone had driven under that tree during some of the big gusts I think they would have some dings or a cracked windshield for sure.

Such are the joys of living on a farm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Harvest, My First Farm Meal, & Pictures!



Okay since my memory card is full I think this is going to be picture week around here. I tend to snap pics with the intent to share and then never quite get there.

But first - guess what!!? We harvested our very first soybeans on the new farm! We had 30 acres of them and they went 61 bushels to the acre. For those who aren't familiar with farm terms:

1 bushel = 60 pounds

61 bushels to the acre is a very good yield, we haven't heard any higher in the area so far, but there are lots of soys left to come off. I can't help but think of the part in Omnivore's Dilemma about yields increasing astronomically in the past 100 years. I am breathing a big sigh of relief because the payment from them will cover about 1/2 of our mortgage this year. If all goes well with the corn we should be just fine.


So Saturday since Brian and the guys were working on our fields I felt obligated to make dinner for them. Normally the senior farmer's wife provides meals for everyone who helps in the field. These meals range from ordering pizza to bringing out a pot of homemade chili and so on. I thawed 3 lbs. of hamburger from one of my father-in-law's old cows and roasted some red potatoes from the farmer's market. Everyone said it was good but they hardly stopped to eat, never mind taste it. Next time I won't put so much effort in to it. Brian's favorite meals come from Sylvester Farms. It is usually a brown bag with a good sandwich, chips, cookies, candy bars, etc. They must go to Sam's Club and stock up on the snack sizes. Oh well, we'll have to see how the guys like homemade granola bars!

I'm in kind of an odd position around here being the only woman on the farm at my age. Most of the farms are family businesses where the grandpa, son, and grandsons all work together. In that case the grandma does the cooking, bookwork, etc. and the other wives are free to work on or off the farm or be with the kids, etc. Lucky us - we get to do it all! I would really like to meet more young people starting out in the farming industry. There are not a lot of resources available that target us. Most farmers our age, at least in this area, would be in line to inherit a large operation someday. That is one reason I am so interested in going organic. Usually organic status allows you to produce a similar income as a big farm on much less acreage. I'll save that conversation for another day though.

Here are some more pictures for you, on a cuter note:


I left the upstairs door open so Maci snuck up there for a nap...


Which Sam was very happy about because it meant he retained strict control of the TV remote!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Greening Your Dishwasher

So a little more than a year after moving in and rearranging our kitchen to make room for a dishwasher, it is finally up & running. And I sure am loving it. I have lived without a dishwasher for most of the past 4 years and I really thought that maybe I wouldn't use it much once I had one - WRONG! With all the baking I do now I still have quite a few things to hand wash but it is very nice to just put the rest of the dishes right in there and have it all done for me. However, I was a little worried about how environmentally friendly this was going to be so I thought I'd do a little research. Please see the links to my sources thoroughout.

Apparently, if your dishwasher is more than 10 years old it is worth investing in a new one. The energy cost of running such an old machine is prohibitive. One article I read mentioned possibly donating an old machine. In my opinion it would be much better to call someone who will cut it up for scrap and find uses for the motors, fans, etc. Our dishwasher is not new and it is not an Energy Star model but it is only 2 or 3 years old. My Dad gave it to us after he installed a new one only to find their was a malfunction in his plumbing, not in the dishwasher. Anyway, the front says it is a "whirlpool - Imperial Series". A word of warning, according to the TreeHuggers article the new dishwasher with dirt sensors can actually use MORE energy than those without.

How you run your dishwasher will play a big role in the amount of energy it uses. If you can, have someone adjust your hot water heater's thermostat down to 120 degrees F (also see this & join this). Here's the obvious advice: run only full loads. This has been harder then I thought with the bottom/top filling up faster than the other. So what if you have to hand wash a few plates to even things out? Try not to pre-rinse most of the dishes if you can help it. I have found that usually the dishwasher does a good job without rinsing first, just scrape off any chunks of food (preferably in to your compost bin!). If your dishwasher has a delay or timer feature, or depending on when you're home, consider running it during off-peak electricity hours. Call your utility company to check out their options and programs, don't just assume you'll be saving a lot of $$$. Another common sense tip is to avoid the heated drying cycle and allow your dishes to air dry. Open it up and dump any water that is sitting on the bottom of cups, bowls, etc. Then leave the door cracked overnight and things should dry out. Alternatively, grab your dish towel and wipe any wet surfaces as you put them away.

Okay, on to the fun part: detergent. This biggest thing to avoid is using a detergent with high levels of phosphates. These are the components used in fertilizer that cause algae to grow in unwanted places and create a lot of damage to fish & wildlife habitat. The Michigan Environmental Council put together a nice list of phosphate levels in different detergents. Check the side of the box for more accurate levels. The partial box of Cascade PureRinse powder that my boss gave me has this lovely statement on the side of the box:

PHOSPHORUS CONTENT: This Cascade formula averages no more than 6.4% phosphorous, in the form of phosphates, which is equivalent to 1.0 gram per tablespoon.


6.4% !!! That's actually 2 points higher than the content listed in the aforementioned article. I found this option
here (available in gel, powder, or tablet, scented or unscented) and several options on Amazon.com

If you do have products shipped to you try to order in bulk and consider requesting limited packing materials. Most manufacturers' websites have a "find a store" feature now. There are also several recipes out there for homemade detergents. This is the route I plan to take since I'm already making my own homemade laundry detergent and it works great. The gals over at The Dollar Stretcher (which is a site I have loved for years and highly recommend!) suggest a 1/2 & 1/2 mix of borax and baking soda. If that sounds a little too simple for you, and it does to me, then look here.

It seems that phosphate-free options are more likely to cause a cloudy appearance on glass, and who doesn't love a good rinse aid anyway? You may already use white vinegar, and there are other options (see links on the bottom of that last article).

I will post more here once I figure out what works for me. I hope I've gathered together some useful information. Feedback is more than welcome! :)

*Update: I just found this great post over at One Green Generation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Breaking Bread


Unfortunately I'm not referring to socializing or dining when I say "breaking bread". I've finally turned out two good batches of homemade bread and plan to stop buying the store bought stuff all together. There are a few problems though.
First, my hubby noted that the bread, although soft, is very crumbly and therefore is hard to eat while driving or even while sitting and reading a book as I like to do on my lunch break. We both end up with crumbs all over the place.
Second, we tried to use this bread in place of a hot dog bun, which we usually do with store bought bread. I've found buns usually go stale before we use them. This bread just broke right in half instead of folding nicely around the hot dog. Now I'm sure I could come up with a recipe for homemade hot dog buns but unless they freeze well, we would never use them in time.
The final problem, again related to the bread's form, was found this morning when I pulled a couple pieces out of the bread bag I had reused. They broke in half just from that. What a mess!
As I said, this bread is nice and soft and has a great crust. Does anyone have a recipe they like that produces bread with more of a dinner roll consistency, or is most homemade bread like this? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm Back! I'm Back!!!

Yay! Although I have been actively lurking (if that makes any sense) I haven't been ready to jump back in to blogging until now! Things were so crazy all summer planning the wedding and then playing catch up. I started making a list everyday of 3 or 4 things I wanted to get done that day and updating here finally made the list. I spent most of the time making the new banner at the top and updating the sidebar but I just wanted to post quickly and let everyone know that I'm back!! Look for a more compelling post soon.