A Homestead Interview with Angela

I have always been more than a little interested in self sufficiency. And I do mean always. When I was little I used to empty my closet of its considerable toy and clothing stash and put empty cardboard boxes in it so I could pretend I was homeless and living off the land. When I was older I used to pour over books like The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It. Then I got a dose of reality when I did in fact move to a farm and it was MUCH tougher than I ever bargained for. Yeah, a horse getting out of the barn in the middle of the night, in winter, when you are 8 months pregnant is not fun. It wasn’t long before I moved back to the city. But the longing for a self sufficient life never went away and I began to wonder if things could have been different if I weren’t so far away from town, if I weren’t pregnant and suffering from cancer at the same time, if my husband was actually home and not on the road 25 days a month as he used to be. I still read those self sufficiency books and memoires. Heck I read The Hunger Games (an awesome book BTW) this week and even it reminded me of that long held dream. Reading inspirational stories of small scale and urban homesteaders gives me incentive to one day try again.

A couple weeks ago I asked about self sufficiency skills on the Natural Family Living Facebook page and got lots of great answers from moms who are practicing a variety of these skills at home. Angela was one of those moms and she generously put up with my barrage of questions. All photos in this post are hers.

Tiffany: So tell us a bit about yourself… how many are in your family, where do you live, how much land do you have, etc.

Angela: My name is Angela, and I’m a 31-year old homemaker. I have an amazing husband, a beautiful daughter, who is 3.5 years old, and a baby due in June 2011. We moved from Arizona to Oregon five years ago and just two years ago we moved to our current home on 0.38 acres. Our property backs up to 9 acres of semi-secluded green space, so we have the feeling of having much more land than we actually do.

Tiffany: Did you fall into homesteading because you wanted to be self sufficient, was it finances that motivated you, how did you end up living this lifestyle?

Angela: Homesteading and self-sufficiency sort of found us, I suppose. We always had a desire to have our own garden, and that is how it all started. I began learning more about food, our food supply, health, household chemicals, etc., and the more I learned, the more self-sufficient I’ve wanted to become. My husband has always wanted to “live off the grid” but for slightly different reasons. He enjoys the independence and freedom it provides. Once we got the ball rolling, the snowball effect took hold, and now we want to do as much for ourselves as we can. What we can’t grow, we buy from local farmers. We find supporting our small, local farms and our community nearly as rewarding as being self-
sufficient. I have made so many wonderful friends and contacts that way, too.

As of late, finances have played a role in the growth of our homestead. We foresaw some tough times coming, so we decided to expand the garden and add chickens and ducks for eggs and meat. It has really come in handy, too. One month we only had $50 in our grocery budget, and we were still able to eat like kings.

Tiffany: What do you grow on your land? Do you preserve foods?

Angela: We grow organic vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms. We also have a mini orchard consisting of several varieties of apples, two varieties of Asian pear, Italian prune, almonds, olives, Meyer lemons, naval oranges, figs, persimmons, peaches, nectarines, three varieties of pears, and three varieties of cherries. All but two of our orchard trees are grafted on dwarf rootstock and pruning will help to keep them, and their fruit, at manageable heights. Additionally, we grow six varieties of grapes, goji berries, kiwis, elderberries, huckleberries, lignon berries, red currant, green currant, strawberries, 21 blueberry bushes, gooseberries, tayberries, several varieties of raspberries, boysenberries, and blackberries grow wild in the green space. To pollinate the orchard trees and early-blooming fruits, we keep mason bees.

Our orchard is still young (planted just two years ago), so we haven’t had much fruit yet, and my daughter devours all the ripe fruit. She’s so voracious, we feel lucky if we get even a half dozen blueberries each. I’m hopeful that next year we will have enough fruit to preserve…though, like the trees, my daughter (and her appetite) is growing, so we’ll see.

This year we had 28 tomato plants, and despite the cool, wet summer weather, we were able to put up several gallons of tomatoes for sauce and about a gallon of salsa (the rest was devoured the day it was made or given away to friends). The fruit from the Principe Borghese tomatoes was dehydrated, so we have about two gallons of sun-dried tomatoes. Extra veggies get fermented or frozen, though I do hope to do more canning next year. Last year we had so many potatoes we gave away bags of them AND still had enough to get us through till summer. We planted half as many this year (we’ll still have enough to get us through spring) and used the extra space for onions and garlic. The onions were a flop because we didn’t harvest and cure them correctly, but the garlic is delicious and we have enough to last us for another couple months. Since neither my husband nor I have much prior experience, we find that every year is a learning experience and there is always something we don’t grow or cure quite right.

Tiffany: Do you raise animals for food?

Angela: Currently we have 18 layer hens that have 1/8 acre to forage on. We feed them a corn- and soy-free locally-grown organic whole grain mix with fish meal that I blend together myself, and they get oyster shells on a free-feed basis. During this past summer, they were allowed to free range throughout the green space and the neighbors’ yards (they loved their two-legged visitors), but after one neighbor found a gift of nine eggs in his backyard, we decided to clip their wings. They also did quite a number on our garden beds and the seedlings, making it nearly impossible to grow a fall garden. This year we raised three ducks for meat…well, they were meant to be layers, but all of them turned out to be male, so we sent our feathered friends off to the processors. In the spring, we are going to try our hands at raising heritage breed turkeys for meat and (depending on how much time and money we have) we may raise a batch of red broiler meat chickens in a chicken tractor. We are also planning on building honeybee hives on the property either this spring or the next.

Tiffany: What other things do you do yourself? (aka bread, yogurt, etc.)

Angela: In an effort to avoid unnecessary chemicals, sugars and preservatives, I make raw milk yogurt, kefir and the occasional batch of butter, kombucha tea, ginger beer, wild-yeasted sourdough bread, fermented vegetables, toothpaste, laundry detergent, cleaning products (which are actually just baking soda and vinegar), body lotion (olive oil or coconut oil with the occasional essential oil added). I’d like to start taking up cheese making again…my previous attempts at mozzarella ended up as some tasty ricotta. In the past, we brewed and bottled our own beer. Currently, I’m looking into making my own bar soap and dishwasher soap, too.

Tiffany: Do you try to stay local with things you cannot provide yourself?

Angela: Absolutely. Every year we buy ¼ of a grass-fed, antibiotic-free cow for a local farmer. All our other pasture-raised meats come from Harmony J.A.C.K. farms in Scio, Oregon. I also buy raw milk from a friend in a neighboring town. During the fall and winter months, we order our fruits and veggies from Azure Standard. They either grow the food themselves in greenhouses on their farm in Dufur, Oregon or bring it in from Washington. Azure is also our supplier of organic whole grains for our hens.

Tiffany: What has been the most rewarding thing about this lifestyle?

Angela: The pride of knowing we can do it ourselves has been our greatest reward. We are not reliant on big companies anymore and we spend a fraction of what we used to at the store. It is also a wonderful feeling knowing that we are living more in line with nature instead of in opposition to it. Mother Nature is amazing and it feels wonderful to know that we are being good stewards of the earth.

Tiffany: What do you hope your children will learn along the way?

Angela: I hope they learn self-sufficiency, independence and interdependence, and I hope they will have a deep respect for and connection to this beautiful earth we live on. My children will grow up knowing that our sort of lifestyle is very doable and highly rewarding. I also feel that living this lifestyle is the greatest antidote to consumerism and the marketing tactics of large corporations. They will know what is truly important in life, and it’s not the latest technology gadget, the latest fashions or fancy cars. I also sincerely hope they learn how to respect their bodies by eating nutrient-dense, organically-grown and humanely-raised food. Their health is their greatest asset in life.

Many thanks Angela for sharing with us and being an inspiration for wanna-be homesteaders!

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