Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Worms and other weird things

First off, let's get the context.

I am a writer and project manager/consultant-type for a communications firm. I serve clients. I plan and develop communications strategies, write/edit/architect websites, analyze website usage data, write and advise on Facebook posts, and everything in between. I dress up for work, and I work in a beautiful downtown office. With other people who are consultant-types and creative-types, who also dress up every day and do a lot of brain work.

I'm also a hippie. I believe (fervently!) in living a life connected to the natural world--from food to weather to seasons, to human duty to act responsibly with our resources. It is this philosophy that underlies all my value decisions. I live in a small house, I camp out most weekends in Northport, dreaming (and occasionally making progress) about reclaiming an old farmstead.

And that differential—between business-day Amelia and farmer Amy—is what this post is about. For my friend and colleague Will, whose sharp mind, curiosity, humor and enthusiasm are eternally valuable, here is a catalog of things I do, that you will think are endlessly weird.

1 - Worms

I think this is what started the whole conversation. Worms, that eat your organic garbage, turn it into compost, and live happily in your house with you. They're efficient little fellas, and they live in a condo like this one. You fill each tray with moistened bedding made out of cardboard or newspaper, sawdust, chopped leaves, or other biodegradable goodness. You put in lots of worms in the bottom tray, and as you generate biodegradable waste aka kitchen scraps, you bury it in the bedding in the upper trays. The worms migrate up toward their food, and leave behind their castings, which are awesome for your garden.

You use red wigglers, and lots of them. I looked it up, it's more than 10. More than 50. Probably more than 1,000. It depends on how much compost you have to process. You buy them from a worm farm, by the pound.

Since I know you are DYING to know more, here's a better explanation:

2 - Homemade dairy products

Yup, this one too. I make yogurt from organic milk (raw if I can find it) and a starter yogurt culture. It involves heating the milk, cooling it a bit, adding starter, and letting it sit at warm temperatures overnight. I eat it plain, straight out of a mason jar.

If you want Greek yogurt, you do just drain off the extra liquid from regular yogurt. Cheesecloth and a colander over a bowl in your fridge for a few hours does the trick.

I also make creme fraiche, by mixing buttermilk and heavy cream, and letting it stand on the counter overnight. My least-weird dairy recipe is ice cream.

I want to learn to make cheese. Real cheese of the smelly variety. Like the kind that ages in caves. I also want to have a miscellaneous assortment of milk-producing pasture pals, someday. A cow, a couple goats, a few sheep.

3 - Homemade beer

We brew our own. We drink primarily Michigan beer when we're out, but at home, we pretty much keep ourselves in our own beer, cider and mead.

We spend a few days a year, steeping grain in hot water to convert the starches, boiling the wort, adding hops, adding yeast, and waiting while it ferments away in a corner in the kitchen, five gallons at a time. In a bucket or a giant glass bottle.

I do still buy wine, but only because I haven't had time to figure out winemaking yet. Oh, and it comes in boxes now, which are quite tasty, and better for my recycling bin.

4 - Preserves

I put up vegetables every year, either from the market or from our own garden. This you will not find gross, but perhaps just a little strange. Pickled asparagus, cucumbers, beans, beets and garlic tops. The occasional pickled garlic and pickled eggs (ok, maybe you think that is gross. but it's really delicious). Roasted peppers and roasted tomatoes get popped in the freezer. Frozen beans, peas and fruit. We're nearly out of everything from last year--spring and early summer, before the first harvests, are known as the "hunger gap."

Someday, one summer soon, I want to try to grow all our vegetables. I realize I don't actually have time to be a farmer, so I'll have to keep buying meat and eggs from friends and the market. But, one day, we'll see if I can't more or less feed us out of our garden plot. Between that and a fishing license.... who knows?

5 - Diesel and grease

I drive a diesel Volkswagen Golf with almost 200,000 miles on it. My truck (an early 90s F-250 with about 150K on it) is also a diesel, and is parked behind the grape vines out back right now, because I'm trying to figure out how much to spend fixing it, and when. I fully intend to convert both vehicles to run on grease.

I am sure there are other, and perhaps stranger, things that I do, or want to learn to do. I may not even know they are strange. I like being quirky, dreaming up new ways or reclaiming old ways. I know its nonsensical, when you juxtapose back-to-the-earth-Amy with head-down-working Amy. I might be better off if I were in better balance.

And that, my friend, is the thing that has me scratching my head. How do we create an economy that has room for knowledge work and manual labors of love like growing and cooking food? How do we create space for people to be connected on the internet, and connected to their food source? What does a truly integrated life look like?

I'll be working on that daydream, from my desk, and from my garden.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One more cup of coffee

It's a rare Saturday morning that I wake up at home in Spring Lake, and I'm reveling in the quiet time. Listening to my dog snore softly, and watching the resident wild turkeys wander through the yard, and across the road. Fanning their tails, they're such beautiful and clumsy birds. I can't help but love them, and laugh at the bravado.

Spring has flown by, split between mundane and significance.

We watched our last sunset in Stevensville, and moved all of Grandma's furniture into the garage at home. I've watched my sister become more and more pregnant, expecting the first baby on our side of the family. I labored over TEDxGrandRapids, and waved goodbye to my team mates as I move on to other causes. We plowed in two enormous gardens in Spring Lake, and planted apples and asparagus in Northport. I learned to drive a tractor, and to love riding with Kevin on the Trail 90. Our second truck in six months purportedly needs brakes and a new engine. The 8N needs a new carburetor before we can sell it, and the garden tractor is up on blocks in the driveway. (Our neighbors LOVE us.) I spent last weekend catching up with my bff, and a slough of other old friends, moms and dads now, or like us, keeping parenthood a mystery. I already miss them.

Missing a sense of place

We joke about living on raw land in Northport, working in Grand Rapids and keeping our stuff in Spring Lake. It's a little bit true... This is the first time I've been home on a weekend in what must be months. I haven't kept track. I love my spread-out life, the peace of early mornings in our field when it rains, late evenings under the stars around the fire. I love the simplicity of home, the promise of the gardens. And yet, I yearn for the day when the two come together, and my homebody routine can reclaim me. I have so many projects I want to undertake, and so little time to devote, it's a constant compromise.

Two grandmothers

In our barn/garage and in our home, we're living amidst the physical memories of my two grandmothers. Furniture, keepsakes, pots and pans, small appliances, art, dishes. The things I cherish for the connection to their memories. Grandma Schaus, with her platinum hair, blue eye shadow, and brilliant smile managing circles around her world. I've claimed that heritage, the fierce independence, self-determination, tenacity, and stubborn stoicism. Bockie, with her soft wrinkles, set curls, and tiny feet. Her worries and fears, at one time balanced with fiery warmth and quick laughter. I miss that Bockie, before the darkening of her memory. I'm claiming the laughter, cultivating the warmth. And, for my own sanity, I need to figure out what to do with all the stuff I'm hanging on to...

A good at-home weekend

By the end of these two days, still stretched out in front of me, we should have a working garden tractor and a mowed field. Two gardens fully planted (vegetable rows in one, and three sisters in the other). A clean house--really, truly clean, not just tidied. I'm even going to dust. A refrigerator full of healthy food to get us through the week. Baby shower invitations out for my sister. A tidier garage. Hopefully a dinner with farming friends we can dream with.

For now, I'm off to the farmer's market, tractor repair shop, and on to the chores of the day.