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Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

The Sapling: A New Option for Backyard Sugaring

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If you live in the Northeast and have any sort of access to maple trees – from one to one thousand – odds are you are likely to tap them at some point in your life.  It’s hard to resist the temptation to create sweet golden syrup right from your own backyard.  Once you’ve tapped those trees, however, the process of converting sap to syrup (at a 40 to 1 ratio) is a bit more complicated.  Boiling sap in your kitchen can leave a sticky film on every surface so taking the operation outside is a necessity.  Homemade evaporating solutions include everything from turkey fryers to concrete blocks to barbecue grills; hardy New Englanders have tried a thousand solutions.  While they can make for a fun family weekend, most of these solutions are hard-pressed to match the efficiency of a full-scale evaporator, meaning you might spend more time and money on that one quart of syrup than if you were to go to your local sugarhouse and buy a gallon.

Justin and Kate McCabe of Montpelier, Vermont faced just such a dilemma a few years back.  After having moved their family to a home with 10 acres of trees they were determined to try their hand at sugaring.  The first year, they tried the propane grill with a big Thanksgiving Turkey Pan and quickly came to realize the amount of propane they were using far out-paced the return value of the syrup.

They looked far and wide for a better home boiling solution.  The McCabes were dismayed to learn that most of the small evaporators that seemed logical for their size operation cost upwards of $1000 and would require a sugar shack in which to boil.  That’s when Justin, an engineer and patent attorney, decided to try his own hand at designing a system that would be more economical and efficient than the choices he saw on the market. 

After a few trial models, Justin landed on a design that worked for the family operation – the Sapling – a model they describe as “an affordable, easy-to- use, multi-use, portable, backyard evaporator!”  On a lark, Justin decided to manufacture a dozen Saplings in his garage and see if anyone would be interested in buying them.  It didn’t take long for them to sell out and for the McCabes to realize they were on the verge of creating their own small business – the Vermont Evaporator Company.

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“The original Saplings sold to customers in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York!” says Kate Whelley McCabe, “To young families, and retired couples. To beginners and seasoned sugar makers. Several of whom have kept in touch to tell us how happy they were with their product. We couldn’t believe it! We were surprised and delighted.”

The Sapling is not only an economical choice for sugaring, it also converts into a grill for off-season use.  The McCabes reported to me that a new model is on the way that will also allow for conversion to a smoker/pizza oven.  All at about an $800 pricepoint.

If this sounds too good to be true, then get in line, because Saplings regularly sell out.  In fact, a visit to their website confirms that they’ve already sold out for 2017 and are starting a 2018 wait list!

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Beyond being entrepreneurs and passionate stewards of their own land, the McCabes have a strong commitment to doing things “right” which for them means “the kind way, the generous way, the way that shares our success with our family and community.”  When they formed the company, they gave half of the ownership to their parents and siblings as compensation for their contributions – monetary and otherwise – their enthusiasm, and their support.  They are now raising capital, $250 at a time, from ordinary Vermonters through Milk Money Vermont. 

“In my experience,” says Whelley McCabe, “when your ‘shareholders’ are your friends, family and neighbors, it changes everything, professionally and personally. You may have thought ‘buy local,’ ‘support local,’ ‘invest local’ before. But when you are the recipient of that attitude, both the financial and moral support it engenders, it makes keeping your own dollars in the community almost reflexive.”

The Vermont Evaporator Co. is putting their money where their mouth is; they just signed on with a Vermont company to do their stainless welding (the only part of the operation they don’t do themselves) and they use a local marketing company for all of their communications. 

This summer, you’ll find them at the Burlington, VT Mother Earth News Fair, and if you act quickly you can get on their list to purchase a sapling next year at this year’s price!  Visit www.vtevap.com to learn more. 

Happy Sugaring!

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Processing Meat Rabbits

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The personal decision to start raising rabbits for meat was for the health of our children, and ourselves.  Meat rabbits are becoming a popular addition to many homesteads due to the minimal space they require, and the high volume of meat they can provide. Rabbits are an extremely healthy, and tasty meat. Rabbit meat has half the fat and almost twice the protein of chicken. Rabbits go from birth to freezer in 10-15 weeks, and a pair of rabbits can provide 6-10 kits on average with each breeding.

We breed our does every 10-14 weeks, and have gotten an average of 7 kits per litter. Next to providing our family with hormone free meat, the most important thing was to provide our rabbits with a healthy, stress free, and comfortable life. Our breeders are in hutches, and our weaned kits, or grown outs, are in lawn tractors. From 6 weeks old, when the kits are weaned, to the moment we butcher them they live in a covered tractor, and have room to run and graze.

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We raise Rex rabbits which take 12-15 weeks to reach fryer size, or about 5-6 pounds. There are larger breeds that can be processed a few weeks earlier. We chose the Rex breed, because we also tan the hides, and they are a nice combination for meat and producing beautiful furs.

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We have found that rabbits has been our easiest meat so far to process ourselves. Rabbit meat can be ground into sausage, used in the place of beef, stewed, smoked, barbequed, or roasted. We strive to use every part possible so we fully appreciate and respect the life of the animal. We feel good knowing our food was raised, and processed humanly, and we also appreciate knowing that the meat we feed our family is clean, healthy, and free of hormones.

Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows fruit, a variety of berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

An Interview With Railey Farm & Field

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Scott and Kathy Railey of Goodwater, Alabama are two great friends of our family. Together, they have built Railey Farm & Field, where they are dedicated to teaching people about self-sufficiency through sustainable agriculture. Scott is a mountain of a man with a humble heart, who currently pastors three growing, small-town churches in the area. Kathy is a gentle soul, who loves her pet chickens and currently works as the Human Resources manager for a large printing and promotions company.

The Railey farm is a beautiful little place located in the Appalachian foothills of Alabama, and they take pride in their home. Out front, one can see a large corn crib built in the style of the old days, that we personally had the pleasure of cutting lumber for. The corn crib is the center of Scott and Kathy's business, where they are selling heirloom seed that is intended to help their fellow man learn to feed both himself and his family.

During the Spring, they have a busy garden filled with fresh produce and a crowd of honeybees doing their duty. Dominique and Rhode Island Red hens cackle throughout the day as they lay fresh eggs, always on the lookout for Mrs. Kathy to bring them a handful of tasty treats. Scott can be found out in the fields on these sunny days, tending large plots of corn atop an antique 1959 Farmall 140 tractor. Winter months bring a slowed pace, but they've been managing the wildlife, and it's time to hunt deer and turkey.
 

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We wanted to sit down and ask Scott and Kathy a few questions about their farm, allowing us to introduce you to this wonderful couple, while also sharing their enthusiasm for heirloom crops, hunting, and family!

Interview

FalaScott and Kathy, it's a great privilege to interview you both and to share Railey Farm and Field with the readers here online at Mother Earth News. Firstly, would you tell us a little bit about who, or what, has inspired you to live this life of self-sufficiency?

Scott: Fala, thank you for your interest in Railey Farm and Field. I became interested in heirloom seed due to my 36 year background in the AgChem , fertilizer and seed industry. I worked in the field as a Certified Crop Adviser, as well as sales and management for a very large chemical company.  I also managed a wildlife seed company for five years. When you spend that many years in the Ag business, you see a lot.  After I retired from the Agricultural Chemical business, we bought the farm in Alabama. We planted fruit trees and started a large garden- even built an old style corn crib.  As you know I'm a big hunter. I love Gods creation; His outdoors and the wildlife. I started planting food plots to increase the nutrition level to our local deer.  I planted Hastings’ Prolific corn in the spring and a wheat, clover, and turnip mixture in the fall. Here is what got my attention- I planted the old famous Hastings’ Prolific, which was close to extinction, and a neighbor planted a RoundUp Ready corn (this was for wildlife consumption, not seed saving, due to their closeness). My Hastings’ was devoured by deer once it dried; the RU Ready was untouched. Now, the RU Ready was eaten later, but only after the Hastings was gone. This happened the next year! Today, I fence our Hastings’ Prolific field that is planted for seed. We use electric tape and still lose 1/4 of the field. We have the same issue with Jimmy Red corn. So, my question is this, does wildlife know something that maybe we don’t?

Fala: You made mention of planting an heirloom corn that really drew the attention of the deer! Your farm raises a variety of heirloom, non-GMO crops like this. In your opinion, why are heirlooms so important to consider feeding our families?

Scott: Many heirlooms have a higher protein level, and there is the fact that nothing, no molecule has been spliced to our heirlooms varieties. Now, I made a living selling modern technology to the American farmer for over 30 years- God Bless the farmer! They are roughly 2% of the population in America, and they feed 98% of the nation and 14% of the world! All I’m saying is this, for the gardener or small farmer, that feeding their family heirloom corn is something you need to consider in a strong way!  There is something else. These old varieties fed America for many, many years. Do they produce more bushels per acre compared to GMO? No. Are they as easy to control weeds as RU Ready corn? No. But make no mistake, heirlooms like Hastings are much more drought resistant (growing to 14ft) And the taste? Well, you have to try it yourself.  I have done a 180 in the Ag business when it comes to feeding my family and friends in our community. A Non GMO, heirloom corn, in my opinion, is the healthy choice for families. 

Fala: I have to agree that these heirloom varieties can be quite tasty! We've really enjoyed planting them, not only for ourselves but for our livestock and wildlife as well. Other than a few corn varieties, what other kind of heirlooms do you plant?

Scott: We have concentrated on corn, especially Hastings’ prolific. There are few in the nation that have the original, pure Hastings’. It is truly a corn that could feed your family in rough times. We will also start growing a new corn variety given to us by the Thomas Jefferson museum, located at his former home, “Monticello”. I’m a descendant of his mother’s side of the family, and the Museum has kindly given us a variety of corn that was dear to him. We gave them a pound of Hastings Prolific. I’m also working on growing a grand old tomato called “New Stone”. I found an old pack of seed in my wife’s Grandfather’s old homeplace; the home was built pre-civil war. There was a pack of New Stone that was dated 1945. We couldn’t get the old seed to germinate, but I found seed from another source that is the same variety that had been saved. We planted 20 plants from seed we started inside, and all but two died from wilt/blight after the first harvest. The two plants that did not die lasted until fall and provided a lot of tomatoes. We saved seed from these two plants, and will plant more this year. I’m also excited about the rare "Clay County Yellow Meated Watermelon". A fellow pastor has helped keep this variety alive. It is a local Alabama watermelon that is delicious, and very disease resistant. There is a climbing bean that is somewhat rare- it’s the very old Alabama #1 bean. It was given to me by an elderly lady who saved it for 50 years, and it reminds me of the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean with a sweet flavor.

Fala: It sounds like you stay very busy during the planting season indeed! You and Kathy currently have a small flock of chickens, but have talked about expanding to possibly raising goats and cattle. Before we close this interview, would you mind telling us what your future goals are for your farm and business? 

Scott: Kathy loves the chickens- those are her girls. We have 12 Rhode Islands and 4 Dominickers, and we let them out every day for several hours to free range. The eggs are great! We are planting 3 acres of Bahia Grass in the field next to the house to raise a couple of cows and a goat, and we also plan on free-ranging a Berkshire hog as well. We love the farm; it’s a place where some folks come to just get away. We have friends that come here to recharge their lives and to get away from the city. The reason we started Railey Farm and Field was not only to sell a pure, uncontaminated corn seed like Hastings’, but to teach people how to feed themselves, how to tend the earth, and teach them about legumes and cover crops in the garden. People need to know about the micro-organisms in the soil, and why they are so important in healthy gardens and small farms. When your micro-organism count is healthy, you actually spray and fertilize less. We are also excited about our corn crib, and a new addition we will start soon to house our next adventure- a Meadows Grist Mill. Fresh corn meal from Hastings’ is what fed the south during the Depression, and corn bread from Hastings’ is fantastic as well. We are also excited about the wildlife side of our business. We are promoting the Three Sisters way of farming in the food plot industry. Kathy and I are coming out with Man & Wildlife- a food for wildlife, but families can eat it to. So, we are busy here at Railey Farm and Field. If anyone is interested in learning more please visit us online! God Bless!

We sincerely appreciate the time taken by the Railey family to participate in this interview. Along with a growing online store that includes some of their heirloom corn, they also have many good articles and videos on their website about hunting, sustainable agriculture, and family values. If you are interested in learning more, please check out Railey Farm and Field online!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They have finished building a small cabin using lumber they have milled themselves, along with raising chickens, Khaki Campbell ducks, and goats. Read all of Fala'sMOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

Dressing For Cold Weather in The Mountains

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Dressing for the mountains and higher elevations can be difficult because at high elevations the weather changes unexpectedly and rapidly. In our twenty winters living at 9,800’ elevation we have realized that weather forecasters seem to have a difficult time successfully predicting weather in the mountains. They are generally closer in determining the high and low temperature but otherwise they often miss the mark. This is not to disparage our weather people but due to the mountains with its valleys and changing wind direction it is difficult to accurately predict weather. More often than not we will have predictions of 1-3” of snow and end up with two feet of snow. When we purchased our property back in the late 70’s the HUD report stated our average snowfall was 264” per season. We have found that moderately accurate and that raises the issue of how we dress to be outside in such variable conditions.  

Flexible Winter Clothing Options

For those who enjoy skiing, either cross country or going down a slope, the clothing choices are pretty consistent and a wide range of ski clothing is available. For those who live in the mountains and work outside shoveling snow or walking behind snow throwers in the winter the options are different. Our class of people tend to go inside when we get uncomfortable so having clothing that doesn’t require several minutes to put on or take off is essential if there is outside work to be done. Layering for outdoor recreation is a good idea but when you are shoveling snow it can be a burden so we use clothes that don’t require a lot of time to prepare going outside or coming inside. We prefer clothes that don’t require being changed frequently. 

Clothing Choices

I have chosen for my wardrobe that are durable that can overlap different seasons. I prefer flannel shirts and I have a few of the heavier types as well as the lighter weights. Flannel is a good garment to allow air circulation under my coat and still keep me warm without working up a sweat. I also prefer blue jeans both lined and unlined and have when needed I use insulated underwear under them. The wind doesn’t blow through the fabric and they keep me warm but not to the point I sweat. Sweating is perhaps the worse thing to have happen when outside in the cold because when taking a break I chill fast. I also prefer turtleneck long sleeved cotton  tee shirts and heavy cotton socks in the winter.  

Outerwear  

Over the years I have tried numerous gloves designed to keep my hands warm but have found them all lacking. When my hands get cold it makes it hard to grip tools or feel items which can be frustrating. I have found that mittens designed for skiers are far better at keeping my hands warm and they are large enough that I can put the instant hand warmers in them without restriction. I also like the lightweight nylon shell or heavy cotton coats with good insulation. I need the freedom of movement but not the cumbersome restrictive limitations of a bulky heavy coat. I also have a heavy jump suit that is very well insulated (see photo). When we initially moved to the mountains we thought we would need heavy well insulated outerwear. The first time I wore it was over my jeans and flannel shirt. I was so hot I was profusely sweating. I only wear it now with my underwear and on days when the temperature is in the negative numbers. In the winter I prefer a watch cap or one with ear flaps that stave off frostbite.

Footwear

Footwear is a separate challenge because when my feet get cold I seem to be chilled all over. I personally prefer boots that are well insulated and also waterproof. Working outside in ice and snow all the time requires durability and proper insulation. I have not noticed any difference between the more expensive or more affordably priced winter boots having any significant difference in warmth or durability.  

Wind A Major Factor

Weather at higher elevations in the mountains is unpredictable and as stated earlier changes quickly and frequently. We often have wind along with strong gusts which is a major consideration in deciding how to dress for outdoors. The temperatures combined with gusty wind and the wind chill factors are important to understand when working outside at our elevation. Dressing for a static temperature is much different than doing so if there is a 20 mph wind. It is therefore very important to dress adequately to be outside in the winter so we can remain comfortable and warm.  

Other Seasons Clothing 

In the other seasons I still use a light long sleeved flannel shirt or cotton shirt and jeans. These are practical and if it is cool I wear a sweatshirt over the shirt. I still wear boots but not the insulated ones. I also prefer in the spring, summer and fall to wear a cowboy hat so I get maximum protection from the sun. All seasons of the year at high elevation the sun can be hard on skin because the weather is so pleasant that it is easy to get over exposed without realizing it. When I saw what the sun did to my tender seedlings in my garden I realized that we were exposed to strong sun ultraviolet rays at this altitude.   

I do not maintain a large wardrobe of clothing but what I do maintain has been carefully chosen. When making a purchase, I consider durability foremost since our terrain is rough and the weather and stresses on clothing and shoes are demanding. Properly dressing for the outdoors makes working or playing more comfortable. Clothes that are fashionable or trendy in the city are just not suitable for live in the mountains in my opinion. Durability and dressing for conditions is the best method to stay warm and comfortable. 

Bruce and Carol McElmurray live in their small cabin with their four German Shepherds at 9,800’ elevation in S. Colorado. To read more about them and their lifestyle go to their blogsite at: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Heating Your House with Wood, Part 2

Heating by woodstove is like gathering water from the spring. You own the process. It is your labor that sustains you. You know how much fuel you are using. You build a woodpile, you watch it deplete through the season, you work it, and you carry it. You know your heat source. You provide the labor and see the results.

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There are moments when I think we are crazy to heat our home with a method that requires daily effort—what happens when we are sick? Aged? Not home? These are concerns to work out. More often than not, I am comforted by woodstove heat.

In order to keep the happy by the hearth, here are some of the challenges and our solutions.

Dry Heat

Our woodstove dries the air intensely in the wintertime. If we don’t add moisture into the air, my skin cracks by midwinter. Rosemary Gladstar’s face cream is my go-to body moisturizer. To add moisture into the air, we put a cast iron pot of water on the stove. We also run two humidifiers. We are very pleased with our Homedics humidifiers.

Wood Debris

Another challenge of wood heat is tracking wood debris into the house. Admittedly, it is messier than alternative heat sources. However, it is also nice to carry logs in, bringing some of the woods into the house. As for the bits that fall behind, I have a collection of handmade brooms from a local artisan. Full time wood heat might require a relaxed attitude about cleanliness or a lot of time with floor control. Ours is an indoor-outdoor house and we like it that way.

Feeding the Fire

We pack the stove as needed, generally in the morning and evening, and once midday. Keeping it fed is easier than lighting a fire. Making a stack on the deck once a week pays off with daily convenience. Grabbing a few logs from the stack on the deck is better than putting on a coat and shoes to haul some in from the front yard stack. Everything is easier if your stove is big enough and effective at heating your space. You can decide if there are rooms that don’t need to be heated, by hanging quilts to hold in heat where you want it. The heat will rise, even subtly. Our house is only divided by two steps down, but it is significantly colder “downstairs”.

Backup Plan

Heating by woodstove is a Do-It-Yourselfer’s system, and sometimes you just can’t do it yourself. Then what? We own small electric space heaters for when we are sick or when we are away and have a house sitter staying on the farm. It can be hazardous and stressful for someone who has never operated a woodstove to get a fire started, keep it going, and remember to shut it down properly. We have baseboard heaters in the bathroom, for comfort during a winter shower and for keeping pipes warm when we are on vacation.

Designed for Wood Heat

Phil designed our house to be heated by woodstove. The bedrooms have curtain walls which are open at the top. Each room has a ceiling fan to draw heat in during the winter or out the windows during the summer. The open walls allow the heat to move into each room.  curtain wall

We have a Vermont Castings Defiant woodstove on slate tiles in the center of our main room. The Vermont Castings website states: Function is an art of its own. This speaks of the beauty of a well-made woodstove, for its function and structure in the room. When we upgraded to the larger stove, we installed the smaller Vermont Castings stove downstairs in our Great Room. While it is cooler downstairs, we only keep that stove running when temperatures are 25 degrees or less, or when we want to be especially cozy downstairs.

Rick Riordan wrote that “hope survives best by the hearth”. Everything is cozier by woodstove heat. With the right setup and a few solutions to the challenges, you can enjoy the comforts of home heated by woodstove.

Read Heating Your House with Wood, Part I  

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Choosing to Not Raise Pigs But Still Make Homemade Sausage

Finished Homemade Sausage In Casings

Being a homesteader of modest size (the homestead, not me), I realize there are some benefits of being self-sufficient that we may not be able to experience. Like raising our own meats.

I have never been one to take on a project unless I am confident that I can do it properly, comfortably, and safely. When I decided to take the step from being a vegetable farmer to acquiring my first flock of chicks, I did so after two years of research and community involvement in order to learn all I could before bringing home tiny, little, fluffy lives that would be my responsibility.

After three years of successful chicken parenting and the immense delight that comes from cracking open your own farm-raised eggs, I toyed with the idea of going a bit bigger. After all, who doesn’t like bacon with their eggs?

Yes, I pondered raising pork. So, after another six months of research, meeting a few breeders and talking some friends into getting two piglets and visiting them a few times, I began to have second thoughts.

Deciding that Raising Pigs is Not for Us

The decision-clincher came one day while visiting our friends who had acquired the two piglets. (They had more land than me, and so they were easily convinced.) One day while visiting our friends, we went to see the pigs that, by then, had gotten to be good size. As we approached their fenced grazing area, we discovered they were not home. Off we went to search for the escapees.

We finally spot the pigs happily grazing on some lush grass, thankfully still on the property. As my husband approached them, they soon realized the jig was up and attempted to bolt. In one magnificent leap worthy of an Olympic medal, my husband flew through the air and gracefully grabbed both pigs, one under each arm, and landed gently on the ground face down.

Up he rose, proudly holding a pig under each arm like they were stuffed toys. We all broke into cheering applause and carried the critters back to their fenced area. As a lull fell over the crowd and I looked at my husband covered in pig manure, I knew beyond a doubt: Raising our own pork was out of the question.

Beginning Sausage Making

Home Sausage Making Machine

Plan B: Raise a lot more vegetables and support local meat farmers by buying our meat from them. We purchased a small hog from a local farmer and filled our freezer with 100 pounds of pork. I learned how to make my own homemade sausage.

I had never been a fan of sausage — so much fat and grease and preservatives and chemicals, and so on. For Christmas, Don gave me a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. And so I asked a friend of ours who had sausage-making experience to lead me in my first session.

It was an exhilarating experience knowing I was making my own sausage with quality, locally raised pork and NO preservatives. I could control the amount of fat and flavor to my preference.

This was a two-day project worth every minute — I once again expanded my homesteading lifestyle. The process was fairly easy if only time consuming. On day one, the pork goes from freezer to fridge to partial thaw. When it is of cutting consistency, cut the meat into chunks, trimming away the larger amounts of fat and rind.

We then did the first grind on the course blade. I put the pork back in the fridge overnight after being salted. The next day ,we began the seasoning and second grind. We followed a recipe we chose from online and worked in 3-pound batches at a time, as we had about 13 pounds total of meat.

We also discovered that if we put the batches in the freezer for about 30 minutes before the second grind, it was much easier to handle and stuff into the casings. The results were the prettiest and tastiest sausages I have ever had.

I love learning new skills. Sometimes our homesteading dreams are so big that our real life can’t accommodate them. But with perseverance and networking we can still live a quality homestead lifestyle. And do it without smelling like a pig.

Susan Berry raises strawberries and heirloom asparagus on her North Carolina farm and sells the plants to local gardeners. Susan also raises a small flock of hens and encourages team participation between farmer and flock when it comes to gardening. Find Susan’s book, Inspired Gardening, on Amazon, and connect with her at Faithfull Farming, on Facebook and Twitter.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

A Pioneering Spirit and Other Values For a Successful Homestead

Beekeeping With Kids

We live in a world of modern conveniences. This begs the question, “why would anyone want to do all of that work to homestead?” After all, we can simply go to the store to get our food, clothing, and any supplies that we can dream of. In the rare instance where we want something that we cannot drive to get, we can simply order it online with one click.

With all of this at our fingertips, it takes a pioneering spirit to break the mold of modern society and choose the life of a homesteader. It does not matter how large, or small, your farm is, a pioneering spirit is an essential aspect of any successful homestead.

Building Deep Community Roots

While the internet has allowed us to connect with people all over the world, it also seems to have made us grow further from those that are the closest to us. Do you even know your neighbor’s name?

When homesteading was a way of life, there was a strong sense of community. For the most part, gone are the days of barn raisings, families helping out during planting and harvest seasons, and even families getting together to help watch and care for children! Our attitudes have shifted from, “how can we solve this together?”  to “how will this benefit me?”

While our attitudes may have strayed from deep community roots, it does not have to remain this way. The shift will need to start somewhere and there is no better place for it to start then at your own homestead. Next time you hear someone in need of help, be it with fencing, harvesting, or even branding, ask how you can help.

Maybe you are not skilled in that area of homesteading, but that does not mean that you cannot offer your services in other ways. During harvest and planting season, a hearty meal is always appreciated! Small acts like this make huge impacts.

Respect for Elders

In previous generations, there were no articles, readily accessible colleges, blogs or any of the other resources that we take for granted. In order to survive, you had to listen to the wisdom that was passed down through the generations and from your elders. Those with years of wisdom that surpassed your own were to be regarded and respected, not tuned out with television or ear phones. Oftentimes, the ability to heed the words from the elders made the difference between the success or failure of your homestead.

We may jest about our elders starting their stories with, “back in my day”, yet this is exactly the information that we need to embrace. Respect for our elders does not just stop by learning from their stories. Care of elders is another key aspect of building and knowing your community. By taking the time to assist the community elders, you not only give back, but have the opportunity to grow in your own knowledge and skill set as well.

During these times, many people, including homesteaders, kept journals. These journals contained knowledge that was given to them by others, as well as success and failures of their own. These journals would not only help you repeat success, and avoid more mistakes, but could be passed down to the next generation. Everything from planting varieties, dates times, weather, to crop success or failure. No matter how seemingly insignificant the information, it was all included and learned from and then ultimately passed on.

Respect for Food

The mindset of waste not, want not has become all but lost on the modern disposable society. Whether it is an item of food, clothing, or used farm equipment, we have become a society that would rather replace then repair. Excess food was canned, smoked, or preserved in a variety of methods.

Not only will this save you money on your grocery bill and time in the garden, but it will eventually carry over to other aspects of your daily life. When you start looking for ways to preserve things, you will put more time, effort and care into what you already have.

Boy Working At Wooden Loom

Have a Skill or Trade

Another aspect of life in days gone by was the understanding that everyone needed to have some type of skill or trade. Truly, it is impossible to know and perfect all aspects of farming, homesteading, and providing for a family. That is why the community rallied together and combined their unique, specialized, trades and skills.

Today, this is no longer standard. Perhaps this is due to the removal of shop classes from schools, or the rise in the idea that trades are too “blue collar”, but it is vital to escape this mindset.

If you have livestock, you will need to have, at minimum, a basic understanding of carpentry. For the farmers using implements and equipment, mechanical skills are vital. Even the homemakers have skills that must be learned to keep the homestead running. From how to sew, to how to process game and livestock to cooking from scratch and with whole ingredients.

All of these things were once common knowledge and simply passed through the generations. These trades and skills are nothing negative, gender-specific, or demeaning, they are a step toward self-reliance and the success of your family’s homestead.

Understanding of Nature

Signs and behaviors from animals were often used by early homesteaders to influence their land management decisions. It was through time invested outside, and keen observations that they are able to discern these patterns and use them to their advantage.

Often times, these “old wives tales” are dismissed in our modern era of science. However, when you take a scientific look at many of them, there are legitimate reasons for the behavior of these plants and animals. Modern homesteaders need to embrace these forgotten signs, and use them to benefit their farm.

While the physical act of homesteading may be kept alive through your actions, we all have to work to keep the innovative, caring, and strong homesteading spirit alive as well. Homesteading and farming is far more than a physical act of growing things, it is a community, a mind set and a way of life that should be preserved.

Alexis Griffee is a sleep-deprived and coffee-fueled homeschool mom, homesteader, mule rider, military wife and a freelance writer for publications, including Countryside, Backwoods Home, Molly Green, and Hoegger’s Farmyard. Connect with Alexis on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.


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