Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Past and Present


I am thinking about changing the focus of this blog from just being about my Etsy shops to more of a personal blog, with an emphasis on gardening, home life and urban homesteading. To help this along, I am going to give a bit of backstory:

I have been very interested in Urban Homesteading (living simply, raising our family's food and conserving resources) for a while now.
When my husband and I and our seven children first moved to Rockford, in far northern Illinois, back in 1998, I posted in the Mother Earth online forums how excited I was to be moving to a large property in a very rough side of town. My plans then were to buy up the derelict properties that were next to me and expand our tiny urban homestead.

That never happened.

We actually moved from that home and to a bigger house with a smaller yard (and two bathrooms). Even in that small space, I found room for three apple trees, three kinds of raspberries, a dozen herbs and many pots of strawberries, as well as a few tomato, bush green beans and tomatillo plants every summer. All this in a 4 x 20 foot yard, and in pots on my porch.

We lost that home in 2008 and 2009 when the economy tanked hard and our family's income halved. Along with the financial difficulties, one of my sons, David, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

In 2009, we felt grateful to find a house to rent that was big enough for us and affordable, and had room for the return of some of the now-adult children that moved back in to help us cope with the loss of David.

Eventually, in 2010, my son left home, and my oldest daughter and her girlfriend moved out, we used the rooms they vacated to start up and then expand our home business (pottery).

So now there are just five of us living here. Husband Danny and I, youngest daughter Grace who is 18 and has William's Syndrome, and middle daughter Jasmine along with her three year old daughter. This means we have the whole attic and basement to devote to pottery. We also have a good sized, and mostly sunny, back yard and a landlord whose only requirement for the yard is that it look neat. He has allowed us to put in five raised beds along with a seasonal green bean tunnel. Because of this we have more garden space than ever before.

I have also looked for jobs outside the home, but there aren't too many around that pay a living wage, and right now I feel I am pretty valuable at home, working with the pottery, selling it online, and growing food. I continue to look and apply for local work, but by being thrifty we make it with what we have.

We eat well, especially so during garden season. My daughter Jasmine has learned to freeze, can and preserve nearly all our garden's excess, so we have some that lasts all year.

Last year, we started selling our pottery locally at a couple of farmer's markets too. While we just broke even in our sales, it turned out to be valuable from a food standpoint. We made friends with other vendors, who were mostly produce growers. One let us glean her acre of green beans when they got grasshopper spots. All we had to do was uproot the plants when we were done, and put the litter in her compost pile. We had enough green beans to can dill and spicy beans, as well as lots to freeze. We had frozen beans well into the winter. This same vendor let us have extras of her produce very often, and another vendor invited us for outdoor movies and popcorn every Saturday night. Later he supplied us with all the pumpkins we wanted, and enough apples for many jars of apple sauce. Another vendor told us of a local auction where local produce was sold at wholesale prices. We had fun and were able to buy wonderful food very reasonably. Other vendors allowed us to barter pottery for local cheese and eggs, gallons of honey, and even a huge home-raised chicken for my birthday dinner.

So, while we made very little money from pottery sales beyond the cost of the market itself, we still had great food all winter from the market at very little expense, other than the time it took to freeze it or can it. 

It was yesterday evening as I was rearranging the freezer to get to the last of the frozen pumpkin for soup, that I realized my long-ago dream of having an urban homestead had mostly come true. While I don't own my own place, and our space is smaller than I had hoped, we are still raising our own food. Most of the food we don't raise ourselves is still locally and ethically produced. I fertilize my garden with worm poop from my worm bins, along with horse poop from a farmer just outside of town. I am learning to save seed, so this year much of my garden is from seeds I saved from the farmer's market produce or my own garden.

Our meat is purchased from a local butcher that buys from local farmers and sells just about every part of the animal so there is very little waste. The shop has wide variations in what meat they offer from day to day depending on what animals they have butchered that week.

I wish this city allowed backyard chickens, but the city council always shoots it down when someone proposes it. But one of the people I met at a farmer's market sells me chicken and duck eggs very reasonably. I do love using the duck eggs!

Most of the waste our family produces is recycled as well. Our mail, cardboard, and the newspaper is fed to the worms along with our kitchen scraps. Their castings go in the garden. Our cats' and dog's poo is composted and put on the flower bed. The canning jars we use for vegetables are reused each year, and so are the plastic containers we freeze in. If we buy from the store, we save the plastic to use for our tender seedlings and the glass we break and use in our pottery. Boxes that can't be reused for mailing pottery, are used for worm bedding, and heavy paper is padding for mailing pots.

In our pottery business too, we use up or recycle just about every scrap. Besides reusing the glass, our used clay is wedged and re-thrown or made into magnets or garden markers. The last drippings of glaze that are left over from each batch we make are used to glaze the magnets Gracie makes that we give free with most purchases. The padding we use for mailing with is often defective grocery bags or packaging the local grocery store gives us that they would otherwise throw away. The bubble wrap is often reused from my friends who know to save packaging materials for me. The electricity company we use (for our home and electric kiln) gets the power from green sources, and at least 80% from local windfarms. The mugs we use in SecondChanceCeramics are mostly from out of business restaurants.

I am hoping to blog more about how I am trying to live in my big city, yet still live green.
I think I can.


6 comments:

ArticGal said...

Few people can say they are living the life they dreamed of living. Way to go!

Crooked Smile Creations said...

I keep forgetting you live in Rockford! My aunt and uncle and cousins live there and I used to spend some time in the summers with them. They also used their property to feed their family.

Jean said...

Hi, It's Jean from CF4L. I was sorry to hear about your son.
I was thrilled to hear about your gardening experiences and I have a suggestion to increase your potato yield. After you cover the plantswith dirt an d they grow up past that, then let the plants develop for a while. If you keep covering them, the plants have to invest energy in growing up into the light, less energy for forming tubers
Try different amounts of cover on different wire bins and see which produces best. Since you have a lot of bins this year.
PS Don't let the teasers have any of your homegrown potatoes, you can send them to me. Yum, yum.

Jean said...

Hi, It's Jean from CF4L. I was sorry to hear about your son.
I was thrilled to hear about your gardening experiences and I have a suggestion to increase your potato yield. After you cover the plantswith dirt an d they grow up past that, then let the plants develop for a while. If you keep covering them, the plants have to invest energy in growing up into the light, less energy for forming tubers
Try different amounts of cover on different wire bins and see which produces best. Since you have a lot of bins this year.
PS Don't let the teasers have any of your homegrown potatoes, you can send them to me. Yum, yum.

Ant said...

Jean, Thanks for the tip, it makes sense. I do want them to put their energy into tubers, not tops. I think I will do three will only one covering, and three with two, and three with the three I did before and see what happens!

Ant said...
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