Friday, December 2, 2011

A true holiday inspriation

Today I thought I would make a quick post about something local. This post reveals the true spirit of the holiays, and probably the hardest working man I've even met. His name is Bill Peters, and he's mostly known for his Auburn Records label and string of bands. I honestly don't know when this man sleeps.

He has a wife and 2 teenage kids that he is constantly busy with, he helps his parents, works with the bands and record label, (recording, practices, setting up shows, going to the shows, promoting the bands, etc), goes to the big German music festivals,hosts a Friday night radio show (26 years now I believe), helps with a Halloween event that gives proceeds to charity, and now this; all while still working a full time job. I'm sure there are many things that I've missed too!

He's put together the "3rd Annual Iron Ingo Cleveland Metal Holiday Food Drive". He's gotten seven bands to play a totally free show, with only the request that attendees bring cash or food goods for donation. The proceeds go to the Cleveland Foodbank and Friends of the Cleveland Kennel. Yes you read that right. Heavy metal bands and fans getting together to help the needy, both two and four legged. The 80's had Bob Geldoff doing Live Aid and John Mellencamp doing Farm Aid, and now we have Bill doing Iron Ingo. It is truly an amazing thing. So much for that stereotype of a heavy metal fan, eh? Maybe we need an all Auburn roster cover of "Stars"?? naaaa hahaha

In out time of a shaky economy and high unemployment, more people than ever are having a hard time making ends meet, and need help. While there may be food banks all over the place, few are able to really keep up with the string of people needing help. It's people like Bill who step up to the plate and put together something like this to get them the help they deserve.

Bill is truly an inspiration with everything he does, and that's why I wanted to share this with this quick post. Check out the flyer, check out his (the record label) website, and if you're local, stop by the show! Kudo's to you Bill! You and this event are what it's all about.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Something new. A book review

In my ever increasing desire to know more about the things that interest me, I'm always reading. I read online forums, I read magazines, and I read books. Lots of books. My small library includes books on survivalism, preparedness, gardening, small scale livestock, herbal remedies, self suffiency, self reliance, and on our basic food supply in general. I'm not an educated man, but I have a strong desire to learn as much as I possibly can through reading and experience.

Every once in a while, I read that story or book that makes me say "wow". That story about some kind of real life hero, the article about the family growing a huge amount of food on a small suburban lot, or the tale of a persons fight with their town council to allow them to have a simple vegetable garden. All of these stories affect me in some form or another. Some perk my interest, some inspire me, and others make me push what I can possibly do here on one acre. My most recent read has done all of these and more. This one book has awakened me to the reality of the food we eat, and the real truths behind them.

I'm referring to "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal", by Joel Salatin. Anyone who has watched Food Inc. or some of the other documentaries on the subject may recognise his name. He's making quite a stir in the food industry with his common sense approach, even though it angers and scares the officials and (so-called) inspectors. Joel is more than a simple farmer. He's a speaker, an educator, and a giant inspiration to many like myself. This book is merely a small list of stories from his own (mis?) adventures, run-in's, wins, and losses within the administrations, officials, inspectors, and law makers that every day involve our food systems.

Generally, when people think of farms, they think of happy cows, smiling farmers, sunshine, and a big red barn. In reality, most farms are virtually devoid of people. Animals are kept indoors in big confinement cages or feedlots. Most never see the light of day until they are on their way to slaughter. Joel prefers a simple, humane, and much more common sense approach. Let pigs be pigs, cows be cows, and manure and compost are king. Unfortunately, what he wants to do gives him the perfect title for this book. Everything I want to do is illegal.

I won't go into details, or give away a lot of the book, but imagine wanting to do some things on a 600+ acre farm, and find out you aren't allowed. I'll list a few examples:

Imagine that you want to raise cattle to sell the meat. You can raise your own, but you cannot butcher them on your own property. OK, so you take them to a commercial butcher and have them processed. You bring them home in nice little packages to sell, but wait; you still can't sell them. Now because they're in packages, they are considered a processed product and you don't have the proper licenses to sell them.

How about if you are OK to butcher and sell your own chickens, but only in your home state. A friend wants to sell them at a farmers market in the adjoining state, but you aren't certified there. Your chickens have to travel 200 miles to be killed in a place with that states license, then travel another 400 miles to be packaged, then another 300 miles to the farmers market that is 150 miles from your farm.

Bacon is the most evil of all possible farm products. Even if you raise the pork, buy the ingredients yourself, and take all responsibility for it; you cannot sell it. Nobody gets in to buy the bacon, not no body, not no how. It's again a "processed" product.

Here's one that I didn't intend to share, but decided to anyway. On his search for the selling of chicken outside his state, he took some to a commercial butcher, visited, and talked with the inspector. Now, when you clean a chicken, the gall bladder is right behind the liver. There is a market for chicken livers, so they are saved. If you happen to break the gall bladder, you get this disgusting, foul smelling green bile. There's no mistaking it. When he processes his own, like many others, he's careful to not break the gall bladder for this reason. He was talking to the state inspector, when along the conveyor belt came an iced tub of chicken livers, literally floating in the green bile. The inspector said NOTHING about the bile. He just dipped a thermometer in the tub and said "more ice". So having this disgusting bile in the tub was ok, but it could not get below temperature X. Even though I don't eat chicken livers, I nearly gagged at the thought of eating one from the store.

These are just examples of many that Joel covers in this book. He goes from animal welfare to zoning, and everywhere in between. I'm aghast, disgusted, and angry at the things people must do to comply with the ridiculous regulations governing our food systems. Some may seem necessary to the average consumer, but when you see how they really operate behind the scenes, you realize how ridiculous they really are. In fact, his writing of this very book on his own property is in fact illegal by the terms of an "agricultural zone". How’s that for a big steaming pile of future compost?

This book is more than just an idea book for the farmer or urban (holy crap he's gonna say it) homesteader. It's more than just a list of things to make you think about what you are buying at the store or the butcher. It's an eye opener to the scandals behind the food industry, and how big corporate dollars make every decision. If that wasn't true, why would a 1000 chicken operation have the same exact guidelines as a 1,000,000 chicken operation? Why would inspectors care about a guy with 300 cattle more than the feedlot containing 300,000?

I'll recommend this book to everyone I know. Anyone that cares the slightest bit about what they buy or what they eat should have this on their shelf. Maybe a few that don't seem to care would have their eyes opened just a little on the reality of where there food comes from. Just maybe.

After reading this book, I'm more inspired than ever to grow in our own operations here at home. I'm researching cattle and pig raising, and plan on talking to my uncle about putting one of each at his place. I want to raise more. I want to grow more. I want to get even further away from the grocery store and the clutches of the people behind the food on the shelves and in the coolers. I want the freedom to eat what I want, that "they" want so desperately to take away from us even more than they have. Honestly, how can it be perfectly OK for me to buy a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of whiskey, and a bag of fast food, but not a gallon of raw milk? How is it possible that I can buy a giant block of “processed cheese product”, but not some delicious colby made with fresh milk? How and why is it their choice what I put into my own body?

I'll leave you with a quote from the book that may make you consider getting your own copy- " The political rationale for food safety ultimately rests in the notion that we are wards of the state. Not a free people." Really think about that statement. Are we truly free when we cannot eat what we choose?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

(not so good) Food for thought

Today as I sit here spending time with the computer and my best friend Coffee; reading the news and happenings around me. With the more I read, the more I begin to despise today's world. I wonder how so many can be so blind to what happens around them, and go through life with no thoughts about anything at all. Work, home, eat, pay bills, go to sleep, repeat, and have occasional fun. It's the American way, and far to many live it with never seeing anything differently.

I'm well aware that I think and live differently than most of society. I've made decisions that I stand behind 100% and refuse to budge for anyone or anything. I pay attention to things that most don't. I read about what is happening to our schools, our second amendment rights, our political system, misc laws, financial issues, and mostly about our food system here in the United States. The one thing that tends to bother me more than the others is this. How is it that people can just eat something and not know or care what is in it or what brought it to their plates?

I'm currently reading Joel Salatin's book "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal", and it has shed light on issues that I wasn't completely aware of. Just as an example, he raised some cattle for slaughter on his own property. He wasn't allowed to do so and sell them on site, so he drove them to a commercial slaugherhouse. (which he despised) Upon returning home with the packaged meat, he was told that it was now a manufactured product, and he didn't have the proper licenses and permits to sell it, and couldn't get them where he lived. So.....either way he was screwed. He's the small guy, and regulations and permits force him to pay fees that make it nearly impossible to make a living. It's the big guys trying to stamp out the little guys; and the big guys own those who make the rules. Plain and simple. They have many facilities, thousands of employees, and millions of dollars to absorb the costs. The little guy doesn't. It comes his pocket.
In another part of the book, he has his farm eggs investigated (inspected) by an inspector for the egg, food, and we'll screw your farm nazi's. Basically, if these guys inspect 100 eggs and find ANY trace of dirt or debris stuck to an egg, they fail. All of them. I know someone out there is reading this, and thinking this is a good thing, but it's not. One speck of dirt or one tiny sliver of straw from a nest box will not hurt you and it will not make you sick; but, these regulations insist that all eggs be 100% clean.
When a chicken lays an egg, her body puts a thin coat of film over it as it's layed. This protects the egg from moisture and contamination naturally. Washing eggs removes this film and leaves the eggs porous; allowing anything it is soaked in, sprayed with, or touches to soak into the shell; even the cleaners it is washed with. Now I'm not against cleaning eggs if necessary. Chickens are somewhat dirty animals that can and will defecate in their own nest. They do walk in dirt, mud, or whatever; and can leave traces on an egg if they step on it. When we get eggs with any of these, we wash them; but when an egg is clean we just give it a quick rinse and into the carton it goes. The natural film protects the egg from contaminates, so why wash it off if it's not dirty?
(just as an add on...don't be fooled by those "free range" labels at the store. A large chicken facility can get that label by having a door on their enclosure and having an area for them to get outside. It DOES NOT mean either have to be used. As long as there is a door, they can get that label, even if the chickens are kept indoors and never see the light of day. The door just has to exist.)
I just touched on two of the things that were covered in this book. There are many more that I won't go into; but I will say that each and every one has made me realize how wrong and corrupt our food system is. Each one makes me think even more, and makes me want to get further and further away from the grocery stores and this entire mess.
How is it that regulations that are supposed to keep us safe are doing just the opposite? How is it that the big guys can get away with nearly anything, but these small operations are always under government radar and watching over their shoulders for that next inspector to "find" some kind of infraction?
So many things about the food system bother and anger me. The mistreatment of feed lot animals, the inhumane way they are killed, the unclean operations, genetically modified plants, un-natural cross bred animals, chemical additives & preservatives, artificial sweeteners, rules, regulations, fines, and so many more. It just makes my head hurt and my stomach turn.
Think about this one. Everyone has had the chicken nuggets from either the fast food places or the grocery stores. Do you have any idea what is actually in them? What if I tell you that it's all of the leftover bits and pieces from chicken processing. You know...those yummy pieces of ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. They're processed down, and made into a gooey mess, and when it comes out of the giant grinder, it's pink and full of bacteria. After that lovely process, it is sprayed with a bleach to kill the bacteria, then dyed brown (ish) so it somewhat resembles chicken. After all of this, it has artificial flavoring added since at this time, it tastes nothing like chicken. Add some outer coating, deep fry them, and there you go. Chicken nuggets. Don't they sound delicious? Why are we tricked into believing that we're eating "chicken white meat" when we're eating leftover bits? (not so dissimilar than dad always saying hotdogs were made from lips and a-holes) Yep. Dip those babies in barbeque sauce and eat away.
I think what makes me the most sick and angry is the overall cost to us all. How is it possible that we can feed a family of four an entire meal at a fast food place for less money than two decent cuts of meat? When all of this junk food is proven to cause all kinds of health issues, why are we not working to rid them from our society and push for something more healthy? Why are we given more choices for flavors of pudding at the store than we are for truly good locally grown and true organic foods?
It's hard making the switch when we've eaten the same way our entire lives and believed that government officials had our best interest at heart. How many times have you heard "they wouldn't let them do that" or "Those labels are for our safety", and believed it? Ever since you were born. It's tough to see the truth, and many who see it refuse to make any changes. Even with the proven links from modern foods to cancers, diabetes, tumors, and many other diseases; people still shrug their shoulder and say "meh". I for one can no longer do this, and want everyone to know why; whether they know the things I am saying or not. I urge everyone I know, along with anyone reading this, to do some research on the truths behind the food that we eat. (I *HIGHLY* recommend Joel's book that I am reading as a perfect example) Read and let it set in, and realize that you have been being lied to your entire lives about the things you eat.
I don't expect everyone to drop their current diet overnight. I just want people to educate themselves and pay attention. Read labels and find out what the things in them really are. Think about what you are eating. Where did this come from? What's in it? Is it really safe or healthy for my body? What in the hell is _______ and why is it in my _______? One at a time, we can change the system. If we stop buying their products, they'll stop making them. It really is that easy.
And I'll leave you with this. If someone will boycott BP gas because of the spill in the Gulf, or not buy a certain line of clothing because it's made in a sweat shop full of kids in another country, why won't they stop buying foods that contain things that will make us sick or kill us?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Once again, I've let the blog sit idle for months. Honestly, I've been disgusted all year about the garden here, and haven't thought much about posting when all I would do is complain. All in all, the strange weather this year gave us the worst garden we have ever had. NO corn, onions or green beans at all; very few potatoes, and little of everything else other than brussel sprouts, cabbage, and misc. peppers. It was pretty much a total write-off for the year. I'm disgusted, but not discouraged. Soon the garden will be pulled and prepped for winter. We'll hit it again in the spring and do it all over again.
In other news, I am finally back to work. A friend got me a job with a sprinkler contractor, and I've been working steady since mid July. I have to admit, that even as active as I normally am, the first week or two kicked my ass! But now I'm back in the swing of things, and we're 7 weeks into a new jobsite. The place is a total nightmare of coordination, (as far as architects and owners), but we're chugging along doing everything we can. It's steady work, a full paycheck, and only a 45 minute drive. I'm not going to complain at all.
Now that I'm back to work and we're catching up on everything, the plan it to concentrate again on keeping the house well stocked. With the instability of being in a construction trade, I never know if or when that next layoff may be around the corner. We're slowly adding more to the food stores and also to other things we kept well stocked in the house. After doing things this way literally saved our asses over the last 2 years of my layoff, I will never be unprepared for another similar event again. In doing so, we're well prepared for anything else that gets thrown our way....power outage, illness, extreme weather, or even the zombie apocalypse. I'd rather have everything than not. I'll be documenting the preparedness along the way through fall and winter.
Over the winter, I'll be doing a couple gun builds that I'm hoping to post about as they go. I plan to rebuild a Ruger Mini14 (that I bought with a folding stock) into a scout-type rifle. I plan to go with a full length synthetic stock, a mid-rail mount (thus the scout rifle comparison), with a red dot scope. I also want to pick up a 12ga pump (preferably a Remington 870) and build the HD shotgun I've wanted for quite a while. But this may wait until spring since deer season is fast approaching and used shorguns will be few and far between. I'm also considering picking up a Mosin Magant surplus rifle and toying with it. It's almost impossible to say no to a tried and true WWII era battle rifle for $100 or under when I can find 4-500rd cases of ammo for under $80. For years, I always turned up my nose at these rifles, but now I can really appreciate their simple reliability and beauty. I always need more projects, right? LOL's that time of year again! Time for the big Halloween bash! I've wanted to start the yard haunt, but the past 2 weekends have been nothing but rain. This weekend calls for sunny and 70's, so I'll be running full bore to get as much done as I can. There are new additions this year, but I'll post those as I get them up in the yard. They're good ones!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, July 25, 2011

What a summer

First of all, I have to say that today I'm a bit disgusted. A month ago, I had to re-sow our greens for the second time because our beds apparently became the neighborhood litter box. I was angry, disgusted, and disappointed all at the same time. Today, I'm inside reading, and hear the chickens going crazy. The last time I heard them act like that, 2 puppies were out there chasing them; so today I ran out to see. Low and behold, there is a cat (no idea who's) with one dead peep on the ground and another in it's mouth. I yelled at it and it ran off with the one in it's mouth. We *had* three cute little Mille Fluer chicks, and now we have one. I hate how people let their pets outside to do things, then get defensive when confronted with what they destroy. I won't even bother.....what's the point. Sorry folks, just had to vent.

The garden this year is disgusting. Due to the weather, and me not being home as much as I was last year, it's a disaster. First, there was the loss of the greens twice; once from near record rainfall in May, and another from the litter box incident. Our weather has went from excessive rain, to extremely hot and humid, (for Ohio, a week of temps over 100 is abnormal), to cooler (below 60), then back to the heat, and then a downpour last Monday night that dropped 7" of rain overnight.

We lost a few plants to weather and animals like always, but others are just stunted. My normally insane growing green beans are pitiful, and will be pulled and re-seeded sometime this week. Ah I'll be picking beans in October. I have 14 or so beautiful tomato plants out there, and not a single ripe tomato yet. It's the same with the blackberries...hanging full of big beautiful green berries, but not ripening. All we have been able to pick so far from the vegetable garden are cucumbers, peppers, a few handful's of sugar snap peas, and maybe 2 salads worth of greens. While I'm disgusted with the whole thing, I refuse to give up. I'll just replant and go for a later season. I'm not done yet!

I've seen a lot of things in the news lately about home vegetable gardens. Some are good news, and others, well, just aren't. More and more, I see articles, websites, and blogs pop up about people taking control of their own food supply and begin to grow and/or raise their own. As I drive around, I see more gardens than I've ever seen before. It makes me happy to see people doing things like this. Whether it's a few plants in pots, or whether it's a full scale vegetable garden, people are catching on. It's a wonderful thing to see and watch grow in popularity.

Then, of course, there is the other side. There are cities, townships, HOA's, and many other places that have ridiculous rules and regulations against growing your own food. take for example Julie Bass in Oak Park, Michigan, who was being prosecuted by the city, and facing 93 days in jail for having raised beds for vegetables in her front yard. Why? Because the vegetables didn't fit "the norm" for acceptable front yards within the town. Soooo..."the norm" is yet again useless grass, and pointless ornamentals that do nothing but take up space, look pretty, and require care for no other reason than to look at. I've read of similar stories all summer long. One being a church garden,and another about a man in Canada, but Julie's has been the most publicized. Technically, it's illegal here in the township we live in to grow vegetables in your front yard. Why? I have no idea. My best guess is that it again doesn't fit the "norm" for proper front yard attire.

How far have we fallen when growing your own food is seen as either a revolutionary new idea, or as something rebellious? I remember when we first moved here and put in a garden in the back. People drove along the side road staring, as if they didn't understand what we were doing. I came to find out that they did in fact understand what we were doing, but didn't understand why. We were, and still are, known as the crazy hillbilly couple on the corner. I really could care less what people around me think about us or our place. My yard produces food, while theirs produces a bill from the lawn maintenance company and from the guys who spray it 3-4 times a year. My yard give me jams, jellies, sauerkraut, tomato sauce, and eggs; while theirs give them something to stare at from the occasional lawn chair under a tree.

I've posted many times about my hatred of "the lawn". Over the years, I have more and more became aware of how pointless they are. Acres and acres of worthless grass, that get watered, fertilized, mowed, raked, aerated, thatched, weeded, sprayed with pesticides & herbicides, for no purpose whatsoever. If anyone remembers a post I made back in March, I found some staggering numbers on lawns in the U.S.:

"In 2008, the EPA estimated that the area in the United States covered by lawns was bigger than the state of Texas. Can you imagine if that entire area, or even half of it, was used by people to produce their own food? We used close to half of our one acre for growing food last year. Just for example, the area the size of Texas is 172,000,000 acres of land. If just half of that was used (86,000,000 acres) to produce the same 1100 pounds that we managed last year, it could easily be used to produce an astounding 86,000,000 pounds of food"

Now imagine that the area of lawns is the same size, 172,000,000 acres. How much gasoline does it take to keep that all mowed? How much fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides are sprayed annually? I want to look up the figures, but I honestly don't want to see the answers. Just using my own estimates, I'll say that I use +/- 2 gallons of gas in a push mower to mow what's left of our place. So let's just say 1/2 acre, so it could be 4 gallons per acre to mow. If I was mowing that 172m acres, it would take 688,000,000 gallons of gas to mow. Sure that is a VERY rough estimate, but still insane. OK....that number is giving me a headache, so I'll just stop and let you think about it. (that's 34,400,000 full 20 gallon car tanks of gasoline!!!) ok ok ok enough already Chris........

These are the kinds of things that just annoy me and get under my skin. I (among many of you reading) are given grief for using yard space for food production by those who choose to use it for pointless green space. I'm called "hillbilly" or "green hippy" because I choose to do those things. Even my own dad cracks Amish jokes about us having the garden, chickens, and living fairly simple. When will things revert back to the other side? When will they guy with a half acre of grass be the odd one out in the neighborhood? Will we ever see that time? I can't say. I can only dream.

Monday, June 13, 2011

whoah.....2 months?

I didn't even realize it had been so long since I posted! Things have been crazy here, and the blog just slipped my mind....ooops again.

The weather here was just insane for a long time. We had over 5 weeks of nearly non-stop rain; some of which was approaching flood levels in parts of the state. We ended up getting the second wettest May on record! Thanks to the weather, everything outside was on hold. Everything. We've never been this late getting things going, but we had no choice. All we could do was sit and wait.

Once Ohio's surprise monsoon season ended, it was a rush to get everything started. First, I worked on the front yard; digging the two 4x12 beds from last year together; taking out the area in between; and making it one large 4x32 bed. I also widened last years small 2x16 bed for sugar snap peas to 4x24. Both beds are now planted with potatoes. The two 2x16 beds I made last year for the free tomato plants are now both full of sugar snap peas,which I managed to get in before the rain started.

I had all intentions on using the three 4x24 beds in the back to thin and transplant strawberries this spring, but by the time it stopped raining, they were in full bloom and setting berries. Rather than chance killing them with berries coming on, we used two of the beds for sweet corn, and the other for yellow onions.

The main garden ended up being last,and ended up being the worst. When it was time to till, not only did I have to deal with a massive amount of weeds to rake out, but the temperature soared to the mid 90's and got extremely humid. But, heat and misery aside, it was tilled and planted. I used stakes and masons twine to mark out the rows, and noticed that the garden was way off being square.....nearly 3 feet out of square! I marked it out, and hand dug and tilled that area, giving us just a little more space; which we ended up needing for onions.

The list for the year, not counting greens and the peas is: ‎15 pickling cucumbers, 4 eggplant, 4 sweet peppers, 6 italian peppers, 3 red peppers, 8 hot banana peppers, 4 jalepeno peppers, 12 cabbage, 22 tomatoes (3 varieties), 9 broccoli, 3 cauilflower, 6 brussel sprouts ,6 bush cucumbers, 30lb yukon gold seed potatoes, 5lbs green onion sets, 15lbs white onion sets, 4lbs sweet corn ,and 6lbs bush green beans.

The existing fruits are looking great. The raspberries along our parking area have more than quadrupled in 2 years; the grapes are filling out and climbing the arbors that I made last year, and again I have to thin and transplant the blackberries; which may end up becoming a second 24-30ft bed if all of the transplants take.

I'm also doing a small side job, clearing about 1/2-3/4 of an acre of brush and small trees. The area has wild raspberries nearly everywhere, and my plan is to bring as many home as I can, and transplant them somewhere in the front yard. I'm thinking alongside the ditch on the north end of the yard, but that may change depending on how many I end up bringing home. I'll also be cutting the small trees to bring home and make trellis' for the tomato plants like the ones I had made last spring. With 22 tomato plants, I'll need a minimum of 3 trees roughly 1-1/2-2" in diameter for each one, plus smaller ones for supports. I'll be hauling a lot home!!

In between what needs done here, and clearing that brush, I've taken on some basic apartment maintenance at a building a friend lives in. It's simple stuff that just needs repaired or replaced...light fixtures, drywall patching, deck boards, painting, etc. Nothing major at all. It's not a full time job by any means, but it's a few bucks here and there, and that helps. Once the apartment building is finished, the owner has a rental house that needs minor repairs too. I'll be hitting that one soon.

The job situation, obviously, hasn't changed. I'm totally disgusted at finding work. I've tried more places than I can person, phone calls, online, return visits and/or calls; and nothing. I've had so many that sounded promising, but ended up being a dud. I had my heart set on a job at the garden center 2/10 of a mile away, but they ended up having all of their seasonal employees return. I had THREE interviews at a large racing/car parts store and warehouse, but that one ended with no more than "we'll be in touch". It's saddening and highly disappointing, but it's the situation. I'm nowhere near alone in this struggle to find work though. I have friends in the same boat, and millions across the country just like me. It's a lot worse than our government lets on and that the news media shows or tells. So many people are blind to this.

Today I'm off to run errands, pay some bills, put a coat of drywall patch on a few holes at the apartment building, then run back to work on more brush clearing most likely around lunch time. It will be a long, busy day, but I've needed these after spending so many days inside over the winter and during the rain we had last month. I thought I was going to lose my mind for a while! ( I know...what little of it I have left haha)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

blahhhhhhhhh Ohio spring weather

The weather here is making me absolutely insane. A week ago it was sunny and 70 degrees. Monday, it decided to snow, and we ended up with 3". Now it's sunny, and though the snow is gone, it's not quite 40. The cold seems to be hanging around as long as it can, just like the snow did over the winter.

I have so many things that I need and want to get done outside, but this weather is keeping a lot of them on hold. I want to get the garden ready early, start some greens, clean some things up in the yard, and finish reorganizing the garage. I don't mind being out in the cold really, but I'm just tired of it. It's been a very long, cold winter, and it seems that it doesn't want to let go.

Because of the weather, the garden center job is on hold as well. They can't put out plants and young trees in this weather anymore than we can start things here at home. They need this weather to break just as much. I applied with a landscape company two houses to the south, but they are in the same boat, and also waiting for the weather. Whenever this decides to finally change, it's going to be very busy for everyone around here.

The book is going well. I have one chapter finished, and am working on the second. I may work on it later tonight, but I have other things I am working on and researching that keep the book from being the top priority. I really don't want to *make* myself write either. I'm afraid that if I force myself to think of things to say, I'll lose track of keeping it realistic and true to how I actually feel. I've been going back to it a few evenings here and there as thoughts hit me. I'm hoping that by the end of next week, I'll have the second chapter finished.

Right now, I'm going to get a cup of hot tea, and hit the herbal medicine & home remedy books for a nice, lazy afternoon. :-)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yet another project

For quite a while, I've wanted to write a book. I never really knew what subject I wanted to use, but I just knew I wanted to write something. Several idea's went through my head, and I even started writing a few of them. I started one on backyard gardens, but that has been done hundreds of times over. I wrote 6 chapters of one on disaster preparedness, but thought it sounded repetitive and like other books I had read. I considered another on suburban homesteading on a budget, but it just didn't feel right. I tossed a lot of ideas around in my head, and had almost given up the idea for a while, when yesterday morning it hit me.

I want to write about our journey over the past twelve years in escaping "the norm" in suburbia. As anyone who knows me, or reads this blog is aware of, we don't exactly fit in here. We live simply, homestead our one acre the best we can, live *gasp* without television, and man other things that put us outside the circle from everyone else. Since my last post about our weekend fire, I have felt rejuvenated from the long winter, and inspired to do more than ever while completely embracing who I have become over the course of my life. It may sound strange to many, but it's almost like a rebirth, not far off Spring itself being a rebirth of nature. I feel happy, alive, and inspired.

With all of this in mind, the idea for a book subject came to me early yesterday morning while sitting here at the computer over coffee. It was the same as many other ideas and thoughts. *facepalm* "Why didn't I think of this before??" I decided on a theme, and the title just came from nowhere. "Unplugged-Escaping Suburbia from Within". It fits. It's me. It's everything that Lisa and I do and have done. That is exactly how it is being written. It won't be an instruction manual or a how-to book, but just be the story of our "unplugging" from being somewhat typical suburbanites to where we are now. (note that I used "somewhat. Who am I kidding, we've never quite fit in.) I'm writing is as if I was documenting our own personal journey; step by step in great detail. I have a very rough draft of the first chapter started, and want to spend more time, possibly today, writing more. It's funny how little details about our choices come back to me as I write and remember. I'm doing my best to document every one of them, just so someone out there may understand our decisions a little better. I'm really enjyoying writing this.

I have no desire to be a best seller or to get famous. I just want to share our experiences with anyone that would want to listen to them. I want people to try understanding that just because you live in the suburbs;or anywhere else for that matter; you don't have to live the same cookie cutter life as everyone surrounding you. You don't have to keep up with the Jones's. You don't have to die with nothing to show the world of your existence but a nice little house with a perfectly manicured lawn. You don't have to rely 100% on the grocery store. I have a lot of topics to cover,and plan to make each one a chapter. The first one I have started is, of course, on one of my favorite subjects to despise-television and video games. I'm trying to do the same as I have lately in the blog, and play nice guy. In previous posts here, I've tended to be pretty opinionated, and I want to get away from that. I have to face facts that no one will listen to anything I say if I come across as being insulting, or insisting that my way is the only way. I've leared to keep that part of myself restrained, and I'm happier with my posts because of it.

Since I am due to start the new job next week, and the busy spring outdoor season is almost here, it is going to take some time to write this book. I won't have the spare time that I do now, so this will have to be pushed to the back burner while I concentrate on more important things. I'll definitely finish writing this one, unlike the other two that I started, just because this one is closer to my entire life than just one or two aspects of it. I'm excited bout doing this more than I have lead on to most people so far, but a lot are catching on to my childlike giddiness. I've talked about it to friends and on Facebook, and I'm getting a lot of encouragement that I never really expected. Maybe I'm just too used to getting strange looks or getting somewhat ridiculed by my family and a few others. Thanks to those people, and also the ones that read this blog, I'm inspired to write this book, and encouraged by all of you and your words and comments.

Well, so much for that whole going Amish bit. I don't think I could go without the internet and everyone that's kept me going. DRATS!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring fires and good friends

Saturday night was our first bonfire of the year to celebrate the spring spring equinox. We decided to have one to see the giant moon we had heard about, and though it was a bit disappointing itself, it was a great night with a small group of friends. It was a little cold, but the wind layed down to almost nothing, and it was toasty warm around the fire. Rather than the usual BS and idle chit-chat, we were able to have some really in depth conversations. Lisa's friend talked openly about her experiences from coming back from a coma, after the doctors had said she had flatlined more than once. My friend Mike talked about some recent happenings, (I'll just say "spiritual" and leave it at that), and how those things have changed his thoughts, focus, and future. I even got to discuss my thoughts on the modern world, it's affect on people, society, and ultimately myself. My friend Bill was here, along with my stepdaughter Holly, but eventually it ended up being just the four of us. When Mike was the last to leave at 1:30 in the morning, I was exhausted; but I still sat in the house talking to Lisa about how wonderful the night was. We'll have more bonfires throughout the year like always. I just hope more turn out the same way.

For the first time, others finally began to understand my views and opinions. For me, it's extremely rare to try explaining myself and not get ridiculed by someone. I've had friends, acquaintances, and even family joke about and belittle my choices and the paths I have chosen to live. I've tried explaining myself, but it never seems to work. Most of the time, I just let the jokes and comments roll off like rain; but other times they make me wonder if I am really that odd; and sometimes they can be slightly hurtful. I can take a joke from a friend, or ignore a comment from an online forum or other media, but when the ridicule comes from my own family, it's hard not to take it to heart. But, finding new support from friends, especially Mike, give me the strength and encouragement to keep going. Thanks Peanut!

Most of my life I've felt that I was born 150 years too late. I've always been able to relate to characters more like Jeremiah Johnson, the Ingalls, or early homesteaders more than I could anyone or anything post-Civil War. I can't relate to the laptop computer at a 6 bucks a cup coffee shop type. I can't relate to the sitting in front of a tv all day type. I can't relate to the sports crowd either. I've never really fit in anywhere, and as I get older, I make decisions to make me fit in even less. While someone is out pricing a new weedeater for spring, I'm looking for a good used scythe. Someone else is looking at a new game system, and I have a list of books as long as my arm that I want to buy. Most of the time I love being outside of the circle, but now and then I want someone to come out and look back inside with me.

As spring approaches, I'm looking at more things I can do here at home. Beyond the gardening/growing food thing, there are many things that I want to teach myself to take me further down the path to where I want to be. I've been reading books for months on wild edibles, herbs, and herbal and old-time home remedies. Sure, I won't walk away from modern medicine if I was to get extremely ill, but I would rather work with natural remedies for simple ailments for things like headaches, sore muscles, upset stomach, and a few others. I want to embrace more things natural, and get less reliant on over the counter drugs. If I can drink a simple herbal tea from things I grow or gather here to get rid of a headache, why would I want to take a pill?

While the books I have are full of incredible information, most list ingredients that are grown in another area of the country, or even from another country or continent. I want to break things down to what I can grow or harvest locally, and work with those ingredients and their capabilities and uses. I've taken my books, and marked those herbs and wild plants, then marked their uses. When I'm done marking the pages, I'll start a notebook with everything I want. I've loved this reading so far, and the idea of my own home apothecary fascinates me. I haven't read anything else in a month and a half.

There are quite a few other things that I want to learn this year. I want to learn how to tan hides, use primitive fire starting methods, make my own clothes, (by hand or with the old treadle sewing machine I restored), make simple wooden furniture, carve kitchen utensils, and...................... The list goes on and on. The turns I have made in my life, the choices I have made, have made me want to learn. I want to know it all. I want to tell people that most of these skills aren't primitive, they're just forgotten. I want to continue this journey and see where it leads me. I'm pretty sure it will lead me back to 1815.....150 years before I was born.

Just like I do with anything else, I'll share those experience here. Experiments, failures, successes; you'll go through them all with me. Thanks to all of you who have become regular readers. When I started this back in September of 2008, I never imagined that there would be 160 people following my misadventures. Thanks again people!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Electronics-Addiction or Reliance?

Yesterday while reading one of my regular forums, I came across a thread that made me think about a few things. This particular thread was about an online service that allows you to watch movies and television shows at anytime. Originally, this company was nothing more than an online dvd rental, but now offers streaming movies and tv through your computer or gaming system, along with wi-fi capability. While the responses within the thread were different from each person, they were all basically the same in their core. Every one of them used this service, and most of them had it set up for use in multiple rooms so they could watch something or get online virtually anywhere in their homes.

I hear of and see people with cell phones that are capable of nearly everything a personal computer can do. You can use this phone to check your e-mail, get online, take and send pictures, text message, read a book, and now virtually any application that you can think of is available. For the majority of people, their phone never leaves their side. Some simply cannot imagine functioning without it

I'm old enough to remember when my parents got their first color television. I remember when the first commercially sold calculator and digital watch came out. I remember the first people I knew with their own computer had both a Commodore Vic-20 and a Commodore 64. I remember the first person I personally knew with a cell phone had a Motorola bag phone in his work truck, and I remember when my neighbor was the first person I knew to own a video game system when he got an Atari for Christmas. With the exception, of course, of the first television; I have been able to watch home electronics first come onto the scene and advance into what they now are in my 45 years on this Earth. I even remember going from an old rotary phone to a push button. And wow, that first cordless phone was just the coolest thing ever made. We though we were just a few years away from flying cars. Really?? A phone that doesn't have a cord?? WOW, this is like the Jetsons! Where is my robot maid and flying car???

. This is the hard part to think and write about. Have you ever gotten to the point in your life when you realize you sound like your parents? "I remember when I was your age...." "...uphill both ways in the snow"...... Well, I'm kind of there with this post. It's a bit of a hard pill to swallow, but I can accept it. Excuse me while I go look for another 50 gray hairs on my head....

I can't deny that electronics have advanced and in many ways helped or made our lives easier, but I can't help but wonder what they have done to us as a society. We've become so reliant on these items that we can't imagine living without them, and some have become so addicted to them that these devices nearly rule their lives. It's strange to me to see and read of people doing so many things with some electronic device, that either they could easily do otherwise, or so relying on that device for their day to day lives that they cannot do anything without it.

As I said earlier, I remember when a neighbor got an Atari game system for Christmas. It was actually pretty cool at the time. We would spend countless winter hours playing Frogger, PacMan, or drag racing. It killed time on those winter days, or those rainy summer days when there wasn't much to do outside. But, when the weather changed, that system sat on the shelf collecting dust. We had things to do-riding our bikes, chores (anyone remember those?), helping our parents, hunting, fishing, etc. Now I see people that spend entire evenings, or even days, playing games on the newer advanced systems. I personally know several who sometimes brag about spending their entire day off lounging on the couch playing the latest war-type game.

I've watched the home computers grow over the past 30 years. In high school, we used Radio Shack TRS80 computers, and now there are phones that are capable of far more than they were. I remember using my friends Commodore 64 over a phone line and thinking how awesome it was to be able to access someone else's computer. Now I can send e-mail, access any information, talk to friends instantly, and, of course, write in this blog. Actually, for those that don't know, I even met Lisa online almost 13 years ago.

I remember seeing people on tv with cell phones years ago. Normally they were the car phones, but handhelds weren't far behind them. The first person I knew to have any kind of cell phone was my supervisor/foreman when I first entered the pipe trade almost 16 years ago.He had a bag phone the size of a duffel bag in his truck, and it got horrible reception. Now I look around me and know only one person who doesn't have one. I'm constantly surrounded by people whose phone never, ever, leaves their side; and is constantly going off whether it's a call or text message. They're everywhere, and you can barely go anywhere where you won't see someone with their phone glued to their ear or typing away at a text message.

We did, at one time, have a game system. I had bought it the same winter when I met Lisa. I was working out of town and staying in a hotel 5-6 nights a week in the dead of northeast Ohio winter. I bought a used system and a few games just to pass the time in a hotel room. I still had the game system when we bought this place almost 11 years ago. I didn't think at the time I played it often, but I soon learned differently. I was sitting in front of the tv, playing a racing game, when I got up to get some coffee. As I walked to the kitchen, I realized that it was a beautiful day outside, and I had just spent 2-3 hours wasting away at a game. I unplugged the game and traded it off a few days later. I had the exact same thing happen 2 years ago when I realized that I had wasted 4 hours of a wonderful summer day watching a Mythbusters marathon. Two days later, we had the cable company come get the box, and we've never looked back. Since that day, I have read more books than I probably did in the previous ten years. I've stopped wasting my time and have educated myself in many ways. We spend time reading, talking to each other, and even sitting at the table playing board games. Life itself has improved in many ways since tossing the cable out of the window.

I've been writing this post a little at a time over the course of several days. I try not to cop an attitude when I write something like this based solely on my own opinion, but sometimes I do. It's those times when I delete the part I didn't like, and let it sit for a while. This morning I sat to read one of my regular forums with my first cup of coffee. Their forum is broken down into categories like most others, and I see a new post in the "videos" section. Sometimes the videos posted are educational, sometimes they're just entertaining, and sometimes they're of the poster's things done at their own home. I click on one that's titled in a way that makes me think it's from his home. When it opens, I'm disappointed to see that it's yet another video promotion for another video game. I see grown men talking about how they can't wait for the release of this game. Grown men. Not kids, not teens, not even 20-somethings, grown men. Maybe I'm just too disconnected now from games and television, but I just can't understand someone my age getting excited over a video game. It boggles my mind.

I'm sure that everyone is wondering where I am going with all of this, and here it is. I have to wonder if advances in home electronics have not only helped us grow as a society, but somehow choked us as people and are holding us back from being human. I see so many people around me and in the world that can't possibly survive their day to day life without electronics. They can't imagine a day without a cell phone, television, or game system. What started as simple communication and entertainment devices have turned into things that, for lack of better terms, rule our lives.I know people who can't even go to the bathroom without their cell phone. I know people that spend every waking moment away from work playing video games. I know people who sit and either read online or play games just the same. We are addicted, and we are reliant on each and every one of them in some form, whether we will admit it or not.

I'm aware that we live a lot differently than most of society. We aren't "the norm". I get that. But sometimes I have to look around and see how people live so differently that I'm not making myself an outcast from the norm, the norm is making me an outcast from it. I can't say we don't own any electronics. We do both have cell phones, and obviously we own a computer, but that's as far as we go. We don't have cable or satellite tv. We have an old, regular, boxy tv that we use to watch the occasional dvd. We don't own any type of game system, portable book reading device, or the latest phone capable of more than this old computer running WIndows 98. We've made our decisions based on our choices of how to live, and quite frankly, we never plan to go back.

I'm not saying everyone should make the choices we have. I'm not going to suggest to everyone that they toss the tv out of the window and concentrate on nothing but growing and raising their own food. I'm just asking that people take a step back and see what these things are doing to us. Everyone laughs at those old pictures from the 50's with the entire family huddled around the tiny black and white television. At the very least, they were together. Now look around and see that everyone in the family has their own tv, phone, computer, and game system in their own rooms. The dad is playing a war game, the mom is watching a chick-flick, the son is playin a guitar-playing game, and the little sister is on a social networking site talking about her teachers mole.

Take a day sometime and turn off all the electronics. Unplug for a while. Leave the tv and computer off. Leave your cell phone alone except for calls. Go outside and get some fresh air. Go to the library or book store and get a book. No, not from an online store or an e-book; I mean a good old fashioned paper book. Sit back and relax. Educate yourself. Go for a walk in the woods or the park. Sit under a tree and enjoy nature. Go home and plant something, then watch it grow. Think about that new electronics purchase. Do you really NEED it?

Spring Cleaning

What a dreary morning here. It's cold, raining, and the yard & garden look like a swamp. It's one of those mornings when you look out of the window and just want to go back to sleep. But, the snow is gone, the birds are singing, and warmer weather is on the way. There are so many things to do outside. I hope the warm and sunny shows up soon and sticks around. It's been a long, cold, snowy winter.

I've been tackling small projects over the past few days. The largest one has been cleaning and rearranging the tools and garage. I was able to get a nice metal roll-away tool box from the house I've been cleaning out, and I took the time to clean it completely and put away my hand tools. It's very cool to have everything organized and in separate drawers for the first time. Philips screwdrivers are separated from standard screwdrivers, 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 inch sockets and ratchets have their own drawers, metric and standard sockets each have their own spot, each type of plier has it's own drawer,(channel locks, pilers, snips, wire cutters/strippers etc), even torque drivers have their own drawer now. Ahhhhhhhh big box of red painted steel and tooliness, how I love thee so. Yes "tooliness" is now an official word. I think it belongs in the "Lisa-ism's dictionary with "roundy".

I had a much smaller roll-away box that I bought from Sears probably 17 years ago that I planned to give to a friend. But realizing that I have more tools than I had wall or available drawer space, I ended up using it. This one now holds drill bits and drill accessories, drywall tools, paint brushes and rollers, misc other household tools, and a drawer of tape measures. Yes, a drawer of different styles and sizes of tape measures. Lisa has shoes,(I dont have shoes...I have crafty stuff!!!) I have tape measures. Lots of them. It's a guy thing. (please note the edit from Lisa while I left this open on Wordpad) Remind me to not do that again.

While the workshop side of the garage is finally coming back together, I look at the other side and can't do anything but sigh. It's a small 2 car garage that I split in half by making a long workbench down the center between posts. The right side holds gas cans, garden tools, pots, and other misc things either on shelves or on the wall. The big problem is the floor area. In that one side; I have the tractor, tiller, push mower, wood chipper, garden cart, animal cage, four bicycles, chicken feed bins, straw, buckets, wash tubs, jack stands, floor jack, and a few other things. I've had to face facts that I have more "stuff" than I have garage. I'd love to build a lean-to behind the garage, or build a shed, but we don't have the money, and then there's always that ridiculous building permit thing that gets in the way. I'm going to try thinning out some things, but most in there are necessities. Arrrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhhhhh it's frustrating. Getting rid of tools? Is that really allowed? Will the tool gods strike me down?

I want to get things together, cleaned, and organized long before we start spring planting. I'm taking the time now before I start work in a week or two since we'll be back to just weekends and evenings for getting things done. It will be more difficult than last year since we added so many new garden spaces, but we'll manage just fine. The gardening and food production will just have to be on the very top of the priority list. Spare time for other things will be scarce this spring and summer,but I'm fine with that. That's what I do. I want this season to not only top last years production, but I want to prove that we can do it all while working two full time jobs. For me, the challenge itself gives me the drive. I do love a challenge.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Repost-A window to my past

Last night I was talking to some people in a chat through one of my regular forums, and questions came up about some of the things I do here at home. Some of the questions were about rabbits, and I mentioned how killing and butchering them didn't affect me very much since I had hunted since I was very young. I told them that sometimes, hunting was a necessity, and it reminded me of a post in this blog I had written a while ago. I dug through the blog archives and found it, and posted the link to share. As I sat here reading it late last night, I decided that today I would repost it here in the blog just to give some of the newer readers a little perspective on some things that have partly made me who I am. Some of you I've met through online forums, some of you I knew 25 years ago in school, and some of you just stumbled across my little corner of the internet and decided to stick around. Either way, this post from December 30th of 2008 will let you see a little bit of my past, and how it has returned to form me into who I am now. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After reading Farmergeeks response on his blog about the Boy Scout books, it somehow reminded me of my youth. Nope, I was never a scout, but I had always wanted to be one. I wanted to wear that uniform, I wanted to go on outings, have friends, and learn from them, but it never happened for several reasons. One, my parents never liked to drive anywhere other than work or to the store. Two, they could never have afforded anything I would have needed to be in the scouts. And three, dad always said they were wimps, lol, I imagine he couldn't get in either...grumpy old fart. Plus I was a very nervous kid..really withdrawn,shy, and afraid of everything. Hard to believe ain't it??? lol
While growing up, I never learned any of the wilderness survival skills in the scout books like making a shelter or tying knots, but I learned a lot from just living, even though at the time I didn't realize it. I learned to garden, I learned to shoot and hunt, I learned to fish, I learned how to preserve food, and I learned how to live on next to nothing. Times were hard at home, nearly my entire youth was spent from check to check by my parents barely making ends meet.At that time in the late 60's and early 70's, concrete guys just plain didn't work in the winter, so dad was always layed off. To understand where I'm coming from, I'll go into a little detail:

I grew up with my mom, dad, and sister on 3 acres in a small township in the same county I live in now. Our house was a 3 room basement home. NOT 3 bedrooms, 3, living room, backroom, that's it. We slept in the same room as our parents on bunkbeds till I was about 12, when dad separated the 2 rooms. Heat in the house was via an oil burning stove in the center of the living room,no ductwork, just radiant heat.(so even though we had our own room, we had to keep the door open when it was cold) We had well water attached to a kitchen sink and a washing machine, and that was all. We bathed in an old galvanized washtub with hot water from the sink. Our toilet was an indoor outhouse of sorts, inside a closet in the backroom. Basically just a frame with a seat and bucket underneath, with a matching real outhouse behind the old shed that was about 80 yards from the house.In the evenings after dark, dad carried that bucket to the outhouse, 365 days a year. We finally got a real bathroom with a tub, shower, and toilet when I was 15, so we (sis and I)thought we were rich. We had a black and white tv attached to a 25 foot antenna tower dad scrounged from a jobsite, with a grand total of 5 stations. (anyone else remember antenna rotors?) I believe I was around 18 or 19 when we got basic cable.I remember an old rotary phone in the house till around '85 as well. The flat tar roof leaked, the floor was almost always damp, the bare block walls cold, and the place always smelled of heating oil and Hoppes gun cleaner. (though I still love the smell of Hoppes, lol)

Food was always a big issue. During the warmer months, we ate what we deemed as "normal" food, though most was the cheapest cut available, and usually other things from the dented can bins at the local Sparkle Market. We busted our asses with a decent sized garden all summer, and I grew to hate it as a kid. I remember many days of pushing myself and my sister through green briar to pick blackberries, as well as wild grapes, so mom could make jellies and jams to can or freeze. (I still hate freezer jam though!) We never had any animals other than beagles, so our only meat source other than the store (when dad was working) was hunting. I can't begin to imagine how many meals we had that were duck, squirrel, or rabbit. At the time there were still pheasants in this part of Ohio, and we were always excited to bag one since it meant a good sized dinner. I think the worst time we had was one winter when dad and I set off hunting on Thanksgiving morning hoping to get a pheasant so we didn't have to have rabbit for dinner. Luckily we got one that day .

Funny how life works, isn't it? Most of my life I hated the way I grew up and resented my parents for making us live that way. We were "forced" to help around the house and garden. We had to use an outhouse when everyone else had a real bathroom. We had to watch an old b&w tv when the neighbors had color, remote control AND cable! All through my teens 20's,and early 30's, I pulled myself as far away from that life as I could, buying and doing everything I could, just because I could. But here I sit, typing and thinking about all of this and realize something. I'm going back to that way of life on purpose. It makes me chuckle to think about it, but it also makes me kinda sad. I wasted all that time trying to ignore who/what I really am. It took me all this time to find myself, but I made it. Without my childhood, and without Lisa's encouragement I would never be where I am now.....make that-WE would never be where WE are now.Without going into any detail, she grew up very similar in a house not much bigger with FOUR siblings...and I thought I had it tough! Sometimes I write in this blog like it's all me, but it's far from it. Lisa had taken every step right beside me the whole way,taking this incredible journey of lifestyle change that we are on.
Though they'll never see this, thank you mom and dad for making me who I am today, and thank you Lisa for your love and encouragement. You are my guiding light down this path to self sufficiency.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Meat-Part 2

In the last post, I talked about how much meat the US raises, consumes, and wastes in the average year. Today I'm going to touch on that a little more, and bring up the many reasons why we will no longer eat grocery store meat. Actually, make that *can't* eat grocery store meat.

First of all, we have to face the facts that society is always changing. In a previous post, I talked about how much things changed as people moved off the family farms and homesteads, and into the larger towns and cities. As these areas expanded and grew, people became more dependent on the store and the butcher. While a large population still provided for themselves, many people could no longer do so, or just plain didn't want to. They worked a job for a wage, and that wage provided them with the things they wanted and needed. The demand for food grew as these people settled more and more for city life. In a sense around this time, farms grew from providing for their own family and small communities, into businesses that could provide for more consumers.

Just going back 80 years to the 1930's, 24% of the American population worked in agriculture. In 2002, that number dropped to 1.5%. In 1940, each farm worker was able to roughly provide for 11 consumers, yet in 2002, that one worker was able to provide for 90. Data I have found has shown that agricultural production had doubled four times between 1820 and 1975, while the number of actual farms has fallen 63%. since 1900. So, basically, less farms today produce more food. Farm operations have become specialized, from an average of five commodities per farm in 1900 to one per farm in 2000. While the number of farms and farm workers has dramatically dropped over the years, the US population has exploded by roughly 205 million people in the 20th century. The population was around 76 million in 1900, and was close to 281 million in the year 2000. These "factory farms" were nearly a necessity, simply because of demand.

As the demand grew for food production, the landscape changed dramatically. Since 1860, approximately 260 million acres of forests have been cleared out for meat production in the United States. Simple ranches have turned into factory farm operations, growing larger each year. As of 2009, 74% of the worlds poultry, 43% of the worlds beef, and 68% of the worlds eggs are grown in these factory type operations.In whole, 56% of US farms are devoted to beef production alone. With the growth of the factory farms, agriculture for crops had to grow along with it. In the US, 80% of the corn and 95% of the oats grown here are consumed by livestock. I looked for a nationwide average on water usage by factory farms, but couldn't find anything. I did, however, find that on average, it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. A 600 pound steer will drink between 3.5 and 13 gallons per day, depending on weather and temperature. I've also found that the amount of water used to produce ten pounds of steak is just over the average water usage of an American household. Once again, I don't even want to do the math and get a rough estimate on how much water is used annually in the beef industry. I won't even go into how much of these crops are GMO's, that was another post.

I totally understand that there is a need for more food production as the population grows. That is not my issue. My problems are in the way these farms operate. Animals are generally kept in cramped quarters, given feed that is not natural to their diets, pumped full of antibiotics and steroids, deprived of sunlight,rarely (if ever) see open pastures, and not to even mention that the feeds are most likely GMO. Don't get me wrong, I'm no tree hugger or PETA type. I eat meat. Hell, I even raise and butcher my own chickens and rabbits. But I believe that not only I should be able to eat something free of chemicals, but I also believe that any animal, whether it's grown for food or not, deserves a good quality of life. That just doesn't happen on these farms.

Before I even go into spewing statistics and information on commercial farms and feed lots, I want to take a look at how much beef we actually consume as a nation. Americans on average, eat 67 pounds of beef per year. Numbers vary by location and even race, but those figures aren't important in keeping this where I want to go with this post. The fast food industry alone uses an enormous amount of the beef produced. In 1996, McDonalds beef usage alone was over 644 million pounds. Just like some of the numbers I found when I was writing the last post, this number to me is just staggering. Just out of curiosity, I looked up the US population of 1996. 265,189,754 million people, which I divided into that 64 million pounds. That works out to 2.43 pounds, per person in the US, in 1996. Just using McDonalds as an example. I honestly think I am going to be sick.

Roughly 13 suppliers in the US supply beef for the entire nation. Their numbers have decreased, but the number of cattle per feed lot has risen approximately 20%. Some of these feedlots can contain up to 100 thousand heads of cattle. I'm not going to do research on amounts and figures, but keep in mind that these cattle are fed mainly corn and soybeans (or products of them) so they fatten faster than they would grazing as they are designed by nature to do. Because of cramped, unsanitary conditions, the cattle are given antibiotics, whether they are sick or not, just as a "preventative" measure. I've found that nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics are used annually on livestock in the US.

Cattle, the same as any animal eats, and creates waste. It's estimated that beef cattle alone in US operations produce 25 pounds per day per cattle, 250 thousand pounds per second nationwide, and over one billion tons annually. Waste from these farms can, and has, leaked into the waterways, eventually leading to the ocean. Though not from cattle, a six acre lagoon holding hog waste in North Carolina in 1995' spilling an estimated 25 million gallons spilled into the New river. Figures show that approximately ten to fourteen million fish died as the result. This problem is far more than just your normal waste. With the practices of these farms, the waste can contain growth hormones and/or antibiotics. There are studies that link dead zones in the ocean to this runoff.

The affects of the antibiotics and steroids on humans is a big debate. There are no studies that show 100 percent, without a doubt, that these are causing health problems. There are studies that show the possibilities that these are linked to cancers, birth defects, and many other health issues. My look at it is simple. I don't care what any study shows. Steroids and antibiotics do not belong on my plate.

I really have to stop here. I've spent enough of my time researching this stuff. Honestly, I don't want to read any more. I get more disturbed and disgusted with everything I read.

So what can we do about this? There is no one answer. What I can say, is to avoid grocery store meat as much as possible. Buy from local farmers who raise there beef with organic methods. Ask your local butcher where their beef comes from, and if their suppliers are organic. Stop eating fast food and supporting the need for these places. (that stuff is horrible for you anyway) Consider eating meatless meals more often. We generally eat 3-4 meatless dinners a week, and it hasn't been a problem. I though I would hate it, but I've grown used to it and like it now. Though I'm not a vegetarian, and have no plans to be, I do know that we don't "need" meat. There are plenty of other ways to get protein in your diet.
Think about all of this the next time you go shopping or make dinner.Any time you buy their product, you're adding to the machine. Make some changes. Make a difference. No one person can change or stop all of this, but many of us together can at least put a hurt on them. Personally, I sleep better at night knowing that my dollars aren't supporting these practices. How do you sleep?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Meat-part 1

Just the same as with vegetables and gardening, I get a lot of comments and questions about the meat we consume at home. More so than getting people to understand growing their own food, most have a very hard time understanding why, and how, I could raise chickens or rabbits to butcher them. For some strange reason, people who have no problem at all going to the grocery store to buy chicken, beef, and pork from the meat department are absolutely horrified at the thought of my killing a chicken for a meal. They just have to choose which package they want. Someone else does the "dirty work". The majority of people don't even think about their choice at all. They just grab the biggest package of chicken breasts, or choose the largest steaks, and never give a thought to what they are really buying. Was this animal healthy? How was it raised? Where did it come from? People never think about these things, and most seem to not even care.

It's strange how everyone has become so disconnected with their food. Out of sight, out of mind. Two years ago, Lisa and I went to the local county fair. We did the usual walk through the 4H barns, looking at the animals. We were near the pigs, and noticed a sign hanging on a post. It was a typical cartoon-type picture that we've all seen. It showed the outline of a pig, with all of the different cuts of meat marked with dotted lines. A woman walked by with (I'll assume) her kids with her. She was the kind we've seen there many times. The ones that obviously don't want to be in the barns. The look of disgust and bent up nose made it obvious that she didn't like the smell of the barns. I still cannot understand why people like that even go there. she walked by the same area with the pigs, she noticed the sign. She jumped in front of the sign, holding her arms out to block the view of it from her kids, as if she was blocking Superman from a piece of kryptonite. She was blocking the view so her kids wouldn't be horrified at finding out where their chops and ham they had for dinner last week came from. Some people simply don't know about where food comes from. Others choose to keep a blind eye to it. Others, like this woman, choose to intentionally block any knowledge of it at all from people like their kids. More and more each year, the disconnection grows, even though our consumption grows at staggering rates. For example, the statistics used below are based on just beef and nothing else.

While the United States is only around 5% of the total world's population, we consume 15% it's meat production.In 2009, we as a nation produced 26.07 billion pounds of beef, yet consumed 26.9 billion pounds. While our consumption was larger than our production, we still exported 1.87 billion pounds throughout the year. Imagine what that 26.9 billion works out to be. That is the equivalent of 107.3 billion quarter pound cheeseburgers. In 2009, the US slaughtered 33.3 million head of cattle, and our cattle inventory stood at 94.5 million. Those numbers, once again, to me are staggering.

What is even more staggering is figuring out how much is non usable or wasted between a single full live beef steer and what is actually consumed. If we figure an average sized steer weights 540lbs, the usage below really opens your eyes. While I'm not going to do the math, imagine what those figures would be when multiplied by the 33.3 million head of cattle slaughtered in 2009. I didn't figure out the total amount of waste that 33.3 million head of cattle averages out to be. I don't think I really want to know.

Live weight 540lbs 100% Full size avg.steer
Dressed weight 330lbs 61% Hanging carcass
Saleable weight 250lbs 46% Includes bones and fat
Edible weight 205 lbs 38% Actual cuts of meat
Actually consumed 185lbs 34% Including weight loss in cooking and table waste

I'm sure by now anyone reading this post is wondering where I am going with this. I'm not trying in any way to tell people to become vegetarian. That is not my intent at all. My intent, however, is to try making people realize what we as a nation are doing. I plan to make another post soon about the perils of commercial farming. Their practices are far beyond disturbing. They're disgusting. What I want to do with this post is to get any of you to think about these numbers when you are at the store buying that next meal or next weeks worth of groceries. Consider what you are buying. Are you adding to these figures by buying from giant farming companies, or are you supporting your local economy and buying from a farmer nearby. Sure, even if you buy from someone locally, you are still buying beef. But consider that in the US alone, four companies produce 81% of the cattle,52% of the pigs, and 50% of the chicken consumed annually. When companies like these get that large, a $6.5 billion industry in 2002, they don't care about the animals or your safety. They just want your dollar.

We don't raise our own cattle here at home, because it's obvious, we're just on one acre. We do though, buy beef and pork from a friend who raises them on a large farm with his father. Besides the fact that we know the animals aren't pumped full of chemicals and hormones, we know that we aren't giving our money to corperate giants that want nothing more than to dominate the industry. We do however butcher our own chickens at home, and have raised rabbits for an additional source of meat.It's been almost 2 years since we have bought any meat from the grocery store, and we never plan on buying from them again.

I'm no tree hugger. I will never be the kind to protest at beef plants or tie myself to a tree. But, I can't help but feel a bit guilty that I added to those figures before we changed our lifestyle and eating habits. I'm happy to know that we are not causing that 1 or 2 cattle a year to be somewhere in that mountain of figures. I'm glad to know that my money isn't going to these giant companies that care about nothing but the almighty dollar. And last, I'm very happy to know that I'm not supporting the giant operations that support growth hormones, large doses of antibiotics, and horrible living conditions.........

That one, my friends, will be the next post. You'll just have to wait!

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