Prioritizing Fresh, Sustainable Food

Sunday, July 29, 2012

With food, you get what you pay for. Over the past 100 years, we Americans have spent less and less on our food--have become far more detached from its production.  The poorer quality of industrialized, factory-produced food is manifesting in expanding obesity rates and exploding diet-related illnesses. At the turn of the 20th century, Americans spent about half of their net income on food; today, that number hovers around 10 percent.  In fact, we Americans spend a smaller percentage of our income on our food than any other country.

The low value we place on our food and its sources leads us as a nation to subsidize factory farms and the cheap, low-quality foods they produce. By re-prioritizing our family's food, recognizing its central place in the health and well-being of our children and our planet, we can allocate our scarce resources more effectively. We can recognize that while it may be more inconvenient and more expensive to buy our foods directly from local, sustainable farms, the quality of the small, local farm foods is vastly superior by all measures. And if we can't afford to buy local foods, then we can start producing our own meat and produce, as Sam over at My Barefoot Farm recently wrote about in her post, "An Omnivore's Decision."

My small city condo makes it difficult to produce my own food, so instead I rely on dedicating a large portion of our family's net income to local, farm-fresh foods. Through this partnership with local farms and our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) relationships, my children have a far greater appreciation for the food they eat and the farms that produce it, and they see sustainable agriculture and locavorism as natural and normal.

My goal, which is easily accomplished at this time of year with bountiful summer harvests and daily city Farmers' Markets, is to rarely visit the store for food products. I pick up the occasional gallon of vinegar, package of salt, or box of baking soda at the local market, but most of our summertime food never sees the inside of a store.

It seems to me that's the way it should be. We should be more connected to the food we eat, to the growers who produce it, to the soil that nurtures it. We should be willing to pay more for that farm-fresh quality and the health benefits it offers, for the farmers who work diligently to produce our food using sustainable growing practices, and we should be ready to make the necessary sacrifices for that to happen. Yes, it's more expensive, often more inconvenient, and sometimes more labor-intensive to eat fresh, local, free-range, pesticide-free foods that come from farms not factories.  But shouldn't it be?

{this moment} Berries and Curls

Friday, July 27, 2012

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

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{this moment} At the Museum

Friday, July 20, 2012

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Summer Time

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We're in the thick of it, these hot, bright July days.  Like many of you celebrating summer, our days are mostly centered around soil and water, digging and splashing.  We are enjoying the bountiful summer harvests from our local farms, and spending many hours in and near the water. 

It is during these full and free days of summer that I am reminded how fiercely we parents need to protect childhood year-round, protect our children's precious time to wander and imagine, to dream and discover.  The crafting masterpieces that emerge after hours spent swimming, the hushed but animated conversations had with invisible friends, the plays and performances conjured with other non-invisible friends-- these are hallmarks of summertime, the creative energy of childhood, the chunks of wide open time that we must preserve throughout the year.

As I begin to consider our cooler day rhythms and fall routines, I am being vigilant.  I am making sure that the great abundance of autumn offerings, classes and activities, doesn't overcrowd my children's wide open, unstructured time.  Time is the priority.  Time is a primary reason we unschool our children.  Time is the gift we give to our children when we create the conditions for them to just be: to uncover their interests, to pursue their passions, to reveal their spirits.

As I soak in these long, hot days, knowing how quickly they will pass into cooler, shorter ones, I am taking the time to really see my children, see the people they are, the dreams they have, the talents they nurture.  I am taking the time to enjoy warm, carefree days spent in soil and water.  And I am taking the time to ensure that I make time for childhood freedom and discovery even after summer time ends. 

Blueberry Picking

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oh, July!  It's blueberry time in these parts, and we are enjoying farm-fresh blueberries by the bushel at our local Farmers' Markets and nearby farms.  Today we left the city for a morning of blueberry picking at a delightful little fruit farm, where we picked and ate pounds of fresh blueberries warmed by the beaming July sun.

It is such a gift, I think, for our children to be intimately connected to seasonal harvests, to appreciate the delicate dance between nature and grower, and to value fresh, sustainably-grown, local food.  So much of our summer learning revolves around seeking, growing, harvesting, preparing, and enjoying local food, understanding the important interplay of these things.  Back-to-the-farm movements come and go, but I'm hopeful that the modern "locavore" trend has greater staying power, particularly as a new generation learns to care about where and how their food is produced and consumed, and to identify the stark contrast between industrialized and local food.

Blueberry cake, blueberry muffins, blueberry pie, blueberry jam, blueberry smoothies....oh my!  I hope you're enjoying some summertime goodness too!

Urban Homesteading Recharge

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Our farm vacation last week brought many insights and provided a valuable opportunity to re-up my urban homesteading and sustainable living goals.  Here are some of the urban homesteading actions I am recommitting to:

The Clothesline - There is nothing like hanging freshly-washed diapers to dry outside in the beaming sun.  We enjoyed lots of space and sunshine at the farm, in stark contrast to my small city deck, shaded entirely by an ancient and towering pine tree that hinders both growing and drying (though it does keep us cool.)  Still, I had so much fun with our al fresco drying at the farm that I reconnected with my outdoor drying rack and hung up a clothesline too.  So far so good.

The "Pig Pail" - While on our farm-stay vacation we had a small "pig pail" in our kitchen in which to save food scraps that would be used nightly when we slopped the pigs.  Very cool.  I have been interested in composting for quite some time, but hadn't had much luck getting things going.  First, the worm composter I had in our basement a couple of years ago bred flies (probably because I wasn't vigilant enough to keep it constantly tilled and fed), and an outdoor composter seems a bit of a hazard, given our fair share of city rats who hang around even without the temptation of rotting food.  We had so much fun with our farm pig pail, though, that I thought I would again investigate our options.  I discovered, with gratitude, that our city has greatly expanded its composting program, providing more frequent and convenient drop-off times and teaming up with our local Whole Foods market to offer compost drop-off every day of the week.  Yahoo!  So now we have our "city pig pail"-- and my three-year-old is happy to resume this "chore" at home, just as he did at the farm.

The Brew - I've been talking about making our own home-brewed beer for ages, and our trip to the farm provided just the right getaway to refocus on this urban homesteading goal.  We've visited our local home-brew supply store (which conveniently also has the cheese-making and yogurt supplies that I've been using), and are stocking up on supplies to hopefully enjoy a home-brew batch just in time for autumn.

The Wool - I'm back to my goal of increasing my knitting skills, hopefully learning how to sew in the not-too-distant future, and refocusing overall on learning important heirloom skills.

The Local Farm - For over a year now, I have been getting most of our family's food from two sources: a Vermont farm collaborative that serves Boston-area families. and our local Farmers' Markets, that in warmer months occur daily within just a short walk of our city condo, and weekly in the colder months.  We have also enjoyed frequent visits to local farms for pick-your-own days and other educational and recreational events.  After living on a farm for a week, though, I felt like we needed to have a deeper, more consistent connection with a specific farm in our area.  CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) often provide this connection and are ubiquitous in the city, and I was looking for a similar model with a small, welcoming, educationally-focused farm.  We now make weekly trips to a sweet little organic farm for eggs and produce and other farm-fresh items, and linger a while to feed the lambs, pat the cow, visit the chickens, watch the turkeys grow plumper, chat with the farmers, and wander the fields.  I get my weekly farm-fix while supporting local, sustainable agriculture.

The Urban Homesteading Community - I have found many urban homesteaders to be passionate, active, and eager to share their skills, knowledge, triumphs and challenges.  I have connected with a local urban homesteading network that offers an array of regular classes on topics ranging from bat-house making, to urban chicken-keeping, to canning and composting, and would highly recommend connecting with a local homesteading network for support and fellowship.

Sometimes a bit of travel and relaxation are all we need to refocus on our goals and recommit to the actions necessary to achieve those goals.  What about you?  What goals are on your homesteading to-do list?

My Affair with the Farm

Monday, July 9, 2012

Oh, what an affair!  Our family's farm-stay vacation at a working Vermont farm last week exceeded my expectations.  We milked the cows, hiked with the goats, cuddled with the kittens, roamed the farm's 100-acres of pastoral countryside, learned how to make cheese, slopped the pigs, washed the show-cow, picked raspberries, visited with the warm and welcoming farmers, caught grasshoppers, swam in the swimming hole, collected fire-flies, ate delicious grass-fed beef, fresh raw milk, and just-laid eggs, and savored a whole lot of unhurried family time in the rural, bucolic, and quintessential New England town of Benson, Vermont.

I'll admit it: I'm having an affair with the farm.  I'm enjoying all of its romance and routine, without the commitment and care.  I'm dreaming of a red barn, a family cow, and a flock of hens, while maintaining my steady relationship with the city.  I have no plans to leave the city for the farm, but I will continue to enjoy my frequent farm dates and the occasional overnight rendezvous.

In fact, my affair with the farm--especially a week of seeing the real and honest workings of one--has helped to reignite my romance with the city.  As much as I love the farm, I know that I am a city girl at heart, feeling most at home nestled in the middle of a vibrant and diverse urban center.  Still, being at the farm, surrounded by the quiet, green country, unplugged from the Internet while tapped into the natural cycle of life and food, brought with it a sense of humility and connection to the land that can be easily forgotten in a busy city.

The most significant truth I learned from our time at the farm is that a simpler, more sustainable, more self-reliant life is really a state-of-mind, a state-of-being, regardless of place.  We can live more simply, sustainably, and self-sufficiently if we commit to such a lifestyle, in the city or in the country. We can prioritize our family's connection with nature, respect the earth and its many gifts, care about where our food comes from and where our waste goes, create homesteads that are active centers of sustainable production, cherish unplugged family time and the opportunity to watch our children learn and grow--whether on a quiet farm or in the middle of a bustling city, whether surrounded by scores of green acres or miles of concrete.

I'll continue my love affair with the farm--supporting it, visiting it, respecting and learning from it, and encouraging others to do the same--but I won't leave the city behind.  While the grass may be greener at the farm (heck, I don't even have a blade of grass), there is no place like home.

Farm-Stay Family Vacation

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Such a wonderful week at the farm for our farm-stay family vacation!  There is so much to say about the farm, what I learned from our week in the Vermont countryside, and the ideas I have returned with to expand my urban homesteading goals.  Check back tomorrow and all this week for some reflections, but for now, I'll share some snapshots from our amazing time!

For more information about a farm-stay vacation in your area, check out  

Country Homesteading: A Simpler, Sustainable Lifestyle

Friday, July 6, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 
Today we welcome Samantha Burns, an unschooling homesteader from Maine, who blogs at Runamuk Acres.

It seems like there are a lot of very busy families out there these days. Families busy with school and work, after-school programs, sports and other extra-curricular activities; everyone rushing to and fro, needing mobile devices just to stay connected with one another. Yet even as they're rushing off to soccer practice, those families are yearning for something—less. They're yearning for a slower lifestyle. And with all the talk in the media of sustainability, many of those busy families are wondering if there is some way that they too can enjoy that fabled way of living.

As an unschooling mom of two rowdy boys, and owner/operator of a budding agribusiness affectionately named “Runamuk," I have to say, "Yes!." Of course you can slow down; of course you can practice sustainability even if you are not living rurally on a homestead. Families in all walks of life can practice sustainability just by keeping a few key concepts in mind:

1.  Remember the three 'R's: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.
No matter where or how you live, there are ways to reduce your dependance on, what we in the agribusiness call, off-farm in-puts. Reduce your energy use, reduce your shopping list to meager necessities, reduce your holiday extravagance and focus more on time spent with family, reduce the amount of traveling you do (and for people in cities where there is public transportation, save your gas and ride the bus!). Schedule fewer activities and enjoy more time together as a family—it will save you time, money, stress, and strengthen the bonds between you and your children. Find creative ways to reuse things around the house. Encourage the whole family to help, brainstorm together. If you don't already recycle—start! Participate in your local recycling program and enlist the whole family; if you don't have a local program, start a campaign to establish one in your home-town.

2.  Go GREEN whenever you can.  
One green action today will lead to another tomorrow, and soon enough you will find yourself on the path to a more sustainable lifestyle. Optimize your energy usage, weatherize your home, use energy-efficient CFL or LED light-bulbs, conserve water. Avoid harsh chemicals like soaps and cleaners, insecticides and herbicides; they're not good for your family and they're not good for the environment. Use less plastic—and this is easier said than done in today's modern world, but if you only switch to reusable shopping bags you will be making a major contribution.

3.  Buy local.  
Many products travel thousands of miles to reach us; buying locally saves resources, and also ensures that the money you spend stays within your community. Buy from small businesses in your area, you'd be surprised what's available within a twenty-mile radius. Shop at your local farmer's market or participate in a farm-CSA (community supported agriculture), many small farms these days offer organically grown produce or pasture-raised meats. By getting to know your farmer you are getting to know your food, the methods used to produce it, what's been sprayed on it, and how long it's been sitting there. You will foster in your children a sense of pride in their community, as well as teaching them to make healthier food choices and fighting childhood obesity.

4.  Connect with nature.
Studies show that families who spend time outdoors regularly raise healthier, happier kids and inspire a life-long appreciation of wildlife and nature. That appreciation in turn fosters the desire to protect nature, which is the heart of any green initiative. Schedule annual visits to a state or national park near you, go hiking, birdwatching, camping or fishing. Even just observing wildlife in your own backyard can be a powerful motivator for children and grown-ups alike. Set up a bird-feeder and watch the birds that frequent it. Observe insects and teach your children not to fear them; many are beneficial to our gardens, and all of them are necessary as part of the food chain. Growing plants teaches your children the value of living things and how plants work, even if you live in a high-rise apartment building you can grow food for your family to consume—try container planting on your balcony or patio, grow micro-greens or sprouts on your kitchen counter. Learn more about nature; read books about nature with your kids, and watch documentaries on television like “Planet Earth”, “Life”, or “Shark Week”--make it a special event for the whole family and really celebrate the beauty and magnificence of this planet with your children.

5.  Get involved.
Lead by example. Inspire your family to get involved by participating in a course like the Master Gardener's program or a Food-Preservation class, both offered by your local Cooperative Extension. Read books, magazines and other publications to learn more about what's happening to the world around you and what you can do to change your own life. Join a club or an organization--like your local chapter of the Audubon Society, recycling committee, or other such environmental association. When your family is ready to participate, consider joining a local 4-H group, helping with an Earth Day clean-up project, an Arbor Day event or work with any number of citizen science projects to help scientists collect data about wildlife while teaching your children the value of nature and community involvement.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Teddy Roosevelt; he once said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Begin with one, small change, and when you're ready make another, then another. Every little bit counts. Your family may rebel a bit in the beginning—change is never easy. But if you persevere, I promise you they will thank you for it someday; and you will feel good about it too. What's more is that when the people around you see the goodness of the changes your family has made, you will inspire them to make changes as well. A simpler, more sustainable lifestyle is within your reach, and you can start today—right now. 

Samantha Burns is the unschooling mamma of two rowdy boys, as well as the owner/operator at Runamuk Micro-Farm in Maine.  She is a certified Master Gardener, licensed beekeeper, and President of the Somerset chapter of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, working closely with the local Cooperative Extension to teach the surrounding communities more about beekeeping and pollinators.  To learn more about her endeavors to live sustainably check out the Runamuk-blog at

Country Homesteading: From City Life to Country Farm

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 
Today we welcome Rachel Shaw, a pioneering homesteader who left her home in metro-Boston this spring to lead a small, sustainable, organic family farm in rural Massachusetts. Rachel blogs at Earthworks Farm.

How did I get here? It started with a documentary on commercial pig farming that I watched on a whim. I cried for days. After that there were many books and documentaries all adding up to one thing - we could not continue to be a part of the industrial food system, no matter if it was plants or animals we were eating. My husband and I spent many nights awake and talking about it and came to the same conclusion; our lifestyle had to go. We felt drawn to the work of healing the food system in this country.

It took me two years of research to find and buy our home, but here we are; living in a passive solar house with 6 acres on the side of a mountain in Hampden County. It’s been a big change… for all of us really. My two children (7 and 4) have never lived anywhere but the city, and even though my husband and I both grew up in the country, it was a bit of a change for us as well. Susan and Jason’s reactions surprise me, sometimes the things they ask are delightful, sometimes they are heart breaking. It took them weeks to get over their fear of so much outdoors… well right outside our door. We’re still working on walking the tightrope that is respecting the local wildlife without living in fear.

We wanted to jump right in to farming, and so I ordered ducklings and chicks. “Duck eggs, yum.” I thought. But I’ll tell you, these animals are not pets, and they are not tame. They are also a lot of work. There is a peacefulness, though, to watching your food grow bigger every day, a contentment I had not expected to find – like having meat already in the freezer. What surprised me even more was that I found the same sense of contentment growing in my daughter. She has a sense of the rightness (for lack of a better word) of this work, as if we now have a place in the universe. It is as though taking part in the creation of our own food fills a need in her that neither of us knew was there. It makes sense though. Before my grandmother’s generation my family have always been farmers, so I guess this feels a bit as though we are fulfilling some kind of genetic destiny. This connection to the earth and the food that comes of it is deep in my blood, and I find in my daughter’s blood as well.

Jason, at 4, just thinks that the birds are cool, and enjoys carrying the feeding scoop, and shaking dried mealy worms into the brooders. He has no idea that he’s learning at all. By contrast Susan asks as many questions as there are stars in the sky. She already grasps the basic anatomy of a bird (and was pretty horrified at where eggs come from, not that it stopped her from eating them). She’s also studying the local food web with a passion, especially as it relates to animals who might eat our fowl. I figure I field a couple hundred farming and nature related questions a day. Some of them I even have to look up. This is the best kind of learning I think; that done with dirty hands and open minds.

Where do we go from here? This year will be spent on the house and the fowl. I may go so far as to dig beds and plant a few herbs this fall. Next year, with the help of said fowl we will start the gardens. Perhaps the year after will be the start of the hoofed animals. Probably it will be the year after. We intend to grow slowly, as is natural, and never expand beyond what we can produce ourselves. Most of all, we seek a connection with our food and the land that produces it.

Rachel Shaw is part owner and operator of Earthworks Farm. She studied photography at Boston University while raising two small children, and has spent the last 7 years living and working in Metro Boston. In May of 2012 she and her family moved to Hampden County Massachusetts to start the work of relearning how to live on a small organic family farm. The work continues. So far it includes the skills to knit, crochet, sew, spin yarn, raise fowl, brew mead, make soap, build a stone fire pit, plant and tend a garden, cut and stack wood, and cook almost anything from scratch. In her spare time she studies history, and reads anything she can get her hands on. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, Earthworks Farm.

Country Homesteading: Unschooling in Rural Alaska

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 
Today we welcome Mark Zeiger, an unschooling dad and Alaskan homesteader who blogs about his self-sufficient, off-the-grid family lifestyle at


We started home schooling our daughter, Aly, when we moved to our “homestead” in Southeast Alaska. We recognized the limitations of institutional learning, and had always hoped for something better for her. The inconvenient commute from our semi-remote location to the local school gave us the excuse we sought. We “unschooled” Aly for five years. She scored highly in all required standardized testing. We issued our own diploma and transcripts in accordance with Alaska state law. She is now pursuing a college degree in her chosen field.

We wanted Aly to gain a high quality, self-directed education that would help her choose and prepare for her path in life, and qualify her for college to earn certification. We encouraged her development in the following skills and qualities:
  • Critical thinking
  • The ability to access and evaluate information
  • A love of experiential and lifelong learning
  • Practical life skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Civic awareness
  • Self awareness

Aly could hardly have had a better unschooling environment. Our lifestyle demands a level of mental and physical discipline few Americans experience. Living beyond easy reach of most modern conveniences, safeguards, and services, we grow, gather, fish and hunt most of our own food. Our “utilities” are our own responsibility—no municipal power, water, or sewer connections reach us. Any maintenance, changes or improvements to our systems require our own ingenuity, the ability to learn new skills quickly, and above all, flexibility. Every learning curve on the homestead is a steep one.

Our environment offers incredible learning opportunities. Surrounded by forest and edged by ocean, we come into daily contact with wild animals, from shrews to whales. We’re surrounded by mysteries of the natural world that continue to elude today’s best scientific minds.

Satellite Internet provided valuable research tools throughout Aly’s studies, but much of her self-education came the old fashioned way, through reading. Our family’s books on a wide range of subjects helped, as did our excellent town library. We also received support from our community, particularly from the local school system. Aly had many casual mentors willing to share their knowledge and experience with an eager young mind.

We allowed Aly to direct the majority of her education, facilitating only when necessary. We guided her toward resources, and nudged her if she lost momentum or grew discouraged. We sometimes worked with her on standard coursework in specific subjects. We tried to stay out of the way, but reserved the right to insist that certain lessons be learned. As parents we have that privilege and responsibility.

The result of this unorthodox education has been an intelligent, well-adjusted, delightful young woman, of whom we are justifiably proud. We’re grateful that our lifestyle allowed us to be intimately involved in a learning process that continues to enrich the whole family. I can’t imagine us being able to facilitate her education had we tried to hold regular jobs outside the home. Our slower, simpler, more deliberate lifestyle definitely contributed to Aly’s success.
Mark, Michelle, and Aly Zeiger live on a forested, off-the-grid homestead on the shore of Alaska’s Lynn Canal, more than a mile from the nearest road. Mark runs a small publishing company over the Internet, Michelle works part time as a Behavioral Health Associate. Otherwise they live on micro-incomes and subsistence. Their life, including Aly’s unschooling adventures, are documented on the Zeiger Family Homestead Blog at Mark also contributes to

Country Homesteading: A Typical Homeschooling Day

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 
Today we welcome Jennie, a homeschooling, homesteading mom of two girls from North Carolina, who blogs at Little Bent Creek Farm.

Nearly a year ago, my husband, two daughters, and I began an experiment in living more sustainably and closer to the earth when we bought a small piece of property on the outskirts of Davidson, NC and began converting it to a small farm. We currently have 3 dairy goats, 8 laying hens, 40 chicks and a donkey as well as a large vegetable, fruit and herb garden.  Since a number of people have asked me about how homeschooling works in this context, I thought I would describe for you what might be a typical “school day” for us.

On weekdays, my husband and I wake up around 4:30 and head downstairs to work out. By 6:15, my husband has left for work and I am at the computer checking e-mail or trying to find more information on how to de-worm goats and chickens without chemicals, or which plants and herbs to plant next in the garden. Around this time, the girls wake up, make up their beds, get dressed, and come downstairs to report on the dreams they had or tell me a story they have been playing out in their room.

Then it's time to head to the barn. The girls generally get there first. They let the chickens out of the coop and into the run, tossing them some scratch and chatting with them as they excitedly devour their breakfast. After that, Simi (the 6-year-old) feeds the goats and starts mucking out their stall as Segi (the 7-year-old) takes care of cleaning out the chicken coop. I muck Ellie Mae’s (the donkey’s) stall, put out her hay, and groom her. Then we all go visit the baby chicks, filling their own feeders, cuddling them, and giggling at their funny antics. Then we head back to the house, dumping the contents of our muck buckets in the compost pile on our way (it will make beautiful soil for our garden in the coming months).

As the girls eat their breakfast, I comb through their curls (and you thought mucking out the barn sounded challenging?!?) while reading to them from our current chapter book. After the girls finish eating, they usually head straight back to the barn to check for eggs, distribute kitchen scraps, visit with the animals, and orchestrate all sorts of dramas and adventures. These days they are spending a lot of time at the "houses" they have created from sticks, rocks, planks, and hay lying around the barnyard. While they hang out there, I prepare and eat my own breakfast, and then it's time to start school--or as we prefer to call it, "Discovery Time."

By this time it is around 9:00. While our daily study schedule is not set in stone (one of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to take advantage of opportunities that come up anytime, after all!), we follow a fairly consistent pattern. Two days a week, we begin our studies with a yoga session. For this, we follow a program called Angel Bear Yoga. It involves reflecting each time on a different principle or character trait (optimism, compassion, peace, love, patience, and so forth) and then acting out through yoga poses beings in nature that reflect that principle/trait (a sunrise, an elephant, a maple tree, a seahorse). On other weekdays, we begin by reading and memorizing poetry together.

Then it is time for reading and writing. Each of the girls chooses from a group of readers or chapter books I have selected for her based on her reading level and interests. They take turns reading, the older one often helping the younger one with several words. After that it is my turn to read to them. This is when we turn to our current unit studies topic. Our own unit studies system this year has involved learning about different countries around the world: one each month of the school year. During that month, our social studies, science, and art appreciation studies focus on that country. Thus, the book(s) I read to them at this time will be about that country.

After I read, they will carry out one or more hands-on activities related to that country. Examples include:
·       doing a related arts and crafts project (painting, making clay models, sewing)
·       studying the country's flag and coloring it
·       labeling and coloring a map of the country
·       listening and dancing to music from the country
·       preparing food from the country
·       conducting a science experiment related to the ecology of the country
·       watching an educational video about the country (generally short videos we access online)
·       completing interactive online activities related to the country.

Then the girls and I work together to choose their writing projects. We generally try to come up with a purposeful exercise (letters to friends) or something related to our unit studies theme (a mini-essay about desert animals, for example). One of their favorite writing projects this year was composing and illustrating fictional "books" about their goats and chickens (e.g.,"The Great Chicken Escape"). After this we turn to math. We are currently using a combination of math exercises from the Oak Meadow homeschooling curriculum and a math program called Miquon Math. Both programs teach students (and their teachers!) to think creatively about math problems and to use manipulates to understand math concepts. After math we might have music time, or we might have Spanish. At this point, we are generally through with our formal studies for the day. It is now around 12:30 and time for a short stroll up the lane to check the mail and then lunch.

After we've all eaten and rested a bit, we usually spend the afternoon working around the barn or in the garden. The girls might enjoy a ride on Ellie Mae, take the goats for a walk, or play in the creek for a while. If there is not a lot of work to do close to home, we might hike through the woods, walk into town to visit the library, or wander up to a nearby playground. Sometimes we do research following up on topics we've breeched during Discovery Time or on topics the girls have come up with on their own.

While my girls and I generally spend only a few hours of most weekdays doing what most people would recognize as "school," we spend a great deal of our time learning together--as we cook together, hike together, work together, and discuss books we are reading or issues that interest us. Perhaps the best laboratories we have for learning are the barn and the woods surrounding our house. As we follow the development of the baby chicks; treat a laceration on a goat’s leg; try to figure out if Ellie Mae is pregnant; watch the seasons change and the birds migrate; organize seeds for planting; research organic methods for controlling garden pests the girls and I delve into biology, chemistry, history, and sociology. And they learn some of the practical skills that have disappeared from the knowledge stores of so many American families and communities.

We call our little school "Whole World Homeschool"--an ambitious name for our tiny operation, perhaps, but reflective our ambitions--to see the whole world as our classroom and our object of study: from India, Ecuador, the Alps and the Sahara to the earthworms in our backyard, the ferns in the forest, and the animals and plants we raise to feed ourselves. For us homeschooling is an adventure in learning that takes us well beyond the parameters of traditional "subjects" and well beyond the confines of classroom walls. It is an adventure that is often messy and difficult but also often filled with excitement, wonder and discovery. Perhaps most importantly, it is an adventure that allows us to journey together.

Jennie, her husband, and their two home-schooled children live and learn on a small country homestead just outside the city limits of Davidson, NC. After years of dreaming about living a more self-sufficient life, in the summer of 2011, the family bought a 4 1/2-acre homestead.  You can follow Jennie's journey on her blog, Little Bent Creek Farm.

Country Homesteading: Learning on a Georgia Farm

Monday, July 2, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 
Today's post is from Samantha, a homeschooling, homesteading mom of seven from Georgia, who blogs at My Barefoot Farm.

Hello from a small corner in North Georgia! I am always thrilled to share with others a glimpse into our lives here as we home educate our children and strive to maintain an ever growing sustainable family farm. 

I will admit that there are days when I wonder what crazy person would trade a perfectly manicured lawn and flowerbed in a subdivision for a life with cow muck on the boots and chicken feathers scattered around the ground from what remains of a hawk killing. There are many days we have sick critters, uncooperative weather, and too many projects to realistically accomplish but at the end of the day we are grateful to have all of the experiences this life offers.

We home educated our children long before we ever lived on the property and started farming, and our reasons for doing such are many. Our day starts out like any other home school day across the country with lessons at the kitchen table. Living out on a small family farm, however, does have its rewards as far as teaching children life skills and expanding their hands on learning.

My oldest daughter, for example, spent one spring learning genetics by pairing some of her chickens together and then marking the eggs layed by the hens with certain symbols for the breeds. She bought an incubator and hatched a huge clutch of eggs, noting what traits showed in the baby chicks. She also had the responsibility of caring for the baby chicks and all of the learning curves that go along with new hatchlings.

Because we have honey bees, the children have extra knowledge about the agricultural importance of the honey bee as well as the life cycles and products she produces. We have several bee suits so the kids can dress up and help with bee yard chores such as hive inspections and splitting hives. One daughter in particular loves finding the queen bee and is very quick at spotting her on a frame.

Lucy, our family cow, has also been a great animal to have here on the farm. The kids have all hand milked her and are learning how to make butter, cheese, and ice cream from all of the wonderful milk and cream Lucy provides. In about a month she will be due to calve and we are are all pitching in to prepare for the new addition. I am sure that the new calf will bring with it new responsibilities as well as opportunities to learn more about cows.

Another opportunity provided to us by the farm is raising food for ourselves and others. Raising pasture poultry has been great because the children not only have a greater respect for their food and where it comes from, but they have learned the many skills that go along with producing and selling a product to others. The kids are involved from the chick stage to the processing stage, including eviscerating and packaging the chickens. 

The children do have outside interests that do not revolve around farm life too, and we try and meet those needs when we are able. Typically when a child decides they want to pursue an outside activity such as an art class or guitar lessons, I wait until the child is about 10 years old. Experience has taught me that it is better to wait until the child is old enough to practice on their own with out being reminded constantly. If a child is not interested enough to practice and put forth effort on their own, then it's not worth the time or resources to attend the activity. This of course comes with age and I have found that a ten year old or older is more willing to apply some effort into extracurricular activities on their own. This rule is also a necessity when you have a large family because it is not realistic to run a farm and family if every child has extra activities to attend or if an activity occupies an entire weekend. I also do not believe that all children must attend extra activities in order to be well rounded, and it's possible that too many activities are detrimental if it robs a child from a true family life at home. More often than not, my children find activities here at home that they have been able to learn and develop, such as archery, gardening, sewing, and horseback riding. 

Despite the days when there is a sick animal or swarming bees or a drastic drop in egg production from the hens, life on a small family farm is everything you could imagine. The opportunities to learn are abundant and we increasingly learn more and more life skills each year. I always tell friends who live in the suburbs, and those who do not, that it's easy to incorporate some farm life into their daily routines. Backyard chickens are some of the best animals to have because they are inexpensive, easy to care for and provide the family with delicious eggs. You would be amazed at the learning experiences offered by buying baby chicks and bringing them home for your children to care for too! The excitement of gathering their first egg is always picture worthy and will leave a permanent memory in your child's mind, not to forget that fresh eggs are divine!

I know that there are some who balk at life on a farm in this modern day age and think that spending one's day tending to animals will not contribute to a future corporate career. I disagree. Small farm living nurtures a child's ability to problem solve and deal with real life situations, all skills that are needed in any career. I know that my children will one day grow up and might choose to live off a farm, but I have the security in knowing that they grew up learning how to be good stewards to the land and to have respect for all living creatures. They know the hard work that goes into family farms and will carry that knowledge with them always. 

I still think that manicured lawns and perfectly perfect flowerbeds are wonderful, but I wouldn't trade the cow muck or chicken feathers for anything!

Samantha lives on a small, 30-acre family farm in Ringgold, GA with her fabulous husband Devin and their seven spunky and home educated children (Journee, Quinn, Indiana, Willow, Rose, Zeb, and Fletcher). Besides farming, her favorite hobbies include quilting, baking, reading and sipping sweet tea. Her house is rarely spotless and neither are her children but she figures that's the mark of a truly fulfilled day.  Follow Samantha's family adventures on her blog, My Barefoot Farm.

Country Homesteading: Raising Farm Kids

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Inspired by my family's farm-stay vacation on a working farm in Vermont, this week I am presenting a series of posts by guest-bloggers who live and learn on country homesteads and farms.  Most of these guest-bloggers are homeschoolers; all are committed to a life that is more self-reliant, homemade, connected to the land, and focused on family.  Thank you to the fabulous guest-bloggers! I hope you enjoy this series! 

Today we welcome Michelle, a homeschooling mom of four forging their way to a farm-life in Eastern Iowa. Michelle blogs about her homeschooling, homesteading life at Simplify, Live, Love.
One of the first books I read when I started seriously considering homeschooling was A Patchwork of Days: Share a Day With 30 Homeschooling Families, by Nancy Lande. This book is a compilation of chapters written by 30 different families, with 30 different approaches to homeschooling - some structured, some eclectic, some unschoolers, some religious, some secular, some rural, some urban. I loved seeing how other families approached education and realized the possibilities were endless. 

The vast number of choices available to homeschoolers was eye-opening to me, and that's ultimately what clinched my decision to give it a shot. I loved "seeing" how other families approached homeschooling and lived their lives. The vivid, sometimes funny stories made me laugh and gave me hope that I could pull it off. This book, probably more than any other book I read, is the reason I finally decided to give homeschooling a shot.

When we first started having children eight years ago I never really thought I would end up homeschooling. My husband was a "career" officer in the Air Force with a teaching appointment at the US Air Force Academy, his alma mater. We were happily living a suburban life in the concrete jungle of Colorado Springs. At some point, though, we became disgruntled and decided to make a big change.

So we gave up the career in the Air Force and moved back to my husband's hometown in rural, Eastern Iowa. We decided we really wanted to raise farm kids and didn't see how we could do that if we were following the military around. At the same time that we gave up the military life, we also gave up the security of employment with any other company and became self-employed. These were huge changes for us to make and, I'm not going to lie to you, it's been a turbulent six years since we left the military. Four kids in six years. Starting a home building/remodeling company literally weeks before the housing market evaporated. Living a non-mainstream life in a very mainstream part of the world. Living in a remodel in process. All of these challenges have been very difficult to live with at times.

The good news - I can honestly tell you, we are on our way to raising farm kids! We're not quite living our farm dream yet, but we're well on our way. We're learning about topics we're interested in. We have the freedom to travel when we want. We have a big organic garden and eat well on a tight budget. We play in the dirt and learn about nature. We read a lot of books. We complete projects we're passionate about, like barn restoration and preservation!

Has it all been easy? No. Some days aren't pretty. I constantly question my reasons for choosing this path. I re-evaluate and make changes as needed. I have to remember that I'm doing this for the best interest of my entire family - me included {I find my priorities often come dead last}.

We take homeschooling day by day andpursue alternatives as needed. The reason I initially wanted to homeschool was for flexibility and I have to remind myself that flexibility means considering alternatives and making changes. The best advice I can give anyone considering homeschooling is to be flexible! Don't be afraid to make changes. Don't be deterred by nay-sayers and unsupportive family and friends. Realize that there's a lot more to life than the few facts found in textbooks. Follow your passions, even if that means living differently from everyone else. But find some like-minded people to help you on your journey. It will make a H.U.G.E. difference.

Michelle is a homeschooling mom of four children working toward their dream of a farm-life.  You can follow Michelle's homesteading and homeschooling exploits at her blog: Simplify, Live, Love.