Category Archives: Community Owned Agriculture

Meet Mary and Starr – and Creating a Food Oasis

Meet Mary. She is the reason I left the city. Yes, you can have mini goats in the city. But you cannot have loud mini goats or you risk upsetting your neighbors. Mary is very, very loud but very, very lovable. She is learning to be milked this week and I’ll breed her in November. That means in April I’ll have more baby goat cuteness and hopefully more future milkers.

Meet Starr.

He is Mary’s wether, my children’s playmate. And although Mary has a forever home here, I’m not sure what the future brings for Starr. At some point Mary will have more boy babies and they may be even friendlier than Starr is. We cannot keep all the boy babies Mary will ever have so we’ll have some hard decisions to make in the future. Dairy is not easy. In order to have milk you need to continue breeding the animals. What I do know is, every animal I own will have the best life and the best death that I can give it. I owe that much to them.

Meet my frog pond. My friend Eric dug most of the hole for it. This is where I plan to experiment with edible water plants. I picked up two pond liners off Craigs List to cut my teeth on (training for the future aquaponics operation). They have taken up more time than I care to realize this summer trying to get the filters and pumps just so…and they are not yet just so.

Meet my future kiwi arbor. In addition to fencing and electrifying I am building a hardy kiwi arbor next to the frog pond. It will be a lovely place to hang out on warm days once it’s done. If it’s ever done.

This area is just north of what will be the kiwi arbor and it will be in part to full shade most of the time. I plan to create a keyhole planting there to experiment with part to full shade perennial or reseeding vegetables. This is where I will recreate the crummy shaded conditions many of you are trying to garden in back in the city. I also want to experiment with how much food someone who wants a garden but does not want to garden can grow. Wish me luck!

This area is just south of the future kiwi arbor and although it gets full sun most of the day it contains a full sized apple and fig tree which shade most of the 20′ x 20′ section. Rather than remove the trees I’ll be creating a guild around them with more perennial vegetables and fruits.

This area will be the entrance to the garden, flanked by hops and contain herbs, flowers, and children’s whimsy. I’m not sure yet how productive this area will be but it will be fun for all who venture inside.

This roughly 100′ x 20′ area of the garden will be intensive rows with a movable high tunnel where I can start warm weather crops early and grow vegetables for 5 families year round. Fingers crossed! So far it’s a lot of gravel walkways and I’ve been slowly digging it all out (thanks to Linda and kids who came and helped last Friday!) Then I bring in topsoil. Lots, and lots of topsoil.

This area and the 20′ x 20′ section outside the garden will be joined and fenced around. Here I will plant blueberries and black and red currants. And hopefully the goats will not manage to break the electric fence and eat them all.

This is chicken row. My friend Eric helped me consolidate all the asparagus beds inside the chicken area so the ladies can keep the asparagus beetles in control by eating the larvae that overwinter in the dirt. Next to the asparagus rows I’ll be adding summer and fall raspberries and marionberries. Next to them is an old orchard with varieties of plums, peach and apple on full sized tree stock. Come fall I’ll be removing them and replacing them with dwarf fruits: cherry, plum, peach, persimmon, quince, crabapple.

I’ve added a duck pond in the poultry yard. The filter clogs up twice a day and if I don’t use it you can close your eyes and imagine Green Lake in August. The smell, not so pretty.

The ducks, however, very pretty. Flip, Splish and Splosh. Flap refused to get out of the pool for the picture. He’s like that.

I spy with my little eye…Mary! She just needs a little lamb.

The next update will include the newly completed poultry shack and the return of my feral flock of chickens. Perhaps Nibbles and the rest of the buns and their newly completed rabbit shelter will even be included. Stay tuned to the continuing progress as I race to complete it before school starts and the book hits store shelves, all in just a few weeks.

2 1/2 Weeks

The last time I titled a post something like this, it was a countdown until the book was turned in. This time it’s for something even more life altering. In 2 1/2 weeks I’m leaving the city. It’s suddenly sinking in that there are only two more milk deliveries, 2 more Saturdays, and too few boxes between me and my farmette.

And while all the others who have gone before me seem to know this is the right thing to do and have the full support of their families, that’s not really the case for me. Leaving the city had never really occurred to me before, or my kids, or my husband. And while I’m crazy for farming, they are not. This could be a huge mistake, or it could be the most amazing opportunity ever.

Either way I’m glad I have so many families interesting in supporting me, in farming together and forging something new. I’m excited to be helping out those who aren’t able to make this leap, or have covenants that don’t support small livestock, or just aren’t able to do this without the support of others because they have small children.

My mind is still racing with possibilities for creating things those families can use: Vermicompost made from the synergy that is rabbits and chickens and food scraps and goat bedding, rotated in the orchard with the honey bees. Goats and blackberry and cedars and brush in the pasture. Ducks and pond and possibly fish and frogs inside the garden area. Pigs in a wooded area with an understory of nut trees. Children everywhere else (quite possibly camps for city kids) or specialized retreat/learning weekends. Hopefully one mini demonstration food forest, and polyculture plantings with perennial vegetables. So much to think about…

But for now I’m trying to focus on one purchase and one sale, one mortgage and one move, two birthdays and two boys who mustn’t feel lost in this whole process. So bear with me a little longer and hopefully I will find time and content soon to post.

Dreaming of 5 Acres

And is it possible that anyone who reads this blog isn’t dreaming of 5 acres?

But if you had the chance – would you? Uproot your family, leave the secure real estate of the city with its conveniences and many friends and activities? Trade it all for isolation and the unknown?

The risk of gardening at 400 feet in elevation? (I know, you in Colorado at 6512 feet are scoffing but the sun actually shines there!)

The risk that bears will break into the henhouse or come crash your marshmallow roasts?  That deer will eat all your vegetables?

What would you do with 5 wooded acres?

And how could you use 5 wooded acres to strengthen food security back in the city for others without access to 5 acres?

Is 5 acres enough?  Too much?

If things work out I will be finding out. Sometime late next week I should know for certain that we will be leaving the city for 5 wooded acres at 400′ past Ames Lake, populated by bears and deer.

This last year I’ve swung back and forth on this decision. It’s not possible for everyone in the city to leave it and we can’t all afford to. That pains me just as much as the argument that real food is too expensive, that locavores are silly, and that this food movement is elitist. It’s urban sprawl at its worst – the idea of 5 acres per family, or even 1 acre per family is part of why we have lost so much farmland in the last 50 years.

But here’s what I’m thinking: On that 5 acres I intend to start the first COA (community owned agriculture for those who have joined me since last fall). It will be small, maybe 4-5 other families who live in the city. I won’t grow produce for you, I will demand that you do that in the city and I will provide as much knowledge and hand-holding as possible. What I can do for you is prove this model and provide you with what you cannot do in the city – a home for livestock. A place for community. A retreat. Staycations.  Hopefully a template that can be recreated anywhere despite political or economical climates.

I don’t want to farm 5 acres by myself. I want to go on vacation every year and spend more time with my family. I want to get back to blogging. I want to grow old gracefully, and not the haggard, sleepless aging of someone with too much to do and no support. I’m looking for those families who are interested in the COA but have more time than money. I’m especially interested in those families with small kids who need support. Those families who sacrificed a second income in order to raise a family. If this is you please let me know.

Here’s what I’m not interested in: Commercial farming. Spending all my time growing annual vegetables. Selling raw milk products when the FDA has mandating they will shut down X number of raw milk dairies per year. Naysayers.

What does this mean for this blog? More experiments, especially in early variety vegetables grown in part shade conditions. If you read Cliff Mass’ blog you know we may well be in for a 30 year cooling trend in the Pacific NW so these experiments will benefit us all! More experiments with perennial or reseeding vegetables so that I don’t spend much time gardening. More cute baby goat, rabbit, chick, duckling and perhaps some turkey and pig pictures. More permaculture, vermiculture and compost. In short, more poop. And hopefully more whimsey because I’ve missed it this winter.

You will also be seeing a new template as soon as I can figure it out.  Easier access to old posts that probably contain gardening or cooking or philosophical content that is highly relevant to those with small city lots.

And you’ll be seeing new content from my co-author, Joshua McNichols who lives on a small city lot in Ballard and has no plans to leave it.  He rocks.  He remembers to focus his camera.  If he says something you can rest assured he has thought about all sides of it for a long time, interviewed, researched and mastered it.  He’s jiggy like that.

As for me, I’m ready to kick up my bloomers and maybe even do that in the course of a cartwheel or two. I’m ready. Are you?

Staying Put

With all this rain I got to thinking last night and did some googling. I came up with some gems that led us to back out of the farm offer. This image in particular from the King County Government Library had me shaking in my rain boots.

I would point out the property to you but it’s under water. Completely. And I can’t ask my family to live with that hanging over their heads. The real estate agent told us it was a once in 100 year flood but when my husband pulled the records he found that it happened not only in 2009 but in 2006 as well. So much for every 100 years.

So I’m admitting defeat on the farm and we are staying put. This means I can plant peas and add a few more trees (where I don’t know but I’m like that Italian grandmother that can always fit a few more plates at the table.) Staying here feels like the right decision but I may change my mind when I can’t get my kids into the same elementary school this fall.

So what does this mean for the community owned agriculture project you may ask? I’m not sure but I will continue to look for farmland. Just not farmland that we live on. If anyone has leads on 10 acres of non floodland less than 2 hours from Seattle for around $10K per acre, please send them my way.

In the meantime I plan to convert some of my garden over to more permaculture methods. I plan to scrap my rotational system altogether – that traditional system of gardening that lays out your plant families like a brightly colored quilt so pests can easily find their favorite crops and settle right in. I’m convinced in a small city garden crop rotation doesn’t really do much good unless you have a soil based pathogen destroying things. I plan now to disguise my plantings by peppering the most tender, delicious brassicas amongst bitter herbs and greens. Maybe I can throw pests off the trail. The challenge will be to continue to maximize output at the same time. You know what though? I miss the farmer’s market. It’s been two years since I’ve shopped there. I miss seeing friends and chatting with farmers.

You know what else I miss? Buying tortilla chips. What good is a pantry full of home canned salsa if you can’t make nachos anytime you want? And yes, I know I could fry up my own homemade tortillas but in a pinch I don’t. This year I’m backing off a bit. I want to add meat rabbits and change the garden around and get dairy goats and in order to fit that in and dial back my crazy I’m cutting myself some slack.

And now I’m off to dig out my envelopes of pea seeds. Because, gosh darn it, I’m staying here and I plan to celebrate that fact with peas. Now if it would only stop raining long enough for me to get them in the ground!

Community Owned Agriculture or BUST!

I’m here! But I’m still buried. By next week I should have an update for you on if I have an update. I’d like to tell you more but…well you know the line.

In the last week I’ve been frantically turning over stones to secure what would be the perfect initial Community Owned Agriculture property. It’s a bank-owned sale so we made an initial contingent offer but it’s so perfect that I’m trying to secure it by removing that contingency. The good news is I think I’ve found a way!

So no more details for now but suffice it to say I’ve been frantically trying to complete a year’s worth of business accounting neglected while I focused on the book in two days. When I say two days I really mean more like 48 hours of cajoling children to read one more book, complete one more puzzle and find one more crumb of food in the house because “Mama’s gonna buy you a goat to milk.”

I have big dreams people! And those of you who are interested in the COA project are apart of this one. So for now keep sending positive energy and prayers towards the COA and maybe this time next week I’ll be unveiling something.