Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Work!

Today is my last day in the office for the year. We are seeing my family tonight and Bill's family tomorrow afternoon. On Saturday, we are heading to Wisconsin. We plan to:

Install a new seat on the tractor
Put the chains on the tractor tires (I know - we should have done this about a month ago!)
Begin 'shoring up' the foundation of the barn

We are coming home to Chicago on Wednesday and on Thurs we are getting a dumpster and removing the demolition from the apartment we are remodeling.

A week full of work and projects!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The mustard worked out great! I've given it to a couple of people and so far they are pretty impressed!

Here is the Dijon recipe.

Dijon Mustard

1 ¼ cups brown mustard seeds
1 cup yellow mustard powder
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
¼ dup dry white wine
7 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons white wine
Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon ground mace (I left this out)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I left this out)

Soak the mustard seeds and powder in the water, vinegar and wine. Soak 48 hours, then add the garlic and spices. Mix in a food processor or blender for 5-6 minutes. Cook on low heat in a saucepan or crock pot for 4 hours to mellow out the flavors. (I only did this for 2 hours.)

Age 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
We have a dog that is living in our backyard. It won't let me near it, but it is so skinny I can see all of the vertebrae on his spine. His looks like a Chihuahua mix. I've been feeding him 3 times per day to try to put some weight on him and see if he'll come around to be less feral. In the photo here he is in a box on a rug that I put out for him. Bill has since made him a little den with mulch all around it and a cover to keep snow and rain out so he stays dry and warm(er). He is pretty territorial around his den. I should probably get a humane trap and catch him and take him to Anti-Cruelty but I know they would probably put him down, so I'm going to see if he warms up to me at all.
We still miss our dog terribly - even though it has been 2 1/2 years so it is kinda nice to see pawprints in the snow in the backyard again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Too late re IL Dept of Ag

I just found out that Warren Goetsch was already reappointed to the IL Department of Agriculture.

Politics in Illinois never ceases to amaze me.

If you live in Illinois - call to action re CAFOs!

If you live in Illinois, please consider contacting Governor Pat Quinn to oppose the re-appointment of Warren Goetsch to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

It seems that Mr. Goetsch believes that CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are a good thing for the state and for the rural populations. Mr. Goetsch has continually put the desires of large agribusiness before the concerns of public health of the citizens of Illinois. Mr. Goetsch is behind the improperly permitted large CAFO trying to open in Nora, IL. Read more here.

Industrial agriculture is not sustainable.
Illinois citizens support traditional farmers and family farms - not corporate facilities.
Industrial agriculture destroys our clean air and water.
Agribusinesses destroy rural communities.

Call, email or write to Governor Pat Quinn:

Kate Tomford, Director of Sustainability
Office of Governor Pat Quinn
100 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60601
312-814-4083 fax 312-814-4864

Monday, December 14, 2009

Future Farmhouse

A drawing Bill did of our future home.

The smaller building on the left is the current house which we are repurposing into a studio, office, commercial kitchen and garage.

The building on the right is the newer one. They are connected by a breezeway. Passive solar and solar heated radiant floors are in the house, the breezeway and the commercial kitchen.

The new building is 24' x 30'.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


This year my homemade holiday gifts are lip balm, pear ginger jam, pear butter and homemade mustard. I concocted the lip balm by mixing some beeswax, cocoa butter, olive oil, sweet almond oil and a vanilla bean. It is very waxy, but I like that. My work environment is so dry that my lips are continually peeling so I wanted something really thick and waxy. I don't know how others will like it - but I guess I'll find out! The vanilla didn't impart as much flavor or aroma as I would have liked.

Today is my in the kitchen day. I have started the mustard, brewing some homebrew (that is a gift to Bill and me - not for others :) ) and I'm trying out my new sourdough starter than my cousin gave me yesterday. I love homemade gifts! I killed my last starter (note to self: use and feed it weekly!). I vow to not kill this one.

My brew is a Vienna Lager. I am a novice brewer so I mostly use kits - I was surprised to see that this kit contained corn sugar. I've only tried one non-kit and it was pretty hop-py. It was good. I've been brewing for about two years - it is enjoyable, tasty and more reasonable to purchasing good microbrews.

In this photo, you can see my wooden bread bowl on the right, the homebrew boiling on the stove.

My supervisors. Gracie (black) and Georgie (white tabby also female).

Mustard! I've never tried this, but I'm making two kinds: Apple Cider and Dijon. The one on the left is Dijon.
Here is the Apple Cider Mustard recipe: (I'll post the dijon in a day or so).
Apple Cider Mustard
2/3 C Yellow mustard seeds
1/2 C Brown mustard seeds
1 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C hard apple cider (or apple cider)
2 t brown sugar
2 t salt
Combine seeds, vinegar and cider in a glass jar. Seed out at room temperature for 48 hours. Add remaining ingredients, pour into a food processor and blend and mix until creamy, about 5 mins. Add more liquid (2 vinegar: 1 cider) if needed. Requires 2 -4 weeks aging.
Good on pork, sandwiches or with pretzels.
How easy is that?!? I get my bulk spices (mustard seeds, etc.) from my food coop via Frontier. Even if you have to pay their retail prices - it is worth it because they are a great company and they have really fresh products.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why a 20 acre farm is named 3 Flat Acres

We named our farm 3 Flat Acres soon after buying it in the fall of 2006 (wow - has it been that long already?). Might not make sense to some as it is a 20 acre farm.

A little history first. Six months after we got married, Bill and I purchased a multi-unit building in Chicago. Local vernacular in Chicago calls multi unit buildings "flats" - like they do in London. Our building is a 3 Flat which means that it has three apartments. To say this is a fixer-upper is an understatement. It was crawling with cockroaches and in one of the bathrooms, the bathtub was about to fall through the floor because of leaking water and rotten walls and floors. Anyway - I won't bore you with all of the work we have done, but we have been working on it and living in one of the apartments consistently since 1997.

About 8 years after purchase, the building started to very slowly, bit by bit, make us money instead of consistently costing us money (in repairs and rehabs). After almost 13 years we are now at the point where it has given us the financial freedom to pursue our farm dreams. It has been a long road full of late nights, weekends full of work, and frankly still living in an apartment in our mid-40s but we have always believed that our sacrifices would eventually pay off. The income is now finally able to pay for the building and the farm.

But back to the farm. Our 20 acre farm is very hilly. We are in the driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin. We don't have much flat area on our farm. Enough to put growing beds in areas and allow for crop rotation, but it is not at all like the prairie in western IL where my grandparents farmed from fenceline to fenceline. One day after purchasing our farm, I said to Bill, 'I think we should name our farm 3 Flat Acres - it fairly accurately describes the topography, but it also pays homage to our 3 flat in Chicago that has allowed us to pursue this dream.' He readily agreed and that is how our farm was named.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Jobs and finances

Well... Bill gave notice at his job on Monday. He will be there through the end of February. We joke that he is now going from 4 jobs to 3. He has been working getting a new business up and running for over a year now and doing projects on the weekends. He specializes in garden design and does sculptures and furniture out of reclaimed and recycled materials. check out his website here He is also busy with our landlord duties. We have 6 rental apartments in Chicago (we live in one). We recently had a tenant move out so we are going to take this opportunity to fix it up by gutting and remodeling the kitchen and bath and installing a new energy efficient furnace. He has also been working hard to design and timeline our farm rehab and construction - he has been doing architectural drawings and plans and continually revising them. We feel pretty confident that we are close to a final design. (We are including a commercial kitchen! yea!) We want to order our solar panels and some of our solar water heater components to take advantage of the tax credit on our 2009 return. It has been an exciting week - we feel like we are taking a really big step towards our dream of living on our farm.

In other news, our farm class focused on a $10,000 farm start up last week. It was sobering. In the study we did (egg layers - which are of course not really a money maker) showed how little money the farmer made.

I'm also reading a case study published by Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems and the finances are just astoundingly poor, to be frank. Market gardeners with less than 3 acres in vegetable production (not including cover crops) make on average $4.96 per hour. This report is from late 2005 so maybe money has gotten better...? Here is a link to the study: Grower to Grower: Creating a livelihood on a fresh market vegetable farm. I haven't read the whole study yet, but I look forward to delving into it further. I need to really do some self-reflection to determine whether I can mentally be OK with working that hard for less than minimum wage. Lots to consider.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Squash quesadillas

I baked up a huge butternut squash last weekend that we have been eating on several times this week. I forgot to take a picture, but it wouldn't fit in my 9x13" baking pan. I had to pull out my big roasting pan. After eating a meal of squash, we still had about 7 C of squash. (yes, it was grown organically and locally by our Southern Wisc meat vendor for my food coop).

Last night we had squash quesadillas.

Heated up several cups of squash. Added a small amount of honey and a lot of garlic. Meanwhile we carmelized some onions from Two Onion Farm with some chipolte pepper (this was a canned item).

On flour tortillas we spread some squash (thinly), topped with the onions and lightly with some cheese (mozzarella from Roelli Cheese - not organic, but local - I shredded it myself) topped with another tortilla and popped into a 325 oven until warmed and slightly browned. Topped with homemade roasted green tomato salsa and some fresh greens from the yard.

Quick and delicious!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

class and chickens

I should be writing more about our Farm Beginnings class. We had our second class this past Saturday. We are learning a lot. Our homework for class #1 was to write a personal aim. Mine is: Mesh the farm rhythm and seasons into work, life and art. This is to be our daily goal - kind of like a daily affirmation. This past Saturday's class (#2) featured a lecture on biodynamics - wow, that is a lot to think about and definitely a motivating topic for future study. I confess all I knew about biodynamics was that a horn was buried. I didn't know that there are so many different preparations. I really liked it. I think it compliments my personal aim.

Then we visited a pastured based chicken farmer. They had these neato portable pens which are moved to fresh grass every day. They have ropes on the front and little lawn mower wheels on the back to allow them to move. They do cover these with tarps and face them appropriately with the sun and the wind so that the pens get the cross breezes. I also liked how they shorted the side so that they aren't as low to allow easier access to the birds without having to bend over so far into the corners. She raises cornish cross. It was interesting that she said that her customer base didn't want/like heritage breed.

This week's homework for class is writing a mission statement for our farm. We have also had exercises where we are drawing our farm (everything: house, growing beds, greenhouses, washing stations, coolers, housing for help, alternative energy) - it was a fun and thought provoking exercise. We have also been asked to think about finances. One worksheet had us actually qualify how much money we want/need to make at farming. That is a really hard thing to do. We settled on between $750-$1000/month. I'd love feedback on that number if anyone has any thoughts. It seems like not much - but like Bill said, if we were interested in the money we would just keep our current jobs and stay in the city.

All in all, we are greatly enjoying the class, hearing stories from real farmers and networking with other students.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Great article by Joel Salatin

I drink raw milk (sold illegally on the underground market)

Joel Salatin, "This industrial food experiment, historically speaking, is completely abnormal. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t spell or pronounce. It’s not normal to eat things you can’t make in your kitchen. Indeed, if everything in today’s science-based supermarket that was unavailable before 1900 were removed, hardly anything would be left. And as more people realize that this grand experiment in ingesting material totally foreign to our three-trillion-member internal community of intestinal microflora and -fauna is really biologically aberrant behavior, they are opting out of industrial fare. Indeed, to call it a food revolution is accurate."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Future Farm Patio Furniture

We found this Find at the El Junque store on Western Ave in Chicago. It is a guy that deals in cash only and buys from scrap trucks that cruise the alleyways of Chicago.

I've been wanting a two person glider for quite a while. Every time we drive past, we keep our eyes peeled for what is on the sidewalk. And one day there it was! Asking price $25. We ended up paying $18. It doesn't glide but Bill will fix that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A week of reflection

Our first Farm Beginnings class was amazing. I feel more confident that we can do this than ever. I also feel justified in calling ourselves future farmers. Since Bill is also starting a small business (that we hope will help with income once we live in Chicago) we have decided that we are definitely partners in this farming venture - but it is my 'project' so to speak. While in class we did an interesting exercise in which we were forced to pick our top 10 from terms relating to Values. (Examples - just picking some randomly: Accomplishment, Achivement, Arts, Affection, Honesty, Financial Gain, Public Service, Trust, Money, Truth). Then we had to cull that list to 5. Then further to 3. My remaining 3 were: Independence, Meaningful Work and Nature. I think that is very interesting that they are about as far away from my day job in Corporate America as you can get - shows how unfulfilled I am right now. Anyway - we then use that exercise to write our Goals and Values and then turn that into a Objective for Business. This is the hard part of business planning that no one does. But wow, it is a useful exercise! I have been thinking, reworking, rewriting and reflecting on it all week. I am greatly looking forward to the next class.

And the best part of the class? Oh my gosh. Meeting the others that want to do what we want to do! Bill and I are often the ones that no one seems to understand. "you want to do what?" "You make your own bread?!" "You can just buy bread at the store." "You want to live in the country?" We were surrounded by like-minded folks. And there was every age group represented: young parents, some fresh out of college, father-daughter teams, pre-retirees and plenty of mid-lifers looking for a change (like us).

We took Friday off and spent the weekend in Wisconsin. Our accomplishments were pretty minor but fun.

Our insurance company is threatening to not renew our policy for the farm/church-house if we didn't put railings on the steps. We have made steps out of huge local boulders (3 to 4' in length) - many stacked on top of another. Bill wasn't wild about the idea of taking away the beauty of his natural steps - but you gotta do what 'da insurance man' say.

He stopped at one of the many architectural salvage stores around our neighborhood in Chicago. He found some cool victorian iron scroll work but gheesh, it was over $400. No way.

So we drove up on Thurs night without much of a plan but we did have a bunch of tools. He kept saying - we'll just go over to the farm in the morning and I'll poke around the junkpile. (Every farm has a junk pile, right?)

Friday morning at the farm junk pile, he pulled out two rusty large farm fence posts that were all bent up. He also found two cedar branches. He fashioned a lovely railing out of these found objects for FREE! The man is destined to live on a farm.

I also learned to chop wood. Yes, with a splitting maul. I definitely do NOT have hang of it yet, but I did OK. It wasn't pretty and I was incredibly slow, but I got some wood (box elder, certainly not oak or elm) split. I will work to increase my confidence in my swing as the winter progresses. This will be our last year buying wood. We just haven't had the time on the weekends to fell, split, season, haul and stack wood while trying to fix up multiple places - especially when we can get a large load from the neighbor for $75 (and he has lots of wood and needs the money).

I am roasting a local acorn squash, wedge fries out of potatoes from my garden and a large green salad from the greens of the last Platteville Farmer's Market. Hello Fall!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I love seasonal cookbooks that use fresh, local produce. In making supper tonight, I was leafing through a few to get ideas. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Baking Illustrated - Cook's Illustrated

The Real Dirt on Vegetables by Farmer John

Edible Earth by Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko

Dinner ended up being:

Baking Powder biscuits from Baking Illustrated. No milk on hand so I thinned some of my raw milk yogurt.

Browned Brussel Sprouts in Parmesan Crust from The Real Dirt on Veggies.

Quinoa with Carrot and Garlic. I found this recipe somewhere online but I can't find it so I made from memory.
1 C of cooked quinoa
1 large carrot, diced
Some ginger - I used about 3 T
~3 T of flour
Salt & pepper to taste

While the quinoa is simmering, warm and slightly soften the carrot and garlic. Pull from the heat. Cool quinoa in a bowl until it is comfortable enough to handle. Stir in the carrot mixture. Sprinkle with flour and mix well until the mixture sticks together. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Form the quinoa mixture into little patties (approx 2") and fry in the olive oil. Serve warm, room temp or cold. I drizzle with some yogurt with fresh herbs. They are delicious the next day for lunch too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Handmade hula hoe

This is a paw print of our dog that we had to put to sleep two years ago. Bill recently mounted it in a piece of old timber that he found in the belltower of our church. We have two of them - one in the Wisc church and one in our Chicago house.

This is a handmade hula hoe that Bill made me for me for my 4oth birthday. It is a white oak sapling.

This is the handle. He left part of the bark on the end. The silver band is a piece of metal from a can of dog food from our dog. He turned under the sharp ends with a metal bender and had carved out a section of the handle where the metal fits. Also, he hand punched a message on the band - it says 3 Flat Acres.

This is the top of the handle. It is hard to see but he carved a silhouette of our dog. When he gave it to me he said, "I know you miss her when you garden, so I carved her image so that she can still be with you."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Weekend accomplishments

I woke up on Saturday not feeling well, so I went back to bed and slept until 2:30. I must have been tired!

I made up for it on Sunday by:
  • Doing three loads of laundry and drying them outside
  • Baking 2 loaves of whole wheat bread
  • Turning the compost pile
  • Pulling up the Chicago garden and putting in the aforementioned compost pile
  • Spreading leaves over the Chicago garden and covering with moldy hay
  • Harvesting lots of mint and drying it in the food dehydrator for mint tea
  • Cleaning out the garage
  • (we did get the homebrew bottled on Friday night)

It was a lovely day.

We start Farm Beginnings this weekend.

Friday, October 16, 2009


This will be the first weekend that I won't have to work in over a month. Two days off in 28 days is not good for one's well-being.

I am going celebrate by:
bottle some homebrew
Chicago yard clean up
bake bread
husk the black walnuts if they are dry

Friday, October 9, 2009

Montana photos

Some photos from my Montana adventure on the market farm.
This area of Montana averages 12" of rain per year. Essentially this is a desert. As such, they have to irrigate. Each of these irrigation pipes are 40' of aluminum piping with sprinklers on the end. They fit together the length of the field. They are moved every day or so to a new spot.

Solar panels. The farmers are able to generate enough electricity to offset their usage in the home. They are grid tied. Their walk in coolers and other farm needs are pulled from the grid.

Root vegetable washer. This was pretty neat. Attach the hose and fill up the reservoir with water. Put the crop (we did beets) in on the left and plug it in. It rotates and cleans the beets and they plop out on a screen on the other side to drain and for packing.


Peacock. I loved this guy and would follow him around. The feeling was not mutual. He has lost his tail feathers.

Sunflowers with the mountains in the background.

Chard that we had just thinned.

Wow - what kale!

Beautiful fields of vegetables.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Typing with dirty hands

I collected two large buckets of black walnuts on Saturday afternoon while we were at the farm. Some of them already had the outer husk turning black so upon returning to the church, I rolled them around with my foot on the road to get some of the rotting material off. During all of the handling, my hands got quite dirty. Now I knew that you can use black walnut husk as a natural dye - but let's just say now I really know it! My hands got quite stained during the process and it is slooooow to wear off. Yesterday while at work, I was pointing to an item on a report and I could see my co-worker's eyes widen in surprise at the state of my hands. I explained that I was working with dyes - sometimes it is better to not go into the food gleaning endeavors with co-workers.

I read this on the train this morning.
The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg
The end of the chapter on September

The weight of the afternoon sun already falls more lightly on my back than it did a few weeks ago. The days seem not only shorter but also somehow thinner too, and every morning that dawns above freezing feels like a morning won back from the inevitable. Nothing is dry yet, of course, but the promise of eventual dryness is in the air. A day will come when every crown of seeds will rattle on the weeds in ditches and fields, when leaves will crunch obligingly underfoot again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wind turbine update

Thanks to Barb who suggested that wind turbines need a lot of yearly maintenance. Based on her comment, we continued to talk and research and we finally got the low-down yesterday from a local renewable energy contractor who definitely put our plans to rest (as in RIP).

No deal. The most we can expect to get is 100 - 150 kWH. It would take multiples of decades to recoop the cost that way. That isn't even factoring in the yearly maintenance.

I feel like we just saved $15K+.


We were accepted to the Farm Beginnings class!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Market Farming is some work

I returned from Montana after working three days on the market farm where my friend has been interning. These folks are not fooling around - this is a serious farm growing serious food.

They sell at farmers market, 3 local grocery stores and a montana growers coop.

I learned a lot and worked very hard - 12 hour days of physical labor. It was great!

I will post photos soon.

Montana is really beautiful - but I admit, I am a midwestern gal. This area of MT only receives about 12" of rain per year. They rely heavily on irrigation.

I was also able to attend a discussion group on rural healthcare hosted by Center for Rural Affairs. If you are not familiar with their great work, please check out their website!

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I'm taking 4 days off of work to visit a friend that has been interning on an organic farm in Montana. I hope to be helping with the winter squash harvest.

I'll be back on Fri.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

At the end of 3 days of great work

There is this kinda crazy stone horse that came with the house. It is so heavy. At first we thought it was corny, but it has grown on us. :) We moved it to guard the wellhead - that is what is under the black barrel. Since we are going to have excavators, etc doing work, we thought this was a good spot. I put the purple halter on her - and I named her Sally.

My project is over. I cleaned up all of the lumber and we hauled it in the bucket of the tractor to the barn and lifted it up into the 2nd story. It is safe and will stay dry.

There used to be a little building here.
We have had so much fun!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Labor Day Weekend - means Labor.

I learned to drive the tractor. Granted I only drove 100 yards, in 1st gear and straight. Good first day.
Happy Corn Moon.

My summer project comes down!


The tractor to pull the building down was overkill. In hindsight, I think Bill and I could have pushed it down.
I've continued pulling out the materials - the cross beams, and any salvagable material. I'll post more pics soon.
We had an excavator come out - a guy we know - he is giving us a quote on removing this foundation, installing a new culvert in our problem area and digging a swale in our other watershed area.
And Bill announced over a New Glarus tonight - he has the solution to solving the barn problems. I knew he just needed to mull it over, then he would come up with the plan.
We continue to move forward, slowly. I feel with each passing work weekend - especially these long weekends - we turn this farm a little bit by little bit - to more of our own. It is a great feeling. We move forward into turning this into a sustainable homestead.
We got the quote on a wind turbine. $15K+. A lot of money!!! We need to consider this carefully - it is a bit of a gamble. Do we have the winds to support this expenditure? Will it pay for itself and how long will that take? Is this the right direction regardless of cost because we can supplement or provide for ourselves with burning coal. Lots to consider.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Considering a wind turbine

Bill and I were at the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair a few weeks ago. We stumbled across a wind turbine vendor who gave us some interesting information. There is a 30% rebate right (off of your tax liability) on renewable energy. I thought turbines were in the neighborhood of $65K+ but it turns out you can put one up that directly grid tied for less than $15K (pre-rebate). We arranged for a site inspection and are awaiting a final quote, but I confess that we are considering it. I will have to run the numbers and see what our payback would be, but if we could essentially be producing our own energy - that is a pretty enticing thought! (We use very little energy - no A/C, efficient lighting, etc. but I will need a couple of refrigerators and freezers at the farm.) Our initial calculations show that it could pay for itself in 10 years.

If anyone has information or experience, I would love to hear them.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Got Zucchini? Make fritters!

I had a huge zucchini in the fridge that my mom gave me. We typically like the young, smaller ones better, but I'm not one to say no to a free zucchini. She actually gave me 3 of them. I've made loaves of zucchini bread and last night I tried zucchini fritters.

We topped them with a dollop of homemade mayo and chopped tomatoes. Delicious!

It was pretty local too. Zucchini from my mom and dad. Bread crumbs were from my own homemade bread (most of the wheat was from Great River Milling in Wisconsin. Eggs were local from Southern Wisc. Garlic, onions, herbs were from my own backyard. Didn't need any milk. Tomatoes (topping) were from my Wisc garden. And a glass of Bauer Kearns wine!

If you haven't tried making your own mayonnaise, I urge you to try - it is delicious!

Zucchini fritters from
4 cups grated zucchini (1 ½ to 2 pounds), squeezed dry
About 1 ½ cups of bread crumbs, flour, or cornmeal (I used ¾ C ww flour, ¾ C bread crumbs, a ¼ C amaranth grains)
2 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
4 scallions, chopped including the greens (I used freshly pulled onions from the garden)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup chopped herbs—any or a combination of parsley, cilantro, basil, mint (I used mint, lemon balm and sorrel)
salt and pepper
A splash of milk or buttermilk, if needed, to give the batter a spoonable texture
Olive oil for the pan

Sprinkle about 1 ½ teaspoons salt over the grated zucchini and set it aside in a colander to drain for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients together except the oil. After 15 minutes squeeze any excess water from the zucchini and then mix it with the batter. Season with a big pinch of black pepper. Film a large skillet (or two) with 1 Tablespoon or so olive oil. When the pan is hot (on medium heat) drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the skillet. Cook over medium heat until golden brown on the bottom. Flip and cook the second side. Eat while hot with sour cream, yogurt, or salsa verde.Substitutions: grated eggplant, butternut squash, sweet potato, cubes of roasted vegetables

Additions: cheese, other spices or herbs, seeds or nuts.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sun, time and edamame

Before we left Wisconsin on Sunday morning, I harvested all of our potatoes. It was a sad crop. I sometimes get very discouraged when gardening as our home garden in Chicago is more and more shaded by our neighbor's huge Silver Maple so my tomatoes, beets, beans, chard, etc are fairly scraggly. Our Wisconsin garden is so overgrown with weeds since we are only there every two to four weeks that the weeds are often taller than the tomatoes! Anyway, while harvesting my potato crop - that I was never able to hill appropriately, I became discouraged by these attempts to grow our own food. Bill, being a great partner, said 'just think how much you will be able to grow when you actually have sun AND live in the place you grow your food. If you can grow these potatoes and tomatoes and greens without trying - just think of how much you will yield when you are actually able to tend on a regular basis and you have full sun!' It did make me feel better. I did get about 10# of potatoes.

We both worked in the garden for about 3 hours on Sunday morning. I dug up the aforementioned potatoes and planted buckwheat as cover crop on the bare beds. Bill restrung the tomatoes. We think we will end up getting a fair number of tomatoes. I brought a lot of green ones home. Our neighbors' tomatoes are all dying. Ours look fine. hmmmm.... perhaps over fertilizing is the culprit? My grandma's tomatoes also always died early but she loved Miracle Gro and never rotated her locations.

I also found out that our neighbors have hens - I didn't get over to see them, but I will when we are back up over Labor Day.

Last night for supper we had steamed fresh edamame pods. I got them from a farmer coop that delivers to my food coop. They were delicious!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Farmer's Markets at the White House

After seeing President Obama mention that there might be a farmer's market at the White House in the works - I just might have to plan a trip to D.C.!

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Food Manifesto

"We have to stop paying the largest farm subsidies to large growers of unsustainable and inedible crops like cotton. We have to stop paying huge subsidies to Big Corn, Big Soy and Big Chem to use prime farmland to grow fuel, plastics and fructose. We have to stop using federal and state agencies and institutions as taxpayer-funded research arms for the very practices that got us into this mess.

We have to start subsidizing health and well-being by rewarding sustainable practices in agriculture and assuring a safe, adequate and wholesome food supply to all our citizens. And we need to start this reform process now, as part of the national stimulus toward economic recovery."

From Will Allen's (of Growing Power, Inc.) ChangeThis - A Good Food Manifesto for America

Monday, August 10, 2009

Salatin Quote

"Just imagine if people began discovering their kitchens again, and if the average household instead of popping irradiated amalgamated prostituted reconstituted, adulterated, modified and artificially flavored extruded bar coded un-pronounceable things into the microwave, actually prepared whole foods for all-down-together family meals."


Friday, August 7, 2009

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

I will be leading a workshop on composting with worms on Sunday in Oregon, IL at the Illinois Renewable Energy Fair. Stop by and say hello if you happen to be the fair.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Storm and melt water management

We were at the farm this past weekend. If you follow the white fence on the right - see the part that is partially fallen down? It is now totally down. Grant County received 2" of rain in one hour and we had a pretty severe water backup. You can see across the driveway from the part of the fence that is falling down there is a culvert. It is too small, partially crushed on both sides and leads to water backup. The water collects on the right into a big pond which flows over the driveway and then has lots of momentum and force. It isn't in this picture but there was a footbridge over this seasonal creek further to the left. The planks were rotten and we were planning on taking it down anyway - it washed away it is further down the creek near the house.

It was great to see because we need to engineer our way out of this. We also had water flow down the hill behind the house. The grass near the house is all flattened and there was silt at the front door. Water in the cellar too. Bad sign. We are actually rethinking our original plans for the house - as much as I hate to admit it. We are considering turning the house into a garage/summer kitchen/art studio (upstairs) and building a new house connected to the old house (which will now be the garage) by a breezeway.

I have been struggling with this. Bill and I always rehab old buildings. We had done three of them to date - and this one was supposed to be our grande finale! I have been dreaming of rehabbing an old farmhouse for years and giving new life, energy efficiency and another 100 years to an old house.

However, by building new... we could build a small 2 bedroom home that could perhaps be passive solar. Lots to consider.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Farmer Training

Yesterday I went to the Farmers Market in downtown Chicago. I go most every Tues and Thursday because I love the atmosphere of the market and to see the changing produce.

I had been the week earlier and wanted to purchase some beets. (My beet crop being sorely lacking this year.) I only had $1 and the bunch of beets was $3. I was at a stand that I had never stopped or purchased at before. The nice woman said, oh go ahead and take them anyway. I was shocked - I don't know why - I've experienced kindness and thoughtfulness like this before at the market, but I guess it always just strikes me as uncommon.

I went back yesterday to pay her the $2 that I owed her (and buy more beets of course). I got to talking to her and it turns out that she grew up in the little western Illinois town (Wyanet, IL) next to where my family is from and my grandmother still lives. In fact, her parents live in the town where my parents lived when I was born. Small world! We laughed about it. Her stand was pretty busy so I didn't take up too much of her time and moved on. I'm going to go back next week and talk to her some more. I want to hear about her farm (which is near Kankakee) and her growing methods. Based on her use (or non-use) of chemicals, I may ask her if I can volunteer sometime on her farm.

Bill and I are considering taking the Stateline Farmer Beginnings class through Angelic Organics Learning Center. I think it is an excellent opportunity to learn from current market and CSA farmers and to network with others.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rant against WBEZ, Chicago Public Radio

I am mad at Chicago Public Radio. I am so angry that I took the unheard of position of cancelling my membership. Bill and I have been members for over 10 years. I have even been a volunteer during pledge drives.

I listen to WBEZ religiously every day when I get home from work. All Things Considered, Marketplace and WorldView are my daily dose of news and happenings. Those programs are my companions during my downtime doing various things around the house or making supper.

Can you imagine my surprise when I heard one of the sponsors is Monsanto? And on top of that - claiming to be a proponent and supporter of SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE? Say what?!?

I called and cancelled our membership and told them why. The response was polite. I think I will follow up with a letter explaning my disgust.

I will send our money to Wisconsin Public Radio or to Iowa Public Radio instead.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Piglet photos

A friend and I visited Prairie Crossing earlier this spring. Prairie Crossing is a planned community - which normally I stay clear of - but this is a planned conservation community. They have their own farm! We were visiting for their plant sale and then we did a self tour through their farm and greenhouses. They also rent greenhouses and land to beginning farmers under a land share agreement.

When we were there we saw the new piglets. I don't know the breed, but these are so cute.

Last night we had a local supper.

Goat kabobs from Mint Creek Farm. As future goat raisers, I figured it was time to figure out if we like it or not - as neither Bill nor I had ever had goat. We liked it. Bill liked it more than I did. I don't need meat in my diet like Bill does. I marinated the kabobs in some vegetable oil, lemon juice and cumin. We then grilled them.

Zucchini Skillet Cakes w Capers & Pine Nuts. - recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers. Delicious! The zucchini were grown by my parents, the eggs were from my co-op (from Southern Wisc), the chives, garlic and marjoram were from my yard. The bread crumbs were made from my own old homemade bread. Non-local ingredients were: lemon juice, pine nuts and capers.

This was all enjoyed with a glass of lovely white wine from a local Wisconsin vineyard - Bauer Kearns Winery. A delicious wine and surprisingly not coyingly sweet.

I forgot to take a photo. I assume the photos of the piglets are cuter anyway.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What a great vacation!

Here are some photos of the summer kitchen that I continue to take down. Remember that I am prying out each nail of the board in an effort to save the historic panels and the oak beams that they are nailed into. It is hard to remove these nails. I have to pry them out with a cat's paw and then use a pry bar to further loosen each nail.

One photo shows some of the boards. These are only the ones that I removed this past few days. The rest are already stored inside the barn.

There are still some boards on the sides, and a few stubborn ones that I didn't get off on the front. I need one more day and all of the lumber siding will be gone. I calculated that I have removed about 2500 nails. I am pretty good friends with my tools these days.

We head home tomorrow and back to work on Monday.
I'll post pictures of the dumpster soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

All in a day's work

Whew. Tired.

We worked at the farm today. I ordered a 20 yard dumpster to fill up with the garbage left by the previous owners and the trash that I took out of the barn. Today we filled it up about 1/2 way. Bill filled the loader on the tractor over and over and over and over. I continued to take down the summer kitchen - until the boards were too high for me to reach. I balanced for a bit on a cinder block but then, well, that just seemed dangerous. Bill cleaned up all of the trash from the barn interior (that I previously emptied) and the cement slab behind the hog house. We were laughing and joking with each other that we always seem to buy properties and clean up other people's garbage. Bill said, well that's our buying strategy! It's true. Garbage, run-down = affordable. Plus we prefer to do the work ourselves (sustainable and in an historic appreciative way). The trash behind the hog house was disgusting. It was a former burn pile so it had lots of rusted car parts, half-burnt, and trash. Literally trash. I found a curling iron. Children's toys. A busted barbell set. A burnt calculator. I could go on and on. You get the point.

We returned to the church/home tired. A chicken is in the oven. It was a terrific day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Symphony of Rain

We are in Wisconsin at our old church/home for an extended weekend or mini -vacation (Tues night thru Sun morning).

We arrived tonight at about 8:45 p.m.

We were sitting outside enjoying a New Glarus Organic Revolution (best name ever or what? and check out the cool illustration on the label!).

Anyway, I was sitting outside as darkness moved in and the wind picked up. I said to Bill, "feels like rain."

It began to rain. Bill chose to go inside. I like to sit in the rain so I stayed on my bench near my weed filled (not as bad as last time) garden. I discovered the Symphony of Rain.

This is what I heard:

Raindrops hit the leaves of the sunchokes growing in my garden
Rain gurgle down the gutter behind me
Raindrops splat on the compostable mulch I have on the onion bed
Raindrops pummel the corn stalks across the road
Rain on the road sprattle up from car tires as they drove past
Raindrops making the slightest hush as it fell on the prairie plants

The world is alive with music; we just need to stop and listen to it.

I am so glad to be here. We are going to work at the farm and try to get in some relaxation too.

(p.s. I don't think sprattle is a word, but I think it accurately describes the sound.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Survey - hand tools for women

Have you ever used your tools and wished that it was shorter or lighter? I have (and I'm tall!). These ladies are designing garden/farm tools for women and they want to hear from us! Check out their website and give them your thoughts.

I was also impressed that they want to make sure their workers/producers receive a living wage.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Day work

Bill and I had a long weekend in Wisc and we did some work at our church/home and at the farm.

The prairie planting that we did in lieu grass is coming along nicely.
We hadn't been in Wisc since Memorial Day weekend. It was good to be back. We are heading up again next week on Tues night for a few extended days of work - we hope to get started on rebuilding the barn foundation. we brought our flatbed trailer home so that we can load it up with materials. In order to fix the barn we need to rebuild part of the foundation that has worn away with the freeze/thaw of the seasons. We are looking forward to it.

I spent some time working on taking down the summer kitchen building. I hope to get it completely taken down.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fresh the Movie

If you can, go see Fresh the Movie. For the readers of this blog, most information in this movie we already know. However, it features Joel Salatin very prominiently (and who knew he was so funny?), Michael Pollan, and Will Allen of Growing Power.

After the movie, which was shown at No Exit (the theater space associated with Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park), there was a networking opportunity. It was great to see so many people associated with the local food movement.

Interesting article from Johns Hopkins on the use of antibiotics.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Farmer's Markets

Summer is here and the markets are bursting!

Today at the Farmer's Market in downtown Chicago I bought:

2 kinds of beets: red and golden
beautiful orange carrots
blue potatoes
fresh garlic
4 year old cheddar cheese

My beets and my radishes have failed to come up this year in my Chicago yard. My neighbors have a large maple tree that grows ever larger and shades out my backyard more and more.

I haven't been to our Wisconsin church/home since Memorial Day so I'm sure that the weeds and grass have completely taken oven the garden. I'm feeling very overwhelmed by work in Corporate America and wondering when if ever we'll get to the farm.

Even if my garden was producing full-on, I would still go to the Farmer's Market because I find them to be a wonderful experience. I am not a religious person but Farmer's Markets bring a sense of spirituality, peacefulness over me. I find them to be an utterly beautiful place to spend time.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Seed drill - drilling for time

Bill has a lead on a seed drill that would work on our tractor. Its a 2 - 14 (or 8 or something like that). I don't know anything about seed drills. It's a manual one that will work on our old tractor. Supposedly this drill can even be pulled behind a 4wd ATV. This could be a nice find as we try to improve our beds and the overall pastures. I spoke to an organic consultant at MOSES organic and she recommended that we cultivate and seed drill our garden/fields with cover crops and then turn it in. At this point, I mostly want to get rid of the massive amounts of thistle we have. Oh, and the buck thorn. Goodness, do I hate buck thorn! I think I'm going to be fighting that fight for a long while. We've actually decided to let the it be for now until we live there full-time. It really needs constant, vigilant attention to be eradicated. We seem to be doing more harm than good with our occasional attempts. So much to do and so little time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It is June

Where does the time go? Its been two weeks since my last post. [I am hanging my head in shame.]

I spent Saturday with my parents. I weeded their garden (my mom's birthday gift) and we harvested strawberries and rhubarb.

1. Plant something - lots. Turnips, carrots, onions, potatoes (sooo late!), squash seeds, beets, more tomatoes, beans (all in Chicago garden).

2. Harvest something - strawberries from my parents' strawberry bed (see photo), rhubarb, greens (lemon balm, arugula, sorrel)

3. Preserve something - froze some rhubarb

4. Reduce waste - saw some used wooden fence panels in the alley the night before garbage pickup. Made Bill go with me to see if they were any good - they were cedar! We took them home and will use them on the farm (future animal pens?).

5. Preparation and Storage - I'm combining this with #4 this week.

6. Build Community Food Systems - visited the Platteville, WI farmers market. Bought some greens, a bay leaf tree, some baked goods and talked to a lot of folks. Getting to know my new community! Also visited a local marketstand in Chicago and got some IL chevre. I continue to do outings with Urban Worm Girl.

7. Eat the Food - Rhubarb crisp, rhubarb compote (on yogurt - yum!), homegrown salad almost daily. Local (Southern WI) ribs on the grill on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Independence Day Week 2 & Green Fest

1. Plant Something- tomatoes. Can you believe that I still do NOT have my potatoes in the ground? (I am hanging my head in absolute shame!!)

2. Harvest something – 5 morels from our wooded acreage in Wisc. Otherwise, ditto from last week. [We continue to eat salads several times a week with greens from the Chicago yard: lovage, lemon balm, sorrel, beet berry.]

3. Preserve something- nope

4. Reduce waste- Same as usual. I've been taking my lunch to work at least 3 to 4 times per week. I hung up a sign in our breakroom at work asking co-workers to bring their own coffee mug and water glasses instead of using the paper ones (anonymously, of course, because I'm a chicken.)

5. Prep and storage- nope

6. Community food systems- Worked a table at the Green Festival for Urban Worm Girl. Attended a meeting of my food coop and worked the breakdown of the grocery truck.

7. Eat the food- I can't remember. Is that lame or what?!? Its been a crazy week.

The Green Festival is awesome. If one comes near you, please take the time to attend. Lots of interesting speakers on the environment and social justice and local foodsheds (Amy Goodman, Alice Waters, Laura Flanders, Jim Hightower). And they have volunteers at the garbage stations making sure that every piece of waste is properly sorted into glass/plastic, paper and compost. As usual there was lots of interest in our vermicomposting.

I bought a cool new garden tool. Made in Wisconsin, USA!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Independence Day Challenge

I'm late to the party, but I'm going to join this challenge a few weeks after it has begun.

1. Plant Something- lots. Onions, tomatoes, raspberry canes (that I dug up from my grandmother’s raspberry bed), basil, chard, squash (delicata), cilantro.
2. Harvest something – We continue to eat salads several times a week with greens from the Chicago yard: lovage, lemon balm, sorrel, beet berry
3. Preserve something- nope
4. Reduce waste- the worms in the worm bin is really rocking now so I am able to put almost all of our kitchen scraps in the bin.
5. Prep and storage- nope
6. Community food systems- In my role as an Urban Worm Girl, I attended a fundraiser for wefarmamerica and worked an organic seedling sale at Prairie Crossing continuing to inform folks about the beauty of composting with worms!
7. Eat the food- Continue to eat down the freezer and pantry stores: local ground pork, canned salsa, canned tomatoes are gone, a bag of Wisc cranberries in a cranberry crisp.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Weekend work

The frogs are bellowing to beat the band. Here is a photo of their eggs in the seasonal creek that is now actually a seasonal pond. I couldn't get a picture of the frogs because they are just too quick.

I continued to take down the small summer kitchen board by board on Saturday. This is when I started. Note that there is a back wall.

This shows the terrible condition of the roof rafters. I don't stand inside much because as I take down boards, it becomes looser and more precarious.

This was the end of the afternoon. Not as much back wall as the beginning of the day.

When we drove up on Saturday morning, there were two adult turkeys at our lot line. They ran up the hill behind the house. We have never actually seen turkeys there before - we've seen evidence of them, but never the real thing (on our property).

No sign of any of the cats. Some of the cat food was gone, but we saw a large woodchuck duck in and out of the barn; so we are suspicious that is the one eating the cat food.