Mar 31, 2011

Who invented Urban Homesteading (TM)?

As I've said before, not everyone should (or can) move to the country in order to live a conscientious, sustainable life. Many city friends intensively garden, shop local, reduce their carbon footprint, share resources, carpool, barter, make preserves, raise bees and chickens... some even more than we do out here on WildSide Farm.

But whoops, I'm evidently not allowed to talk about it. If I have the gall to celebrate them as "urban homesteaders"(TM), this little blog might get shut down. Seems some family down in California thinks they invented the idea, and believe they can trademark the term. Like my grandpa or my friend Steve never thought of that kind of urban life before the Devreas thought it up in the 1980's.

Funny thing is, even if "Urban Homesteading" (TM)could belong to anyone, it wouldn't be that family. They didn't invent the concept, and didn't even invent the term. It was addressed in the 1976 Article on the Integral House and a 1980 article on Modern Homesteading by Mother Earth News.

But they've not only trademarked "Urban Homestead" (TM)and "Urban Homesteading" (TM), but evidently they beat Nelson Mandela and countless other inspirational folks with the idea of a "Path to Freedom" (TM). They are so brilliant that they invented the idea "Grow the Future" (TM), and have sparked their very own "Homegrown Revolution" (TM).

Until tonight I've facebook "liked" what they do and stand for. I thought they were fellow journeymen on this brilliant and brightly-varied path we're all trying to take. Now it turns out they own it.

Come on folks, there's enough room on this path for all of us. In fact, it's not only a lonely path but it's ultimately unsustainable unless we walk it as equals.

Going 44 in a School Zone

Alone on my birthday. Kids and wife away in Chicago, bringing the double-whammy of not getting to hang out in the school parking lot - my main social fix of the day. But the universe is like a big Newfoundlander dog - it not only comes when you call, it knocks you over with abundant love and licks you all over with slobbery affection.

My family not only found multiple occasions to bake cakes and celebrate me before flying away, but made clever arrangements for a group of friends to sneak up through the back woods and surprise me with a joyous Happy Birthday this morning. Four other friends also drifted by during the day - I felt more hugged than Theodore Roosevelt's bedtime companion.

These days there's so many ways to not be isolated. Phone calls from family, inlaws, friends from African days and Vancouver days and many other days, and two wonderful voicemail songs that I so frustratingly can't identify (the caller nor the key). Facebook wall postings. Emails.

Then the good ol' fashioned food traditions. A good friend at one business meeting had baked cookies and chilly (chile? chillie?). Crystal made a fabulous vegan Asian meal and decidedly less-wholesome chocolate cake.

Beyond the different ways to connect, I celebrate the diversity of people who reached out today (and all days, but especially today when I'm allowed to Demand it). Fellow parents from my kids' lives. Neighbours. Friends from my work in Africa. Dear Vancouver landlord-friends. Professional colleagues. Wwoofers past and present. Mother, brother, inlaws. Children calling from Chicago multiple times. And of course dear magical wife who found a way to be with me even while 2,242 miles away.

Sometimes I fear becoming an aging Tarzan depending on a single vine for all my support. But now at the wise old age of 44 I find myself becoming Charlotte, weaving a rich variety of peoples into an intricate, beautiful web.

One family just wrote, "TE DESEAMOS UN AñO LLENO DE LUZ Y DE AMIGOS Y AMOR Y MUSICA Y...LO QUE MAS TE GUSTE A TI." Yes, dear amigos, I have absolute confidence that yet another year will be filled with light and friends and love and music. As for the things that most turn me on, if my choice of how to spend a birthday are any indication, they seem to include caring for my animals, supporting 4 non-profits through my consulting work, hugging an awful lot of good people, cleaning the house, gardening, letting a four-year-old crawl all over me, eating a third helping of chocolate cake, and writing to share this abundant Joy with all of you, my co-creators.

Oh ya, and skipping yoga to take my first outdoor shower of the year, in the late afternoon sun after planting 5 rows of parsnips. That was my present to myself. Cause gosh darnit, once a year on my special day I just deserve parsnips and ice-cold water.

Mar 27, 2011

Signs of Spring

For 3 weeks I've been intending to write about the arrival of Spring, and it just keeps arriving. The first week-end of full-out gardening while the kids were with Grandma. Pulling a few inches of seaweed off the garlic bed to find 1200 green garlic shoots bravely pushing their way up. The first late dinner because we were building new raised beds until 7:00 twilight. And that glorious day last week when we worked in just a light sweatshirt, finally trading in the wool hat for the good ol' baseball cap.

Entering year 3 of this farmer thing, we're finally feeling confidence. Created a detailed map (using a fantastic online tool from Mother Earth magazine), taking into account crop rotation, companion planting, and our knowledge of which parts of the garden are sunniest, drain best, or have heavy soil. Mixed our own organic fertilizer and potting soil, got seedlings going in the small greenhouse on time. Pruned all the fruit trees and raspberry canes with an understanding of how to shape their growth and allow the sun to penetrate (thanks Uncle Dick for that lesson!)

We're once again expanding the growing area by about 50%, but with a solid belief that we'll stay on top of weeding and harvesting (finally registered with the wwoofer site to host willing farm volunteers). It will be manageable because we'll move with the efficiency and Joy of people who have it in their blood and their heads.

Because that's the true sign of spring. It's not the longer daylight that lets us be out there before breakfast and after kids' bedtime. It's not the robins starting their mating flights while we dig, nor the plum tree about to burst into flower. Spring has sprung in my soul, bursting with desire to be out there with the earth, to have bare hands so dirty that Z asks me to take my brown "gloves" off before hugging him.

As Leroy said in episode 3 of season 1 of Fame, this isn't just what i do anymore, it's who i am.

Mar 22, 2011

Whose farm is this anyways?

Numerologically speaking, WildSide Farm is a five. Not in the half-of-Bo-Derek sense, but something like it's alive with people, comings and goings, life. At least, that's what visitor # 14 said today.

Take today, for example. A day with Absolutely Nothing in the dayplanner. No people, no appointments, no reason except school to leave the land. But then...

The phone rang and I was suddenly babysitting a 2 and 4-year-old for a gloriously fun and active hour in the afternoon, then a visit with their mom at pick-up. Amy and her four (4) children stopped by to take care of the cows. Zekiah's friend invited herself over after school to help rake up apple-branch prunings. Two grade-eight boys came by to help me move a pile of lumber into the barn to dry. The neighbour boy lurked around on his stilts, and his mom joined him to visit the calves. The school's enrollment coordinator and her son came to pick up the eighth-graders and stayed for a quick tour and visit. Valdelia brought Tristan home from preschool. A repeat visitor/friend came for an unexpected overnight in our WildSide B&B room. Crystal and her son Tristan joined us for dinner as usual.

In case you lost count, that's a transformation from a quiet 2-adult, 2-children family day to a joyous cacophony of 9 adults and 14 children. That, my friends, is what I love about living in community, and why our website exhorts you to "Come fall apart in my backyard." (It's also probably why I'm staying up on my own to write this and enjoy the silence.)

Mar 17, 2011

Of dead calves and deadbeat farmers

Twice last week I proved I'm not yet a real farmer.

The exciting moment came when our neighbour boy excitedly announced that the baby calf had been born overnight. I had checked properly the night before (good farmer) and seen no sign of the mama about to birth (tail up, backside softening), but there was the little miracle laying down in the grass. On its side. Not moving.

We quickly called our partner-in-bovine Amy, grabbed the How to Raise Cattle book and ran back down. Following instructions, I stuck straw up the calf's nose to try to tickle it awake. Lifted the whole slimy body upside down to drain fluid. Felt for a heartbeat. Even prepared to give mouth-to-mouth, but it was obviously too late.

Sarah brought out her midwife scissors and cut the umbilical cord while mama cow ate the placenta, then I dragged the poor thing outside the fence and covered her with a tarp so mama cow wouldn't go too deep into mourning.

All that was good farmer (or, rather, rancher). I even thought to leave my slime-covered jeans and jacket unwashed incase we needed to spread that scent on an adopted calf to endear it to the mama. But then a busy work day beckoned, and the dead calf was left all day and overnight. Bad farmer, not taking care of the dead.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by neighbour Crystal saying that mama cow (Rosie) was mooing alot, was she OK? Good farmer again, I got dressed and went down to check her out. Aware that a cougar has been on our land alot lately, I brandished a shovel and bright spotlight to defend myself. It was a scary, exhilarating feeling to be out there knowing a cougar (aka panther, mountain lion) was likely watching, and likely lining up that baby calf for dinner. Mama was allright, so I re-covered the calf and hoisted a few tree limbs on top to keep the cougars and birds of prey at bay.

The next afternoon a friend and I dug a deep, below-the-water-table grave and took proper care of the poor calf. Good farmer. In the meantime, Amy secured two new baby calves. It turns out that basically all boy calves of dairy cattle are killed at birth since they'll never give milk and it's more cost-effective to raise proper meat-breed cattle for slaughter. So WildSide Farm has now become an orphange (for a year, anyways), rescuing atleast these two babies who had the misfortune to be born with the wrong equipment (which we've already "elastrated").

Amy started introducing them to mama. That means twice a day tying up Rosie so she'll stay still, hobbling her so she won't kick the babies, then helping the calves find and stay on the teats till they get the hang of it. She's definitely a good farmer.

One night she asked me to do it the next morning. But come morning, taking the boys to school then a yoga date with a friend was suddenly higher priority than taking care of these 1-week-old creatures. I did come home to do it, and do it surprisingly well, but a good two or three hours after they were ready for breakfast. Bad farmer.

I remember at a time when Rose and Blossom had started escaping, I threw them into the barn and went on a much-needed vacation. Joe's response - "I wouldn't be going right now." He was right, my automatic priority should be the living beings under my care. But twice this past week I still chose my needs over theirs.

I just went back and bolded all the judgment calls, and the "good farmers" have it over the "bads." So I guess I'm a decent and improving farmer, but still alot to learn about my animals, my stewardship, my place in the natural world.

Mar 13, 2011

Twenty Years Late

Sometimes it takes 20 years to hear a woman say No.

For 20 years I’ve carried the sweet memory of a college romance. The details aren’t that important and are basically universal – back seat of a car, dorm room, dance floor, it’s a story that many of us have lived too many times. But a story that until today I’ve believed was a good one.

Today I find her on Facebook and send a friend request. But instead of the expected “Great to hear from you!” reply, I’m slapped in the face with a calm, confident, “I don’t have good memories of our time together” refusal.

This is not the starry-eyed girl in a long grey “Property of…” t-shirt of my memory. This is a strong, confident woman who has done her work and found her voice. A voice she evidently wished she’d had during our late nights together. A voice that would have told me to Stop in a way I would have heard and respected.

Because I didn’t know when to stop. At the end of our fun, even magical dates, I’d betray that connection with hungry, unlistening hands. She would consistently tell me to stop, consistently move my hands away, and I’d consistently try again.

I told myself it was OK because I never used force. I told myself it was OK because she kept allowing me to try again – this must be a game she enjoys if she invites me back night after night. And I told myself it was OK because twice she did say Yes. Neither time was nearly as magical as what we shared during the dates, but the fact that she eagerly and freely reciprocated two times was enough to justify the persistence and believe that she did “want it.” Enough to let me believe for 20 years that it was a healthy, fun adventure for both of us.

But today she holds up a mirror that makes me see –finally – that I should have stopped. That I should have listened. That what was a game and a challenge for young me was an act of violence for young her. I violated a young woman’s trust and need, never even questioning if it might be hurting her. I can’t truly be part of breaking the cycle of violence until fully accepting, as I must today, that I have been part of it.

This facebook refusal is a cold shock, but I instantly know it’s deserved. I see for the first time that I hurt her, and that my sharp insistence for her body destroyed what should have been a sweet sharing of our young souls. Violence, I am forced to see, is as simple as not listening, and as powerful as not stopping at – or even before – the first No.

Mar 9, 2011

Prodrigal Friend

Don't need no fatted pig. Just one smile is all it takes.

Back from my second work trip in 3 weeks, I was just bursting at the seams to see my family. But of course Greyhound was late, leaving only a quick reconnect time before dinner. Then a sleepless night fretting and writing about insecurities and feelings of exclusion - basically a rehash of Men Need Not Apply and Measuring Friends, so I won't actually print last night's rave here. Then the planned calm morning of family snuggles usurped by the still-birth of a calf that had to be taken care of.

It all added up to arriving late at the school parking lot feeling alone and frazzled and lost. Breathless, breakfastless and unprepared for a full work day, I trudged head-down through the pouring rain to quickly take care of some week-old school business. And there she was, my angel of the morning.

She didn't know I was in a spiral. Didn't know I was needing a touch. She just saw I was back and quickly gave a warm welcoming smile that made me feel wanted and Seen. Just a simple, real, personal drive-by smile was enough to dispel all those clouds and send me back into the rain grinning like Gene Kelly.

Next morning there were no barnyard tragedies so we got there early enough for our usual social scene. There I found a parking lot full of friends all surprisingly aware that I've been away and wonderfully happy to see me back. I just hope I track peoples' lives and hold them half as well as I feel held today.

I feel so blessed to be in a community where connection is that easy to maintain, and needs so easy to express and have met. If we're feeling left out, all we have to do is show up and join in. The world is always there - it's up to us to be part of it.

Mar 4, 2011

Simply Cheap

I'm sick of being poor. Went to Whole Foods today and froze, unable to spend anything after a full day of eating nothing but my boys' 3-day-old muffin creations. $3.75 for a slice of pizza - forget it! Delicious-smelling ginger-glazed tofu sold by the ounce - probably costs a fortune, and will have to go into a disposable container. $5 Rainforest crackers, imported Irish cheese on sale, "natural" but not organic sirloin at the tasting table... I just couldn't feel good about buying any of it, even as my mouth watered.

Dammit, I'm not poor. I own a 5-acre farm and two houses and a car. I have a $15,000 line of credit I didn't even ask for. If we cashed in all our chips today we'd probably be worth about half a million dollars. And yet I still can't buy a $3.50 chocolate lava cupcake.

When I freak out about a $400 ski day, that's ok. Questioning the ethics of a summer ice cream cone may feel extreme, but it's a values-based extremism. But to not buy decent organic food for a hungry stomach while on vacation is just plain cheap. I truly would have been happier and healthier if I'd just forked out a little for a fork-full of that macaroni salad, and the social justice world wouldn't have crumbled at my indiscretion.

I watched the well-groomed, monied people of Yorkville walking through the isles of Whole Foods in their designer organic clothing (from the store upstairs where i'd earlier balked at a half-price beautiful organic sweater for my beautiful organic wife), putting Good food in their baskets without a care, and in that one moment wished that for one moment I could be as free as them. Free to just buy what felt right, what I needed, even what I wanted. To fly to Mexico just because it's cold and wet. To go skiing because it really is family fun. To buy a basement door latch that works.

Our life is blessed because of our disciplined, conscious consumer choices - consistently saying no to unnecessary "treats" and trips and trends is what buys us the freedom to work less, live where we do, be who we are. When done right it's not a labour and not a restriction; it's a pure deep breath of freedom.

But many a mickle makes a muckle, says my grandma, and sometimes too much Simplicity is simply mad. As I stood in line between my fellow shoppers overflowing wicker shopping baskets, I looked at the single organic carrot in my hand and knew I'd crossed the line. But as they hobbled out the door with 10 pounds of groceries and $100 less on their credit lines, I had the last laugh - at myself, as the cashier blankly politely ignored my philosophical ponderings and calmly asked for "eighteen cents please." So deep is my Simplicity conditioning that my aha! moment of dreamy self-indulgence wasn't to think that maybe I should have bought that pizza after all; it was a thrilling, daring, almost naughty thought that I could have even afforded 2 carrots.