Search

The Intrepid Homestead

One Family's journey toward a simpler, sustainable, prepared homestead and life

Category

Sustainable Living

Are we “Survivalists”?!

Did the title of this post catch your attention? Good. Many, many people sneer at the thought of being a “survivalist” – or “prepper” and not without cause. Many are turned off by paranoid proclamations of doom and gloom and the accompanying encouragement to run for the hills, store up food and water, heavily arm themselves, etc.

Then there is the sustainable homesteading crowd. For some, those words might conjure up images of venturing out west on a covered-wagon train, eating cornbread and beans over a campfire as you hand-clear a hundred acres of raw wilderness with an ax and saw.

“Sustainable Homesteading” – might conjure up other pictures of a bunch of dreadlock-sporting granola types howling at the moon and dancing around a drum circle.

We sometimes get curious looks or inquiries about ourselves. Are we “preppers” or “survivalists” or “homesteaders”, “farmers” perhaps? It’s a difficult question to answer without some explanation.

We would propose that if one were to pursue one of these things, in time they’ll become the others – at least in part.

Now we’re not saying that if you try growing your own vegetable garden, you’ll end up living in a bunker with 25 years of freeze-dried food.  It’s just that the path to being sustainable followed far and long enough, is likely to result in you being a pretty good survivalist whether you want to or not. Likewise, the journey of a well-thought-out survivalist is going to eventually lead toward a life of sustainability.

Why is this?

Because you cannot be/do one without the other. In order to be sustainable, one must be able to provide for a need indefinitely without exhausting all their resources in doing so. So for example, to be sustainable regarding food, one must be able to provide an ongoing, inexhaustible source of food without exhausting their means to keep doing so.

Hmmm… sounds exactly what a prepper or survivalist might ponder as they think about how to indefinitely provide food for themselves and their family in the event of an emergency or disaster. In order to truly “survive” some scenarios, one would need to do so sustainably, or their survival would have an expiration date. That wouldn’t make for a very good survivalist!

To be survivable long-term requires being sustainable. If one is sustainable, they’ve provided continuity for doing what needs to be done for as long as it needs to be done. Those people, whether they like the name or not – are in some senses “survivalists”.

At the deepest level, someone pursuing sustainability is doing so because they want themselves or their environment to flourish despite whatever else is going on in the world. Nevertheless, many (including ourselves) don’t consider ourselves “survivalists”. We would prefer the term “thrivalists”, because what we do, we do to thrive, not to survive. What is the point of the latter without the former?

Why bring all this up? Because the journey to simple, by nature, is a movement toward being sustainable. This entails reducing dependencies on systems and resources that are without and managing those within to the best of your ability. If we can’t keep doing what we do, we haven’t accomplished all that much.

A survivalist might do things because they expect systems to fail. A thrivalist does them because a life that is not contingent upon these things is not enslaved to such things.

The great news is, as one becomes more sustainable, they’re prepared for times if and when those systems and resources ever become unavailable. That’s exactly what the survivalist hopes to accomplish and that is what the sustainable homesteader aims for as well. For us, we’ll stick with “thrivalist” since no other term does justice to our intentions.

 

A reasonable plan toward residential solar or other renewable energy

Solar Installed

Solar energy is expensive. It currently costs more than grid energy, leaving many people to conclude it isn’t worth it. If your motivation to choose alternative energy is mostly to save money – you won’t get that outcome with this information.

At present – establishing alternate energy at home has not yet reached financial parity with grid power. For most of the general public, an investment in your own private renewable energy infrastructure is going to be more expensive, or at best break even. There are exceptions – like those with exceptional wind or hydro capacity on their property, however, most people won’t be the exception.

So…. is saving money the only reason to pursue renewable energy? No! Here are some other solid reasons for doing so:

  • More energy independence
  • Emergency power
  • Energy reliability or performance
  • Earth stewardship (* this is a nuanced idea)

In our case, we work from home – one of us as a web technology consultant. Lost power = lost work = lost income. Rather than have to pack up and go to town every time the power goes out (which is often not possible due to weather), it made good sense to install solar for backing up the business.

For those just interested in living on the cheap – stop reading this now. Other than some tips that might help you save 10-15% on your current energy bill, you’re not going to find much else below.

Below is a plan for “baby steps” one can take toward obtaining and using renewable energy. This is a plan that requires on-going, incremental changes and investments rather than a large, all-up-front expenditure. This approach delays the more significant costs until they are the only remaining ‘next step’. Doing so helps avoid financing these steps and also allows one to learn along the way and revise the plan as necessary. This should ultimately make renewable energy less expensive to implement in the long run but still allows a family to benefit along the way.

The following steps will allow your household to accomplish energy reliability, security, and sustainability in increasing measures over a period of time. You could compress these steps into months, or stretch them out over years of decades. Anyone can follow this approach in a time-frame that meets their budget.

Step 1: Measure and Monitor Usage ($)

If you don’t know how much energy you consume, you cannot adequately determine what you will need from a renewable energy system.  Likewise, if you cannot adequately size an emergency backup generator system without knowing what you need. You could easily spend an unnecessary $1-2k on too large of a generator sheerly for not knowing the loads you will need to support.

Measuring consumption is uber important! Our first step doing so was to purchase a Kill-a-watt (~$40). This allowed us to see what individual appliances were consuming, find and remove “ghost loads” (things that consume power when not “on” or “in use”) and gain insights into our usage.

Next, we invested in a system called The Energy Detective (TED). TED allows us to measure all our energy use for the entire household, down to the second. We have a large and complex household electrical system, so we got the TED version that monitors up to 4 panels. Our cost was around~$500, but a typical cost would be between $150-$299. Though we’ve not tried it, Neurio, another home energy monitor looks promising.

Some may already be balking at such expenses. Let me encourage you with this: It is typical that when a household starts to monitor usage to see a resulting decrease in use of around 10%.  Awareness of use causes changes to behaviors and patterns. What is 10% of your electric bill and at what point is a $200-299 investment worthwhile to make such an investment?

Step 2: Reduce consumption (FREE to $)

With an awareness of how you are using energy comes an almost-automatic reduction in usage. When you begin to associate dollars and cents with things being on/off, you start to change your behavior. You also start to consider what can be done to reduce your usage.

Get this idea in your mind now… By reducing your consumption immediately, you are ultimately reducing the size (and therefore cost) of a renewable energy system. Make sense?

There are three main ways once reduces consumption:

  1. Changing behavior
  2. Managing use
  3. Replacing offenders

Changing behavior – These are mostly simple changes – like choosing to run your dryer less or at times that are less expensive. Or, even better, get a clothesline – one of the best and cheapest solar appliances ever invented! Changing behavior might also entail turning lights off when you leave a room, turning your computer off when you’re not using it. That sort of stuff. These changes are usually zero cost.

One idea we really like is taking one day a week to have an ‘energy sabbath’ of sorts. Turn off / unplug everything non-critical and focus on togetherness. You could stand to save 15% of your power bill, reduce pollution, and be better off for the time spent together.

Managing use – Similar to changing behavior, managing use includes establishing minimal devices that manage how and when power is consumed. An example might be power strips that turn off peripheral devices  (printer, DVD player, XBOX) when a related main device such as a tv or computer is turned off. These require minimal investment but reduce consumption.  Another great example is the addition of low-cost means of reducing electric energy consumption. This might entail installing (and using!) a clothesline (can you tell we’re fans of clotheslines?) or installing a wood stove to rely less on electric heat.

Replacing Offenders – Though not always necessary, sometimes the best investments one can make in their energy consumption can entail replacing appliances or devices that inefficiently use energy. Still using a fridge or freezer from twenty years ago? Upgrading those appliances to Energy Star, or otherwise, more efficient versions will offer your more payback in the long run than keeping them. The same can be true of water heaters, furnaces, etc. Again… remember that the lower your energy consumption now, the smaller the renewable energy system you will need, and you may potentially have more funds to dedicate to such from paying less for electricity.

Step 3: Isolate critical loads ($$)

You are going to quickly discourage yourself away from backup or renewable energy if you try to size either system based on your total electricity use. Forgeddaboudit! Instead, determine what are your “critical loads” and seek to first back them up (ie. with a generator) and secondly, later on, to run them from renewable energy. You’ll thank us that you took this approach if you do since you’ll have much better understanding of how things work.

This step involves auditing all your electrical circuits to determine which ones are critical or essential. For example, if you live in the country, this might include your well pump, septic pumps, etc. For most people, it will include a refrigerator and/or freezer. It should include some lights. Here’s a great way to determine this… Carefully consider what your “must haves” are in the event of a power outage of seven days and place every circuit in one of three columns: “Don’t need”, “Nice to have”, “Must have”. If you take our “energy sabbath” idea to heart and try this throughout the year, you should already have an idea what things you must have operational.

Once you’ve done this, you should begin to physically isolate those critical loads. This is often done in either a generator panel or a sub-panel that is wired into/alongside your main electric panel. The goal here is two-fold. 1) Separate the circuits and 2) provide switchable backup power to these circuits. This is work best done by professionals or very capable DIYers.

Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)
Our critical loads, isolated in their own sub-panel(s)

In the future, if/when you get to renewable energy, it will be far easier to do when your physical infrastructure has organized these critical loads into one place.

Furthermore, measuring your critical loads (ie. with a TED or other energy monitor) is also easier at this point. This point is worth emphasizing. When your loads are isolated – even if not yet backed-up, you can now measure them independently and begin to do so right away. Measure them for a few months, or a year or even better a full year. You will gain valuable information needed to accurately size a backup power solution and/or an alternative energy solution.

Why? Because you will gain information such as your persistent, average, and peak electrical loads on your critical circuits. With this information in hand, you can determine the exact size of a backup generator, solar panels, wind turbine, batteries, etc. You will also be able to determine what items from your “Nice to haves” might be able to be moved to your “critical loads”.

Take it to the next level: Energy consumption is meausured  (in North America) in kWh (killowatt hours). That is a measurement of “watts hours” (Wh) divided by 1000. A Watt Hour (Wh) is the measurement of watts consumed x the hours used. If you had a 100 w bulb on for 24 hours a day (100 W x 24h = 2400 Wh). To get the kWh, divide this by 1000 (2400 Wh / 1000 = 2.4 kWh). Add up the watt hours of all the appliances you want to support with solar, and you’ll get your total Watt Hours. Just don’t overlook that not all appliances run constantly, but at intervals throughout the day. A simple enery monitor such as a Kill-a-watt does all this work for you.

Watts is a measurement of  Amps x Volts. So if you have an appliance that uses 15 Amps and a voltage of 12oV it will use 1800 Watts. Now… if you then run thata 3 hours a day, what do you suppose the Wh might be? If you guessed 5400, you’re correct. And in kWh? Yes, 5.4 kWh!

These numbers are important for all conversations pertaining to sizing backup or renewable energy.

These steps require the help of a qualified professional and WILL cost money – perhaps several thousand dollars. However, they are a worthwhile investment into your future and will save you potentially thousands of dollars wasted on over-sized solutions later on.

Step 4: Backup Essentials ($$)

When you isolate your critical loads, it is now far easier to back them up. Usually, this is done with a generator, some sort of physical transfer switch, and a generator input receptacle. If you’ve done the steps above, especially monitoring, you will know what your critical/essential loads require and what size generator is necessary to meet those requirements.

Once again (unless combined with the previous step), the services of a qualified professional electrician are required here. The cost is not trivial, but not unbearable either. You will need to purchase a generator, transfer switch, and a means of connecting the generator to the transfer switch. Additionally, you will need to secure the services for connecting all these things together.

When you are done, you will have the means to run your critical electrical circuits on backup/emergency generator. You will also then have much of the infrastructure in place for eventually powering these same loads with renewable energy.

How we did it: When we were at such a phase, we used a simple double pole, double throw (DPDT) switch that had two inputs – one from our main service panel, the other from a generator outlet. When we needed to run the generator, we’d move the switch into the “generator” position, start the generator, and be on our way. When we were finished with the need, we’d shut down the generator, return the switch to the “Utility” power position, and resume normal life. This is not automatic but is also very affordable.

img_0012

Portable Generator outlet - just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.
Portable Generator outlet – just plug in the generator and flip the switch when needed.

Step 5: Add Batteries, Inverter, Charge Controller ($$$)

Now it’s time to determine how much energy you want to store. This is done by multiplying your critical loads by the number of hours you want to operate them by batteries, factoring in the percentage of the battery that can be used without reducing their longevity. For example, if your critical loads required 10 kWh/day, and you wanted two days, and you wanted to never draw down more than 20% of your batteries, you would need to have enough batteries so that 20% of their combined stored energy amounted to 10kWh per day for two days (or 20kWh).

In industry terms, the number of days you wish to be able to run without recharging your batteries is referred to as “Days of Autonomy” or “DOA”.

Here again, knowing your real needs/usage (through monitoring) is critically important. Otherwise, the best you can do is guess and your guess is likely to be way too large (expensive) or way too small (inadequate).

This may seem an odd step to some. Why install batteries before any sources are producing power?

Here are some reasons for doing so:

  1. They are the infrastructure for off-grid or grid-interactive solar or wind applications. If you never want to be able to use your renewable energy when the utility power is unavailable, you don’t need this step. However, what sense does it make to have potentially tens of thousands of dollars in renewable energy and not be able to use it when you need it most – in a utility outage? Believe it or not, most home solar installations in our country are what are called “grid-tie” systems and cannot operate, or operate at a greatly reduced capacity during a utility failure.
  2. With batteries and a generator in place, you can operate a generator only long enough to re-charge your batteries during an outage. For example, if it took two hours to charge your batteries but they could support your critical loads for 24 hours, you’d only need to run the generator for two hours every day vs the entire length of an outage. In short, batteries extend generator fuel.
  3. Optionally, using the right equipment, you can program your system to use grid power or battery power based on peaks and lows of cost. This can be done by re-charging batteries using grid power when rates are low and using generator power (in the case of automatic backup generators) when grid power is at peak rates.
Solar batteries can be heavy - this one is 2200lbs
Solar batteries can be heavy – this one is 2200lbs!

Step 6: Add Renewable Collectors ($$-$$$)

With all the above done and with the proper equipment, you can add in renewable energy products such as solar panels, wind turbines, or micro-hydro. It’s important to know how/what you intend to do at this step before purchasing the equipment from Step 5 because you need to ensure everything plays nicely together.

With renewable energy sources, you are probably not going to save a lot of money. In our case, we probably save $15-$20/month. That’s nice and all, but not even close to worth the investment if it were for financial gain. What you will gain is “fuel extension” and additional (redundant) source of energy.

Step 7: Learn, learn, learn

Owning and maintaining equipment such as above is NOT simple, hence one of the reasons we’ve avoided blogging about it 🙂 Nevertheless, it is doable! To get the most out of the experience, invest time into learning everything you can about these subjects.

 

Why your family should own a quality water filter

We’ve blogged plenty of times about water and the need to have access to good, clean, quality drinking water.

Something every family in the world should consider is this… Where and how do we get access to good, clean, healthy drinking water?

Many in the world cannot answer this question because they have nothing but unhealthy, compromised water to drink. That’s why our family supports organizations like World Vision. However, even those in well-developed countries such as the United States can have compromised drinking water. Most Americans and Europeans wrongly assume that they will always have access to good, clean, healthy drinking water. So let’s ask a follow-up question to the the above question.

Is there anything that could happen that would interrupt how and/or where we secure good, clean, healthy drinking water? Or how about this… What dependencies are there for us getting this water? Is a utility company responsible. Must electricity be present? Must we be able to drive to a store to get water?

Water is essential for life. Without it, most people can survive just around 3 days or so. Yet, for something so important, we invest very little thought, time, and resources into making sure we can continue to have access to such a necessary resource!

Most of us are utterly dependent on systems and variables beyond our control for our water and many other needs. Consider this… A utility could encounter a problem and need to shut off water. The power can be turned off. The store could run out of water. Bottled water companies could shut down. Truckers could go ons strike. A water main could break. The weather could prevent you from reaching the store. The well could break.

These are not extreme, apocalyptic scenarios. These are common events. These things WILL  happen – and they do all the time. Just ask anyone who has been without power for several days due to flooding, hurricanes, etc. All the victims of these events have quickly realized how delicate access to clean water and other necessities can be. A few gallons of water squirreled away in the closet is better than nothing, but it’s not good enough!

Our family has developed our own “Preparedness Pyramid” approach for planning for unexpected things like this. This process allows us to determine how we would meet any need for our short term, intermediate, and long term needs. You can read more about our planning strategy here.

It is our belief, that every family should have a water filter on hand. Not the water pitchers with carbon filters found at Stuff Mart, but a quality product built to make undrinkable water potable.  Yes, these will cost you money. However, the costs are very small and would be of no consequence when clean water is necessary for life to continue! Is your life or the life of your loved ones not worth $50, $100, $200?

My past experience consulting with those going on extended outdoor adventures gave me the opportunity to get an education on these matters, and also learn about some great vendors and products in this arena. Further my own experience backpacking, camping, and several extended trips to third-world countries have given me practical experience in with the tools and processes for making water potable (drinkable/useable) and, unfortunately – what happens when you don’t 😦

So it was without doubt or hesitation that we recently purchased the Katadyn TRK Gravidyn Drip Water Filter. Katadyn has been a world leader in water filtration for a looong time. We’ve been following and using their filters for about 20 years. This filter is perfect for a family of group of families looking to provide emergency fresh water. If you can have only one device for making water drinkable – get this one!

We like this filter because:

  1. It can provide for a family or reasonable-size group of people (1-6 people’s full-time needs) – this could be stretched to meet the needs of more in my opinion.
  2. It can be cleaned and used over and over again for an average of 150,000 litres of water. The cleaner you can make the water going in, the longer it will last.
  3. It’s gravity-fed, meaning it’s simple, passive – requires no pumping and has no moving parts
  4. It can serve functions on picnics, camping trips, and emergencies
  5. It’s robust enough to meet your families needs for weeks to months – long enough for normal systems to come online again or more permanent alternatives to be developed.
  6. It’s a Katadyn, duh!
We’d be happy to answer any questions about sustainable, emergency water source planning you might have. Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

Land/Auction Update

Just realized today that we neglected to post any updates regarding our recent trip to auction to bid on a 37 acre farm.

Well, we went there ready to bid. We set a price we all agreed on. We were ready to go.

The bidding quickly got beyond our max price. We never even got to bid. That’s a good thing because we learned enough about auctions to know NOT to bid until certain times, and also never to go over your max amount. We felt good that we didn’t do anything stupid. As it was, the winner paid about $100k more than we would have. That’s about $100k more than the land was worth. That buyer is gonna have a hard time getting a bank to finance the deal and/or will have more invested in their property than the property is worth.

So… this farm was not for us. At least not at this time. We have no idea what Jehovah has in store for us. We’re content with the outcome. More than that, we’re excited about the relationship opportunities that happened because our consideration of this endeavor. When people think about doing something like this, there HAS to be some intense discovery and conversation about one another. For me (Andrew) that was the big reward of this experience. Way more important than getting land. We were able to work together, lay aside petty differences, past hurts, future fears and a whole lot more and still decide that we could love one another despite those things. Truly amazing! I don’t care if we ever get land if we can keep growing in those kind of relationships!

So, we’re still looking for viable land and the means to acquire it. In the meantime, we’re endeavoring to help one another live simple, pleasant, and rewarding lives together. We’ll keep you posted!

T-Minus 37 Hours

Well, if you’ve read our blog, know us, or have heard crazy rumors about us elsewhere – you already know that we’re seriously interested in living a simpler, healthier, less-complicated life. We’re also big on “community”- not in the common sense of “being involved in lots of stuff close to our home”, but in the idea of community – more specifically, living in such a way that we are interdependent on others around us who wish to do the same.

In about 37 hours we’ll be attending an auction where we’ll likely be bidding on a piece of real estate that could further our efforts and journey to live a simpler life.

We’re joined by three other families in this pursuit – “our community” of sorts. No, we’re not looking to start a commune or anything of the sort. We’re not the type to sit around the sweat lodge in our hemp shirts singing Kumbaya and howling at the moon. We just value friendships and working together. We are interested in being in closer physical proximity in order to make the process of living a simple life shared among others a bit easier. And so, we bid…

We have goals… Big goals.

We want to be out of debt… All of us.

We want to grow healthy, organic food… Lots of it.

We want to give food away… For free.

We want to bless people in our community… Anyone who needs it.

We want to restore to ourselves and our families, a sense of community.

We believe this land would allow us to do these things we’re already doing in part, but better and more effectively. There are many, many impossible challenges to getting this land but we’re going to go and bid regardless. We have no idea what will happen, but we don’t need to. Our hope isn’t pinned on getting this land and we’ll press on regardless. Nevertheless, if you’re the praying sort, we’d covet your prayers for success and the means to make this happen. Please leave a comment and let us know you’re with us.

Get out of debt, or invest?

We’ve spoken to several financial planners and investment advisers over the years and unequivocally, they’ve recommended investing funds on hand rather than reducing essential debts like mortgages and student loans. Certainly, the math behind this makes sense because good return on investment is based on two things – time and compound interest. The logic goes like this. If you pay off your debt on hand, then begin to invest, you lose those years of compound interest on your investments. For many years we thought this was a wise way to go.

Over the last few years though, we’ve come to see things differently. As our lives become simpler, so our ideas about finances. Our entire western culture is built on a desire to better one’s life in ways that generally allow one to accumulate more stuff. Our education is geared around preparing our children for this pursuit. We make sure they get an adequate education that will prepare them for pursuing the amount of material comforts they’ll need or desire. Once they begin working a job, they begin to prepare to maintain this status until the end of their days.

To us, this seems rather silly. Is not life about more than working a job and having stuff? We’ve come to see that his is an empty pursuit that robs people and families of their essential well-being. It drives families into debt, which results in more work to service their debt. Truly, “the borrower is servant to the lender”.

Once we began to see that money is an illusory carrot dangled in front of the masses of society in exchange for servitude, we began to change our minds about debt. No longer are we concerned about how many thousands of dollars we’ll have when we reach 65. Rather, what kind of people will we be at 65? What kind of lives will we have lived? Will our resources have been used for good, or to line the pockets of the super-wealthy? What will our children be like and what will the experiences of their lives be? Without exception, for us being debt free as soon as possible provides more enjoyable answers to those questions. Are we saying investing is bad? No! But for us, we’ve come to see investing in debt reduction to have far more value to our lives than investing those same funds to get “more”.

Being debt free truly brings freedom. Does freedom have a price? Debt brings a lack of freedom as one is contractually bound to pay back their debt, therefore must gather the resources to pay their debt. This means choosing a job and schedule that gives one the resources to pay this debt. At the same time, we’re living in a culture that encourages more debt. Don’t believe us? Our entire economy is based on this premise. Debt IS currency in the USA. Not sure about that? Do some research on fractional reserve banking sometime.

Being debt free allows people and families to choose to spend their time doing what they enjoy, where they desire to do so, and with whom they desire to do it with. Does that mean NO work? Not usually – but it does give one the freedom to enjoy more trivial work that provides only what is needed. If we were debt free, we could invest a much smaller amount of time outside of our home and interests than we do now. To us, that has far more intrinsic value than any gains we could experience by investing our resources elsewhere.

So get out of debt or invest? Which is it? We would say getting out of debt is investing – and perhaps the best investment one could ever make.

Please share your comments!

What does juicing have to do with simple living?

Even though we’re just today starting our 10-30 day  juice fast, we’ve been juicing for quite a while now. We’ve never really blogged about it before but thought it would be fun to document our juice fast journey as we’re going along.

One might ask “what does juicing have to do with living simply?

Good question! To answer, we must look at the big picture of life, health, and wellness. It’s easily understood from anecdotal and probably statistical information that the health of the average American is in decline. True, we might be living longer, but that’s likely due to advances in pharmaceuticals and technologies that extend life for those in poor health. I don’t believe people are living longer because they’re healthier – in fact, quite the contrary.

Part of our philosophy of living simply is a desire to live with as little dependency as possible on practices, systems, and technologies that have not been present from the beginning of humanity. That doesn’t mean we do so in every case – but where we can, we do. The way our current culture obtains and uses food is one such system we are eager to reduce our dependency upon. We’ve gotten removed from some basic wisdom regarding what we eat and how we get it. We believe this has caused a massive up swing in chronic illness, disease, and prescription drug dependency. So eating poorly from a broken, industrialized food system has, in our opinion, caused a massive and expensive dependency on another industrialized medical/pharmaceutical system. Interestingly enough, there are some corporations that control both food and medicine. These large corporations are killing us for profit.

We resist these things by eating as healthy as we can. We’re not rabbits and don’t eat like them! Healthy does not mean vegetarian or vegan in our book, but eating foods that have experienced no to minimal processing and transportation. We don’t do this completely or thoroughly but have still experienced much benefit. As a biproduct of changing our diet, we’ve seen a massive decrease in our sick visits to the doctor (3 or so visits among 6 of us in the last 3+ years). So just by eating differently, we’ve reduced our dependency on the medical and pharmaceutical establishments. This has allowed us to live simpler and less expensively. For certain, our grocery bill has gone up, but ask yourself “would I rather spend money on healthy, delicious food, or expensive, perhaps harmful medicine?”.

Welp… juicing is perhaps the simplest and affordable way to “reboot” or “jumpstart” one’s health. We’re juicing and particularly juice fasting at the moment to promote health and wellness in ourselves as a way to simply maintain our health. Can you see the connection? There’s no point in trying to be simple in every other area of life if we’re slaves to drugs or ongoing medical intervention. What happens if/when those systems are not available? From what we’ve seen, nearly every course taken by those who have beat terminal illness has included juicing. We believe there’s something to this. We’ve also seen in movies like “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” that others have benefited greatly from juice fasting. So, we’re giving it a shot.

Simple living starts with the individual. First they change their mind, then their body, spirit, soul. Then that individual can go on to change their family, their friends, and their community. That’s our goal – to restore ourselves and others to simpler, healthier, and gratifying lifestyles.

If you’d like to join us, or have additional questions, please let us know! We’ll be posting another post later on today that lists what kind of juicer(s) we use and where you can get them. We’ll also start to share our “recipes” for juicing and maybe even some before and after pictures (if we get comfortable with the idea of those being on the internet!).

Happy juicing!

Open-Pollinated, Heirloom, Organic, or Hybrid – I’m confused!

There can be some confusing information about seeds when choosing to plant a garden. Who would have ever thought there could be so much strong opinion and controversy surrounding the kind of seeds we plant in our gardens! If you’ve shopped for seeds, you may have noticed several terms related to the type and origin of the seeds. These include “heirloom”, “open-pollinated”, “organic”, “hybrid”, and “bio-dynamic”. You might even find some more terms in your shopping!

So what do each of these mean and how do they affect you and your gardening? Let us explain…

Hybrid

Hybrid seeds are those that are derived in the labs of universities or large multi-national corporations. In nature, seed varieties emerge as plants naturally pollinate and the DNA of separate species combine to produce a new species that combine the two. Hybrid seeds are those where that process is purposefully performed in a lab, skipping all the happenstance of nature and replacing it with careful, calculated measures intended to produce a desired result. Furthermore, Hybrid seeds are often created by combining genetic material from species that would not typically combine in nature. This is done to create plants with more favorable characteristics such as color, growing season length, taste,  disease resistance, pest resistance, etc. Because this process occurs in a lab, the typical hybrid result – once grown, is unable to reproduce in kind. Therefore, if one were to keep the seeds of a hybrid variety and plant that seed, the result would not be the same as the parent, but of one of the original contributors of the genetic material of the hybrid seed. This is if the seed grows at all. Oftentimes, these are sterile, or have been “programmed” by the producers to not be able to reproduce.

GMO or Genetically Modified Organism

GMO seeds are those that have been engineered in a lab in such a way that genetic material is modified to produce a certain result. It would be fair to say that all GMO seeds are hybrid seeds, but not all hybrid seeds are GMO. In some cases, the genetic modifications simply mimic nature’s process but in a matter of weeks rather than millennia. Other GMO seeds are far more concerning and at times combine even non-plant genetic material with plant material to produce “super plants” that are resistant to pests and diseases and in some cases even produce their own pesticide! GMO seeds are hybrid and therefore cannot reproduce in kind. It is this family’s opinion that many GMO seeds should be avoided because of the “frankenseed” nature of them. These seeds may contain genetic material that would not normally be found in foods consumed by humans.

Heirloom

Heirloom seeds are simply seeds that are not mass-produced or engineered by large multi-national corporations, but rather come from the slower, manual process of individuals and families preserving the seeds of their best crops over time. . These seeds have been chosen from seasonal crops over many years or decades because of their unique and positive attributes.  Technically, these seeds are not necessarily “open-pollinated” because a farmer of gardener could have manually pollinated their plants in a greenhouse or field for the desired result. Nevertheless, heirloom seeds were produced under circumstances that are harmonious with the natural order of the plant world.

Open-Pollinated

Open-pollinated means that the plant has naturally pollinated in nature without human interruption in a lab. These are varieties that emerged by chance “as the wind blew” genetic material from one variety to another.

Organic

Organic seeds are those that were grown under organic growing conditions and have met the requirements for considering seeds to be certifiably organic. This usually means that the seeds were produced in an environment free of harmful pesticides or chemicals. Some would debate the impact this has on seeds themselves since the resulting plant would not necessarily be effected by the environment in which it’s parent was created. However, others would argue that the DNA of such plants could be damaged or unfavorable altered by being produced under such conditions. In general organic seeds are non-GMO and usually non-hybrid but open-pollinated varieties as well. If you plant these seeds, keep the resulting plant’s seed and re-plant it, you’ll get the same variety of plant. It doesn’t make your plant or garden “organic” all by itself . You’d still have to maintain organic conditions and processes to do so. That’s the topic for another blog – not this one 🙂

Biodynamic

According the wikipedia.. Biodynamic agriculture…

“is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided.

Biodynamic seeds are those that were created under such conditions and/or are intended for those wishing to plant the seeds under such conditions. Usually, this means that the seeds have been certified to be Biodynamic by organizations that define and maintain the standards for such. Most gardeners will not need to concern themselves with using certified biodynamic seeds unless they’re looking to start or maintain a certified biodynamic garden. This is not the interest of the average gardener, but usually a commercial pursuit.

Which is best to use?

We’ve been asked this question plenty of times. There’s no single answer to this question. As a family, we  endeavor to use organic, heirloom, open-pollinated seeds. We do so because we want seeds that were not created in a lab by those driven by profits. We also want to be able to save seeds from year to year in order to maintain a sustainable food production system. However, doing this carries some risk. In general, hybrid seeds are often going to produce higher yields and more resistance to pests and disease than most open-pollinated varieties.

Growing food can be similar to investing in the stock market, some (like us) want a balanced “portfolio” of produce that maximizes reward and minimizes risk. Therefore,  because we try to grow large volumes of our own food, a portion of our planting is often hybrid seed. We still try to avoid most GMO seeds. We choose this mix (at the moment) in order to get more return on our labors and less risk of loss. Were we to plant all open-pollinated varieties, or even single varieties of hybrid seeds, we’d be vulnerable to loss if a pest or weather pattern wreaked havoc on our crop.  However, our “emergency” seed supplies are entirely open-pollinated should we ever need to use them. No matter what you plant, consider planting a variety of the same fruit or vegetable. This minimizes risk and can also provide more enjoyable result.

Conclusion

People garden for a number or reasons. The choice of what seed to grow should be based on the reasons one gardens, the desired outcome, and the convictions of the gardener. We garden to grow our own sustainable food. We also don’t care for the immoral and deceitful business practices of some of the companies who produce hybrid and GMO seeds. We choose what we choose for our environment. At the end of the day, you must make your choices based on your needs. Take the time to learn more about the seeds you buy no matter what kind you decide to use. By doing so, you’ll become a healthier, wiser, and better gardener.

Kefir: The dairy “swiss army knife”

One if the things we’re interested in doing is maintaining a good variety of healthy foods, but in a way that is affordable and sustainable. At this time, due to where we live, we cannot  get a cow or goats for milk. Despite this, we still want to be able to produce simple dairy products on our own without having to depend on the market for every dairy product. We still have to purchase milk, which we get raw from a local farmer.

Enter Kefir – an ancient fermented milk drink that has been around for eons. We think that kefir is the swiss army knife of dairy for those looking to be able to use one item to produce a variety of other items. Kefir on it’s own is much like yogurt and offers all the same benefits, but in bigger doses and with less work. If kefir grains are added to fresh milk, they will ferment the milk within 24 hours. Once fermented, the resulting kefir can be left to sit for another 1-3 days during which time it will separate into curds and whey. The curds can be eaten, or further refined into “laban” which can be used as cottage and cream cheese right away. Or, salt can be added to this laban and becomes the basis for harder cheeses like cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Also, kefir can be fermented to different lengths and strengths producing different tastes and usefulness.

This whole process does not require refrigeration and is a good way of getting usefulness from milk without energy use. Further, the kefir grains are constantly growing and multiplying, thus keeping the owner in a constant supply of kefir grains to eat, use, or share with others.

This is all in addition to many health benefits known to accompany kefir!

If you’re looking to add a “tool” to your simple life arsenal – particularly if you have access to a fresh supply of milk – consider kefir! You won’t be disappointed!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑