A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Monday, March 31, 2008

We love Mother Earth News

We have had a subscription to Mother Earth News for almost a year and we have eagerly devoured every single issue. Their tag line is "The original guide to living wisely" and that it is. They cover everything from renewable energy to modern homesteading and growing your own food to how to reupholster furniture. I love the can-do optimism throughout the magazine...you can do this too in three easy steps (okay usually more than three but you get what I mean).

This from the editorial in the latest issue:

"We are at a point in history when time-tested wisdom can strike the contemporary mind as "radical".
  • Recycle and conserve resources.
  • Know where your food comes from.
  • Be mindful how you build your home.
These maxims satisfy both definitions for radical ideas. They suggest an extreme change from what we've been doing these past couple of centuries, but they also suggest that we are returning to principles that are the roots of human wisdom."

See what I mean? So inspiring!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On knowing where things come from...

This is one of the things I am most excited about in this move...as a family, learning where things come from and to be good stewards of our resources and the earth. For a while now I have been really put off by the consumer-driven culture that seems to be prevalent in our society. The short film, The Story of Stuff really highlighted the problems with this for me. I want my kids to learn to reduce, reuse, recycle and conserve not consume, consume, consume. I think having an understanding of where stuff comes from provides you with the right motivation to be responsible with it.

I remember when I was a kid, my Dad would repeatedly get on our case about turning off lights in rooms we weren't in...or the TV when we weren't watching it etc., etc. I remember thinking, what's the big deal? If someone had asked me if I knew where electricity came from, probably the depth of my understanding would have been "uh, the switch on the wall?". For most of my generation, we've had it so easy. Need water? Turn on the tap. Feel a bit cold? Crank up the thermostat. Feel like strawberries, in the middle of January? Just jump in the car and drive to the grocery store, yep even if it is 3am. And until recently...I hadn't really thought about the consequences of these modern conveniences...and they are huge, for our planet and ourselves.

See, in my parent's generation, they knew about conservation because they didn't have much to work with. My parents were raised in England during 'the war'. My Grandad had an allotment garden, like most of his neighbours, to grow food for his family. My Nana owned one coat in her whole life...she took very good care of it. My mom learned to sew/crochet/knit/cook because these skills would help her survive and care for her family. If they felt cold...they put on a sweater. Now...I'm not suggesting that these were the best of days...for sure, my mother still can't understand why we would want to give up central heating but what I wonder is... why not, now that we have a choice to do so...choose to use our resources wisely?

Modifications ©2006 Jone Johnson Lewis

We are hoping to venture into renewable energy sources at Wise Acres...which may mean having to 'conserve energy' and this will definitely mean something different to my kids than it did to me because...if we use up all the energy we have stored in our batteries...that will be it until the sun shines on us tomorrow. A lesson that can be applied to so many things, don't you think?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

To get good well water is divine.

Flickr image courtesy of futurowoman.
For our own peace of mind, as well as the peace of minds of our families, the bank, and pretty much anyone to whom we mentioned this move, we had to have the property inspected. This meant an inspection of the house itself, the septic system (a lagoon!), and a well. We've never had a well, and I thought I'd share some of what I've learnt. Also, this record will be handy when we need to inspect the water quality again.

First, the good news. Based on the lab "bacteriological results are potable as per the 2006 Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water". I didn't even know, though I guess I would have guessed if asked, that there was such as a thing as the CDWG - Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.

There's really no bad news - we might have to get a water softener if we want our soap to get sudsy...

But the part I think is really cool is this:
Woo hoo! 5.7 GPM!

Now, up until today, I didn't know if that was good or bad - how many people know how many gallons per minute they use or need? So, to put it in perspective, I dug around and found this site. To simplify though, an old style, non-water-saving, skin-removing shower-head would push out 7 GPM, whereas the newer ones hit 2.5 GPM. So, in theory, we could have both showers, equipped with water-saving heads of course, running at the same time without overextending our water supply. (This is theoretical - I don't think the water pressure would make either bather a happy bather.)

Why to I think this is so cool? I've never had the luxury of being fully responsible for my water supply. Modern conveniences have stolen this from us, forcing us to treat water as an unlimited resource. (Granted, water metering is slowly being rolled out.) And even if I was conscious of our water usage over time, I didn't think twice about from where it came or how it got from there to me. Now, we'll be blessed with complete control and responsibility. If we run out, it's because we used it (wisely or otherwise). It's coming from around 50 feet below our property (being pushed out by a pump in the well 55' down, because it's easier to push water out than to pull it out, it so happens).

When I hear about cities suffering hardship due to water turbidity during flooding or heavy rainfall, those consumers are so far down the supply chain that they cannot solve the problem - they can only buy or boil, and wait. We may run out after a few loads of laundry, but based on the test results that seems unlikely, and the well level will quickly catch up.

Besides, we are going to be watching our usage very closely - we don't want to deplete this natural resource, because if we do, we don't have a supply chain to blame.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Warning to My Vegetarian Friends...Carnivore content follows...

When we met, Erich was a vegetarian and shortly after we both started eating vegan. It was fairly simple to maintain this kind of diet being just the two of us. When I got pregnant with Gwenna, we headed down a slippery slope back to being full carnivores. After not even thinking about meat for so long, I had overpowering urges for not just fish or chicken...no but prime rib or any cut that would equally appeal to Fred Flintstone. With the many food sensitivities of Gwenna's that we discovered, we found it difficult to ever go back to eliminating meat as we had to rule out so many other sources of protein and iron. It was always at the back of my mind, something that we would go back to when 'things settled down'...well three children later and here we are. We still enjoy a number of vegetarian meals in our repertoire but regularly have meat on our menu. Last Fall we were fortunate enough to be able to purchase a half of a cow from our family that raises grass fed, free range cattle. Because of this, I think I can finally feel good about including meat in our family diet. This beef looks better than any I have had before and tastes outstanding.

This past week-end we decided to share our cow with my family...it feels great to feed our family food that we know exactly where it comes from, how the animals are fed and cared for. This where Bessie spent most of her days ...
..it is also the place where our sustainability journey began and where we get so much continued inspiration from some incredible folks...but that is a story for another day.

For some great reading about just why you might want to avoid certain packaged meat...check out this Mother Earth News article.
This one about grass fed beef is good too!

A Word to the "Why's"

Why Horsefly? Why an acreage? Why now?

We've asked ourselves these questions, but some of them were already answered before we'd thought to ask.

Why now?
We've been on a slowly self-revealing mission toward self-sustainability. It may have started with our home-schooling experience (which proved to us that home-based education is not only possible, but in many ways better than institution-based schooling), or it may have been earlier when our trust the food industry was broken. Since our kids cannot eat most of the products offered in the supermarkets (products, not food!) we've had to become super-sensitive (to the kids' needs, their reactions; and, to the ingredients products list) and super-sensible (in the way we approach food, with regards to consumption, preparation, and presentation).

Why an acreage?
Naturally, this led us to the conclusion that we ought to produce as much of our own food as possible. Gardening would be challenging but possible on our current property, but we cannot have livestock. We'd like to have egg-laying hens, milk-bearing goats, wool-bearing sheep, and an angora rabbit maybe.

Why Horsefly?
We've spent over a year looking for land - anywhere between 5 and 100 acres - as close to here as possible. The Okanagan has a great growing season and lots of sunlight, and although this is ideal for homesteading, it's also amazing for vineyards and golf courses. We quickly found we could not afford to buy much land nearby.

We looked further north, and the Cariboo, which had been calling us all along (our Zirnhelt ears are specially attuned to the call of the Cariboo), became our region of choice - many family members are close by, several towns are served by BCWireless.com, a radio-based high-speed internet service producer, and there are several airports within a 4 hour drive to take me away when I need to be taken away, which occurs, on average, only once every two months. (Williams Lake airport is only 1 hour away, but will not always be the perfect choice.)

When this log home on a 10-acre property appeared, we got to know Horselfy. We liked the community's size - big enough for a school if the girls want to do that, a gas station, and a convenience store - and it's make-up - there's a mix of organic farmers, cowboys and artists (this seems to be a trait of the Cariboo as a whole) that blends well with our owns goals and sensitivities.

Why not?
We aren't being naive - we expect this to be a lot of work ("But I milked Nanny yesterday"), and a lot of learning ("I guess pine's not going to get us through the night." - I learned this at 3am one December morning in this wood-stove heated cabin a few years ago). We have countless projects already lined up (solar panels/backup power, dining room, guest cabin, workshop, natural pool, etc...), we have not clarified our livestock choices yet (though Poultry 2008 seems to be the current frontrunner) and we haven't even yet sold our house.

However, this doesn't feel like a choice to us, but a required change. Add to what we've listed an increased awareness of carbon footprints, food transportation, and petroleum addiction, then factor in the availability of rural high-speed internet and we knew we had to make this change now.

Why not come by?
We'll always have an open door, and find a bed for any who choose to drop by.