Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Starting Over- Again

A blog entry seemed the most appropriate place to share all the changes that Serendipity Farm, and the family behind it have experienced in these last few months.
We were evicted from our farm. Four months later, and writing it here still feels like ripping the bandaid off a raw wound. I had such high hopes for it. I had, or thought I had, so many great ideas.
I could share the play by play. The Rise & Fall of Denise's Great or Not So Great Ideas.That was my intention when I say down at the keys. But ya know, now that I'm here I think I'd rather focus on what's next.
Here. Let's start with where we are. We are in a charming, little, town in Maine. Specifically, in the 14+ room farmhouse, that my grandmother and her partner gutted and rehabbed until every inch reflected their tastes and every nook served their precise needs. It is a gorgeous house. It is a huge house. It is just almost exactly, sort of close to, but nothing at all like, anything I would ever look for in a house. It is more than adequate for our family. There is ample room for my children, for my adult son who was my grandmother's care taker in her final days, and all of our interests. There is a handyman's dream of a workshop, furnished with every wood-working tool you could shave a stick with. My partner will be able to use that space as not only its intend purpose but also as a studio for his leather work and other artistic endeavors. There's a hay loft that in time will be converted to an in-law apartment, should my adult children decide they want to make Maine their long term residence or for visits from friends. There are three living rooms, yes three. One will become the school room for our home-schooling, one may become my sewing and reading nook and one will remain a living room in the traditional sense. There's an art studio. There's a bench seat and a lounge in the upstairs bath. It is a dream home. My grandmother's dream, not mine.
As gorgeous as the house is, as much room as it has, right now it is just not conducive to any of the things I thought I would be spending the next few years doing. It sits on an acre of land, shaped like a piece of pie, wedged between two streets, on a steep hill, surrounded by giant pine trees in the suburbs. Not exactly prime real estate for raising geese, turkey or our horse. It is not garden-friendly. It offers little out-of-doors privacy.
But I have some ideas. My mantra for the moment is: grow where you're planted. The yard would lend itself well to container gardening. There was once an intensely planted albeit small herb garden, I can revamp it. The time I am not spending tending livestock can now be applied to learning more about wild foraging. An interest I have had for a long time. I've already learned to identify a half a dozen new-to-me plants. I imagine long winters of heavy snow will be a great time to write long posts here, and to undertake cool projects with the Gelfs.
My To Do List didn't include any of this, but I'm confident that we can make it work. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Organic or Local?

A page I follow on Facebook put this question to her readers a couple weeks ago. I wish I could remember which page, all the pages I follow are pretty cool & I would share if I could.

Anyway the question was; if you could only have organic or local produce which would you choose? 

I was surprised by the answers I saw. I didn't follow the conversation all day, but at the point I read through the comments the majority were in favor of organic. There are so many issues on my mind when choosing foods for my family. I have a budget. Don't we all? There are 6 of us who eat all meals at home. I try to keep everyone's like and dislikes in mind when I plan meals. My partner has a medical condition that is closely tied to his diet, so that's always on the radar. There are brands that I refuse to support on moral grounds, and a few ingredients that I try to avoid. I read labels. All of that is on my mind when I shop, and we haven't even talked about nutrition yet. Let me just confess, organic is barely a blip on my radar.
Of course I want to avoid pesticides, herbicides and the assorted poisons that somehow became an acceptable part of our food system. But if the organic tomato I purchased in January was picked by an exploited laborer, and trucked thousands of miles to my table, for me that pretty much negates the wholesomeness of choosing organic. Buying local addresses my concerns better than buying organic. Local, seasonal produce tends to be much cheaper than imported, off-season, organic produce. I know the labor laws of my community, so I can reasonably assume that workers at local farms are treated fairly and humanely. When buying from small, family owned farms, I know that my money stays in my community. It isn't funneling into corporations with a history of violating human rights or destroying the environment. This is incredibly important to me. Buying local means eating seasonally, which I believe plays an important role in health. When I buy local I can ask questions about animal husbandry and land management. Buying local tends to mean supporting sustainable practices and the food security of my community.

And more often than not, local is organic- just not certified organic.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Your Cow for My Three Magic Beans?

I love to barter. I would say that it's the greatest idea since sliced bread, but A. bartering is way older than sliced bread and B. I don't find sliced bread to be all that impressive.

Bartering: so much cooler than sliced bread. 

Like most people, my first experiences with bartering would have been as a child. I can remember trading my individually wrapped Twinkies for the much tastier chocolate cupcakes with a friend at a cafeteria table. That may have been the last of my trading experiences if the economy hadn't up & collapsed back in 2006.

My partner is the primary income source for our family, he's a tattoo artist. Let me brag for just a little bit here. My partner is a licensed, professional, world-traveled, award winning tattoo artist who was approaching 20 years in the business in '06. Tattooing is a profession that doesn't easily compare to other professions. It is a little bit like hairdressing. Artist like stylist are usually independent contractors, not salaried employees. You are responsible for providing your tools and your supplies. Artist and stylist typically rent their chairs. The shop might provide some advertisement but it is your skill and your satisfied customers who fill your chair & put new people in it. When customers are facing severe financial set-backs, their hair will continue to grow. The stylist may find people go longer between cuts, they may forgo more expensive services and their tipping may become more frugal, tough times for sure, but the stylist will probably continue to earn a living. The artists on the other hand, well it turns out if your facing foreclosure getting a really rad new tattoo is probably not anywhere on your To Do List.

He could have pursued a new career or taken on a second job to ride out the storm. I could have gone back to working outside the home.None of those options seemed acceptable to me. He did take side jobs, but not a second job. Re-entering the workforce for me would have meant putting the kids in school and finding a gig that worked around their schedule. A new career path for him would have meant leaving a job he truly excels at and loves, at this stage in his career it would have likely been forever. So we made a choice to ride out the storm by tightening our belts and learning to live on an income much lower than we had been accustomed to. It would have been a much harder, and unpleasant experience if I hadn't noticed the craigslist barter section around that same time.

If I remember correctly my Christmas present that year was the first tattoo he accept a trade as payment. A mom with 2 little ones got an adorable piece, and I was given a sewing machine that I still use today. We've traded for so many things and services over the years, I couldn't begin to list them all. I regularly trade for boutique quality, all-natural, small batch, personal care products. I have a friend I trade with for elderberry syrup, another that I cook for & she stocks my essential oil cabinet. More than one car has come our way via bartering. My home-births were also paid for in trade.

I think there are some people out there who have negative ideas about bartering. Perhaps the first thing they think of is the magic beans Jack got for his cow. Let's not forget though, that did work out pretty well for Jack. When you barter, especially if you are bartering a service or product that you also sell for cash, it's an opportunity to network. Your trade partner may be interested in your service again or they may share their experience with their friends. With that in mind, you should approach your trades like a professional. Describe your item or service honestly, including any flaws. If the service you provide requires professional licensing, be prepared to present proof of your standing. Consider assigning a trade value, that is the amount you would ask if you were selling the item out right, but keep it realistic. Offer a list of what you are hoping to find. If you are open to other suggestions, say that in your posts.

Do you want to barter but aren't sure what you have to offer? Let me throw out a few quick ideas. Whatever you do for a living is probably a good place to start. Hairdressers, plumbers, child-care providers, massage therapists, mechanics; these are services needed by many and very likely to attract trading partners. Non-skilled labor; if your up for it you could offer services like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, or hauling trash to the dump. Home cooked meals, garden produce or home canned products make for great swaps. Clothes or toys your children have outgrown are another popular barter item. Know your local laws, and keep it legal; but other than that, really almost anything can be traded & found through trading.

Our farm is always open to bartering.I'm active on two Facebook bartering groups Richmond   and Caroline County; but also feel free to contact me through Serendipity Farm directly if you have something we might be interested in or would like to sample something we offer.

Also, there are many bartering groups on Facebook. Some that are targeted to specific communities and some that are listed by interest. Try entering your town or county in your FB search bar. If you don't find one, establishing one yourself is really easy.

Please feel free to share your bartering experiences in the comments!