Monday, July 27, 2009

3 Dead Chickens

~From the porch at Bright Farm~

We went up to the farm this weekend to pick up 3 chickens. 3 dead chickens, since most people hear me say that and assume I mean live ones. The farm is in Floyd, so up the winding roads we go, over Twelve O'Clock Knob with it's rock cliffs on one side and dizzying drop-offs on another. Then up Bent Mountain. One year I noted how there were always butterflies fluttering about as I'm zooming up the mountain (or down), and now I can't help but feel that the trek up Bent Mountain is one spent going around the mountain and trying to dodge butterflies.
The farm is 700 acres, though we've hardly seen it all. A lot of it is wooded, naturally so, which means many people would find it unkempt and unattractive. I like seeing the fields. Not open and prairie-like, but mountainous. Last year there were hogs in one field, very little grass, lots of dirt - on Saturday, it grew tall with wild grasses and flowers, full of life anew.
We picked up our chickens, freshly culled and plucked. Shannon and Tristan ran around with a little girl whose mother was helping out that day. They threw sticks for the lab who greets everyone with a stick in his mouth.
There is something really fantastic about eating food that was just killed that day. That has never seen the inside of a fridge or freezer. I feel the same way whether it is chickens, eggs, vegetables, fruit or fish. I've yet to have the pleasure of other animals. There is just some victorious feeling that comes over you, as if you beat the fridge!
We bbq'd the chicken, even making homemade bbq sauce (Sticky Fingers watch out!!). Served it with a zucchini (fresh from our garden, thank you) casserole. Delightful!
I think about books I've read, along with other articles, that talk about various foods and their purported aphrodisiac qualities. I think the true aphrodisiac is in eating REAL food, and in taking the time to eat it, to notice the flavors and textures, how they feel in your mouth, how the smells waft into your nose and make you dizzy, ravenous, calm, speechless - all the things love does.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Economic & Food Queries

~Tristan, showing me a still-green Cherokee Chocolate tomato in the garden. These are moments where the dollar savings means little and the moment means everything~

While I was doing my bi-monthly grocery shopping the other day and was taken back a couple of times. Like when I noticed that the size of the box of diapers had dropped by 20 diapers, but the price remained the same. (Ok - we LOVE cloth diapers, but had to change back to disposable because we were having a bad time with rashes). Or, when I was buying the box of organic cotton diaper wipes and noticed that the price had gone up buy almost $2 a box!! Things that I used to be able to find for well under a buck are now $1.25. I used to be able to score canned organic veggies at Walmart for about 88 cents a can, now they're $1.38 or so. Whole-grain pasta, which used to be about $1.18 was on CLOSE-OUT for $1.22!!!!
We try to grow as much as we can, and buy other stuff locally, but we still have to go to the store. With two little, but growing-like-weeds, boys to feed it seems like we constantly need more food too.
Justin and I were talking about the costs. I was telling him how I wasn't sure how much longer we could keep affording the raises in food costs. He said maybe we ought to buy the cheaper stuff. UGH -- knife in my heart!!!! I said that food prices couldn't possibly just keep going up, but he doubts they will go back down.
And that got me to thinking. Thinking about the end of the Depression and after WWII. When boom times were back. When people began to be able to afford "the good life" again.
For a moment, I felt hope. Then I realized something - the baby boomer generation was also the beginning of the "throw-away living" movement. When factory farms, industrial farms, CORPORATE food became the new way. This is what is killing us, quite literally, now. I quit feeling hope. Something more like dispair filled me.

When this blog was originally rolling about in my mind, I was going to go on about this some more. But something else happened today. We went outside. We worked in the garden. I got photos of the boys, nearly hidden in between rows of tomatoes that are taller than they are. We treated our chickens to a dish of old buttermilk that they downed in record-time and the peach pits (with juicy peach bits still on them) that would've otherwise gone into the compost, found out Ann Bancroft definitely knows her name (we think LadyBird does too), and were treated to 5 eggs. That's a lot for 6 hens who are, we think, beginning their first molt.
I saw the garden full of still-green tomatoes, and found out to my delight that there are cherry tomatoes finally coming out on the plants out front. I saw peppers on the pepper plants and beans .. well, on the bean plants.
When Justin's father asked Shannon to show him the garden, Shannon started talking about all the different "gardens" we have on all sides of the house: what they were producing, what was still growing, what seeds we were collecting, and so on.
I did the math, and if we had bought the 583 eggs our biddies have given us (as of the end of June), we would've spent about $145!!! I saw bowls quickly filling up as the boys and I gathered seeds from cosmos, calendula, and marigolds and I knew we wouldn't need to worry about seeds for next year.
I AM still worried about the future, about costs of food, but I am once-again filled with hope. Not hope in the stores, but hope in our own backyard. On our own urban homestead. I think that is the answer. Not cheap food that will only make us sick, damage the environment, and go against what we believe in; but homegrown, local food that will boost our health, enrich the environment, teach our children (and possibly others), and enrich our lives.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An opportunity

~Shannon holding Ann Bancroft, our Dark Brahma hen~

When we made the decision to get chickens, more specifically hens, it wasn't without thought. In fact, an entire year's worth of thought, research, reading, learning, and more research went into it. We saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to help produce more of our own food, to be more connected with the Earth, to teach our children about nature, where food comes from, and some nice biology lessons too. We saw it as an opportunity to take another step along our path of self-reliance and self-sustainability. We saw it as an opportunity to perhaps help show others that might not know about keeping chickens that you can do so without ruining the neighborhood. That it can bring neighbors together.
Unfortunately, as happens sometimes, it didn't bring all our neighbors together. As you know, one neighbor out-right hates us for not living the way she thinks we ought to: cooped up inside the house with windows always down, never venturing into the yard except to pick up a stray stick, and with landscaping that isn't over a couple inches high unless it is a tree. If she wants to (or anyone for that matter) live that way - go for it we say, but it isn't for us.
So now, today, we got our official letter from the City about the chickens since "technically" their illegal. We, of course, are going to try and convince City Council to ammend Zoning regulations to allow residents to keep a small, well-kept, backyard flock of hens.
Despite the instinctive reaction to run into my room, throw myself onto the bed, and cry into my pillow (or to go next door and just kick some butt), I'm going to see this as an opportunity.
An opportunity to learn more how the City works, to be involved in our community, to try and affect change. An opportunity to show our children all of those things, and to allow them to be part of it. To hear your 5 1/2 year old and your 3 year old say "Please don't let them take our chickens" breaks your heart. I might as well be shooting Old Yeller. So, it's an opportunity to show them that when there is something you really believe in, you do everything you can to support it.
It is an opportunity for us to become more involved in our community, and that community doesn't end with City lines, it is world-wide. That is inspiring.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What The Cluck - it begins again ..

~Justin wearing one of the new chicken t-shirts~

~A close-up of the back of the shirt~

No sooner had we gotten our first batch of t-shirts in (don't they look great?), but we got a courtesy phone call. There have been more complaints, this time not only about our chickens, but about someone else's in Salem. I do think they have a rooster, but still. The City feels compelled to act since, after all, they're technically illegal to have. I say technically because of the discrepancy between City Code and Zoning, which has had animal control officers (aka - Law Enforcement!!!) telling people that they could have them for 20+ years now! When all this came up last year, the City acknowledged the conflict between Code & Zoning and went to the City Attorney who determined that Zoning trumps Code. Regardless of what law enforcement has been telling people.
As of today, we haven't gotten our official letter yet, but I've been told it will be here soon. We will have 90 days to comply (I do believe that is 60 days longer than last time). We have no intention of giving up our chickens. During this time is when we will have a chance to try and go before City Council. If they agree to hear me, then we will have a chance to try and convince them to allow Salem residents to keep a small, backyard flock of urban hens.
So, what's going on till then?? Well, lots of stuff. First off, I'm trying to be like a duck on the water -- calm on the surface and kicking like all hell underneath.
Second: Good ole grassroots activism. We've got a group on Facebook now: - We've got our petition: - And, we've started a website:
I apologize for these not being direct links, but lately blogspot has not been making the links active, so I've had to revert to just putting the address in here and hoping you'll take the extra step to cut & paste.
What else besides the link-stuff?? Well, I'll tell you:
*We've recently had a realtor come out and look at the chickens. No, we aren't buying them a house, and we aren't selling their coop. He came out to see the chickens & determined (which he actually did BEFORE he saw them, but he wanted to see them & we like visitors!) that NO, chickens in and of themselves do NOT drop propery values of the neighbors/neighborhood. They have no impact on it at all. The only impact they could possibly have is on a personal level, just as anything else could affect a potential homebuyer on a personal level. But property values, nope! -- We've asked him to right a letter for us to that effect, and are also talking to more realtors for the same.
*We're working to contact professors who specialize in chickens to help us dispel some common "hen myths." You know, those ones about noise, smell, attracting rodents and pests, and holding up any stores that might be nearby. We're asking them for letters as well.
*With the Facebook group & website, we're working on building information that helps people understand just what backyard, urban chickens ARE. Most people don't know and can't begin to fathom. This will include facts, pictures (I just got a great shot of Shannon holding "Ann Bancroft," our Dark Brahma hen), and links to sites on the internet. There are MANY, MANY wonderful sites, and we want to support them.
*Selling more shirts - we're going to keep selling the shirts too! They're awesome shirts, even if you don't live in Salem, VA. Proceeds will go to helping us throughout this campaign and, if we sell enough, building a nice privacy fence between our neighbor and us!

So, check out the website, buy a shirt, let me know what you think in general. Got ideas, know how to help, we're all ears! Got some great chicken photos you're willing to share, we'd love to see them and let other people see them too.

And, finally, we got a new email address for this whole mess:

Spread the word, drop us a line, and, PLEASE, help us save our chickens!

Sunday, July 5, 2009


I love camping! Oh, how I really love camping. Justin and I took a two-day camping trip up to Arcadia, in the Jefferson National Forest in VA. It is really a great place to go camping.
We camp from our tents, with no electricty or water hook-ups. This past camping trip we camped at a spot on top of the mountain. It was really wonderful as it was very secluded and quiet. The first night I couldn't help but be amazed at the constant sounds of wildlife in the woods. There were whippoorwills like crazy as well as woodpeckers and owls that were hooting up a storm. We could hear deer in the woods as well, something I always here, if not see, when we're camping up there.
This year we've been able to take the kids on a two-day camping trip as well. We spend the days (with kids or without) fishing and creek-wading, playing ball & frisbee, reading, and wandering about.
I've realized that, like so many aspects in our lives & culture, there is a lot of common-knowledge that has been lost within the span of the last generation or two when it comes to camping. Neither Justin nor I grew up camping. I don't think I tent-camped until I was almost in college, if not already there.
When I began tent-camping the food I brought along was junk food. And booze. Mainly booze. Sometimes no food. A tent, a backpack of warm clothes, a lighter, boots, a sleeping bag and pillow, my dog (when applicable), and booze. Yea, that sounds familiar. Oh yea, and tp - always a must there when you're a chick!!!
While there isn't anything wrong with hot dogs and chips (and booze) while camping, now I'm looking for something a little better. I'm looking for real food. We try to eat as little crap-food as possible day-to-day and would like to keep that when we go camping.
One new thing that we've gotten just this year: an air mattress. I was reluctant to get this, but after having two kids, I just can't sleep on the ground anymore. The first night on it was definitely worth some sort of "crunchy-guilt" I was having over not roughing it enough. And, as much as I love camping, I don't sleep well. I wake up at the crack of dawn, even after a lot of drinking and/or sleeping pills. The air mattress and any extra sleep is now welcome!
We also have really devoted a lot more time and thought to food and eating. It really isn't that much harder and doesn't take a lot more effort. We're able to eat locally and organically, and feel happily fullfilled.
Like I stated above, "roughing it in the woods" is something new to a lot of people and how to do it while being healthy and not abandoning all your at-home ideals can be even trickier. To help with this, I've begun a section called "Camping & Cooking" on my kitchen blog - To make it even easier, I've included a direct link on this page for it. The first recipe is for "Bacon Hash" a wonderful morning food, whether you've been drinking the night before or not. Check it out and let me know what you think. I look forward to your feedback!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

June Tally & Summer Begins

~These are some "Cherokee Chocolate" heirloom tomatoes, just starting to come out on the vine. We got the seeds from

*Eggs in June: 92 - the chickens really weren't digging the heat & humidity!
*Eggs for the Year: 583!

*June Harvest - 9lbs 9.5oz - cherries, oregano, calendula, greens, our 1st zucchini (which was 1lb 7oz!!!), & two "Roma" tomatoes
*Year to Date Harvest - 27lbs 11.5oz

And so Summer has begun. June started out cooler than usual and WET, but the second half went into hot and dry, but that doesn't mean it isn't still humid ~ whew! Although the chickens really haven't liked it, egg production is down by about 20 eggs, everything else has been hanging on fairly well.
As you most likely know, this year marks our 1st year following the "Ruth Stout Method" which involves deep mulching. We've been using spoiled hay and wood chip mulch. Where the hay has sprouted and begun to grow we've laid down a nice layer of newspaper and then layered on the wood-chip mulch. It's made for very pretty walking paths through the garden. My apologies for the lack of photos to back up that claim, but you'll just have to take my word.
The best thing about the "Ruth Stout Method" so far though is that the plants have withstood wild weather swings quite impressively. Late cold snaps = no problem; no rain = barely having to water them. Justin has only gone out and actually watered the garden 2, maybe 3, times this year! This is compared to what, in past years, would've been EVERY NIGHT!! YES!!!! We are so lovin' this!
We've got green tomatoes popping out on several of the vines, zucchinis almost ready to pick (one we've picked already), beans growing like weeds, melons coming back to life, peppers doing ok, and potatoes that we're hoping will produce potatoes. It is an iffy time, hoping more than anything that your crop will turn out well and produce a good bounty for fall, but we remain optimistic.
Of course, it wouldn't be Summer without pools, and so we've gotten another little one for the kids this year. The dogs like to eat the pools, and year after year they get more expensive and tinier, so this year we moved the pool from the back porch to the end of the driveway. Only about 15' or so away, but an important move since the dogs can't get to it! We used leftover wood chip mulch to attempt to provide a level (and somewhat softer) surface, topping it with a tarp to keep the wood chip from puncturing the pool. It is an inflatable pool. It's been wonderfully refreshing so far!
And here is one of the really fun aspects of homeschooling - playing in the pool is also "school-work!" Shannon and I take turns tossing a "splash ball" back and forth, trying to beam it just right to really maximize the splash, and counting by 2's or 5's to 100. Everytime he gets one wrong (or I do), he has to go under water. Truly a delight, and it has turned what otherwise would've been a mindless, boring, repititous chore into a fun game. A bonus-point is that it is rubbing off on Tristan! WOO HOO!! Homeschooling/Unschooling truly rocks!
Hope everyone's Summer is going as well. If you would like to see more Summertime photos, please visit here:

And a Big Ole PS ~ Justin and I are going camping this weekend, giving me a chance to actually do something I've been meaning to for a while .. blog about food & camping. I've taken some photos of prep-work and will take more while we're camping. We'll be back on July 4th so keep an eye on my food blog,, sometime soon afterwards!