I decided to update the blog format a little. I have been keeping a written journal of full time farm living and I will be sharing some of it online. I have been keeping track of the projects and accomplishments, the progress and challenges along the way. Be looking for updates, photos and reflections from the Full Time Farm Living at the Deepstep Collective blog...coming soon!
I thought about it...wanted to...but it just didn't happen. The past few weeks have been a blur of activity getting the Deepstep Collective ready for move in day. Move in was scheduled for July 1 but OMG...didn't happen. The final move in day was the 4th of July!!! So in the true spirit of catch up, I am posting a gallery of the pictures along the way. They all have fabulous stories and if you are interested in the story behind the photo send me a note. I'd be happy to share a story or two! Enjoy the pictures!
Part of the fun of building a farm is the people you meet along the way. In the homestead part of the farm plan there is a fabulous deck (mostly in my mind right now because it's not built). While a deck would be very nice the cost of lumber has made it a work in progress for a few months. The cost of the lumber for the decking would be between $800-$1000 which I don't have available! I was able to find sections of lumber already assembled to construct the 24' deck's foundation as well as the foundation for an additional 8' deck. The foundation lumber fit the budget! With the help of a friend I stained all the foundation sections and stacked them in two neat stacks flanking both sides of the cabin and there they have been as a beacon of hope and a holder of shovels!
On one of my craigslist searches I found some reclaimed pine decking for sale. It was $3/board which was much better than the $8-12/board at the HD but my budget this week could only be stretched to get half if I received a response from the seller. So... Thursday night I sent an inquiry email to "Lisa". Friday morning I got a call from Lisa and after a checking to see how many boards she had and make sure they were at LEAST 12' long she told me she had to get the lumber moved and if I could move it that day she would sell them for not $3/board but $1.50 per board for lumber. I dare you to check out the HD or anywhere else and not also do the happy dance with me. Well I was prepared to leave work and drive the almost 2 hour drive to get the deal. It fit the budget and I told her that I would be there, whatever it took! I went into strategic planning mode....and then she called me later in the evening after I was fully committed to the late night drive and load. Lisa informed me that she was given more time to clear the demolition site that the wood was salvaged from. I didn't need to make an extra to the farm on Friday. Since I was going to the farm anyway early Saturday morning with a farmer friend I made my plan. I picked up my farmer friend Jeremiah at 6a, and we headed south and stopped at the HD to get the handy rental truck (see other posts...I could be the Home Depot truck spokesperson!) We transferred all the tools and equipment that we might possibly need for the day (cordless circular saw, a few batteries from a friend, drill and oh yeah snacks!). It was pouring rain...but I was determined. My farmer friend was coming down to give some input on farm operations and talk about some upcoming farming projects onsite. I informed him of the fabulous find and of our side trip on the way to the farm...a great conversation starter at 6am on a Saturday morning. "Oh by the way, we have to make a pit stop in Perry, Georgia to get 100 boards of 15' long reclaimed lumber and fit them all into the 8' pickup truck bed...in the rain!" Well it rained until we got 2 exits from our pick up location and happily there was NO rain!
But the best part of the story was meeting Lisa. Lisa was a petite (ladies you'll understand...a size zero petite) woman with work boots. It was a joy to meet Lisa today. We talked and her appreciation for life and the blessings that often come our way if we are watching for them was a joyful experience at so early in the morning. She had a joy about life in spite of having weathered the storm of the economic down turn. I promised to invite he to the farm once I had a deck and she invited me down to swim in her crystal clear lake at her farm in Florida. Sometimes in life you meet people that just encourage you! Lisa was my encouragement today. Oh and we got all 100 boards and the rain held out until we were driving away (literally!). I was able (with the extra pair of strong hands from Jeremiah) to get the wood safely to the farm and unloaded and under the tarp (a gift from Lisa) before the rain set in for the afternoon!
So I have some beautiful reclaimed pine taken from an 1800s antebellum home (this wood is from a 60s renovation of part of the roof so not nearly as old)...enough to complete the entire 24' deck. The wood is going to be beautiful once it is prepped, cut down to size, sanded and stained. And the big win of the day was meeting a new friend Lisa. So much of this journey in building the Deepstep Collective has been about the people I have met along the way. It was a joy meeting Lisa and it was a blessing to have a strong, helping farmer friend come along for the ride!
The Friday workday began early...like on Thursday. I found some bamboo at a friend's property and started cutting it Thursday when I got off work. What did I learn from bamboo cutting you may ask? I learned that you really need a truck not a sub compact to transport enough bamboo for he project. I also learned that a buddy or 2 is helpful when you are sawing down 40-60 foot timbers. So I stuck with the small timbers that I could fit into my car and that did not take me too deep into the bamboo forest alone. I figured I should be safe since I didn't bring a buddy that could call for help in case a snake or something got me! I had a sharp saw and cutting the bamboo while physically demanding was not too tough of a job. I was able to strap the entire bundle of 8' pieces and walk them out of the forest in 1 trip. Getting them into my car was another feat. One of the neighbors, a Guatemalan landscaper (with a beautiful yard), helped me load the bamboo in and tie it up but I had about 1 foot hanging out the front passenger window and rain was on its way. What's a farmer to do? Take it to the farm that night so that my car didn't get filled with rain water and so that I didn't have to unload it unnecessarily. So I ran home, grabbed my bag and headed to the farm with grand ideas of finishing the insulation that night. Upon arrival at 11 pm I decided wisdom would be to bunk down, unwind with half a movie and get a fresh start in the morning which is exactly what I did. Perhaps I will finish the movie on the next overnighter! While on the bamboo adventure I also harvested some poke salat and plantain! The poke salat I will eat and the plantain will be juiced and have witch hazel added to it for a wonderful bug bite remedy! The plants were an added bonuses of the bamboo adventure!
Small steps eventually add up and Friday was a productive work day in spite of the gloomy weather. I got started early and was able to complete the blue block wall insulation which left the walls ready to be closed! I rewarded my self with a relaxing lunch compliments of my picnic basket! I also applied wood fill to the cracks and nails on half the floor. With the time left over I set up the tent and it is now the official converted to the storage space for supplies and materials! I also constructed a compost bin in true Paulette Bunyon and Lincoln Logs style. I used some of the pine timber from downed trees and cut them into logs and made a stacked square bin. Any excuse to pull out my lime green chainsaw is a good excuse! If that wasn't good enough progress for 1 day I also scoped out some of the local critters, namely a small scorpion and a lizard with chameleon like properties which I found under the pine timber I was cutting. Needless to say I will be searching for info on treating scorpion stings and will be looking for some new work boots. Some farmer ladies that I met from Oklahoma had the sharpest farm boots that I have ever seen. Fly? Sharp? Really really cute? I am not sure what the term is these days but boots are on my radar and the Oklahoma ladies showed me how to do it with a fashion flair! I wonder if they have cute boots on ebay with free shipping.....
Building a homestead farm is challenging because I am on a budget and I live 2 hours from the site. But I was determined that Sunday would be another get it done day. Seeing the walls completed meant it was time for the next phase of interior design! I started my planning Saturday night with a trip to the HD for floor paint (Yam is the official color), an extension handle and heavy duty construction adhesive! Unfortunately I did not make as much progress on my second work day this week as previously planned. My youngest daughter, who I call Sidekick, decided we were going on a juice fast/cleanse and day 2 of the fast coincided with our work day to close up the walls and paint the floors. We got up late and then spent 2 unexpected hours planning and juicing for the day! We got the juice bag filled and iced down but we were then 3 hours behind schedule and we still had to pick up some battery powered tools for the work. We left out with Sidekick driving us and picked up not only tools but another pair of willing work hands. And I was thankful. My teenage chauffeur drove the 2 hour trip in a record breaking 3 hours and by the time we got to the farm I was feeling ill and had a migraine! But we had come too far to not step up to the plate. We unloaded tools and pulled out supplies and my friend and sidekick daughter both started sanding the floors and cutting the oak slats for the wall. We got 2 sections of the back wall done and it is starting to look like home!
An added plus was we got to see neighbor Ben and met the new neighbors across the street (who just happens to have a bobcat!) It was a tough work trip but at the end, the cabin is insulated, the walls are going up and the floor is partially sanded and waiting for paint! I am closer to being full time on the farm!
Sometimes the lessons in life come from the decisions we make. My Thursday was busy. I had a 100 mile drive to my mid morning appointment and I had an afternoon plan to pick up some new quail in the opposite direction. But I had a window of time in the middle. I hesitated and thought about going home and taking a nap but I remembered my goal of having the cabin livable by the end of May. I was 35 miles from the property after my appointment...and I just did it. I was able to get on site and get changed from my dressy shirt to a practical work t shirt that was in the cabin already and with high heel sandals on I was able to get another wall of the cabin insulated and now the cabin is 75% insulated. That means I have only 1 wall left to insulate and then the walls can be closed and interior decorating can begin. I could have taken the nap or gone and done any number of other things but the feeling of accomplishment in seeing the small steps of progress was huge! With that little bit of time invested, merely minutes -- about 100 of them -- my spirit was encouraged. I took from the experience some simple lessons.
Lessons to self:
1. The minutes in my life matter.
2. The minutes in my life add up.
3. The minutes are making a dent in the big picture and they are steps closer to a goal.
As an added bonus, as i was leaving the property (off to pick up the new flock of Texas A&M quail in the opposite direction) I saw a flock of wild Bob White quail (I think) in the underbrush running onto my property. Well they weren't running until I gout out the car with my camera to take a picture. They got away from me and I did not have on appropriate footwear to give chase! Oh well! I left that day more determined to make my minutes count, even when they are only grouped together a few at a time!
This just might be a long blog so I have decided to do it in 2 posts. The first is about why I am a farmer and the second will explain the method to the madness that I call FUN and tell you a bit more about the "convertible community" concept of sustainable community development. My farming decision is rolled up in the middle of the convertible community concept!
These 2 posts might be the best ones yet if you are trying to figure out why a 40 year old educated black divorced mom and grandmother would leave the comforts of urban life and decide to be a farmer for the rest of her life (among other things that I plan to do while retired!). The answer very simply is that I didn't. What I did was... I decided that it was not enough to develop solutions on paper and personally embrace ideals for sustainable living and sustainable community re-pioneering. I decided that planning in theory needed to be followed by real-time living. My theory is either right, partially right or flat out wrong and a solution is only valuable if it works in real life! On paper my models for convertible community development are nearly flawless. I come from an accounting and tax background (career #1) and a community development and strategic planning background (career #2) and my models look fabulously promising...on paper but that is NOT good enough! What is my theory?
Theory: If we don't re-pioneer society so that we are living by a code of sustainable values and their resulting sustainable behaviors we will self destruct. Therefore, we must begin to test and work the kinks out of solutions for re-pioneering our societies so that we are, in real practice, living out a set of sustainable values.
That's my theory. We either fix out mess and the mess we are making of the world and our earth or we will destroy ourselves! So what? How does that tie into why I am a farmer? Well, because I value living a sustainable life, a natural byproduct of that desire is to make sure that my food choices are also sustainable decisions. I personally don't want to be 1 or 2 or 5 steps removed from my food. I want to be able to control the decisions about where my food comes from and how it is produced. If I do that, I am able to take full responsibility for as many variables as possible. I cannot control the contaminants in our environment that will rain down with the spring showers on my land. I cannot control in full the quality of my initial seed and meat stock (but I can make wise decisions on where I get them from). I am resolved that there are some (spelled MANY) things I cannot control but I will take responsibility for the things I can control and food is one of those critical "things". So the natural byproduct of wanting to control my food choices is to be my own farmer. And farm I will. My farm is in its start up phase. Because farming is a part of a convertible community model it is tied to homesteading. My farm must be able to support full time living as well as food production. In this phase I am actively engaged in homestead preparation tasks and ground preparation. I am also raising 2 test flocks of quail which is looking like a very good fit for meat/egg/protein sustainability as well as one of the streams of commerce (revenue) from the farm. One of the test flocks is the breeder flock of Japanese Quail and the other is a small layer flock of quail hens and 1 quail rooster that will be the first sample of the meat potential. He will contribute to the nutritional intake of the farmer (ME!) and will provide some real-time data on the ease of dressing the quail which will be important data as the flock is developed for commerce.
So I am a farmer because it is a natural by product of my decisions to live a sustainable lifestyle!
In the second post I will go into more specific detail on the "convertible community concept".
Thanks for reading!
I am by no stretch of the imagination a contractor. I am a more of a tinkering maverick who is working to master the art of entertaining myself! Most of my projects have a hint (sometimes strong hints...) of DIY-ing and sometimes outright wackiness. With the deck foundation out of the cabin it was time to get back to closing up the guts of the cabin and getting it comfy. Before you ask, yes I could have purchased traditional insulation at a cost less than $200 but free and creative trumps cash most days for me and it stretches my very small and tight budget for things like quail cages! The blocks are step 2 of my insulation plan. I first used foam insulation sealant stuff to spray into the seams of every stud. My goal is to minimize heat loss. The second step is the insulation blocks, then close up the walls. The third step is having a wood stove (which is still riding around in the trunk of my car...what else should I be carrying around in my trunk? lol)!
So back to my blues...a friend and interior designer came across some blue brick size blocks that seemed to have insulating properties. That was all I needed to hear. I went and inspected the material and figured that I could definitely use them to insulate the cabin walls. On a previous trip I had done a test section and it seemed doable. I am very strategic and had played out the work in my mind many times. In that exercise of mental planning I realized a tape dispenser would make a much easier task of the work at hand. So...my plan was to use tape to hold the bricks together creating sheets of insulation that could pop into the walls between the studs. It took me about 20 minutes to get a system together but with only a short amount of time on site this past Thursday, I was able to complete roughly 1/3 of the cabin! With the walls insulated, I'll next be ready to close up the walls and start the interior decorating...Anyone up for a half day work party? My estimation is that with 2 -3 people, the entire cabin could be done in under 4 hours! And thinks to Friend Tina and Reclaim It Atlanta, I have an ample supply of blue bricks! Progress feels so......um....blue!
Yesterday with a pair of helping hands I headed out to the farm but not before starting the day with farm festivities! I went to pick up my helper, Tina, with a basket of the freshest quail eggs from my quail. The quail eggs have the look of chocolate swirl eggs, beautiful! She let me borrow her stove and a pan and I cooked them for her before we left! Breakfast...check! This was Tina's first time ever eating quail eggs and she gave them the thumbs up! This work day task was to stain as many of the deck foundation sections as possible and this will be a very short post because what more can I say that "we got 'er done!" We managed to take all of the frames out of the cabin (yay i can see the floor again), we stained both sides of each frame and they are now sealed from the elements and neatly stacked flanking both sides of the cabin awaiting the find of a good deal on deck boards! We managed to finish just as the sun was setting on a beautiful day. It was mid 70's, clear blue skies and a comfortable breeze blowing ALL day. We had the visit of a hawk that circled us overhead most of the day. My realization for the day is that 1 extra set of hands does NOT double the work you can accomplish. It multiplies the work you can accomplish more than double! Twelve foot deck foundation sections are long and big and awkward and moving them alone (see previous post) is time consuming and exhausting. With a willing helper (who worked real hard and I am sooooo thankful) we left sore and tired but not exhausted. We had energy enough to stop by Zaxby's for a salad (we did good!) and McDonalds for coffee (only me to try to medicate the fatigue). I thought I could make the drive in but rational thought kicked in by Conyers and Tina drove us the rest of the way back to her house! By 11.30 pm I was back, showered and tucked in to bed. So....deck foundation stained...checking that project of the to-do list!
Official workday # 1 of many and progress is in the air. There are so many projects that go into homesteading that I have a card catalog that I keep (literally) and carry around to keep myself on track. This past weekend was another day of transporting materials to the farm and working on some of those projects. I strategically planned to pick up the Home Depot truck just before closing and do the loading Friday night so that I could be ready to go on the scheduled 6am departure time! That was a good plan. I was able to pick up the truck around 8.30pm with almost a full tank of gas in it and it was loaded by 10pm. I think I have a little ninja in my blood because I amaze myself at the stealth ability to stash an entire truck of construction materials in my apartment hidden mostly from sight! I had 6 giant boxes of insulation, 20 boxes of wood slats for the walls, 10 boxes of wood for the planter boxes a few buckets of stain and paint and a pitchfork to take down. I managed to pry the stuff from their hiding places in my bedroom and storage closets and load it in record time. It was quite a task especially climbing into the truck with a sore knee! I didn't strap it down at night, I was afraid someone might help themselves to my bright tie-down straps (i figured the joke would be on them if they stole my blue insulation blocks!). The task seemed so much easier than I feared it would be but I was able to rest early and just wait for morning.
The loading and unloading is actually a big part of the day as it can be several hours of work! On this trip I was working on making progress on several projects. I wanted to test out the insulation bricks to make sure they were going to work in the wall cavities. I think they will work out fine. I also sealed the walls on the north side of the cabin with foam insulation to reduce air seepage through the seams. I realized that my utility knife was way too dull so I need to get a replacement utility knife or box cutters to trim the excess insulation foam that expands (and in my opinion wastes and easy 50% of the product!)
The day was chilly and it seems that a roaring fire just goes with winter farm work! So a quick diversion to my chainsaw and the downed timber ended in a crackling fire in a quickly constructed firepit out of the bricks that will one day be the rocket stoves! Unfortunately, I momentarily rested my hand on the hot metal plate of my chainsaw and ended up with what I am guess is about a 2nd degree burn on the palm of my hand. In case you may be wondering it was NOT n experience to ever repeat. I immediately made a mental not of where that metal plate is located on the saw. And by the the tent serves as a nice privacy cover for the composting toilet!
The time consuming task was of staining the deck foundation pieces. I stained the foundations for the two 2' decks that will flank both sides of the cabin. There are still a dozen more foundation sections to stain. I like seeing progress so I stained the two, cleared the spaces which included using my chainsaw as a makeshift stump grinder (it works but my saw needs a good cleaning). I cut through a thick section of protruding root with the saw. The method used? I sliced straight through the stump right through the ground! Yep it worked! I got both of the section leveled and blocked temporarily (for the visual encouragement). I first mixed the 2 buckets of stain I has collected and the color is actually a nice wood color (brown). The stain will go a long way and I think it will give extra protection to the wood and avoid rot. I laid out the foundation sections on bricks and stained the bottoms then flipped them and stained the tops after they dried enough for me to flip them over. The sections are awkward in that they are 12' long but not too heavy for me to move alone. The deck that will flank the front of the cabin will be 24' x 24' when completed and I plan to install the deck boards probably 4' at a time unless i find a real good stash of pressure treated deck boards for like $1 buck a board!
Besides the mishap with the hot saw, while clearing some roots out of the ground, I managed to snap my pitchfork in half. I think it was a little too much torque. I have NEVER seen it happen and I thought it was strong enough to withstand any punishment I could dish out. NOPE! So a pitchfork will be added to the 'tools needed' list for sure!
It was a hugely productive day and here's the recap.
It was a great day and one of may work days to get the Deepstep Collective running like a well oiled...well FARM!
And as a bonus....I returned home to check on the quail project and yep eggs! The baby chicks are beginning to feather out and another 2 weeks and they can be out of incubation and in about another 3-4 weeks I should be able to see how many hens/roosters I have and the hens should begin laying! And what would egg collection be without a basket...so the Sunday morning lounge in project...a new egg basket!