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HOMEGROWN Life: Raising Romeo, a Love Story

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN LifeI love how just walking into a barn can be inspiring.

“What?!” you might respond. You may have to be a farmer to understand what I mean, but my guess is anyone who loves his or her job sees inspiration all around, every day.

My latest inspiration came to me in the form of a lamb. If you’ve been following the Bittersweet blog, you already know Romeo. If not, Romeo is a lamb who came to live with me on Valentine’s Day.

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I had never raised a lamb in the house with me. Goat kids come every spring, and I always start them inside. I’m used to goat kids romping across the floor and chasing the cat in circles around the house. I’m used to lining up bottles on the kitchen counter for feedings. But I was not prepared for the complete joy I would experience with a lamb.

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Brian, my farming mentor, told me, “It’s a whole different thing with raising lambs.” He wasn’t kidding. And that whole different thing has inspired me to write a children’s book about it. The difference is that lambs—or maybe just some lambs, but certainly Romeo—couldn’t be more of a joy to have around. Easy going, content, totally loveable, and constantly surprising. These are just some of the words I use to describe the experience.

The other way I describe it is a complete life lesson. As a farmer/amateur anthropologist, I am in the habit of observing behavior. It’s what makes us tick and defines our unique personalities. Within a few days of Romeo coming to live with me, I knew he was here to teach me how to teach him how to become a confident, well-adjusted creature. I saw I had the opportunity to guide him in finding his way in the world. “WHOA!” you might say! How is that fun?

All I can say is, it is. You should try raising lambs sometime. Beyond the bottles every six hours, beyond changing puppy pads in the playpen (I think I lost count at 150), beyond worrying about whether you’re getting it right, beyond laundering and replacing warm blankets so Romeo has something to snuggle up to since he doesn’t have his birth mom and I’m not always available, beyond all that comes the satisfaction of watching him grow into a healthy and confident little lamb.

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I realized I had the opportunity to “make or break” this little guy, not unlike raising children. We hear a lot about different methods for raising animals. I have found that, no matter if you’re rearing these animals to end up knitted into a warming sweater or to provide a meal for your table, fostering their existence along the way makes a difference—the difference between that fiber becoming soft yarn or a tough-as-shoe-leather piece of meat on your table.

How does that translate into a children’s book? For me, easily. And thus the story of Romeo was born. The theme of the book is building confidence in a lamb by treating him humanely, letting him make mistakes along the way, watching him fall so he can get back up, and, ultimately, loving him just for him. It’s a tiny book, small enough to fit into a child’s palm. It’s a book for kids to carry around as a reminder they’ll always have a soft little lamb in their pocket. Maybe they can relate to that lamb. Maybe they know that lamb. Maybe that lamb is someone they want to become. It’s their story. They’ll know which version is theirs when they read it.

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My hope is that moms and dads will love Romeo, too, and see him in their own little lambs. We get one chance to bring them along. We can be there to guide them, to pick them up and hold them when they fall, and ultimately to love the precious individuals they are. We’re their touchpoint, their harbor, their source of comfort. They’re here to teach us how to guide them. “That’s how lambs learn.”

I’ve come to realize farming is about so much more than just backbreaking work and muck. I’ve had some excellent teachers, with any number of legs, who remind me each day what a gift it is.

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The book will be available on Bittersweet’s website as soon as it’s in print, and I’m also hoping to have it available online for e-readers and other devices. All proceeds will go toward maintaining the animals of Bittersweet Heritage Farm.

MORE FROM DYAN:

HOMEGROWN-life-dyanDyan Redick calls herself “an accidental farmer with a purpose.” Bittersweet Heritage Farm, located on the St. George peninsula of Maine, is a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farm stand full of wool from a Romney cross flock, goat milk soap, lavender woolens, and whatever else strikes Dyan’s fancy. Her farm is also an extension of her belief that we should all gain a better understanding of our food sources, our connection to where we live, and to the animals with whom we share the earth.

PHOTOS: DYAN REDICK

HOMEGROWN Life: Buyer Beware! Don’t Plant Those Seedlings Just Yet

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENThis morning I saw tomato and pepper plants for sale. I also saw frost on the ground at my house. What do peppers and tomatoes hate? You guessed it. Frost.

So why in the world would a nursery be trying to sell frost-sensitive seedlings while there’s still frost outside? Come on now! We live in a capitalist society. We all know the answer to that one. The nursery doesn’t care if your tomato plants fail. They want to get a jump on selling the most popular vegetables around.

Don’t be fooled. Just because a nursery is selling it does not mean it’s time to put it in the ground! Even some of the best nurseries can make you fall victim to buying before it’s time: Spring is here! Seed catalogs are out! It’s time to plant!!!

Hold on a second. What’s your last average frost date? Not yet? Then don’t buy those frost-sensitive plants. Actually, I wouldn’t even buy them within three weeks of the average frost date. Remember, it’s an average, so some years it will be later. Our last average frost date is supposed to be sometime in February, but I’m not buying it. As I said, we had frost last night, and last year we had frost as late as mid-April. Let’s just say I learned the hard way not to plant before mid-April.

Now, you can very well plant tomatoes and peppers early if you have season extenders, but mid-March still seems excessively early to use even those. Tomatoes and peppers aren’t just delicate around frost; they LIVE for heat and prefer nights above 55F. Planting them too early can stunt them or, at best, knock them back so they don’t get a good start.

Nurseries do a disservice to gardeners by selling veggies before plants can safely go in the ground. Nothing discourages a beginning gardener like a dead plant.

MORE HOMEGROWN HELP

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: RACHEL

HOMEGROWN Life: Oh, Baby, Baby! Pregnant Mama Michelle Shares Her Secrets for Buying Secondhand

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-DK-MAGENTALike me, I’m sure lots of HOMEGROWN readers aren’t crazy about being stagnant. For us, this equates to being unproductive. It goes against so many things we believe in! I don’t do well with forced stillness, even the kind brought on by pregnancy. And although I certainly don’t miss the shoveling (I am milking that this year!), I do miss the home projects that usually keep me busy and distracted when there are so many inches of snow on the ground.

That said, all of this sitting has given me the time to plan—as long as I can get my pregnant mind to stay focused for more than seven seconds at a time. The house is currently under construction, as our “extra” bedroom turned out to be not so extra after all. We’re adding an office/rec room, and I’ve been scouting out decor on the cheap.

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I’ve always told the kids that buying secondhand is the best way to recycle, and I’ve taken that to heart with this pregnancy. Being pregnant has really amped up my desire to keep this world as clean as possible and to keep as many things out of landfills as I personally can! Although recycling cans and plastics in the household is obviously important, it can feel a bit removed from the cause. By buying and sourcing secondhand, my kids are learning that things don’t have to be new to be useful. More importantly, they realize their donated toys end up somewhere else, that there’s a life to these items. They’re not “out of sight, out of mind” quite so easily.

I’m lucky enough to have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore near me, where people and companies donate everything from furniture to construction materials. While I would prefer an eco-friendly variety if I had my druthers, I needed a large amount of paint—on a budget—so buying a leftover five-gallon bucket seemed like a decent second choice. It’s a fraction of the price and still has four gallons left in it. I also purchased several light fixtures, ceiling fans, and furniture for a fraction of their prices new. The ReStore also has tile and caulk—all of the little incidentals that I’d usually be tempted to grab at a hardware store.

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Besides buying my decor secondhand, this time around I decided to collect almost all of my baby needs secondhand as well. From family and friends alone, I’ve received two hand-me-down cribs, additional furniture for the baby’s room, a safe car seat, a baby bag, and a baby monitor, among other things. I also signed up for all of the local Facebook online yard sale lists (just plug “your town + yard sale” into the search bar), including the free ones, and I check them regularly. I recently got a huge lot of clothes—65 items—for $60, and many things still had the tags on them!

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Some tips for buying secondhand baby items:

It’s all about timing. Be fast! If you see an item online but hesitate to express interest, the good deals will be snatched right out of your hands. Be decisive and be ready to pick up the purchase as soon as possible.

Spring is a great time to ask. It’s likely that your cousin would love to get that crib out of her attic! A lot of people who’ve had babies in recent years hold onto their goods, just in case. Prompt their memory by letting them know you’re happy to take these things off their hands. Just make sure the item in question is still safe and sound before using. For car seats, this includes making sure it has never been in an accident and that it hasn’t expired. If it has expired, Babies-R-Us offers a trade in. Turning in an expired model gets you a discount on a new one. Nice!

Speaking of asking . . . If you’re planning on breastfeeding, remember that many insurance carriers will cover all or a portion of your breast pump. Call and ask before Baby arrives!

Start early and give yourself time to collect. Begin looking for deals as early on in your pregnancy as you’re comfortable. The greater head start you have, the wider the variety of things you can get your hands on. Sometimes it takes a couple of months to find that perfect changing table, but persistence pays off. And even though it’s hard to remember when we’ve got piles of snow outside, yard-sale season will be here soon!

Offer to have it cleaned yourself. Sometimes people resist giving away an item due to the work or expense it would take to clean it. When talking with family or friends, or if you post an “in search of” request on a local site, mention that you’re willing to clean the right items. For something as pricey as a crib, a glider, or even a large lot of clothes in good condition, your effort will be worth it. Plus, your crazy nesting instincts are going to make you re-clean everything anyway!

Pay it forward. If you’re shopping and you see a great deal, pick up an extra and pay it forward to a mom in need. The same goes for keeping your baby items in good condition once you’re done with them. There will always be appreciative like-minded moms or women in dire need of your supplies. If you’re done having kids (like I thought I was!), pass supplies along as soon as your baby outgrows them. That means less clutter for you and more items recycled as quickly as possible.

Don’t forget consignment. Maternity clothes are pricey! Do yourself a favor and look for a local shop that carries maternity resale. You’re only wearing these items for a few months. You don’t have to invest hundreds of dollars in clothes to get you by!

Consider setting up a swap/trade in your area. Are there lots of families near you? There’s a good chance those moms are as hungry as you are for a good deal. Many parents will trade toddler toys for newborn needs or happily swap quickly outgrown “like new” sneakers for a nice set of swaddling blankets. Why not get everyone together and make a party out of it? Bonus: You’ll be building community with like-minded parents! Just make sure everyone marks a value on his or her items ahead of time; you can also bundle smaller items together for greater trade value. Check out HOMEGROWN member Kate’s Hosting a Food Swap 101 and Nat’s Bartering 101 for more ideas.

Got a great source for finding? Share your advice below and spread the secondhand love. Enjoy the hunt!

MORE FROM HOMEGROWN

 

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead. Even so, she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens.

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE