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Archive for the ‘Urban Farming’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: The Pros and Cons of Living in a Tiny House

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

 

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It was once thought that bigger was better. People were buying up these giant homes with at least 1,000 square feet per person. Since the housing bubble popped, the tables have turned. The tiny house has become the new McMansion. People are protesting the monstrosities of the 4,000 square foot home by living in 244 square foot apartments. The smaller the better. It’s all about living in a 78 square foot apartment: the size of a small closet in a McMansion.

We live in an almost tiny home—not as small as a closet but smaller than what most people live in and smaller than most two-bedroom, one-bath apartments. It was a conscious decision. When we started looking to buy a home, our specific requirements were “large property, small house.” That’s exactly what we got. At 750 square feet, it can be tight for two adults and a teenager. I get asked pretty regularly what it’s like to live in such a small home. Is it worth it? What would I change? So, here’s the lowdown on living in a small home.

TINY HOUSE PROS

  • Cleaning the entire place, top to bottom, only takes about an hour.
  • It limits the amount of junk you can accumulate. And keeps the chicken tchotchkes to a minimum. (Tom, I’m looking at you.)
  • It takes no time at all to heat up the house in winter. The wall heater is more than enough. A few fans can cool it down pretty quickly, too.
  • Which leads to less money spent on energy.
  • You know the kids can hear you when you call them.
  • Maintenance work and remodeling costs a lot less.

TINY HOUSE CONS

  • No storage space and no pantry. Well, our garage serves as our primary storage and as our pantry.
  • We had to get rid of a bunch of our furniture when we moved from our previous 970 square foot home. Amazingly, 220 square feet makes a huge difference when you’re living in relatively small homes.
  • Our garage is so small neither of our vehicles fits in it. Mine is too tall to get through the garage door (and it’s not a four-wheel drive), and Tom’s vehicle is too long. This did help with our decision to turn the garage into our pantry/laundry room/storage space.
  • No dining room = no entertaining in the winter.
  • The small kitchen makes it a challenge to process a lot of food at once, so we’ve now set up a spot outside to do some of our processing. It’s a good thing most of it occurs in the summer. Plus, not having a dishwasher due to a lack of space means a dish rack takes up a good chunk of our precious counter space.

My ultimate feeling about living in a small house? I’d like a little more room—not much, just a bit—if only for a slightly larger kitchen and an actual dining room. A pantry would be nice as well. Would I go smaller? I can unequivocally say no.

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!

HOMEGROWN Life: A Granola Recipe to Feed the Masses (or One Very Hungry Teen)

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

 

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Having a 16-year-old boy in the house means we go through food faster than I ever thought possible. Things you’d think would last at least a week are lucky to make it two days around here. So, if I want to make granola, it’s in my best interest to make a very large batch. The granola recipe below will probably last the average household a month. Here, we’ll get maybe two weeks out of it. It takes a lot less time to whip up one ginormous tub compared to making multiple regular-sized batches, but if you want to cut this recipe down, it’s easy to do so.

granola

One of the ingredients might make you scratch your head. I learned to add pepper from a recipe for cinnamon rolls. It helps create a more complex flavor profile. Trust me: You’ll love it.

  • 16 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups chopped pecans
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
  • 3 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil
  • 2 cups honey

1. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a very large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.

3. Add the oil and honey to the dry mix. It works best if you measure out the oil first then use the same measuring cup to measure the honey. This way, the honey pours easily, without sticking to the measuring cup.

4. Mix all of the ingredients well, until the honey and oil are well incorporated and the dry mix is evenly coated.
Pour the mix onto the baking sheets and press it down into an even layer.

5. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the sheets from the oven and mix up the granola, bringing the outside edges in then packing it back down into an even layer. Switch the sheet locations and bake another 30 minutes. Repeat this one more time, baking for a total of 90 minutes.

6. Allow the granola to cool completely before breaking it up into chunks and storing it in an airtight container. Enjoy!

HOMEGROWN Life blog: Rachel, of 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 arts and 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!

HOMEGROWN Life: My Goats Have Green Thumbs

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENBack before petrochemical fertilizer cocktails, farmers weren’t monocroppers. They ran a closed system, and part of that system included animals. The animals ate the crop waste and silage. They helped work the land. And their waste helped keep the soil healthy. As synthetic fertilizers became the norm, animals and crop diversity fell out of favor. Monocropping huge expanses of land was less work than having multiple crops and caring for animals.

Before we had animals in the garden, we couldn’t produce enough of our own compost to amend the soil. On top of that, because the pile was fairly small, it was nearly impossible to keep it hot enough. Instead, we relied on bringing in commercial compost. Unfortunately, with commercial compost, you don’t know what’s in it. Studies report that persistent herbicides are showing up in “organic” compost. On top of that, there’s no way of knowing what persistent pesticides and fertilizers are also in your commercial compost. Think of all the grass clippings that go into yard-waste bins. Now think about all the crap many homeowners put on that grass to make it green and weed-free. I wasn’t entirely sure that was something I wanted around my food.

Our animals, eating weed trimmings from next door that we know aren’t treated with anything

To be able to amend all of our soil with just compost, we had to bring in at least five full truckloads of compost every season. This wasted quite a bit of gas, time, and money. It wasn’t cost effective for us and it simply wasn’t sustainable.

When we got chickens, I wasn’t prepared for what they could do to my compost pile. Because their manure is hot, it literally made our compost hot. Steaming hot. But being busy, we found we weren’t able to turn the pile as often as we should. So we handed the job over to our chickens. They got all of our kitchen scraps and nontoxic yard waste. They ate what they wanted then turned and shredded everything else. They kept the compost aerated and added their manure to it. When we got the goats, they joined in the fun.

This black gold they gave us was beautiful and plentiful. We completely stopped bringing in compost. With the manure, we needed less material overall because it was more concentrated. This made it easier to spread, taking an afternoon rather than several weekends. It is the perfect balance, as we have all that we need and don’t have any extra. And we feed our animals organic feed, so we know what goes in and out of them.

After our final harvest each season, we spread the black gold over the bed to allow it to continue to compost down further before we planted the next crop. When we got the rabbits, they added a new dimension to our soil amending. Because rabbit manure is not hot, it can be added directly to the plants without being composted. This allowed us to amend the soil while the plants were actively growing. We don’t use it on root vegetables, of course, unless we amend very early, allowing at least 60 days before harvest. With heavy feeding crops, such as melons, squash, and corn, this homegrown compost was a godsend because it insured that we could continue to feed the plants throughout the growing season without worrying about burning them.

But it’s not just fertilizer that the animals provide. The chickens and turkeys, in particular, help with keeping weeds down and also with pest control. When the beds are dormant, the birds get to go out and dig around, eating mountains of cutworms, potato bugs, earwigs, and basically anything else that moves. When we start planting, we fence the birds off from the beds, but they still have access to the area on the north side, where our orchard is. We allow the weeds to grow there as a trap crop for insects, which the birds eat while they also keep the weeds from getting out of hand.

The animals around here definitely earn their keep and provide us with food, directly and indirectly. I can’t imagine doing it without them now.

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 arts and 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!