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HOMEGROWN Life: Back-to-School in HOMEGROWN Style

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011






Remember the days of sticky pleather school bus seats, mystery meat Mondays in the cafeteria, and field trips to the same museum year after year? September is back-to-school season! Whether you’re back in the classroom yourself, or sending your little ones off on the bus, there are many ways to live homegrown this school year.  Wholesome peanut butter and berry-wiches? Yum! Waste-free lunch kits? Genius. After-school canning with kids? Piece of cake. Try some of these ideas for a homegrown school year for you and your kids.

Photo by Lynn S.

School Lunches

Whether lunch comes in a brown bag or on a school lunch tray, think about ways to make your meals more homegrown.

  • The movement to change school lunch menus through Farm to School programs is changing the face of the cafeteria.  Farm to School “connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers.” Join the movement and get involved – it’s good for the farmers and good for your family! Farm Aid’s Farm to School Toolkit is chock full of  great information to expand your school lunch programs and revitalize cafeteria food.
  • We all got sick of the weekly chicken patties as kids pretty quickly, and so are some teachers! Fed Up With Lunch a blog written by the anonymous “Mrs. Q.” tells one teacher’s story of eating lunch in the cafeteria every day for a year with her students.  She digs deepers into the school lunch system, provides her two-cents from a teacher’s standpoint on current education issues, and shares new resources for teachers, parents, and students.

Photo by Lynda

Take a family field trip to your local farmers’ market (Local Harvest can point you in the right direction), and stock up on the season’s bounty for your lunchbox.  Then, take those ingredients and check out some great recipes from and Whole Foods Market to make a local lunch!

What do you pack all of these homegrown lunches in? Try to reduce, reuse, and recycle your containers, utensils, bottles, and napkins.

  • One mom sends waste-free lunches for her son. It may sound like a lot of extra work when you’re busy getting those kids off to school on time, but check out her 5-Steps to a Waste-Free Lunch, adapted from

The 5 Steps to a Waste-free Lunch

  1. Replace paper bags with reusable lunch bags.
  2. Use reusable food containers to eliminate single-serve packaging.
  3. Switch from plastic baggies to reusable snack & sandwich bags.
  4. Reusable napkins, utensils and even straws replace their disposable counterparts.
  5. Kick the bottled water and juice habit with a reusable water bottle
  •’s waste-free lunch kit saves about $371 annually.  Their site has tips on choosing the right styles, sizes, and materials for your lunch bags and containers. Join the Waste-Free Lunches in Schools Campaign, which reduces consumption on a daily basis, preserves natural resources, saves money, and encourages healthy eating habits! By committing to a waste-free lunch, you can even earn cash or prizes for your school!

School Supplies

  • Instead of buying new notebooks and pens, try upcycling, recycling, or repurposing old materials you have around the house. If you do have to purchase something new, Rodale’s Nontoxic Back-to-School Shopping Guide is full of information for parents and students about the safest school products for humans and for the environment.

Extra-Curricular Activities

How do you teach your kids to live homegrown during the school year? Get their hands dirty and grow, cook, make, and do together!


  • Take a field trip with your family to local farms, markets, and demonstrations.  Have them learn new homegrown skills at a local skillshare! Start a garden or get some livestock at your own home.
  • Get everyone involved in the growing! Cultivate a school or community garden in your district.
  • Visit the Discussions Forum for the HOMEGROWN 101’s.  These handy guides can help you with all kinds of growing, cooking, making, and doing. Lots of projects are easy to do and are family-friendly – try the butter-making! Check out the Goodies – make your own seed packets, canning jar labels, and garden plant labels! Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, try the projects on the printable HOMEGROWN How-To Cards
  • Teach your little ones about food, the environment, and sustainability on the day-to-day.  Five tips from
  1. Grow something you all can eat
  2. Kitchen science with green products
  3. Be a detective
  4. Recycle
  5. Save water
  • Get inspired by Project Homestead: Kids where the whole family is growing, cooking, maple tapping, and enjoying the land together
  • Become a scientist in your own kitchen by canning with kids.  This blog has great recipes and concoctionx to try at home.
  • Take the Urban Land Scouts pledge and become a better citizen of the Earth by completing the 10 levels and living the values of the ULS.  Earn badges and learn about the natural world. Visit the Urban Land Scouts blog and get scouting!
  • If you’ve got a child interested in farming and agriculture, find out if there are Future Farmers of America chapters in your area.
  • 4-H is another great way to get your kids involved with science, healthy living, and citizenship.  There are many homegrown skills to be shared in 4-H chapters, and lots of fun at 4-H fairs!

While the back-to-school season can be overwhelming, living homegrown through the year doesn’t have to be.  Try a few of these ideas out, and figure out how best to live homegrown everyday. Share your thoughts, ideas, or experiences with all of us this school year!

HOMEGROWN Life: Am I Doing This Right?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011






It’s a question I find myself asking more often as I delve deeper into a homegrown lifestyle – What does it really mean to live HOMEGROWN? Am I doing this right?

(Photo via Caroline Malcolm)

Growing up as one of five in a rural New England town, I was accustomed to canning jam, green tomato pickles, and whatever else we could preserve, digging for potatoes and harvesting lettuce, wearing hand-me-down clothes and playing in the woods.  We lived more simply than most of our neighbors.  My parents built our log home together, we raised animals, and we ate dinner together at home, usually sourcing from the garden or from local farms.  It was our way of life and it was second nature to me.  We lived “homegrown” in order to survive, and to keep traditions alive in our family – and it was easy for us.

(Photo via Flickr)

Going to college in the “big city” allowed me luxuries that I didn’t have as a youngin’.  There was a movie theatre within walking distance! I could get pizza at 3 am! I could get across town and back without a car! It was a new and exciting way of life for me. I still enjoy the buzz of the city after four years of living it, but it isn’t the best environment to fully enjoy the greener pastures of a homegrown lifestyle.

Maybe it’s something instinctual inside of me that yearns for a simplified, way of life.  I want to live homegrown, but I’m not sure that I can do it on my own. I’ve enjoyed perusing local farmers’ market and making meals out of what I can source locally.  I find recycling, composting, and repurposing fun and easy to do. Crafting and DIY-ing feeds my creativity and imagination. I love caring for container “gardens” and talking about growing and planting with others.  But, am I doing enough to be “homegrown” and am I doing it correctly?

(Photo via Flickr)

I’m not canning or preserving on my own. I’m not generating my own energy.  I’m not growing everything I need to survive, nor am I purchasing solely from farmers.  I’m not making my own soaps, laundry detergent, or cosmetics (yet!). I’m still drinking mass-produced beer. And, I don’t feel that I’m really changing the world.  It’s daunting to think how far I have to go.  Living in a shoebox apartment on a shoestring budget, it’s daunting to think of all the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” that would make my life more sustainable, my footprint smaller and myself a better steward of the land.  Sometimes, I’m just plain old overwhelmed.

But, I have found that this movement is less about doing everything, and more about doing something.  I want to live simpler and more self-sufficiently.  I want to grow my own food and utilize renewable energy.  I want to make my own clothing and cosmetics, but I am 22, fresh out of the dormitories, and just getting started on an independent life.  I am a newbie, and I’m not going to change the way I live overnight.

(Photo via Flickr)

Instead of being overwhelmed, I’m channeling that energy into making the most of what I have where I am in my own life, while contributing to a greater social movement in the meantime.  The more and more time I spend talking with folks who are also attempting to live homegrown, the more and more I feel that I am part of an alternative system of doing, eating, crafting, and spending.  The integrity and importance of this movement keeps me going on my path to establish a homegrown life.  And, I realize that I am doing more to become self-sufficient every day!  Despite needing to read books about canning, Google garden terminology, and research the ingredients in purchases that I do have to make as an urban resident, I am educating myself and about living homegrown, while teaching others new skills, too, which is at the heart of the matter!

We all can’t live as off-the-grid purists overnight, but we can follow a path to our own version of homegrown living.  We can plant the seeds of change first by informing ourselves and learning from those who emulate homegrown living – the homesteading superstars we all strive to be.  This dissemination of information and sharing of skills via hands-on experience or through a resource like builds a community within the movement, and increases motivation to realize our own homegrown goals. Whether that is growing herbs in a window box, starting a farm, or building an Earth house, we can all find ways to live homegrown and to inspire others to do the same.

Share your homegrown living tips. What motivates you? Why do you chose to live HOMEGROWN?  Add to our discussion and keep the movement alive!


I am the Flock-Tender here on  I am keeping a chronicle of my experiences learning, living, and growing a homegrown lifestyle fresh out of college.

Why We Farm: Finding Other Young Farmers

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Neysa working 2

A year and a half ago, my husband Travis and I decided we wanted to be organic farmers. Neither of us had a background in agriculture. In fact, I was probably about as disconnected from physical labor as you can get — I was pursuing my PhD. This weekly series will take you through Travis’ and my journey to own and operate our own organic farm. From a farm internship in a tiny New York town, to management positions at the largest CSA farm in the southern United States, and now our current project of running a one-acre farm in Austin, Texas, our experience has been filled with wild successes, sharp disappointments, and self-discovery. I hope our story can provide others with ideas and resources for their own farming projects–urban or rural, big or small, hobby or professional. I also hope it can shine some light on the new organic movement surging in urban spaces and among America’s young people. To me, our collective attempt to reconnect with food is a testament to the ability of youth to create, even in difficult times.

While in Brewster, I became friends with a writer, homesteader, and political voice in Putnam County named Jeff Green.  I remember the first time I met him, he said to me, “Nobody comes to Ryder Farm because they’re interested in agriculture.”   I raised an eyebrow. “I’m interested in agriculture,” I said pointedly.

A month and a half later, on a balmy evening in June, I would realize what Jeff meant.  Farming remains a marginal occupation.  Consequently people, especially young people, find themselves on farms for a myriad of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with an interest agriculture.  It may have been Betsey’s welcoming nature that took in a particularly offbeat miscellany of people that summer, but finding a group of peers has been a consistent challenge for Travis and me since we made the switch to farming as a career.

It was one of the few June nights without rain, and Travis and I were sitting at the big round table in the farmhouse kitchen reading sundry organic farming magazines that had arrived in the mail.  Autumn was at the stove, gazing into a giant stainless steel pot, which was bubbling away.  She had just come back from a foraging walk, and had brought home dozens of edible wild plants. Autumn was a fairly attractive, thirtysomething girl, but she carried herself like she was afraid of the wind.  A hypochondriac, she would often latch onto Betsey’s nursing background, asking about the symptoms for whatever disease she was sure she had contracted that week.  When she ventured into the field, regardless of the weather, she donned giant sunglasses, a wool cap, and a sweatshirt about ten sizes too big.  She clutched a full gallon of water in her hands at all times.  Autumn wasn’t much of a conversationalist, unless you were talking about foraging–which I indulged her in from time to time.

“I’m making pokeweed,” she said, not moving her eyes away from the boiling pot.

For a moment Travis and I didn’t know she was talking to us.  I said, “What’s pokeweed?”

“It’s a plant that’s extremely poisonous.  If I don’t cook it just right it could kill you.  But if I do it right, it sort of tastes like asparagus.”  Her voice was matter-of-fact.

As I stifled a laugh, Evelyn walked into the kitchen, clutching a bag full of raw meat to her chest.  “Hi Autumn.  I got meat.”  Autumn barely acknowledged Evelyn.  The two didn’t get on.  In fact, Evelyn didn’t really get on with anyone at the farm.  Having been through some rough times with her family recently, she was supposed to be using her stay at Ryder Farm as a time to recuperate.  Instead, she had taken to alienating the people around her, and was finding herself isolated.  It didn’t help that she had the social skills of a captured raccoon.  Suddenly, Evelyn cocked her head back and yelled at the top of her lungs, “BETSEY!  I GOT MEAT!!”

Startled, I began looking around.  No one had seen Betsey all evening, so I wasn’t quite sure who she was yelling at.  But a moment later, Betsey, who had been upstairs napping, came down to investigate the commotion.

“I got good meat, Betsey.  Now I don’t have to eat that crap you buy,” Evelyn started.

My eyes shot over to Betsey, who didn’t miss a beat. “Well that’s great!  We can all have it for dinner.  I’ll get John to grill it.”

Betsey was extremely fond of family-style dinners in the farmhouse kitchen, and pounced on every opportunity to eat together.  Travis and I learned to avoid these dinners, because they were always awkward.  But just like that, we were trapped.  Betsey called everyone in, and one by one, the Ryder Farm interns began to file into the kitchen.

Chris came first.  Chris had started his internship a month before Travis and me.  He had had a string of jobs around the area and farming that summer was the next on his list.  What was most interesting about Chris was his complete aversion to learning about farming.  The entire season, he was perpetually unable to identify crops–any crop.  We’d ask him to weed the turnips and we’d find him in the beets.  We’d ask him to pick cabbage and he’d come back with kale.  As the season progressed, the interns learned not to ask him to do things.

“Chris,” Betsey said, “Can you run and get some Swiss chard from the field?  We can have it with the meat.”

“Yeah,” Chris said.  Then hesitantly, “That’s the one with the leaves, right?”

“Green leaves, white stems,” Betsey said impatiently.

Chris gave an exaggerated nod and disappeared out the door.  Will appeared after him.  A 17-year-old boy from a school in New York City, he was at Ryder Farm to satisfy some sort of school credit, and it was clear this was not his ideal summer.  Will’s activities during the day consisted of walking around the farm aimlessly, playing with his tiny dog, and starting random fires.  Suffice it to say he wasn’t much help in the field

Katie came in close behind Will, looking sullen.  A recent college graduate with a degree in chemistry, she came to the farm as a sort of break between college and real life.  The only problem was that she seemed to hate the work.  Katie was a victim of the romantic aura farming has to the general population.  Once we started working in the rain and mud, it wasn’t long before Katie stopped showing up.  In the evenings, she was depressed.

Ruth walked in last.  The one well-adjusted intern that season, Ruth was a college junior using her summer to get a better perspective on her environmental studies major.  John had given her the plate full of cooked meat and she carried it awkwardly to the table.  “Okay, dinner,” she said.

Autumn looked sadly at the plate of meat.  “I’m a vegetarian,” she said coldly.  “Well we’re having Swiss chard, too,” Betsey pointed out, as Chris reappeared from the field …with bok choy.  Betsey looked on for a moment, then thanked Chris and began chopping.

Dinner was served a few minutes later: brisket, bok choy sauteed like Swiss chard, bread, and salad.  Autumn looked at her plate of greens then said, “Well I guess I can have some meat tonight, since it’s here,” and began munching on brisket.  She gasped suddenly, “Betsey, this meat is pink! Will I get e coli?”

“If you get sick Betsey will have to take care of you, since it’s her meat,” Eveleyn cackled, then began shoveling brisket into her mouth.  Next to her, Katie was staring at her plate, picking up her bok choy with her fork and letting it slowly fall down.  Will was smashing the salt and pepper shakers together like they were fighting.

“If you eat undercooked meat, do you get sick right away or does it take a few days?” Autumn asked.

“I don’t think the meat is undercooked,” Betsey tried.  The salt shaker flew across the table.

I shoved a few more bites in my mouth and excused myself, which meant Travis also had an out.  We went back to our guesthouse and began laughing hysterically at our lot this summer.  We had expected to meet a group of young people like us–interested in farming, thinking of starting a business, involved in food or environmental issues.  Instead, we found ourselves in the midst of a group of people with an interest in farming that was tertiary at best.  It was funny, but it was also lonely.  Since then, thankfully, we have met other young farmers who are serious about the business, and connecting with them is extremely important to us. But as of yet, peers come few and far between.  For anyone considering a career change to farming, it’s a reality best to be prepared for.

Neysa is currently farming an acre of organic vegetables in Austin, Texas. For updates on her farm, visit or follow her on twitter @farmerneysa