Something New

June 30, 2015 § 18 Comments

harvest graphic - landscape

July 27 – August 7: $49 

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Over the past couple of months, Heather and I have been cookin’ up something pretty cool (well, we think it’s pretty cool, anyway). We’re calling it Harvest, and it’s a two-week online workshop that covers a ridiculously wide range of topics related to growing, processing, and preserving the goodness of the season.

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Here’s how Heather describes it over at her site: In this workshop, we will teach you how to process and store the season’s bounty. In this very full two week program, you will learn how to get it all from the field to the freezer, dehydrator, cold storage, fermenting crock, and on occasion, the canner. We will discuss various growing and storage techniques, all with an emphasis on healthy soils, bodies, hearts, and minds. Expect to explore the art of foraging fields and forest, and if you’re looking for some new favorite recipes, Harvest is the workshop for you. Finally, we will be available every weekday to answer specific questions. 

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Here’s how I describe it: In this workshop, Heather will offer crazy amounts of incredibly useful information pertaining to all of the above topics, while I chime in every so often with a bawdy joke or complete non sequitur. I will also discuss the proper pairing of cheap American lagers with associated processing and preserving tasks. Finally, I will reveal my top 10 secret tips for compelling my wife and children to do all the heavy lifting whilst I recline in the shade (#1: Feigned incompetence)

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In all seriousness, I’m really looking forward to this. I get an awful lot of questions pertaining to raising, processing, and preserving food, but I’m generally so busy actually doing these things (along with the trifling details of building house and barn) that I’m often not able to reply as thoroughly as I’d like. This is an opportunity to remedy that, as Heather and I will be available every weekday to answer specific questions.

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Also, don’t think you need to be some sort of master gardener to participate. Heck, you don’t even need to be growing anything. From the outset, Heather and I determined that Harvest would be inclusive of anyone with a desire to strengthen their connection to their food, whether that food is coming from their back yard, their local farmer’s market, or even the grocery store.

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This is my first collaboration with Heather, and it’s been wicked fun. As many of you know already, she’s got great energy and a real gift for teaching. We’ve spent a lot time defining our “curriculum,” but still left plenty of space for spontaneity and inspiration.

To summarize, here’s what you get:

  • New material Monday – Friday.
  • Rustic and delicious garden to tables recipes.
  • Daily, essays from Ben on a wide range of topics related to homesteading, gardening, family, and food preservation (Heather describes these essays as “thought provoking.” Me, I’d prefer not to set the bar quite that high)
  • Tips and tutorials from Ben and Heather – learn how to process, store, and make the most of 20 different fruits, vegetables, herbs, and wild edibles.
  • Instructional cooking videos each weekday from Heather’s kitchen, featuring garden recipes as well as preservation tutorials.
  • Daily content will be presented in beautifully designed, easy to download ebooks.
  • An interactive community where you can ask Ben and Heather questions, and share experiences/methods of your own. (This will happen right on our private website, no social media is required.)
  • And so much more!

And here’s what you need to know.

Dates: July 27 – August 7


The first few days of registration are open to you sharing the cost with a friend, or gifting your extra spot to someone you know. Please follow these simple instructions to do so:

1. Register between 6/30 – 7/3. One person registers, unfortunately we are not able to split invoices.

2. Once registered, email the FULL NAME AND EMAIL ADDRESS OF YOUR GUEST to

3. Deadline for having your guest’s info to us is Monday, 7/6. We will add them to the roster and email them on 7/10.harvest button 200x200 (1)
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Thanks and Thanks Again

June 29, 2015 § 3 Comments

I call this one "Watch Your Step"

I call this one “Watch Your Step”

Lots of new readers in recent weeks. Trying to figure out if I need to be more active in managing comments… for the time being, would those of you who tend to post multiple comments on a single piece limit yourselves to, say, 3 comments per post? I don’t want others to feel intimidated. Thanks.

For new readers, I do accept donations via the generosity enabler (Paypal) below. It’s not expected, but is certainly appreciated, and helps offset my investments of time and $. But seriously, only if it feels right. Thanks again.


The Things We Don’t Even Know to Look Out For in the First Place

June 26, 2015 § 102 Comments

Cutting ridge supports to length

Cutting ridge supports to length

There is much more to say about the pleasures of so-called “peasant labor,” particularly in the wake of my romanticized, self-satisfied babble a few days back.

I must first say this: Yes, I love physical work, and I have at least a middling capacity for it (unless wittle Benny gets a boo-boo, in which case all bets are off until I’ve fully rehabilitated my blister). And yes, it does occasionally feel to me as if the work I do to earn my moneyed living is, to quote something I read recently “white collar, desk-bound, pontificating bullshit.” So there’s that. But the larger truth is that I’m incredibly grateful to be able to provide financial support to my family in the manner I do, and the minute I stop being grateful is the minute someone should just haul off and slap me upside the head.

There was comment the other day about someone’s father or maybe uncle, about how he worked construction his whole life, never turning down the overtime, and now his body is a wreck. Maybe the work was good while his joints and muscles held up, maybe he actually loved it. Or maybe not. But either way, he did the good, honest labor, and it twisted him up, wrung the health and vitality right out of him.

The same day, I heard on the radio, on a call-in talk show, yet another despairing conversation about the state of our nation’s educational system, about how we really need to be sure we get more kids into college, about how we’ll never compete as a nation if we don’t send more young adults to university, about how it used to be enough to maybe get a high school degree, and then you needed at least two years of college, but now, if you don’t have at least a bachelor’s degree and maybe even some sort of post-graduate paper, well… you lose, sucka. I’d link to it, but I’m not willing to risk you wasting your precious time listening. Besides, you can hear the same damn conversation in a million different places every day of the friggin’ week.

These things are connected, of course. The wrung out father/uncle, the ceaseless lament about our nation’s ability to compete on the global stage and how we must push our children harder, funnel them more efficiently into the higher educational system, give them the tools they need to compete amongst themselves. Because we all know college graduates earn more money over their lifetimes, right? Because we all know the science-and-technology-heavy jobs of the future require more than a high school diploma.

Hey, I got a question for ya: Whose gonna build your fucking house? Who is going to saw the timber to make your toilet paper? Who is going to grow your food, make your clothing (what’s that? Chinese children? Ah, I see. No worries, then), fix your car, unclog your septic, maintain the playground with that neat merry-go-round your kids love so much? Who’s going to play the music you listen to on your way to work? None of these require college degrees. Not a friggin’ one. All are essential, honorable work. Way more essential and honorable than creating apps or yet another platform for posting selfies on the internets. Probably even more essential and honorable than writing for a living, though I’m loathe to admit as much.

Hey, I got an idea for ya: What if we, as a society, stopped worrying so damn much about our nation’s ability to compete. About our children’s ability to compete. What if we recognized that, sure, college can be a great thing for some people, and we should do what it takes to make college accessible to those people. But what if, concurrently, we stopped creating this manufactured stigma (is there any other kind?) about those who choose differently, and furthermore, we started paying them a wage commensurate with their role in keeping our society on its feet. Maybe then the commenters father/uncle wouldn’t have had to take all that overtime. Maybe then his body wouldn’t hurt so much when he wakes up in the morning. Maybe then children who are not cut out for college wouldn’t feel like second-class citizens. Maybe then they wouldn’t be treated like second-class citizens. Maybe then we’d stop destroying the biosphere in our clawing, kicking, screaming scramble to compete with other nations. With other humans.

I know many people who went to college, and many who didn’t. Maybe it’s just the oddball folks I associate with, but I honestly can’t say that those who graduated college are doing better than those who didn’t. Might be making more money, sure, but are they overall enjoying their lives more? Not that I can tell. Are they engaged in honorable, even righteous work? Many are. But are you telling me there’s something more honorable than selling firewood? Than milking cows or building houses? Fuel. Food. Shelter. Seems pretty damn honorable to me.

When people ask if I’m concerned about my children’s ability to gain entrance into college, I can honestly say that I’m not worried in the least. Partly, I’m not worried because I know that if they want to go to college badly enough – if there’s something they are passionate about learning that can only be learned in such a place – I know they’ll figure out how to make it happen. But the other reason I’m not worried is because I have seen with my own two eyes that it is still possible to build a good and worthy and fulfilling life without a college degree. Is it getting harder to do so? Yes, I believe it is. But of course the primary reason it’s getting harder is because we are gullible enough believe the stories we are told about education and competition. We listen to programs like the one I heard and we lament right alongside the invited guests and the call-in listeners, and our lament leads to worry, and so we bundle our kiddos up and put them on the college train without even considering whether or not they’re the least bit interested in the destination.

I believe that laments like the one I heard on the radio are built around a myth, one that is perpetuated because it serves broader stories of economics and success. This myth loves nothing more than people competing against one another for their share (and more!) of the resources our industries churn out. Like so many of the stories we are told and sold, it’s a myth that’s become so pervasive that we are no longer aware it’s anything but the gospel truth. And that, more than anything else, is what makes it dangerous. As ever, the things we should be wary of are generally not the things we’re told to be wary of, but rather the things we don’t even know to look out for in the first place.

Damn. All that and not even 5:30 a.m. It’s gonna be a hell of a day.

It’s Enough

June 23, 2015 § 24 Comments

I call this one "Earning His Keep"

I call this one “Earning His Keep”

Rain again this morning. There has been no shortage of rainfall over the past few weeks, though I’m loathe to lament. I’ll take deluge over drought any day of the week, even if we have a house and barn to build over the next few months. Besides, the forced breaks from building are essential to maintaining any semblance of order ’round here. On Sunday we split and stacked what wood we’ll need to get us through the end of October, when we transition to the new land, and then – in my third change of clothes, the other two heaped in watery piles atop the mudroom floor – I dropped a massive, half-rotted sugar maple to block up for next year’s stove wood. This morning, I spent a soggy couple of hours dragging logs I’d felled last winter and running fence. It’s not bad working in the rain. Like most things we tend to consider less than ideal, its desirability (or lack thereof) is relative. Besides, you know how the saying goes: Necessity is the mother of motivation.

I call this one "Michael and Me"

I call this one “Michael and Me”

The building is going great. With any luck, we’ll be raising barn rafters by week’s end; if not by then, certainly by next. Sheath the roof, then tin, and voila! Dry storage. Then onto the house. It’d all be much faster if we were using plywood, but the pleasure of working with rough sawn boards is of greater value to us than the expediency of manufactured wood products. To say nothing of the manufacturing process itself, along with the aesthetic toll, along with the fact that utilizing rough sawn means buying from a local mill. Thus far, we have used no concrete, no plastic, and no glues in construction of the barn. I suspect we may use a wee bit of caulk here and there, and maybe a little spray foam round window/door jambs (we do plan to insulate the upstairs for use as winter work space, so some air sealing is called for) hopefully, that’ll be about it as far as baby-seal-clubbing materials.

It is good to be working so much, and by working I mean working, none of this white collar, desk-bound, pontificating bullshit. Up at 5 and outside, and most days staying there until near dark. A dozen, even 14 hours per day, seven days a week, with the exception of obvious breaks like the one I’m taking now. My winter-larded belly has been reduced by two belt holes over just the past month; if I stand at just the right angle, sucking in hard enough that it feels as if something inside me might burst, I can almost see the outline of my abdominal muscles in the mirror. Wait… did I just admit to what I think I admitted to? Forget it. Never happened.

I call this one "Yum"

I call this one “Yum”

I will tell you something else, though you probably know it already: The physical work is as good for mind, emotion, and spirit as it is for body. We tend to forget this, I think, in our rush to extricate ourselves from discomfort and danger. We forget the simple pleasure of true fatigue, of something have risen or been raised by our calloused hands. Maybe not everyone cares to know that feeling anymore, or maybe they never did. Maybe they’re after something more, something prouder and more enlightened than this peasant’s labor.

But for me, at least, it’s enough.

You Won’t Regret It

June 21, 2015 § 6 Comments

I call this one "Goat on logs"

I call this one “Goat on logs”

Warm and rainy, perfect day to cut firewood. Still waiting for a long enough dry spell to make some dry hay. Massive progress on the barn, now framing second floor, rafters next week. Amazing how fast this stage of building happens. Everything going according to plan and within budget with the exception of burning through our stash of homegrown lumber faster than anticipated. Hence the logs in the above photo.

I wanted to alert you to a series of workshops our friends Hart and Michael are hosting at their amazing homestead in nearby West Danville. We’d intended to hold an “Establishing a Homestead” workshop this summer ourownbadselves, but it’s finally dawned on us that maybe we have other fish to fry. It was one of those ideas that seemed real good in the depths of winter when all you have is time to sit around dreaming of all the things you want to do come summer, but once summer comes and you’re actually doing those things you dreamed about and you suddenly realize that even 16 hours of daylight is about four or five hours too few, well…

Anyway. Hart and Michael’s place is amazing, and they hold vast reservoirs of experience. Go. You won’t regret it.

It Won’t Be the First Time

June 15, 2015 § 40 Comments


Over the past week, we have finished framing and decking the barn floor, framed and sheathed two 12-foot-high by 30-foot long side walls, erected said walls, and even attended a Waylon Speed concert, at which the boys witnessed first hand the tragicomic effects of rampant alcohol consumption in otherwise sane adults (don’t worry: Not I. Stone cold sober for the entire show, though the boys and I did share a celebratory root beer).

We had many hands on our side. Michael, Blake, and Bob all pulled and pushed their share of the load. And lo-and-freakin’-behold, even the fellas chipped in a might bit. Penny and I long ago decided to ask little and expect less, which we’ve found to be a pretty reliable technique for managing our expectations. Besides, we figured compelling them to help was a one-way street to the particular hell that’s populated by bitter and disappointed parents, so instead we crossed our fingers and hoped they’d get caught up in the excitement.

So far so good, and it occurs to me that of all the benefits to building these structures, the greatest might be the one we hardly anticipated: That the process will imbue the fellas with an evolved collection of building skills. I am trying to follow my own advice and include them in all steps, despite the toll on my patience, from pulling diagonals to check for square, to laying out the walls, to calculating the number of board feet worth of sheathing necessary for roof underlayment. If I were half as savvy as I’d like you to believe, I woulda turned this whole damn project into a summer-long children’s construction camp, charged a whomping tuition, and then sat in the shade with a sixer and a super-sized bag of pork rinds, whilst your little preciouses toiled under the high, hot sun as I screamed instructions at them between dispensing bandages and initiating them to the sort of gallows folk humor that prevails on male-dominated construction sites. Alas, only now does this occur to me.

Joking aside (I was joking, wasn’t I?), it occurs to me that the failure to teach our youth such fundamental skills as framing a house is yet another shortcoming of the contemporary institutionalized education system. Yeah, I know, I know: Not everyone wants to or even should become a builder. Then again, pretty much everyone needs a place to live, and it seems prudent to me that children have at least a rudimentary understanding of how the roof over their heads got there.

I don’t know. Call me crazy. No doubt it won’t be the first time.

A Million Ways in Which Your Life is Easier Than Strictly Necessary

June 9, 2015 § 38 Comments

IMG_1390We are making about four pounds of butter every other day, which is almost twice as much as we eat. This is good. We maximize our butter making during the spring months, when the pasture is peaking and the cream is highest in vitamins and minerals. You can see it in the butter; it is more than yellow.

We churn by hand. I like it, except when I don’t, which honestly isn’t very often. Maybe if I’m in a hurry. Making butter means doing lots of dishes: The jars we store the cream in (it takes about 6 quarts of cream to make 4 pounds of butter), the churn itself, the bowl we use for washing the butter to get the remnants of buttermilk out of it. From churning to clean-up, it takes me about 40 minutes to make four pounds of butter, maybe a little less if I’ve got some good tunes on the hi fi.

We’re in a cloudy spell right now, so our solar collectors aren’t doing much, which means heating water on the cooking range for dishes. It’s sort of a pain, but the thing is, it’s not, really. We live in ridiculous abundance. We are lucky just to be alive. I can think of a million other ways our lives are easier than strictly necessary, and when I do, heating water on the cooking range to wash dishes suddenly ceases to seem like much of a burden. I actually think this is the biggest secret to a contented life: The ability to think of a million other ways in which your life is easier than strictly necessary. Seriously. Try it. And if that doesn’t work, pick up a copy of this anthology. Reading about slurping the cold jellied remains of boiled dog bones in a wall tent at -40 with your toes falling off from frostbite is bound to put a shine on your current state of affairs. Plus, there’s an Edward Abbey piece in there. Can’t hardly go wrong with Abbey.

We’ll milk two cows twice per day for maybe another 10 weeks, at which point we’ll transition to once per day. This is in part because we’ll have a nice stash of butter by then, in part because it’ll be time to start weaning the calves off milk, and in part because we’re lazy. Plus, by then it’ll be about time to start harvesting all sorts of garden-y goodies, so it’s a swell time to free up the evening milking period.

The calves are doing great. We feed 4x/day, a half-gallon each per feeding. Most the boys do the bottle feeding, but sometimes it’s Penny or me. It’s nice, bottle feeding a calf. I mean, yeah, sometimes you’d like to move onto the next thing, but the thing is, you can’t. You gotta wait until those confounded calves are done sucking the last foamy dregs outta those bottles, like an alcoholic nursing his final round beer. Truth is, I sort of like tasks that force me to slow down. To stay present. I need something to keep me on track.

We’re eating like kings. Fresh butter. Kefir made from cream. Haunches of lamb and pork. Salads at least twice each day, topped by Pen’s homemade cheese. For breakfast, eggs and sausage and thick slices of Blake’s bread. Brook trout the boys bring home. We all drink straight from the jar of milk in the fridge whenever we want. There are even still blueberries in the freezer. It’s all super simple and insanely good, and we try not to take it for granted but of course we do.

Despite the homestead abundance, we’ve been buying more convenience foods than is typical for us, a concession to everything we’re juggling. Apples. Hard cheeses. Raisins. Last week, Penny even picked up a bag of some sort of sweet potato chips and the boys were beside themselves. It’s nice to have a treat once in a while. It’s good to be reminded how much groceries cost, too, especially if you’re inclined to get the good stuff, which we are. But holy moly, it adds up real quick. We actually budgeted for this when we did the finances for the building project, and it’s a good thing we did, or we’d’ve been caught off guard.

Raining again. Good day to work in the woods, saw some lumber. Got me a house and barn to build. And more butter to make.


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