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August 9, 2012

Guest Post: I'm Farming and I Grow It, from Heather Nellis

Hello! My name is Heather, and I’ve been friends with Kat for many years. (You may know her as “Katie” but she will ALWAYS be “Kat” to me. Or “Kitty”. You cannot change me.)
When Kat asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I jumped at the chance. I have always enjoyed reading about her life with Little Miss and Mr. M because I live very far away from her, and because everyone is so busy these days, it’s comforting to “catch up” with her, even if it is via blog post. I’ve watched Little Miss Maile grow up and I have never been so proud of a friend than I am of Kat. She’s a great mother and wife and I admire her courage raising her daughter despite her husband being many miles away. It takes a special kind of love and devotion to do that, and Kat and Mr. M have that in spades.
Kitty asked me to write about farm life. I live on a farm outside Richmond, Virginia with my Mister and our two fur babies Roger and Vixen. They are rascals and keep us on our toes. I love them J

Mister is very big into gardening. We grow all kinds of strange things at our house; things that wouldn’t normally grow in Virginia.  We have a banana tree, an avocado tree, desert rose, figs, orange, grapes (well ok, those grow really well here) and sunflowers (ok, those grow well here too ... anywhere really). Mister likes to try his hand at new things.
Me? Well, I’m not an outdoorsy girl. I hate spiders and ants and grass clippings that tickle and make me think there are bugs crawling on me. However, I have had to put a lot of those fears on the shelf and try hard to make things work here on our farm.
See, the farm is over 200 years old. With old barns, horse corrals, fences that fall apart, an old farmhouse, pipes that freeze in the winter, and all the other charming problems that come with homeownership.
It’s exhausting.
It’s frustrating.
It’s the most fun I’ve had in years. Seriously! I’m having a blast! It has always been a dream to have my own home, decorate, nest, and raise a family. Mister and I are talking marriage and babies (Lord knows I’m baby crazy) and I love the idea of raising my family in this tradition-soaked farm world.

You see, farms are not just acres of corn or cows. My farm has neither of these. I don’t have horses or chickens (yet) or cows (but I want one of those too). We have veggies and flowers and honeybees. We have songbirds and wild turkeys and deer and a wild rabbit I named Frank (also known as Vixen’s Arch Nemesis). I have a swing on my front porch. I have a bird feeder outside my living room window. But this is a farm. We’re zoned Agriculture.
But does this make a farm? A zoning law?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Are people living in the suburbs with a small chicken coop or a beehive considered farmers? What about just the people who grow their own vegetables?
I would say yes. I feel like the old school idea of a farm, (you know, acres of corn, red barn, silo, some black and white speckled cows grazing contentedly in the back forty) while quaint and idyllic and appealing to our All American “Born in the USA” sensibilities, is a bit outdated and old fashioned. Think about it: when we picture a farm, we think lush veggies, fresh milk, a warm egg just laid. But in reality, the farm of our imaginations do not produce the food Americans eat, or rather, the food we SHOULD be eating. The farm of your fantasy usually grows genetically modified corn created by agribusiness giants like Monsanto or Cargill. This corn is very low in nutritional value because it’s not meant to be consumed in its original form: a corn cob. This corn is meant to be cooked down and modified and turned into something you wouldn’t even recognize as corn. Does high fructose corn syrup ring a bell? That’s right, public enemy number one is growing on that imaginary, perfect farm of your fantasies.
Doesn’t that break your heart?
It did for me too. Until I realized that I didn’t have to eat those things. There was no law that said I had to eat them. True, HFCS is in TONS of products on the market, but you don’t have to buy them. You don’t have to buy anything. That’s the beauty of it all.

And that’s where a “farm” comes in. You can grow or make everything you would buy at the grocery store! That’s right! With a little time, patience (tolerance of bugs) and a few inexpensive items, you can grow or make everything you would usually buy at the market. Canning and preserving are easy and relatively inexpensive - all you need are jars, a large pot of boiling water[1] and a yummy recipe. Dehydrating fruits and vegetables can extend shelf life and help add those summer flavors long into the winter. Take some time to explore the Ball website for canning and preserving here.
Pasta is easy to make too! All you need is durum flour, eggs and water, and POOF! Fresh pasta. Love bread? Mister and I make a loaf of fresh bread every other day and I swear I will never buy store bread again; ours is that much better.
Need eggs or fresh chicken? Raise them yourself! Lots of places are zoned for a few chickens. Check your local zoning laws for information. Oh, and make sure you get hens! They’re the ones who lay, and are usually very sweet. Most people come to think of their “girls” as pets. Roosters, on the other hand, can be d-bags and rather mean. Plus, if you’re not planning on having baby chickies roaming around the yard, you do not need a rooster. Unless you like that obnoxious crowing at the a$$-crack of dawn. However, roosters do make excellent chicken soup meat. Just sayin' ... Chickens don’t eat much, and a good healthy hen will lay for several years before she gets too old.
Don’t have a 12-acre farm like we do, or can’t get a house plant to stay alive? Two words: farmer’s market. These are popping up EVERYWHERE and are a great way to support local farmers and producers, and take away money from corporate agribusinesses robbing farmers of their due (sorry, sore subject). Plus, shopping at farmer’s markets helps you know where your food is coming from. Lots of us try to eat healthy and help the environment, and we think that eating organically will solve our problems. But if you look at the labels of some of this organic food, you’ll see that most of it is coming from California or South America. Yes, you’re eating better, but the carbon footprint of hauling those “perfect” foods to you is not worth it. Unless you live in California or South America. Local food tastes better, is often in practice organic[2], and is grown by your "neighbors".

So, do you think you could be a farmer? I think you could. I think you probably already are and you don’t know it yet. Are you growing tomatoes in a pot on your apartment balcony? Or herbs in a window box? Or maybe you have an elaborate system out in the back yard, irrigated, composted, some kind of contraption rigged to keep the deer out? Guess what. You’re farming. You’re growing a crop and providing for your family. You’re doing what farmers have been doing for thousands of years. Seriously. Farming is the oldest occupation in the history of humankind. There’s something timeless about it. A continuity.
It doesn’t have to be hundreds of thousands of acres of amber waves of grain. It doesn’t have to have the John Deere combine rumbling away in the field. It doesn’t have to have a thousand head of cattle criss-crossing the land.
All a farm needs to succeed is ingenuity, dedication, and yes, maybe a little blood, sweat and tears. But trust me, it’s so worth it.
So, to borrow and tweak a popular LMFAO song, “I’m farming and I grow it.”
Happy growing.

[1] High acid foods require little more than glass jars and screw top lids. Low acid foods like beans or some fruits require pressure canning in order to kill dangerous bacterium like the neurotoxin Botulinum.  Pressure canners can be expensive but are worth the upfront costs.
[2] Being labeled “Organic” is an expensive process for farmers. It’s a ton of paper work and a huge fee. Most local and small growers can’t afford to buy this “title”, yet still implement organic best practices. But because they can’t pay the USDA an astronomical fee, they can’t use the word “Organic” on their food… never mind that the USDA has very vague guidelines of what “organic” really means and so therefore is essentially a useless term.

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