Yes, you read that correctly. We have almost completed the newest addition to the homestead, our new outhouse. I'm sure your next question is why do we need an outhouse. A few weeks ago I shared with you that we will be opening the homestead to the public for the Statham Homestead Trail in April. When you invite people over, you have to have somewhere for them freshen up, if you know what I mean.
We have also wanted one for us to use when we are out there working and all muddy. Nothing makes me more insane than for my children to run through the house with their dirty shoes on. The outhouse is a logical solution to both problems.
I'm sure this leads to more quandaries. No, we did not dig a big hole in the ground. You actually have to get a permit if you are digging for an outhouse to make sure you are not near a drinking source. We are using a composting toilet mode from the bucket and toilet seat you see Brother sitting on. We will add wood mulch to the bucket as we use it and empty it into a larger barrel to finish decomposing. When it all broken down, it will be used to fertilize our non-edible plants on the farm.
Before you get all grossed out, I will remind you that the majority of my readers use municipal water sources that takes sewage and restores it to potable water in a facility which really is the ultimate in poo recycling. We are trying to be as sustainable as possible. We salvaged the wood wood and pallet boards from other projects, rinsed out one of the many buckets we have on the farm, and only purchased the roofing, screws, and a toilet seat. Pretty impressive, right?
Make plans to come for a visit soon and sit a spell.
Before I was a homesteader, I was a crafter. I've already shared that I love to create things. I always have. Vasek had been taking the beekeeping course for a while when I finally decided to see what other classes were being taught at Lazy B Farm. The soap making class caught my interest and I signed up. I had no idea what to expect. I had only seen the melt and pour soaps at the craft store. I was in for a shock!
I was not prepared for the amount of chemistry required to make soap. Nerd alert! Saponification, or the process that happens to turn fat into soap, was completely overwhelming. The class introduced me to hot and cold process soap making. I will not bore you with all the details and differences between the two. I was immediately drawn to the hot process method, mainly because it was less temperature monitoring and I could use the soap quicker after processing.
Amanda, from Amanda's Farm to Fork, was the hot process instructor. She is very laid back and hysterical! I learned so much and wrote as much down as I could manage. I thought to myself, "if she makes that many soaps in a week, it must be easy." Famous last words.
The process itself is technically not difficult. The myriad of ways it can go wrong, however, are positively overwhelming. I ordered my ph-test strips online, found a used crock pot at a thrift shop, and got some oil to use. Most soap makers will not share their recipes since they are from years, sometimes decades, of trial and error. Here I was with random oils, gloves, safety goggles, and a soap calculator. It was like a scene from Fight Club. I made mistake after mistake until I finally had something that resembled soap. But I was smitten. I loved taking ingredients that are usually found in kitchens and turning them into luscious, fragrant soap.
Since that first batch of soap, I have produced hundreds and hundreds of bars of soap. I have tried everything from olive oil to lard. I know what essential oils make the best fragrances. I am proud of the soaps I make and have loyal customers that return again and again. This is all because some crazy soap ladies were willing to share that knowledge with me. I will forever be grateful.
One of the first questions I get when people hear we have a homestead is: what is a homestead?
That question is not so easy to define. Each homestead looks different to match the needs of the family it supports. If you think back to 150 years ago, a home had multiple purposes. Cars had not been invented yet. Stores were miles away. If you wanted something, you had two options: make it or do without.
Fast forward to now. We have stores on every corner, multiple cars in every garage, and more options than we can research. The irony is that many of us are living with too much. Too much food, too much weight, and too much stress. Enter homesteading into our lives. We are striving to lead a purposeful life filled with experiences, not stuff. Below you will find our top ten reasons we homestead.
#1 - More family time.
As our four kids are growing up faster than we thought imaginable, Vasek and I saw how little time we were actually spending together. With my 40 hour work weeks and his completely unpredictable construction work schedule, we kept seeing our family time slipping away. We made up our minds that time was the most valuable thing we have and that we had to be in control of it or it would slip away. Much like a budget is where you tell your money where to go, we needed to "rebudget" our time. We paid off debt and eliminated expense to the point that my paycheck would cover all of our expenses. Then the exciting work began.
#2 - We are what we eat.
Ask any physician about health and they will tell you that what you put in your mouth shapes your body and energy level. When you eat highly processed foods, which I did for far too long, you body slows down and accommodates what you put in it. This means that you will use all those empty calories as fat. You will be nutrient deficient. You just plain won't feel good. I think about all the time I wasted feeling lazy and sluggish because I was not feeding my body nutrient rich foods. Eating a mostly plant based diet is the key to a healthy lifestyle. And growing your vegetables ensures they are the healthiest produce you can eat.
#3 - Animals should be treated with kindness.
Many people openly gasp when I say we raise meat chickens and rabbits. They question how I (or my husband) could possibly kill animals we love. And the hard truth is this...in order for us to feel ok with eating animals, we have to know they lived the best life possible. If you visit our homestead, you will see how much we love our animals. We bring them fresh produce, hay, or kudzu daily. We play with them. We cuddle with them. We have seen the documentaries about animal treatment in the U.S. and cannot support that type of "factory farming." We had three options, go vegetarian (not really an option for my family's food taste), buy only animals we know are sustainably raised (very expensive for a family of six), or grow them ourselves.
Is it hard to butcher an animal we birthed on our farm? Yes. It would be harder to justify supporting a food industry that does not acknowledge the sacrifices the animals make for our diets. This is our choice to live out our values. It's not always easy but it is always worth it.
There are many things that we do now that I would never imagine myself doing a few years ago. Rabbits are definitely one of those things. We decided on rabbits almost entirely out of exhaustion. My oldest daughter had begged and begged for bunnies until I didn't want to hear another word about them. I had never had positive experiences with rabbits and really didn't see a purpose for them on the homestead. That all changed when we were in the Czech Republic two summers ago. My in-laws there have one the coolest farms I have ever been to and on that farm they had rabbits.
My husband told me of his experience eating rabbit. I had never been so adventurous. He also told me of using the furs to line his clothing. This was sounding better and better.
As fate would have it, Amanda Hall at Rockin' H Farm was looking to sell some breeding pairs of silver fox rabbits. These are large meat rabbits known for gorgeous furs. We were gifted with two rabbit hutches from two different friends and I knew this must be a sign. Off we go to pick up a breeding pair. To my surprise, a breeding pair is two females and a male. Amanda graciously walked us through basic rabbitry skills including holding, feeding, and sexing rabbits. We didn't have them two hours when I was scratched to the point of bleeding and was ready to get rid of them all together. Luckily, my very persistent daughter was not so easily deterred. She went out daily and took them out to play with them and cuddle. In a few months, they were tame enough for me to handle.
We began successfully breeding them and eventually got an American Blue pair, too. There can be as many as 40 rabbits at my house any given day. We have sold several really tame rabbits as pets. We have also learned to process them ourselves and I have been working on recipes that really showcase the gorgeous flavor of rabbit meat. Vasek has just tried tanning his first set of hides. I think they are really beautiful. I hope you'll consider rabbit the next time you're at our farm.
When we are asked how we got to this point in our farming, it's not a simple answer. We have been blessed to have several farming friends mentor us along our way. Cyndi Ball taught Vasek beekeeping. Crystal Beacham has taught me animal husbandry and walked us through some of the most difficult experiences as a farmer. Sonrise Farm has stood beside us, sometimes on ladders, as we built our hoophouse last fall. And Jenny Buley has spoken words of encouragement and shared knowledge of seed starting for years. This homestead community has shaped who we have become and we would not be this far along without their love and support.
I used to think that winters on the farm meant sitting by a fire knitting scarves and drinking hot tea. Little did I realize that winter is really when all the hard work begins. It's in those long winter nights that farmers start dreaming of seed sprouts and crops. They begin preparing emergency kits for kidding seasons. They are organizing their seeds from last year.
This planning leads to ordering. Trees, seeds, and chicks were all on our things-to-do list. Once the orders are placed, we go into full action mode. Holes have to be dug, raised beds have to be readied, and brood boxes have to be prepped. January brought us eight new fruit trees, six strawberry beds, and fifty baby chicks. Holy moly, was January a busy month!
We have no plans to slow down. We have to continue building raised beds in the hoop house. We are putting up a pole barn for additional storage and an outhouse for obvious use. We are working on watering solutions for the property. And we are preparing for baby rabbits and goats.
I love the planning part of homesteading. I think it's my optimistic nature and love of design. I want our farm to be welcoming and fruitful. I want people to come for a visit and want to take a part of our vision home with them. We have some upcoming events that will allow you to experience our homestead for yourself. Be on the lookout for more information coming soon!
It is always a magical experience to wake up in the South to snow. I remember praying for snow as a child and now I see the excitement in my children's faces at the mention of the word. The crazy thing about Georgia is that the meteorologists can never figure out when and how much it will snow here.
Tuesday, I had been watching my weather app like a hawk. I would love to be a weather man. I love tracking storms, rain, and snow. I turned on the local news while I was preparing chicken in the instant pot and saw a strange shift in the prediction. Where they had been predicting a light dusting was now showing up to three inches possible. It's a shift like that that makes me feel like God is listening to my heart's desires. I still had dinner to cook and a meeting to attend but my mind was on the incoming snow.
Here in Georgia, we almost always cancel school when it snows. We just don't have the salt trucks and snow plows needed to clear the roads. Our crazy temps often make keeping them free from ice nearly impossible. We ended up getting two days off.
We love these precious days off with a warm fire in the fire place, soggy mittens hanging on the fire screen, and hot meals made from scratch on the stove. I hope that my children love these special memories sprinkled with snow as much as I do. We got little more than basic farm chores done but the giggles and cuddles make it so sweet.
"More or less is the theme for 2018"
All week, we've been planning the upcoming year. Many people view farmers as living completely in moment. Many times this is true. You can't watch the miracle of birth, bunnies, goats, or chickens, and not be immersed in the moment. You can't stand at the oven watching a pressure canner dial and not be focused on the here and now.
But there are other times that we have to look into the future and try to figure out what will do. We begin planning three months, six months, a year or two in advance. Things like pole barns don't just happen.
When you want baby goats in spring, you have to plan the fall ahead. When you want to process meat birds in March, you have to order in January. We are constantly seeking the plans God has for us and some of the plans are big. Really big. And they take lots of planning.
We will share more of those plans as the year progresses but our newest venture will be to help you plan your meat needs for the year and help you find sustainable, ethical meat. If you haven't seen the Facebook Live on it, I encourage you to check it out.
As a family, we have other goals for this year. More or less is the theme for 2018 and we hope you'll join us on this journey.
With more love and less distraction this new year,
Brooke and Vasek
Saturday, after months of preparation, we were all set up and ready for market at the Bethlehem First United Methodist Church Bazaar. We've been participating in this event for years. The difference this year is that this is the first time we were all in. You know, the kind of investment you feel when you walk across the stage to get your diploma, or stand up in front of family and friends and recite your vows. This is truly a reflection of our values and beliefs on display for all to see. It was thrilling...and it was nerve wracking.
I did not sit down for 7 hours as friends, new and old stopped by our booth. Many of them do not follow us on Facebook and had no clue how much we've done this year. It was fun to share all that we've been doing. It was rejuvenating to hear how many people were also on similar journeys. I met so many new people that I can't remember all of their names.
At the end of the day, I felt in my heart that we are on the right path, not just as a family, but also as a business. I knew we had sold a lot when several of our soap baskets were completely empty and some of our jams sold out. I never could've predicted just how much love and support we would receive that day.
Thank you to all our loyal customers that buy eggs each week, stop by the produce stand, and order your Christmas gifts from us. We could never make this work without all of your thoughts, prayers, and purchases.
Vasek and Brooke
We are thrilled to share our homesteading successes and struggles with you. There's a steep learning curve here and we are ready for the challenges.