Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pipe dreams, homesteading, and exploding goats

So, the dynamo who started and organized the community garden project in my town lent me a couple of books, one focused on food preservation, and one called The Backyard Homestead.  I haven't really cracked open the one on food preservation yet because I've been salivating over The Backyard Homestead.

Now, considering the fact that I live in a condominium and that I'm a gardening neophyte, this is more escapism for me than anything else.  However, if I had a house with a sunny yard, I'd do everything I could to use every square foot of the land.  Oh, I'd have some lawn space for leisure--and for a clothesline--heck, everyone needs grass clipping mulch, don't they?--but I'd have a lot of vegetable beds.  After reading this book, I realize I could have fruit trees and some livestock (if I wanted and if it was feasible in my neighborhood) as well.

As I've caught the gardening bug and gotten into local food, the idea of eating things locally grown and raised has become more appealing to me.  I also get a lot of satisfaction out of eating and serving food I've grown and/or preserved.  That you could, if you have neighbors who are okay with it and local laws that allow it, produce not just your own eggs (fairly common) but meat (chicken, rabbit, pork, lamb, goat, or beef, depending on the amount of land you have and the time you have to dedicate to it), and dairy (even if you can't raise cows, goats provide enough milk for a family of four, and apparently it tastes the same as cow's milk).

I have a cousin down south who recently started raising chickens, a friend who used to raise them, and a friend who still raises them.  If you haven't had a fresh egg, you really are missing a plate full of heaven.  The yolks are firm and creamy and delicious.  When I get these, I treasure them and use them only for breakfast, and then only for fried or poached eggs (since mopping up the yolk is so luxurious).  If I was raising chickens, I'd probably be a little more blase about the eggs since I'd be getting a lot, but I'm sure I'd also never ever want grocery store eggs again.

The book also talks about things like beekeeping (I'm a little too paranoid about that, but I know three people who keep bees and the honey is exceptional, and I cannot argue with encouraging pollinators to thrive), raising your own wheat or grain, and making your own cheese.  These things sounded very interesting, but I don't think I'd really want to break a sweat doing them.  Raising grain sounds like a real pain, and cheese making sounds like it takes a lot of work for something I have been trying to eat sparingly.  (I will eat an entire block of sharp cheddar if left to my own devices.  My stomach does not appreciate this.  I can tolerate dairy but in reasonable quantities.)

I have also, for several years now, wanted a goat.  This is mainly because when I read Jon Ronson's book The Men Who Stare at Goats (way better than the fictionalized movie, by the way, and I also highly recommend his book Them: Adventures with Extremists), I learned that the US government funded, through it's odd blackops budget, efforts to train soldiers to make goats explode with their minds.  (This is a real thing.  It is not a hoax.  I don't get political on this blog--and be thankful for it--but I think I will echo the sentiments of many on the right and left when I point out that this has got to be the stupidest thing to spend tax money on ever.  I mean, I'd rather they'd spend the money in Vegas or at a Comic Con or something--at least then there would have been something to show for the money, even if it was an ill-advised tattoo or a bad orc outfit.  But I digress.)

So, in the book, Ronson said the reason why the government chose goats for psychic explosion was because the soldiers didn't bond with goats like they would with dogs.  Which got me thinking--oh yeah? I think goats are cute, they are useful (there are companies that rent out flocks to eat weeds a landowner wants to get rid of), and they provide meat and milk and sometimes soft hair for fiber. And they have cute little ears you can scritch.

(I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that no goats exploded in these efforts.  We only paid for very bored goats and soldiers who were not only bored, but also somewhat resentful that they didn't have a coffee budget.)

So, for many reasons, the idea of homesteading appeals to me.  I love the idea of providing the majority of my own food, including foods like meat and dairy.  I love the idea of making use out of the land.  I love the idea of seeing my (granted, fantasy) yard spring to life with edible flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit.

Now, I was also despairing a bit--I'm 43 years old and it's not like I'm in any position to sell my place, buy the ideal house on the ideal lot, and just start this thing.  It's doable but would take some time, and I'd have to make sure there was no homeowners' association (HOA) or local ordinances that would bar such things, neighbors that would give me grief even in the absence of an HOA, and the finances and time to actually be able to dedicate to such a project.  Not for nothing, but I don't think I could raise chickens and rabbits--let alone a goat--with an hour plus commute in the morning and evenings.  So it was escapism, in the "wouldn't it be cool" category, in the "I should have thought to do this much, much earlier in life" way.

And then I realized that I'm kind of on the road to this, anyway.

Not that I'm anywhere near producing all of my own food, but I'm producing a lot of it and learning. I have two garden plots this year--several years ago, I had no garden plots, save for a small patch for herbs in my parents' garden.  I am the member of a CSA, so even if I have to buy vegetables from someone else, they are locally (and sustainably) grown.  I have actually come far over the years, and as long as I realize that and continue to enjoy what I'm doing, I think I'm doing just fine.

Of course, there may come a day when I realize that I can swing selling my place and that I'll be able to get the house with the sunny yard.  (Right now, it's not feasible for many reasons that I won't get into here.) Maybe it will be closer to where I work.  Maybe my neighbors would be fine with this sort of thing (facilitated, of course, with bribes of eggs, homemade yogurt, and home-canned preserves).  Maybe this will be very, very doable.  If I was to embark on such an undertaking, I'd have a lot of failures.  Or misadventures, as I'd prefer to think of them.  (I also like to think of epic fails as good blog fodder.)  But since I don't have to survive on what I produce, I would be able to be sanguine about it.  And if it got to the point where I could survive on what I produced, that would be a plus.  But for me the attraction is the journey and not so much the destination.  (You can all stop gagging now.)


  1. My brother down in Florida kept a couple of goats, and they sound pretty low maintenance: just some water, some shade, and the lawn. He owns a fair amount of land and doesn't need a mower.

    I'm not sure I find them as appealing as you seem to. It's the "devil-eyes" and the rather cantankerous attitude, 'tho the breed of "fainting goats" are pretty entertaining!

    BTW "Blog-fodder" is now my new tongue-twister. [say 3X fast!]

    Oh....and if you ever find yourself in a bad orc costume, please post THAT photo!

  2. Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for the info on this book.
    This is the direction my husband and I have been going for the last 17 years. It's taken some time to get it all set up, and we're still working at it. No hens yet, but I've been doing my research and have selected the varieties I want and know what we need to do first, to get a spot in the yard for them. We also talk about getting a goat, from time to time. I'm not too sure on this one, but I think for young families, a goat for milk would be great.

    Even if someone didn't want to go the livestock route, vegetable gardens, and fruit and nut orchards can provide a great deal of food, and security (knowing that there will always be something to eat).

    When we bought our house, we also wanted a piece of property with a small wood lot, for firewood. Sure it's a lot of work. But it's the kind of work that at the end of the day you sink into a chair and say "ahhh". It's really satisfying.

  3. I would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to live completely self-sufficiently in terms of food. I reeeeally want chickens if I ever own my own place!

    The little place we are about to move to in Bristol has a little pebbled garden, perfect for growing lots of veg in tubs, so that sounds like a good place to really learn more about vegetable gardening!

    Even if I weren't a vegetarian, I'd be baaaad at raising my own animals for meat though. I would get far too attached to their cute little faces!

    Sounds like you're on the right track to becoming very self-sufficient though. Trading stuff you've produced for things you need still counts, so even if you don't have the space to grow a lot of wheat you could trade some homemade yogurt! :)

    1. It definitely puts "Don't play with your food" in an entirely new context. . .!

  4. I'm so happy to have found your blog; thanks for giving me a heads up!

    Funny you should mention goats...our plan was to build a dome home on the farm where there are currently no buildings and raise goats.

    Well, you know how plans go 6 years we have not built our dream house and having goats where you do not reside is NOT a plan.

    It will be exciting to follow your story and see where life takes you and yours! I wish you every good thing.

    Mother Connie

    1. I'm so glad you stopped by! I enjoy Food Stamps Cooking Club a lot--there's a wealth of information on it!

  5. Raising a few hens is the easiest thing in the world to do. I spend nothing on mine and get eggs and entertainment. I can give up milk before I drink goat milk. Besides, they like to knock anyone can barely stay upright as it is!

    I love to read books on homesteading.