What will we leave behind? What characteristics, trinkets, furniture, work, or pieces of land will define us? What knowledge will we bestow? What work ethics or heart will pass through us to future generations?
I am making yogurt out of semi-expired milk and cooking hiziki seaweed on the stove while thinking about these things. This is not a normal food combo over here. It’s because we are low on chicken food and I rummaged through the refrigerator and cupboards and found food that was nearly ready to throw away but was still good enough to feed our flock. Then off to the store to get a few more bags of chicken feed.
Just so you know, I am cracking up at how hippy dippy Pacific Northwest this sounds. I have honestly never made yogurt before, despite a fabulous recipe handed over to me years ago from my Armenian mother-in-law. This was literally a moment of “what the heck do I do with an entire gallon of milk that is maybe a bit turned?”
I feel guilty throwing out food in general when there are families starving in tent cities across the water in Seattle, let alone the rest of the world. I also have a flock of chickens that are happy eating dirt all day, and their delight when they are presented with anything new is glorious. That’s why I removed the cap on a gallon of whole-fat, semi-expired milk and gave it a good sniff before I poured it into a giant pot, heated it to nearly boiling, and turned it off to cool. I’m going to add some semi-expired whole plain Greek yogurt to it, set it out overnight, and give it to our chickens in the morning if it turns out alright. Meanwhile, I mixed them up a giant bowl of arugula and black sesame seeds topped with stale Cheerios, leftover rice, and a heavy douse of olive oil. Hog heaven for them.
Chickens are not cheap. We are spending $60-$100 per month on organic chicken food for them. At a rate of about 8 eggs a day right now during the low season, that’s actually a pretty good rate of return. It’s far better than spending $100 on food and getting zero eggs, which is what happened when they were molting a few months ago. Granted, the eggs are absolutely delicious, but cheap they are not. It helps give some perspective to those expensive half- and full-dozens of farm-fresh eggs you see at your local farmer’s market.
We could get away with spending less than that if we let them wander around the entire yard, rather than in their run, but we are being cautious during the winter season because we’ve already lost chickens to raccoons, coyotes, and a peregrine falcon. SO, over the next few months, we’re going to expand their run and their coop and build up a system for rotating them through fresh grass and gardens that we’ll plant with greens. And we’ll probably buy a few more chickens. (Although I am hanging my head in defeat as I say that–especially after all the chicken drama of last summer. But that’s a story for another time.)
I’ve been thinking about money lately. For so many reasons. How to make it, how to spend it, how to save it, how to be responsible with it. Brian and I have been talking about working to instill a strong respect for money in our kids, and all the ways that we can do this. And maybe turning 40 adds its own level of motivation–when do we hope to retire? How much do we hope to be able to have in the bank when we do? What are our goals for the near and distant future, as a couple, as a family, and for giving to our kids, too, when we are old and gray and organizing their inheritance?
And aside from our small family and our small farm, what will our legacy be to the generations after us, and to our community?
There are the obvious benefits of growing our own food–the fresh-from-the-dirt nutrients and flavor, the flexibility to grow tons of beautiful heirloom varieties of yummy fruit and veggies, and the health benefits of being outside and working together to build our food supply.
But aside from all the healthy family and healthy planet benefits of growing our own food, saving money will also be an awesome component of all the hard work we’ll put into this project. I must admit that when we aren’t producing food in our garden, we spend a good deal of money each week on organic fresh fruit and veggies–for the kids’ school lunches, our dinners, and entertaining friends. And while I am grateful that we have the resources to do it, I am ashamed to recount how much we consume.
All it takes is one single moment of perspective passing a sidewalk littered in tiny tents and garbage bags filled with personal belongings to see and feel our privilege.
I will be keeping track of the money we spend on seeds and organic fertilizers, and on our chickens. We’ll work with our kids to show them the cost of everything we buy to support our little farm. They are already aware of the price of all the stuff I put in our grocery cart, and their eyes widen when they see the final cost.
They will also be in charge of gathering food each week to donate to our local food bank. Fresh fruits and veggies are in high demand at food banks; it’s the number one thing that low-income families don’t get enough of in their diets. I am hopeful that we’ll be able to increase our donations over the years.
I already know the flavor benefits of growing our own food. The meals speak for themselves. But if we still need to buy spices, salt, oils, coffee, meats and milk/cheese, and wine and beer, what will our grocery costs be? How much can be buy in bulk, and from local sources? I’m going to keep track of it and see what happens with those numbers this year.
And how will we make happy chickens without spending gallons of money on organic feed? I think we need to make our own dry chicken food, and we need to grow some veggies specifically for them.
And what will our kids learn about food, money, and responsibility this year? And how will they feel when they see their work make a difference in their home and their community? At 10 and nearly 8 years old, they are at an age where they will remember this project for the rest of their lives.
I built a work ethic as a kid in our family business and as the daughter of a single mom that has stuck with me throughout my life. It has given me a resilience that I wouldn’t trade. I hope we can give that gift of self-reliance and creativity to our kids, and make it fun, tasty, and a grand adventure for them in the process.
I’m guessing the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.
Let’s hope we make some really good food in our kitchen this year.