Seeing through immigrant eyes

My great-grandparents were immigrants, and children of immigrants to America.  Though I know only some of their stories, I do know that they lived through times of intense struggle. They were well aquainted with hard work, lived through the fear and scarcity of war time and the Great Depression. They knew things that our culture no longer knows.  They knew how to grow their own food, raise animals, store and preserve the harvest.   I don't have them in my life anymore, and at times I look at their photos, knowing I'm connected to them... and sob. I cry for all the wisdom and advice I wish I could glean from them.  I long to share this homesteading life I've grown to love, knowing they would understand.  Because of this yearning, I am enthralled with reading other immigrant's stories.

Franklin and Florence Troutner

In one of my favorite books, (The Unprejudiced Palate - written in 1948) Angelo Pellegrini, an Italian immigrant, shares his own experience of coming to America, along with what he believes to be the essential elements of living 'the good life':

"I had known scarcity, had lived on intimate terms with it's agonizing reality, and the discovery of it's opposite [abundance]... was an experience so maddening with joy, so awful and bewildering, that I am not yet fully recovered from the initial shock."

He writes about the struggle to survive in Italy.  His arrival in America - and how amazed he was at the abundance of food here.  He was shocked by the American's disrespect and wastefulness of food (even then).  He describes a typical Immigrant's life in America - how many of their homes were simple and sparse - but they were rich in food:

 "It is consistently good because, in a land of plenty, [the immigrant] has set his standards of self-nourishment high.  He subsidizes his fluctuating income by wringing from his environment all that it will yield... Regardless of his means, he will garden his plot of ground because he knows the vital difference between cold storage and tinned peas, and those plucked from the vine an hour before they are eaten.  Furthermore, challenging the soil for it's produce is in his bones, the pleasure of eating what he raises is insperably fused with the pleasure of raising what he eats.  But it all adds up to a gay life, a life rooted in earth."

I can't quite describe how reading and re-reading this book touches something deep inside of me.

 All that hard work adds up to a happy life - a life rooted in the earth. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I reflect on our years we spent struggling in our own way.  We were not living through war time - but we were fighting our own battle to make ends meet.  As a young family, we left our own struggle to survive in California,  and 'immigrated' to Colorado in search of a more affordable and full life.  During our first  6 years here, we'd bought our first home and brought 4 daughters into the world.   My dedicated husband worked several different jobs through those early years trying to find a fit.

After 2 layoffs in a row, he worked road construction, did carpet cleaning, and at the lowest point, even delivered milk at night.  We have experienced our own kind of struggle.   I know the embarrasment of not having enough cash at the checkout.  I know the mixed feeling of gratitude and humiliation having friends or family drop off a bag of groceries, or slip a check into our mailbox.  These experiences changed me.  I learned how to make ingredients stretch. Which vegetables were least expensive and could be made into many different dishes. I tasted the emotions that go along with financial strain.

Then - when health struggles appeared on our journey (read more about that here) - and (here) we were about to change, learn and grow even more.  

I fell in love with the process of growing our own food.  It was a necessity.  In a way - I was going back in time.  I began learning about cultivating the ground, growing the crops for our own consumption, as well as raising animals for meat.  I had never known the  joy and satisfaction of setting a meal on my table -  made up completely of what we had grown. To take part from start to finish, in the hard work of planning, cultivating, tending and finally, harvesting and enjoying the bounty.  My great grandparents must have known how this felt.   

Angelo Pellegrini knew it too.  He writes:

"My home and the surrounding plot of ground reflect an attitude and a way of life; and the achievement of this harmony between myself and my dwelling has given my life a personal significance it would not otherwise possess.  I have sought and found the significance latent in little things."

Living on an urban homestead really does "reflect an attitude and a way of life".  It takes immense effort, love and care to get things to grow.  Not only is it satisfying to harvest what springs from my labors - there is a determination not to waste anything.  This means I've come to see food differently than I once did. Because I spend so much time here on my neighborhood farm, my girls learning from home, I am rarely immersed in our 21st century culture.  Many of my days DO look like those of years past: tending the animals, working the soil, making meals from what is growing and in season, preserving the harvest.  We schedule our learning around the seasons and the work that has to be done, doing much reading  and research by the fire in the quieter winter months. We are definitely 'finding the significance latent in little things'.

We have come through those years of intense struggle.  My husband has since found his niche, loves his trade,  and enjoys steady work.  But being self-employed  can still put us in tight spots from time to time.  

And I'll admit - when money is tight, it can trigger those old feelings of fear, insecurity and scarcity - that there may not be, or isn't enough.  

Until take a deep breath...

...and look outside my window.

 Ron Finley - an urban gardening 'geurilla' in LA  says:  "Growing food is like printing your own money".

Nothing pulls me up out of that fear-filled pit of scarcity like walking through my garden.  I can feel frustrated and sad when funds are tight ... but seeing the bounty of wealth growing up all around me changes my thinking.   

I often feel torn between two worlds.

The world of my immigrant ancestors: Living simply, gratified by the hard work and time it takes to provide for ourselves, grateful for the bounty of each season, spending our time together, learning, working and eating as a family...


The 21st century reality of my culture: Busyness that leaves no room for slow enjoyment of simple things.  The push to consume and acquire every convenience, valuing quick, easy and cheap regardless of the effect on our bodies or the environment. 

I love living in town and being a part of our community, but when we jump back into that 21st century world, my mindset can slip from gratitude for my simple life I've worked so hard for - to comparison and ingratitude.

In our world today, the public relies on having food available and fast, and expects it to be abundant and cheap.  We look to the grocery store for the food to sustain us.  No desire to cook?  There is always take-out.  Because we are used to this convenience system, (which, by it's nature only provides us with mediocre flavor and low nutrient value, despite it's dizzying array of selection) we leave hardly any space in our lives for one of the most essential elements of our survival, and what was historically one of the most enjoyable aspects of life. 

Before our slow food journey began, I too saw food this way.  With no thought about where or how this food was grown, or how many miles it traveled to get to our plates. Convenience and selection.  This is what our culture demands.

This summer, we were heading home from a party, and it was past dinner time.  I hadn't prepared anything, having been away from home most of the day.   On the drive home I was dwelling on how tired I was.  What did I even have to make for dinner?  I felt out of ideas and was feeling sick and tired of our end-of-summer cucumber and tomato salads.  Should we head to the store? Grab take-out?  (I had my 21st century goggles on.)

Uh ... nope. This wasn't an option.   We were in between paychecks.  Money was tight, and we needed to wait.  I felt cranky, realizing I would have to get creative when I just wasn't feeling it.  The kids piled out of the car, noisily stomping into the house, happily ignorant of my plight.  I grabbed a basket and went out into the garden. 

It wasn't long before my heart found peace.  Being in my garden alone at the height of the summer bounty ... there was so much abundance all around me.  Those dark feelings of scarcity melted into gratitude as I walked.  Gratitude for this Divine miracle of life. The way that seeds have everything already inside of them - ready to  spring up into these plants that will feed us, given the right care.  Gratitude for the healthy toiling over loads and loads of compost and mulch that build the soil, and my strength as well.   Gratitude for the love that I'd poured into this plot of ground.

Though it was late and I was tired, my heart felt as full and overflowing as my basket was with food. With every Italian bean, tomato and carrot, squash and herb I plucked,  I felt a deep connection with Angelo, with my great-grandparents, with those immigrants who learned the art of  'wringing from their environment, all that it will yield" .   I smiled at the irony of remembering them while picking vegetables in the dark by the light of my smartphone. 

Much of my harvest was simple, not shiny or glamorous.  Some large patty pan squashes that a squirrel had munched, some carrots that had split in the ground, and been eaten a little by slugs.  But nothing could discourage me now.  I was seeing clearly.  I was RICH.  I had more than enough.

My husband poured me a glass of wine.  (clearly we were still ok)  I told him we'd eat eventually, but it would take awhile.  We worked together to clean up our workspace, and I took my time scrubbing, trimming and chopping our treasures. With the dirty and munched bits removed and trimmed - they looked like jewels.  Wow.   RICH, I tell you.

Now, what to do with it?  Hmmm... no dry pasta on hand, no meat, .... aaaand we'd eaten the last of the sourdough.  I spotted some Arborio rice in the back of the cabinet.  AHA - ok, these vegetables wanted to become Risotto.  

I pulled out some frozen stock I had made from saving my meat and veggie scraps, (sent more gratitude to my friend Will for teaching me how... cried a moment) - and started sauteeing garlic.

I took my time stirring the risotto, adding stock and tasting.  I sipped my wine, kissed my husband, called the girls to set the table, and stirred some more.  RICH.

We ate around 10pm that night.  The oohs and aahs from around the table abounded.   Our bellies and hearts were full.  I had fallen back into my Old World simple life, and I felt at home.  This was where I belonged.

vegetable risotto

Interestingly, it is when I CAN'T afford to just run to the store - (or take a rare break from cooking and grab Chipotle) - that I MOST appreciate this homesteading life.  Because it's in those tight times that I rely on it.  I am SO grateful for it when it is all that I have.

It's also in these times that I realize that  I'm not really living like my ancestors did.  Whereas they lived most of their lives with this reality, my moments of scarcity are few and far between.

This reminds me of what I read recently from a 21st century favorite author of mine, Brene Brown.  I believe my immigrant ancestors and Angelo would agree:

The opposite of scarcity isn't abundance.
It's enough.








A birth that began it all

In 2008 my life looked very different than it does today. 

I was about to close my retail shop that I'd had open for  3+ years, and was busy with my three young girls - with our 'surprise' baby on the way.  It was painful for me to close that chapter of my life - feeling I'd failed with my store, left with debt, but ready to focus on my home and family.

There was no compost pot in the kitchen, no grow lights in the basement, no sauerkraut on the counter or mucking boots by the back door.  We were a pretty 'normal' American family.  Then, In an unexpected turn of events - I found myself making the choice to have a home birth.

I wrote out my birth story recently for a friend.  It was fascinating for me to reflect back on how making this one unconventional decision really did open up a whole new world of possibilities and 'out of the box' ideas for me.   

When I think of what sent us on this journey into Urban Homesteading and Simple Living - I usually think of our health issues, and how we began to learn about a more holistic way of healing our bodies.

I now see that it was through the birth of Gia - (whose name means 'God is Gracious' in Italian) that this new chapter of our lives was born as well.

My home birth taught me about COURAGE & EMPOWERMENT.   I now see that it gave me the confidence later, as we chose other unconventional lifestyle choices like homeschooling, growing our own food and raising animals in an urban setting.  

Gia's birth story was recently published in the  Autumn edition of Midwifery Today magazine, so I thought I'd share it with you here:

Gia and Momma  - first look

Fourth baby birth story - Gia Rose -  

By Sarah Sailer

After having three healthy baby girls, my husband and I felt that our family was complete.

Due to a mixture of procrastination and passion, we found out that, NOPE! We were in fact, NOT done having children. Positive pregnancy test in hand, shocked and tearful... we came to grips with the fact that we would be heading into one more pregnancy and childbirth...this time, without any pregnancy insurance coverage.

Our shock and dismay switched into mild embarrassment. We endured all of the 'you DO know how this happens, right?' jokes from friends. We read the concern on family faces. Our already tight finances would be squeezed even tighter.

Acceptance, excitement and joy soon followed. I loved being pregnant. We would be a large family. We'd need a bigger car. And our children would grow up in a household of sharing, tight quarters, noise and love.

Home birth had never entered my mind as an option. After my firstborn delivery, my uterus wouldn't contract on it's own - and the hemorrhaging got scary. I passed out twice just getting out of my hospital bed. They gave me Pitocin which did the trick. This experience had convinced me that I would have been one of those mothers out on the prairie who would have bled to death after childbirth. My idea of a homebirth was stereotypical. I pictured a hairy legged woman bearing hot towels and a stick (to put in my mouth). The afterbirth making a mess of the mattress... and none of it sounded appealing.

With just three weeks left in my fourth pregnancy - we'd done the research. We were prepared to be saddled with $8k - 10k in hospital debt. I'm always obsessed with watching birth stories while pregnant, and when the documentary 'The Business of Being Born' came out on Netflix, we watched it. I saw midwives in this film who were quite normal. They were equipped with medical bags (Pitocin included). No sticks in mouths. I was educated on the reason why hospital births often went the way they did. I saw why the typical 'legs-in-the-air' pushing position was not necessarily natural, or ideal. These home births I watched on film were beautiful, not just messy. Then came the realization that perhaps we could have a beautiful experience and save some money as well, if we chose a home birth.

I had delivered all three of my girls naturally in the hospital, two with the assistance of midwives. It seemed to make sense that we consider this option. I phoned my nurse midwife whom I really loved and asked 'so, would it be possible for you to deliver my baby at home?' "No", she said. "But you should talk to my best friend and next door neighbor. She is a wonderful home birth midwife."

And so it was that just three weeks before my due date, we dove into the natural world of midwifery. I hadn't had an ultrasound at all with this pregnancy, and there was so much about those three weeks of appointments that were new and different.

When my labor started and these two midwives arrived in my home, it felt peaceful and exciting. We had candles lit and relaxing music on. The midwife would check the baby's heartbeat every little while, but she never checked how dialated I was as I was laboring. She reassured me that she could tell I was progressing well just by my breathing, and the intensity of contractions. The contrast to my other experiences was huge. During my hospital births, the regular 'checking' would always interrupt the flow of labor - as well as send me into discouragement to find out I was never as far dialated as I had hoped.

My sister in law was there in my home, taking video and supporting me. My husband massaged my back and let me lean on him while I labored. Being able to rock and sway, move from room to room or sit and rest in my own environment was wonderful. When I felt the urge to push while sitting on the toilet, they gently moved me to my knees in the bedroom (just steps away). I kneeled and leaned on the baby cradle for support. I was just minutes away from delivering our baby - and the intensity at this stage meant that I didn't want to move far. During a previous hospital birth, I recall being told 'LAY DOWN!' at this stage, and it was always awful to have to lay on my back after being so close to delivery in a vertical position.

A few intense moments later, gravity as my helper, kneeling in our bedroom, Gia Rose was born. My loud moans turned to tears, and deep relief flooded me. Feeling supported and cared for by my midwives, having the comfort of my home and family around me - I was full of joy to see my healthy, crying baby girl.

Being at home after the birth was new and wonderful, too. All of the measuring and checking of baby happened right in front of me, on my own bed. The sweet, stork-like scale held by hand above the bed, the waiting to cut the cord, letting my baby nurse on my chest before the final severing of that tie that physically connected us... all of this made me feel like I was one of those women on the prairie, but for all the best reasons.

Soon after this, her sisters came in to meet her, and then Gia and I took a bath together. What a beautiful and different experience this was! Rather than a nurse washing off my child in another part of the room, I bathed her with me. My midwife had made an herbal bath soak which would aid in my body's healing as well. It was precious and beautiful to cradle my tiny newborn's head in the water and watch her little legs float right back into her fetal position, the warm water calming her cries immediately. We felt like we were watching what she looked like just hours before, in my womb.

first bath

That first night, sleeping un-interrupted by nurses or hospital sounds, with my husband in our own bed - was peaceful, just as it should be. My midwife would come back to check in on us the next day.

She would find us doing well, but we were not the same. We had just experienced something that had opened a door into a whole beautiful world of simple & natural living. Though we did not know it, our surprise baby had started us on a slow journey of simplifying our life, one step at a time.

Gia's birth family.jpg

Editor's Note: Sarah's article is an excerpt from the upcoming book by Midwifery Today's managing editor: "The small guide to a Happy Birth" by Nancy Halseide.

Peeling Chicken Feet - a homesteading adventure story

I am a first generation homesteader. Well, in a way.  The skills I am learning are not new skills.  This knowledge I am soaking up about learning to grow vegetables, save seed, preserve my harvest - and raise animals for meat - are all skills my grandparents and great-grandparents definitely had.

They knew the basics of how to store root vegetables in a cellar, of how to make their own bread, and probably ... to peel chicken feet.  

But me?  Well, let me tell you my story.


We've been raising chickens since our firstborn was tiny.  Both  my husband and I had chickens growing up, so raising them for eggs was natural.  But neither of us had much chicken farming experience beyond egg production.

Once we made the decision to try and grow as much food as possible - we began to see the chickens as more than a hobby.  We wanted them to be put to use in every way.  As we learned more about soil health and composting, they became even more crucial to our homesteading success.  

Learning how to butcher our own chickens was another way to make sure we were valuing these animals.  You can read more about that process HERE.

So that is where we were last year.  We had spent a couple of years learning to butcher, process and prepare our own chicken and rabbit which we had raised.  It felt good knowing we weren't wasting anything. 

But were we?

We are big believers in home made bone broth.  We use our vegetable scraps and any leftover bones regularly.  (Here's a simple way to do it) One of the reasons bone broth is so beneficial, is because of the vitamins, minerals and gelatin that releases from the bones.  They are extremely healing to the immune system. (Read more details HERE.)

One secret to a really nutritious bone broth, I'd read, was CHICKEN FEET.

Chicken FEET?  Really?

Now .. it only takes a little observation to realize that chicken feet are... really......


They are the hen's best tool to scratch, dig and fling all sorts of things around in the compost pile.  And no matter how clean you keep your coop - those claws are going to be downright dirty.

Now, not having a relative to pass down this knowledge to me - I was truly mystified. How ON EARTH would I be able to clean those feet well enough to get them anywhere near our food? After burying many feet into the compost pile along with the feathers and innards (from butchering)  ... I finally got the courage up to save some for the pot.   The girls used a brush and we scrubbed them outside as best we could.

Once I got them into the kitchen sink, though - the problem became apparent.  These feet have scales, and the scales get dirt and junk under them - kinda like fingernails. (are you gagging yet?)  No matter how much I scrubbed, I coudn't get them clean enough.   

I'd seen chicken feet for sale in Asian markets and even at Natural Food meat counters before - but they didn't look like these.  They were clean.  What was I missing?

I picked up the phone and called my friend Will.   I'm grateful to have a few friends with some of this rare homesteading knowledge to share.  He tried not to chuckle while I told him I was nearly gagging trying to get these feet clean. What should I do?

BOIL THEM for a few minutes.  He said.  And the outer layer of the feet will peel off like a glove. 

 Well I wouldn't have thought of that.

We did as he said, and sure enough - the outer scaley skin layer peeled off - very reptile-like.  WEIRD.  What came next, Will forgot to mention.  The chicken's toenail popped off revealing a totally clean, new one underneath.   WHAT?!  

So here I am at my kitchen sink doing this bizarre thing  - calling for the girls to come look.  First it was 'EEW!' but it then turned to 'LET ME TRY!'.  The peeling and popping off toenails was strangely fun.  And true enough - we had some beautifully, without-a-doubt CLEAN chicken feet at the end of it:

I had to take a quick video.  Here we are peeling chicken feet for the first time - still in our GROSSED OUT/SHOCKED state:

Learning this new skill somehow warms my heart.  It makes me feel connected to the generations that went before me.  Sadly, we have about a 100 year knowledge gap in our society.  Since the rise of convenience foods, grocery stores, mass produced meat and factory farms, we have all but lost much of this important food knowledge.

 We did add them to our next batch of soup stock.  Gia helped me:

chicken feet in soup stock

In case you were wondering, the feet did not add any new or different flavor to our stock.  It tasted as delicious as always.

I'm wondering if this bizarre sight will become a bit more normal to us with time.  Not sure, really.

What I am sure of though, is that little by little - the homesteading skills and knowledge that generations past took for granted - are becoming important to many of us again.

Yep, it's worth it...

A winter storm blew in this week. 

Our cozy homestead is sitting quietly under 10 inches of Colorado snow.  The fire is blazing as I sit here typing by the fire.  And my heart is full to bursting.

wood fired stove, alternative energy source

I have ample reason to be joyful.  A quiet house full of the ones I love ...  everyone asleep but me.  I just put my plant babies to bed for the night too.  I sat and stared a bit, looking admiringly at the first real sets of leaves that distinguish the Tuscan Kale from the Savoy Cabbage. Broccoli, Cauliflower and Collards.  

These cold weather crops are the first seeds that I plant each year, and they carry with them the hope that my garden will not always be asleep under a blanket of snow.  These tiny winter promises of future food abundance keep me sane as the last few months of cold weather drag on.  Our storage vegetables were sparse due to the early deep freeze last fall,  so starting fresh for next year's crop is exciting.

seed starts in the basement under grow lights, starting seeds

This Spring... I have more than just my seedlings in the basement to celebrate and keep me sane.  This is the first year I have a crop of winter greens that actually survived the winter.  It's been a few years in the making.

So this is why my heart is so full tonight.  It's hard to describe the thrill I felt  as the snow was falling this afternoon, I crunched out into the frozen side yard, crawled inside our simple hoop house and harvested this gorgeous basket of color:  

winter greens under our high tunnel, winter gardening, cold hardy greens

 Perhaps it's the drab landscape that my eyes are used to this time of year that makes this about the MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I'VE EVER SEEN.  

Or perhaps it's the fact that I thought all of my efforts of planting the seeds this fall was wasted when the deep freeze hit and everything seemed lost.  Shortly after the heartbreak I could be heard saying things like "I've decided I don't want a winter garden! I need a rest!  Who needs to be worried about plants under cover all winter.  It's just too much and I'm not sure it's worth it!"

It's true. I was SO hopeful to have a bounty of winter greens - so amazed at the beauty of the tiny seedlings when they first got their start in the fall... and planning on having a small crop to sell or trade with neighbors.  OUCH - it hurt to think they were all gone. 

Winter greens in October - off to a good start (before the deep freeze in November)

Winter greens in October - off to a good start (before the deep freeze in November)

Though my multi-colored carpet of greens isn't as lush and full as I had hoped (we did lose about 2/3 of the total we planted) - what DID survive thrills me.  1/3 of that beautiful driveway garden is STILL a lot of greens!!!  I've planted new seedlings in the bare spots - and being inside that little dome covered in snow (when everything else outside is quiet and dormant) feels magical.

These long winter days when my little house full of girls is messy, chaotic and loud - I can escape to my hoop full of greens and pick... eat... and think.   It won't be long now until we are all outside, working, sweating and playing... but for now - this is good.  

kale, beets and spinach, cold hardy greens in hoop house

I can't help myself as I'm harvesting for a salad or omelette... for every four or five leaves picked - two get shoved into my mouth.  The spicy bite of Arugula and Tatsoi mustard, my beloved Italian Kale, a few leaves of smooth spinach, and the wonderful texture of Asian Mizuna.  YUM.

The closeness to the soil, these leaves spending only a split second in my hand and then being eaten so fresh - seem to carry with them superpowers that I can almost feel as I eat them. 

In our climate - the first home grown and harvested salad would not normally arrive on our table until late April or early May.  To be picking a beautiful salad in February on a day with a high of 22 degrees ... still kinda blows my mind.  

A few years ago, I'd read about growing cold hardy crops under cover.   We'd experimented with cold frames, tried keeping things alive in our greenhouse but had never succeeded at keeping things alive through the winter.  I got more determined last year (after reading Eliot Coleman's book 'The Winter Harvest Handbook') and purchased Remay (cloth frost blanket) and used it inside of a hoop house to cover things, but lost most of it by January.  

We finally got the help we needed after meeting some local friends who were operating a small CSA in a nearby town.  I reached out to her via Facebook - asking for a tour of her farm.  Hannah and Simon have become dear friends.  Besides nominating us for Mother Earth News' Homesteader of the Year  - (that was all Hannah's doing...) they have generously shared with us their knowledge, experience and friendship.

Some of the things we were doing wrong in our previous attempts at winter gardening were:  

  • trying to keep mature crops alive too long vs. planting new ones (at the end of the season, some were weak with aphids and were just done)
  • not planting the winter seedlings early enough in the fall to develop a good enough root system to withstand the cold temps
  • not using the correct greenhouse plastic on the outside of the hoop
  • not planting on the southern exposure side of the house with optimal winter sun
  • not building the hoops out of metal - we tried pvc which collapsed under the weight of heavy snow

Even this year with a partial successful harvest - we have learned more about how we can improve.  There will be changes for next year - a tighter setup and tweaks here and there.  I'm filled to the brim right now with optimism and excitement.  The success and failure of this past year (like every year prior) has given me more resolve, more inspiration, and more convicing that yep,  it's all worth it.  

harvesting greens in the snow, growing food in winter, colorado

Embracing Heartbreak

This November, we returned to California for my grandmother's memorial.  The temps in Colorado dropped drastically while we were away.  Though the weatherman had predicted temps in the 40s and 50s for the week, an 'Arictic Freeze' swooped south from Alaska.  The weather in Colorado went from 60 degrees and sunny,  to 10 below zero.  

A 70 degree drop in the space of 24 hours.

Though our neighbors and friends who were on duty to help feed animals and vent greenhouses did a GREAT job caring for the place, there are things that I might have done (and wouldn't ask them to attempt) if I'd been home to think about saving things.

While I was in California with family enjoying 70 degree weather in November... 

This was the reality back on the homestead:

A typical snow in November wouldn't have done any damage to the cold weather crops we had out in the garden still... cabbage, kale, collards & peas can usually tolerate a snow - and temps even down into the 20's.  But 10 below zero?  


If I'd have only been home I could have picked cabbage, covered kale, harvested a TON of veg and frozen or dehydrated more.

But I wasn't home.  (And I'm truly grateful to have been with family for such an important time.)  But it was VERY hard to return home to this harsh, wintery reality.

After our long road trip, I ventured into the garden in the dark. I picked one of our TWENTY-TWO cabbages that were buried in the snow - hopeful that I might be able to sautee it with enough garlic and olive oil to salvage it's flavor.  Sadly, it was frozen solid - all the way through.  Even after a sautee - it was a mouthful of watery mush.  This is why greens and vegetables are typically blanched before freezing.  The cell structure is damaged by freezing when the vegetables are in raw form. 

What about fermenting?  I had hoped to store these cabbages in the cellar, and then turn many of them into sauerkraut for winter storage.  But fermenting, too requires that you begin with fresh, undamaged vegetables.  Nope.  None of these TWENTY-TWO cabbages would become sauerkraut.

IF only I'd known that these TWENTY-TWO beautiful cabbages should have been picked and stored before the trip!  Did I mention there were TWENTY-TWO of them??

Those first couple of days I picked armfuls of frozen kale - rinsing them off and sauteeing them too.  Because they didn't hold as much water - these were a bit more tasty when crisped up in the pan.  The flavor was more sulfury, instead of the typical fresh and sweet flavor that the cold weather usually adds.

I whizzed batches of this kale into some kale pesto.  Since this method requires a quick blanch and puree.  This, too - was ok - but not like it could have been if I'd picked it before the hard freeze. 

The 'IF ONLY' kept creeping in.   We didn't lose any animals in the weather - and for that I was grateful.  But the loss of these plants was just as much of a heartbreak to me.  

I start my cold weather seedlings in my basement in late January, or early February.  This means, these twenty-two cabbages, rows of kale and collards I lost had been under my care for more than 10 months of the year.  Watering, transplanting, moving to greenhouse, hardening them off, mulching them, rinsing off aphids,  picking off slugs.  

In actuality, I've probably invested more work into them - than the animals that we raise for meat.  These plants would have provided us with nutrient-dense greens for at least a couple more months or longer - if I had been able to pick, store or cover them.

After the snow melted, the unpicked brassicas began to stink.  The odor of rotting cabbage began to waft toward the front door.  It was time to face facts. I needed to feed them to the animals.  This, at least brought some solace.  The rabbits and chickens were able to draw some nutrients from these dear plant babies of mine.

If I WAS relying completely on our own hard work to provide food for our family (like many do in other parts of the world - and have in the past) - the heartbreak would go much deeper.  

The reality of losing so much food would not cause mere heartbreak - it would likely feel more like panic. 

The effect on the health of a family - struggling through a hard, long winter without the necessary vitamins and minerals that vegetables supply (not to mention flavor) would be terrible.

I DON'T enjoy buying vegetables from someone else after I've grown my own all year. Even supporting a small, local organic grocery store is tough for me.  (It's been hard on the budget already this month! )

But I am once again thoughtful of my ancestors who knew how to grow food.  Thoughtful of the small, sustainable farms who make their living by working with the soil and what nature offers.  Thoughtful of the years that it takes to really absorb the knowledge, experience and skill needed to survive.  

This is not something I should expect to have mastered after only 4 years of homesteading.

This is a lifelong, hard-earned skill.

I am learning through these mistakes.  SO VERY MUCH.

It's December.  The garden beds are now covered in heavy mulch.  We have some frozen, blanched collards in the freezer, some dehydrated greens, frozen tomatoes, some canned tomatoes, our rabbit & chicken meat in the freezer - and a good supply of winter squash in the basement.  Our winter hoop house greens are still alive - (at least half of them are) and we have lots of potted herbs in our sunroom.   I choose to be thankful for that.


I choose to remind myself that my children will go into adulthood with more experience and wisdom about raising food, homesteading & sustainability than I did.  

That is enough to balance out the winter hearbreak for now.