2018 Sailer Family Haiti Adventure

The trip we took this month was quite a dream come true. 


As a young person, I had the opportunity to travel and experience other cultures. Those experiences in Mexico, the Philippines, Korea and Indonesia made an impact on me.  The up-close experience of being the outsider in a foreign land, feeling the shock to the senses of new sights, smells and environment all leave a person changed.  During my own travel journeys, I was caught up in the tension between personal discomfort and excited awe over the beauty of the people and place I was in.  Would my own children feel this way?

From the time my children were born, I had hoped to find out.  Part of my decision to homeschool in those early years was for the freedom to travel.  "Perhaps we could even spend part of every year in another country!"  I dreamed.  I desperately wanted them to know that the 'American way' of life is not the way the rest of the world lives.  I wanted them to be touched by the injustice of poverty, to be changed by the beauty of simple living and to gain a desire to make a difference through giving of themselves.

The reality of my life journey turned out differently than I had planned... as it so often does.   But the financial limitations that kept us from becoming world travelers, also happened to lead me right into my passion.  Becoming an Urban Homesteader was not on my mind when I dug up the front lawn in 2011.  We had struggled with health issues and couldn't afford expensive organic produce in the stores.  I was hoping to make an impact on our health and our budget.  I ended up discovering so much more than that.

Being asked to come help my cousin with their garden project in 2013, right as Second Mile Haiti was about to open their doors for the first time, was a thrill.  I have served on SMH's board of directors since then, and have watched this organization save and change lives, doing my best to support their efforts in sustainability from afar.  It has been a joy to share my passion for sustainable food - a gift born out of my own struggle,  with others. 

As far as my dreams of family travel were concerned, not much had changed this past year, in terms of making it a reality.   Two out of my four girls were now in full time school, limiting our freedom to go whenever we wanted.  I had resigned myself to reading as many books about other cultures with our family as possible, taking tours of Pakistan through Malala's eyes, watching eye opening Documentaries and sharing up to date current events and issues in the news.  Though I now had a personal connection to Haiti,  calculating the cost to take all of us down there always left me low.  I'd hear the ugly voice of scarcity whispering "Don't even let yourself dream it. You can't afford it, and it will never happen!"  

You'd think by now I would have learned to ignore the nagging voice of scarcity.  Tending the soil and learning how to grow food has taught me again and again that although I often see limitations, ABUNDANCE is the true nature of this beautiful universe.  I didn't realize when I named my local CSA Plenty Heirloom Farms, that I was being given a daily mantra,  a reminder that there is more than enough waiting for me in each moment - there is plenty today.  And plenty just around the corner.  The earth shouts it to me every season that I get to interact with plants and animals, seed and soil.  Generosity overflows.

Though we didn't see a way to raise the funds on our own to take this trip, we did know that our desire to take our family to Haiti hadn't ceased.  Eventually, we got the courage to put scarcity in the back seat, and trust that plenty would be provided when the time was right.

We organized a backyard gathering, doing what we loved - hosting a meal cooked from our wood fired oven, in the hopes of raising some money to get started.  

Just as I'm surprised by the abundance of new perennial seedlings that pop up in my yard each spring, the miracle of what is hidden within one tiny seed, or the prolific earthworms reproducing under my leaf pile... our community blew us away by their generosity. In ways that I couldn't have imagined - our community jumped in to help.  

Many of you were those who found joy in helping us go.  

Thank you!! 

I hope you enjoy these pictures of our trip, and that you share in our excitement about the work being done in Haiti.  These beautiful people deserve the chance to live healthy lives and raise their families well. It is a privilege to partner with my cousins as they work so hard to change lives every day.  It was a joy to share our time with them!



_  Sailers in Haiti 2018 _

Our flight left Denver at midnight, arrived in Florida at 6am. After a layover, we flew out of Florida at noon and arrived in Haiti at 2pm.


After landing around 2, we made it to the house, unpacked and took a look around.  We had quite a bit of luggage with us, since we'd packed some internet routers, medical supplies, tools for cement mixing and welding, and even flour  and sourdough starter! We met the dogs (Gia's favorite!) and settled in for an early dinner made by Amy, and went to bed under mosquito nets.  We were so happy to finally be there.

After a good night's sleep, we got up early Friday morning and drove out to the land. It's about a 15 minute drive on a bumpy road, through a few villages to get to Second Mile's land. Just 1/4 mile down the road is the new Strong Start Maternity Center property. Amy and Jenn gave us the tour.  I had a blast saying hello to old friends from my first trip at Second Mile, and was thrilled to see the progress on the gardens, the new yogurt building, the growth with all of the new animals, and get an idea of where we would be building the griddles.  Jenn showed Jeremiah the carpentry projects she needed him to accomplish at Strong Start. 

After the tour, we jumped right in.  The girls got started painting rooms at Strong Start, and we started laying out the griddle on the pad that they had poured. We were proud of the girls, they worked hard and got a lot done!

It took us a while to figure out how to build this griddle, since we had to use the materials we could find down there. We were thrilled to have found a 1/2" thick steel plate which was a great size.  We didn't have to cut it, but did need to figure out how to heat this one, since it was 35" x 43" - quite a bit larger than ours at home.  We decided to create a dual fire, dual chamber system - with the goal of heating the entire plate effectively. The tricky part was figuring out how to seal the gap where the plate meets the brick/cement.  As metal expands when it's heated, we knew we'd need some way to insulate it.  We couldn't get fiberglass insulation down there, so we decided to set the metal lip into a bed of sand.  We created a lip all the way around the edge to hold the sand.  We were nervous that when we lit one fire on one side, it might draft out of the other firebox. There was no way to know for sure if it would work... we had to try!

On Sunday, we took a day off and Amy drove us up and over the mountain to an amazing beach called Labadee - where we got on a small boat and motored to a beautiful cove called Paradee.  It was a paradise for sure!  The water color was amazing.  Jeremiah couldn't wait, and decided to jump in and swim to shore once we got close.

Once there, all of the spear fisherman had their fresh catch ready for us to choose from.  Amy chose which items we wanted, and then they took them off to cook them up for lunch. 

On the way home from the beach, we stopped in town and went to buy some things at the market. The pictures don't really show what this experience is like. It was overwhelming to the senses, even though a Sunday is very quiet, with maybe just a fraction of the people selling.  I'm glad they got to see this up close. It was so great to have Amy as our guide.  This woman amazes me.  Both her and Jenn made us feel safe and comfortable everywhere we went. We had some laundry to do as well, so we picked up a bar of soap at the market and got to work at home.

After our relaxing beach day of fun, I was eager to get back to the land and get our griddle finished!  Nervous about whether or not our experimental design would work, we got right to work.  We had a fire lit by lunch time, and the griddle was heating up! We didn't have anything to cook on it, but we saw where the smoke leaks were and tweaked our design a bit.  We could tell we needed to make our chimneys taller. It was an exciting moment to light the first fire!  Jeremiah started in on building shelves and benches with Jos, and the girls got back to painting.

Tuesday was very full.  In the morning, the girls and I got to take a tour with Amy of Second Mile while the babies were getting care in the nurses station.  Amy explained more about how they determine whether a child has severe malnutrition. She introduced us to several moms, holding their babies.  It is shocking to see 3 year old children - who look like they are only a year old, in their mother's arms because they are too weak to walk. It was a beautiful thing to realize that these same smiling babies might not have a chance for survival without this opportunity that Second Mile is providing them.

Part of Second Mile's program is that these children are given sachets of mamba - a nutrient enriched peanut butter which helps them to gain weight and get strong again.  The mothers who are a part of the program learn new information daily about how to better care for their children. This knowledge goes far beyond just physical care.  They are educated and supported in literacy, business training, as well as learning about how to grow food.

After our time with the moms and babies, I took some dough to the newly finished griddle at Strong Start to test out a batch of sourdough muffins.  We made a few egg sandwiches with them and decided it was going to work great! 

Why sourdough, you ask? The process of making sourdough requires a long, slow rise.  During this process, the starter consumes the sugars in the flour and makes the bread easier to digest.  The goal with these sandwiches, is to provide a nutrient dense and affordable meal to the pregnant moms at the maternity center.  These sourdough muffins will also be made into meals at Second Mile for all the moms, babies and staff, once a week. 

Now that we knew the first griddle was a success, it was time to start the second griddle - this one at Second Mile.  I went to work there with Joseph, Joslen and Wesely, while Jeremiah stayed at Strong Start and worked on building more benches. 

Wednesday morning we went exploring. Sitting atop the highest nearby mountain is the Citadelle. This historical wonder is a UNESCO world heritage site.  It is one of the largest fortresses in the Americas, built over 14 years, completed in 1804 by the leader of the Haitian slave rebellion.  Haiti was the first slave population to overthrow a colonial power.  The Citadelle is about 5 miles up the mountain from the town of Milot below.  Once we drove up to the top, we hiked another mile straight up. We were simply amazed by the history and beauty of this place!

The rest of the afternoon I jumped back in on the griddle with the guys while Jeremiah worked on more benches at Strong Start.  Amy and I stopped into the market for some flour so that we could test out the sourdough using locally sourced ingredients. Jenn and Amy treated us to dinner out in town, and I went home to mix up some dough with the Haitian ingredients.

Thursday we spent a lot of time going back and forth between Strong Start and Second Mile. I tested out the new dough mixture from the flour we bought,  We finished the second griddle at Second Mile and the girls helped Amy with organizing inventory supplies at the maternity center.  We varnished shelves, stained benches and Jeremiah kept building!  The countdown was close to the Maternity center being able to open.  They were getting things ready for the midwives to come for training.

Thursday night it POURED rain. The roads were flooded in many places and mud was everywhere. It took a long time to get to the land on Friday morning, but once there, Jeremiah finished up his last day of carpentry projects. Jenn arranged for a translator to be with me all day so that I could teach Blaise (SMH yogurt technician) how to make the sourdough muffins.  Blaise was so focused and picked it right up.    We also spent time with Wesley in the gardens, hearing an update on what they have growing and talked about how things could be improved. We walked barefoot to Strong Start to have lunch since the roads were too muddy to drive on.  I was amazed at how the cooks made do with the muddy ground, cooking like they did each day. We cooked up egg sandwiches on the griddle with sauteed onions and tomato for some of the staff in the evening.  It was a hit!   It was our last day being out at the land, so we had to say our goodbyes to all of the employees which was really hard.

Our last day in Haiti we spent at Cormier beach. We enjoyed the gorgeous drive over the mountain again, and had a relaxing day seeing more of Haiti's beauty. 

Leaving for the airport was bittersweet.  We had such an incredible 10 days.  Thank you to everyone who helped get us there!

Since we've been home, Blaise has already begun making sourdough muffins successfully, and they've fed the entire staff and moms and kids egg sandwiches.  My heart is bursting!!




Simple, Stunning Sourdough - easy enough for kids, amazing result.

I have a friend named Will.  I've written about him before.  He is one of my dearest foodie friends. Some of my earliest memories of our friendship are when he would bring me a paper-wrapped parcel of warm sourdough goodness.  On my front porch, he'd explain that he just had to share a chunk of his latest freshly baked bread. ...olive and garlic... cheese and herb... sun dried tomato...

Each time we tasted it our eyes would roll back into our heads.  That wonderful, crusty exterior. The warm, flavorful inside.   So I decided I had to learn.  He was kind and shared some of his sourdough starter with me (which he'd practically started himself and kept alive for 15 years!)

Unfortunately, I am not a natural baker.  I am too spontaneous,over confident and always think I can change and substitute. Well... with the sourdough recipe he gave me, I thought I'd try it without the bread flour since I didn't have any (can't make that big of difference, right?) and I didn't have a cast iron pot (so I figured I'd just use my stainless steel pot with a lid - same thing, I guessed).  Did I let it rise for the correct time?  I don't know. Seemed close enough...

It turned out like a big, dense flat brick.  Totally inedible.

To my shame, I will admit that I left my sourdough starter in the fridge after that for months, untended.  I kind of gave up.

An unfailing friend, Will kept bringing us tastes of his heavenly loaves.  Eventually, I got the courage to ask him to teach me again.  THIS TIME - I would patiently listen and do it RIGHT.   Sadly, since I'd left the starter in the fridge for probably 6-8 months without feeding it - Will had to bring me a new batch.

I promised to be a better starter-keeper from then on.

I bought myself a simple cast iron dutch oven and was thrilled to get started.  After that first loaf turned out amazing, I was hooked.


The rest is Sailer family history...

We bake a loaf (or some kind of sourdough product) at least every other day - sometimes every day.    Garlic and rosemary loaves, cranberry apple cinnamon loaves, olive and scallion loaves, blueberry vanilla loaves, lemon zest and caper loaves ... new creations emerge every week.

There are several things that make this bread incredible.

  1. It really is easy.  I know - I made it sound like it was complicated at first... but if you knew me - how easily distracted I am... you'd understand.  Now that I'm in a rhythm, I can do it with my eyes closed.  My kids bake it without my  help now.
  2. It's the best kind of bread you can eat.  Health-wise - sourdough is leaps and bounds above other breads.  Because the wheat (or other grain) has fermented overnight with the aid of the cultured starter - the gluten and phytic acid in the grain has already begun to break down, making it easier to digest.   In fact, another reason I was so motivated to try again - was because Emma (after having MRSA and taking some terrible antibiotics- before we knew any better) began to get stomach aches when she ate wheat.   I learned that sourdough is easier to digest - and it is.  She could eat the sourdough with no problems.
  3. It's affordable.  Since I order my wheat and bread flour through a local co-op, my price for each loaf is literally pennies on the dollar.  If you purchase organic flour at the grocery store and make it yourself, the price comes out to about 65 cents per loaf!  It costs me time (which I love to generously spend on food) and saves me money.
  4. It's stinkin' beautiful.  I'm talking farmer's market beautiful.  No... better.  Europe beautiful.  Did I mention to you that my friend Will learned how to bake while he was traveling through Greece?  He lived there for awhile and learned from a bunch of cranky Greek men - sweating over an open bread oven.  Are you ready to try this recipe yet?? Here's a photo to get you excited.

Really, even if you're a terrible baker, you can bake THIS at home:

I am going to give you a quick tutorial on how to bake this bread - but first, you will need a 4-6 quart cast iron pot with a lid (don't get one with enamel coating, unless it's safe up to 500 degrees).  Will's pot was actually made of soap stone - but a cast iron pot works beautifully, since it holds in the heat close to the loaf and can get VERY hot..

Next you need to find some sourdough starter.  Ask around in your local area.  Anyone who bakes sourdough will have some that they can feed and share with you.  You can order online (I've seen some dried starter for sale through www.culturesforhealth.com) or better yet - make your own!  Here is a link for instructions.  Anyone who lives in my local area (Northern Colorado) is welcome to contact me about getting some.

Once you have your pot and a source for sourdough starter - you can get started with these simple ingredients:

  • Bread flour
  • Whole wheat flour (or other - I use Kamut grain, spelt or other ancient grains work)
  • Salt
  • Filtered water

You'll need a sturdy spatula and I also recommend a pastry/dough scraper.  This helps out a lot if you end up with a sticky and hard to handle loaf.

Let's begin.

I've adapted Will's original recipe to feed our family of 6, but you can make your loaf smaller if you like, by reducing the amounts (don't be scared, I do this all the time).


In a large mixing bowl, combine:

2.5 cups organic bread flour

2.5 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground is best)

1 cup sourdough starter

2 cups filtered water

1/4 cup whole flaxseed (optional)

2 tsp. salt

Mix these ingredients until well combined.  I usually have to add a bit more water to get the consistency right - probably because I add in the whole flaxseed, which absorbs moisture.  I like to add flax to every loaf - it's hardly noticeable, and even though the flour is fermented, I still rarely use white flour at home.  The girls know why... "it sticks like glue to your gut!"... we say around here.  I think it's important to keep even that easier to digest flour moving through ya.


Cover your bowl with a tea towel and plate on top.  This method makes it easy when you're ready to shape your loaf.

Before putting everything away - (this is very important!) - you MUST feed your starter. You see, your starter is alive - it needs attention.  You don't have to be exact here, but I usually feed mine almost as much as I just took out.  So - I'll give it just under a cup of flour.  Then add in filtered water (not too much - just enough to bring it back to the same consistency that it was).  Stir well, and cover loosely.  Cultured foods do best kept in a dark place.  I keep mine in a cupboard while I'm using it regularly. If it's out at room temperature - it needs to be fed no less than every other day.  If you're not sure you can remember or want to bake that often - just keep it in the fridge.  Then, when you want to use it - take it out, feed it and it will be ready to use the next day.   As long as you take your starter out of the fridge once a month to feed it (let it bubble up for a day) it will stay alive!

Okay.  Back to the loaf we are baking.

Let your loaf sit out and ferment at room temperature for 12-14 hours, undisturbed.

*You'll notice that the bread will rise quicker in the warmer months, and it will take longer when your kitchen is a bit cooler.  The dough will rise in the bowl, and then deflate again if it has been allowed to ferment for too long.  Watch your dough.  It will work best when it's on it's way up... if it' has deflated (you'll see lots of bubbles that have burst and it will be very wet) you've waited too long.  When this happens, I add more bread flour and let it ferment again.  The dough at this point tastes more sour, but it can be made into English Muffins or flatbread.

To keep it simple - I've figured out that as long as I bake my sourdough in the evening - I'll be able to bake it the next morning or afternoon.    


Dump your dough out onto a floured board or countertop, keeping it together as best you can.


Next, pull the dough and fold it halfway over on one side, then the other (think, east then west).  Then, pull and fold north, then south.


This loaf wasn't too sticky, so I just used my hands.  Sometimes you'll have better luck with the dough scraper.

Next, flip the loaf over so that the seams are on the bottom.  Then tuck and turn as you gently shape it into a loaf.


Set your tea towel onto the plate, and dust it generously with flour. Lift your loaf onto the tea towel and sprinkle the loaf on top with more flour.  Gently fold the towel over the loaf (not tight - it will expand a bit and you don't want it to stick).


Let your loaf proof for another 45 minutes.  Preheat your oven to 500 degrees - about halfway through this rest period.  Make sure your dutch oven (with the lid) is preheating inside the oven.



Now that the oven and pot are preheated to 500 degrees, your loaf has been resting for 45 minutes, you are ready to bake!  Gently fold back the tea towel and slide your hand in between the plate and the towel, to remove the loaf.  I do this over the sink so that some of the dusting flour doesn't go all over the floor - but it still usually makes a bit of a mess.

Carefully open the oven with your other hand and remove the lid to the (very hot) dutch oven.  Flip the loaf upside down into the pot (the seams will now be on top) and cover it with the lid.


Bake, covered for 25 minutes.

Next, remove the lid, and bake uncovered another 15 minutes until nice and brown.  Will says always bake it until it's nice and brown (for a european-style thick crust) - he's right.  Don't chicken out and remove it too soon.

You may have to experiment with the length of baking time.  I am baking in high altitude (though I've baked it the exact same way in Arizona and it was perfect).  If you are at a lower elevation, perhaps try to bake yours for 20 minutes covered, and another 10 uncovered.  Also, adjust the time if you make a smaller loaf.   My sister tried hers on convection bake the first time (in Texas) and it burnt and stuck to the pan.  Don't bake it on a convection setting.  Also, be sure to season your dutch oven before baking (even if it says it's pre-seasoned).


It looks amazing!  But there's one LAST step.... it's probably the hardest:


I know, I know.  The aromas are wafting.  Everyone is excited.  The loaf looks beautiful.   The soup is ready.  But wait.  The steam is still cooking those moist inner layers, and the loaf will still be warm after you wait 15 minutes.  If you cut in too soon, the middle will be too soft.

Once you get the process down, you can start adding in herbs, garlic, sweet and tart things... the possibilities are endless.  Just remember - if you add dried things or seeds - that will absorb moisture - adjust the water by adding a bit more.  If you add in frozen berries or fresh apples, that will release moisture - so add a bit less.  Easy peasy.

You can start with using just the bread flour, too - it will yield an amazing, airy texture, though you'll miss the nuttiness of the whole wheat:


I like using half whole wheat for the flavor and nutrition benefit.  As long as you use at least half bread flour, you'll get nice rise.



I have a video for you.

It's adorable - because my daughters are teaching and showing you how to bake sourdough. It's not the best because their Mom took the video and edited it herself.  It's small and not super clear because I took it on my phone - but I still thought you'd enjoy seeing it done in person.

I hope you enjoy trying this wonderful bread.  I am not exaggerating when I say that it's probably my MOST favorite thing I've EVER learned to cook in the kitchen.  SO rewarding and lovely to look at.  Please let me know if you try it!