How Much Do I Need to Plant to Feed My Family?

how much do i need to plant
I was at a class at my Local Cooperative Extension Agency (if you don’t utilize your local cooperative extension agency you are missing out) and the agent started talking about estimated yields for vegetable plantings. My ears perked up because I always grapple with this every season… How much do I need to plant to feed my family? How many seeds/plants do I need to plant if I want to feed my family fresh produce during the growing season AND preserve enough to last the rest of the year.

The chart below gives you a good idea of how much of each plant/seed you will need per person. This chart is based on amount suggested per person based on fresh use. If you plan on canning, freezing or preserving you will need to plant more! I usually multiply the suggested amount by 5. For example the chart below suggests that you plant 3-5 tomato plants per person for fresh use. We have 4 people in our family. That would be a total of 20 plants per person for fresh use. Because we LOVE having canned tomatoes all year long – I plant 100 plants. Because we can the tomatoes – we plant a determinate variety of tomato also known as bush tomatoes. A determinate variety of tomato is going to be ready to harvest all at one time. This makes sense if you want to can/preserve large amounts of tomatoes. If you want to have tomatoes available all season long you would plant an indeterminate variety. An indeterminate variety also known as vining tomatoes will produce fruit until it is killed by the frost. Vining types of tomatoes are perfect if you want to be sure to have fresh tomatoes all season long. Or you could be like us and plant both varieties!

Seeds or plant per 100-ft. row is the recommended amount or number to use for proper spacing and growth.

Estimated yield per 100-ft. row is based on optimum growth.

Some of the things you must do to ensure good yields:

  • Maintain fertility
  • Provide adequate moisture
  • Use mulches
  • Control pests (weeds, insects, and diseases)
  • Use recommended varieties for your region (another good reason to visit your local extension office, they will know what are the best varieties to plant).

Estimated yields for vegetable planting

Download PDF of Estimated Yields for Vegetable Plantings.

What are you planting this year?

GMO,Organic,Sustainable…What Does it All Mean?

Food Information Definitions

We all know that we should seek sustainable foods. They have better flavor, they are better for the environment, support local growers and they provide better nutrition for our families. But with all of the food labels, how do we even know what we are getting? Why is there such a fuss about GMO’s. What is Organic anyway? Let’s examine some of these food labels in more detail…

Organic

Organic products have production and labeling requirements. According to the USDA if a product is labeled organic it must be 1.) produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, Synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge. 2.) Produced per the National list of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. 3.) Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program – authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.

“Certified Organic” is a term specifically defined by the USDA. Certified organic means the item has been grown according to strict uniform standards that are verified by independent state or private organizations.

“100% Organic” Foods bearing this label mean that all ingredients in the product must be certified organic.

“Organic” Foods bearing this label mean that 95% of the ingredients in the product are certified organic.

“Contains Organic Ingredients” Foods bearing this label mean that 70% of the ingredients in the product must be certified organic.

Some Organic Myths:

  • Organic = Pesticide Free
  • You don’t have to wash organic produce
  • Growing organic food always results in a lower carbon footprint.

GMO

A GMO or Genetically modified organism is defined by the USDA as a living organism that has been genetically modified by inserting a gene from an unrelated species. Crop plants are modified in the lab to promote desired characteristics. The United States is the largest producer of GM crops.

More than 90% of corn, soy, and cotton grown in the US are GMO and between 60%-70% of processed foods have genetically modified ingredients.

The proposed benefits of GMO technology are:

  • Increased production
  • Drought tolerant
  • Healthy fat content (soybean)
  • Herbicide resistance
  • Insect resistance
  • Disease Resistance
  • Provide much needed food for starving countries

The fears of GMO technology are:

  • Introducing allergens and toxins to food
  • Creation of super weeds
  • Not enough testing/research
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Diminishing the nutritional content of a crop

The following GMO crops are approved or in development in the US:

  • Corn (20 varieties)
  • Oilseed Rape/ Canola (11 varieties)
  • Cotton (11 varieties)
  • Tomato (6 varieties)
  • Potato (4 varieties)
  • Soybean (3 varieties)
  • Sugar Beet (3 varieties)
  • Squash (2 varieties)
  • Cantaloupe
  • Rice
  • Flax
  • Raddichhio
  • Papaya
  • Alfalfa
  • Wheat

Some GMO Myths:

  • Organic food is always GMO free.
  • GMO seed is sterile.

Genetically modifying crops is new to agriculture.

Sustainable Agriculture

According to the USDA the term ”sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

 Additional Labels as Defined by the USDA

Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.

Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.

Natural. As required by USDA, meat, poultry, and egg products labeled as “natural” must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices and only applies to processing of meat and egg products. There are no standards or regulations for the labeling of natural food products if they do not contain meat or eggs.

Grass-fed. Grass-fed animals receive a majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life, while organic animals’ pasture diet may be supplemented with grain. Also USDA regulated, the grass-fed label does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides. Meat products may be labeled as grass-fed organic.

Pasture-raised. Due to the number of variables involved in pasture-raised agricultural systems, the USDA has not developed a federal definition for pasture-raised products.

Humane. Multiple labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely. These labeling programs are not regulated under a single USDA definition.

No added hormones. A similar claim includes “Raised without Hormones.” Federal regulations have never permitted hormones or steroids in poultry, pork, or goat.

Additional Labels NOT Defined by the USDA

Green. Green is a color. It is also a movement. The term “Green” does not have any specific meaning in terms of food production.

Pesticide Free. Remember to distinguish between insecticide and herbicide. This practice is adopted by fruit/vegetable growers to preserve pollinators. They may or may not be combines with other sustainable practices.

Earth Friendly. A marketing term that suggest sustainable practices.

Organically Grown/Grown with Organic Methods/Grown by Organic Methods. Not certified. Growers may choose not to certify due to cost of certification or inability to adhere to all certified organic standards.

The biggest take away I think someone can get from examining food label definitions is the importance of knowing your farmer and having a connection with the people/companies that are producing your food. The closer you are to the source of your food – the easier it is to separate fact from myth.

 

Easy Peel Hard-Boiled Fresh Eggs

EASY PEEL HARD BOILED FRESH EGGS
I love hard-boiled eggs (and egg salad and deviled eggs), but very fresh eggs are nearly impossible to peel after hard-boiling using the traditional water method. It has taken several years, and many failed experiments – but I’ve finally found a way to make hard-boiled eggs that can be peeled easily and perfectly from fresh eggs! Eggs from the grocery store are typically six weeks old before they reach us (so they’re easy to peel when boiled) whereas ours are very fresh (they never last more than a few days after the chickens lay them) so are very difficult to peel.

I tried every method I came across to produce perfect hard-boiled eggs from fresh eggs and, I’ve finally got the answer – steam them instead. It’s always seemed ridiculous to me that we’ve got the healthiest, freshest eggs – but no way to enjoy them hard-boiled. Here’s the way, and it’s pretty much foolproof!

Bring a small amount of water to a boil in the bottom of a steamer or pot that you can sit a steaming basket within (you want enough water so that it won’t completely boil away in 20 minutes). Place the eggs in the steaming basket, place the steaming basket in the pot, and cover the pot.

Steam the eggs for 20 minutes and then put them into ice water until they’re cool enough to peel. Roll each egg on the counter to break up the shell and peel from the wide end of the egg. I’ve also found it helpful to sit the eggs in the steaming basket with the small end down, this causes the air pocket to center in the wide end of the egg and tends to keep the yolk more centered in the egg.

And the result is perfectly peeled eggs – egg salad and deviled eggs are back on the menu!

fresh-egg-salad

Basic Egg Salad
12 extra-large eggs
1/3 cup good mayonnaise
2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
Steam and peel eggs per directions above. Coarsely chop the eggs, and add the remaining ingredients. Combine lightly with a fork. Enjoy!

deviled-eggs

Best Deviled Eggs

This recipe is our favorite, it’s always a hit at gatherings, and the eggs go fast. One reason I like this recipe so much is that it uses lots of herbs for flavor, and you can substitute fresh herbs for the dried if you have them on hand – simply use triple the amount of fresh herb for the dried. It’s a good idea to make the filling a day or several hours ahead to allow the flavors to blend.
12 extra-large eggs
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
½ teaspoon dried chives
½ teaspoon ground mustard powder
¼ teaspoon dried dill weed
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 drops Tabasco sauce

Steam and peel eggs per directions above. Slice the eggs in half (lengthwise), put the yolks in a mixing bowl, and reserve the whites for filling. Mash the yolks well making sure to remove all lumps, and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well to combine. Taste the filling mixture, adjust seasonings if necessary, pipe the yolk mixture into the reserved white halves, and sprinkle with paprika for decoration. Makes 24 servings.

better-hens-and-gardens

Righteous Bacon

photo provided by righteousbacon.com

photo provided by righteousbacon.com

A self-proclaimed guacamole addict, Diana Prichard spends her days deep in the heart of Michigan on a hog farm. As a farm, food and political blogger, she shares her exciting life with a captive audience. We had a chance to talk to her recently.

When you were young your mother told you that you should marry a hog farmer? What made her come to that conclusion?

Yes, an Italian Hog Farmer to be precise. I’m not sure, exactly, but suspect it had something to do with my unique ability to put away a plate of spaghetti that weighed more than I did and my tendency for having champagne tastes on her beer budget. She must’ve been under the impression that hog farmers make a good living. She was wrong, but the benefits are paid in bacon so I keep at it.

Tell us about Olive Hill.

I joke that it’s my quarter life crisis. I was working full time and taking more than full time credits in my pre-med program in college when I decided to be a farmer instead. In hindsight it was probably more of a miniature mental breakdown than a purposeful decision making process, but it’s led me in an amazing direction so I can’t complain. Worn down and feeling lost, I’d gone AWOL from classes for a week. I was on a trail ride with a good friend in the back forty, the fall breeze ruffling the soy beans beneath our mares’ bellies. As I vented about my schedule my friend planted a seed, suggesting I might be happier doing something else. Shortly before that I’d undergone a battery of tests for what looked like at the time to be ovarian tumors. They turned out to be cysts and nothing serious, but during the process I’d written a bucket list that had included “raise chickens for meat.” My mare’s name was Olive and, as they say, the rest is history.

Since then the farm has gone through several incarnations. We began with those chickens, just for ourselves. The next season we raised more and then more again later in the season, selling first to family and friends and then friends of family and friends of friends. The third season it kind of ballooned into this thing with a mind all its own. It was all wonderful experience, but I’m enjoying the more refined nature of the operation now. These days we have just the pigs, raising heritage breeds and their crosses on paddocks and in dirt and deep-bedded pens. We sell pork locally, direct from the farm, and we’re looking into wholesale opportunities for later this year.

You recently visited Africa with ONE (a grassroots campaign of more than 3 million people committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases). What was the experience like? How did it change the way you view the world?

You know, I went into the experience very much expecting to be changed, but I think I just came back stronger and more rooted in who I already was. I’d like to think that means I had a strong sense of self and perspective before I left. I never felt like those things came easily growing up so it’d be quite a triumph for me at this stage in life. All the same, it was an amazing experience that I will never forget. When I first came back I wrote that I wasn’t so much moved to give as I was moved to do, to take action. That feeling has really stayed with me throughout the journey of re-entry and re-acclimation to our western ways. The people of Ethiopia gave me a tremendous amount of hope for the future and renewed my faith in our ability to make the world a better place.

The programs that are working on the ground in Africa, and Ethiopia specifically, are making tremendous strides and all in ways that empower the people to do for themselves. It’s not all drop shipping food and water like is so often purported. The initiatives they have for educating farmers were, of course, especially interesting to me. Like all of their programs it’s really a full-circle effort, teaching everything from farming techniques to educating families on ways to prepare the new crops they’re growing so as to maximize the nutrition.

Above all, I’d say the people of Ethiopia taught me a lot about resilience and joy; two things on which you simply cannot put a price tag.

You do a lot of work helping farmers connect to their communities with social media. What advice do you have for farmers who are trying to get their message and products online?

Patience and persistence. Bringing up a social media presence is kind of like bring up livestock. They can’t fend for themselves at first. You’d never throw a chick or a calf or a pig out in a field and expect it to survive without a little help. You can’t throw your social media presence out there and hope for the best either. It takes time and you’re not going to net any results until you’ve at least raised it up to market age.

What is a typical day in the life of a woman hog farmer/writer/photographer in the middle of Michigan farm country?

One of the really great things about being a small operation is that we’re not doing the same thing every day. Our chores are still cyclical. Some are static, of course — feeding, watering, bedding, general tending — but things like farrowing, weaning pigs, castrating, and shipping pigs to the processor are all intermittent. I tend to write and shoot in the down times. When we’re busy with those “extras” there is less writing and less photography happening, and when we’re slow with just the everyday tasks I spend a lot of time behind the Macbook and camera.

What advice would you give other women who are taking a similar path?

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I see a lot of new farmers wanting to completely reinvent the wheel just for the sake of reinventing the wheel. It can cause a lot of headaches. You don’t have to agree with everything someone does to get something out of what they do. Pay attention, dig until you find the ‘why’, that’ll tell you something about how to go about change if change is what you desire. And you may just find that once you understand the ‘why’ change isn’t the goal so much as refinement.

How do you see the food movement in the United States? What would you like to see change?

I’m really excited about what I see happening in the food movement right now. There seems to be a greater sense of cooperation emerging, more willingness to listen and learn. These are the conditions under which real innovation comes about and that makes me very hopeful.

As for change, I’d like to see more of our prominent food and ag voices coming from farms. Right now most of our big food and ag names are people who are writing from behind desks in NYC, Berkeley, and so on and so forth. They’re sitting in urban centers, surrounded by concrete with no real life experience in fields and barns. That’s a big problem and aside from my farming aspirations, it’s something I’m really trying to change.

What do you see as the future of Olive Hill?

I’d like to do more wholesale, more farm tours and ag education. I’d love to open an on-farm shop and classroom to facilitate that. We’ll see. Right now we’re just focused on the hogs, turning out the best pork we can and growing smart rather than fast. Quality is important to me. Balancing flavor, production practices, and economics is our first priority in whatever we do.

What people/experiences have inspired you the most?

My Grandpa, who we called Poopsie, hands down. He and my Granny had a whole herd of kids, as was customary of German Catholic farm families of their time, and the family lore is that he ruled with an iron fist. I never saw it and I guess I’m happy about that. It allows me the luxury of seeing him through a smitten child’s eyes forever. He was the main cook in the family long before feminism made engaged fathers a thing. He was a gardener and I remember the smell of his musky cologne and tiny tomato plants filling the back porch of their farm house whenever we went for a visit in the late winter and early spring. He passed away when I was a teenager. I was far too cool to ask him about his gardens and recipes at the time and I regret not having had that chance a bit.

We asked Diana what her favorites were. Here’s what she said:

Favorite Farming Books

I’m one of those really nerdy people who choose to read things like ‘The Nutrient Requirements of Swine’ for fun. I also waste inordinate amounts of time digging through dusty boxes in antique shops hoping to find farm manuals and cookbooks from decades ago. Unfortunately, this makes me absolutely worthless at recommending books that people can 1) find and 2) will find at all entertaining. A few that I’ve enjoyed recently have been ‘Food In History’ by Reay Tannahill; ‘Blood, Bones, and Butter’ by Gabrielle Hamilton; and ‘The American Way of Eating’ by Tracie MacMillan. Not exactly farming books, but related.

What music are you listening to right now?

Barton Hollow by Barton Hollow.

Favorite Blogs?

My friend Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks inspires me on a daily basis.

The folks at Frog’s Leap Farm fulfill my tomato lust.

I visit What Katie Ate regularly just for the photography. Her ability to capture texture in food photography is unrivaled.

Favorite bacon recipe.

Bacon Cabbage Homefries. I love warm, hearty fare. If it can’t be eaten with your fingers I prefer it to be something best suited to a bowl.

Canon or Nikon?

I shoot Canon, but have to be honest. I chose my first Canon simply because of the brand name recognition, I knew it was a good company that would stand behind its products and knew nothing about Nikon. I’ve been pleased with that assumption, but I’m not as rabid about my brand loyalty as many.

Read more about Diana at her blog, righteousbacon.com.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Click here to read that issue – and other back issues. Click here to read the latest issue. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Just fill out the form below.

Culinary herbs for the non-gardener

photo by Lisa Steele

photo by Lisa Steele

I will be the first to admit that I am not a gardening expert, not a Master Gardener, not a self-taught guru. In fact, I probably would be classified as barely proficient. Don’t get me wrong, I love gardening. I enjoy spending time outdoors feeling the warm sun on my back as I prepare the soil for planting, love picking out seeds, starting them indoors and watching them grow on the windowsill. I love planning where everything will go and setting the seedlings and small plants in the soil. And that’s sort of where things start to go downhill. I quickly lose interest in the constant weeding and watering, I never remember to pay attention the sun or soil requirements, and don’t know anything about companion planting. Which is why I love herbs.

Herbs are extremely easy to grow. They don’t seem to care about soil type, how much sun they get, or even if you water them. Our resident bunnies and deer don’t eat them, and bugs don’t generally bother them because many are natural insect-repellents. Herbs produce all summer long and with regular snipping, they won’t get leggy or go to seed. Herbs also smell wonderful. Just brushing against one in your garden causes a burst of heady aroma.

Another nice thing about herbs is that you never have to wonder if they are ripe, as you do with other fruits and vegetables. With herbs, if you see leaves and they are large enough for your purposes, go right ahead and snip away.

Herbs don’t take up much space either. Years before I moved out to the country or even had a yard, before a farm was even a glimmer in my husband’s eye, I grew herbs in a small greenhouse on my kitchen window in my tiny apartment in New York.

Cooking with fresh herbs makes a good dish great and a great one superb. If you grow more than you can use, just pick the leaves, spread them out in a single layer on paper towels on cookie sheets and let them air dry, then crumble and pack them in glass jars. Unlike canning or preserving excess fruits and vegetables, ‘preserving’ herbs is just that simple.

Here are a few common culinary herbs and some growing specifics (that is, if you’re not comfortable with my arbitrary method of randomly planting them whenever, where ever).

Basil

Basil is best grown from small plants, although it is possible to start seeds. Seeds don’t transplant well however, so they are best started outdoors in sandy soil once the soil has warmed sufficiently.

photo by Lisa Steele

photo by Lisa Steele

Basil does best in full sun and likes warm conditions. While certain other herbs can tolerate temperatures briefly dipping below freezing, my basil turns black the first time a cold breeze heads our way, so just prior to the weather turning cold, I harvest all the remaining leaves and make pesto, which I then freeze in ice cube trays.

Dill

Dill is a personal favorite of mine. Not caring much what type of soil in which it is planted, or whether the soil is dry or wet, dill seeds do best if planted where they will grow, since dill doesn’t transplant well either. The seeds should be planted in early spring. Although my dill wilts and seems to die off in the extreme heat of our southern summers, as soon as fall arrives and the weather cools a bit, the dill makes a miraculous comeback.

Oregano

Oregano is my favorite kind of herb — a perennial. Buy or grow it once and it keeps coming back year after year. Oregano can be started as seeds or a plant and loves full sun and well-drained soil. Oregano doesn’t need much water and will do just fine if left to its own devices for the most part.

Parsley

Parsley is extremely hardy. We had a mild winter here in Virginia this year and I have been picking parsley nonstop since late last spring. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it generally lives for two years, and will also self-seed. I mean, really, is there nothing cooler than a plant that replants itself? I tell you, this is my kind of gardening!

Parsley likes full sun and soil that drains well. Seeds can be started indoors and the seedlings transplanted, but the seeds take a relatively long time to germinate, so start them at least 6-8 weeks before you plan to move them outside.

Rosemary

Rosemary can be grown from seed indoors and then transplanted but should be started 2-3 months before you plan to plant it outside. Rosemary is technically an evergreen shrub and therefore a perennial in areas that don’t get too cold. Rosemary loves full sun and is drought-tolerant, meaning it’s okay if you forget to water it. Trust me on this, I’ve done it.

photo by LIsa Steele

photo by Lisa Steele

Thyme

Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to grow. Extremely forgiving, although it prefers full sun and dry, sandy soil, it will grow in almost anything and is drought-resistant as well. Thyme is a perennial and best started as a small plant., If started as seeds, be aware they can take a very long time to germinate and therefore should be started extremely early in the year for spring transplanting.

Most herbs are easy to grow from seeds, either starting them indoors on a sunny windowsill using potting soil and plastic wrap over the top to retain the moisture and heat, or sowing the seeds directly outdoors in early spring. All can be started as small plants which is even easier, some are perennials, which is easier still. They like full sun but will tolerate some shade, and don’t need fussy attention in the form of fertilizer, nutrients, plant food or even regular watering. Starting and maintaining your own culinary herb garden requires very little time, money or space and in addition to being fragrant and visually attractive, will elevate your home cooking to a whole new taste level.

Story and photos by Lisa Steele.

Lisa Steele blogs at fresh-eggs-daily.com. Read more about her use of herbs and her ideas on keeping chickens here.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Click here to read that issue and more back issues. Click here to read the latest issue. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Just fill out the form below.

Discover the joys of spinning your own yarn

Photo by Jennifer Sartell

Photo by Jennifer Sartell

On a trip to a giant conglomerate craft store the other day I passed though the yarn department and I must say … not too shabby folks … not too shabby at all. I remember a time not so long ago when the yarn department at these types of stores was rather, well, lacking. Think “The One Pounder” in five different primary colors. Everything was a nylon blend of worsted yarn that reminded me of Crayola colored bailing twine. But the yarn department has upped its game. I found myself ogling over some pretty impressive machine spun yarns that looked very hand spun. There were art yarns with plies of fancy feathery blends and mixes with beads and sequins and all sorts of fun additions. This was no Granny Square yarn.

So why spin? Why spin when there are all of these beautiful yarns out there to choose from at half the price, with double coupon days? And my answer to that question lies in an equation. For me, spinning is to yarn as gardening is to dinner.

Photo by Jennifer Sartell

Photo by Jennifer Sartell

Have you ever tasted an heirloom tomato? The big, juicy purple ones that make you want to sink your teeth into the flesh like a maniac. They taste like … and I know this is ironic … a tomato! The flavors are complex, sweet, acidic, tart, almost smoky at times. I could talk about heirloom tomatoes like some people talk about wine. (It’s a problem really, sometimes my husband gets jealous.) But a grocery store tomato might as well be that Playschool plastic food that my 4 year old niece plays with. You’ve seen the rubber cheese, convincing, but not appetizing.

Raising fiber goats, and shearing, and spinning for me, is the equivalent of toiling in the garden, pulling weeds and composting. All that work, just to experience that delicious burst of flavor. Sure it’s easier to go to the store and buy a bag of tomato “looking” vegetables, but not nearly as satisfying.

I learned to spin a few years ago, after we adopted our two Angora does Knit and Purl. I loved goats, and was (then) afraid of the whole milking routine. So we decided that we would just keep a few goats as pets. Then I found a breed called Angora that could be sheared like a sheep. At the time, fiber seemed a lot less scary than milking, and with the same reasoning as in keeping chickens, why not raise pets with benefits?

photo by Jennifer Sartell

photo by Jennifer Sartell

After our first shearing, the fiber was too tempting, too irresistibly beautiful not to do something with it. So I learned to spin. And I fell in love with the whole process.

Spinning, knitting, crocheting and weaving are on an up swing as far as popularity these days. In general, it seems that there is a whole movement toward the old artisan crafts. And that’s a great prospect, as these skills are being lost from one generation to the next. But spinners aren’t exactly common, and spinners who raise their own animals are even rarer. So just as heirloom seeds and heritage breeds are dwindling, so are the traditional skills that our no-so-distant ancestors carried. Spinning, blacksmithing, basket weaving, traditional woodworking — it’s a part of our history. It is skills like these that have brought humanity to where it is today. But tragically, in only a few generations, has all but disappeared as a way of living and become only a scarce hobby.

If you have the interest to start spinning, do it! Learn it, and teach everyone you know! (Or at least those that are interested.) A hand spun yarn tells a story. Somewhere on a farm, an animal turned hay, grain and pasture into fleece. The fleece was sheared and washed and carded and dyed into colors that were selected and dreamed up in the imagination and creative enthusiasm of an artist. Every inch of the twisted plies has been lovingly touched and contemplated by the craftsman who spun the yarn. It has slipped through the fingers of a human who sat before the wheel with the soft clickety clack of the treadle pumping the twining fiber. A hand spun yarn is not just a lifeless medium to turn into a scarf, it is strands and skeins of art and skill.

Story and Photos by Jennifer Sartell

If you want to learn more about the craft of spinning, dying fiber or raising Angora goats, visit Jennifer’s blog at www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Read it and other back issues here. Read the latest issue of From Scratch magazine here. Want to subscribe? Fill out the form below. It’s Free!

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