Saturday, August 17, 2013

A visit to Skookum Farmstead

    Here is another one from the archives that I wrote a couple weeks ago and haven't had a chance to post. Just for a quick update on our progress we are currently passing through Hailey Idaho (about mile 3500) where they are battling one of the largest wildfires currently burning in the country. It's a very strange and somewhat apocalyptic scene. We are safe and hopefully headed away from the smoke toward our next farm stay. We will have more to post on all of that soon, but first lets go back to a happier and less smokey place; the Skookum Farmstead.  

      Inspiration and affirmation are two words that come to mind when thinking about our visit to the Skookum farmstead in the little Skokomish valley just north of Olympia, Washington. Inspiring because our new friends Jon and Christy have followed their aspirations and are in the process of realizing their dream of managing a small farmstead the benefits of good homegrown food and hopefully a small supplemental income in the future. Affirming because in many ways Jon, Christy and their three wonderful daughters are pursuing a very similar goal to our own, and they are making good progress.

      When we first arrived at their property, Jon eagerly waved us through the gate and into a large green pasture. Jon’s warmth was immediately evident as he welcomed us to his farmstead in progress.  A large man with soft blue eyes Jon already fits the part of hog farmer perfectly with a long blond beard worn in the traditional Amish style. He showed Heidi and Me around the property all the while letting his excitement wash over us. One gets the sense that when Jon gets an idea in his head, he pursues it with vigor, fervently researching and inquiring on the topic.  Some might call it obsession. I call it awesome. 

     Jon and his family were first introduced to leading a more self-sufficient lifestyle when a local organization called GRUB (Garden Raised Bounty) helped them to construct three small raised bed gardens. Jon now holds a seat on the board of GRUB, which strives to encourage local agriculture as well as local involvement especially from the area youth.  From those first garden beds Jon and his family grew a decent crop of food and a new interest in sustainable, local agriculture.  The next adventure was raising a flock of twenty-five chickens for meat, which with the help of a neighbor expanded to forty in the following years. 

      The next chapter is just now beginning with the purchase of this beautiful 40-acre property, which was a collaborative effort between Jon’s family and some close friends who live in Seattle. The land consists of roughly nine acres of fertile pasture, a small wild orchard, two beaver ponds surrounded by wetland and a wooded hillside. Since signing the papers in October Jon and His partner Casey have drilled a well and set up a fenced area for five very happy pigs.  The pigs are a rare heritage breed called Tamworths and are valued for their excellent foraging abilities and lean meat.

     Jon’s vision for the property is intentionally vague at this point. He views his family as tender’s of the land more than farmers. For that reason he is spending a lot of time getting a feel for the property and researching various avenues that would best suit it.  He has plenty of ideas about resurrecting and expanding the current orchard, acquiring more animals to graze the pasture (cows, sheep or goats) and growing produce especially garlic, potatoes and blueberries. The goal is to find the best balance with the land that will produce good food for the family primarily and hopefully some additional income as well. Jon also views the property as an opportunity for hands on learning. Hands-on workshops are one example of what the future may hold for the Skookum Farmstead.

    Our day on the farm concluded with some fine al fresco dining around picnic tables near the pond. Jon’s wife Christy arrived with their three lovely daughters. We shared stories, pizza, laughter and even some live entertainment with singing and guitar picking from the family band. At one point during our conversation Jon had mentioned that he hoped that the farmstead would answer the question “what does it mean to be successful?” After an afternoon like the one we had, I think that the answers are already rolling in.     

Check out the progress at Skookum Farmstead by visiting their farmstead blog.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Home On the Road

A bit of a preface here. We are a bit behind on the posts these days. Here is one from over a week ago that we haven't been able to post until now. Hoping to get caught up soon. Stay tuned!

Home on the road:

     It may sound paradoxical, but the strangest part of being on the road is probably how utterly normal it feels much of the time.  I think that most people who see us driving around, and there have been plenty of blank stares, think that we are RV’ers in some crazy rig. While we are covering a lot of miles and hitting quite a few popular destinations along the way, our approach is a bit different. Probably the biggest difference being that this is our home. For better or worse, we are carrying almost everything we own. Even though the scene is changing constantly, our house remains our home. We still try and make our meals from scratch and from the freshest most locally sourced ingredients possible.  Finding good local food on the road is as challenging as the rewards it brings. This morning was one of our better excursions on that front. We parked at a Library in Sequim WA and took the Vespa out to find some local farms and markets. We were able to source pastured meat, raw milk (legally sold on store shelves here in Washington), produce and cheese in an incredible five-mile radius.  This has not always been the case. In fact we have been eating a nearly vegetarian diet for about a week due to scarcity of responsibly raised animal products. Farmer’s markets are always great, but they almost always happen on weekends making them a bit tricky to encounter in our travels.
    Another difference between what we are doing and most RV folks are doing is that we are completely used to living off grid and are prepared to do so for long periods of time. The benefits of this are huge. For one, we can be as comfortable in the middle of nowhere as we would be in a cramped RV park, parking lot or city street.  We usually go for the first option, generally being beautiful, private and free! I am in-fact writing this post from one of those very places parked next to a babbling brook in the dense forests of the Olympic Mountains, 12 miles from the nearest highway.
      Its nice to think that we could go on living this way forever, moving from town to town and farm to farm back and forth across the continent ad infinitum. Unfortunately this is purely a romantic notion. Of course we are burning a disturbing amount of diesel on this adventure, which is not only unsustainable in the grand scheme, but also costs a small fortune. Money requires working and working is significantly easier while standing still.  Furthermore, although we are “at home” our truly desired homesteading lifestyle poses some significant challenges. We can still make our bread, preserve foods and even get our hands dirty on a farm here and there. On the other hand I can’t even brew a batch of beer on a constantly rocking bus let alone grow a garden or keep a flock of chickens. Believe me, I have thought about the logistics; while they are quite entertaining they’re nowhere near practical.
            So, for now we are living, learning and having more fun then one should be allotted for an entire lifetime.  One of these days we will find some good firm soil to hold our roots in one place for a while, but in the mean time, we will keep on rolling and keep you posted along the way.

Now for a bunch random pics not really related to this post :) You can see full size images by clicking on them.