Posts Tagged ‘urban farming’

Animals, Waste, and the Urban Homestead

Many years ago now, in one of my earliest blog posts ( hard to imagine that I’ve been doing this for eight years now,) I posted the picture above of a carrot from my hard soil, because I thought it was funny and I had little else to talk about that day. Now, I think that my ardent carrot is part of a much bigger picture, and that picture is the ugly landscape of food waste.
Globally, unbelievable amounts of food are wasted, enough to feed a lot of hungry people, and you can read about that and about what one lively activist is doing about it in this article.
My own interest in the subject is smaller and more local. What can be done to reduce waste around our homes and neighborhoods? Start with the carrot above, and with imperfect produce in general. Are you willing to buy it and eat it? If your favorite grower at the farmer’s market sold imperfect stuff at a somewhat reduced price, would you buy it? Let them know.
When you are the grower, the task can be more satisfying, and small livestock can help. Eat what you can yourself, and share with others. People have been so market-conditioned to demand perfect produce that I can end up giving my friends the most perfect specimens and eating the imperfects myself. Get yourself a good nose-to-tail vegetable cookbook to help you eat and like the “nasty bits” of your veggies. Then look at what’s left and who will eat it, because a lot of it isn’t ready for the compost yet.
Chickens are your best friends when it comes to reducing waste. They will eat and relish greens in huge quantities, and will eat carrots, winter squash, and other chunky things if they’re cooked soft or ground in the Cuisinart. They love the residue out of the juicer, and will dispose of most of your table scraps if they are chopped finely. Personally I do not limit my chickens to a vegetarian diet because chickens are among the most profoundly omnivorous animals around, along with pigs and we ourselves. Any arguments that feeding them “garbage” is inhumane are absurd when said “garbage” was on my own plate and would have gone down my own gullet if my appetite had lasted a bit longer. They scratch over, poop on, and compost what they don’t eat, providing you with increased bounty down the road. I have read the argument that feeding them in this informal way malnourishes them, and can only reply that as long as extra calcium is supplied, my little flock shows admirable vigor and my hens lay industriously through age 4. A good laying pellet is available to them free-choice.


Goats occupy a different place in the waste-eating structure. Contrary to general belief they are fussy eaters and will nose at and play with anything but will only eat things that are choice in goat terms.  Goat treats include anything that’s woody and fresh, which is why you don’t keep them loose in your yard: all trees and shrubs will be killed in short order. It is also why they effortlessly absorb things that you have no other use for, such as rose prunings (unsprayed, of course.) My goat loves rose trimmings, corn stalks, carrots, pumpkins, celery and other things that the chickens have no use for, eats all my fruit tree trimmings and some excess fruit, gnaws every edible bit off broccoli stems and other large coarse plants that are otherwise hard to dispo, and will eat some large coarse weeds but only the ones that she personally selects. Amazingly, she rejects kale, lambs-quarters, and other things that I consider delicious. We do have a major trash tree in my area, the Siberian elm, and she adores them, so I cut down the ones that are growing where I don’t want them and leave the stumps in place, coppicing them for future goat food. She also eats a lot of expensive alfalfa, so believe me when I say that there is no such thing as a free goat. On the contrary.

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Pigs are among my favorite animals, and throughout the third world they are prized for turning waste into human food.  I wish that I could recommend them for the urban homestead, but they smell too bad when kept in small areas and get too big. A full-grown hog of breeding age is practically the size of a dining room table but stronger and more determined. Urban Farm Online has a good brief summary of why  they don’t recommend pigs. I have heard it suggested that the much smaller Vietnamese pig might be good for urban bacon, but I don’t know anything about that and don’t know if anybody has tried it. If it could be made to work, it could be interesting.

I would not want any of the above to be taken as saying that you can feed animals free on household scraps. If you have animals, you can plan to spend plenty of money on feed. You will also spend time learning to care for them, and then attending to their daily needs. But they will utilize some garden and kitchen leavings and supply you with a nice end product.


Independence Day

I am not a locavore. I love Italian olive oil and cheese, Belgian chocolate, South American coffee, Spanish ham, Alaskan salmon,and wine from all over the place. I am not an extremist about anything, and I think that cutting oneself off from the rest of the world makes less than no sense at all.
That said, it’s a lovely feeling to be able to produce a lot of what you need yourself, with the imports as luxury add-ons for variety. I value the concept of food independence and intelligent localism, and Independence Day weekend is a great time to take stock of how we’re doing at meeting our own needs, and celebrate with a local feast.
My current inventory looks pretty good. I’ve grown vegetables for years, but in my new location I’ve greatly expanded my vegetable garden and added laying hens and a dairy goat. I’m raising a batch of chicks for meat, and I have good local sources of grass-fed beef and humanely raised pork. So far this year, the only vegetables I’ve bought were potatoes and avocados, and not many of them. I can get flour from upstate New Mexico and southern Colorado. Not bad for a desert.
So, my 4th of July will start with a brunch of “yard salad,”homemade bread or cornbread, and eggs from our hens. Dinner is likely to include a grass-fed steak, more salad, and homemade egg pasta made from Sangre de Christo flour and backyard eggs. Midafternoon, we might snack on goat cheese from Magnolia, our “yard goat.” We’ll drink my own homebrewed mead, and drink a toast to our beautiful country and our own joy at being part of it.
This year I’ll ask my readers to consider having a local Independence Day feast, or as close to it as works for you. There are farmers’ markets this weekend, and some time to plan, so please leave a comment about how you plan to celebrate our local abundance.

Meet Magnolia

One of the biggest steps in making an urban homestead is adding animals. Chickens are the easiest, and you can get Brett Markham’s book Mini Farming for info about how he integrates layers and meat chickens into a small operation. I have wanted for a while to add a dairy animal, and based on my past experiences with goats here are the pros and cons:
Pro: goats are small and easy to handle compared to a cow. They tend to be hardy. They will eat brush (they love Siberian elms.) They are intelligent and affectionate. They produce a lot of milk relative to body size, and the milk is easy to digest.
Con:they are unbelievable escape artists and require excellent fencing. They will eat all your shrubs and trees unless well fenced. You need to know their health and nutrition needs. Contrary to popular belief, they won’t “eat anything;” they are actually picky eaters who need very specific kinds of food. They need to be bred, and I do not recommend keeping a buck in a suburban area, so you will need to take them somewhere to be bred. If bred or in milk, they need supplemental food and it can get expensive. You need to have a plan for how to handle the milk and what to do with it, keeping in mind that unless you pasteurize it you may not be able to sell it legally (check your local ordinances, but it is illegal in many areas to sell raw milk.)
Get a good book on dairy goat raising and actually read it before deciding to get a goat. That said, they are lovely animals and I’m very happy to have one again. Magnolia is a yearling doe, purportedly bred. We’ll see. Meanwhile, she participates in homestead life by standing on top of her goat-house commenting on all yard activity and eating all the siberian elm cutting I bring her.