Sunday, 20 November 2016

Going Whole Hog

A question that crosses my mind quite regularly is whether or not it is "worth it" to grow my own food, heat with wood, bake my own bread, make syrup from sap and the list goes on. Admittedly, there are days where it would certainly be easier to pick up what we need from the store rather than wait for it to grow or fix it, mend it or do without it. But there's something about quick and convenient that just doesn't set right with me. It seems somehow wrong to allow my kids to think everything comes easy, because in real life it doesn't. I am cautious about handing them everything they want as kids because I want them to adjust to adult life and be productive hard workers. Basically, I want them to see how long it takes for fruit to grow on a tree and experience how much better it tastes when you have watched it ripen. That's an analogy we could apply to many things we do around here.

There is something deeply gratifying about eating a meal you grew entirely on your own. Or foraging for native berries and having the time to visit the beach before going home. Or breaking bread that you baked yourself and enjoying it with homemade butter and jam made from the berries you picked that day you played on the beach. That is not to say that everyone needs to make their own butter to lead a fulfilled life! Mostly I mean slowing down to do some of the tasks that are often hired out. Blue berries from a store, air conditioned comfort, prepackaged life.

The money saved by doing these quiet, contemplative tasks is often negligible. By the time I buy the flour and yeast and work to bake the bread I may be money down, depending on the price of the flour. But what of my sanity?

What price do I put on teaching my sons age-old skills that, should they need them, will allow them to feed themselves no matter what they decide to do with their lives? When they learn to care for animals, haul the water, provide the shelter and feed, they think about a world bigger than themselves and their own wants. When they pick the berries and eat the jam they value the labour that goes into their food. When they stack the wood they learn to plan for tomorrow and use their bodies for useful tasks. They have all the space they want to run in, play in, grow in, and that is indeed priceless.

My friend had my kids over to decorate pumpkins with stickers. Since my own pumpkins didn't grow I planned to bake them down for making pumpkin bread. The pumpkins sat until I finally needed to get them out of the garage. I was busy and had a messy kitchen after a long tiring day. I wondered if it was worth it to bother. But why would I compost 4 perfectly good pumpkins then turn around and buy canned pumpkin at the store?

pumpkin puree
While supper cooked, the pumpkin bakes in the oven and I had the whole mess cleaned up by the time the kids were ready for bed.

pumpkin seeds
 We also enjoyed the roasted seeds very much. I ended up with 5 and a half Ziploc bags of puree, enough for 10 loaves of pumpkin bread. At around $3/can I saved $15, had a lovely visit with a neighbour while my kids played, and taught my kids to use up what might go to waste. Instead of spending money, I spent some time preparing local, chemical-free food.

Similarly, we recently had our pigs butchered. At different times this summer I really regretted venturing into pigs. Hauling the grain for them was time consuming and laborious and keeping their water clean and fresh was a chore I didn't love. I had to ask my mom to do my chores while we were away in the summer, which was quite a bit, and I hated to add to anyone's work load. Basically, the pigs were a lot of work but they were entertaining and they ate our kitchen and garden waste along with a couple tons of grain that I hauled here pail by pail from my parent's farm. Let's just say that when the job was finally done I wanted to have as much to show for it as possible. So I rendered the pig fat into lard.

back fat trimmings

fat, chopped and rendering in slow cooker
rendered fat, unfiltered 

our own lard, from our own pigs

Not everyone is going to render down their own pig fat. I giggle even as I type the words. But I do a lot of baking and my sister in law likes making pastry. Canola oil went up to $9/gallon last winter. I expect I'll end up with about 6-8 pint sealers of lard by the time I'm done. This is all by-product that might have gone to waste. At $2/lb I could much easier go buy Tenderflake at Walmart, where I saw it just this morning. But that's not my point.

Living a simple, frugal life is about more than saving $15 on lard. It is about taking yourself out of the consumer transaction whenever possible. It might actually be more frugal to feed the fat trimmings to the dog and buy lard at the store, I don't know. But living an invested life means doing the work ourselves to prevent wasting what we have on hand. If there are saskatoons growing roadside my kids and I are going to pick and freeze them for winter rather than get berries at the grocery store. When butter is $6/lb we will buy the cheaper whole cream, make our own butter and bake with the buttermilk. I am lucky that I have the time to cook and bake and mend and grow things. I know not everyone has that option, and not everyone would choose this lifestyle. That's okay too. You should follow your arrow. My arrow seems always to lead me to a simple, quiet path where everything takes longer and is just a little less convenient.

There are certainly times that I curse my penchant for homegrown. There were many days I said "never again" as I lugged heavy pails of grain to those pigs. I am planning a post on the actual cost of raising the three pigs and, on paper at least, it was probably not a money-saving venture. The next time we do it (if we do) we will have to butcher pigs ourselves to save on the considerable cost of processing the animals. But, again, these would be skills that allow us to learn and invest ourselves and save money. In a way, jumping in with both feet, or going "whole hog" is the best way to learn every facet of what we are interested in. And we seem to be interested. Learning to slaughter and process our own animals is the next logical step in our progress here. For now, we are just going to enjoy the food and be proud that we did a good job and made it through to the harvest.


  1. You should be very proud of all that you do. Frankly, I am always (always!) amazed because it is a crazy amount of work. I don't actually understand how you are able to get it all done knowing that your husband's job takes him away for periods of time and your boys are still just babies so not able to help.

    It is crazy amazing. And the end product is all you - blood sweat and possibly a lot of tears. But what shines the most is the hard work and success - and yes that usually tastes pretty damn good.

    I hope you know that you are such a wonderful role model for your boys but also for your family members and friends and neighbors AND those of us who read your blog. I love the frugality/non-consumerism aspect of your life and your mindset but also the roll-up-the-sleeves quiet determination and patience you appear to have.

    Jill = grace and grit.

    Damn good combination.


    1. Oh Pru, what a lovely comment. There are days I don't know how I get everything done. Mostly it's a lot of just doing things when they need done. I'm always amazed how much I can do in ten undisturbed minutes. My brother helps me by bringing me firewood and my mom is always on hand. I have wonderful friends that I count on. Also Husband gets me caught up when he's home. The kids do help quite a bit. They are quite good at wrangling sheep and chickens. They do as they are asked most of the time. It's a pretty good team. Thank you, Pru. Your lovely comment will stay with me.

  2. My goodness! You are phenomenal! Thank you so much for commenting so that I can come here and discover you! Your blog and your writing style are beautiful; you paint a vivid and warm picture with your narrative, Jill.

    Is it silly to say I'm happy you and people like you exist? I am a city girl through and through, but my family comes from a tiny Mediterranean mountain village; most of my family is still there, or in the surrounding area. My mom didn't have electricity until she was 12, no running water until she was 13. She can do everything from make her own feta to skin a lamb to build a shed; can sew fur pelts into a warm vest and lace into a wedding gown. You know what I can do? None of the above, and I'm utterly embarassed of that.
    I went back "home" this summer to spend time on my grandpa's farm, and the change of scenery spearheaded a lot of deep thought. A natural life - the ability to harvest the earth and make beautiful creations out of it, the understanding of the rhythm of nature, turning a pinch into a pound - is how humans were meant to live. It is how we lived until the Industrial Revolution, which not coincidentally is when we forgot we were the stewards of the earth and instead began to systematically destroy it in the pursuit of riches - manufactured riches, and not the ones the earth produces on its own. I deeply wished I was just half as ... able, as they were. I am not as able. And I realized that myself and most of those around me in the big city are not as able. I depend on manufacturing by those who are being exploited, capitalism, and fossil fuels to fulfill my most basic human needs of clothes, food and shelter. I wondered if this more humane (and dare I say, human?) lifestyle my grandparents still live out in their own personal Eden is a dying life path and thought about the implications on the earth and the ability for us to respect it and worth with it as partners would die with it. And then I read beautiful gems like your blog. You are incredible! You're right; each action is not all about saving more, but the beauty of eating the fruit of your labour. Enjoying the earth's real, true riches instead of just finding a way to save more of the symbols of our capitalist society - money! - is how we were meant to live. Everything you enjoy is a labour of love, of time, of respecting and working with the earth. I am floored!
    Sorry for the long note, but your narrative of what your life is like reminds me so much of my family and my home and it touched me quite a bit. Hearing about someone in my peer group being as able as they are, finding the beauty in the earth as they do, is just beautiful.
    On a side note, I have had the pleasure of making my own pig lard whilst visiting a previous partners' home village in the Balkans. Homemade lard makes everything truly, utterly delicious! A popular snack there was hot, fresh homemade bread with some lard spread on it with a sprinkle of paprika - the simple pleasures! We also made something they call cvarci; it's like a pork rind made with the fat thermally extracted from the rind. Sounds like a coronary, but oh so good, and if you ask the hardy people in the village, it's what keeps them healthy, strong, and capable of farm work in the winters. Seeing your pig-extract pictures made me smile.
    I'm glad I found your blog! :)


    1. I'm so glad to meet you, Frugal Desperado :) your blog is an inspiration and a real life practical look at the ups and downs of lifestyle change and getting out of debt. When I have a chance I'll add it to my blogroll. Such a great resource and so authentic!

      Thanks so much for your very kind words. I am always surprised by the kinship one can find on the internet. Even when the encouragement and support isn't there at times in the "real world" it is just fantastic to find like-minded, positive voices out there in the darkness. Great to meet you!

    2. The feeling is mutual, Jill! Thank you so much for your words, they mean a lot. It is amazing indeed how we can meet likeminded friends in the blogosphere - I also have a hard time finding company that really gets what I want from my life now while out here in the real world, and it can be lonely. It's definitely very special to meet others on the same path through mediums like this one :)

  3. Yes! The term "simple life" does not mean "easy," not by any stretch of the imagination. I still work for a paycheck, so we're bound by time constraints and can't yet do all we'd like, but we add a new skill whenever we can. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and frustrations! It's a marathon, not a sprint, yes?