One of the initial things we started to do in our homesteading journey was to grow our own food. In fact, that's still one of the largest focuses of our time and energy here at our home. Spring through fall is filled with planting, cutting, weeding, watering, and then harvesting and preserving. It's a busy, busy time, and I often go to bed exhausted but satisfied.
Our big garden is huge, and it seems to grow more and more each year. In addition to our big garden (which is somewhere over 3,000 square feet; bigger than our home!) we also have seven raised beds, an asparagus patch, a 30-plant blueberry patch,three raspberry patches, and ten different fruit trees (which are still young and not producing yet.) We also spend many hours picking from the wild blackberry bushes that grow on the family land. We grow a ton of food in the summer. We pour a lot of energy into maintaining our gardens. And when we get just a tab bit exhausted we remind ourselves of the extreme benefits of spending so much time gardening. We know exactly what we're eating by growing our own food. And that's important.
Up until this year, we've never fertilized our garden with anything other than composted manure. However, my wonderful husband spent quite a few hours researching organic fertilization and feeding processes and he mixed up an organic fertilizer/plant food that we used on the big garden this year. We use our own compost that our chickens have worked on over the winter in our raised beds and berry bushes.
I think you might see by now how important gardening is to our family.
When we plant, we plant with the intention of having enough food to last through until the next summer. Of course, as with all gardening and farming, there are times of destruction, things that are out of our hands such as drought weather, frost, or tomato blight. And, admittedly, when those things occur it is quite mentally devastating. But that's where trusting God comes into play, as hard as it is to see all the hard work and time go seemingly wasted.
Once everything is picked and harvested, we start into the very busy task of preserving everything. Typically, by the end of September, our freezers are completely packed with frozen veggies and berries and our can cellar shelves are stocked full. We freeze almost all of our veggies and fruits because they are more nutritious that way (rather than canning), but we do can many things as well such as tomato sauce, whole tomatoes, catsup, salsa, pickles, relishes, and jams. I do like to experiment with my canning, throwing in one new canning recipe every now and then. I also use my dehydrator and spend many, many hours drying my herbs so I'll have those to use throughout the year as well.
In addition to our gardens, we also have our chickens (25 right now) that we raise for eggs (and entertainment.) I am careful as to what I feed my chickies as I'm well aware that what I put into them, I'm putting into us since we eat their eggs. I buy an all-natural, no-added antibiotics, steroids, or hormone chicken feed, and I feed them our veggie and fruit scraps. They also have a large chicken yard that they range in all day until the sun goes down at night.
Aside from gardening and our chickens, I do still shop at the grocery store for all the other food needs, of course. My all-time favorite store is Whole Foods, but it is an hour away so I don't go very often. However, when I go, I stock up on my gluten-free items and other items that I have a hard time finding around here. I buy as much organic and non-GMO as possible when I grocery shop. We've reevaluated our budget to allow for this because it is important to us. And I should add that I love to be able to buy locally during the growing months from other farms/gardeners when that is accessible.
Currently, Brad and I are on a journey to shift our family's food consumption to a more plant-based diet. I'm not sure that we'd ever take the leap to completely plant-based, but we strictly limit red meats and pork. Most of our meat consumption comes from chicken and turkey, and I buy the all-natural, no added-anything variety from our grocery store. When I do buy red meat, I buy it off my friend who owns meat cattle. It's local. Their cows graze in the pasture. And I know the family. We've also bought pork locally as well. And we're also planning on raising our own meat chickens next spring.
Since I've had dietary restrictions for years (gluten and dairy), I've been eating differently than the rest of my family. However, I recently decided that we're all going gluten free (at least mostly) and cutting out most dairy. I'm transitioning everyone over to the almond milk that I've been drinking for years.
I hardly ever buy processed foods. When I make a food purchase, I think about what that item has the potential to do ~ either build up and sustain the body or pollute and destroy the body. What we eat really impacts us so much more than the average American thinks. We live in a time of convenience and, unfortunately, that convenience has even settled into how we eat and feed our families.
I'm a crazy woman when it comes to label reading. That has come out of necessity since I have food allergies, as does my daughter. I read the ingredient list the whole way to the end. High fructose corn syrup? No way am I buying that. Dyes? Nope. Enriched, bleached or tampered ingredients? Negative. The more ingredients on a label, the farther away from natural that food is.
You may think I'm over the top. Well, let me clarify. There have been times and will be times when we consume "junk" because it's just life. However, I have become convinced (through my various diet-related health issues and those of friends as well) that what we eat plays such a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE, HUGE part in how we feel and the quality of our lives.
So while what our family does may not work for you, the important thing is to remember the importance of eating whole foods. Foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Foods that haven't been modified, processed, or developed in a lab. Foods that are grown in the ground or on trees or shrubs. Our bodies weren't designed to handle dyes, preservatives, and other lab-developed artificial ingredients so we really should be careful about consuming these kinds of things. My daughter's allergist (who is highly involved in allergic disease research) told me that one of the biggest reasons for all of the food allergies children have these days is due to the addition of artificial ingredients to the food we all eat as well as the environmental pollution on our planet.
I pray that I don't come across as "holier-than-thou". That's not my intention. It's just that I've been learning so much over the past several years about the importance of eating healthy, whole foods. And it does take work, research, creativity, and some money, but it's such an important investment for you and your family.
This is part three of a five-part series I'm participating in entitled "How We Homestead." You can read more about this topic by visiting the other participating bloggers:
Staci at Life at Cobble Hill Farm
Meg at Little Homestead
Tammy at Our Neck of the Woods
Daisy at Maple Hill 101