Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sweet Baby James

Last Saturday, we welcomed a healthy little boy named James Davis Schuster to the world!Mother and son are both doing great and I can't thank our network of friends and family enough for all they've done to help us out during this time.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ye Olde Blogge

So I've been doing Decityfied for about 19 months now, and I think it's done a great job of documenting our move from the city to the country. Of course, I always wish I could write here daily, but I'm working on it! :)

Since we got the farm legal and running last July, I've been focusing on making a professional, yet approachable brand for the business, so I've decided to include a blog over at the main site.

No, this doesn't mean that I'm doing away with this blog, but the focus will be shifting a bit. I'm going to save this blog for the more personal stuff like how the family is doing or my beliefs on living a simpler life. That dumpster diving post from the other day? That's what I mean. Something like that wouldn't be ideal for a business website, but it's something I still like to write about.

In the meantime, posts about farm projects or those directly relating to the expansion and improvement of the farm will go over on the White Ivy Farm blog. I may cross post a few, like I did with the hog house post earlier, but that's how it will mostly break down.

Oh, by the way... we got a new puppy!

Building a better hog house

For the last ten months or so, our two Yorkshire hogs had been living on an acre pasture, after they ceremoniously defeated our neglected garden earlier in the year. Since then, we've butchered one and the other got lonely so she escaped under some field fence to go play with the donkeys.

We originally put them in a quarter of the acre plot, held in with only 4 strands of barbed wire and some electric fencing that I could never get to work because we have sandy soil and the grounding never worked. We knew it was a gamble, but it was our first year with hogs so we were experimenting. They told us not to just used barbed wire and electric wire. They told us that hogs will bust through just about anything. We didn’t listen, but that’s a re-occurring theme with me, as I’m sure you’ll see.

So yesterday, I gathered up some pallets I collected from a friend (and scavenged) to build a real hog pen that would be cheap, sturdy, and functional.
This sketch shows my initial plan. I measured the length of each pallet and figured out how I was going to fit each one together to make the closest thing to a 10×20 pen. See, all pallets aren’t created equal, and when they’re free, you have to take what you can get. I used the pallets I used last year for my small hog house and made that the one end, while I knew I’d still have to create three more walls and a gate. The entire pen would be created with only pallets and 5 and 6 foot t-posts to hold each pallet in place. I also used a post pounder and a t-post puller, mainly to remove the posts I had set up from the old pen, but also to pull out posts when I put them in the wrong spot.
 I started by placing the first pallet exactly where I wanted it, marking where the t-posts will go with small pieces of cement block I had within reach. Then I’d move the pallet out of the way and pound the t-posts in with a post pounder. The pallets easily slide over the top of the t-posts, making each piece of the wall very secure. Last year the hogs would put all of their weight against these walls to scratch themselves and they never came close to falling over.
 I repeated this all the way around and connected the whole thing on the opposite corner. As you can see from my sketch, the measurements aren’t exact because of the differing pallet sizes, but I got it as close as I could with what I had, so one wall is 11 inches shorter than the other; not really a huge deal to me.
 On the left side, the gate is nothing more than a 38×36 lightweight pallet that can be lifted off the shorter t-posts for entrance or exit. In fact, any of the smaller pallets can be lifted to make a gate. I plan to utilize that fact when I expand by making another pen coming off of this one. It’s a completely modular design that is easily changed or even moved with multiple possibilities for gates. Plus, I can easily add barbed wire to the top of the shorter pallets with t-post clips. Hopefully the hogs will never jump over 36 inches, though.
 If you have any questions about the design or the process, let me know in the comments or our contact form. I’d be happy to go over anything in more detail.

Now to move that hog into her new home…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My foray into dumpster diving

Sunday night, I fired up Netflix for a movie that had been in my queue for months. The film is called Dive! and it's a documentary all about dumpster diving and why it's important. I've read through forums and specialty sites that showcase these wonderful "dream dives" where people find autographed Brett Favre rookie cards or a first edition Catcher in the Rye, but this movie focuses on food. It explains just how much food is wasted each day by grocery stores that toss it all out on the date of expiration, which is actually an arbitrary date that doesn't mean as much as you think it would.

Excited by this film (I often get so pumped up from these documentaries), I went out to our local(ish) grocery store, looking for a dumpster full of discarded food to feed our animals.

Yeah, sorry. I mean, I really don't have a problem with eating this stuff myself, but I was being more realistic by planning to nab it for our farm animals. With the price of feed skyrocketing more each day, this would be a great solution.

See, dumpster diving is something that I've done on a smaller scale since I was young. My best friend and I used to walk through the alleys of our neighborhood and find all kinds of exciting treasures. Even though we were far from rich (or even middle class), we didn't do it for the value of the treasures, but more for the thrill of the discovery. I felt that thrill again when I jumped in the car and headed into town to see what I could find.

Most of the larger grocery stores and strip malls had either locked dumpsters or trash compactors, which I didn't even attempt to infiltrate. Not only is that extremely dangerous, but it's illegal if you breach a lock.

I finally found a smaller local grocery store with a good old fashioned blue dumpster, ripe for the pickin'. Inside, I found boxes of discarded cabbage, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, and more. On one side, there was a pile of probably 20-30 still-wrapped bread loaves. I looked around one last time to make sure I was alone, and reached in for those boxes. I could only fit two of those wax produce boxes in the small car's trunk, but I figured that was still a helluva find. I leaned in and grabbed four loaves of bread and an interesting wooden shipping crate that was probably two feet wide. It's not very sturdy, but I thought it looked like something I could use for something down the line. Plus, I was still hopping on adrenaline, so I wanted to get out of there.

Next to the grocery store, a Little Ceasar's pizza joint was closed for the night. I figured it couldn't hurt to pop my head in their dumpster as well. Bingo! You would not believe how many in-tact boxes of pizza were stacked neatly (and some not-so-neatly) in that dumpster. I began opening a few to check the status of the pizzas, and every single box held an entire pizza. There were cheese, pepperoni, ... ugh, I'm making myself hungry. So I only grabbed three boxes, knowing that this probably isn't the best food to be feeding my animals, but I had to give it a shot since there were so many just lying there. I figured the dog might at least get a kick out of them, right?

Once I got home, I tossed one of the pizzas to our outside dog, Smokey. He suspiciously sniffed the pizza for a few minutes and proceeded with his strange ritual of chasing away every single other animal to a safe 50-foot buffer zone before sitting down to enjoy the strange-smelling new food possibility (he does this every single time we feed him dog food, too).

Then I grabbed the two boxes of produce and dumped them into the pig's side. Last week, our darling little pig broke through her fence (she's an expert now) to hang out with the donkeys, so I figured she had to hurry before those guys came running over. It was dark out, so they were all sleeping in the barn still.

The hog nuzzled the produce out of the way to get to those other two pizzas. Apparently she liked those the best, although I won't think about the fact that one of them had pepperoni on it. She devoured the bread next and finally started in on the cabbage and tomatoes.

The next morning, the chickens were pecking through the bits of scrap (the hog isn't fond of onion peels) and I imagine within a few hours, there will be absolutely no trace of any food left.

This whole adventure has made me beyond happy. I was able to grab enough food to apparently make a 200-lb pig full (for a day) and all for probably $2-$3 in gas. Granted, that gas money was mostly spent scouting the area for an hour, so I'll spend much less going straight for my new favorite grocery store's dumpster next time.

Oh yes, there will be a next time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Well hi there!

Hey, remember me? The guy with that blog about farming? Yeah, I'm still here! Needless to say, it's been a busy few months. And when I say busy, I don't mean busy as in my tennis lessons went over an extra hour or my favorite TV show is back on the air. I mean busy as in this farm stuff is hard work!

Thankfully, Sarah, the girls, and I are still moving forward with our dreams of making this place what we want. At one point in August and September, I was working three jobs (only one of them was full time, though) while taking care of the baby 12 hours a day and doing the household chores. My job situation changed in October, and I've started letting go of that comfort money that was motivating me to work so much. I've now moved to part time on my previously full-time job, left the other job (when they closed down) and farming has slowed down considerably with the cooler weather. And bam! Here I am actually typing away at my computer.

I've thought almost daily about what I'd like to write here for the last few months, but by the time I'm alone with my thoughts, I usually think of some other project I'd like to work on. That's not to say that this expressive personal writing isn't a priority, because I think about it so much that I remind myself that I need to sit down and get this stuff out of my head more than I do.

But anyway, you probably want to hear about the farm, right? With the garden safely tucked away in a mess of dead plants after the recent freezes, it's time for me to take a look back at how this first year has treated us, and what we're going to do next year.

In September, it had been one year since we first moved to this farm. In that time, we've learned about raising goats, geese, more about chickens, more about rabbits, and even a bit about donkeys. We've made and sold soap and eggs at our local small farmers market, and even sold some eggs to a local restaurant.

We found out that the native weeds in this area are quite stubborn and aggressive, and they can take over a good chunk of your garden if not dealt with on a daily basis. That was one of the hardest parts because I'd look out the window at our messy garden but knew I had 4 or 5 writing projects due by the end of the week, so tending to the garden wasn't possible. There were several days each week during the summer when I hadn't even stepped one foot outside.

We have a freezer stocked full of chicken, rabbit, and pork from a successful year of raising our own pastured, organic meat. We have dozens of jars of canned vegetables from our garden (before the pigs broke loose and ate the rest!). And most importantly, we've already made some great friends and connections in the local Chattanooga food scene.

We have several goals for 2013, but the biggest of them includes a CSA. We have a few interested customers so far, but I'm encouraged by the new ideas I have for the spring garden. I won't go into too much detail yet, but our 2013 garden will be 4 times larger and incorporate much more natural fertilizer that we just didn't have starting out.

I'm not under the illusion that we'll be able to support the family with our farmers market or CSA income just yet, but I'm much happier working part time because it gives me the time to spend with my family and on getting this farm working more effectively. I may never be able to leave my part time job, but I'm OK with that. I'm a FIRM believer in living on less, and we hardly have many bills in the first place. When you break that dependency on working 60-80 hours a week to afford a certain lifestyle, you can enjoy a much happier life. Jetskis and boats and 70-inch flat screen TVs aren't what make a life full. We don't have a dishwasher and we hang our laundry out to dry, we don't have central heat or AC and we don't have cable or satellite TV. How do we cope? By putting on an extra shirt in the winter or reading a book. You'd be surprised at what you can do without when you put your mind to it.

But this leads into another goal of mine: doing even more to reduce our dependency on the non-essentials. I'm not against entertainment or relaxation occasionally, but no one's life should revolve around either.

Oh! And we have another baby due at the end of February. You might think we're crazy for having more kids at this point, but I never look at children as consumers of my time. They're the reason I do what I do, so having more doesn't complicate things; it adds to the motivation.

And with this update, I leave you with a promise to write more, and this 6-part video series I found on YouTube. You may have seen it before when it was on the BBC, but it's essentially the first ever reality show about families living in a recreated Iron Age experiment. Enjoy!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kickstarting the CSA

Next spring, our goal is to establish a Community Supported Agriculture project that will allow us to sell our farm-fresh goodies straight to the people of the Chattanooga area in other ways than just at a Farmer's Market.

To help get this going, we've set up a Kickstarter project that will help us with some of the tools we'll need in the beginning. For now, this includes a greenhouse, a better irrigation system, and a few odds and ends.

The thing about Kickstarter is it's not just about donating to a cause. They have the site set up to let you give rewards for different tiers of contributions. So, for example, if you give $100, you'll get a 100% Organic Cotton T-Shirt, AND everything in the lower tiers, which includes a thank you on our website and FB page, a personal thank-you note sent to your home, a White Ivy Farm bumper sticker, and a postcard with a picture of one of our animals. So it's not like you're just throwing money at someone, you're actually getting some goodies in the process.

I was made aware of Kickstarter when Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2 video game project started earlier this year. Since then, he not only met his goal, but he also set up another program that allows Kickstarters to give back 5% of their earnings to other Kickstarter programs. When I set my project up, I made sure we were a part of this Kicking It Forward program as well.

The most ironic part of all of this is that a CSA itself uses a system very similar to Kickstarter anyway. Customers give their lump sum at the beginning of the season to get baskets of fresh produce throughout the year. That initial lump sum helps fund the farm for their up-front costs such as seeds and animal feed.

So that's why we're doing this. We see it as an opportunity to share the farm with others who want to help get it started, while raising money to help with some initial costs.

Even if you're not able to throw some money at the project, tell some friends or family members who might be interested. Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Introducing: White Ivy Farm

It's been a crazy few months, but I have some exciting news to announce! After years of dreaming, a year of working my butt off and a month of paperwork, we are now officially known as White Ivy Farm. And I guess that means I can now call myself a farmer!

I haven't said too much about this side of things because I have this weird superstition about jinxing stuff if I talk about my plans before they happen, but this is set up and legal now, so there's no turning back.

What do we plan to do with this new fancy business? Well, the goal is to sell at Farmer's Markets the rest of this season and start a CSA in May of 2013. This CSA will be for 22 weeks and the price is yet to be determined, but it will be in line with other local CSAs ($500-$600 per share per 22-week season).

My daughter with our first watermelon of the season
As for our garden, that's been crazy as well. Sarah's been creating some wonderful meals from our tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, carrots, blackberries, and beans, and we look forward to everything else that's still growing. I also bought another 30 baby chicks, and they're growing like crazy. They're variations of the Americauna or "Easter Egger" chickens so they'll lay green, blue, and pink eggs, which should be fun to sell at the Farmer's Market.

Cashew is growing quickly and now allowed to run around with the other goats in the big pasture. She mainly follows Smokey around all day, but at least she's well-protected.

If you'd like to read up on our new farm, you can check out the website at Be sure to also check out the Facebook page where we try to post more pictures than I do here. I'm sure I'll keep this blog as it's been my record of the transition, but I'm not sure if I'll move everything over to the website or just simply link to this one as my blog. Suggestions are welcome!