The new year is here! Anyone else feel surreal writing or saying 2020? Like it’s something out of a sci-fi novel from our youth? I do!
I’ve learned that New Year’s means different things to people. The most common meaning seems to do with “starting fresh” which results in things like quitting bad habits or changing things in one’s lifestyle. Another common meaning is about reflection. And another being setting goals for the new year. Or all of these things combined. What I tend to see are 2 core themes in these actions: Wanting MORE. Wanting BETTER.
I’ll be doing some reflection and goal setting too – for me personally and for the homestead. But, I’m going to avoid MORE and BETTER in these goals. Instead, I’m going to focus my perspective on gratitude and the feeling of abundance in what I/we do have. 2019, as with the previous homestead years, was a lot of work – and highly gratifying. Could there be more? Sure! But not without me pushing my well-being to the edge (or over, eek). Could there be better? Maybe. Perhaps an outsider may look at me or our homestead and find ways to be better, but honestly, I’m pretty happy with how things are. They seem to be working well for us.
By mid-2019 I knew one of my goals for 2020 was going to be “no new major projects – focus on what is.” Another goal is that I’d like to continue focusing on observing the natural world around me (which is something that happens as I’m doing just about anything). Last year we started building a database of observations at iNaturalist – the White Sky Woods Project. Together Tim and I had 309 observations of 224 species!
Neither of these goals is “more” or “better”, I’m down with that.
So, what was good for you in 2019? Can you find gratitude in whatis and allow happiness in, even if the new year doesn’t have “more” or “better”?
From the moment our snowshoes landed on what was to become a property we could call our own, we felt a deep connection. We knew it was meant for us. 8 years later we had completed the yurt and moved here to start our new, radically different life as homesteaders. 2 years after that, the opportunity to purchase the neighboring property presented itself and we just couldn’t turn that down. Combined, we now have 240-acres of woods, pasture, wetland, ponds, with great biodiversity and interesting history including 2 ponds that were former Jacobsville Sandstone quarries.
We invite our friends out and explore on hikes, enjoy the garden and the animals. As a family we wander, discover and catalog newly discovered plant and animal life, and simply enjoy the quiet, amazing place we have here.
I enjoy this amazing place and am delighted to see our friends enjoy it so well – I knew I wanted to share it with others in some capacity. We now have that opportunity, offering various tours as seasonally allowed. Some will be available via “AirBNB Experiences” bookings. Private tour bookings (other than what is offered via AirBNB) will also be available seasonally, listed on our Experiences page.
I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
Each month I submit a piece to be published in the MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. It intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I’ll post the article here too. The following is the original article with a bonus recipe for our personal blog readers.
5/27/19 Jacobsville, MI White Sky Woods Homestead
After a long winter where we received the greatest amount of snow and tough winter weather since the 1980’s (as we were told by locals and confirmed by local snow measures); we have reimagined a few ways to bring our animals closer for water and feeding access and into a better building that will keep them more comfortable in winter. We’ve just completed putting up the new pen for the rabbits. The rabbits are colony-raised on pasture, so they have a large area where they have dirt piles to dig, brush piles to hide in and plenty of space for hopping. This will be our first year offering rabbit meat to our local community. We have a small interested group and look forward to bringing healthy, ethically-raised meat to our community. Next will be moving the chickens and ducks from their large poultry yard over to a free-range area with a better insulated coop for them to go in at night. We will be watching closely with the switch between the poultry yard to free-range, we’re hoping we do not have too much trouble with predators.
Now that the grass is (finally!) green, the goats go out to pasture daily and are enjoying a full buffet of fresh grass, weeds, and sticks. If goats can smile, these ones sure are!
Garden planting is almost complete. Early crops went in the week of 5/13: peas, carrots, onions, beets, parsnips. Other standards like squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers all go in around Memorial Day. Our favorite crop is always the variety of beans we grow for drying. A favorite we grew last year was cannellini, a beautiful white bean that soaks and cooks quickly, it’s soft and buttery and is the perfect complement to a slow-cooked portion of our own pasture-raised pork.
The major undertaking we have this summer is improving an old homestead cabin on our property. Our goal is to open it as an AirBNB (Spring 2020) where people can either come to “get away from it all” and/or engage in learning experiences around our homestead. The first step is siding the cabin – we hope to complete this before the mosquitos come out in full force!
As spring greens up, the kids and I have enjoyed finding all the new life surrounding us – from dandelions, to caterpillars, to tadpoles! Our kitchen table is never short of a freshly picked arrangement of dandelions – haha! Each year we try to forage new things available to us naturally growing around our property. Our most enjoyable foraging experiment this year so far has been Dandelion Flower Cookies!
Before the rumors start, NO, our family is not growing. No, we aren’t expecting any cute baby animals (well, yet). I only used that catchy title to trick you. Ha! But now I’ve got you, and I do have something important to share. It’s a big new project that will lead to this: we’re expecting VISITORS!
An unbelievable opportunity arrived, we were given an offer to purchase 160 acres, contingent to and north of our current homestead. The property has some awesome natural features along with a small home that is there from the original family that owned ours and the surrounding land. We had always dreamed of adding this property to our own, but had no idea it would come so soon.
Well, we are excited to say that we are now the official owners of this new property! It will become a beautiful extension of our own homestead, giving us new opportunities for fields, gardens, and places to graze the animals. It also will be a big part of White Sky Woods Homestead, LLC as we will be renovating the home on the property an converting it to vacation rental/AirBNB. Guests will have the option of getting fresh eggs, goods and produce during their stay, grown right from our homestead. A stay will also offer the option of “experiences”. The experiences will be homestead and nature-focused. They will allow guests to grow their understanding and connection to nature (think: guided hikes, identifying wildflowers) and/or the homesteading way of life (think: lessons on yogurt making, bread making, caring for animals, etc.). Families will also be able to choose experiences that are aimed specifically for children.
It may not look like more than an unfinished structure behind a heap of snow, but with some finishing touches and improvements, it will be a place for people to get away from it all (we’re truly off the beaten path) and enjoy the peace, while adding a touch of homestead life experience to their stay…if they like.
As the snow thaws, the work will begin. As with our homestead journey and yurt build, I’ll be documenting it on social media (Facebook & Instagram), follow along! We intend to be open for guests starting in late spring, 2020.
Have you vacationed at a homestead, farm, ranch, or specialized vacation rental or AirBNB? What did you love about it? What could have been better? Please let me know!
Our poultry/rabbit yard is a fenced off area meant to keep predators out and give our chickens, ducks, and rabbits a fair amount of space to roam. The fence is 5 feet tall. The size of the area becomes less and less accessible to the animals as more snow comes. We always shovel around the chicken coop (chickshaw), duck shelter, and feeding and watering areas. However, we let the snow take over the rest, it would be impossible to keep up with a shovel and the blower doesn’t fit in there (although that would be terrifying to the animals anyhow). The ducks and rabbits still wander in the deeper snow, but the chickens are “chicken” and pretty much stay in or very near the chickshaw.
Last week, before the blizzard that brought 18 inches of new snow and drifts taller than 5 feet, I noticed something odd as I looked out toward the poultry yard. I saw two of our rabbits VERY near the fenceline. When I say near the fence line, I’m not referring to them just being near the perimeter, but also at the TOP of the perimeter. Remember, the fence is 5 feet tall. All the snow that has been falling throughout the season (estimated over 200 inches), has been piling up. Plus, all the snow we’ve been shoveling out of the “living” area has been piling up on top of that. The other day we saw a Blizzard Warning issued for our community. Since the rabbits were already almost able to leap out over the 5 foot fence, we knew we had to get to work.
We spent several hours clearing out as much as we could, including taking the snow piles we’ve been shoveling onto down away from the top of the fence and widening all the snow paths in the poultry/rabbit yard. We cleared out the whole pig pen, shoveled off the roof to the shed and cleared out as much of the goat area as we could.
The trick is, we’re doing all this by hand, and therefore the snow around the edge of these areas is starting to pile up. We knocked down those piles as much as possible knowing we would need to add more. There is only so far we can throw and only so many places we can move the snow. We do not have a machine that can scoop up and lift out the snow.
Then the blizzard came. 18 inches of snow was really nothing, that we can handle. Then the 50-60 mph winds started and lasted nearly 24 hours. We cleared twice during this time, but overnight was when the really crazy wind happened. We lost power at home, but thanks to a stockpile of food and a woodstove, there wasn’t much to worry about inside. As we slept, we had no idea what was happening outside.
In the morning, the sun came out and the power was on. We went out to clear out so we could get the animals fed and watered. 3 hours later it was as good as it was going to get. Once the temps go up again, they are currently lingering between 0 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll go out and continue to clear. The series of pictures below depict some of the results of the blizzard.
There is no doubt that homesteading keeps us on our toes. It challenges our problem solving skills always, which I actually do enjoy! Prior to the blizzard, we had reimagined our livestock housing areas since we’ve really struggled with watering all winter, especially on days under 0 degrees F when the water we provide freezes almost immediately. We hadn’t thought about fencing height for the rabbits with our new plans, but now we have!
After the challenges we were presented with this winter, new animal housing plans and locations have been designed on paper, now we wait until the snow melts to make the changes.
Like every summer here, it’s going to be a busy one! But we have awesome plans and big changes coming. There is never a dull moment here – good thing, what would I blog about otherwise? 🙂
A big part of our move here to the homestead was about the opportunity to be more independent, especially in terms of our food and finances. Gaining this type of independence requires some serious drive, sometimes hard work, and an “I can do this!” confidence and grit.
Often it’s hard to reflect on the day-to-day things that happen because you’re just in the mode of moving right along. Today I had a chance to reflect on the idea of being confident and independent. And it wasn’t my own confidence and independence, it’s my kids.
I’m not going re-hash the article, I hope you just go ahead and read it. After I read the article it reminded me of some play the kids had just the other night. It was dark (cause that’s what it does here after 5:30 p.m. in winter) and the kids wanted to go out and play. My kids, 4 & 9, and a friend aged 9, got bundled up in their snow gear. Each of them were equipped with headlamps for seeing in the dark (their initiative to do so). They also made sure we had a walkie talkie and that ours and theirs were in communication. Off they went, playing in the cold, snow, and dark. While the kids played, it allowed me and my friend to enjoy tea and good conversation by the woodstove. Besides our conversation, the yurt was quiet, which is a real rare thing, ha!
Probably about an hour passed and we heard communication over the walkie talkie – “we’re having fun, but we’re coming in now!” In they came, smiles on their faces, excitedly talking. After dumping their snow gear near the woodstove to dry it, they loudly explained to us that they had “worked on something in the woods” and that we’d have to wait until daylight to see it. We received clues, including that rock pebbles were involved.
The next day we were all together again and going for a hike through the woods. The kids were really excited because they wanted us to see what they had done. A short ways from the yurt, but at a place where the yurt was completely out of sight, we got to where they had been the night before.
There stood a SNOWMAN! Built away from home, in the dark by the light of headlamps, and with absolutely no adult intervention. In my eyes, this snowman is the perfect symbol for raising confident and independent children. I’m sure I had the biggest smile on my face, but the smiles of excitement and pride on their faces was way more rewarding.
Parents, perhaps it sounds scary to let your kids play in the dark and cold while you sit inside drinking tea. But I firmly believe that no classroom or lesson can substitute the experience the kids had out there. They were working together, knew to be prepared (well-dressed, in communication, having headlamps), had independence from parents and therefore came up with this entire play time and building of “Fred” completely on their own. They were fully focused in the moment, using creative-play, and creating memories that will be hard to beat. Were these kids building their confidence and independence? Absolutely! Did this experience help me better see my children as the capable and independent children they are? Yup. Will they be better adults because of it? Man, I sure hope so. In this moment, reflecting back on their excitement, independence and joy makes me one happy mama.
Wishing you peace, love, and nature in the NEW YEAR! (Confidence and Independence too!)
Yesterday marked a first for me, we had a complete hog harvest right here on the homestead. We’ve harvested hogs before, but they went to the local butcher. The local butcher became unexpectedly unavailable at our harvest time, so it was time to try for ourselves. I participated in the whole event, start to finish. I helped prepare the pigs for dispatch, move them, skin the carcass and gut the carcass. I did all the meat cuts on a half hog. It was exhausting but necessary process. I learned a lot!
With that experience complete, I’m feeling a deep sense of pride in myself for being capable of this (and being willing!). It makes me incredibly pleased to be so involved in a process that provides our family with hyper-local food that was raised with love. Yes, we greatly enjoy the meat, and yes, we know the name of the pig it comes from. More about this in my thoughts here:
In Response to a Hog Harvest
I raised this pig.
I watched her be born.
I watched her grow.
I watched her lazily wallow in the mud on hot days.
I watched her take cozy shelter in the hay on cold.
I fed this pig by giving her a pasture to graze.
I shared with her my garden goodies.
I was loyal, I cared for her.
She gave me laughs, and perhaps a few moments of frustration.
Don’t most relationships?
I gave her back scratches.
In return, she warmed my heart.
I knew from the start what she would be.
Because of this I cared for her even more.
I provided for her.
Now, she provides for me.
That is ethical.
That is responsible.
That is hyper-local food.
That defines her and that defines me.
That is something I take pride in.
That is my homestead life.
Last week we were granted an amazing opportunity. The story goes like this. I posted a few messages on Facebook Marketplace and in my newsfeed asking for people who were interested in donating their old Halloween pumpkins to us to contact me and we’d do pick-up. (We ended up with an entire trunkload of pumpkins! The pumpkins are feeding the pigs.)
Anyhow, a Facebook friend saw the pumpkin message and shared the details with her friend. Her friend happens to know a family that grows a large field of vegetables. Anything that doesn’t sell at their farmstand then seems to be picked by community members and donated to local food banks, so awesome. They still had a lot left in the field and snow was coming. No one else was coming to pick. We were connected with them and they allowed us to come out and pick the leftover carrots, rutabagas and beets for pig feed.
It was 20 degrees and snowing but in less than 2 hours we filled the truck with what we estimated to be 1,200 pounds of root vegetables for our animals. The pigs are happy with all the root vegetables. The rabbits are enjoying the carrots. The chickens, ducks, and goats are eating some of the beet greens. All around happy bunch of animals here…and all because of the thoughtfulness of one person that set a chain reaction. In thinking about my gratefulness, this entire experience warms my heart and it also inspires me to consider future growth of our own to emulate the generosity of the family who owns this farm and is so gracious.
So, I’m looking now for some luck in paying it forward. Keweenaw and U.P. area readers, we recently learned of a person who is looking to relocate back to this area. Do you or someone you know have an opportunity for this multi-talented individual? Here are some details. If you are interested in more information, please send me a message.
Trained as an electrical engineer and worked in that field for 10+ years
Past 2 years working on farms full-time and plans to continue that indefinitely
Experience with tractors and equipment, livestock care, poultry slaughtering, making hay, and raising/harvesting/selling vegetables – organic, field, high tunnel, hydroponics
Current living in New England, but lived in the Keweenaw in the 2000’s
Hello! Long time since we’ve updated the blog. But, all for good reason. When the blog goes dormant…it means we’ve been busy!
The harvest is coming in strong.
Homeschool is underway.
The animals are lazily enjoying the autumn weather.
The pantry is being stocked with homemade canned goods of every kind.
Amazing time is being spent with friends.
The woodpile is large enough to sustain us through the winter.
But as the harvest season wraps up, more cozy time inside will be available and I’ll get back to writing, which I love as much as all the summer work (and it will be a well needed break)! If only there were more time in the day for all the things we love the most, right?
Chores are calling, so let me get to the point of this blog. Tim and I, the kids, and the homestead….well, we’re on YouTube! No, no….we didn’t start a YouTube channel. But we were visited by new friends who have a popular homesteading channel on YouTube. We didn’t know it, but they brought their camera and asked us if we didn’t mind filming a bit with them. We said “yes!”. The final product was a real treat for us! What a beautiful gift to capture the homestead in this format, which has not been done before. We celebrated a year here on the homestead in June, so watching this video which was filmed just a few months later is making me feel proud of all our hard work and accomplishments. I hope you enjoy watching the video as much as we did:
The last few weeks we’ve been eating berries. Lots of them! This year, the berries are sooooo good that I can berrily stand it! (<—see what I did there? Ha!)
One of our major joys this July has been foraging for berries. Since we have a full summer of experience here at the homestead now, we know more where to look and what to look for when foraging. We’ve been visiting our property for over 8 summers, but this one by far has given us the best looking, most tasty, and massive quantities of berries. Now, if I could only find more time to pick! I’ve been putting the kids to work to help out. Flora, 8, is fairly useful. Woodland, 4, well…..he’s really good at eating the berries, as you can see by the proof here.
This season’s ripe berries include juneberries (also known as serviceberry or other names depending on regionality), blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. We have all of these on our homestead growing wildly (I am a lucky lucky girl!). The Keweenaw thimbleberries are coming into season too, but I have to travel off our homestead to pick those, and I haven’t gone out for this season’s haul yet. Soon.
What to do with all these berries? Well, our favorite is fresh eating. The kind of fresh where it never makes it to the house because you just eat your way through the bushes. This reminds me of one of our favorite books, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (see the book read here). The kids and I are definitely kindred spirits with little Sal and baby bear.
Another way to use the berries if you don’t eat them all is to make jam. As a busy family of 4, I’ll admit, we eat PBJ sandwiches at least one meal a week….if not more *wink*. I have no shame in this, especially when I’ve made enough jam from the strawberries and coming up from the juneberries and blueberries to last us at least a year. There is nothing sweeter than jam made with berries from our own homestead and made with love, by me.
Yet another way is preserves….as close to berry eating as you can get in winter. Delightful on yogurt, french toast, pancakes, or a dutch baby. Lastly, creating a syrup is also a dandy of a way to get that fresh berry flavor.
Our favorite find this year has been the juneberries. When fully ripe, these beauties are plump and taste like a combination between a blueberry and a concord grape. YUM – gimmie more! The trees they grow on are scrawny but tall so a ladder is a necessity in picking these. I’ll go pretty well any distance and out of my comfort zone for berries. They are in the rankings of my favorite food and an unsteady ladder is the risk I will take to eat them!
My favorite thing about picking berries is not necessarily the taste, full belly, or canned goods – it’s the memories made. Memories of this time of year, memories of the summer weather (and bugs that come with it!), the key life moments taking place, and having great conversation with friends while picking. Summer in the Keweenaw. These are the days!