5-Star Customer Service from Woods Prairie Farms

Today I received a personalized phone call from Megan at Wood Prairie Farms www.woodprairie.com who had read my blog post while doing an Internet search. Owners, Jim and Megan Gerritson are pioneering the practice of organically grown potatoes.

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Apparently my blog review of their company and my 2015 sampler sweet potatoes order gave them pause to reconsider their shipping methods and costs. Megan said, “Your blog post caused us to reconfigure our shipping costs and I wanted you to be the first person to know this. And I hope that you will reconsider ordering from us again this coming year.” Thank you Megan!

I use to be in the public relations and marketing business and owned my own company so I know good business practices when I see them. And this is what I call five-star customer service!

Seed Potato sampler

If you follow my blog you know that I ordered the “Organic Experimenters” Special” sampler of organic sweet potatoes from Wood Prairie Farms last season. I was thrilled to find Monsanto free potatoes and was willing to pay the $19.95 advertised price for 12 potatoes of four varieties but I was shock in the costs of their shipping and handling fees.

Yes, the potatoes arrived in a top drawer custom printed  box, with a four-color Maine Potato Catalog and four-color postcards describing  each of the potato varieties s I ordered , but I was, quite frankly, dismayed at the cost of the shipping. Yes, I should have asked while I had them on the phone but in all honestly I was so excited to have finally found organic, non-GMO sweet potatoes, I failed to ask. See the entry here: https://smallhousebigskyhomestead.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/potato-plantin…-the-homestead/

Yukon Gold image

Wood Prairies Farms is family owned, just the kind of company I prefer to do business with. And they certainly make good on what they promise. But as a senior citizen on a fixed income costs are always on top of my mind. I have to be sure that the produce grown is worth the outlay of costs involved.

I am not being paid for this post. This entry is just being written from my heart. I am impressed with their customer service and follow though. And this year when you plan your garden, I hope you will give them a try.  To order toll-free call 1-800-829-9765 and ask for Megan. And, please tell her you read my post.

Wood prairie Family photo

Feel free to check out their site and their products on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/woodprairiefarm/

Small House homestead, Donna

The Real Value of a Home Cooked Thanksgiving Dinner

Last night as I was driving to physical therapy I saw a sign at the Big Boy restaurant in town, it read, “Turkey dinners On Thanksgiving Day, $8.99 per person.” I thought to myself in my 5 p.m. tired fog, I am doing this wrong. Taking my son and family to dinner would cost us about $36.00, plus drinks.

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A fun Thanksgiving game of dominoes with our grand daughter.

Today as I processed the idea overnight I began to realize that my special order organic 9lb. chicken at $4.00 a lb. that the chicken alone equals the monetary cost of the meal advertised on that restaurant sign. Add to that expense the cost of organic; potatoes, carrots, stuffing, Seven Superfoods Salad ingredients, corn bread, Jell-O w/ fruit (for my 6 yr. old granddaughter), two vegetables and dessert, cider, lemonade, cider and tea. And I quickly realized that for many cheap food is a real and deceptive lure.

Add to that my 2015 Thanksgiving Schedule:

Monday: Make the shopping list and grocery shop.

Tuesday: Make the Jell-O and Seven Superfoods salads and bake the pies.

Wednesday: Clean house, change tablecloth, makes the table arrangement and set the table.

Thursday: Get up early to cook the food and entertain the family.

And yet the flip side to this coin is the reality of what a home cooked meal prepared with love truly means. As life gets busier and busier, welcoming family and guests into the warmth and security of our homes for the day is becoming a lost art. But I feel it’s an art worth pursuing and keeping.

Because we use locally raised foods, we are not footing the bill for transporting ingredients across the country or around the globe. So it takes less fossil fuels (or energy) to cook a locally sourced meal at home. Studies show that it takes double the amount of energy to process, package and transport food than it does to grow it

Because we have control over what we are cooking and eating our meal will be more nutritious with less salt, additives and empty calories. Food we cook a home is just plain healthier and the cooking process itself empowers us to make heathier choices.

Cooking at home is also better for the environment as there is less food waste and fewer tossed out items like food wrappings and paper napkins and tinfoil cooking pans to enter the waste stream.

It’s a terrific way to teach introduce children to new dishes as well as about the taste, texture and pleasure of well-prepared food. This process turns the time spent together in the kitchen or dining room a family bonding experience.

The real truth is, the food I cook at home just tastes better. Once I began eating “real foods” I quickly recognized the difference between what I was now eating and the “dead food” taste of the foods in my past.

Their is also the pride I feel when I plan and cook a great meal at home and my family devours it. This is something I cannot put a price on. I know I am giving something of value to them and this is a way for me show my love for my son and granddaughter.

Because we will be using the whole chicken we have less waste. We will eat that chicken for our Thanksgiving dinner and then have leftovers to work with for the rest of the week. For us that means making a homemade chicken pot pie later on that same week, one of my husband’s all-time favorite meals

After that I will take the bones and skin and vegetable trimmings and boilthem into a rich chicken stock. This will be the perfect starting point for a pot of delicious homemade soup later on this winter.

Anything left over will end up in the compost bin and in a year or so it will be turned into wonderful soil and free fertilizer and the leftover bones and skin will be given to the chickens to peck over as a treat.

While we build the basics of a healthy from scratch meal we also build community and lifelong bonding with our loved ones. We make and keep traditions and create memories that are priceless.

The only real ingredients I need for my happy Thanksgiving are real food and my family. And I believe that cooking still matters.

Small House homesteader, Donna

A Day of Thanksgiving Gratitude at Small House Homestead

Everything we have is a gift. Today is a celebration of the harvest, fall, food and gratitude.This is a day set aside for counting our blessings…and the simple gift today is family and friends to enjoy this celebration with.

Brenna Gene and Elsa in hats cuts      Our granddaughter and Elsa the Rhodie enjoy the balmy weather.

TODAY’S THANKSGIVING MENU:

  • Roasted organic pasture raised chicken with red potatoes, carrots tomatoes, flavored by ground pepper and basil
  • Jell-O and frozen peas (both for my 6-year-old granddaughter)
  • Raw Seven Superfoods Salad
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • Dishes of green olives, black olives
  • Organic lemonade and fresh local cider

Mom's Stuffing

Mom’s Turkey Stuffing Recipe Yield: Serves 8-10.

Ingredients:

  • 1 loaf of day old French bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 10-12 cups)
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups each, chopped onion and celery
  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1 green apple, peeled, cored, chopped
  • 3/4 cup of currants or raisins
  • Several (5 to 10) chopped green olives (martini olives, the ones with the pimento)
  • Stock from the turkey giblets (1 cup to 2 cups) (can substitute chicken stock)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning or ground sage (to taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Method:

1 If you haven’t already made the stock, take the turkey giblets – heart and gizzard – and neck if you want, and put them in a small saucepan, cover with water and add a little salt. Bring to a simmer; simmer for about an hour, uncovered. Strain the stock into a container for use with the stuffing. Alternatively, you can use chicken stock or just plain water with this recipe.

2 Toast the walnuts by heating them in a frying pan on medium high heat for a few minutes, stirring until they are slightly browned (not burned) OR put them in the microwave on high until you can smell the aroma of them toasting, about a minute or two. Let them cool while you are toasting the bread, then roughly chop them.

3 Heat a large sauté pan on medium heat. Melt 3 Tbsp butter in the pan, add the bread cubes, and stir to coat the bread pieces with the melted butter. Then let them toast; only turn them when they have become a little browned on a side. Note, if you aren’t working with somewhat dried-out day-old bread, lay the cubes of bread in a baking pan and put them in a hot oven for 10 minutes to dry them out first, before toasting them in butter on the stove top. The bread should be a little dry to begin with, or you’ll end up with mushy stuffing.

4 In a large Dutch oven, sauté chopped onions and celery on medium high heat with the remaining 3 Tbsp butter until cooked through, about 5-10 minutes. Add the bread. Add cooked chopped walnuts. Add chopped green apple, currants, raisins, olives, parsley. Add one cup of the stock from cooking the turkey giblets or chicken stock (enough to keep the stuffing moist while you are cooking it). Add sage, poultry seasoning, salt & pepper.

5 Cover. Turn heat to low. Cook for an hour or until the apples are cooked through. Check every ten minutes or so and add water or stock as needed while cooking to keep the stuffing moist and keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Brussel Sprouts on cutting oard

Seven Superfoods Salad (Adapted)

(Adapted from The Farmhouse Deli, Douglas, MI)

This is my current favorite raw salad. Not only is it raw and tasty it is chocked full of healthy nutrition.

SALAD INGREDIENTS:

Raw organic broccoli, Brussels sprouts, purple and green cabbage, cauliflowers florets, curly kale, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, cherries or craisins.

I like to make this as fresh as possible so I make what can be eaten in approx. two days. So my measurements are done according to that.

DRESSING:

The original recipe called for Agave but I used raw, unfiltered local honey. Both work fine.

Mix ½ cup honey and 4 TBLS Braggs apple cider vinegar (with the mother)

  1. Using the Cuisinart, dice 1 cup of the following; broccoli, Brussels sprouts both cabbage and kale. Toss well and set aside.
  2. Add the dressing to the raw vegetable approximately. two hours prior to serving.
  3. Just before serving add ½ cup of sunflower seeds and ½ cup of craisins.
  4. Toss and serve.

Chicken uncoked in pan

Locally raised pastured chicken in the pot with vegetables.

It was wonderful day with family. I am blessed.

Grandma Brenna Else in front of house USE

Small House homesteader, Donna, Elsa and Brenna

The First Snow of the Season

The weatherman was predicting up to 7“of snow overnight in SW Michigan and this meant snowfall on our homestead as well.

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Thick and wet snow sticks to the burning bush at the pool shack.

I worked long past dark removing from the coop the last of the plastic waterers, 2″X4” chunks of wood I use to raise the feeders and watering cans off the ground. Everything was quickly stashed in the pole barn before they got buried under the snow. The final few chunks of pumpkin from the runs were tossed into the compost bin.

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Our vegetable garden fence is layered with fresh snow.

Gene drained the water pipes on the studio and converted the water over to the house well. He covered the outside faucets with a styrofoam covering as a “better safe than sorry” effort.  One year we had a broken pipe with water running under the fridge and all over the studio floor and that was a two-week nightmare!!

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep,. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep.

I took the 9 lb. organic chicken out of the freezer to begins its 5-day thaw for Thanksgiving.

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Playhouse in the snow.

We were lucky that while we did have a couple of inches of a wet snow dusting, it is the wet quick to melt kind of snow. And best of all it was not enough snow to cover the driveway or sidewalks or have to be shoveled off. Relief!

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The leaves at the edge of the meadow and woods.

We will be driving about an hour and half each way today to a family memorial so I was relieved that our plans did not have to change either.

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The chicken condo complex under a light snowfall.

The chickens are not happy though. They came out of their coops and took a look and went no further. I spread out two large buckets of bark chips to give them a snow free place to hang out. They are all milling around the enclosed run areas and going in and out of the two coops and complaining.

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Greeting from the Small House Homestead.

The long closed up in the coop and run season has begun.

Small House homesteader, Donna

 

Sitting With My Chickens

To some people chicken are a means to an end… eggs…meat…fertilizer.

Three Rhodies 11-11-15 USE

The girls are curious why I am sitting with them in their covered run.

But to me that are much more. They are my friends. They trust me. I have learned this by sitting with them nearly every day.

It doesn’t take much work or much time. I just sit on the ground and be with them. I watch them, talk to them and caress them when they let me into the flock.

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The come up and peck off bits of dirt from my jeans just like do each other.

I find that they love this activity and come right up to me; they talk to me, look me right in the eye, tell me their mysteries and generally treat me as one of their own.

We connect.

You need only think of a flock of birds flying together or a school of fish swimming together to understand the beauty of connection.

This has become a time of stress reduction for me, a time of peace. I find I am happy and at my most relaxed when I am sitting with my chickens.

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Our evening free range time together.

It’s pretty simple really; my chickens make me a more patient, living in the moment person.

I invite you to try it and report back.

Small House homesteader and chicken keeper, Donna

Soil Is the Great Connector of Lives

 A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Cert with compost

Our garden cart and 5-gallon buckets are an essential part of my garden labor.

A granddaughter of a dairy farmer I never realize the real importance of the soil until I came to the Small House Homestead. I have learned that a high quality, healthy and organic soil makes the difference between being able to grow and not grow. Healthy organic soil is the foundation of food security.

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Gene is shoveling bark chips from the truck to the buckets.

Our most important job as vegetable gardeners is to feed and sustain soil life, often called the soil food web, beginning with the microbes. If we do this, our plants will thrive, we’ll grow nutritious, healthy food, and our soil conditions will get better each year. This is what is meant by the adage ”Feed the soil not the plants.

Every season I work to make our soil healthier through making my own homemade compost. Kitchen scraps, chicken poop, spent flowers and leaves; everything that is not meat or bones goes into our compost pile.

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Our 6-bin compost station built of pallets and T stakes is not fancy but it gets the job done.

Today I spread our homemade compost on the fruit trees, shrubs and some of our perennials. I was able to make about 12 5-gallon buckets this year. Every year I make more compost and every year I do not have enough to go around.

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I have to decide which plants most deserve the composted soils and then top dress them with well composted horse manure for the rest. We are fortunate to have as much horse manure available as we can haul home.

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5-gallon buckets of compost and manure lined up waiting to be spread.

This is a big deal for us because our Oak Savannah forest soil is lean, sandy and pretty much nutrient free.

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I let the chicken do the work of turning the composted soil.

Our soil building formula is simple; homemade compost, horse manure and bark chips as mulch. Without this I don’t think I would be able to garden or grow at all.

Making soil and growing food and flowers is my calling.

Soil is the great connector of life

Small House homesteader, Donna

The Big 65 and Chop and Drop the Comfrey

Yesterday was my birthday. It was the big one as I turned age 65. I am Medicare eligible at last and this means I can now draw on my Medicare insurance after all of these years of paying into the system. Gene offered to take me out to dinner but I am still not feeling 100% normal from my lingering bronchitis and I wanted to enjoy the day at home. So we ate a home-cooked meal outside in the sunshine sitting on our garden bench. It was a perfect simple day.

Gene walking offset nice

Walking in the designated Allegan Game Forest

The day was sunny and warm and I spent as much of my day out-of-doors because I wanted to take advantage of the last few days of Indian Summer warmth. The high temperature was just 50 degree but with no wind blowing and the sun it felt much warmer.

Gene chicken belly scratch

Playing with the chickens

I took the chickens out to free range and sat on a chair in the sunshine and watched them graze. I have discovered that watching the chicken and their goofy antics is one of the most pleasurable and relaxing things I can do for myself. It is like a kind of meditative therapy.

Horizontal sowes bed Gene looking

Unwrapping the chicken wire to go around the fruit tree bed to protect them from the deer.

I supervised the fencing in of the triangle fruit tree beds while Gene cut back the comfrey that I had planted around the trees this past spring. We used a permaculture system process called “chop and drop.” We cut them down and dropped them at the base of the trees to enrich the soil and give nitrogen to the delicate tree roots. I added fresh compost from our 6-part compost bin to feed them as well.

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Confrey close up USE

A close up of the chop and drop comfrey.

Gene then staked the beds using green, metal T stakes that came from my friend’s home that she recently sold and ran the chicken wire surround piece that was also given to us. Our goal is to keep the bunnies from eating the tender bark on the fruit trees and the deer from eating the buds.

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The roll of wire waiting to be put around the fruit trees. 

We did this to both fruit tree beds using tall stakes to give us an indication where the beds are located so they can be seen when the snow gets deep this winter. Gene asked for a way to see the beds while snow blowing paths to the pole barn and chicken coop and this seemed the simplest solution.

Smallhydragnea and bird feeder

Wrapping the hydrangea to prevent the deer from eating the buds.

After our work was completed I decided I wanted to take a drive so we headed into nearby Allegan for cocoa and a sweet treat and then enjoyed a drive around farm country. We like to explore the dirt roads looking for barns to photograph and places for Sassy to run and hunt. We explored a new to us section of the Allegan State Game Area and Gene found a trout stream to fish in the future. In fact he watched a large salmon going after a tiny trout, so he was thrilled.

Cert with compostThis years compost waiting to top dress the perennials.

I’m a pretty simple person, I love our home-center life and a simple day was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday.

Small House homesteader, Donna