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Farm, Life

Room to Grow

22 May, 2016

I have learned a lot of important garden and farming lessons in the past few months and so many of them are metaphors for very important life lessons.

I planted three different types of sugar snap peas at the beginning of this journey. In one raised bed I planted a hundred seeds of two types, intermingled in a row. Snap peas need something to grow on, a type of trellis, so we put up some big branches because we thought the bark would allow the snaps to easily grab and grow along them.

pea trial

In the second raised bed, a week later, I planted only 50 seeds of one type of snap pea, except this time they were planted further apart, on either side of a A frame made of bamboo stalks. The bamboo was slicker so we put string every 6 inches going up, so that the peas could grab on to that if nothing else.

a frame

These pictures show the results so clearly. In my first attempt, the peas have created a low bush. Those shoots and leaves that cannot get enough sun are yellowed and withering. I was able to get some really delicious peas off these plants for the CSA last week but the plants have not recuperated from the harvest.

In the second attempt the pea plants are healthy and green. I had to spend extra time helping those plants (training them) up onto the A frame but the result is that they are healthy. As an added bonus I don’t have to bend down and search when I am harvesting because these sweet peas are at eye level.

a frame peas

Most people tell you to plant close together and then thin the plants so that the most healthy ones remain, spaced further apart. It’s hard to thin though, when you are trying to save space and grow more food. I had also read that you can plant many things closer together in order to reduce weed pressure, without harming the plants. Now I know that thinning is a very important part of my farm, especially for plants like peas and beans, because they need room to grow, to reach for the sunshine, and to spread out a bit. How true this is for us humans too.

peas and tipi

<3 Jessa

Farm, Life

Let’s Talk About Eggs

15 May, 2016

When I was younger I never thought much about eggs. I didn’t even really like them that much. Then I saw and tasted farmer’s market eggs. And at a different time Wayne, my hubs with the culinary school background, made me good eggs. Apparently all I had ever had were overcooked sad eggs but now I knew happy, delicious eggs. So if you don’t know and you don’t care to know – stop reading. Otherwise, here are some basics on egg labeling and what those labels mean.

Those Cheap Eggs

The deal with those cheap eggs at the grocery store is that they are usually the bottom of the barrel with the worst taste, the worst animal welfare rating, and *arguably* the least amount of nutrition. All eggs come from chickens but these chickens often spend their entire lives in a cage no larger than a sheet of notebook paper. Sometimes the cages don’t have true bottoms so the chickens little feet become deformed trying to stand on wire. Often they are “de-beaked” which means their beaks are trimmed in such a way that they can’t peck at one another, because they are so close and so stressed that they get aggressive. The animals don’t get any exercise, they don’t get to do any of their normal chicken things, and they are pretty sick – so they use a lot of antibiotics. If you want to see what this looks like google “battery cage chicken”.

Cage Free

This is two steps forward and one step back. Usually this means the hens don’t live in cages but in some cases it just means more hens live in bigger cages. Even if they aren’t in cages they live in big barns with no access to the outdoors, and this is where it gets confusing. There are not a ton of regulations so sometimes, these are small-ish farms with a reasonable number of hens in a reasonably sized barn. The hens have space to roam and dust bathe (chickens get clean in dust – it’s weird and looks like they are seizing) and be alone and scratch and stuff. In most places, though, it’s a lot of chickens in a big barn. So many that they don’t have much more space per chicken than a battery cage and it’s even more stressful because the chickens low on the totem pole (chickens have a thing called a “pecking order” where the big dawgs bully the little guys) cannot get away from the others. There is so much poop that they use big fans to try to pull the ammonia out, but often the chickens have respiratory problems.

Free Range

In the worst case it’s the exact same situation as above but the chickens have access to a small concrete pad that is screened in to protect from predators. In the better cases these are farms that give their chickens supervised access to a nice big fenced in area anytime the weather is ok and there aren’t predators actively lurking. The difference is pretty huge and you don’t know what you’re getting unless you can research the farm that raised them.

Pastured

pastured hens

egg yolks

This is what most people think of as free range. Chickens have access to huge amounts of pasture and can roam basically wherever they want. This is what our chickens enjoy – but there are drawbacks. Almost half of our original flock has been taken by predators and I’m positive one of the Reds hides all of her eggs from me. Our eggs have dark yellow to bright orange yolks because these hens eat a hugely varied diet of greens and bugs and sometimes frogs and mice. (Forreal,theyeatmice) (seetheleftyolkinthepicture).

So now you know. I would encourage you to buy as far up the chain as you can afford. Pastured eggs sell for $6-$7/dozen in my grocery store but the quality is far different than the $1.50/dozen eggs. And many farmers sell cheaper than that (ours are $5/dozen) because they cut out any marketing and distribution costs by selling directly to you. I hope that helps!

<3 Jessa

PS Egg color is dependent on breed. Brown eggs are not any better than white eggs except that most sad eggs are all white because sad egg people use leghorn hens. Our eggs are pink and blue and brownish and cream but their insides are all exactly the same.

eggs

PPS *I put a disclaimer on the nutritional claim because even though I think that’s probably true based on the way the yolks look and the way I feel after eating them, I have not seen any real scientific evidence to back that up. The only articles I’ve read are from fru-fru organic hippie websites and it’s good to be skeptical.

Farm, Life

Life Hack – Save Your Veggie Scraps

29 Apr, 2016

Our home has very little food waste. We aren’t special and we don’t eat disgusting old food (usually – although I am way more likely to do it than Wayne is) but we do have several ways to divert what would normally go in the trash. One way is by feeding our kitchen scraps to the chickens, who LOVE it. They will eat all the insides out of a banana peel or watermelon rind, and if I cut the squash ends or pepper centers up enough they go to town. Then, the peel or the rind or anything moldy or super gross goes directly to the worms.

In addition to our normal outdoor compost pile we have a vermicomposting bin in our garage where red wiggler worms turn kitchen scraps and paper – yesisaidpaper into super terrific nutrient rich soil, while putting off some liquid fertilizer I can use on veggie plants.

But before any of that, I reuse a ton of our veggie scraps in a new meal! And you totally should too because you’ll be making easy, free, nutrient rich food for your family. I keep a tupperware in my freezer that I throw all sorts of veggie scraps in but especially: carrot ends, onion pieces and peels, celery ends (that white part you don’t want to eat and the leafy parts), and kale stems (we eat a lot of kale in this house). The only veggies I can think of that you wouldn’t want to keep in there are garlic bits (because it would overwhelm the flavor) and potatoes (because starchiness). Then, whenever my tupperware are full, I pull them out to make veggie broth and/or soup.

I use at least two 5 cup tupperwares in one batch, sometimes three or four – but that isn’t really important. I just wait a really long time because I’m lazy and use a huge pot.

Big Veggie Pot

Ignore the awful wallpaper and super old oven. That’s just what our kitchen looks like right now. One day we will have fancy upgraded kitchen but that day is not today. Here are your super easy instructions.

  • Put all of your veggies in your pot and put twice as much water in the pot. You don’t have to worry too much about this but generally make sure your vegetables are covered and then some. Make sure, for flavor purposes, that there is at least some carrot, celery, and onion. Sometimes my scrap bins do not have celery so I add a fresh stalk in.
  • Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium and simmer for – well, as long as you want. An hour is fine – I often lower the heat when I go to bed and let it run all night long. You should try it to see which flavors you like best.
  • Put your new broth through a fine mesh strainer and into your container to store!

Veggie Scraps for Broth

*Note that if you are planning to freeze your broth in any glass container you want to let your broth cool, put it into the container, put that container in the fridge to cool more, and THEN put it in the freezer. Otherwise your mason jars will crack and the world will be sad.

Since I do make a ton at a time I usually freeze about half of my broth and make a vegetable soup the next day. Vegetable broth is terrific for all sorts of things. You can deglaze a pan, use it to make rice instead of water for a more flavorful dish, or make a delicious soup. And then I give the dregs to the chickens and worms. 🙂

veggiebrothselfie

<3 Jessa

Life

General Update-y Stuff

15 Apr, 2016

Well, I did it. Item # 24 on my 30 before 30 list was “Quit my office job” and I did it. 4 weeks ago was my last day as an Academic Advisor at Wake Tech Community College and since then I have been farming full time and trying to get healthy (with varying levels of success). I legit miss these people.

wake tech

I have to say, it was incredibly stressful to ultimately quit – but also really exciting. Which is basically how I feel all the time regarding starting a small business. It is the most exciting and most difficult thing I think I’ve ever done. About once a week I freak out that I don’t have enough plants started or they aren’t growing quickly enough or – basically just choose anything I could be stressed over. The rest of the week is spent working hard – incredibly hard. I struggle with the tractor – she and I are still getting to know one another. I create (again, with varying levels of success) hundreds of soil blocks. I sit hunched in the dirt planting potato and onion starts. Also I’m super fashionable lately…

My hands look 10 years older than I am but I have a tan and I’ve lost 7 lbs. A farmer’s tan, specifically. Wayne made fun of me the other day because he saw my arms next to my bare belly and the difference was striking. Also, incredibly, I haven’t had hives in almost two weeks after a round of steroids the doctors gave me. I feel… normalhealthylikei’mnotgoingcrazy. It’s amazing. The steroids are meant to tamp down and reset your immune system, which it did. As a result I got a really bad head cold and lost a whole week of farming. It was all I could do to water the things I had planted and clean a little around the house which made me feel extra bad and lazy, but what are you gonna do right? This was only 6 weeks after my last bout with the cold and it seems insane that I am sick every month so I am doing research on immune boosters and trying to eat lots of good whole foods.  If you have advice, send it my way.

In extraordinary and terrific news my very first round of CSA shares are 3/4 sold! I opened them to signups only 2 weeks ago and already 15 of the 20 shares are gone. I feel so lucky to have support from so many different outlets and 15 people excited to become members of my tribe. I hope to spoil them but it is going to be my top priority not to disappoint them. That means planting all the things and planning for a few surprises. I may go overboard this first go-round but hopefully no one is disappointed by MOAR VEGGIES.

raised bed

More to come. It’s been a while, so I wanted to do a quick update since my world is completely different than it was last time I wrote. Tune in for pictures of tiny chickens and yummy veggies and life. And thank you – for all of your support and well wishes and positivity. I feel so lucky.

<3 Jessa

 

Life

New habits

23 Feb, 2016

Things are starting to warm up here in North Carolina. I actually wore shorts outside this weekend to try to get a little sun on these Casper white gams of mine and shaved my legs without immediately getting spiky again. Ladies, you feel me, right?

Spring and warmth always feels like a beginning and since I am going to have a ton going on this Spring I suppose my mind and heart are starting to plan for it NOW, as the sun heats up the earth a little bit at a time. In that mindset I am trying to cultivate a few new habits that can make my life more pleasant and intentional.

Be Loving

I’ll admit it – I’m sometimes guilty of being judgmental and sarcastic. When you look a mess on social media I have, in the past, gotten petty. “Is she pregnant already?” “Wasn’t he just talking about his engagement two minutes ago?” Yep, PETTY. For the past month I have been trying to catch myself and immediately correct my thoughts. When I see someone who looks beautiful or who accomplished something I immediately praise them. When I see someone hurting I offer my words of support or a reminder that they are not alone.

This has legit caused a huge change in my mind and heart. Not only am I praising other people but I am praising myself. When I am scared that I will fail at farming I remind myself, just like I am reminding other people, that we are strong. Support and kindness are becoming my very first impulses rather than hate and judgment. I am practicing love and fostering self love.

Prepare

I’ve been using a bullet journal (with varying levels of success) for a month and a half now and it has allowed me to stop planning and planning and planning for a unspecified future. Instead, I focus on today and the immediate future while keeping long term plans in the background. It’s a lot harder to be stressed about these huge long term goals when I have small, achievable, short term goals that I can accomplish and feel GOOD about.

Since Wayne has started working in the office again we have hard some difficulty dealing with dinners and lunches. I don’t know why it’s different but we are both pretty tired when we get home at 7pm and have been going to bed much earlier. One thing that has helped me a ton is to prepare one freezer meal every weekend. Last week it was soups and this past weekend I made burritos. I turn on some music, pour myself a glass (or two) of wine, and cook a nice big delicious meal. It is legit so pleasant.

Make the Bed

There is a ton of research that this is the best way to start your day and I am… yet to be convinced. So far it does help keep Dolce’s dirt off of our sheets, which is a huge plus. Farm+dog=strange smells and dirt. Today I caught her gnawing on a deer’s lower leg. Hoof and all. Where the hell did she get that?

I guess it also helps me to notice when our bedroom is reaching critical mess level because the nice bed is a foil to the piles of clothes. What do you think about this? Am I missing something?

<3 Jessa

 

Life

Updates

9 Feb, 2016

Welp, I’m sick again. And not just all hives all the time like I mentioned in this post but also sick sick. I blame our friend Chris because I drank from his cup on accident at dinner last weekend and I have to blame someone. I should really blame my shit immune system, because how is it possible to be this sick all the time?

Anyways, right now when it doesn’t feel like I’m swallowing shards of glass  or going up and down in an airplane I’m working on farm stuff. What that mostly  means is planning, planning, and more planning – and working on the application for a farm loan. It also means seeking out the right advice from the right people. I found an irrigation expert through the local extension office and a regional sales rep with Johnny’s Seeds who is promising to help me pick out varieties that are good for North Carolina. How is it that people are so kind and supportive? I keep thinking that I must have done some really wonderful things in my life to deserve to be surrounded by people who calm my fears and provide all the answers.

I also submitted my resignation paperwork at work, which is terrifying and more than a little sad. I never would have expected (after such a negative environment in my last work space) to find coworkers that make me laugh and give good advice and support one another. My supervisor legit rocks and I really do love this job, so it is hard that I am leaving so soon (March 11th, official last day). But now is the time to focus on creating the life we want so badly, and to spend more time taking care of myself and my family. My immune system is certainly telling me that changes have to be made.

The other update is that we had our requisite 5 days of snow here in North Carolina which I think could turn out to be my favorite time of year every year. It’s just magical (science = magic right?). This year we spent it being lazy, eating comfort foods, playing cards. I spent a lot of time needlessly worrying about the chickens who looked so cute in the snow. They kept tucking one little foot up into their down comforters/feathers to warm it and then switching.
snow chickens

snow sun

We also went to Nashville, but that’s news for another day.

<3 Jessa

Life

Our Annual Pilgrimage

15 Jan, 2016

When Wayne and I first started dating more than 5 years ago things happened quickly and life with him was easy and good. In those early days when we were living together despite having known each other for only a short time it felt like there was a lot to learn. Now I feel like I know him almost as well as I know myself, I can predict how he will react to a certain suggestion and ride out the swell of his moods. But in those early days we jumped at the chance to get to know one another on a little trip to Disney World for the Food and Wine Festival. When I told Wayne how much I had enjoyed the experience in previous years he jumped at the chance. Food? Alcohol? This is totally our thing.

We have been back every year since. This year was the first that we considered not going. I didn’t have very many vacation days left after our trip to Germany and this is, of course, the first year we didn’t live in Florida so we had a flight to add to the expense. Also, our normally decent savings account was pretty nonexistent after purchasing a home, starting renovations, and planning a wedding. We ultimately decided, though, that this trip is important to us. It is perhaps the one tradition that has never been upended and, though we have gone with many different groups of people, one that we always enjoy SO MUCH. We decided to prioritize it over other, more adult things.

This year we had a really cool new surprise. An old friend of mine works in Hollywood Studios now and we met up with him to go see the last year of the Osborne Family’s Festival of Lights. I didn’t even know these existed so I’m obviously not the Disney fanatic so many of my friends are. 🙂 They were awe inspiring and I cannot even explain the joy I felt when I found the perfect spot from which to enjoy the snow machine.

lights

Group Lights

Then Arie and Wayne managed to convince Sabrina and I to ride a few terrifying rides. You can tell by my ridiculous faces how much I like these things right? We’re middle left on the Tower of Terror ride; Right side is really not bringing it in this photo!

tower of terror

rock roll

Arie and that kid in her seat behind us are really enjoying this. I’m dying. Obviously.

If you haven’t been, the Food & Wine Festival is held in Epcot. Little stalls that serve food and beverages meant to represent each country are served from them and there are a ton of countries represented. The lines are long, the food is surprisingly delicious, and it’s kind of hard to get tipsy with all the walking and waiting. We always seem to manage, but it is a tiring day.

epcot beginning

Germany

Fake Germany has a great hall just like real Germany did but is much less raucous. Wayne and I pin trade like small children and it’s one of my favorite things but obviously we’re the only ones. 🙂

downton abbey

phonebooth

There are opportunities for silly picture taking alone the way and the permanent countries have really awesome stores explicitly for buying that country’s merchandise and taking silly pictures. Like this ogre in Norway.

norway

By the end of the night we are usually pretty tired and ready to retire to our airBnB or hotel room for the snacks we thoughtfully bought beforehand. Because we are pros at this.

Tired

<3 Jessa

PS Send us your dates if you want to meet up on our annual Pilgrimage in 2016! We would love to explore with you!

 

 

Life

Health

6 Jan, 2016

I am writing this completely frustrated. It’s the kind of frustration that itches on your insides and makes it hard to be sweet or kind or patient, the way I want to be. It makes me want to rail and scream and SCRATCH.

I think sometimes it’s hard to be honest about yourself to everyone but sometimes it’s hard to be honest to yourself too. I follow this blog pretty closely and when she came out to her rather large readership about her health issues I was really sad for her but also glad that she opened up about the process and all of the ways it was impacting her. It was interesting to read and made me think about my health in a new way and, I don’t know, made me feel connected? Empathy is a big thing.

And now i have a weird situation, nowhere near as serious as hers, but I am experiencing some similar emotional stuff. During our wedding week I started to get hives. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the evening, sometimes in the middle of the day. Sometimes big hives on my upper thighs and back, sometimes small itchy bumps on my scalp and neck and behind my knees. I chalked it up to stress, felt otherwise healthy, and dealt with it. They would go away after short periods of time with no medication. If I woke up with a swollen lip and didn’t want to risk showing up at work with it I would take a generic allergy pill and it would be gone.

Well, the hives have persisted. Not just persisted, they’ve gotten worse. For the past three and a half months I have been getting hives almost daily. I tried an elimination diet for one month where I ate solely fruits and vegetables and drank only water while I paid close attention to my reactions to see if diet could be to blame. We cleaned our house because we noticed small mold spots to see if that helped. I went on vacations far away from our home and our climate and still got them. Last week was relatively hive free and, while I could not determine why, I let myself hope that maybe it had passed.

Just now, while in an advising session with a student, I had to excuse myself while I took an allergy pill. The inside of my mouth is swollen up to my teeth, my braline and inner thighs itch like hell, and my scalp is on fire. Plus I have other symptoms. Shitty ones. Seriously body, what’s up? You want to fight?

One of the hardest parts about this whole thing is the 50 questions I endure every day. They are the exact same questions you want to ask me right now. “Why does that happen?”  “Have you seen a doctor” Have you gotten an allergy test?” “Have you tried not eating gluten, my friend has a gluten allergy and gets hives” “Have you tried eating a whole garlic clove on an empty stomach? It destroys the bacteria in your body” ad nauseum. I know you are being concerned and it’s actually really nice that you want to help but I have these conversations several times a week, or anytime that someone asks me “How are you?” at the wrong time of day. And then people want updates. “Feeling any better?” “Oh I read this, have you tried this?” You are kind but I am exhausted and really really itchy and scared that they’ll never go away.

The other hardest part is that I have to go work with swollen lips and eyes sometimes because I can’t miss that many days of work. It’s kind of embarrassing.

I want my blog to be an honest reflection of me and what I’m going through and this is a big part of it right now. Allergy pills and pills to deal with what I hope are related symptoms and stressing about doctors and stuff.

<3 Jessa

Life

Quiet Time

14 Dec, 2015

Our wedding week memories are distinctly split in my mind between quiet time and riotous laughter. Some of my favorite moments are chronicled right here. Getting ready with my lady friends, sipping champagne, our casual “first look”, and the anticipation of our entrance to the party. I know that it was a celebration of Wayne and I’s love to one another but it also felt extraordinarily like a celebration of our love for everyone that was there and their celebration of love for us.

This first picture is not pretty (through no fault of the photographer) but it is so wonderful to me. Tim caught us in a moment of peace, in our unrenovated future kitchen with the windows open and the dog at our feet. We are chatting and looking at the wedding hashtag #puttingonthewitz to see how our friends are enjoying Durham and spending their day.

Quiet

Lipstick

Leaning in

Made Up

Naked

slip

Smiling

Surrounded

Place

First Look 2

First Look

From the Doorway 2

From the Doorway

From the Doorway 3

From the Doorway 4

Grand Entrance 1

Grand Entrance 2

Grand Entrance 3

If this post is a little vain forgive me. This blog is as much my interest in chronicling my memories as it is my chance to share a little love in the world. Plus, that train! When I look at these pictures I feel incredibly grateful that I am surrounded now, more than ever, by really wonderful , loving, supportive women. I can’t imagine what I did to deserve them but I am so happy I have them.

<3 Jessa

 

PS. All photos by Tim Beckford (who is really fancy and fabulous for real!), currently of I Heart New York Photography.

Life

Friday Favorites – Holiday Edition

11 Dec, 2015

You know that rule of thumb parents use to get presents for children? One thing to wear, one thing to read, one thing you want, and one thing you need. I’m following that from now on. 🙂

snowman

To Wear: 

Rose gold sequined leggings ALL DAY. Leggings are my whole life.

This mustard knitted loop scarf is on super sale for only $13.

To Read:

Policy and Laws impact so so much. I really love this one example of how people are encouraging one another to care about the policies that impact them and their communities. Plus it has to do with farming and food so…

Incarceration and education are sort of hot-topic areas to me. Education during imprisonment reduces recidivism by 43% and I could not be more excited that Pell Grants are going to be made available to qualified inmates in a test run at certain correctional facilities. This could have a direct impact on the lives of not just the offenders and ex-offenders, but also their families and children. RISE UP.

You Want:

We got this little snail speaker as a wedding gift and I have used it SO MUCH. It is adorable, it travels anywhere because it’s waterproof and suction cupped, and it works really well! Plus it’s only $30. Worth it.

I don’t think this is practical at all but I want these agate coasters. I just want tons of natural stone and wood and materials around me but I’m worried that setting down a glass on this will make a big clink or even crack them? Does anyone have these? Please educate me.

You Need: 

We have 3 king sized beds in our house and only 3 sets of king sheets. We definitely need a backup. Those aren’t cheap but they are so gorgeous!

We need a coffee table and if I had an extra grand hanging around, I would buy this one. It’s gorgeous and industrial looking and I could put such beautiful little bits and bobs in it.

 

I had to write this post because I have legit not thought about Christmas gifts at all. I’m in the spirit, I swear! We bought our tree the day after thanksgiving and had several cozy fires in the fireplace but gifts? Meh. I’m hoping this list kickstarts my own shopping.

<3 Jessa