Have you ever wondered what it would be like to only eat food that you're able to harvest or handpick yourself for an entire year? Today's episode is an amazing story and one that I was very intrigued by, read on or listen for Alexia's story.
Alexia is from Hawthorn Farms which is an 8-acre teaching farm in Woodinville, WA where she lives and works alongside her husband Daniel. She is going to tell us exactly what a year's worth of hand-harvested food means, as well as the things you need to be considering, planning and doing beforehand, and one of the most important crops that they grow.
Alexia, who likes to refer to herself as “Alexia Allen who was made out of Hawthorn Farm” has eaten only hand-harvested food for 12 months, that's right, a complete 12-month cycle where she ate only food she had grown, foraged, or harvested herself, or that was hand-harvested by friends and family without any money exchanging hands or entering a grocery store.
Read on because this episode of the Pioneering Today Podcast (episode #315) is such an inspirational story!
Raising Their Own Meat & Dairy
One of the gaps in their challenge was that they still needed to buy feed for their animals. They raise ducks, rabbits, and dairy goats, then also bought a guernsey cow for a little while before realizing their home was just too small for a dairy cow.
Between the duck eggs, rabbit meat, and all the goat's milk they could want for drinking, or turning into cheeses, they didn't go without and the only thing Alexia really wished she had from time to time was some Nutmeg from the Caribbean.
In order to feed her family for a year, Alexia cans, dehydrates, ferments, and stores a large portion of what they grow at Hawthorn Farm.
She mentioned canning blueberries, tomatoes, and applesauce. She dries meat, fruit, and vegetables. Her husband makes about 50 gallons of sauerkraut throughout the year. She also makes cheese with their goat's milk.
Alexia uses garden rotation to keep fresh veggies growing year-round, whether in the greenhouse or in the garden.
Most of the year they were able to eat a large variety of foods because they not only harvested food fresh, but also preserved it or stored it for the winter months.
In late spring and early summer, there was a bit of a hunger gap, this was when last year's produce was all used up, but it was still a couple of months until their garden would be producing.
But they did just fine eating cornbread, dried beans, a big large salad with a side of sauerkraut.
This reminded me of my own dad who was raised at the tail end of the Great Depression and who has taught me many self-sufficiency tips from his upbringing.
Deprivation or Renewed Love of Seasonal Eating
Alexia shared candidly that there were times where she didn't want to eat another dried apple, some foods got monotonous, but that deprivation from the variety of foods available at the grocery store renews your love of seasonal eating.
She described her experience of picking the first sun-ripened strawberry in her garden and the genuine joy that brought! The flavors were better, the appreciation of that strawberry was heightened, and the overall experience of living without made the joy of seasonal eating worth it.
Prepping for the Challenge
I asked Alexia how they prepped for this challenge because it's a difficult one to just start without much forethought.
Alexia shared that she had been planning and taking notes of how much she and her husband would eat throughout the year, so she knew to plant extra of many crops.
They also utilized a couple of hoop houses and a greenhouse to grow the additional food, and growing food into the shoulder seasons.
She also took more time off from work to allow herself time to grow, harvest and preserve the food, but the money saved from not buying their food at the grocery store (plus gas money and wear and tear on the car going to and from) was certainly worth it.
In fact, even after the challenge, Alexia and her husband still eat mostly home-grown food.
Grab My Book & Workbook!
You may want to pick up a copy of my book, The Family Garden Plan, or my workbook, The Family Garden Planner. Both of these books will help you calculate not only how much to plant for your family to feed you for a year, but also what the best crops will be for your specific needs and likes.
Alexia noticed, throughout her one-year challenge, that her body would have extreme cravings where she'd end up eating a lot of dried apples or another food item beyond her normal consumption. Then she had a friend who brought her sea kelp from the ocean, she ate a little bit of that and her cravings completely went away!
Throughout the year this happened a few different times and each time the sea kelp took the cravings away. Her conclusion was that the kelp was providing a mineral or element her body was needing. She discovered that the health of the soil is directly tied to the health of your body from the food you eat grown in that soil.
Accepting the Challenge?
Alexia and her husband started off small by doing a two-day trial of only eating foods they had harvested themselves (or to simplify, even just food you already have on hand).
From there, they had so much fun and it was quite easy for them, so they decided to try one week.
After that one-week challenge, they were hooked and ready to give the year a shot!
They were quite surprised by the impact their own journey had on others' lives and many people decided to follow suit and do their own challenges.
If you decide to do a one-week, one-month, or even one-year challenge following Alexia's guidelines, I'd love to hear about your experience in the comments below! Be sure to share your journey on social media and tag me @melissaknorris so I can share your journey that others might be inspired by as well!
Create Your Own Challenge!
If you don't have the space, resources, or skills available to you to do your own one-year food challenge, do a simple one-meal challenge, or create a unique challenge of your own such as trying your hand at homemade cleaning products or buying from local farms for a year!
Alexia has a friend who did their own “home-grown lettuce” challenge. They decided they would grow their own lettuce for the entire year! This is a fantastic thing to do and they still appreciated the work it takes and the return on investment of time and experience.
To help create your own challenge and inspire homemade recipes, I happen to have a book filled with DIY recipes and tutorials called the Made From Scratch Life, but you could make your own cleaning sprays, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, etc.
Find Alexia & Hawthorn Farm
If you're interested in finding Alexia or following Hawthorn Farm, visit their website Hawthorn Farms where you can sign up to take a class, visit their blog, see their photo gallery, and get in touch with Alexia!
Preserving The Harvest
Be sure to join my Home Canning with Confidence course so you can preserve your hand-harvested food to enjoy all year long!
If you want to access the free canning safety module, you can watch that right here.
Melissa K Norris: Hey, pioneers and welcome to episode number 315. Today's episode is really an amazing story. And one that I was so intrigued by that I had to ask her to come on the podcast and share her experience with us. It's going to be talking about eating an entire year of hand harvested food only. And yes, you heard that right. A complete 12 month, one year cycle. So, in this episode I'm going to be talking to Alexia is from Hawthorn Farms, which is an eight acre teaching farm, where she lives and works alongside her husband, Daniel. And she is going to tell us exactly what a year's worth of hand harvested food means. If you are going to take on a project like this, what are some things that you need to be considering, planning and doing beforehand?
Melissa K Norris: One of the most important crops and the crops that they grow. I think you are going to absolutely love this episode, and I cannot wait for you to hear Alexia's story and be as inspired as I was. Welcome to the Pioneering Today podcast. I'm your host, Melissa K. Norris fifth generation homesteader, and best-selling author of multiple books, including the family garden plan. It is my mission and life's passion to help others live a homegrown and handmade life using simple modern homesteading. I have seen the literal life-saving and life-changing powers of living this lifestyle.
Melissa K Norris: Not only for myself, but literally hundreds, if not thousands of people who share with me their stories that are very similar to mine. And I am thrilled to be able to offer that help and inspiration to you as well. Now, as we dive into our interview with Alexia, in order to access any of the links or resources that we're talking about, or to read it in blog post form, go over to melissaknorris.com/315. So, that's melissaknorris.com/315, because this is episode number 315. Okay. Let's dive into this. Alexia, welcome to the pioneering today podcast.
Alexia Allen: It's a treat to be here, Melissa. Thank you.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, I have been very intrigued and looking forward to this conversation for quite a while, for a little bit of context, I would love for you to specify what this meant for you guys within the year that you did this? But you did a complete year of only eating hand harvested food. So, was that food grown only on your farm or your property or that you specifically hand harvested that? Or what was the context for that?
Alexia Allen: Great question. And we decided to eat food that had a complete story from earth to us without any cash changing hands. So, it could be hand harvested by us or hand harvested by friends, anywhere in the world. In fact, I was really hoping for somebody to go to the Caribbean and bring us back some nutmeg. I understood the spice trade in a whole new way. Eating from a very primarily local environment. And I like to introduce myself as Alexia Allen, who is made out of Hawthorn Farm, because I have eaten primarily from the land where I live. But we ate from everywhere.
Alexia Allen: Friends in Montana brought us cherries. We would go to the ocean and get sea salt. A friend in Hawaii sent us macadamia nuts and cacao nibs. A friend in Miami sent us the only three off avocados we ate the entire year. So, it was just what has actually been harvested by hand and shared with us or whatever that we have hand harvested from our garden or other points on the maps. So, that's what it was. For an entire year we just didn't enter a grocery store and it was so much fun.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. That is really amazing. That is some dedication too, because we have time periods, especially in the summer months when the harvest is on and there's a more that we're able to do foraging wise, even if it's not a crop that we have cultivated here on our property. So, I definitely, we go to the store much less during those months. And we try to preserve a lot of our food, either what we can get, or there are certain crops that we'll buy from people. Like we don't have enough cherries to put up for a whole year sold by cherries from local farmers, et cetera, but I am buying them. But that is just amazing to me that you were able to go an entire year. So, where is Hawthorn Farm? Because I know people and myself are going to be curious about what type of growing environment and where it was that you guys are at and your farm.
Alexia Allen: Yeah. So, I'm in Woodinville, Washington, not far from you in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. We're actually about 20 miles outside of downtown Seattle. So, one of our little mottos is reclaiming suburbia. When I moved here 17 years ago, it was some pretty overgrazed pasture and some lawn and some ornamental trees. And now it's a landscape that feeds us about 80% of our calories still, even after our food challenge year. About an acre of garden. And fortunately I can do a lot of winter gardening as well. And my husband is a devoted sauerkraut maker. So, we managed to eat pretty well through the year based on the climate that we're blessed with.
Melissa K Norris: Yes. And yeah, we are pretty close. I think I am a little bit colder than you and a little bit hotter in summer just because we're closer to the mountains. We're not quite so close to having the marine that kind of helps keep things a little bit more even there. So, what, besides vegetables and some fruit on your farm, did you produce any of your own meat or dairy or for those types of foods or was that something that you were able to harvest, have someone else harvest for you? What did that landscape look like?
Alexia Allen: Oh, great question. Because one of the little gaps in our scheme here is that we weren't ringing up a grocery store bill, but we did buy food for our animals. And we have quite a few. We have a duck flock ranging between 10 and 30 birds. We've got about that many chickens for eggs, for meat and the ducks eat all the slugs around our place. We also raise rabbits for meat. And I have dairy goats as well. Well, let's see, what else? Oh, and then someone said, what about butter for your homegrown popcorn? So, I did buy a cow. I bought a giant Guernsey cow, but then I realized, wow, our place is way too small to really feed this enormous Guernsey cows. So, I found her a place with more grass, but we did get some butter for our popcorn.
Alexia Allen: So, we have been eating animal products pretty happily. And I was vegan for 10 years. I sort of had this whole period of going through not eating animal products, but as part of our hand harvested food challenge realized, wow, if I'm eating these products from these animals who live right here and I'm so intimately involved with their lives. I mean, my dairy goats are just my babies. I'm just with them every 12 hours milking them. And they do an incredible job turning Blackberry brambles into goat cheese. So, I'm a devoted cheese maker and we did eat well. I mean, we were super lucky. I think we got some great beginner's luck with preparing for a year. We were so devoted to it, but people would say, "Gosh, are you eating tree bark? Are you losing weight?" And we'd say, "No, we're eating goat cheese omelets with fresh spring greens, we're doing pretty well." So, it was not a hardship.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. And that was going to be a question I was going to have, were there certain times of the year that you were, I don't know if worried would be the right word, excuse me, during the year, but certain times of the year where you felt that you had less variety or that were harder, that you were maybe tempted to like, okay, I just really want to go to the store and get X, Y, Z. Did you experience that at all at any point?
Alexia Allen: No, we always had enough calories. I was definitely in kind of frantic squirrel mode all year about like, let's just can more apples, let's just dry more tomatoes. We just have to have enough. We're really committed to not going to the store. And so there was never a point where we were low on calories at all. There was lack of variety during that hunger gap period, actually in the late spring and early summer, when all the beets and carrots and potatoes from last fall's harvest are getting a little older or gone. And then it's pretty slim pickings out of the garden calorie-wise until July or so. So, that's kind of the hunger gap, but we just plan for that. I grow several varieties of dry corn and gosh, if we just have to eat corn bread and dry beans and a big fresh salads with some sauerkraut, I mean, it does us just fine. It was not bad. We just had to plan ahead for those hunger gaps and appreciate them and save all the dried beans for when we knew that time would come.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. That's really interesting because my dad was raised, he was a small child, an infant toddler during the great depression, but then after the great depression ended, it didn't really change the way that they raised. They were quite poor. And basically whatever you raised was what you ate. And if you didn't put it up, you would have went hungry. But just like you were saying, those were their staples was the corn bread and then the dried beans. And so oftentimes that was all they had eaten. He said sometimes it was for lunch and, well actually, they would call it dinner and then supper. Dinner wasn't what they had in the evening time. It was supper being, they were from Appalachia.
Melissa K Norris: But yeah, you can definitely survive on that. And it is actually your dried beans have a decent amount of protein and if you're lucky enough to have butter, like you said, when you had your cow to put on the cornbread. But I think the mindset, we are so spoiled and I put myself into this category. I am so spoiled that if I'm willing to purchase it and I have the funds to do so, we can pretty much have anything we want from anywhere in the world, as far as produce wise, basically at our fingertips at almost any grocery store almost year round. And so the idea of only eating, like you were saying, during that gap period, I think that seems very foreign and I think a lot of people would struggle with that. So, did you put yourself into a mindset, like going forward? I'd love to hear more about your prep, I guess is where I'm going with this, your prep beforehand, like your planning and the things that you did before you actually entered into this year.
Alexia Allen: Oh yeah. Yes, because there was a big old lead up to this thing and I mean, this is kind of crazy project to take on in a modern context. My dad is like, "What? What are you doing? And why are you spending all this time doing this?" Yeah. And well, who takes on crazy projects? People in love. So, my sweetheart had visited me and he was really big into local food. He's been a hunter all his life. And he said that he had had a student at the school where he was working, who did an entire month eating only wild and foraged foods. So, he said, "Wow, that's so inspiring. If this 16 year old did it, let's try it giving ourselves a pop quiz for two days of eating only hand harvested food. Pop quiz, nothing from the store is available to us. What have we got?"
Alexia Allen: We had some dried corn. I had a chicken from my flock. We had eggs. So, we knew we had enough calories to get us through two days. It's more than a lot of people in the world get to eat for two days. And we had so much fun and there was no trash in the kitchen. Trash cans. We're like, "Hey, wow, let's try this again sometime." So, the next visit we tried it for four days. We tried it for a week. We were hooked. We had so much fun finding food and feeding it to each other. And my husband continues to be my culinary muse that he, every time he would visit, we just planned for it more and more. So, we said, let's do one week out of every month for the entire year.
Alexia Allen: And so we started in 2011, by the way, it was the winter of 2011 that he visited. And we did that. So, every single year between 2011 and 2017, we increased the amount of time that we spent in our hand harvested food challenge mode. So, we really did build up to it. And we worked on things like, well, how do we store beets in our climate? And how much sauerkraut do we eat in a year? And how much applesauce do we eat? By giving ourselves these time periods, where we could work on our hand harvested food challenge. All our friends would ask us like, are you coming to the potluck or are you on your hand harvested food challenge?
Alexia Allen: Can I bring you some cookies or is it a food challenge week for you? So, it was definitely awkward on that front or at least I've been a caterer, been a cook for years and I've had to cater to so many different special diets and I thought, wow, now I am on like the most specialized diet around for the modern era, because of course most humans throughout human history have spent their time doing exactly what we did.
Alexia Allen: So, by 2017 we really had a good groove going. We raised our meat chickens, we had a rocking garden. We had people helping us, people got so enthusiastic about helping us. It really tapped into this human love for finding and sharing food. Like go figure. This is something that humans love to do. So, people were bringing us food, we're sharing food with people. So, by 2017 we even got married with a hand harvested wedding feast for a great big group of people, all our friends and beloveds there. And it was just fantastic to be able to have the skills, have the joy of giving this feast to our community from chickens we had raised, from sweet corn that I had planted specifically for this event. So, we really enjoyed that feeling of connecting to the landscape through food and being able to share that with other people.
Alexia Allen: So, it was a long time in the making. It was six years of really focusing on this skill in a way that built up our skills and built up our capacity and built up our soil to where going through the year actually felt not only possible, but fun and delicious. Yes. Were there times when I just wasn't sure I wanted to eat another dried apple? Yes. But then when the strawberries came in June, when I fell on my knees in the strawberry patch and picked the first ripe sun warmed strawberry, I mean, I wanted to cry. So, in some sense, yes, people could look at this and say, oh wow. It was such a lot of deprivation, but it also increased my pleasure in eating and enjoying the seasonal variations and the kind of the seasonal rollercoaster of whatever harvest was coming next.
Melissa K Norris: I would think that would definitely give you an appreciation like you're talking about. And I love, there's several things that I find very intriguing about that. And one is that you spent that much time working up before you did this, which is something I tell people with homesteading, really anything to do instead of just jumping all in and being like, oh, tomorrow I'm going to start. And I'm only going to eat hand harvested food for an entire year. You're probably setting yourself up for failure if you've never done any prep work or worked up to it like you did for the various reasons, like you said, so your soil could produce it. So many things.
Melissa K Norris: So, that is really amazing. But then the appreciation, like you said, when we have periods of deprivation and not just with food, but I think lots of different aspects in life, then when you get to experience those special moments, you appreciate them on such a new level. Like you said, it makes it worth it to have that new appreciation. So, that is really, I'm inspired. I'm like, oh man, we need to do more of this? I am curious because in my mind, I know a lot of people like when, if they are preparing that they want to have a year's worth of food on hand per se, or were kind of gearing up for something like this, where they would go and purchase in bulk so many pounds of rice, maybe so many pounds of wheat berries to then grind into flour, salt those types of things. But you guys didn't do that because it was only if someone had hand harvested it, that you knew hand harvested it, then that was the stipulation. Do I have that correct?
Alexia Allen: Yes, that's correct. So, I've given talks about our food challenge and some people say, "Well, what about toothpaste? You didn't have the hand harvested toothpaste." I'm like, "Listen, you got to draw the line somewhere." Like, go do a handmade toothpaste challenge yourself, like awesome, whatever challenge works for you, that helps you get where you want to go, go for it. And we have a friend in Seattle who said, "I don't have enough space to grow a year's worth of food, but I'm going to do a lettuce challenge of growing all my own salad greens from April to October. That's a challenge that's fun and exciting for me." So, I say, great for folks to take on whatever challenge is fun for them and helps them get where they want to go. We knew we wanted to eat in this way, the integrity of food and how that relates to the landscapes we eat from, that's really important to myself and my husband. So, we said, we're just going to take that on and work towards getting there.
Melissa K Norris: I'm giggling over the toothpaste, because people can find anything that they want to, to pick something apart. So, I love your gracious response to them, to go for that on the toothpaste aspect. So, you did clarify that you guys did still purchase, obviously those types of things, like some of your toiletries or cleaning supplies, that type of stuff. This was just particularly on the food and you weren't able to produce all of the animal feed. So, you were still purchasing that, but I'm curious, because aside from those things, as far as just food for yourselves, you didn't have a grocery bill. However, was it the generosity of friends and people who are excited about what you were doing? And so they would bring you hand harvested food from areas, things that they had, or did you do any type of trade and bartering for different items? Or what did that look like?
Alexia Allen: It was very gift based. So, nobody brought us anything with any expectation and for far and away, the bulk of our calories came from what we produced. We could have survived just fine on what we actually grew, harvested and stored. And like I mentioned, with the cacao nibs and the avocados, people were just excited to share whatever bounties they have. And believe me, I wind up with extra goat cheese plenty of times of the year. So, I sort of joke. If anybody's coming back from the Caribbean with a couple of nutmeg fruits, I will give you so much goat cheese. So, we didn't do any formal barter, but people just got excited to give us stuff like, "Hey, I caught a squirrel in my backyard." I'm like, "Great. All right, we'll eat it."
Melissa K Norris: Okay. That's fun. I was curious about that because I know some people will have questions along that. So, obviously your grocery bill went down a ton, I'm assuming. When you were preparing for this year, was that a year that you had more seeds on hand or you put in more crops than you normally did, or because you had done so much prep work, you kind of knew this is what we're going to need to have on hand and we've kind of been growing this amount already? And did that look any different for that year versus other years?
Alexia Allen: I had been building up to the size of garden that I really thought could comfortably support us. And of course I had that panic of the unknown. Like, I don't know how much we're going to eat and I don't want Daniel to look at me and say where's the rest of the popcorn and I don't want to run out of anything. So, I actually planted way more than we needed. And I've actually scaled back since then. I'm like, oh, I can just eat more simply.
Alexia Allen: And I don't need to tend to everything in such a panic. We did have plenty of seeds on hand and we had maybe half an acre of pretty intensively managed garden space and a couple of hoophouses to grow our winter food and our summer tomatoes. So, it did take a fair amount of time. I mean, I wasn't working a full-time job that year, because I knew I had to be really on it in terms of harvesting and processing. So, it did take time for sure. And I couldn't really just open a cookbook and say, oh, I want to cook this recipe. I had to just walk around the garden, do my garden shopping, and then come in and get creative with whatever tasty things I could make with that. And that was fun. I really enjoy that kind of creative problem solving.
Melissa K Norris: Yeah. I would assume it's kind of was a trade off though, financially, because even though you needed the time to be able to devote to growing that much food, and so you weren't able to work a full-time job, the money that you saved as well as time for commuting and vehicle wear and tear, gas all those different things. Do you feel like it evened out or perhaps like you even gained more that year by not working that job?
Alexia Allen: Well, if it answers your question, I am still pretty much eating hand harvested food. I found it wildly worth it, wildly worth it. And that's for me personally. I used to be really smug about how everybody should grow their own food. And then after actually doing it myself, I'm like, okay, whoa, whoa, whoa. This is crazy amounts of dedicated work and attention. I mean, even if it's not so much work, it really requires attention and awareness, which I love. And every time I sit down and take stock of my life, I really come up with the answer of, yes, I am devoted to Hawthorn Farm. I'm devoted to running this garden and feeding my people from this garden. I just can't stop. I totally love it.
Alexia Allen: So, it has been really worth it for me, just also from a, my life and what I feel my life's work is. Is it worth it for everyone? I don't know. It's really up to everyone to figure out about which crops feel worth it, what feels worth it for you and your family. But I can't stop. I am so spoiled by having such incredible fresh food. And I feel the change in my body being part of a landscape. I mean, I grew up a very typical suburban kid or at least in terms of what I ate. And to feel in the cells of my body what it's like to be made out of one piece of land is amazing. That's a feeling that's not accessible to a lot of modern day people eating from a whole variety of landscapes.
Alexia Allen: And during our food challenge year, I would get these occasional food cravings, where I'd just be eating more dried apples, because I wanted something, but I wasn't sure what. And then a friend brought us kelp from the ocean. She'd gone out in her sea kayak, harvested a bunch of kelp and brought it back to me. And I ate that kelp and my food cravings went away. And a few weeks later they would come back and then I would eat kelp and my food cravings would go away. There was some nutrient in the kelp that I wasn't getting from my soil here. And that brought home to me the point of how the health of the soil is the health of my body. Oh my gosh.
Melissa K Norris: That's an epiphany, right?
Alexia Allen: Right. Yeah. If my soil is healthy and it has all the nutrients it needs. And then the plants and the animals eating there are healthy, then I'm healthy. Wow. So, it's been so fun to mess around with the health of the soil here, the health of the animals here and realizing how that ripples out to the health of the humans living and eating here. And there are about 10 people who live on the farm right now, ages seven through 73. And we all love eating from the farm. And it feels quite radical. I've thought, okay, how am I going to change the world? Well, actually probably just watering the radishes is a good place to start.
Alexia Allen: That feels very radical in today's world. I am just, I am going to tend my garden and I'm going to attend it beautifully and well and welcome people to it and share the bounty from it and just appreciate the beauty of it right out my window. Now I just saw gust of wind carry pollen from the corn across the corn field. And I'm just struck by being part of the ecology of a place. I am an integral part of the landscape of Hawthorn Farm. And it's so fun to feel. So, yeah, I'm not going back.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. I was curious to see, because sometimes some people do an experiment. They're like, oh, that was like really cool that I did the experiment or I did the thing, but I'm never doing it again. So, I was curious. I had a feeling being as you guys had led up to it like that, that, that would not be the case, but I was curious. And I have to ask, because we have a little ski boat that we take out and go crabbing in the summer months when obviously the season is open and get crab and then bring it home. And of course eat it fresh. And then we reserve some to feed us for year round with Dungeness crab locally from the area. But I have never harvested kelp. So, how, once you get the kelp, do you just dry it. I'm very curious as to what you did with it or if anything, before you consumed it and then to store it to eat later.
Alexia Allen: Yeah, we just dried it. I had big strands of it hung up on clotheslines all around. It was hanging up in the greenhouses to dry and then we just stuffed it into bags and would break it up and throw it into soups. Easy to eat. Yeah.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. And I'm assuming it tastes salty still. I mean, I know what kelp tastes like, like if I've purchased it somewhere, had it somewhere, but it adds a little bit of salt, I'm assuming, to whatever you put it into, being it from the sea and just drying. Is that correct?
Alexia Allen: Yes. It had beautiful salt crystals all over it. It was pretty fun to watch the salt crystals bloom on it as it dried.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. Now next time we go crabbing, I'm just going to have to bring some home. I'm always going to, and then we get caught up in the, everything with the crab and the boat and I never do grab it. So, you've inspired me. I'm like, okay, I'm going to try that one. And like you were saying with the land and the connection and the soil health being there so that the plants growing in the soil actually have the nutrients that are nutrient dense, that the soil doesn't have that in it, plants can't draw it. And then therefore we're not getting that when we consume it. But there's also something really special. Even if someone is listening to this and you're like, okay, well, I'm not quite ready to make a commitment of doing a month a week or whatever it may be.
Melissa K Norris: Even if it's just one meal though. Like one meal where everything on your plate is something you have grown or went and picked or a friend. But with this, like you're saying is hand harvested, there is something incredibly special, even if it's just everything that you have for one meal. So, I would encourage people if you're like, I don't know if I could even do a couple of days doing that. If you can just do it for one meal, you will get a taste of what Alexia is talking about. And it really is special.
Melissa K Norris: And I don't know about you, but when we do that, then I hold onto that feeling so that on the days where I may be not feeling quite so inspired to go deal with all the things that have to be done in order to keep a farm and homestead and garden growing, especially for us August and September. We're just moving into August at the time of this recording. That is like the two busiest months on our farm. Like sometimes I feel like I don't even have time to breathe almost, but I know it's worth it, but I hold onto those moments and that feeling so I can bring it up when I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed to get myself through that time period. Do you ever have to give yourself a little pep talks like that?
Alexia Allen: I sure do. I need to take some naps sometimes. I just, I feel how I have this like frantic squirrel energy during the harvest season, because I am living off of the sunlight that falls onto our farm. That sunlight is what keeps me alive when I'm living in this hand harvested mode. So, I need to capture all the sunlight I can during the time of year when we have it. And then I coast through the winter on whatever I've stored. So, I definitely feel fairly frantic some times, although I've also gotten better about designing things so that it's less work and just sometimes letting stuff go. I'm like, no task on the farm is worth hurting myself for.
Alexia Allen: That's the other nice thing about living in this homestead way is that I'm pretty much the only one I'm accountable for all this that we're doing. So, if there's something I can't get to like, oh, well I have a diverse and resilient ecosystem built around me. That can feed me. Even if that far corn patch didn't get as much water as it would have liked. So, I try to just build that in and be gracious myself. And we also have lots of people here on the farm and folks who come from off the farm, who are willing to help with all the fun tasks like threshing beans. So, we just make it fun and go with that.
Melissa K Norris: Very, very wise advice. I love that. So, to wrap things up, you're talking about threshing to bees, we talked about dried beans and then growing the popcorn and stuff. And I know you do sauerkraut. So, you do fermenting. What are the main ways that you guys preserved the food that you were growing to take you through then this year or the year that you did this?
Alexia Allen: I do and did a fair amount of canning. Mostly blueberries, tomatoes, applesauce are kind of the big three that feel really worth it there for us. I do a lot of drying. So, drying meat, drying fruits and vegetables. We just wind up with gallons and gallons of dried cherry tomatoes that we can throw into stews. And then fermenting. I mean, my husband makes a good 50 gallons of sauerkraut over the course of a year. So, we're eating sauerkraut year round. I make cheese to store abundances of milk. And then another thing, probably my favorite is I just do lots of garden planning, garden rotation stuff to just try and keep fresh veggies available year round, and a similar thing with our rabbits. We have a big freezer, but one of the nice things that we appreciate about rabbits is that they're kind of available on the hoof most of the time. And we just store them in their own little fuzzy selves until we need them.
Melissa K Norris: Okay. So, I have to ask, how do you eat the sauerkraut? I mean, I know most people are like, oh, well on hot dogs or whatnot, but what are all, some of your favorite ways to serve the sauerkraut?
Alexia Allen: It's pretty much a standard salad addition. Here's our big pile of fresh greens or grated carrots and apples and kohlrabi in the winter, whatever fresh salad we've got, a big scoop of sauerkraut goes on top and it's all fresh fermented food and we don't can it.
Melissa K Norris: Oh, yes. Yeah. I was assuming that. Some people will count sauerkraut, but I'm with you. All of my sauerkraut and cortido and those fermented items, I don't then can them, because I want the living probiotics left in that fermented food when we're consuming it. So, yes. Well, thank you so much. This has been so inspiring. I just love learning about how you guys did everything and what the experience was like. And maybe giving ourselves a little bit more of these challenges as well here at our homestead. So, for those who are interested in learning more about you and your farm and what you guys are doing, what's the best place for people to connect with you?
Alexia Allen: Probably our website, which is hawthornfarm.org, no E at the end of Hawthorn. And we're just out here in Woodenville and do a variety of ... Well, we're a pretty scrappy little homestead really. We have some classes and some things we do, but mostly, really, if I can inspire anybody out there to take on a challenge of any size, that's fun for you. Like that meal you mentioned, Melissa. One meal a month in the summertime of hand harvested or foraged food or whatever it might be. And I am committing to one week a month of hand harvested food in 2022. Because it's been a few years since our challenge and I realized, wow, it really did me good to have that structure around my food. So, I am actually putting more of that challenge back into my life. So, if anybody wants to join me, maybe it's one day a month, one meal a month, that's what I'll be picking up in 2022.
Melissa K Norris: I love that. And you're right. The structure of a challenge and something about saying verbally, like out loud or making the commitment to yourself when you do a challenge helps you keep accountable in a way that if you're just like, oh, I'm going to try to do this, or it'd be nice if we did this, you usually don't end up following through longterm. So, I love that you're putting it in the context of the challenge and being specific like that.
Alexia Allen: Yeah. Especially telling you and your listeners. [crosstalk 00:37:11]. You all hold me to it. Check back in, ask me how that challenge is going.
Melissa K Norris: Yes, we definitely will. Well, thank you so much. I hope, being as we live fairly close to one another that I get the pleasure of getting to meet you in person some day.
Alexia Allen: Sounds great, Melissa. Thanks so much.
Melissa K Norris: Thank you. Well, I hope you were inspired by that episode as much as I was. And if you decide to do a one week challenge or a one day challenge, or even a month challenge following the guidelines that Alexia has, I would love to hear about your experience. And if you are looking to preserve more of your hand harvested food from the summer harvest and bounty, canning is an excellent way to do that. And canning is actually simple once you understand all of the safety guidelines that are there in order to keep us safe.
Melissa K Norris: I know people get very intimidated with canning, because unfortunately there are a lot of unsafe practices shared online or even passed down throughout the generations, because we now have science that shows us there are ways that we need to do things differently than back in the day when our grandparents were canning and sometimes even our parents. But once you know these and then how to operate safely within them, it is extremely safe to can. And it opens up a world of easy, healthy, nutritionist foods and mills at the shelf, on the shelf, I should say, at the ready for you to eat from the entire year. To make sure that you are up to date on the safety and to get the absolute best price on my Home Canning with Confidence, which is a full canning course from water bath canning through pressure canning, always showing safety.
Melissa K Norris: And I have literally had thousands of people go through the course and have people who have never canned before end up canning over 400 jars of vegetables just in their first season alone with the class. But you could go through some of the safety module. In order to access the free safety module, go to melissaknorris.com/safecanning. That's melissaknorris.com/safecanning. So that you can preserve up all of the wonderful fruits, vegetables, and meat safely at home. And I will see you back here next week, same time, same place for a new episode of the podcast. Blessings and Mason jars for now, my friend.
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