Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading: Farm City by Novella Carpenter

My partner and I both just finished Farm City:The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. This book is a good read for anyone interested in the quirky adventures in inner city farming, as Novella writes passionately about farming her garden, orchard, bees, and livestock in a formerly vacant lot, living "off the land" in a rough part of downtown Oakland.

In particular, the book focusses heavily on her experiment in raising chickens, turkeys, rabbits and pigs at her urban farm. It's important to note that Novella is by no means a vegetarian - her livestock raising project is not just for gaining eggs or manure, but in fact for meat. What starts with a coop full of hens, ends up including a beehive, and many more turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and two full grown pigs. She explores what it means to humanely, respectfully kill animals that she has raised herself from day 1 (with more than enough graphic detail of the slaughtering process - these are lengthy sections of the book, which need to be skipped or skimmed over by the vegetarian or vegan reader!). The book is hilarious, inspiring, insightful, and a nice addition to 100-Mile Diet literature. At one point in the book she embarks on a month-long 100-Foot Diet where she only subsists on food from her garden or wild harvested in the city.

There are various other amazing urban farmers you meet along the way, including Novella's friend Willow whose non-profit farm called City Slicker Farm provides produce and backyard gardening skills for inner city families thereby increasing food self-sufficiency in West Oakland where store-bought healthy produce is expensive and hard to come by.

One of the final paragraphs of the book sums up the importance of seeing urban farming as a community venture that can't be done alone - a network of many small projects, together adding up to something large and significant. She writes:

"Although my holding was small - and temporary - I had come to realize that urban farming wasn't about one farm, just as a beehive isn't about an individual bee. I thought of Jennifer's beehive and garden. Of Willow's backyard farms that dot the city of Oakland. Urban farms have to be added together in order to make a farm. So when I say that I'm an urban "farmer", I'm depending on other urban farmers, too. It's only with them that our backyards and squatted gardens add up to something significant. And if one of ours goes down, another will spring up."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Woolen Farm Kitty

Our daughter loves cats, and can't get enough of spotting them streaking across the street or lounging on front porches during every outing in our neighbourhood. So, we thought, given that every self-respecting farm and garden (urban or rural) needs it's own farm cat, we would try out hand at making our own. Today's quick crafting creation was a woolen farm kitty made from 100% recycled wool, stuffed with sheep's wool from a nearby farm (thanks to Michelle and Erin who taught me how to card it) and embroidered with cotton on an organic cotton face.

More woolen farm kittys and barn owls to come...(available on our etsy store too, where the farm kittys come with a packet of organic catnip tea from our garden, so kids can enjoy a cup a warm welcoming tea with their new feline friend!).

New friends at Irvine Creek Organics CSA

Recently we had two young farmers from Irvine Creek Organics come to stay at our B&B. It was lovely to meet them, and we were pleased to hear about all the exciting goings on at the Irvine Creek farm which is located just outside of Fergus, near Belwood Lake. They have a busy CSA, as well as projects like reforesting the land, and even processing farm produce into value-added food items for the winter season.

Yesterday for dinner we cracked open the two gorgeous jars of pickles they brought us - gorgeous deep purple pickled beets with cinnamon and clove, and the best pickled yellow beans I've ever tasted, made with rosemary, lemon and vinegar. In this house we absolutely love pickles, and make an assortment of krauts, pickles and ferments ourselves to preserve our foods for the winter. So, we've tasted a lot of pickles, but these ones were amazing - perfect texture that still held crispness in the vegetables, beautiful combination of spices and herbs. We had to hold ourselves back from eating the entire jars as our evening meal, and managed to savour slowly so we can enjoy these preserves over several evening meals. Irvine Creek is now taking 2010 CSA members, and also selling their pickles at some shops locally (Fergus and Elora?).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sprouting Workshop

On Saturday we held our annual sprouting workshop - not seedling starting, but sprouting for winter greens. We had grown a large assortment of sprouted seeds to demonstrate how they can be grown in small spaces - hydroponic greens grown in a jar or sprouter by rinsing and draining, as well as soil grown sprouts like pea shoots and wheat grass.

Hydroponic sprouts included such as the familiar alfalfa and sandwich greens (canola, radish, red clover), microgreens like the brassica family (broccoli and cabbage), and the more unique "ancient eastern blend" (adzuki, mung, kamut, black lentil), and "crunchy bean mix" (garbonzo, green marrowfat pea, green lentil)...

The workshop also featured sprouted foods, such as sprouted "cheese" (more like a zesty cheese-flavoured dip, which is made from sprouted sunflower and sesame seeds), sprouted hummus, sprouted bread (dehydrated sprouted wheat berries blended with chives and miso), and sprouted desserts (mmm...sprouted almond pudding, and almond butter bliss balls). Basically, sprouts can be used in their green raw form in all manner of dishes (soups, salads, sandwiches, casseroles) as long as they are not heated over 105F which destroys their enzymes. Sprouts are considered wonder foods, rich in vitamins and minerals and they impart their living energy of the germinated seed to our bodies when we eat them. Sprouts have been renowed in cleansing diets, as well as for healing all manner of illnesses. They are pre-digested because of the soaking and sprouting process, so easy to digest when eaten.

Sprouting in winter also offers us gardeners the indoor gardening satisfaction, while snow flies outside and the ground is frozen. I love seeing my windowsill full of bright green living plants all winter long, and enjoying the fresh taste of locally grown greens in January!

Great resources
Ann Wigmore's sprouting book; Steve Meyerowitz (Sproutman) sprouting books
Mumm's for sprouting seeds and supplies (based in Saskatchewan)

Soap Workshops & Soap Curing Rack

The last two weekends we've had a full house with a series of soapmaking workshops. A big part of the goal of our urban homestead project is education - teaching homesteading practices and knowledge to other urbanites - in the hopes that these skills will not be lost, to inspire simple living and self-reliance, and to bring community members together in an informal learning environment. Soapmaking has, not surprisingly, turned out to be one of the more popular workshops, and we offer several courses each year that always fill up quickly. As it's nearing holiday season, many workshop participants were thinking of simple handmade gift ideas, with beautiful soaps made the traditional cold-process method will be perfect.

Cold-process (as opposed to hot process or french milled) soap involves making soap from scratch, using a combination of oils that are heated, and then mixed with a lye-water solution. Then additives like botanicals, pure essential oils, or clays are added, the soap is poured into wooden molds and cured for at least 4 weeks. The result is hard, stable, richly lathering bars that are long-lasting, mild, and nicely moisturizing to the skin. This is my preferred method of soapmaking as it is a traditional process that has been used by soapmakers for many generations. Advanced techniques can include marbling or layering the soap for additional effects.

It's a busy soapmaking time for Little City Farm too, as many of our holiday orders are coming in, as well as another craft fair this weekend. Here are a few photos of my latest soaps on the curing rack. Each variety uses at least one herb grown & harvested from our own garden. We are working on an online store linked to our website, hopefully up and running by early December. All soaps are also available on our etsy site:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Festive Season Craft Sale! November 28-29

Check out this great upcoming local craft sale - the annual Festive Season Sale at 43 Queen St S, Kitchener - hosted by BarterWorks (K-W's local bartering network), and The Working Centre (a local non-profit organization).

Time: Fri, Nov 28 from 5-8 pm and Sat, Nov 29 from 10-3 pm.
What you will find: unique locally handmade goods like hemp clothing, handmade dolls, kids clothing, natural soap, jewelry, food items, tea, cards, fair trade coffee, and more...

We'll be there with our Homestead Herbals products (soaps, teas, salves, tinctures) as well as children's items and handmade cards. I'm just getting into block printing, so hope to have some cards and fabric art ready for the sale too. There are just too many crafting projects that I want to be doing, and I tend to have a few different projects on the go at once (right now, knitting, sewing, block printing, soapmaking of course)...I'm looking forward to bringing in more crafty people from our community to lead a new round of workshops here at Little City Farm in 2010. The workshop schedule will be ready in a few weeks and posted here.

Fall farm day...

This week the weather has been almost balmy! It gave us a little more time to get things in order out in the yard before winter sets in. Last seeds harvested and saved, now nicely packed away with labels for next year's planting. Compost and leaves added to garden beds. Garlic has been planted. Coldframe is prepped and planted, greenhouse also planted with lettuce and kale seedlings (the hot peppers and fig tree are still doing nicely in there). While we were working outside, we also baked bread in the cob oven - the perfect fall task of tending a roaring fire while raking leaves...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Spinning, carding & natural fibres

A beautiful fall day..while Greg was out raking leaves, spreading compost, and preparing garden beds for planting garlic, I was inside learning about the wonders of natural fibres during the latest homesteading workshop here at Little City Farm.

Nicole from the KW Spinners & Weavers Guild is a natural teacher, and led our small group through the process of cleaning, carding, and spinning a variety of natural fibres (mohair, alpaca, angora, wool, llama, yak, cotton, silk, and even cornsilk!) in both the "short draw" (used for long fibres) and "long draw" (generally used for short fibres). We also learned the "anatomy" of a spinning wheel, and had opportunity to practice on both the single and double-treadled wheels. I think several participants will be hooked for sure, as this spinning seems to be addictive once you get the hang of it. I did get the chance to run outside to harvest some fresh milkweed pods from our yard, which I managed to card into two small "rolags" (ie. rolls) and Nicole spun into a lustrous silky thread - wow! Apparently parachutes were made of milkweed fluff during the WWII, but probably due to impracticality of harvesting them, not to mention the cheap cost of cotton, milkweed has been forgotten as a fibre material. Of course, now we are seeing bamboo in everything, and hemp is becoming more available in all manner of fibres and textiles. The next steps after spinning would be dying the fibres and then all manner of knitting projects (many in the room were already avid knitters, though these lovely skeins would tempting to just leave around the house as decoration after all the hard work of spinning them!).

Wellington Fibres, on a farm near Elora, was recommended as a great local source for fibres, fibre processing, spinning wheels, workshops and advice. They raise 30 angora goats, and run their operation as "green" as possible, using solar panels and other sustainable technologies to operate their business.

The Power of Community - Film at Princess Cinema

The "transition town" movement is growing - Guelph and Peterborough are two designated transition towns in Ontario, and a new group has recently formed in K-W to work toward this goal as well. Transition towns look at aspects of life that a community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change). The transition town communities also recognise two crucial points:
  • that we used immense amounts of creativity, ingenuity and adaptability on the way up the energy upslope, and that there's no reason for us not to do the same on the downslope
  • if we collectively plan and act early enough there's every likelihood that we can create a way of living that's significantly more connected, more vibrant and more in touch with our environment than the oil-addicted treadmill that we find ourselves on today.
This coming week, Transition KW is presenting a film screening at the Princess Cinema. We believe this is going to be a very exciting and inspiring evening, so please pass this on to anyone you think would be interested.

Plan C: The Power of Community
Lecture, Film, Q&A - with author, film makers and directors Pat Murphy and Faith Morgan
Thursday November 12th
Princess Twin Cinema, 46 King Street North, Waterloo
Doors Open at 6:45 Talk at 7:15, Film at 7:45 followed by Q&A session.
Admission $2 (Barterworks and OUR Community Dollar will be accepted)

Pat Murphy is executive director of the Institute for Community Solutions in Yellow Springs, Ohio, a nonprofit organization devoted to small community living. Author of Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change, he lectures widely across North America on energy, Peak Oil, geopolitics and lifestyle solutions. Focusing on community resilience and long-term sustainability, his main interest is on the techniques and strategies for a steady reduction in the per capita use of fossil fuels.

Faith Morgan is the director and co-writer of "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil".

They will be in Hamilton to address city council and to present the 2009 Spirit of Red Hill Creek Lecture, and they have graciously agreed to speak in several other local communities as part of their Southern Ontario visit.

Co-sponsored by:

For more information call Stephen at 519.888.6917 or email:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Workshop - making Waldorf-inspired dolls

We had a lovely busy workshop here on Saturday - how better could a rainy cold Saturday be spent than sitting around a large dining room table with a fantastic group of crafty women, drinking cozy cups of tea, sharing tips on life and parenting...and being productive yet relaxed at the same time. So many skillful hands working at once, it felt like an old-fashioned quilting bee!

The session was on making Waldorf-inspired dolls. A huge range of Waldorf dolls are readily available online, but they are generally quite expensive (understandably so, as they are handmade using good quality natural materials, and are beatifully crafted). We decided, why not learn to make our own, and brought in Amaryah from Sew Oiseau to teach us!

Typically Waldorf dolls are lightweight, have an imaginative shape and are made with only natural materials. They are great to cuddle with and are the perfect size and shape for babies and young children to hold on to. Their heads are filled with pure sheep’s wool, which is known to absorb scents easily the dolls will absorb comforting scents of home, of its parents, things that are familiar for baby. Wool is inherently anti-bacterial, so theyare safe to chew on with no fluff to inhale. These dolls are popular in natural/eco-minded parenting circles as they are not only non-toxic, made with natural materials like wool, but the neutral faces are intended to inspire creativity and imagination in the child who plays with them. The dolls we made were a very basic design, not nearly as elaborate as some (see Bamboletta, for example), but were easily finished in about 2-3 hours, so a satisfying project to complete in short order.

Waldorf education is a whole well-established philosophy, and is based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. The Waldorf schools focus on bringing to life the following attributes in children:
  • Creative thinking permeated with imagination, flexibility, and focus
  • Emotional intelligence, empathy, and self-esteem
  • Physical vitality, stamina, and perseverance
  • Spiritual depth borne out of an abiding appreciation and responsibility for nature, for work, and for their fellow human beings
More info available at