I was fortunate to grow up on a farm where we grew the majority of our own food, including grinding our own flour, making cheese, picking wild berries and mushrooms and hunting. I learned early the effort it takes to produce good food. I was also fortunate to have had urban grandparents who grew organically so I had a good frame of reference for productive urban gardening.
I took this framework and transferred them as much as possible to a small town setting and began to raise my kids that way. We thrived with a big garden, canning, preserving and grew a network of farmers I knew to supply what I couldn’t grow myself.
A move in 2005 to a larger urban setting cut me loose from this nirvana of real food and pierced the bubble that I realize, now, I lived in with respect to the food system. Living in a city as a single parent required working as many as 3 jobs and no time to worry about a garden or sourcing local farmers. Jump ahead a few years and although I cooked from scratch most of the time, I found myself 60 pounds heavier and my family not enjoying optimal health.
I began to recognize how broken our food system is with respect to the true quality of food available to the vast majority of people. I realized how broken it is with respect to animal welfare and the chemical shit storm of Big Ag. It was overwhelming. Luckily my upbringing gave me the knowledge that it didn’t have to be this way so rather than cave to my first thought of ‘its too big for me to fix’, I decided to undertake the journey to consciously effect change in our lives….one…step…at…a…time.
I started with pots on the deck of our rented condo as well as attending a seasonal weekly farmers market. I eventually was able to rent a community garden plot after several years on the waiting list. I started looking for better sources of meat next. The initial criteria was local then refined to grass-fed/pastured meats for optimal health for my family, the animals and the environment. One connection lead to another until I now have several sources for most things to ensure a reliable supply for me and to encourage a growing, diverse and vibrant local food system. I call this ‘sharing the love’ amongst my hard working network of farmers and ranchers who do it right.
I bought a mobile home so I could have a small yard and grow more of my own produce which I described as an ‘urban homestead” despite it being only about a 1000 sq. feet of yard space!! I had no lawn, no basement, 2 teen age mouths to feed and a total of1200sq ft of living space. Perhaps I should have coined a new phrase…”micro-homesteading”!?! Did I mention my eldest played a full set of acoustic drums?!?!
Over the years…a hoophouse, rainwater capture and composting systems…all mostly with repurposed materials…and a tiny food forest took up my 200 square foot front yard and included haskaps, blueberries, red currents, medicinal and culinary herbs, flowers for the pollinators and asparagus along with some annual veggies to fill in. I started researching growing mushrooms and still dream of doing a sideline business in local gourmet mushrooms.
The only thing missing from my homestead was…“livestock”!! So…I registered in my City’s Urban Hen Pilot Project and was the only participant living in a trailer park!!! Our 6 hens soon settled into the animal menagerie that included 3 cats and a dog. Another teenager had joined the household by then as well so the technique of “stacking functions” in permaculture speak became a critical element in packing all this into a small footprint. Micro homestead indeed!!
My pie in the sky scheme is some four season growing in direct defiance of my Zone 3 habitat. I’ve experimented with growing all our greens indoors in winter so now I need to be able to do that sustainably…stay tuned!! I resurrected my cheese, yogurt, fermentation and butchering skills to strengthen the connection of my family to real food.
This summer I made the leap to a “real” home with 840 sq.ft plus a full basement in an old neighbourhood with a huge yard. The chicken “pasture” alone is half the size of my previous yard!! I’ve started a food forest in the front and I’m working on mapping out the design of the back yard over the coming winter. There’s also a double garage….mushrooms anyone?!?!?!
All this has not only led me to living a life of more ethically sourced food for my family but I’ve also become an active, passionate member of a growing group of local people to journey with and we are trying to build a vibrant and inclusive local food system. Professionally, I work in and around such issues as poverty, homelessness, mental illness, addictions and brain injury and feel compelled to include these folks within this vision of a local food system.
That’s the first 9+ years of my “conscious” EOM journey and it started with the realization that the way I lived for much of my life was not the norm. Most people have no idea where their food comes from and how the production of what they eat is so connected to health of themselves, the animals and the earth. I continue to refine, redefine and improve my EOMness as more understanding, information and resources come to me. There is so much more to do and there will never really be an end to it. There is no destination to which I can arrive and say…”I’m there!”
The reason for sharing my story is to demonstrate that regardless of where you are now and what skills you currently have, you to can begin to take baby steps towards a more EOM life. Take a traditional food cooking class, attend a permaculture “permablitz”, learn to butcher, cure, and smoke your own meat, plant a garden or a pot of herbs…whatever it takes to start the journey…seek out those who are locally crafting, growing and producing food and support their efforts.
There is no single destination!! Every time you make a better choice you are one step further along on the journey. Start where you are and learn, grow and seek…one…step…at…a… time. This journey of ethical omnivorism is like any true journey…there is no ‘there’.