Category Archives: Homesteading Articles

What are GMOs?

What are GMOs? Are you avoiding them because someone said they’re bad, or do you actually know what they entail? The Issue of Misinformation Did you know you can now buy GMO-free hummus? When I saw the ad, I gave … Continue reading

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Hearty Oat-Nut Flatbreads

This recipe came about when I was living off food storage for a month in order to get material for magazine articles. By day 15, all the store-bought bread, milk, and butter were long gone. Eggs would be, as well, … Continue reading

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What’s Up?

Almost three years after the blog began, Ames Family Farm is moving into the future. Continue reading

Posted in Farm Updates, Gardening Articles, Homesteading Articles, Pictures! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

When Culling is Forever

Cross-posted from my blog at Backyard Poultry Magazine! My husband and I have an agreement: When culling or butchering, he does the initial step. I do the rest. If I had to, I would do it all. If my husband … Continue reading

Posted in Farm Updates, Homesteading Articles | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deep Purple Shepherd’s Stew

There’s really nothing special about it. Some lamb, some carrots, some potatoes and onions, parsley and thyme and garlic. But it’s purple! One of the joys of growing your own food is the delightful variety. My family loves to focus … Continue reading

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Duck Egg Flan

Not a traditional recipe, this easy flan recipe tastes more like crème brulee and satisfies some of the pickiest flan adversaries. This recipe is cross-posted from Backyard Poultry Magazine, where I blog about all things chicken-related. This is my go-to … Continue reading

Posted in Homesteading Articles | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, with the “mother” still in it, is expensive. But you can make it yourself! What you need: Apples Wide-mouth mason jars and rings Cheesecloth A warm location Sugar and/or storebought ACV to speed up the process, … Continue reading

Posted in Homesteading Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments
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What’s Up? – Ames Family Farm

What’s Up?

missy2

Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and written a post specifically for this blog. But I often get questions and comments from people seeking help with local zoning laws for livestock. Thank you for using Ames Family Farm as a resource.

I started Ames Family Farm about 2.5 years ago to secure the identity in case I proceeded with my crazy business ideas such as opening a greenhouse, creating a local homesteading educational circuit, or even just publishing a few books on the lifestyle. Soon after AFF went live, an editor from Backyard Poultry Magazine sought me out and invited me to blog for the magazine. I was flattered. After thinking it over for a short time I agreed. My posts have appeared on Backyard Poultry Magazine’s website for over two years now.

In October and November of the same year I became a published author. Life changed drastically. I was the same person but with more responsibilities. I still needed my day job and farm, and my family still needed me. In addition I had writing, editing, marketing, book signings, and public speaking engagements. September of 2014 brought the next novel, Vassal, into print. At that point I struggled with the promises I had made. I was stretched too far and had to choose. So that November I chose not to attempt NaNoWriMo, a huge month-long writing push that produced both Minstrel and Vassal. I regret that. I wish I had taken the opportunity to bring another book to life during a time when I didn’t have to garden.

January of 2015 brought delightful surprises: Finch Lee and Countryside Magazines asked me to write for them, and friends shared my name as the local resource for homesteading help. I gladly accepted. And as I chose new seed varieties and mentored budding homesteaders, I recognized that I’ve finally surrounded myself with what I love: writing, homesteading, helping people, and sharing with those I cherish.

one day harvest

So where are we now? As I write for all three outlets, I’ve decided to revitalize my Ames Family Farm site for my works in progress. At the same time I grapple with the harvest and pack as much food into storage as I can. The garden is going crazy. And so am I. But the season’s end is in sight and after that I’m back to writing.

Plans for Ames Family Farm: Thanks to the magazines my identity is snowballing. That’s a good thing! I’d like to become a local and national resource for information regarding small-scale and low-income urban homesteading. Expect more how-to articles focusing on a simpler, more natural way of doing things that save much more money than they cost. Whether these are original or reposted from the magazines, they’ll help you move toward self-reliance.

I want to help you. Want to learn something new? Do you have a question about livestock or zoning? A crop variety that you’d like to try but want some input? A product you’ve seen but want discussed before you shell out the money? Email me at americanvalkyrie@hotmail.com with your questions. I will try to test it out and write about it. Publication of the post may take awhile if testing involves several seasons. I’m also available to review products and write about them. (Homesteading products only. No multi-level-marketing, please.)

To keep information going I would like to open this blog up to guest writers. If you have a blog post you wish to include, please email me at americanvalkyrie@hotmail.com with your idea and we will go from there. Acceptable topics are gardening, homesteading, family life, sustainability, non-GMO and heirlooms, education, advocacy…and many more. Unacceptable topics include anything that’s meant to sell your product (especially if the product has no direct link to homesteading,) issues that have nothing to do with homesteading, offensive posts, or posts that are poorly written and need extensive editing. Other topics may be discussed through email. By guest writing, you’ll be able to include links to your websites, have a bio which also talks about your websites or businesses, and receive coverage on the Ames Family Farm Facebook page. I reserve the right to accept or decline any idea or blog post and to edit posts in regards to spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Canning Shelf 2

In November I’ll retreat from society and write the next book. I have three (three!) in the works:

Huntsman: The third book of Tir Athair, Huntsman takes place about twenty years after Vassal. A condemned man’s execution wagon makes a wrong turn at the market square and Jayce is offered a second chance with indentured servitude. The Saoiran king needs men to hunt a breed of golden bear that interferes with expanding civilization. But when Jayce arrives in Tir Saoirse he learns the truth of the hunting camp, the golden bear, and the mad queen behind the king’s demands, he becomes prey in a foreign kingdom. His only salvation may be the very “bear” he was hired to hunt.

(Working title PAH): I can’t tell you all my secrets but I can tell you this: PAH is book one of a three-book series that helps you homestead…in the city, with no money, using it to climb out of a poor situation. Or just because you want to. The PAH series will contain hacks, tips, and tricks so you can accomplish more than you thought possible in your environment.

(Working title Project 1712): Again, I can’t tell too many secrets until I have a copyright slapped onto my words. But Project 1712 will include a year of research plus historical references to discuss how our attempts to modernize and simplify our food have instead complicated our health when Mother Nature had it right all along.

Which one will be in print first? My muse has more control over that than anything. But since I’m finally working the jobs I love, I want to give my husband the same opportunity. And the fantasy fiction industry has a lot of competition. Homesteading is red hot right now. I’m leaning toward PAH or Project 1712.

I’m so excited about where AFF has gone since I started a whimsical blog without many expectations. Here’s to more exciting developments. Until next time…Happy Homesteading!

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  1. Awesome blog post! Super excited to learn more about homesteading from you It’s Turkey Mating Season, and You’re Invited! – Ames Family Farm

    It’s Turkey Mating Season, and You’re Invited!

    Harbingers of spring include longer days, daffodils peeking up from the ground, and horny farm animals. It’s turkey mating season, and the girls don’t discriminate!

    Often, new farmers come to me, wondering why their roosters are more aggressive toward hatch-mates and why their drakes are mounting their chickens. Don’t poultry know the difference? And what are the babies going to look like? I tell them that no, that’s not how turduckens are made. It’s spring and everyone’s ready to get some eggs a-incubatin’.

    Turkeys herald the impending spring by getting more…should I say…friendly?

    I have two turkeys, named Salome and Fernando. And before you ask, no, there are no babies in our future. Fernando is a girl. When they were growing, I changed names a couple times. Solomon became Salome. Fernando used to be Blanca, then I thought she was a tom so she became Fernando, then, by the time I realized she was undoubtedly female, I was sick of changing names. So, though her name is Fernando, she identifies as female. (Disclaimer: a transgendered friend approved of this joke.)

    Salome and Fernando have always been my friendliest turkeys, which explains why they’re still strutting the backyard while George (also a girl) was brined and roasted for Christmas dinner. Particularly, Salome stands on the six-foot fence and calls out salutations to the neighbors. (They return the salutations by jogging away before the freakish condor-bird can get them.) Salome also likes to stand on the air conditioning box so she can listen to our voices or music coming from the other side.

    Last week, as I was getting ready for an afternoon client, my husband said, “Is there something wrong with the turkeys? Their chirps are different.”

    I shrugged. A few minutes ago, I had been out there to gather eggs and refill water. Both turkeys were fine. They followed me around more than normal, leaning against my legs when I stopped. And if I reached down to pet them, they “assumed the position.” Farmers, you know the one. Knees bent, wings up, butt out.

    “It’s just springtime,” I said. You know, turkey mating season. “They want to meet a nice guy.”

    turkey-mating-season

    Lately, Salome’s fence-top salutations had also diverged from “Hi, howya doin’” to “Hey, want a date?” (The neighbors run even faster, because she really wants a date.) Turkey hens don’t gobble but have a two-part chirp that sounds like an adult version of a chick’s cry. Salome’s chirp was now preceded by a long trill. And, on this afternoon, she was doing it a lot.

    I looked out the window as I slung my bag on my arm, prepared to go out the door. She was chirping at something specific. And she was on top of the fence, ready to go find it.

    “Jerry’s on top of the shed, chirping back at her,” said my husband.

    I laughed. Jerry, the neighbor boy, was ten or twelve years old and had already been immortalized in my farm stories after his friend dared him to pick and eat one of my nine varieties of pepper. Of all the bells, sweet bananas, and marconis, he chose the ripe habanero. Now, Jerry was unwittingly exchanging mating calls with a very amorous bird.

    Soon my laughter stopped. “Honey, she’s going after him! And I’m late for work!”

    Salome was in love and determined to find her new soulmate. She flapped down from the fence, into the driveway, and onto the fence dividing our house from the neighbors’. As I ran to work, Russ ran out to fetch the turkey. Wrapping his arms around her, avoiding a defensive wing-to-the-face, he told Jerry that it was mating season and that he had just called her over to make chicks. That sent the poor kid running into his house.

    One week later, though Salome stands on the fence and sends mournful calls of unrequited love, nobody answers back. She usually gives up after a few chirps and finds worms to peck. And somewhere, out there, is a tom that follows his owners around, tail fanned and wings extended, hoping someone will return his affections.

    Happy turkey mating season, everyone!

     

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      Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar | Ames Family Farm

      Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

      vinegar jars 10-5

      Just born and ready to ferment: plum and grape vinegars, made the same way as ACV

      Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, with the “mother” still in it, is expensive. But you can make it yourself!

      What you need:

      • Apples
      • Wide-mouth mason jars and rings
      • Cheesecloth
      • A warm location
      • Sugar and/or storebought ACV to speed up the process, though these are not necessary

      First, cut up your apples.

      apples peeled sliced

      Those apples went right into the dehydrator. We didn’t waste a thing!

       But here’s a hint… you only need the peels or cores. That’s right… Make your apple pie or dried apples, and save the peels and cores for your vinegar. We used our peeler-corer-slicer, and dehydrated the centers.

       Place the apple trimmings in a bowl, with enough room on top to completely cover with water. Fill the bowl with water. You can add sugar to the water to speed up fermentation, if you wish. Place a plate on the bowl, to completely push all of the apples down into the water, preferably a plate that will fit well over the top and seal out fruit flies.

      Place that bowl in a location that can stay around 75 degrees or higher for a week. I used one of my laundry room cupboards, with the door closed.

      When the water bubbles out around the plate, you’re ready for your next step. This will be alcoholic at this point.

      ACV step 2 11-10-12

      Strain out the apples, keep the water.

       This step led up to an in-depth discussion with my 11-year-old daughter. She didn’t want to make alcohol, but I explained that the alcohol was an important step in the vinegar-making process that can’t be skipped. We would just not drink the alcohol.

      Strain the apples out of the fermented water, and throw them away. Do not give them to your chickens, unless you want drunk chickens. (Really, I don’t know if they’ll even eat them. I didn’t try it.)

      ACV into jars 11-10-12

      The pink tinge at the bottom is “mother” from my plum vinegar, for added innoculation

      Fill wide-mouth jars with the fermented water. You want wide-mouth if possible, to increase airflow to the vinegar. At this point, you can add a drizzle of existing apple cider vinegar, or part of the “mother” from another batch, to inoculate this water. However, though this does speed up the process, it is not necessary. Alcohol plus too much air makes vinegar.

      Cover the jars with cheesecloth or other loose-weave cloth. Secure it in place with the canning ring, or a rubber band. Place the jars in a warm, dark location, like the inside of a cupboard, for 2-4 months. Again, we used our laundry room cupboard.

       Fruit flies will try to get in this, so be sure that cloth is on tight, and the cupboard door is shut, to avoid an infestation. While the alcohol turns to vinegar, you will notice that a slimy layer rises to the top. This is the “mother,” and it’s completely normal. It’s actually a cellulose layer that separates during the process. Don’t throw that away. It helps seal off the rest of the vinegar from contamination.

      Don’t worry much about bacteria during this point. Alcohol and vinegar have been used for millennia to protect against bacteria.

      Plum vinegar, ACV 6 weeks into the process, and ACV on the first day

      Plum vinegar, ACV 6 weeks into the process, and ACV on the first day

       The longer you wait, the stronger your vinegar will be. When you are ready, remove the mother and either throw it away (or in the compost!) or use part of it to inoculate a new batch. Strain the vinegar from the solids that have sunk to the bottom.

      At this point, you can use the vinegar, seal it up, or even add herbs for flavored vinegar. Do not use this for canning other foods!!!! Safe canning requires a specific acidity, and homemade vinegars often do not reach that acidity.

      apple crepe

      Apple Cider Vinegar Syrup

       Take some of your homemade apple cider vinegar and pour it in a saucepan. Turn it on to medium or lower. When it starts to simmer, let it keep simmering until it has cooked down into thick syrup. If desired, add some apple juice to this mixture for sweeter syrup, or some spices.

       This syrup is excellent on top of apple-cheese blintzes! A family favorite!

      About marissaames

      I am a novelist and freelance writer with multiple works in progress. When I'm not writing, I come home from a daytime job to care for a husband, two teenage children, and an entire urban farm just a mile south of downtown Reno, Nevada.
      This entry was posted in Homesteading Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

      6 Responses to Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar

      1. ann says:

        I live very close to an apple orchard and I really want to try this!! I’ve heard acv is very good for blood sugar and this might help me. thank you!

      2. Jennifer says:

        I did this about 3 weeks ago and when I strained the apples out it had a rotten smell to it. Kind of sickly sweet and musty. I didn’t know if that was okay or not, but continued with the next step. It has a film on top, but it continues to smell really bad. not like vinegar. I don’t know if I should wait some more or throw it out?

        • marissaames says:

          I would wait at least 3 more weeks. The first 3 weeks won’t be enough to start the vinegar phase, but you’ll be well into the fermentation phase. This is probably why it smells rotten. If there is no mold on it, just a white film, go ahead and keep it. If you do have mold, toss it out.

      3. Dave says:

        I’m working on a batch right now and have a double layer of cheese cloth. Fruit flies have still found their way in. Three or four layers might be needed.

        • marissaames says:

          That’s good to know. I actually used a corner of frost blanket that I buy annually for my garden. The holes were much smaller in that, and they didn’t find their way in unless I created little tears in the fabric from screwing the bands on too tightly.

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        Duck Egg Flan | Ames Family Farm

        Duck Egg Flan

        Not a traditional recipe, this easy flan recipe tastes more like crème brulee and satisfies some of the pickiest flan adversaries. This recipe is cross-posted from Backyard Poultry Magazine, where I blog about all things chicken-related.

        flan-closeupThis is my go-to dessert recipe whenever I entertain friends who are unfamiliar with urban farming or backyard poultry. I often serve it after a salad of fresh greens, and perhaps an eggplant lasagne with fresh homemade mozzarella. Really, I mostly like the expressions of pleasant surprise when they taste it. I never tell them how easy it really is.

        If you’ve heard that duck eggs are better for pastries …  believe the rumors. They’re true. The yolks are creamier. This adds extra calories to the egg, but when you’re making a flan with sugar and whipping cream, a few more calories per egg is a fairly negligible addition. I find that duck eggs make custards and flans creamier, breads richer and quiches fluffier than chicken eggs.

        Since my family loves this recipe and I often have 10 or more duck eggs to spare, I double the recipe and use my springform pan.

        Though I prefer the creaminess of duck eggs, chicken eggs may be substituted. Standard evaporated milk may replace goat’s milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract may replace the vanilla bean. Additional sugar may be used in exchange for honey.

        Step 1 - Ingredients

        Mmmmm… ingredients…

        Ingredients:

        • 1 and ¾ cups whipping cream
        • 1 cup evaporated milk (goat’s milk)
        • pinch of salt
        • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I double the vanilla)
        • ¾ cup white sugar
        • ¼ cup honey
        • 1/3 cup water
        • 3 large duck eggs
        • 2 large duck egg yolks
        • 7 tablespoons sugar

        Preparation:

        Combine  cream, evaporated milk and salt in a heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture, and drop in the bean. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. After steeping, remove  bean pod. (If you are using vanilla extract, this step may be skipped. Simply combine cream, milk, salt and vanilla.)

        Step 3 - Line Springform Pans to Avoid Leakage

        If using a springform pan, wrap aluminum foil around the bottom so the pan doesn’t leak

        Preheat the oven to 350F, and position  rack in the center of the oven. If you are using a springform pan instead of ramekins, wrap aluminum foil over the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Have all pans ready to go.

        Just starting to boil! It's already amber-tinted from the honey.

        Just starting to boil! It’s already amber-tinted from the honey.

        In another heavy saucepan, combine the honey, sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. (Note: the mixture will already be a light amber because of the honey. If you replace the honey with additional sugar, this mixture will start out white/clear.) Increase heat to high and cook without stirring until the syrup turns deep amber, swirling the pan occasionally. Do not stir at this stage, or the sugar may crystallize. This amber stage may take about 10 minutes after the sugar has dissolved. Keep an eye on the mixture. The change from light amber to deep amber is fast. For candymakers, this will be a soft crack stage.

        Not quite dark enough, but DON'T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

        Not quite dark enough, but DON’T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

        There! Don't cook it any longer!

        There! Don’t cook it any longer!

        Quickly pour caramel into six ¾-cup ramekins, or a small baking dish. If doubling the recipe, as I do, use a full-sized springform pan or equivalent size. Using oven mits, immediately tilt each ramekin to coat the sides with syrup. It hardens fast, so work fast! Set the ramekins in a baking dish that is deep enough that you can pour in water to come up at least halfway.

        Swirl quickly to coat the pan

        Swirl quickly to coat the pan

        The coating hardens fast!

        The coating hardens fast!

        Separate two of the eggs into yolks and whites. Save the whites for an egg white omelet to eat the next day, to pay for the calories you’ll be eating with this dessert!

        The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

        The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

        Whisk eggs, yolks and 7 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl just until blended. Gradually whisk in the cream mixture, being careful not to create much foam. Pour the custard evenly into the ramekins, on top of the now-hardened syrup.

        Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it's sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

        Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it’s sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

        Set the baking pan in the oven before adding enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Setting the pan on the rack helps prevent sloshing as you carry the pan. You may also choose to set the pan in the oven before filling the ramekins with custard.

        It's set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

        It’s set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

        Bake until the centers of the flans are gently set, about 40 minutes. The flan will still look squishy. If you’re unsure if the centers are set, press gently with your finger. If the top bounces back, it’s set. You can also insert a clean fork. If the fork comes back out mostly clean, the flan is done.

        Remove the flan from the water and transfer to a rack to cool. Chill until cold, about two hours, then cover and chill overnight. This flan can be made a couple of days ahead of time. To serve, run a small sharp knife around the flan to loosen, and turn the ramekin over onto a plate. Carefully lift the ramekin, allowing the syrup to run over the flan.

        The Morning After

        The Morning After

        After serving, you may notice glass-like cracks in the bottom of your ramekin or pan. This is simply crystallized sugar from the syrup. Soaking the pan in hot water will dissolve the sugar.

        If you try this recipe and enjoy it, please let us know. And if you know how to make it even better, then by all means, please share your secrets!

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        About marissaames

        I’m a wife, mother, and business owner in Reno, Nevada. As a family we tackle autism, special diets, and life just above the poverty line and just below the cost of living.
        This entry was posted in Homesteading Articles and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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          Pardon Our Casual Nature… – Ames Family Farm

          Pardon Our Casual Nature…

          If you’ve come to our blog and we look a little less-than-perfect, please don’t leave us behind. We’re rebranding to bring more farm-related awesomeness!

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            2016 in a Chaotic Nutshell – Ames Family Farm

            2016 in a Chaotic Nutshell

            Have you ever had a task you needed to do? And the more you put it off, the more it caused anxiety? Then months pass and you still haven’t done it?

            For me, that’s writing a blog post.

            I write almost daily, whether for Countryside or Backyard Poultry Magazines or one of my books. But writing about me? About what I’m up to, my goals or dreams? Or even the weekly farm mishap which resulted in animal poop spread everywhere it shouldn’t be? (Trust me, those are weekly.)

            I haven’t been blogging. But I need to. Especially now that life is ramping up fast.

            So, though I realize the well-intentioned futility of New Year’s Resolutions, it just happens to be New Year’s at the time that I decide I must blog weekly. Whether anyone reads it is another story. But I’ll do it. And I’ll try not to make every episode about poop.

            Today is just going to be a roundup of what has happened this year.

            On the Farm:

            Though we have the same chickens and rabbits we’ve kept for a few years, this April we got turkeys. And we opened the door to a lot of turkey-related drama.

            After settling six poults under Jerk, my ever-broody lavender amercaucana hen, we promptly lost two. Turkeys do that, they say. I was concerned because they weren’t all mine; four would go to Caidyn of Edlund Family Farm as soon as they were old enough to live outside without a mother. That meant, if I lost another of mine, I’d be raising a lone turkey. And turkeys can actually die of loneliness. I answered a Craigslist ad for newly hatched poults. My husband drove fifteen miles to choose some that weren’t dark (my hen is racist. Remind me to tell you that story sometime.)

            Jerk raised the poults to eight weeks, at which point they contracted turkey rhinotracheitis. Essentially, a turkey cold. Which is a virus. Which can’t be cured with antibiotics. Which has to run its course. Through my connections with Countryside and Backyard Poultry, I received advice from Rhonda Crank of The Farmer’s Lamp.

            Rhonda said, “Turkeys are so susceptible to respiratory issues until they reach a mature age. There really is nothing to do except keep their litter and living area as dry as possible. I would offer ACV water too, to help their immune systems. This is a virus so there are no medications for it. They should recover fine, but if (she) notices them becoming lethargic she may want to offer an antibiotic because secondary respiratory issues may be developing. You know I don’t medicate anything we’re going to eat. When we had a bout of this, we did ACV water, sprinkled in brewer’s yeast over their food, and kept things clean and dry. Ours did recover from this.”

            And our turkeys did, as well. They received a couple penicillin shots when their snotty noses developed a foul odor. And though I agree with Rhonda about not medicating what we have to eat, there were going to be months between medication and slaughter. Russ and I decided to medicate.

            Three turkeys went to Edlund Family Farm, where they became Thanksgiving dinner. We butchered one for a Christmas party and have two left.

            driveway-tomatoes

            In the Garden:

            “So how is your garden doing this year?”

            “Ugh. I don’t want to talk about it.”

            That was the response all around Reno in 2016, especially among those of us who are supposed to be good gardeners, making the desert bloom and flourish. The biggest problem was the weather. It was cold, with the final frost date on May 19th. Then, by June 1st, temperatures reached 100 degrees. Vegetables like temperate weather, 70-80 degrees. And we had probably 20 days of that during the entire growing season. It rained once between the first day of summer and the last, and that rain lasted not even fifteen minutes.

            We brought in enough food to fill our four-person table, during the growing season. But we weren’t able to preserve a thing.

            So, though our freezers are full from the pig I purchased for Russ’ birthday present, and from foods I found through extreme discount shopping skills, it is not full of vegetables. We are already purchasing produce from the store. I’m not happy about it, but that’s the life of a farmer. Even a small-scale urban farmer.

            With the Family:

            I like being able to say my family hasn’t had too much excitement. With turkey colds and gardening disasters, I love settling in with teenagers who aren’t getting drunk or pregnant. A husband who works his butt off to feed his family. General agreement that, the harder we work, the more we have (even if not everyone feels that way on the same day.)

            Joe is 17 this year and will be graduating in June! We’re so excited! It’s been a long, hard road as he learned to tackle his high-functioning autism and got a handle on his place in the world. But he will graduate. And we’re so proud of him.

            Sahara and Russ are also good. Sahara is still learning culinary skills in high school and Russ is still as supportive as ever. No matter how high I rise, he’s pushing at my feet to send me higher.

            My Career:

            Though I’ve been writing for Backyard Poultry’s blog since 2013, I signed my latest contract with Countryside Magazine in November of 2015, I feel this year has been the big push for my writing career. It’s when my name was in every print issue from March on forward. When I had strangers say, “Are you the Marissa Ames who writes for Countryside?” When I’d meet new friends on Facebook and they’d just happen to have an issue of Countryside on their coffee tables at the moment we made introductions.

            2016 was the year I amped up my writing career, admitting that it wasn’t going to push further unless I did. It’s when I approached conventions and expos about press passes so I could find more to write about. When I attended meet-and-greets with big names in the agricultural and horticultural world.

            And as far as my other career, as a massage therapist…so far, I’ve only had to cancel a few appointments when I went away for the National Heirloom Expo. But those clients were so happy for me that they were willing to reschedule.

            And now, for two announcements which are super exciting and happening very soon:

            I’m currently working on a new novel, which I feel has much more potential than the Tir Athair series ever did.

            When people develop strange symptoms in Miami, it’s immediately blamed on drugs. Tremors and slurred speech develop into a need to scrape skin off. Some victims hallucinate and turn violent while others soon lose all motor function. And every victim dies. When the disease moves to America’s grain belt, epidemiologists argue whether it’s bacterial, viral, or parasitical. The terrifying truth is discovered too late, after most Americans are exposed: domestic terrorists have infected the country’s wheat with a prion causing an aggressive form of mad cow disease. Now Shiloh, a homesteading mother in Reno, Nevada, struggles to get her family out of the city and to a safe place where she can control their food and the dangers they face. This story is told from Shiloh’s snarky and imaginative viewpoint and is a wild ride full of tension, laughter, and enough scientific truth to make your skin crawl.

            And the other announcement:

            I’m going to Zambia in January! My friend Heidi, who is co-founder of the charity She Talks to the World, needs someone to consult on gardening and agricultural issues. They girls’ school, which the charity runs, has recently purchased twelve acres and needs to feed the girls and a community, in addition to providing a cash crop. This January trip is to assess the land before they build the school and to write a business plan to get everything going.

            The whole project will take several years, as I travel back and forth to help build the farm, plant, and to teach the girls how to grow and harvest their food. And I’ll be documenting everything and writing a book, from which I’ll donate 100% profits back to the charity.

            To read more about this, check out these links:

            She Talks to the World

            My plea on YouCaring to help fund the endeavor

            My Patreon profile, where I’ll do most of my updates and hope for patronage to help as I craft the book.

            And into 2017…

            Whew! That’s just a digest of 2016. The fact that I’ve been unable to blog shows how busy I’ve really been. But I promise to give you something each week, even if it’s 500 words of the latest poop story (I told you, there are lots of those) to tide you over until I talk about Zambia or the book or something else way more exciting.

            Thank you and happy new year!

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            2 thoughts on “2016 in a Chaotic Nutshell

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              What are GMOs? – Ames Family Farm

              What are GMOs?

              dunk-tank

              What are GMOs? Are you avoiding them because someone said they’re bad, or do you actually know what they entail?

              The Issue of Misinformation

              Did you know you can now buy GMO-free hummus?

              When I saw the ad, I gave my husband a funny look. “Does hummus even contain GMO products?” I’ve written articles on GMOs in regards to seed saving. Were there now GMO chickpeas to make this labeling necessary? Grabbing my phone, I Googled and confirmed what I already knew. “Unless they’re using corn oil instead of olive, it wouldn’t have GMOs anyway.”

              My husband shrugged. “Well, they’re also selling it as gluten free.”

              Traditional hummus has chickpeas, sesame paste called tahini, olive oil, salt, and maybe spices like garlic, roasted red peppers, or olive tapenade. It’s naturally going to be both non-GMO and gluten-free unless their proprietary recipe also contains stuff like sugar, corn syrup, corn oil, cornstarch, or wheat starch. This is another reason to know what you’re eating and read the label. You could be paying more for wording.

              So what are GMOs?

              GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. It is a plant or animal that has been scientifically modified, within a lab, to contain genes from another plant or animal. It can also be called genetic engineering.

              Haven’t people been genetically modifying foods for years?

              Cross-breeding and genetic engineering are different. Cross-breeding involves introducing plants or animals that can naturally interbreed, through traditional methods. Such as letting an Angus bull into a herd of Jersey heifers. Or cross-pollinating a small yellow tomato with a robust red one, in hopes of creating a larger, more robust variety. You cannot cross-breed a plant or animal outside its own genus. A wolf can breed with a domesticated dog but a wolf cannot breed with a mountain lion.

              Genetic engineering goes further than this. Corn can contain genes from carrots; tomatoes can contain genes from fish.

               

              what-are-gmos
              Heirloom potato varieties

              Why are scientists doing this?

              The intentions behind GMOs are good. Golden Rice, for instance, would have beta-carotene, giving it the golden color. Cultivating Golden Rice in third-world countries could prevent 670,000 childhood deaths per year from vitamin A deficiency.

              But the crops created for humanitarian purposes haven’t gone very far because of public opposition. Including Golden Rice. What have gone far, though, are crops created for commerce. Soybeans and corn which don’t die when Roundup herbicide is sprayed on them, for instance. The intentions are to reduce work for the farmer. No weeds, more commodity food. Other GMO crops have been developed to resist viruses which could devastate an entire industry. Or to reduce carcinogens created during high-temperature cooking.

              Are GMOs safe?

              So far, GMOs have not been found to be any more dangerous or unhealthy than the non-GMO version of the same food…unless the food contains genes from something to which you are allergic. Such as cabbage containing genes from Brazil nuts, since Brazil nuts don’t naturally have insect predators. And some labs have tried this: fish genes in a tomato is one of them. The fish genes would have made the tomato resistant to long and cold storage during shipment.

              Luckily, smart people realized this is a problem and stopped those projects before they ever hit the market.

              What about the herbicides you mentioned?

              That’s a different story. Organic and non-GMO are two completely different things, though they are often confused. Non-GMO does not mean pesticide free. It means it has not been genetically engineered.

              But the United States and Canada do not allow products labeled “100% Certified Organic” to contain any GMO ingredients. So eating foods with this label guarantees you won’t consume GMOs.

              So why should I avoid GMOs?

              Whether you avoid them or not is up to you. It’s up to your budget and your ethics.

              Some people avoid GMOs simply because somebody else told them to. Someone said they are bad so people cry out about them, go on marches to protest them, and spread the word. But they do this without even knowing what they’re protesting.

              The main reasons to avoid GMOs are because cultivation of these crops often involves unethical agricultural practices: Broad-spectrum herbicides sprayed on something intended for human consumption. Monoculture on commodity farms that leave no room for biodiversity. Disappearance of old heirloom crop varieties. Lengthy, air-tight contracts that can strip a farmer of his livelihood if he violates them in any way. Even if he simply violates them by growing crops that acquired the GMOs because of wind drift from another farm.

              Where can I buy non-GMO seeds?

              Anywhere. They are not available to the public. You cannot purchase them from seed supply companies because acquiring this seed means entering into these lengthy contracts. It’s something companies like Monsanto do with commodity farmers, not hobby farmers or gardeners. And if the seeds you purchase are from crops that do not yet have GMO versions, you’re completely safe.

              The only way you can acquire GMO seed is if you receive it from someone who saved seed from a GMO crop or saved seed that was grown in very close proximity to a farm with GMO crops. And that is possible, especially with corn. That’s why companies like Baker Creek grow their heirloom corn in very isolated areas, because pollen can drift over a mile in the wind.

              what-are-gmos
              Heirloom corn varieties

              What foods are GMO?

              • 90% of all corn and soybeans grown commercially within the United States. If your food contains corn or soybeans in any form, it probably contains GMOs. Corn is also used extensively as food for almost all livestock.
              • Canola, which is used in cooking oil, margarine, and processed food. If the ingredients say “emulsifier,” it might be canola.
              • Sugarbeets. Unless your sugar specifically says it’s 100% cane sugar, it could contain beet sugar.
              • GMO alfalfa is available to feed animals. Livestock which may consume alfalfa include cattle, sheep, poultry, and rabbits.
              • Cotton, which is available in food form as cottonseed oil or within food for livestock.
              • Papaya, with GMOs specifically for insect resistance. Grown mostly in Hawaii, approved in the United States.
              • Several varieties of commercially grown potatoes. This is most likely to appear in processed foods like French fries.
              • Several varieties of commercially grown summer squash, like zucchini.
              • The first GMO apple has been approved for the market. It’s called Arctic and isn’t yet widely available.
              • AquAdvantage salmon was approved for food use in 2015.
              • GMO eggplant is approved only for Bangladesh. GMO sugarcane is only approved for Indonesia.
              • Though it’s not a food, tobacco was the first GMO crop.
              • GMO tomatoes have been created but are not approved by the USDA and therefore aren’t available. The same with beets (other than sugarbeets), rice, and flax.

              How do I avoid GMOs?

              Know which crops could be GMO. Why spend more on the “Non-GMO” hummus when the cheaper variety also doesn’t contain ingredients that could be GMO? Learn which foods could be culprit and purchase heirloom varieties of them, such as ancient creole corns or wild-caught salmon. Read labels. And if you can’t completely avoid them, learn why the crops have been modified. To avoid papaya mosaic virus? Or to resist Roundup? This allows you to make choices based on agricultural practices, which helps you avoid herbicide consumption.

              Grow your own. If you have a little garden space, use it to cultivate the crops you’re trying to avoid. Great choices are heirloom potatoes or sweet corn.

              Know your local farmer. Is she growing heirloom corn? Does she raise her beef using alfalfa and feed corn which are non-GMO? Purchase from her and spread the word. You’ll support her livelihood, create awareness, and feel more secure about your own diet.

              What else can I do?

              The two strongest things you can do are to stay educated and to vote with your wallet.

              Currently, there is a huge battle for GMO labeling. The armies are food advocates vs. corporations, and the warriors are sitting within Senate and Congress.

              If you don’t know which crops are GMO, it’s difficult to avoid them. And thinking that all foods are GMO just builds unnecessary panic. Eat a sweet potato instead of a potato. Eat quinoa instead of corn. And don’t go spreading misinformation. If you want your community to also avoid GMOs, tell them what GMOs are and why it’s a problem. Don’t just insist they avoid GMOs because “they are bad.”

              Voting with your wallet means simply not purchasing products you don’t agree with. That March against Monsanto loses a lot of meaning if you go home and eat cornbread, or French fries cooked in canola oil, afterward. If you keep buying it, farmers keep growing it and corporations keep providing it. Consuming heirloom corn still supports farmers. And the more you buy the heirloom varieties, the more farmers will be convinced to invest in them.

               Again, whether you decide to avoid GMOs is a personal decision. But ensuring it’s an educated decision goes a long way.

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              One thought on “What are GMOs?

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              1. This is really informative, thank you! I usually like to research stuff myself but realised
                that I too avoid GMO foods because the media told me to! I feel more informed now! Thank you! Finding Us in Print – Ames Family Farm

                Finding Us in Print

                Update 5/22/17: Our latest story is out in Backyard Poultry Magazine! Why do ducks, of the same breed, sometimes lay different-colored eggs? It’s all about genetics!

                marissa-ames

                Here’s our latest story, in the June/July issue of Backyard Poultry Magazine!

                This page (under construction) will keep you updated on our work with other publications such as Backyard Poultry Magazine, Countryside, and/or any book publishers.

                Stay tuned!

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                  Making Peace With Your Food – Ames Family Farm

                  Making Peace With Your Food

                  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here, but it’s surely been a busy month! The nightshade and brassica seedlings are up. Today I plant the peas and spinach: quite late, but at least they’re going in the ground. I’ve also been writing elsewhere. My next fantasy novel, Vassal, is due to hit the editorial stage within a week. And I blog weekly for Backyard Poultry Magazine. This article got a lot of attention and Facebook shares: (Originally published with Backyard Poultry Magazine’s online blog.)

                  roasted-turkey-2

                  I have a rule. You may only accuse me of murder if you’re vegetarian or Vegan. Not that I want you to accuse me of murder. It’s never fun. But if you’re going to, please don’t go home and eat chicken nuggets afterward.

                  Our first batch of chicks came with the standard disclaimer: Sexing is 90% accurate. The feed store would not take back roosters. So my husband and I decided that, if one of the chicks was a rooster, we would humanely butcher him. We’re not vegetarian. We both grew up harvesting our meat. But if we intended to keep eating meat, we had to face the issue of raising our own, versus expecting others to raise it for us.

                  One of the five chicks matured into a rooster. On butcher day, my children stood ready to learn. We’ve never lied to them about their food, but on this day the source stared them right in their faces. Literally. At the end, my husband and my daughter eagerly consumed “the best chicken they had ever tasted.” I cried and ate carrots. My son went vegetarian for a month.

                  We told the kids they could be vegetarian when they were old enough to take responsibility for their diets. So, when my 12-year-old son eschewed meat, I assigned him to research eight alternative protein sources. He hit the Internet and returned with a list. For that month, he followed his list and consumed a diet balanced with meat-free proteins and garden vegetables.

                  Then he attended a Boy Scout camp that served barbequed tri-tip. My son then made the decision about his food. He acknowledged where it came from, but made his personal convictions about what he would eat and the work he would do to attain it.

                  Of all the social phenomena, one that fascinates me the most is how humans feel they can discriminate against each other for how they keep their bodies alive.

                  I grew up raising and butchering my own meat, but I can also cook a Vegan meal that will knock your socks off! But we have one rule in our house: Just like other well-thought-out lifestyle choices, nobody is allowed to discriminate against someone based on what they eat.

                  I mean, really. There are so many other things we could hate each other over! (That was sarcasm.)

                  While on the journey of raising chickens, I learned a new term: vegetarian eggs. These are not necessarily from vegetarian-fed hens. These are eggs from hens that do not come in contact with roosters. Hence, these eggs will never have the potential of creating life. Does that matter? It sure matters to some people! They cherish the choice of consuming protein yet knowing they’re not taking the life of another chicken.

                  But can you keep your body alive without ever taking another life?

                  Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, says, “Most of us, if we know even a little about where our food comes from, understand that every bite put into our mouths since infancy (barring the odd rock or marble) was formerly alive.” A few paragraphs further, she says, “If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant,’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest.”

                  Something has died for every bite you eat. A stark reality, isn’t it?

                  About a year ago, a friend approached me, saying with excitement, “Did you know scientists have found a way to cultivate meat in a lab?”

                  I recoiled in shock and replied, “How long until that gives us cancer?”

                  He blinked at me, speechless, then said, “But you’re not excited that you can eat meat without something dying?”

                  To which I referred to Barbara Kingsolver, where she states that something always dies for the food you eat.

                  bourbon-red-turkey

                  Ms. Kingsolver expounds by saying, “To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree. I’ve heard a Buddhist monk suggest the number of food-caused deaths is minimized in steak dinners, which share one death over many meals, whereas the equation is reversed for a bowl of clams. Others of us have lost heart for eating any steak dinner that’s been shoved through the assembly line of feedlot life—however broadly we might share that responsibility.”

                  My older sister became vegetarian five and a half years ago, for spiritual reasons. With no basis in animal rights or physical health, she strongly felt she needed to be vegetarian, “for now.” She did not expect “for now” to last more than five years. When she discovered she had a strong intolerance to corn and gluten, reintroduced meat to her diet to undo the damage from decades of intolerance/allergy-induced malabsorption. Reversing the decision was difficult both spiritually and ethically. In the end, she had to make peace with herself and her food. Just as we all eventually do.

                  You can put many nouns on your food choices:

                  • Vegan.
                  • Vegetarian. (Lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian.)
                  • Raw foodie, fruitarian.
                  • Omnivore, carnivore. (Though really, if you want to know the true definition of a carnivore, talk to your cat.)
                  • And what about the religions terms? Kosher, Halaal, Word of Wisdom.
                  • Some religions give up meat during religious holidays.
                  • Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, due to the influence of Jainism and Hinduism in the Gujarat state of India.
                  • Some people don’t eat pork; some don’t eat beef.

                  Just as my son decided to forego meat then allow it back into his diet when faced with barbequed tri-tip, we all have to make peace with our food. Just as my sister abandoned meat for more than five years then admitted her health suffered. And just as Vegans choose to forego all animal-based products but others in our society claim you won’t pry their bacon cheeseburger from their cold, dead fingers…we all make peace with our food.

                  Do you raise your own meat? Do you let others to raise it for you, accepting it only once it’s wrapped within innocuous plastic? Or have you foregone all meat, or even all animal-based products? Let us know!

                  If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

                  Our favorite things!
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                  2 thoughts on “Making Peace With Your Food

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                  1. This is Kinley, from Facebook. You intrigued me when you said you were Homesteaders, so I came over to check out your blog. I know this post was written a while ago, but it’s really timely for me! I decided, probably three months ago now, to eat a whole food, plant-based diet. This decision had a lot to do with watching food documentaries and learning the horrors of our food production system in the US. But it has been very fascinating to see people’s reactions to my decision. I should probably do a blog post on it, but the short answer is I have been judged and questioned and accused of judging others. I tell people it’s not that I will never, ever have meat, it’s just that I want to know where that meat came from and that the animal was treated and killed humanely. So for the most part, I skip the meat. And really, that’s the least important of my decision to change my diet…it’s mostly about eating whole foods, but people get so stuck on the meat issue, unfortunately.

                    So, anyway, after all that…I’m glad I found this blog. I will have to read some of your older posts!

                    1. Hi, Kinley. I firmly hold my stance that a person’s well-researched dietary decisions are as personal as other morals, including religious preferences. I stand behind anyone who has decided how he/she feels about their chosen diet and then follows it, even if it’s not my path. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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