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website said building this chicken coop was, “so simple, my wife could
do it.” I’m capable of holding two opposing ideas in my head, so all at
once I thought this statement was
- completely sexist, and
- entirely inspirational.
I know, this reveals that at
first I doubted my own ability and Mr. So-and-so’s apparently
incompetent wife helped me believe that even an apparently incompetent
woman like me could do it…but that’s basically the case.
But the great thing about
trying things is that you try things. I needed a project in October,
and after several full days (and then letting it sit for a month) and
then several more days, I had an amazing testimony to trying something
completely new and getting it mostly right.
At times I thought “Who is this
wife of his? Is she a genius?” Figuring out this guy’s directions was hard, mostly because I didn’t know what a miter saw was, hadn’t ever
used an air compressor hooked up to a nail gun (kind of scary at
first) [Dave's note: I recommend screws to nails for this project. The coop will hold together better], and didn’t know the basic vocabulary around woodworking. I took
Woodshop in junior high, but it’s one thing to use the electric jig saw
in the shop, it’s another to use a handheld jig saw while balancing a
twelve foot piece of wood between the patio table and an old door you
set up on saw horses. And while trying not to accidentally take off a
Now that I’ve learned about all
kinds of wood, sliced and diced every cut combination possible on a miter and a circular saw, measured and re-measured, drilled and
re-drilled, and improvised when nothing fit correctly, I have a
new-found confidence in my ability to
- follow directions
- cut anything
- transfer between drill bit and screwdriver bit in seconds
- create a 3-D structure that works
- try new, hard stuff (this is my favorite)
I can’t build you a new set of
kitchen cabinets, and you shouldn’t enlist me to make anything needing
excessive measuring (I’m not as interested in precision as I probably
should have been) but I have a new home for six chickens right in
my own backyard.
Many, many thanks to David Bissette of Catawba ConvertiCoops (www.catawbacoops.com)
for the amazing plans. Check out his site to download your own plans or
read about chickens and coop building–and you can see a picture of my
coop on his site, too.
Also, thanks to Cameron, who lent me all his tools and helped me get out of tight spots.
The Rising Costs of Food
Last June, Time magazine published an article titled The Rising Costs of Food with some surprising statistics. In 1929, the average American household spent nearly twenty-five cents of every dollar earned feeding the family. Fast forward 80 years and food is cheap. A family can now spent one thin dime of every dollar on food, with plenty of money left over for things that were not even conceivable during the Depression. But we've paid the piper for cheap food by trading our health in return.
I was browsing the Play Now documentaries on Netflix.com when one called King Corn struck my attention. It was the story of two college graduates who moved to the Midwest for a year to document the growing of exactly one acre of corn. During this documentary, I learned the the federal government rewards farmers for growing certain high-demand grain crops, such as corn, with a portion of our tax dollars. We've paid the piper for cheap food by trading our health in return.
This is called a commodity subsidy. The current subsidy for corn is $0.28 per bushel. Soybeans are subsidized at $0.47 per bushel, and wheat at $0.52 a bushel. From 1995 to 2006, corn farmers received $56,170,875,257 in subsidy payments. This is money received on top of the per bushel market price that the farmer received when they sold the grain.
The government subsidy for nutrient rich foods like tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and avocados is $0.00 per bushel. That's right, there isn't one. As a farmer, why wouldn't you want a piece of that $56.2 billion? Grow corn, wheat, oats, soy, peanuts, and the money is yours for the taking. Grow watermelons, cucumbers, lettuce, or strawberries and you're out on your own.
Ever ask yourself why so many inexpensive food-like products contain soybeans or corn? Ever wonder why soda pop makers have replaced sugar with high fructose corn syrup in their drinks? Or for that matter, why is high fructose corn syrup in everything we eat? It's because that's what farmers are growing, and growing, and growing. In today's America it is impossible to eat inexpensively without consuming massive amounts of soybeans, wheat, corn and its derivative product, corn syrup. The corn refiners association wants you to think that it's okay to consume corn syrup in moderation. They don't tell you that it's impossible to eat corn syrup in moderation. It is in almost every inexpensive, prepackaged convenience food in the grocery store. Check out your pantry if you don't believe me.
I recently read a blurb in Acres USA titled "Food Stamp Blues".
Those who expect food stamps to deliver a nutritional punch may be out of luck. A new study reveals a $3,000 gap between food stamps and a nutrition rich diet for a family of four. Rising food and fuel costs make the temptation to stretch stamp values by substituting convenience foods for good food even stronger.
Even our nutritious produce crops can no longer be trusted. How in creation did salmonella get into our tomatoes and e.coli into our spinach?
It appears that the health of our nation is being compromised for fifteen cents on the dollar. Our country's industrial farmers are not growing nutritious food. They're growing profitable commodity crops that pollute the land and destroy the soil, all for the sake of a government handout in the way of subsidy dollars.
Monarch Butterflies Chrysalis as Barter for an E-copy of Chicken House Plans
Some of you may have noticed that I mention that I will agree to barter or trade for a copy of my chicken ark plans. The above title is something I saw in my inbox and my interest was instantly piqued. Here is what Ralph wrote me in that email.
During the summer my daughter raises Monarch Butterflies.
She sells the chrysalis to friends and I bring them to work to sell to friends
that have kids. (Also adults who love to see a bit of nature's magic)
If you or your kids have never seen a Monarch Butterfly hatch, it is just pure
magic. For our area the Monarchs generally arrive in early July and
that is when my daughter starts to collecting the eggs & caterpillars to raise to
the Chrysalis stage. Last year we raised 124 chrysalises.
So, I’ll trade you 5 monarch chrysalis, shipped to you, for an
e-copy of your coop plans. I’ll include instructions with the
chrysalis. From the time they arrive, they should hatch out in about 8-12 days, Once
the Monarch has hatched out and dried off, you can take them out and let them
walk around on your hand, These make great Kodak moments with kids.
Click to enlarge
I’m attaching some pics to show the process. Once you
have enjoyed them for a few hours you can let them go outside on a flower
bush. I can’t guarantee that all 5 chrysalis will hatch, but I will
guarantee that at least 3 will.
Please take a look at the pics and let me know you would be
agreeable to this barter.
My answer? "It's PERFECT! I love the idea..." You may recall reading a blog posting a few months back about creating home based business out of necessity. Here's a prime example of a family who is taking the resources available to them and turning it into a viable product. Kudos!
If you and your family are interested in hatching your own monarch butterflies, why not shoot an email to Ralph and let him know that you want to see pure magic as well!
18 FEB 2009 • by Matt Saldaña, msaldana (at) indyweek (dot) com
After months of debate and three contentious public hearings, the Durham City Council voted Feb. 16 to allow backyard chickens. The unexpectedly unanimous decision delighted many in attendance, prompting more than 50 supporters to burst into applause as City Hall's electronic scoreboard lit up with green bars, indicating 7 "yes" votes.
"We had been making all our phone calls, and e-mails, trying to find out where they stood, for months," said supporter Kavanah Ramsier. "It was a big surprise."
Prior to the vote, Ramsier said, she had no idea how the decision would go, noting that Councilman Howard Clement had told her he was undecided as late as that morning.
The vote was a victory for urban chicken enthusiasts, who organized around the issue and named their group the Durham HENS, for Healthy Eggs in Neighborhoods Soon.
After reciting a litany of egg-related metaphors ("This ordinance has been scrambled. ... Tonight, hopefully it will be served on a platter, sunny-side-up"), Councilman Eugene Brown announced that he had run out of logical reasons to oppose the change, which will take the form of an amendment to the Unified Development Ordinance.
"When restrictions are in place, which they are, when almost every city in the state allows hens, which they do, I hope council will take the position of enhancing citizens' freedoms, and not denying it," said Brown.
Brown said after the vote that concerns about noise, odor, disease, blood-letting rituals and vandalism—many of them based on ethnic stereotypes and childhood memories about roosters—had been debunked. The amendment will not allow roosters, whose noisy crowing was the source of many opponents' concerns. Brown and other members of the council whose support had remained uncertain were also assured that common-sense health procedures such as washing one's hands after handling chickens and eggs greatly reduces the risk of contracting salmonella, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Handling uncooked eggs sold in supermarkets carries a similar risk.
Supporter Frank Hyman, a former councilman, speculated that the presence of young supporters—and Durham civil rights legend Ann Atwater, seated in the front row—made a convincing argument.
Seated behind Atwater was a row of teenagers who work at Durham Inner-City Gardeners (DIG), a youth-driven urban farming initiative of Durham SEEDS, the nonprofit city garden. Rashida Smith, 15, spoke matter-of-factly about the benefits of learning to raise independent food sources.
"I have never kept chickens, and don't know what it would be like, but in my opinion I think chickens in Durham will be a good opportunity to learn and see what happens," she said.
She added that code-enforced procedures such as properly composting chicken manure are "just like cleaning your room and taking out the trash. You've just got to do it."
Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden, who brought Smith back to the podium to ask her how she would feel if the ordinance didn't pass, said she was "almost going to vote against it, but then I heard the children."
The youth support prompted scorn and a sideshow of drama from Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People chairwoman Lavonia Allison, however. Allison, a powerful political figure, belittled a group of urban teenagers who spoke in support of the measure, at times pointing her finger at supporters in the gallery and saying, "Shame on you."
Before Smith addressed the council, Allison spoke dismissively of the presence of inner-city youths in favor of the amendment—whose presence seemed to undercut her arguments at earlier meetings that supporters did not speak for urban neighborhoods.
"I see we have a more mixed group of young folk here tonight," Allison said. "They've been asked to come speak for some other folks, who don't have 50-foot lots."
Afterward, Smith said she wasn't worried about the icy reception, and that she had so much fun participating that she would consider speaking at future council meetings.
"Everyone has their own opinions. People can say what they want," she said.
Destiney Robinson, 16, chimed in: "I just wanted to get up and say [to Allison]: 'We're teenagers. We're still learning. We're participating in the discussion. That should be all that matters.'"
Ramsier, the DIG coordinator for SEEDS and a member of Durham HENS, said the chicken debate provided a "highly educational event" that could lead to participation in other issues.
"I'm sure they probably learned more than in some of their classes on local government," she said. "We're all about experiential learning."
Mayor Bill Bell—who donned a Carolina blue UNC sweatshirt over his suit as penance for losing a basketball bet with Chapel Hill's Mayor Kevin Foy—said his vote came down to added protections for adjacent landowners, who will be given mandatory 30-day notice, and the opportunity to appeal the chicken permits.
Larry Burk, a member of Durham HENS, told the council that the ordinance may provide economic benefits by allowing residents to raise their own food sources. Members of HENS have also agreed to donate extra eggs to the Durham Rescue Mission. If Durham is better able to ride out the recession due to locally produced eggs, Burk said before the vote, he would "ask Mayor Bell to wear a T-shirt."
"[That joke] may have cost you a vote," Councilman Farad Ali quipped.
Much to the delight of dozens of people wearing pale brown HENS T-shirts, it didn't.
More Triangle chickens
Durham's new ordinance allowing backyard hens in city limits takes effect immediately, according to City Manager Tom Bonfield. Raleigh and Carrboro already permit them. Chapel Hill's Town Council is scheduled to vote on the issue Monday, Feb. 23.
Why Electricity Free Day?
On Thursdays our family engages in a practice we call Electricity Free Day. What that means is, if it plugs into the wall, we don't use it. This may sound like an unusual way to spend a 24 hour period, and you're right... it is for us here in America. However, for billions of people across the world, electricity free day is everyday.
Several years ago, my wife went on a mission trip to Uganda. Our church has a track and field camp rather than a standard vacation Bible school, and was invited by the village elders of Hoima to do a "Runner's Camp" in their location. Mitzi wanted to go, so we sold some stuff on eBay and raised enough money to pay for her plane ticket as well as several other people. For some of these children, my wife was the first muzungu they had ever seen. One girl repeatedly licked my wife's hand. When Mitzi asked the interpreter why the little girl was licking her, he replied, "To see if she can lick the white off your skin."
Mitzi returned home from that trip on a crusade to rid our family of excessive American consumerism. She said that the people in Hoima-town were dirt poor, and some of the happiest people that she had ever met. She also said that electricity was in short supply and only available for a few hours every day. If you had something to do that required electricity, you waited until the power was on to do your tasks. It is a way of life in Uganda, and our first introduction to the concept of doing without electricity.
If you ever find yourself in Wake Forest around late afternoon, drop in at the house. Chances are good that you'll find yourself invited to dinner. That's exactly what happened to Donitza and her daughter Ana. They were from the Czech Republic and wanted to see our livestock. Over dinner, I asked Donitza what she found most unusual about the United States. Her reply shocked me. She said that it was very difficult to get to know Americans because they never come out of their houses.
After mulling this over, it made sense to me. American lifestyles are set up in a way that we never truly have to interact with other Americans. Everyone wakes up in the morning. Mom and dad shuttle the kids off to school and then drive separately to their jobs. After school, the latchkey kids come home and watch TV or play XBox 360 Live online with their buddies on the other side of town. (I forgot to mention that the kids were bussed to school in a different community.) One of the parents picks up a frozen lasagna at Stuff*Mart, and pays with a debit card at the self-checkout line. They get home and set the microwave to defrost the lasagna. After insta-dinner, the kids update their Facebook accounts on their personal computers in their rooms, while mom and dad watch cable movies on demand in the basement. Everyone goes to bed when they get tired. Repeat ad infinitum.
Would Little House on the Prairie be nearly as entertaining if it was set in the modern day world? Laura and our favorite little beast Nellie would never pull pigtails in the mud. They'd be too busy verbally jousting with each other on some prairie life webforum. Mr. Edwards would be managing his company's database in a cubical and might have the opportunity to help Charles build the house on the weekends. And of course, Mr. Edwards would have to shave that beard if he wanted the database manager's position in the first place. Imagine Victor French without a beard! IMPOSSIBLE!
Is this really the land of the free, if we're slaves to owning and maintaining our stuff?
Our electricity free days are always productive. Meals are cooked on a gas stove. Our fireplace provides warmth and some light at night. After their lessons, the girls go outside to play in the thicket or with the chickens. That's my most productive day of the week in the gardens. I'll talk to the folks in the neighborhood as they walk past and inquire about the load of Christmas tree mulch that smells so wonderfully festive, or the big pile of horse doovers that doesn't.
Our evenings are candlelit and quiet, without the racket and catterwalling of the TV or radio. After the dishes are handwashed, dried, and put away, we may play our musical instruments. That's when the catterwalling begins.
Anna plays the piano. Kate flails away on the ukulele. I'll pull out the recorder or banjo and try to match them. None of us are very good; the Darling family we ain't. But it's fun! Then we may play a card game like Uno, Go Fish, then charades. By 8:30, the kids are ready for bed. I'll read an article in Acres USA, Mother Earth News, Countryside, or National Geographic by the light of our Coleman gas lantern. By 10:30, we're all in bed.
Our electricity free days have been successful enough that we're considering moving it to two days a week. Eight days a month, electricity free, will reduce our municipal bill by nearly 25%. That's a significant savings.
Living without electricity brings people and families together; sometimes in a
mudhole or crick as with Laura and Nellie, other times building a relationship like Mr. Edwards and Charles. It creates lasting bonds
between neighbors. It creates community when people have to rely on
each other and know each other's strengths and weaknesses. And if
electricity becomes rationed, like in Hoima due to economic reasons, we
may not have much of a choice in the matter.
I highly recommend that you make at least 2 days a month Electricity Free Days. I feel that it's better to get accustomed to it now, and know
what you need as far as supplies and creative ideas, than to be left in the dark.
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I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday. - Henry IV