Monday, April 25, 2011

Coop Construction Continues...

this weekend saw some promising developments in coop construction, and the current ETA for chickens is approximately 2 weeks! it is turning into a rather 'mod' affair--the recent door creation and some structural re-adjustment are making it look more and more real. now we are considering run configurations using 4x4 panels covered with chickenwire. suggestions and comments appreciated!

here is where we left off last weekend...dan gracefully demonstrates the floor/inside of the coop and the hinged nesting box.

here is the roof getting framed, nailed up, and chicken wired. (i love that the chicken wire is happening!) matthew is such a great help. he is way taller than me.

Dan demonstrates crazy saw action, and the door is designed...

so we have the door that opens bottom to top with a FANTASTIC circle design, an angled roof, and ventilation. I LOVE IT. next steps: narrow rectangular window in the back, possibly taking roof down temporarily to add rafters and shingles, and chicken run....hooray!

Totally Urban Farmers: Already Doin It Rite

the purpose of this blog, as i've mentioned before, is to document my/our process in becoming people who produce at least some of our own food, and thereby become more thoughtful and compassionate consumers.  we are so lucky to know people who have already been Totally Urban Farmers for awhile; they have been tending their chickens, collecting eggs, composting and growing beautiful back yard gardens, quietly and brilliantly doing all the TUF stuff i am trying to learn.  they are inspirational, and make me feel fantastic about our process and the world in general.  and we get to be friends with them!  it's amazing!

the party that we attended last friday was at our friends becky and darren's house in south austin.  they have a very nice back yard, which is home to 4 beautiful chickens and a large, well-developed vegetable garden. these folks both work full time and go to school, and still manage to successfully TUF it out!  i was so glad to chat with them about gardening and chicken-keeping.  they are founts of practical know-how, and their chickens look like models.

our other dear friends, cliff and julie, also attended the party.  julie, who is both a phenomenal gardener and a masterful cook, brought a creamy herb dip to the party that tasted as though it was made from the breastmilk of Mother Nature herself.  sharp and savory herbal flavors coursed through the cloudlike cream cheese base.  as i nearly died from dip-appreciation, julie said "yeah, i just threw all the herbs from the garden in there like 15 minutes before we got here..."  theirs is another back yard given to vegetable production and creative gardening, and they both work and go to school as well.  extreme TUFness!

i spoke with my friend emilie on the phone yesterday...she and her husband jordan are gearing up to get some more chickens, and they have a recently expanded vegetable and fruit garden.  she was telling me about their tomatoes and herbs and canteloupe and beans and squash, and i was simultaneously thrilling to their TUFness and fantasizing about my own garden that will happen someday soon.  we were talking about going in on chicken feed together and sharing chicken- and garden-sitting responsibilities so that we can still go on vacations.  that's not only TUFness around growing food; that is community building around food and life.  to me, that is a crucial aspect of Totally Urban Farming.

and these are just people i know and like and have been friends with for awhile, totally unrelated to TUFness.  i have heard of so many other people around town and even around the country and world who are growing backyard (or side yard, or rooftop, or median, or apartment) gardens, raising chickens, becoming more aware of the problems with mass food production and doing as much as they can in their corner of the planet to make it a better, healthier place.  our neighbor, with her front-yard vegetable garden and zucchini in the median.  my new friend who brought me home-made fresh strawberry lavender preserves the other day for no reason.  my old friend in denver who just planted fruit trees this season and who has been focused on the edible yard plants for some time now, and who just had a baby!  that random person on facebook who i rarely talk to but who just got some baby chicks.  the funny morning-show spot on how chicken keeping is a growing fad.  and if this is a fad, i am all over that bandwagon!

which brings me to the point of this post.  lots of people i know, lots of people i've heard of, many around my age and economic status, are in different phases of becoming Totally Urban Farmers.  they are reducing their reliance on cheap factory food and investing time and energy in growing and making their own food.  they are throwing away less stuff and recycling more stuff.  they are eating better and living on the planet better.  they are endlessly inspirational to me, and motivate me to get on with my own TUF process.  i don't mean to succumb to hyperbole, but:  is this a movement?  if there are many people doing it, and we are all moving together toward a common goal, isn't that a movement?

...and if it's about food, could it be simply called.........wait for it............


*waits a moment, looks around nervously.....*

dang, tough crowd.  thank you very much!  i'll be here all week!  tip your waitresses!

When Going Gets TUF, the TUF Dye Eggs!

i had the great fortune of attending a party this past friday with some friends who are already Totally Urban Farmers.  more about that in the next post, but i first must expound upon the benefits of hanging out with really fun people. 

this party had an egg-dying component which had been casually mentioned in the invite, and after some drinks had been partaken and dips enthusiastically consumed, the partygoers agreed that the time for eggs had come. out came the traditional PAAS brand egg dying packages, with the tiny dye tablets that look like some kind of illicit drug, and soon the nostalgic scent of warm vinegar fizzing with vibrant color mingled with hard boiled egg-roma in the air.  some rubber bands were procured for egg tie-dying, a crayon was searched for in vain, egg stickers were organized, and the dying began.

before we knew it, a jocular competition was underway. smack was talked.  eggs became more and more intricately prepared for their colorful baths.  elaborate rubber band/shishkabob skewer contraptions were created for suspending eggs at precise levels in the different hues.  there was at least one egg-gone-missing sabotage attempt.  and finally, after the dyes were nearly exhausted and white-egg supply depleted, we ended up with this:

the picture doesn't do justice for the true beauty of the eggs.  at this point, of course, an objective judge was necessary.  so some late-coming party attendees were informed of their duty as soon as they arrived.  after much serious consideration, discussion, egg handling and artistic analysis, the judges gave each artist the chance to defend their egg in one of three ways: 1) discuss the inspiration for the colors and design; 2) do an interpretive dance reflecting the artistry of the egg; 3) name (and bonus: sing!) an 80's song that best represents the egg's essence.  the winner would receive first crack at the pinata.  yes, there was also a pinata at this party.

i am pleased to report that, in a kind of upset, dan and my egg won the judges' favor after we chose to represent it by doing a rousing rendition of ToTo's "Africa (I Bless the Rains Down in)." i gave the first shot at the pinata to the first runner-up egg, which had been the victim of a possible sabotage attempt, and which had undergone the most creative dye process (involving a huge amount of hemp twine and a stint in the garbage can).   the pinata was destroyed, candy was collected, party goers dispersed happily.  before the competition, many of us had been strangers--at the end of the evening, everyone agreed that we were now "friends for life" after all the egg bonding that had occured. it was a good friday party to end all good friday parties.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keepin' On Coopin'...

last sunday, team TUF (dan: master planner/builder; matthew: loyal apprentice; me: hoverer/opinion giver/beverage holder)started by building the chicken/coop interface point. lowered by day, it's a submarine-style hop up ramp...raised by night,it forms the middle third of the coop floor.  we also enclosed the laying box, giving it a hinged egg-cess lid/vaulted ceiling for future laying ladies!  i can't wait for the egg hunt to begin!  at this point, chickens are mere weeks away...


ramp down....

ramp up! (no latches yet)

here is the nesting box: enclosed, framed, hinged and lidded.
here is what it looks like as of now!
we probably shouldn't encourage this, but...aww!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

**WARNING: introspection and food musings ahead!**

i am really glad i mentioned how lovely the weather has been in my last post.  it can now serve as a historical document proving that we did, indeed, get five (5) minutes of spring-like weather here in the ATX.  now it would seem that the Great Sous Chef in the Sky is preheating the broiler.  yay for shady backyards!

last weekend, we made an epic trip to the grocery store, and did not buy any beef or pork...only seafood, produce and some other random stuff.  the seafood at the store is usually pretty good, although i would like to eventually move toward supporting local seafood purveyors.  i am looking forward to growing my own stuff too!  farmer's market next weekend after The Big Payday.

speaking of local seafood purveyors, on wednesday night we discovered what could possibly be the BEST crawfish place in town, in a nondescript shopping center off of wells branch: The Crawfish Shack And Oyster Bar.  it is worth the little schlep to savor the tasty fresh oysters and the HUGE, nose-running, head-sucking, uniquely spiced crawfish swimming in buttery juices.  traditional, taste-tacular potatoes/sausage/corn and less-traditional mushrooms swam with the big bugs. Oh My Wow.  some of the crawdads were so sizeable that their claws were fair game.  and even the most generic, pedestrian-looking fried mushrooms were little juicy bombs of battered delight. LOVED. IT.

i had a flat tire today, earth day, and found myself unexpectedly tarrying in a state-agency parking lot anticipating rescue.  i know how to change a tire in theory; my father showed me a long time ago, hoping the useful and self-empowering skill would stick.  but today, due to my inexperience with actual respectable wheels (rather than plastic hubcaps), i called roadside assistance.  it was hot and windy, and i sat in the back of the pt cruiser with the hatch open and idly watched everyone who came and went.  perhaps the flat tire was my earth day present from the earth--45 minutes of nothing to do but feel the sun and the atmosphere and look at people and remember how nice it is to live on a habitable planet.

i am slowly but surely trying to become a better creature on your face, Earth!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

floor n' door!

these days it's lovely in the back yard in the early evening.  perfect for chicken coop work!  or, more correctly, i should say it's perfect weather for me to take pictures, drink wine, try my hand at the drill occasionally and cheer while dan does all the TUF stuff.  and the dogs run around like crazy animals and smell the breezes, and we holler at the neighbor or giggle about stuff.  i can't wait for chickens!  and i love me some spring!

by the way, if one is undertaking any central texas yard-play, i recommend bug repellent.  i am trying to become a more compassionate consumer, but i gotta say, good ol' OFF has improved its formula to some kinda powder dry business, and it is GREAT.  i feel kind of awful spraying myself with mass produced poison.  but i feel worse when i am dying of itchiness and pH imbalance later.  so, until i find something better, OFF is on.


framing the floor!
floor framed!

i am afraid of the drill.

the door frame!

that's some quality construction.

a man, a plan, a drill, chicken coop!

the floor and the door (framez.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

more pictoral progress!

dan has cut the siding panels for the coop, and gets ready to put 'em up!

dan and our friend from across the street have attached the siding and framed the nestingboxes.  i am cheering and taking pictures.  so helpful am i!

looking more and more real already!  i am excited. and very lucky!

we planted jasmine vines near our fence a couple months ago, and here is the first fragrant flower.

some things worth mentioning....

***WARNING: self-sploratory post alert.  ignore if uninterested. you have been warned.***

it's worth mentioning that my interest in changing habits around food and consumption are not isolated or random; i am in a kind of transitional space at the moment.  i share that status with many people, and arguably life is always transitional.  but it seems kind of interesting to try new things during a period of general change, and since chickens and gardening and composting have been things i've wanted to try, well, now is now! and now is definitely better than never.

i am currently looking for a job, though i'm not quite yet unemployed...mine was one of the teaching positions that the school district saw fit to cut in the name of desperate deficit reduction.  i mean to find out if being a Totally Urban Farmer can be done with a full-time job, because time (or lack thereof) is one of my perceived obstacles toward becoming a more compassionate consumer.  so i better hurry up!  my guaranteed full time job has a time limit!  this experiment needs to happen stat!

i kid, i kid, mostly.  but time is a factor. as is incorporating new hobbies and ideas into the mix of transition.

and then, there's the question: what, blogging? why blog about it? why flush all my musings and blitherings down the intertoobs out into the great huge swell of musings and blitherings in the world?  well.  just for fun, i guess, fun and documentation.  and somehow, the idea that my tiny thoughts and process are publically available makes me more likely to keep exploring and documenting.  so, basically, i'm trying new things and writing about them, and trying to keep doing those two things!  a positive feedback cycle, if you will.

geeah. i'm going to post some pictures to hide this post.  ***END SELF-SPLORATION

Sunday, April 10, 2011

TUF Progress So Far

dan and i have started working toward manifesting ourselves as Totally Urban Farmers.  here we have a pictoral history thus far...........

here is the small container garden we have started.  the idea is to get these plants (and maybe a few more in the near future) going now, so that we can plant them in a bigger garden once we get the compost really happening.  the house has full frontal southern exposure, and good light in this area and around the southeast corner of the lawn, so these are the best places we've come up with for the garden so far.  the back yard is heavily shaded in the summertime, so it will be great for chickens and compost, but not so great for vegetable gardening.
 there's already a tiny anaheim pepper going, and both tomato plants have tomatoes on 'em!

 this is the frame for the chicken coop, to be attached to the chicken run.  our whole coop will have to account for the steep gradient of our back yard.

this is the only way to REALLY level a chicken coop!

our coop will be about 4x4x6, with three nesting boxes, ventilation and external access to the nesting boxes for egg collection (outside eggcess?)
the next step will be to figure out how to level the run and attach it to the coop!  the run will be 4x4x12, and eventually the compost bin will be in the corner of the yard close to the end of the run.  The run panels will be hinged for easy cleaning access. 
so far, so fun!

Totally Urban Farmer: The Goals

in deciding to become a TUF, i have taken the first step toward true TUFwomanship.  i will truly manifest (womanifest? ha!) as a TUF when the following benchmarks have been reached:

--we continue our monthly patronage of the farmers' market.

--we build and outfit a chicken coop to comfortably house four chickens.

--we acquire and successfully raise up to four chickens.

--we harvest chicken eggs, and no longer buy them from the store/market.  we use them ourselves and give them to neighbors.

--we begin a compost project using the manure from our chickens, waste from food preparation, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, etc.  we invite our neighbors to contribute to the compost.

--we grow a vegetable garden using our compost, reducing our need to buy produce from the grocery store.  we will share vegetables with our neighbors.

--we document the progress and successes/challenges.

TUF ultimate goals:

--spend significantly less money at the big box grocery store.
--eat more organic, real, locally produced foods.
--have a sustainable cycle of home-produced food.
--foster a sense of neighborhood community around food.

And So It Begins...

so i've decided i would like to be a farmer when i grow up.  about me: 30, white, developing a career in education or somesuch, no kids yet (thinking about it), several pets, married, living in east by east east austin texas.  lately i have discovered a desire to become more, how do you say, sustainable?  i suspect this is a desire shared by many people of my age and status, who find themselves in such a financial and emotional place to become concerned about one's health and the world.  now that i am no longer scratching desperately through my low-income high-drama 20's, my gaze turns outward from the bare logistics of living to the larger prospect of living well.

our family (me, dan, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 1 guinea pig, 2 rats, 1 snake, 1 fish) has already taken some small steps toward a more compassionate and healthy existence.  we make an effort to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and usually reject grocery items with absurdly long lists of ingredients.  we recycle.  we quit smoking.  we patronize our local farmers' market on a monthly basis for locally-sourced, ethically-raised produce, meat and some dairy.  but we definitely still use the big box grocery store for most staples, and going to the farmer's market still feels more like a leisurely family weekend activity than an actual grocery run.  i still feel stymied by a few fundamental barriers that block my compassionate consumer ideal:

--COST.  food is expensive to produce.  the price is artifically lowered at the big box grocery store due to cheap imitation food products and cheap labor.  but when one has been accustomed to paying artificially low prices one's whole life, one's budget is not necessarily prepared for the big jump in cost that comes with supporting local food producers and eating real food.

--MEAT. i am very interested in the well-being and ethical treatment of animals.  but many animals are delicious to eat, and there is something fundamentally unethical about killing another creature so that i might enjoy its tasty flesh.  however, right now, i am probably not going to become a vegetarian.  since we've been buying locally-raised poultry, bison and pork from the farmers' market, i am thinking about no longer eating meat from the big box grocery store at all.  i have not quite yet made that step.

--TIME. buying and eating fresh, locally sourced food takes a time committment that seems substantial when i am used to having tons of non-fresh lazy food lying around from the big box grocery store.  i think i have the very american trait of being addicted to convenience--if i don't have to buy food all the time because i have lots of things with long shelf lives that i can boil in some water and eat in 5 minutes, or gobble straight from the bag, then i will have much more time to (insert time away-whiler here).  this is an old habit, and one tied in with body image/weight issues--another american trait.

--LACK OF GREEN THUMB.  fairly explanatory.

in the name of living better, and in the spirit of adventure, i wish to try on a new mindset.  i would like to encourage these improvements in personal choice that we have made so far, and see if we can trend toward more compassionate consuming and a more healthy existence.  i want to become a.....wait for it...

T otally U rban F armer!  a TUF!