A Tiny Homestead

Mary E Lewis

We became homesteaders three years ago when we moved to our new home on a little over three acres. But, we were learning and practicing homesteading skills long before that. This podcast is about all kinds of homesteaders, and farmers, and bakers - what they do and why they do it. I’ll be interviewing people from all walks of life, different ages and stages, about their passion for doing old fashioned things in a newfangled way. read less
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Renville County Soil & Water Conservation District
2d ago
Renville County Soil & Water Conservation District
Today I'm talking with Holly at the Renville County Soil & Water Conservation District. You can follow them on Facebook as well. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. If you're enjoying this podcast, please like, subscribe, share it with a friend, or leave a comment. Thank you. 00:15 Today I'm talking with Holly at the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District. Good morning Holly, how are you? Good morning Mary, I'm fantastic. How about yourself? I'm good and I'm not quite sure how to start this because I don't really know what you guys do exactly. So tell me about yourself and what you guys do. Sure. So, the Renville County Soil and Water Conservation District is a local government unit. 00:43 And what we really focus on is working with landowners on promoting sustainable use of water and soil resources. So things that are going to have a direct benefit on water and soil for the county and the state. Okay. And does every county have an organization like yours or are you alone in this? Sure. So while I think we are unique and special. 01:13 five Soan water conservation districts across the state. So almost every county has a Soan water conservation district. Okay, I'm in Sibley County, which is I think right next to Renville. It is. You are a neighbor. I am terrible at counties in Minnesota because there are so many of them. Yes, there is a lot. But yeah, you're directly east of us. Sibley is a Soan water district that we've partnered with on projects in the past and wonderful team over there. 01:43 Okay, so tell me how this works. Sure. So really what a Soil and Water District does is we provide education and resources to stakeholders. And when we say stakeholders, that's anybody that uses water or soil in the state. So the bulk of our customers or clients that we work with on a regular basis are farmers, just because we're in a heavy ag region. 02:12 And, but that doesn't mean that we can't help somebody who's got a tree in their yard that they think is sick, or if they want to do something to change water flow through their property, things like that. So, we really can kind of just do anything, like I said, related to water or solar resources. Okay. So if someone has a tree that they think is sick, how do they contact you? I mean, do they. 02:41 Do they just ask around until they find out about you or do you guys promote what you do or how does it work? So it's interesting you bring that up, Mary, because even like my whole childhood and going through college, till I was in my senior year at college, I didn't really know what a Swinwater district is, right? And I don't know if we've always done a fantastic job of promoting ourselves. Historically... 03:07 In Minnesota, soil and water districts really cut their teeth on tree programs. So if we back up just a little bit, we're a product of the dirty thirties. So what happened is the dust bowl and we had massive erosion and the government, US government created our partners, the natural resource conservation service. And as a result of that federal partnership. 03:36 locals got involved and said, it's great, we have this federal partners, this federal money, but we also need local buy in and local support for programs. And so Soin Water Conservation Districts got organized, usually sometime between 1938 and 1960. And again, that varied on kind of those local stakeholders and just momentum of getting those organized. And so 04:05 part of that was is our USDA partners would say, okay, you have this massive field erosion, you tore out your trees and you broke up all the prairie to farm it. And so we need to plant some trees here to stop that erosion. And that's really where Soan Water Districts got their feet under them was selling trees and designing and installing that. And then we expanded that to also designing and helping with installation. 04:32 of structures out in the field where we would actually move soil to slow water flow or just adjust where wind would blow in a road soil. 04:44 Okay. So like last year, we're surrounded by what used to be an alfalfa field. Sure. And is now a corn field. Yay. Um, I'm not a fan of corn. I, I sneeze when it does its thing in. Oh yeah, all that pollen, right? Yeah. Kind of kicks my butt every summer, but it's okay. Um, they put in drained hyle. Uh huh. I can't remember what was last summer or the summer before. I think it was the summer before. 05:15 And is that something that you guys are involved in, or is that just something that the farmers just do on their own? So how we're actually involved with Green Tile is on the level of making sure that whatever is installed has no negative impact on what we have today for waters of the state, which includes lakes, rivers, and wetlands. 05:41 So our involvement is a landowner wants to install tile. They first start with the USDA Farm Service Agency and say, I wanna put this tile in because the federal side of our partnership has to say, if you put in tile, you won't be impacting any wetlands. And then that request also flows to us because the state has different wetland rules than the feds. And so we need to make sure that locally, they're not. 06:10 potentially going to alter a wetland by putting in this tile. So tile, I mean, we're in the prairie pothole, right? Yeah. And just west of you, Bird Island was truly an island. That's why we named that town Bird Island, because it was surrounded by water and wetlands. And now that we've altered and drained it with drain tile, our role in tile is to make sure that we're not gonna put any new tile in that could- 06:39 negatively impact what we have left for weapons. Okay, that makes sense. So this is all very sciencey. There's a lot of science here. Okay. All right. All right. So I wasn't sure whether this was going to fit with my podcast, but I think that it does because I had no idea that you guys existed, number one. And number 07:08 A lot of people don't know. And homesteaders can be a tenth of an acre a lot with the people living there growing a garden, or it can be a hundred acre or a hundred thousand acre, I doubt that, but it can be a humongous property where people are growing crop things, like commercial farming. So it does fall under that, but I'm not quite sure. 07:38 what to ask here. I was going to say, obviously, good soil grows good plants, which means good food, which means good nutrition for people. Good water is extremely important. We all know this. So what do you have to say about that? Yeah. No, and it's interesting you say that because when you had asked if I'd be on your podcast, I then... 08:07 hopped on and found some of your podcasts and listened. And to be candid, I kind of had the same cat. I'm like, oh, really different than her other guests. But really where we fit in is kind of like where we started our conversation. We're here to help anybody that is a stakeholder. And if you use water or soil, you're a stakeholder. We might not have all of the answers, but really we would have that network to hopefully find you the answers. 08:35 And really where our niche is with homesteaders is that we can provide resources and education on things related to improving their soil health. We can also provide them with resources for potential grant funding. If they're looking, maybe they're a small homesteader and they want to put up a high tunnel to extend their growing season, we can help provide them some of the resources and tools to hopefully find some financial support for that. Or for example, maybe they're having trouble. 09:05 with a certain pest in their garden, and we can come out and visit with them and talk about maybe changing that rotation or what are some other less intensive ways to manage that pest and talk about crop rotation and looking at, you know, reducing tillage in that scenario, things like that. So it's all scalable, everything we do. So that's where I think our niche is, is to help people with those resources. 09:32 It's interesting you bring that up. I'm actually working with a customer right now that is taking a building site that has been abandoned for seven years. And we're basically mapping out their homestead plan and where they're going to put up some fence and how we're going to manage that grazing system and water development, all of that A to Z is what we can help with on the technical side to give advice and recommendations. 09:58 And is that fun for you? Because if I was in your shoes, I would be so excited to help them. It's so fun. It's just energizing and just wonderful to be around that energy of trying something new. And just, I've been in my career a while and working with people that are excited about what they're doing is really fun. And that is a group of people that are usually really energetic and excited about it. 10:26 And so it's really fun to be around and just to be creative. Sometimes we don't get to be creative enough and it's really fun to just throw out scenarios about what about this or have we thought about this? And yeah, no, I love it. Especially around the side of soil health. We do on our YouTube channel have several videos that we've done with landowners, just educational tools to share with customers. And it's just really fun to be around that energy and see something improve and change that. 10:56 maybe we got to help advise on. Yeah, in you saying that, it makes me think about the fact that when we're doing this, whatever it is, cooking from scratch or growing plants or raising animals or anything like that, it's like when we were five and learning about the world on literally a small scale because we were all small at five years old. 11:25 And I feel like homesteading and baking and cooking and raising animals is it really allows that child inside of us to come back out and, and dream and think through. I think that's exactly how I would describe it as well. So I grew up, um, I have a large family and I'm the youngest. And when I was three, my mom had to get a job off the farm. And so I spent a lot of my childhood. 11:53 with my dad wherever he was. And if I wasn't with him, I was playing with the cats. I was plunking around in the grove, digging around, climbing trees, and just that excitement and trying new things and turning over a rock and finding a bunch of worms then, it's still thrilling for me now in my career. And so I completely agree. It's just that whimsy, that excitement of new, and also really your encouraging life versus maybe some of the 12:23 other conventional systems of looking at making our food in that system. It's really more trying to figure out how to control or kill. Yeah. I guess I'm really glad that I'm talking to you because I have been trying to put my finger on why all the people that I talk with sounds so excited. Even if something bad happens, something good is around the corner and they know it and it's because it does, it brings that. 12:51 I don't know that whimsy and that excitement and that why not to the front of your brain again. Exactly. Yeah. Okay. Well, and... Go ahead. Sorry. I do want to recap and I didn't mean to cut you off, but you talked about, just touched on the health of what we're producing. One of the other cool things about a Soan Water District is we're governed by a local board of elected officials. And it's really that local impact. 13:20 And so our board here in Renville is really creative and really open to just giving the staff the reins and letting us come up with ideas. And what we've been doing locally, just as a team on a small scale, is doing a nutrient density assessment with soils that are reduced till that have a diverse crop rotation, really a healthy soil system versus something that's a monoculture corn and soybean rotation with a lot of tillage. And what we've been doing is we've been growing sugar snap peas in those. 13:49 environments. And we have found that local data is that soils that are in a healthy system where we're trying to mimic Mother Nature's historic tall grass prairie with diverse covers and not stirring the soil, we can grow produce peas that have 46.4% higher protein than if we're in a system where we're stirring the soil and doing conventional tillage with a monoculture. Wow. Yeah. 14:18 That's kind of great. Yeah. Yeah. And like, it seems silly, but like, that's so fun. It gives me goosebumps every time we talk about it, because it's so fun to see, like, there's our measurement, there's our change, right? Like, we can be healthier, and we can produce less and be healthier if we look at trying to regeneratively farm and focus on soil health. 14:42 Yes, and it's a quantifiable number, which is really hard to get when you're dealing with animals and plants. So yay, that's fantastic. Thank you. Yeah, we think it's super fun too. Yeah. So I've heard a lot about no-till, no-tilling. And we grow a veggie garden, pretty big veggie garden every summer, and we sell it to farmers market, blah, blah, blah. This is my thing that I talk about all the time. 15:12 And we do till because when we moved here in 2020, the yard, field, whatever it is, it's not big enough to be a field, but it's a very big, open, flat space. It was all grass and weeds. And there was no way we were going to be able to plant it without tilling it. And so we tilled it the first year. And 15:37 We ended up buying a tiller attachment for our little tractor that we have because there was no other way to do it. What is the problem with tilling? 15:49 So the challenge with tilling is what you're doing is you're actually breaking the soil aggregate. So if you think about where tall grass prairie here historically, and so there was always a living root in that system that was creating open pore space, that was creating areas for air and water, all the biology to move through the soil profile. 16:19 iron or tillage, we create a scenario where that pore space collapses because we break the aggregate. And then what we end up with is a fluffy, fine, soft textured soil. And really what we want to see in soil is something that looks a lot more like cottage cheese or chocolate cake, some people like to call it too, where it's really erratic. There's lots of open holes and pore spaces. And that's a system that... 16:49 is going to be more reactive to allowing things to cycle in more of a natural way. It's also going to prevent wind erosion because if you break the soil, like when you till your garden, I'm sure running the tiller across it, it's really fluffy and light, right? No, not, not especially. No, not unless it's been terribly dry. Sure. And it's like a conventional field. We often see though what it does in that scenario. Is it 17:19 creates a system that breaks that aggregate, that soil aggregate, collapses in on itself. And then what happens is the silt, sand and clay particles that are in that soil separate. We're in an aggregate, they're all intermingled and hanging out together and supporting each other in their natural system. But now when they're separate and independent, they can erode and blow and they separate. Okay. So then that leads me to my next question, because I know you know the answer. 17:48 How do we not till in a small vegetable garden? How do we not do that? Yeah, so there's not a right or wrong. There's just lots of options and opportunities. Some of the easier ways to do that is to look at planting more of a three sisters approach. Are you familiar with the three sisters? Yes. So 18:13 something like that. And that's exactly what that scenario with the three sisters is doing, where we've got a grass from the corn. So you think about that root structure, then we've got a legume that's fixing nitrogen and feeding that corn in that system. And then we've got a broad leaf, some sort of squash or vine. So we've got a corn, a pea and a squash, for example. So we've got different leaf shapes that are photosynthesizing, we have different root structures as well. 18:43 and those root structures are doing the tillage for you. Mm. Okay. And so that's maybe like just the first to start thinking about what that could look like. Okay. Go ahead. No, please. So what if we're not doing corn? Cause we don't grow corn. It could be any other thing too. Like in my garden, I tend to kind of just put like all the peas and the tomatoes and everything kind of all together. 19:10 and everybody just kind of finds its balance. I also can appreciate though if you're on a commercial setting it's a little bit different right you need to be able to go down the whole pea row pick all the peas so you can take them to the farmers market. Yeah. So what we would look at in that scenario is we try and encourage people to plant something in between the rows that's going to be a low moisture competition or even as simple as like mulching it with straw or we've 19:39 customer that's using chop up alfalfa bales to mulch in between the rows. And then basically what they do is they move over their row the next cropping year. Okay. And so they just kind of move in, it might only be four inches, six inches, but they're then not disturbing that soil in that scenario. What we're finding is then everything is cycling, right. And it's breaking everything down to continue to. 20:09 remove that residue in between the rows. Okay, that makes sense. My dad has grown a garden forever and his take on healthy soil is when he sticks a shovel in the dirt and pulls a shovel of dirt out, if there's earthworms, it's good soil. Is that true? He's right. Yep. So earthworms are a really easy biological indicator. When we go around and dig around, we can find them. 20:37 And what they're doing is fantastic, right? They're taking in residue and breaking it down. And it's now becoming carbon in your soil, which is then nitrogen. So fertilizer for your plants. Um, and so yeah, earthworms he's right, are a fantastic indicator, super visual. You don't need a microscope to find them. But honestly, if you think about earthworms too, sometimes if you find a spot that if you go out into your trees, maybe for example, and dig up a shovel 21:06 historically we tend to find more in that undisturbed shovel full versus in an area that's tilled up. Okay. All right. That environment is different. So yeah, that helps. Thank you. Cause I've heard more about no-till and and hugelkultur. I don't think I'm saying it right, but heard about that, heard about spaghetti or lasagna method for growing stuff and 21:35 Honestly, my husband tills the garden in the fall after he puts it to bed and then he throws some goat manure or chicken manure or some kind of animal manure on the garden. He lets it sit all winter and then he tills it one more time before he plants it in the spring. That's how he does it. So the other thing is too, as far as those that are no tilling in their garden, instead of doing that tillage in the fall. 22:04 They're actually using some cover crops on their garden and then spreading their manure because if you've got that living root, it's going to take up and capture that manure and basically tie it up in its biomass. And then over the winter as it dies and breaks down, it releases that just like what he's doing kind of with the tillage by burying. So yeah, there's lots of ideas. I'm glad to visit with you. 22:31 with other techniques or get you in contact with those that are doing other things. Yeah, I just, I never, I never know. He's, he's always watching videos on YouTube and he's like, I saw this thing, it's a new thing for gardening. And I'm like, yay. Because there's so many. And every winter he's like, I want to try this new thing this coming spring. And I'm like, uh-huh. Okay. Have at it. Let me know how it goes. Because 22:59 There's so many things he's done and I'm like, I don't think that's going to be good. And he's like, no, it'll be great. And then it's not good. Um, one year he, when we lived at our old house, we had a very small garden, like very small and our neighbor had a bunch of leaves and, and seeds that have fallen from, I swear it was an ash tree, but I could be wrong. Sure. You can be right. And they have those little plot little helicopters at full. 23:28 Yeah. And my, our neighbor was like, if you want some of the leaves to put on, you know, on the garden for the winter, come get them. And my husband was hell bent that he was going to do this. And I said, you know, you're going to have baby trees. Oh, it's so full of seed. Yeah. And he's like, no, no, no, they'll, they'll biodegrade. They'll be fine. I'm like, okay. Worst garden of our lives that following year. So 23:56 Now when he says, I want to try this thing, I immediately, when he goes to work, I sit down with my computer and go on Google and look it up and see what's involved and what it does. Because I don't want to lose a garden again. It was terrible. Right. Well, and that brings up a really valuable point that you're talking about. Every time you're stirring that soil, you're actually bringing up hundreds and thousands of years of residual seed bank that's in that soil profile. 24:25 We know sweet clover seed can lay dormant in the soil for up to 200 years and still be a viable seed. Wow. And so tons of other weeds in that same environment. So that's part of the challenge with every time you till your garden, you're actually creating more work for yourself all summer because now you've brought this seed to the surface, this weed seed, where it can get sunlight and water and grow. Exactly. Yep. And so that's exactly what happened with the leaves. 24:54 when you brought in all those ash seeds. Yeah, luckily we don't live there anymore. So it's somebody else's problem now. It would have been nice. Have we not lost, well, we didn't lose everything. It just made it really difficult that summer. Oh, without a doubt. Yeah. And then just one pulls out easy and then the next has a little bit deeper root and they're just not even easy to take care of when you're trying to hand deal with them. Yeah. My mom loves holly hot. 25:22 and she asked me if we grow hollyhocks here and I was like absolutely not. Oh. And she said, why? They're so pretty. And I said, because they spread like wildfire. I said, I don't need a thousand hollyhock plants. I don't need a thousand morning glory plants because morning glory spread like wildfire too. Same thing. Yep. And she was like, oh, well ours just stay put. And I was like, well, where are they? And she said. 25:50 down by the tree line and I said that's a really good place for them to be. So yeah, you've got to be aware of how things grow, not just that they grow, but how they grow and how they spread. So yeah. So we've been talking about a lot about soil. Tell me about water. 26:20 is when we started a podcast, I should back up. We started a podcast on Earth Day, actually, April 22. And it's called Armored Soil Podcast. And it's really because everything that we do in the soil still directly impacts water. So if you think about a raindrop hitting the soil surface of the earth, if it hits the surface and runs off, now we've moved water and soil and potentially nutrients if it's a crop field. 26:48 and into an environment we probably don't want it to be moved into. If that raindrop falls and hits the soil surface and infiltrates into the soil, now it's regenerating down into aquifers that we're drinking from. So, um, really it all does come back to the soil, everything that we're doing, even though we talk about water a lot. But what we help customers with is, um, access to water. 27:14 We can provide support as far as like an advice on if you need a new well, we can get you connected to the resources to get a new well if it's failing. Helping customers find and abandon old wells, right? So we're capping off potential contaminations going into our aquifer. We also can help with if people have erosion on their crop field that has maybe been a result of too much water being in the wrong place. We can provide advice. 27:43 and details on, you know, maybe some sort of structure, earthen structure needs to be installed there to slow the water down a little bit and allow it to infiltrate to prevent erosion. So those are kind of the pieces when we talk around water. We don't do much with irrigation. We only have one pivot in the whole county. So we don't regionally, we don't do a lot with that. But we also work with landowners adjacent to all of our open waters. 28:12 We have the Minnesota River along our southern border and so we work a lot with landowners to make sure that we're not going to have an impact of water moving too quickly, leaving their property too fast to create erosion or to move things off of the field that we don't want to move like nutrients or soil. Okay. So because you're Renville County, are you limited to helping people in Renville County? 28:42 We are not. Part of that is to just, you know, as a state, we all have different local goals and priorities. But as a state, in the last five years, we've moved more toward water planning on a watershed boundary versus a political boundary. So most of us do work in projects outside of our political boundary, but on a watershed boundary. But collectively, we still... 29:09 visit with landowners anywhere from around the state and offer advice. It's just we might not have all the resources beyond our borders to know what's out there. If that makes sense? Yep. Yep, it does. Okay, I have one more question for you because I know you have a meeting at 10 and I'm sure you would like to get prepared for that too. This past winter, everyone who lives in Minnesota knows that this was a very, very strange winter. What do you think about that? Because I am... 29:38 I am starting to get really concerned about the weather patterns because we've been here since 2020, where we live now. And the weather has been so erratic and it's either been lovely and calm or it's been intense and not calm. And I was told when I was 15 by my biology teacher that, well, our whole class was told. 30:06 He said, I am going to step away from normal curriculum today, and we're going to talk about climate change. And I'm 54. 15, no one was talking about climate change in a very direct way. And he said, by the time you guys are in your 50s, you will see the actual effects of climate change. And I was 15. 30:31 my classmates were 14, 15, 16, we didn't really know what he was saying. And now that I'm 54, I know exactly what he was telling us. So what do you think about this past winter and how bizarre it's been? 30:50 So it certainly has been bizarre, and this is a personal opinion that I'll offer. We have seen and we know that we can have a direct microclimate change on areas, and we've seen it. Say for example, there's a customer that I met several years ago that has a ranch in the Chihuahuan Desert. And by increasing 31:18 his stocking rate and starting to mob graze by putting more pounds of beef per acre on his ranch, he was able to increase the amount of vegetation on his soil and increase his amount of rainfall because now he created an environment, a microclimate where he had plants that were then impacting his direct climate because they were photosynthesizing. They were respirating and evaporating moisture. 31:48 and created a scenario where he was actually getting seven inches more rain than neighbors five miles away in his microclimate. So I do think we are making some sort of changes. We know we've obviously changed the landscape, right? In an effort to grow crops, we've changed that landscape. And so I think we need to really think about trying to balance that back out, right? 32:18 Maybe it's as small as every farm having a few acres of pollinator, right? That's constant green vegetation to balance that out, or maybe widening field borders to have green vegetation growing. Um, but I certainly think that we have made some sort of change in the atmosphere, um, with how we're operating on the planet today that is impacting us. Whether you call it global warming, climate change, whatever, um, we're doing something and I think we need to take a look to see. 32:48 What do we need to do to change that, right, or try and correct? So I don't know, did I answer that? It's kind of, it's such a loaded question and it's something we talk about all the time at work just because we see it, right? And we know examples like the one I just gave where we can really have a positive change and impact. Yeah, and I know it's a loaded question, but I really want people thinking about it and talking about it. Yeah. 33:16 Maybe in prompting the discussions, maybe someone who we don't even know yet will come up with something that everyone can get behind. Yeah. I want people to be thinking about this because honestly, it makes me upset. Sure. I have kids who one has a kid, so I have a grandchild, and I want there to be a world for my... 33:44 descendants and at the rate we're going, it makes me really worry. I can't disagree. You know, we see it just in my career. I've seen fields, farm fields, and I'm sure you see them in your neighborhood as well, that the hilltops used to be black, but now they're tan and gray because we've eroded off that topsoil. And that's left. Where did that go? Right? Is that now in our atmosphere? Yeah. Is that in the river? Where? And so things like that. It is 34:14 upsetting, especially on the visual side of things and like you said, extreme weather patterns. So I do think it is a conversation to have. Definitely. I just wish I had the answer. I wish I was the person that had that answer, how to get there. I think it's a lot of little things though, Mary. I think it's a lot of little changes. I think a lot of it's education as well. And just part of the thing that seems like with getting large scale 34:44 It's really hard to think about what you're doing and maybe even admit that you haven't been doing it the best. Yeah. And, and then making that change, right? Like as humans, oof, I don't just ask my husband, I don't like to admit when I'm wrong. Uh huh. I certainly don't want to tell him. Yeah. But that's the piece of it too, right? And then changing that pattern. And that's really what we're trying to do here in the soul and water. And I think across the state, soul and waters and 35:12 our partners at USDA are trying to do the same thing is really look at large scale adoption of soil health practices where we're not stirring the soil and trying to keep it armored as much as we can to kind of hopefully re-stabilize that entire environment and the globe. Yeah. I think part of the issue is that recycle, reduce, reuse, homestead, sustainability, blah, blah, blah. All those words. 35:42 sexy. We need to figure out a way to make it sexy and shiny and new and bright so it gets attention. And it just makes me laugh because there is nothing sexier than seeing people outside in the fresh air working on things. And I don't know why people don't think that that all of this is is sexy and attractive. I don't understand. Yeah, I'm 100% with you like 36:12 Absolutely. How do we change that mindset as a society that that's, that's a good look having dirt under your fingernails. Yeah. And sweat on your brow. And part of it is that it's dirty work. You're going to get sweaty and dirty if you're doing stuff. But we watch sports figures run down the football field and get sweaty and gross and they have the black stuff under their eyes. 36:42 sexier than somebody outside working in the sunlight in a garden. What we really need is a marketer, right? That's what we need. Yeah. As a marketer. Yeah. To get. And I need, I understand how marketing works because I worked in marketing for a while. Sure. But I also know that it takes an idea and a story and then money to make the thing that people see. So if anybody out there is interested in 37:11 Holly put out a really great video about gardening. Let me know. Yeah, definitely. That would be awesome. I doubt that there is. I love the awesome because that's what we wanna do. Yeah. I think it'd be great. Find some really handsome man and some really lovely lady and have them out in the garden planting things and then spraying the water off their faces with a hose. That'd be great. There we go. Why not? You've even got the intro right there. Sure, why not? 37:41 Okay, well, I was mostly trying to lighten this up because that whole global warming subject gets real serious real quick. It does. And like you said, I'm not afraid of that either, but it's just, it's a loaded question. Yeah. And I'm going to keep asking it because there have to be conversations going on about this. That's what I say. That's what I think. And it's my podcast. So I can say it. 38:11 All right, Holly, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I didn't know how this was going to go, but I think it was really important to talk to you. Good. Well, I appreciate that. I'm really glad you reached out. I wasn't sure exactly what you were looking for either. So hopefully we got some good content for your listeners. I'm not sure I knew what I was looking for, but I was like soil and water conservation. This is important. How did you find us, Mary? Can I ask? 38:37 I think just like I find everything else, I was scrolling through Facebook and it got fed to me in my feed, I think. Oh, cool. Okay, no, I was just curious. I don't remember. I am constantly looking at my phone. I should not be, but to find people to talk to, I kind of need Facebook to feed me more of what I'm looking for. And God love Facebook. I mean, it's probably not. 39:03 great in some ways, but when I'm trying to find homesteaders and cottage food producers and crafters to talk with, it's fantastic. Oh yeah. No, it's a great way for them to be out there and marketing. Yeah. So, but that's how I found you, I think. And I was like, what is this? And then I thought, hey, I should talk to them and see if it's a fit. Cool. Well, I'm glad you reached out. I'm glad I did too. And thank you for your patience with my questions and thank you for 39:30 walking a fine line on the answers of the loaded question, because I know you need to be careful and it's important. Yes, because I want to keep my job. Please, yes, keep your job. I think you're doing a fabulous thing. All right. You have a fantastic day. Sounds great. Thanks. You too, Mary. All right.
Crazy GF Cookies
4d ago
Crazy GF Cookies
Today I'm talking with Brittany at Crazy GF Cookies. You can follow her on Facebook as well. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. If you're enjoying this podcast, please like, subscribe, share it with a friend, or leave a comment. Thank you. Today I'm talking with Brittany at Crazy Gluten Free Cookies. Good morning, Brittany. How are you today? Good morning. I'm doing well. How are you? I'm great. Tell me about yourself and Crazy Gluten Free Cookies. Right. So... 00:29 Um, I actually just started, uh, I call it crazy GF cookies, but yes, the GF stands for gluten free. Um, and I just started it back in January, but it's kind of been like a slow start. So, but I'm going to be at a farmer's market, um, come next month in May. And so, yeah, it's super exciting journey for me because I've never really done anything with 00:56 restaurants or businesses or baking and stuff like that for at a professional level. So it's kind of a fun adventure for me just starting off slow with a cottage food bakery. Okay, so tell me how you got started. I read your About Me on your website, but I would love to have you share why you started doing this. Yeah, so I feel like when somebody asks like, oh, why are you doing the baking? They always are like, because I love to bake. 01:25 That is not me. Mm-hmm. It is quite actually totally different. I actually got into it because I see a problem in our marketplace, especially I live in a smaller town outside of the Twin Cities, like an hour outside of the Twin Cities. And so I really don't even, this is even bigger problem where I live. But there's just nothing for people who have allergies and gluten. 01:54 being one of those allergies, which a lot of people don't understand what gluten is. It's just a protein in wheat, but wheat products are all over the place. It's pretty much in everything. And so it's very difficult to eat out anywhere or to be safe anywhere. And that's my story because I didn't used to have to eat gluten-free. So I know what it's like to just go to a restaurant and order whatever you want. 02:23 But yeah, back in 2012, I was basically told, hey, you're allergic to gluten. And I was like, can't I still eat it? And I was asking the doctor that and the doctor's like, you're going to die if you keep eating it. And so I had to go gluten free and it was awful. I mean, I love my pastas and my bread and the treats and the cookies and everything. 02:52 And so for me, it was just an awful realization. And so my passion really lies with, you know, helping people who have allergies like I do, because it's like, we just don't have that many options. If we go to a restaurant, we have to always like ask a million questions. Like, do you have gluten-free on the menu? Is this gluten-free? Does it have wheat in it? Is it fried in the same fryer with everything else? Like... 03:20 You know, so it's very difficult. And I just, I saw this as like a hole in our marketplace where there's really nothing that's super safe in our area and like that's dedicated gluten free. And so I was just like, you know what? We need something. We need something in our area. Cause more and more people are finding out that they're allergic to wheat, or they're just going gluten free for just to be healthier because in general, um, most people, even if they don't have an intolerance or an allergy to wheat. 03:50 they actually do better when they're off of weight. They lose weight and they are healthier and stuff like that too. So that's really why I started it. Okay. The restaurant thing. The thing I have found if you ask the waitresses or the manager questions about what's in the food is you get one of two kinds of responses. 04:17 Either they understand why you're asking and they're really kind and they're really sweet in their response, or they're really short with you because they're like, if you need to ask, you shouldn't be eating here. You know? Yeah, exactly. And I would feel like there's also the response of they have no idea. It's not that they're necessarily short with you, they just are so confused. They just don't know what you're talking about when you say gluten. And it's like, okay, well. 04:44 it's wheat. Is there any wheat in it?" And they're like, I don't know, what is wheat? And it's like, that's basically flour. So anything that has flour in it, that's your typical flour that hasn't actually been purposely made gluten-free by picking rice flour or corn flour or something like that, is going to automatically have wheat in it. And so I try to explain it to people. And it's just, it's countless times I've tried to explain it to a waitress going like, 05:12 this is what we is, like, and I have to explain it to them. And so then, but then that makes me feel less safe because I'm like, if I'm explaining it to you and you don't know, how do I, how can I trust your response and your answer? Because you probably don't understand still, even though I just explained it to you. Yeah, exactly. Um, I have an allergy or a, I don't know if it's an allergy, but it's a reaction to monosodium glutamate, MSG, and it gives me terrible headaches. And people will say that that's not true. 05:42 But it is true. And there was a restaurant that I wanted to order a beef commercial from. And a lot of gravies have MSG in it. And I called to order and I was like, is your gravy house made and does it have MSG in it? And the lady on the phone... 06:02 said, let me ask. And she put me on hold and went and asked. And she was like, we're really, really busy right now and I couldn't find anybody who had an answer. So just don't order that. And I was like, yep, that's fine. I'll get a burger. So it can be any food allergy that makes life miserable. So how did you come to find out that you had the allergy to gluten? 06:31 So I was bent over in pain, like my stomach and just the center of my whole body was pretty much just in so much pain. And I was sick like all the time. And I went through this through childhood and stuff too. It took quite a few years before we finally identified the problem and it was just getting worse and worse for me to the point where I couldn't stand up straight anymore because it was just that bad. 07:00 And then I ended up finding out after going off of gluten that there was other reactions that I didn't even realize were also attributed to it, such as acne, migraines, and stuff like that as well. But it wasn't even an official like they diagnosed me because like the typical way of diagnosing an actual celiac, someone who's highly allergic, is to take a piece of their colon out. 07:28 and examine it with a microscope and all that, but I didn't go through that. I just needed someone to tell me, you're probably allergic to gluten and wheat and you need to go off of it and see if you feel better. And that's what I did. And yeah, I felt tons better. I could finally stand up again and all this stuff. So it definitely is a problem. And now I'm like so sensitive that, yeah, I can't walk through the bakery area at a grocery store. So. 07:58 I get immediate headache if I'm by the bread or by the bakery. My son, I have a two-year-old son named Joshua, but I brought him over when he was still a couple months. I brought him over to the bakery section. I'm just so used to now if I go over there, I just hold my breath and I just run through real quick to grab whatever I need to grab and then run out. But he broke out in hives just in the area for a few seconds. 08:28 And I was like, ah, he has it too. So now it's like extra precautions have to be in place because it's not just me now. It's also my son who I obviously want the best for him. And it's not just eating gluten, it's being around it. Yes. And that's what makes it even harder is because there's been restaurants that my family is like, oh, hey, let's go eat here. They say they have a gluten free option and I'll walk in and I'm immediately sick. And I'm like, 08:57 Even if they have a gluten-free option here, there's absolutely no way I could eat it and be safe because just if walking in the environment is causing me issues, then that means that there's going to be what we call cross-contamination where there's going to be crumbs and stuff lying around or flour lying around that got into the gluten-free product. And oftentimes, restaurants call that gluten-sensitive, not gluten-free because there's probably still gluten in it. It's just that it wasn't made in... 09:26 intentionally with gluten. So is it that you're breathing in the gluten, the wheat dust or particles in the air? Is that what's making the reaction happen? Yes. And I mean, places like, for instance, like a pizza joint, like they might toss the pizza dough up in the air and they've got all the flour if they're mixing their pizza dough, you know, from there. And so that just gets up in the air and you breathe it in. And so... 09:55 My dad even went gluten-free for a while just for my sake, but he didn't have a sensitivity to it. When he went gluten-free and then he walked into a bakery area, he was like, wow, I can smell the bread. I can smell this stuff. He's like, I didn't know it had a smell before being gluten-free for a while. And I'm like, that's... 10:18 That's funny, yeah. And I'm like, me either, really, because I didn't notice it either until I was gluten-free for at least a year before I started noticing that I wasn't even feeling good walking through the bakery areas. Wow. I didn't know that breathing it would cause a reaction too. That is good information to have. Okay. So what do you – do you just make cookies and what kind of cookies do you make? Yeah. So I'm starting off slowly. So yeah, I was just focusing on cookies. 10:46 Um, so my newest ones that seem to have gotten a lot of attention online right now are the whoopie pies and the oatmeal cream pies. Those are two cookies that I have been missing since going gluten free. And it's been quite a few years. So I was like, why haven't I made these sooner? I don't understand. Like, why didn't I make, try to make them sooner because they are delicious. Um, but yeah, those kinds of cookies are especially what I'm focusing on right now is like the ones that like. 11:14 you just don't find anywhere. Because you can find a chocolate chip cookie at different places. And I do make those as well. But it's the more unique ones that you just don't see anywhere. Okay. And what are you using for a flour, a wheat flour replacement in your cookies? Because I would love to know because I would love to make some too. Yeah. So I use the King Arthur brand of flour. 11:42 It's a mixture of different flours. It's got rice flour in it, I think primarily, and then it probably has some other flours mixed in. There's tapioca flour and other things that you can get separately as just that flour, but I found that the ones that are mixed together, Pillsbury also makes a really good gluten-free flour mix, but they're just a little bit more expensive even than King Arthur. 12:11 They do pretty well. Like you can't really tell the difference. I've had multiple people eat the cookies and go, it does not taste gluten-free. And I'm like, yeah, it's because of the flour that was probably chosen. Okay. So it has the same, I don't know, mouthfeel as a regular cookie? Yes. It tastes the same. It's got the same texture. I try to make sure that my cookies are moist enough to not crumble because that's one of the problems with gluten-free often. 12:40 Even gluten-free store-bought stuff, it just crumbles immediately as you're trying to eat it. So when I try to make my cookies, I try to make sure they're moist enough so it's like a regular cookie you're biting into, not something that's going to crumble all over the place. Okay, and then the other question I have is, when you're making something with gluten-free flour, do you have to change the other ingredients or can you just use what you would normally use with wheat flour? 13:10 Well, I would say that depends. Okay. Because I can use stuff like eggs. That's easy. And milk, if I'm making a dairy-free item too, because I also make dairy-free stuff, then I'm going to use either almond milk or oat milk or something like that. But there are some things that I do have to be careful of. For instance, like if I'm putting cinnamon or something into it. 13:37 I have to be careful with that because even spices, most spices will have cross contamination with wheat or actually have wheat in them because a lot of things are fluffed up like to add. It's like wheat is cheap, so companies will add it into stuff. I mean, you'll find potato chips, which you'd think would just be potatoes and they would have wheat in them. And the same thing goes for spices. So I have to actually... 14:02 very carefully look for spices that actually are labeled gluten-free in order to be able to use them and feel safe about it. I feel like you live in a world where you don't trust anything unless you make it yourself and I don't blame you at all. Yeah, exactly. It's really difficult. I mean, and I wish that we had more places that understood the allergies and understood like all this stuff. But yeah. I mean, it's... 14:31 there's just not options out there. And that's really why I made it crazy GF cookies. Because it's like, we need an option. You know, I know that I wish there was an option. And I'm like, I know there's got to be other people out there wishing there's an option. Well, yeah, because cookies are their comfort food, their feel good food. And everybody should be able to eat a cookie now and then. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. One of my favorite, there's actually a gluten free food truck. 15:01 And yeah, I don't partner with them or anything, but they are amazing. And they actually say on their truck that fair food should be fair. And I'm like, exactly, like we should be able to have gluten-free options, you know, things should be fair for us too, but there's just not much out there. I mean, and other allergies as well, of course. So I don't want to get too far away from what you're doing. 15:29 How in the world do you shop for food at the store? Like food food. Yeah. Yeah, it's kind of difficult. I mean, and I've, you know, over the years I've discovered more and more things. So I've had lots of problems with getting cross contaminated and then getting sick. And when I get sick, I'm sick for at least three days before it gets out of my system. So it is difficult. I... 15:57 even found out a few months ago that frozen fruits and veggies, they sometimes spray them with some chemicals to kind of like preserve them. And in those chemicals is wheat. And I'm like, so I can't even trust like bags of frozen fruit and vegetables, because they could possibly have the wheat in them. And they don't have to disclose it because it's such a minute amount. 16:24 that they don't have to disclose it on the packaging. So there are some fruits that I found that did say gluten-free on them, so then I was able to get those. But most items, yeah, no. It's a lot of going to the store, walking through the aisles, picking up stuff off the shelves, looking at the back of it, seeing if it contains any of the ingredients that would be wheat-related or if it actually says gluten-free. And basically, I know I'm safe if it says gluten-free, but if it doesn't say gluten-free, it's like a 50-50 chance. Jesus. 16:54 I'm so glad that you were willing to talk with me because I had a vague understanding of people being allergic to gluten, but I have a much better understanding now. That's not fair. I'm really sorry that you're dealing with this. Yeah. And it's hard. I feel like the hardest part is when I'm dealing with other people. So if I'm dealing with people at my church or if I'm dealing with my family because it's like... 17:18 I know they don't understand it and I would like to explain it to them and I've explained it to them multiple times, but there's still so much. I mean, like I said, I'm still learning some stuff, like of what actually has we in it. So it's like, it's hard to safely eat with family and friends. And that's the hardest part is because I feel bad because I'm like, I know I'm putting pressure on you guys that I don't want to put on you if you wanted to make us something for lunch or whatever. So I think that's really the hardest part. Yeah. 17:48 Absolutely. I mean, the hardest part is I'm sure that you spend a good percentage of your time being anxious about what you're presented to eat. And that's you. And then you have to worry about how your friends and family react to your anxiety about it. Yes. Yes. It's a lot of anxiety. That's for sure. You hit that one right on the head. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. 18:16 I have to be really careful about when people say, what would you like me to make if we're going to their house because of the MSG thing. I also have an allergy to capsaicin that developed about two years ago and we're going to be going to visit friends sometime I think in June. And the male of the couple asked me what I would like to eat and I was like, well, what were you thinking of making? 18:43 And he says, well, I could do ribs, I could do this, or I could do burgers. And I said, no hot pepper anything. I said, unless you would like to have me die in front of you. And he had already heard a little bit about it. And he's like, I don't want you to die in front of me. He said, no hot peppers. I was like, OK, good. I said, how about burgers? I said, burgers are a fairly easy thing to do. And we can just add what we want to them on the bun and eat them. He says, that's the easiest option. 19:12 that would be great." I said, okay, thank you. And I thought it was lovely that he asked what we would like to eat, but I always feel weird about being like, I want plain salad and a glass of water. I mean, that's not fun food. That's not something you want to make for guests. Yeah. Yeah. It's really hard, especially, yeah, that's rough. I feel like yours would be even harder because at least gluten has gotten more attention in the last few years. 19:42 Yeah, you've got more stuff to worry about. I've got a double whammy, but at least I can really, really work around it. If I breathe something that has MSG on it, it doesn't bother me. If I know there's a jar of ground hot peppers, I'm probably not going to go smell it. So I know the dangers and I know what's going to happen and I can work around it. With you... 20:10 You may not even know that someone was making pizza dough half an hour before they went to wherever you are and still have the flower in their hair or on their clothes. Yeah. So no, I mean, if we're going to play the who's got it worst game, I'm going to say you on this one. All right. And the capsaicin thing. 20:37 I don't really love hot peppers anyway, so it's not a huge loss to me to not eat them. I'm totally fine with that. And bell peppers are fine. I can still eat sweet peppers and I love sweet peppers. So at least if it had to be one or the other, it was the one that I like that I didn't lose. Yeah. And I heard with people with allergies that a lot of times like it's always what they love is what they're losing. 21:03 And so yeah, that was what it was for me. It's like, I loved pasta and bread and pizza. It's like all my favorite stuff. And then it's like, that was everything I lost. Luckily I can make it a different way and still have it. But like, yeah, at first it was so rough. I thought I could never eat that stuff again. And I had to only ever eat whole foods. Yeah. Yep. My favorite snack growing up was one of the single sized bags of Doritos. 21:33 and half a Dr. Pepper. That was my favorite treat. Doritos has a ton of MSG in it. So I haven't eaten a Dorito in 25 years and I still would give my right foot to eat one chip. I really would. I loved the flavor of Doritos. They came out with a no MSG kind. I think it was the Cool Ranch ones. 22:03 They lie. There's MSG in those too. Oh my goodness. It's just a little bit, but a little bit for me still kicks the headache. So yeah, it's just a thing and people have all kinds of allergies to all kinds of things and we just have to learn to work around it, I guess. Yes, yes, exactly. And that was part of the reason I started up my business. I've already had some people go on my Facebook page and like be f***ed. 22:31 saying thank you from a gluten-free family and stuff like that. And it's just like, that's really why I started it was because those are the people that I have a heart for. And I'm like, yes, you're my people. Let's do this. We're going to do this together. Singing you the song of your people. Yes, exactly. Okay. So are you maybe thinking of later down the road doing like an actual bakery? Yes. 23:01 I have been considering it. I mean, it's over, I don't even know, like the last six to seven years. I mean, I've been talking about like, oh, it'd be so cool to have a restaurant. Oh, it'd be so cool to have a bakery. Oh, it'd be so cool to have these other things. And I think that a lot of it is me just wishing that there was somebody who was doing it and then not seeing people do it. And even some of the gluten-free options that used to be available where I lived was they've gone out of business or they just… 23:31 stop making the gluten-free options. And so I'm just like, what we really need is like a gluten-free restaurant. Like the whole restaurant gluten-free. And so this bakery is kind of my way of starting small, dipping my toes in the business side of things. But yeah, I would love to have like an actual storefront bakery or even eventually a restaurant that's totally gluten-free. But yeah, I'm new to business in general. So I'm just a… 23:59 trying to dip my toes in it first and do the cottage food bakery out of my home so I don't have like all those startup costs right away. Yeah, because those are the things that will sink your ship faster than anything. Is there such a thing as a gluten-free restaurant in the United States right now? Oh, yes. There are dedicated gluten-free. There's actually in Minnesota, there's a really nice one. 24:26 I love going to them there, but they're over in Burnsville. So for me, it's like a 40, 30 minute drive somewhere between there to get there. And they serve breakfast foods. So they have like waffles and pancakes and stuff like that. Their whole facility is gluten-free and they cater highly to dairy-free people as well. And they're sensitive to other allergens. And so they're amazing. So. 24:55 I don't know, there's a few more, but a lot of them I feel like are very, they're like really closer to bigger cities. And in Minnesota, most of them are further up north. Because there are some dedicated gluten-free bakeries as well, but they're further up north and I'm further down south. And so there's really nothing down here, which is such a bummer because it's like I don't like traveling to three hours to go get dedicated gluten-free stuff. 25:24 Yeah, that's a big ask. Yeah. Yeah, and I've done it. I've done it. It is a lot. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. Well, how is it going? I mean, you said that people are commenting and saying thank you from another gluten-free family, but how is it going? Are you feeling in the weeds? Are you feeling like you have a handle on what you're doing? Are you... Where are you at with it? 25:54 I would say in general, I just feel a little overwhelmed right now. But I mean, part of that is just because I have a two-year-old. And so, and I'm a stay at home parent. So it's like, I'm trying to parent him while also trying to get this bakery stuff up and running and I was experimenting with different recipes. So it is a little overwhelming. I've had a few sales. I haven't had that many, like less than I would have expected. But then again, 26:19 I also haven't been promoting myself as well as I probably should have been. I just because I've been busy and it's like I turn around and then another disaster has happened in the living room because my son's thrown everything everywhere. So it's like I have to balance between parenting, keeping up with the house and starting this business and making orders for people. So I'm hoping though that I'll get more sales once I go to the farmer's market. 26:48 in New Prague and so hoping for that. Yeah, is that on Saturdays? Do you know? Yes, that is Saturday mornings starting in May, the day before Mother's Day. I think it's what, May 11th? That's 9 a.m. to noon. Okay, because there's also a farmers market in Lesor, which is the town that I live in, which is only about 15 minutes from you. And it... 27:17 It's really good. It's a really busy, thriving farmers market. So if you discover that the New Preg one isn't for you, you should check into the Lassour one. It's on Saturday mornings as well. Yeah. Yeah, I probably should. The reason I went with New Preg was because we used to live in New Preg. And so I was aware of that. And I have one of my friends, she does homemade peanut butter. 27:44 and some other treats like that. And she's at that farmer's market too. And so I thought it would be fun. And I was like, okay, I can go see my friend and stuff too. Oh yeah. At the farmer's market. And yeah, and I just was aware of it because it's right there on Main Street. And so, yeah, I mean, I'm hoping that it's good, but yeah, I should check out that one too, because that one might even be a little bit closer to me than the new Preg one. Yeah. 28:11 Yeah, we, my husband, I shouldn't say we, I don't sell anything at the farmers market because I don't go. I get real twitchy with lots of people around, so it's not my thing, but he loves it. But he started doing that last summer and he can't get over how fun it is and how many people actually come through during the day. LaSore is a small town. It's not much, it's not, it may be bigger than Belle Plaine. I don't think it is though. 28:40 And so you wouldn't think that many people would swing by and see what's for sale, but they do. So I have one more question for you, and then I'm going to cut you loose because I'm sure that you would like to get back to doing your thing. If you take your gluten-free goods, all packaged up and pretty and lovely the way that I know you do them, and you go to the farmer's market or you sell them at 29:07 I don't know, a store that decides they love your stuff and they want to sell it on their shelves. Does it become cross contaminated in a place that isn't gluten free? 29:21 Yeah, so that would be the challenge. I mean, I don't know if I can right now with the cottage food bakery laws to sell it anywhere outside of just a farmer's market. I don't think other businesses can sell it off of their shelves. But yeah, when it comes to the farmer's market, I mean, it shouldn't be cross contaminated if it's on my tables, like if I bring my tables and everything. 29:50 If there's gluten in the air, obviously I can't help that. But yeah, since the products are already packaged, gluten shouldn't be getting on them. And yeah, there is a slight risk, I guess, with people if they were to come and touch the boxes after touching wheat on one of the other tables. That would be a slight concern that, honestly, I hadn't thought about before, just now. 30:19 the goodies themselves as long as they're already prepackaged, they shouldn't get stuff on them. Okay. I was wondering because that's what I would think of because I have a crazy brain that goes places that most people's brains don't go. Okay, Brittany, do me a favor after I stop the recording, don't leave because I need the recording to upload. I forgot to mention at the beginning. I really appreciate your time and I'm so glad that you talked to me. 30:48 in a very vulnerable way about what you've been through with this because I learned things I had no idea existed regarding gluten allergies. So thank you. Well, thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk with you. Yeah, absolutely. I want to know more. I want to touch back with you a year from now and see where you're at with your business because I think you're on to something big here. Yeah. All right. Sounds good. All right. Thank you so much. Have a great day. Thank you. You too. Bye.
Independence Gardens
6d ago
Independence Gardens
Today I'm talking with Chonnie at Independence Gardens. You can follow them on Facebook as well. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. If you're enjoying this podcast, please like, subscribe, share it with a friend, or leave a comment. Thank you. Today, I'm talking with Chonnie at Independence Gardens. Good morning, Chonnie. Good morning. How are you? I'm great. How are you? Good. Fantastic, actually. Good. 00:26 I'm actually in Lewisville, Texas. So it's a town a little bit north of Dallas. It's kind of in a North Dallas area. Okay. I thought it was Texas, but I just wanted to make sure. All right. Well, tell me about yourself and Independence Gardens and what you guys do. So Independence Gardens is a local nonprofit that has roots in Lewisville, Texas. We've been around since 2013. And our overall mission is to provide children access to fresh food. 00:55 through nutrition-based programs. And it includes sustainability programs. I was actually just recently had an opportunity to be at EarthX at 2024, that was held in Dallas. And I spoke about some of the programs that we had, specifically our Beanstalk project, which is our hydroponic system, which is a fairly new program for us. And so really it's just an opportunity for 01:22 school communities to not only grow their own food, but to feed everyone in that school, in the heart of that school. And the program started in 2013. And I tell this story because nobody believes me. It started with a simple school lunch. And my daughter was in kindergarten at that time. And I just happened to be having lunch with her, of course, like everybody wants. 01:51 first year of their child's public school years. And I remembered, right, our school lunch. I don't know if you remember your school lunch. Mine was like the best hamburger ever, right? It was the best hamburger I ever had. And, you know, everybody said it was kind of a hamburger, but not really a hamburger because it tasted like meat, but there were some additional fillers in it that made it. It was the best thing I remember when I was growing up. 02:17 So when I had lunch with her and went through the line, she had, I remember this because she had chicken nuggets. She got her chocolate milk and it was green beans that did not look like green beans. And it was the weirdest color I'd ever seen. And I didn't really think much about it, but I should have had a warning when I went in to check in and the administrator asked me. 02:46 if I brought her something to eat. And I'm like, absolutely not. I'm having lunch with her. And she said, well, maybe next time you can bring her something from either McDonald's or Chick-fil-A. And I'm like, that's odd. So as we went through the line and she kind of, you know, I saw these green beans. It was supposed to be green, but I don't know. I've never seen this color green beans before. She kind of picked her food a little bit, drank all of her chocolate milk of course. 03:14 and basically threw about 80% of it away. I noticed that in every child around me as they threw away their food, and there was 80% of everything they had in their lunch tray they threw away. I understood why she was so hungry when she came home because she didn't eat. I left and I was checking out this administrator said, 03:42 see maybe next time you need to bring her something else. And so I left that lunch. That's when I think the mission of the organization seeded itself because I could not consciously send my child to a place that is supposed to be the organization, the people that would nourish her mind and body when we can't even. 04:09 solve the simplest things and that is what would they put in their body, right? To actually nourish their mind and get them on the path of success. And also, I couldn't believe that adults would actively say, I wouldn't eat that lunch. And then my thought is, then why are you feeding it to my child? So that's really, and I talk about her because she is going to be a senior this year, so she's graduating this year, and Independence Gardens started with her. And so that really just 04:37 I surrounded myself with like-minded individuals and having a background in marketing and in health because I always say I started my journey in this sphere of food and health when I worked for the American Heart Association. So I was a marketing manager for them and I led part of the Heart Checkmark program. I don't know if you've ever seen it. It's on the... 05:05 It's on the cheer-grows boxes and it's like a heart with a check mark on it. And so I was really plugged in with the importance of how food impacted your body. And also at that time as well, the school that she was in was 55% Title I school. So everyone and those children received free or reduced lunch. 05:33 in food deserts. So believe it or not, there is still a food desert in the US and roughly, I think back then there was 44 communities in North Texas alone that really qualified for that. So that's really the background of who I am. I'm founder of Independence Gardens. I serve as founder and executive director. We are a fully volunteer organization. I have 06:01 My amazing board members, some of them have been with me since 2013. So pretty, pretty long time. Because they believe as we do, right? If we can just give children access to fresh food, then they're able to make healthier food choices as they grow. And I am also on the flip side of that, I lead a pediatric organization locally. 06:31 their ramifications when we do not feed our children the right kind of food. That's a lot, right? That's a lot. That's awesome though, because that was everything that I needed to know to keep asking questions. And to share two stories about school lunches. I'm going to share mine. I was in school, oh my goodness, I graduated over 30 years ago. 06:58 I did not eat the school lunches because number one, I was a terribly picky child and did not like any foods. I was really skinny. And number two, I knew that if I bought a very fine juice and a single serving size bag of Doritos, I would still have $3 left at the end of each day. And I wanted pocket money more than I wanted lunch. So that worked out slick. 07:26 And then the other story is my kids, two of my sons came home from school one day. I think the older one was still in middle school and the younger one was in elementary school. And they both came up to me and said, can we start taking lunches from the leftovers from dinner? And I said, of course you can. Why? And my older one said, because school lunches aren't food. 07:53 And I thought, yeah, you can certainly start taking cold lunches to school. I didn't think they'd want to because I thought that they would think it wasn't cool to do that. But we got them some very neutral lunch box, soft sided lunch boxes, and they started taking leftovers from dinner the night before. And they were very happy with that because school lunches are not typically food. Isn't that crazy? That just blows my mind. 08:22 I continuously hear stories like that. And it's actually, it's fairly recent too, I mean, because we have been around since 2013 and I've been advocating for ways for us to really address not only the school lunch issue and ensuring every child has access to fresh food, but the obesity epidemic as well. 08:52 It's counterintuitive, right? If they don't have access to fresh food, then how are they obese? Well, it's actually interlinked because they're eating processed foods. Because first of all, it's a lot less expensive to purchase for a lot of these families. It's fresh food just basically rots a lot. It doesn't last as long as all the foods that they're buying. 09:19 And we always get asked why schools, why even do it in that realm. And I like to kind of say schools are the heart of communities. Elementary schools are truly the heart of communities. They're full from different neighborhoods. They bring a lot of families together, a lot of different cultures. And I think in a lot of these kids, especially if they fall within the parameters of... 09:49 free and reduced lunch, if they get SNAP benefits, then that's the only food that they get. Like 90% of what they eat, they get from school lunches. And so, whenever they're throwing 80% of that away, then they're literally not feeding their body anything. And so, as a parent, it really surprises me whenever we get those lovely letters saying, 10:15 We're doing testing this week, right? You know, standardized testing this week. Please make sure that your child is getting sleep, that you're supportive of your child before it's successful. And then my pushback is, and why don't we look at whether we're feeding them in the morning? I mean, you cannot expect them to succeed when we're not even feeding them the right type of food and the right combination of food. 10:45 to fuel their mind and their body. So that's been, and I mean, it's been an ongoing journey. So I didn't think I would still be here. If you would have asked me in 2013 what I would be doing in 2024, I'd probably say, I don't think I would be doing this. So this is a passion project for me, which is kind of why it's... 11:12 My daughter is 17 and my other tier are not even elementary schools anymore, but I am actively still, I like to say, in the trenches and getting my hands dirty. As we're putting together outdoor learning spaces, edible spaces through our Apple project or going and talking and actively talking about the newest initiative, which is the Beanstalk Project, which is our hydroponic systems that we're putting in schools, because we have to be actively. 11:42 involved in not only teaching our children the link between food security and water sustainability, because it's so interlinked right now. And it's that our population is just going to get bigger and our water resources shrinking. So we really have to find ways to be able to feed not only the population, our communities. 12:09 but also in a responsible and sustainable way. And the food thing for me, by the way, it's not just about the growing because we have our Come and Eat It program, which is our chef driven program that we created in 2014 as a trademark program for us. And I have a lot of chef friends. And so I've been in the industry. So I understand their passion for ensuring and especially creating fresh food. And so since 12:37 I think this past May, it's kind of our first post-COVID event that we've done. We had over 825 kids participate. And so we hold it one day out of the year. And this year we just pushed it back to National Nutrition Month, which is March. And so our goal is to really take that program nationally and that it's a program that every elementary school can have access to in the future. So that, you know, that we have, we have a ton happening and it's all... 13:06 I really, I love to talk about my board because they're kind of the heart of who we are and without their passion and because there's a lot of good people and humans out there that are really passionate about ensuring children are equipped with all the resources they need to succeed. And part of that is ensuring healthy nutrition that goes into their body as well. Absolutely. I agree a million percent with you. 13:36 Not just 100, a million. That's how big. How big I agree with you. Yes. So are you only in Texas or is this outside, is it the whole United States? So we're based in Texas, but our program is national. So we were built, we were founded on the premise that we would be a national program. We are in conversations with some school districts in Arizona. 14:05 And that's kind of where our foray is. And we actually, we work directly with the school district, because if we can get the buying from the school districts and then it's easier to get it into every school, right? So it doesn't really cost any of the schools to get our programs in place. They just have to want it. And so we work with them. And it's an easy sell, right? But then you would think it's an easy sell. 14:34 But it's the hardest thing to kind of get into schools. And I understand that and I get that because the school gardening, I like to say, is not a new thing. It's been around for forever. The reason that we're a little bit different is we build it on relationships. We're very relationship and collaborative driven, meaning that when we go into a school, we actively build a community. 15:00 And we stay for three years. We have a commitment to stay with the school for three years. And that includes funding if it's available for them for the entirety of the three years. And, um, and then we, we continue to keep them in our network until they tell us to leave, right? Um, so we're able to bring this program because our, I always like to say is, um, 15:25 You have to think big, especially when you're a nonprofit. Whenever I think whenever you minimize the way you're thinking, you just don't grow as an organization. And they are, I just, I just did this study the other day, cause I wanted to kind of see there's over, I want to say 60,000 plus elementary schools in the country. And we need to be in every one of them. Um, the reason I say that is because if we're in every one of them, then 15:54 communities automatically have access to fresh food. And that's really what we are. I'm not going out and saying, you know, a company needs to change the way they do business because we have active partners in Aramark. So Aramark is a food service provider in K-12 here in some school districts in Texas. And there are active partners that we partner with them on ensuring food is readily available. And we're collaborating with Come and Eat It. 16:23 And we're actually going to be doing a chef battle. This is the first time we're announcing it in this kind of format. The chef battle is called Food Fight 2024. And a food fight is going to be held at a local elementary school. And we're actually going to be sending out a national invitation next week to chefs to come in for this event. And they will be creating a dish. 16:53 that is within the parameters of the National School Lunch Program, even down to the dollar amount that every child gets. There's going to be a secret ingredient because I have a lot of chefs that are competitive. They're going to have about roughly 45 minutes to an hour to create the dish in the school cafeteria kitchen. They get to present their food to 17:23 third, fourth and fifth graders, because they're at the end of the day, they're the ones that's going to eat it. The reason we're putting this event is twofold, right? Like I say, you're asking if it's national. The fresh food access is a national problem. We have to really address it. The reason we're doing it is because it's twofold. We want to see if the current dollar amount that is being given to children when it comes in that the food program for in-school lunches is sufficient. Is it sufficient? 17:53 Or, I think they just came down with new guidelines when it comes to, I want to say sugar and salt. And so, are those guidelines acceptable? And can we actively work with local farmers, with local organizations that are doing amazing work when it comes to sustainability, food access, whatever that looks like? And can... 18:21 Can organizations, companies like Aramark or school districts actively partner and bring in more fresh food for these kids? How does that look like? And then if it's not, and if it's a total waste and these kids say, we hate this food, then we know, okay, then let's start the conversation is how do we increase the per child amount when it comes to fresh food? 18:49 To me, it's kind of the cost of not doing that is astronomical because obesity costs, from a healthcare perspective, by the way, because I've seen the numbers, it costs the healthcare industry over a billion dollars in obesity alone. And that is coming from those preventable diseases like diabetes. 19:18 heart disease and things of that nature that could be prevented when they're younger. But we don't look at it that way. We are actively doing things to what I like to say to put a band-aid on the problem versus just ripping the freaking band-aid off. Let's look at it. Let's just put things in place. 19:48 work and the most impactful solutions are never the easy ones. So yeah, absolutely. So I love what you're telling me and that's awesome. But my next question is with your program, how does this work? Are the kids growing food to have in their school lunches at their schools on their school property or how does this work? 20:18 So our Apple project is our, what we call our outdoor edible learning spaces. And we positioned it that way because whenever you say that there is a learning component to something, then teachers tend to buy in a little bit more, right? It's not extra work on them at all. 20:43 And so whenever a school comes to us, say, hey, we want one of your programs in our school, I said, okay, and they want the outdoor learning space, the Apple project. We always build to scale. Like if there is a thousand kids in that school, we will build a big enough raised bed system that every child will have a 12 by 12. So each child will experience square foot gardening in their school, right? 21:10 And so, and that's because, and we teach those concepts. So those concepts that we teach. So they'll grow it and then depending, it really is depending on partnerships. So in our agreement, we always say that we want them to be able to raise edible, whether it's fruits, vegetables, herbs, whatever. And then they're able to either take that home, they're able to do cooking programs in their school with it. So they're able to work with 21:37 either their in-house school lunch program provider or like with Aramark, Aramark does a lot of food tastings when it comes to our products. So they'll do tastings at the school. I think they're going to do one with the hydroponic system, whatever they're going there. So they're going to do food tastings on that. And they're able to utilize that. And it's an active partnership because whenever we started this program, 22:06 The school district was really hesitant, right? Because they weren't really sure, like why would we need that specifically? And they thought that it would be detrimental for the kids to be able to use the product. But I'm like, and I couldn't understand that reasoning. And then, but as we act, as we collaborated and our partnership grew, they really understood the importance of growing it, taking it home, and then doing cooking programs. So they do cooking programs 22:36 of our products. They can use it if like because our hydroponic systems are located in the cafeteria so they can actively see it. The kids are able to pick off of that and eat it if they choose to do that. And if there is enough of the product is really kind of, you know, the concern is if there is enough product, then they're able to really utilize that in what they are serving. 23:05 So, and if they don't use it, then families are able to go into the schools and bring it home. So, it is always a community garden-ish for us. We want to make sure that it's open to the parents. And so, the kids can actively go out there. And if they're out there learning about the root system and they just happen to see a strawberry growing, then they're able to pick that food and eat it, right? That's really the intent of that. 23:34 And also, because if we're doing an outdoor space with them, we automatically build, we automatically plant an orchard for them. So we have, it's always six different fruit trees that we plant on their campuses. And so that way the families and anyone really can go in and grab the fruit that's growing. And a lot of our campuses do that. Like they actively will tell their... 24:03 students or and then their teachers in their community, they'll send out information to their school community to come and get some food. And so, and then they're actively eating it. So one of our campuses is in Central Elementary. They have a couple of raised beds that they've done and that we've supported, we've actively supported this year. And that one is purely community. 24:30 The kids can eat from it. They can use it if they want to in the cafeteria. Their families can come and get that food. We actively say use the food. What they don't use, because it's built into our agreement, 10% needs to be donated to a local food program. 24:58 a percentage of what they're growing to a local food program as well. Okay. So who tends to these gardens and to the fruit trees? So we have, we actively work with their volunteers. So whenever we go into a school, we create what we call a team. So one of our board members will always sit on a quarterly meeting with 25:24 their principal, a PTA or PTO member, and then the teachers that are either championing this on their campus. And the reason that we do that is because we know that their PTA, PTO members will always volunteer. So we do help them with that. We provide them with guidelines on 25:48 This is seasonally what you can plant. This is kind of how when you can harvest. We provide seeds, we provide all of that if we have a signed agreement with that campus. So who takes care of it is the, let's say a fourth grade class will actively have a bed out there and then they'll come out there and they'll plant. And because it just directly aligns with what they're learning, 26:18 then they're utilizing it both as a learning opportunity as well as a way to tend the garden. And some of our campuses have had afterschool programs or they've incorporated it in their 4-H program and they're the ones that take care of those gardens or those spaces in their campuses. So the kids are learning life skills, they're learning math, they're learning science, biology, they're learning. 26:45 words because they have to be able to read the packages of the seeds to know what they're supposed to do with them. So it's just like a little microcosm of education outside at the raised bed. It is. And I think COVID really kind of gave us an opportunity to showcase the importance of being outside, right? And it's because for a while there, we were just all in inside. And I laugh because when we first put the program in... 27:15 A teacher says, oh, great. We can teach our kindergartners the difference in the root system after they go to Google. I'm like, why would you go to Google? Go outside. Go outside and take out a plant and then draw it that way. Draw it and then you can actually actively teach them how to do that. Which is kind of why it's called an Outdoor Edible Learning Space. 27:44 They get to do everything out there. I always like to say is, if you're in art class, go outside, draw something. Then you're getting not only that natural sunlight that we always do, everybody's saying that everybody's lacking vitamin D because the lack of sun that a lot of our kids are getting, but they get to be immersive and it's experiential learning. It's always, and they get the concepts a lot faster. 28:13 Like they can tell you the root system because they picked the plant, they touched it, they felt it, and especially if it's basil or mint or something that smells great. So all of a sudden, it's sensory learning, right? And you're learning, you're using all of your senses to learn a single concept. And so children learn a lot faster that way. 28:39 And we're seeing that, and which is why a lot, all of our programming actually is built on the experiential approach and that it's immersive. And so to us, that's the only way that they will actively embrace the program and they'll have fun with it because you have to have fun, right? I think that fun makes learning a whole lot easier. Yes. So. Yes. Okay. The elementary school that my kids went to. Mm-hmm. 29:08 The principal that was there when they were in school, I cannot remember her name and I love her. It makes me crazy that I can't remember her name right now. She started an outdoor garden for the school. It wasn't to feed the school, it wasn't to feed the community, but it was to have the kids have a chance to learn about how to grow food in a raised bed garden. It wasn't as big as what you're talking about, but she started that. 29:37 And she also started a backpack program for the weekends for kids that were on the free and reduced lunch scale. And some of the foods that they grew went home in the backpacks for the kids. So I have a tiny little experience with this, of your program on a much smaller scale. And I loved what she was doing and I love what you're doing. And 30:05 We actually are going to be doing a farm to school thing on our homestead this fall, I think. I think. A principal of a private school emailed me a couple years ago and said, could you supply us with leafy greens, carrots, and radishes for the school year, for salads for the kids? And I'm in Minnesota. We don't grow those things in the wintertime because it's frozen here. 30:35 So I'm not going to get into this too much because I've already talked about it a lot on the podcast, but we got a grant to build a heated winter greenhouse and the greenhouse framing is up. We have to get it sited in and roofed. And then this fall we can extend our growing and grow lettuces and baby spinach and carrots and radishes for the school. So we're doing our little tiny part too to try to help. 31:03 When I talked with the principal, I said, you might want to approach some other places that are doing what we're doing because we're not going to be able to grow enough for all your kids. Right. And he said, I already have emails out. I was like, good, keep doing that. So you're not the only one who thinks this is important. And I didn't think that you thought that you were the only one. There are lots and lots of people who want to see things like this happen all over the place. 31:30 And you know what I think that, and I've been kind of thinking about this because, um, so I'm very big on collaboration, like so, so big on collaboration. It's not even funny. And, and, um, I, I see the passion and the work that a lot of these nonprofits are doing, like there are so many of them. 31:54 And but I've seen this in kind of the corporate world that sometimes we all get caught up in our little silos, right? And then we kind of like, oh, this is my program. This is, you know, what we do. I'm not going to share it because if I share it, then I'll share the additional resources. But what I've found out is, is that when we work together and we work collectively, we could do so much more. 32:24 I've been actually thinking about, and maybe we did something that maybe you and I can maybe work on, is there is an EarthX, right? Maybe there's already something like this, and I don't know. I could be like, oh, you're recreating a wheel. EarthX started by Trammell S. Crow here in Dallas, Fort Worth, and it really brings, it started to kind of bring in all of the individuals, all the brains that it's trying to look at sustainability. But I think there's an opportunity to do it when it comes to food access. 32:54 when it comes to what we're doing. And so I would like to put together like a conference so we could like collectively see what we could do to kind of move the needle. Because I think that, I don't think we're moving the needle fast enough, right? And I think the reason why we're not moving the needle fast enough is because we're all working individually. Like, and... 33:22 I am the first person to say, man, if one of my volunteers, or donors would wanna support what you're doing, more power to you. Because if you're doing things in your world that is going to impact someone, and I think that is more important than having me keep that donor, right? And it's interesting, my board is like, Shawnee, stop saying that. I was like, no, but I absolutely believe that. 33:51 that I think that the reason that we are not moving the needle, not only on food access, but on obesity is because we're doing it all wrong. We are literally doing it by ourselves and it's individualistic. And it's really hard for organizations to say, I want to actively collaborate with you. And my thing is, is like, I want to actively collaborate with you. How do I do that? How do I find partnership? 34:20 And so one of the things we kind of started that with a local organization here. And I think she, Elizabeth Dry, if you've not heard, she has an organization called Promise of Peace. And she started in Dials for Worth. She moved to Mineola and she's doing amazing things in that little town in East Texas. She reached out to us because she knew she was moving and she wanted us to see what you think, continue her work here. Absolutely. But then we actively started helping support what she's doing in Mineola. 34:49 And that was different for us because we're like, man, we're actively supporting another organization. I'm like, well, the reason that we're doing that is because we may not reach where she is in that community, but with our support, we're actively doing and helping her with her mission, right, in that realm. And so she's doing the similar things that we're doing, but we're actively partnering with her to do that. 35:17 And then I really honestly think that there is an opportunity for us to get together and just specifically target that one thing when it comes to food access. And there is a nugget and a way to do that. But I'm happy to hear that people, that schools are reaching out to you because I think that's important. 35:47 say, let's all get together and like, let's figure this out. And then if we could do that, then I think that we can move the needle a lot faster. Yeah, absolutely. Because the more bodies and the more minds that are aligned and working together, the more things get done. Yes, yes. It's so hard when it's just one or two people trying to do backbreaking, frustrating work and 36:15 gardening can be backbreaking and paperwork for an organization can be the most frustrating thing on earth. So if you've got a bunch of people who are willing to balance and share the load, it makes it so much more doable. Yeah. And I think that there are opportunities and so I've been really thinking about that. One of those things that you kind of have to start thinking about. 36:43 making choices when you're listening to your head, your heart and your gut, kind of, you know, what is it, what it's saying. And it's been kind of leading me to that point where I'm like, I think we need to actively get together and, you know, and, and, and, and, and partner with organizations that so we can, we can impact each other's mission and we can make an impact on that. So we're actually doing that. And we have an event that we're doing in June. 37:10 And it is through a film called A Fine Line. So A Fine Line is a documentary by Joanna James, and she is an amazing individual that's out of New York. And it is actually looking at the hospitality and restaurant industry and how the needle has not moved for executive female chefs. 37:37 it is harder for them to get an executive chef role because they're female. And it's called the fine line of women's spaces in the kitchen. And so we partnered with her five years ago. I think we brought Kat Korra in for our coming edit program. And we just ended when all of this was in my head and starting to kind of like, how do we collaborate at the Universal Line and we're bringing the film back here. I think they are going to be, PepsiCo is bringing the film down here for them. And we're doing a co-fundraising event that night. 38:07 not only to highlight how they're empowering women in that role, but how fresh fruit access and what they do really aligns. It's in that alignment that I think works well with organizations like that. I'd love to see alignments happen like that all over the place. 38:36 courageous enough to say, okay, I can do that. I'm not, you know, we can grow a lot better as an organization if we actively align. And I went to a breakfast where there was a nonprofit consultant there that says nonprofits will only grow if they align. Like, you have to align. I mean, you cannot, we cannot sit in our silos because we can't grow as much as we want to grow. 39:06 So I would love to find ways to kind of align with individuals that you have been around. Because our goal is to take this program nationally and we want to be in 60,000 of the elementary schools. That is our goal. And so we're going to reach it and we're going to reach it one way or the other. And if that's through alignment, then I think we have succeeded. Yeah. Yep. Again. 39:35 million percent agree with you. But it's hard, right? It's so difficult. It is hard because people are afraid of change. I'm not. I'm really not afraid of the unknown. My husband, on the other hand, is terrified of the unknown. Yeah, so is my husband. Isn't that crazy? And I don't know if it's a male-female thing or if it's just a him thing. But I'm the one who's always like, I was thinking we should do this. 40:05 And he goes, no. And I know that he's afraid and I say, okay. And then I just work on him for a little while and I just here and there bring up things that I read about the thing that I think we should do. And so and so has tried this part of the thing I wanted to do and this is how it went. And eventually he thinks it's his idea and then he wants to do it. Wow. Yeah. And then he's not afraid of it anymore. But... 40:33 But honestly, people are terrified of change. You get comfortable in the way that things are done and you stay there. And also people are terrified at the work involved in changing their paradigm. Yeah. So that's where the pushback comes from, I feel like. Is, and you know, and I... 40:59 When I am sitting in a room of leaders and we're doing coaching and I'm talking about how they grow as an individual, we always talk about fear. Fear is one of those things that a lot of leaders and a lot of individuals will tell you is the number one thing that really holds back their growth. 41:28 And so I have, I've read a book on John Maxwell where he's talking about failing forward, right? And so failing forward is a way for you to push through that fear. Because if you know that you're going to, because I think it's not even about the fear. I think it's the fear of not doing well in failure. Like it's, as humans, I think we don't like 41:56 the option of feeling. And we intrinsically, as individuals, we say, oh my gosh, I'm failing, then I must not be doing well. But I think that there are lessons to be learned in failure. And so, and I didn't fail, but if you can fail forward and keep moving, then fear is just an afterthought, right? You're like, but it's hard because I, trust me, I wake up. 42:25 some days when I'm like, I don't know if I'm doing this right. I don't know if I'm doing this correctly. I don't know why I'm doing this. And those thoughts come through my head. And then I meet people like you. And people like you will actively reach out in moments that I'm hesitating or I question what I'm doing correctly or incorrectly. But I think the universe puts people in your path. 42:55 And especially if it's something that God has said that this is something that you will do because you will make an impact and sometimes you just have to stay on that path even if it's hard. It's always about the journey and we forget that sometimes. We always want the end result, right? But I think the fun is in the journey. 43:23 But it's always the hardest, right? It's fun, but it's hard and you hate it when you're doing it. But when you're at the end of it, you're like, okay, that was hard, but now I'm here. But you're right. The fear, I think, is one of those things that even as individuals, whether or not we're leaders in our community or kids, like teaching kids to push their fears is really hard and difficult too. But when you garden though... 43:53 It teaches you failure when you're like, okay, why is that thing not growing? Or what did I do wrong? And you start thinking of ways to kind of fix it and you start thinking outside the box. And I think that I always like to say is gardening for me and I was just out there this morning because I was planting lavender. I was like, okay, how do I? 44:19 know, how do I do it? And you kind of get lost in that zone of, I got to think this through. But what I was actually doing is I got to think through this problem. I don't know what I'm doing. But you're right. Yeah. So fear is fear, but if we can kind of push through it, I think we're better off. Yeah. Gardening is the thing that will teach you the high of success and the low 44:48 A failure. Yep, absolutely. And also, I think that people are afraid to make the big ask. I was talking with a lady months ago, and she's a celebrity in Twin Cities, Minneapolis, St. Paul. 45:09 And she's on TV. And I had sent her an email because I saw something about her being big into gardening and homesteading and stuff. And I asked her to be a guest on my podcast. And I'm a baby podcaster. I just started this in August last year. And it felt like a big ask to email her cold and just say, this is what I'm doing. Would you chat with me? And she did. She went on my podcast. Her episode's released. Her name is Elizabeth Reese. She is the nicest woman. And she... 45:37 I talked to her after and I said, I didn't think you'd say yes. And she said, oh, she said, always go for the big ask. She said, what's the worst that happens? The person says no. Right? And so I like hitched up my big girl pants and I emailed Joel Salatin, who is big in the homesteading and gardening and farming community. And I said, I'd really love to talk to someone from Polyphase Farms, which is his place. 46:06 on my podcast about what you're doing. Joel emailed me directly back and said that he would be honored and delighted to be on my podcast. I almost fell out of my chair. I was so excited I had tears in my eyes because I did the big ask and I got a yes and it's out and it's wonderful and he's a super nice man. If you had asked me last year at this time, if I had ever thought about speaking with Joel Salatin, 46:35 on a podcast, I would have laughed myself stupid. So it's fear. It's thinking that you're going to be rejected or you're going to get hurt or you're going to die. And none of those things is probably going to happen. No, it's really not. So I tell my daughter all the time, I said, ask. What are they going to do? Say no? Then if they say no, find somewhere else because... 47:03 The no is not a no. No is just an unopened door somewhere else. I mean, that's all it is. And so, but you know what though, sometimes that's kind of intrinsically, I was introduced when I spoke a few years ago, somebody says, no is not in her vocabulary. It's true, it's not. And said, but man, whenever I get the, it feels like the 10th no
New Beginnings Farmstead
May 17 2024
New Beginnings Farmstead
Today I'm talking with self-described "A-team" of Egidio and Elisa Tinti, and Ryan, and Julie at New Beginnings Farmstead. You can follow them on Facebook as well. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking to the team from New Beginnings Farmstead. Why don't you guys introduce yourselves? I'm Elisa Tinti. And I'm Julie Noble. Ryan Kuhn. And Jiddy Tinti. Okay. So now that we've done that, I have never interviewed four people in a group at the same time, so this is going to be fun. 00:27 Tell me about what you guys do at New Beginnings Farms, Ted. Are you, Alisa? Well, we are about 130 acres in upstate New York, and we purchased this farm in 2015. At the time, we were not married, and we were looking for someplace that was between both of our homes so that we could start a life together. And my husband was... 00:55 born and raised up in the mountains and I was born and raised in the city of Kingston. So we had many challenges when we bought this farm. Okay. And so what did you want the farm for? What was your plan? We just wanted a place kind of in between where I was living at the time and where she was living in the city. A true city mouse, country mouse type of situation. I grew up around bears and snakes. 01:24 farm folk and firewood and she thought not she did not. That's correct. So when we when we bought the farm, one of the first things, of course, you know, we're walking around looking at the place and it had been a dairy farm for probably over 100 years and sat vacant for about 10 years. And everything was pretty overgrown. And one of the things that I thought of right away with one of our very large barns was to have a wedding venue and. 01:55 My husband, well, at the time we weren't married, but he said out loud, who in the world would want to be married in a barn? And little did he know that a year later, he'd be getting married in a barn. But that's how we met our friend here, Ryan Coon, who is now part of our family. Okay. So what do you guys do now? You host weddings, right? Host weddings. And our main... 02:22 Agricultural production revolves around firewood and maple syrup. We have a decent size maple collection system in place. Julie signed on that way. That's how she came on. Her current position, full-time job, gives us a tremendous amount of knowledge. She brings knowledge to the farm that, short of us identifying maple trees, a lot of the maple production that we've started with was small. 02:48 We still consider ourselves small as compared to some of the other ones, but we're up to over 500 taps and our collection system is running on vacuum. Every year, the four of us go up to a conference in upstate New York and we learn more and more and more and add more and more and more. I think of the entire team, I'm the only one that wants to stop or slow down our production. 03:17 the three of them out in the woods with their hard hats on, tapping trees and having a good old time. And you can see the smiles on their faces just thinking about it. And in the Sugar Shack, it's really a Ryan show. He's the one who's got the evaporator under control. Okay, so what's Julie's background? I am a sustainability coordinator, but my background is in environmental education. So 03:43 teaching about the outdoors, getting people outdoors. And I had some, I worked on another nature center before this and was doing maple production there as well and teaching about maple. So I came into an operation that was already well run and I feel as though I brought a little bit of fun and a little bit of knowledge and some organizational skills that maybe needed to be upped a little bit here. That's true. Everything's about a checklist, check boxes, whiteboards. We are 04:13 very efficient when it comes to planning and test management. There's lots of singing and dancing and having a good time. Right, Ryan? Well, life is nothing without music. That's true. So Ryan is our sugar maker. He kind of took under his wing. So our first evaporator was really an old wood stove that we converted. Lisa and I tried to do it up in, I say the country, but about 20 minutes away from here where my family was... 04:43 born and raised and we did some maple. It was fun. She got the bug once she entered that small batch of syrup in our local county fair and won, took home the blue ribbon. And at that point she considered herself a sugar maker and wanted to increase. So we built our first evaporator, old school, took a, you know, everything's about recycle, we knew we'd use. And we took an old oil tank and lined it, put a draft system in it, researched it, talked to a bunch of people. 05:10 welded the pants together and started making maple on a very small batch system. And over the time we just outgrew it because they kept tapping trees without my knowledge. And we had way too much sap collected and not enough time to burn it, to boil it. So, you know, and, you know, we still use a wood fire evaporator. So a lot of that is, is, you know, the team you see really cuts the firewood, splits the firewood, stacks the firewood, moves the firewood. 05:38 And then ultimately the last person to handle it before it goes into the evaporator is Ryan. And he has a pretty good system in place where he's constantly keeping the heat, monitoring the flame, got a good temperature control. And we've kind of modernized the system over the years. And at this point, I dare say fun, but it can be humorous at times. Yeah. There's an old saying about firewood heats you at least three times. That's right. At least twice we used to hear. Yeah, that's true. 06:07 Okay. So you're in, are you in New York? New York. Upstate New York. Okay. And does Ryan want to say anything or is he the child of one of the bunch? I'm not the one that talks a lot. That's okay. That's fine. I just do the work. Yeah. Well, he's got plenty to say. He's got plenty to say. Ryan, Ryan showed up one day with his then fiance and they came here to. 06:36 look around because they were looking for a place to get married. And that was in 20 probably 2016 when you showed up. Yeah, the end of 2016 I came down. My now wife said, let's go look at this place. I want to get married in a barn and have a country style wedding. And because she grew up in the country, I grew up in the country. So we roll in and it's it's raining in the driveway. It's a sheet of ice. And this poor guy is just wandering around and. 07:04 trying to figure out what to do next. And they kept telling us, we're gonna do so much before you get married and we have all this work to do, all these projects to do, it's gonna be beautiful. So in thinking about it, I said, well, that's a lot of work. And I have a construction background as well. And seeing all the stuff that needed to be done, I said, I'd love to give you a hand. Do you think we could barter on this for the venue? 07:32 This guy was a little reluctant because about six months later, five months later, I just showed up one day because Lisa said, he's not going to ask for the help. He just come. So I'm sad today. I showed up with my tools and that's really where it began. I never left. Never left. He quickly became part of, part of the family. We do have a very large extended, what we call our farm family. 08:01 which everybody really helps out with doing everything for maple sugar and for the wedding events as well. And what this is what we call the A-Team. This is our core four, actually five, are my brother-in-law. Jeff is not with us today, but he's normally with us quite a bit. And so this is what we refer to as our A-Team. 08:31 There's nothing we don't tackle. Electrical work, plumbing work, any type of construction, excavation. I mean, and you know, we don't hire anybody to do anything. We do it. Something needs to be built or moved or, you know, at one point Ryan was tied up on something. We were moving the chicken coop up the driveway. Julie wasn't one tractor and at least in the other. And I'm trying to direct them up this long driveway without falling to pieces and they made it. The driveway got chewed up into a couple of things. 09:00 Without chickens in it just yes they are. No chickens were damaged. Yeah and you know we for a long time we had bees unfortunately that's last past winter took its toll on the last hive but we plan on having those back but yeah with you know 100 plus acres part of that about 20 of those acres is a solar field that we put in a two megawatt solar field in the back. We were believers in renewable energy and sustainability. 09:29 before Julie entered the picture, but now it's clearly driven by a lot of that. We use, when we can, solar and charged battery backup vacuum systems for some of the lines in the back. And every time we install one, she claps her hand and gets excited and does a little sun dance. But it was... And she does all of our Girl Scout tours. And she is known for her enthusiasm. And people actually ask for her by name now because she is pretty animated with her. 09:59 with her tours. We all play a very distinct role here on the farm and none of the pieces would come together if we all didn't work together on it. That's fantastic. They say that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes a village to run a farmstead too. That's right. And this is not even our full-time job. This is not what we do for a living. That's right. Yeah, we all have full-time jobs, right? This is all in addition. But we say we put in full-time hours, right? Every time. There's something going on almost every day. 10:28 The idea to try to do more is never without suggestion. People come here, and although I refer to my wife as the mastermind, and I suggest, we have quite a few visitors, especially during the Maple Weekends, New York State Maple Producers, their association holds two weekends in March, and they promote Maple Weekend. We have, dare say, thousand people come over those two weekends, and mostly from New York City, since we're pretty close. 10:58 And we give them tours, we talk about the process, we have a gift shop set up, and it just amazes me how many people really have no idea about maple production, you know? And if you're raised in the city, I can understand it a lot better now, but yeah, the first time I tapped a tree for my wife, she saw that stuff dripping out, she's like, this is great, but it's kind of thin. 11:21 It's not like that. It's not quiet. Yeah, it's gonna take a little while. I still have trouble identifying maple trees. And I joke, when Julie's not giving the tour and Ryan is busy running the evaporator and so somehow my name gets thrown into it. When I give a tour, I start the conversation with my wife's from the city. She doesn't understand. I mean, we got here, she said, hey, is this a maple tree? And I go, no, that's an oak. What about this one? That's a birch. What about that one? I said, that's a telephone. 11:49 I appreciate that. There's a lot of camaraderie around here. A lot of teasing. There's a lot of ball-busting. That was fun though. Unless we pick on Ryan. We're trying to get his feelings. You guys definitely sound like East Coast folk. I'm originally from Maine. And the camaraderie 12:19 amongst you reminds me a lot of the stuff that I used to have when I lived there too. Do you miss it a little bit? A lot, I do. I do, but Minnesota is not the same, but I call it a lateral move because really, Minnesota has the same weather, we have pretty much the same trees, we have the same grass, we have the same sky. I'm just not half an hour from the ocean and half an 12:49 So that's how I breathe through my sadness. But yeah, it's weird because the East Coast has a bad rep. People think that people from the East Coast are rude and we're not very hospitable. Yeah, that's true. And honestly, I... 13:16 felt like when I moved to the Midwest, everybody is very nice, but there's not the conversations that start on the East Coast. Like if you stand in line at the grocery store on the East Coast, people are going to talk. Here, no, people just kind of don't talk to each other in those situations. And I was very confused. 13:45 I made it my purpose in life to make someone smile anytime I interacted with them just because I could. Yeah, that's true. You have to prepare to go to the grocery store around here. You have to be in the mindset for socializing and it's an event. It is. It's an event. You always know somebody who's related to somebody or you run into, you know, it's a small town where we are in Kingston. Yeah. 14:11 Yeah, every time I would interact with someone the first six months that I lived in Minnesota, I would try to get them to look in the eye or say hello or smile or something. And after about two months of this, my husband was like, what are you doing? Stop talking to people. I said, trying to get a reaction. Let me do this. 14:35 That was the first husband. I'm on the third husband and third time is the charm. So we think second, so it's true. The two of us. Good. Good. So anyway, yeah, New England and the East Coast are a very different animal from the Midwest. My mom is from Illinois. She was born there and lived there until she was 19 and married my dad and moved to Maine. So whenever I'm like, what is with this Midwest thing, I call my mom and I'm 15:04 I'm like, was it like this for you when you were living in Illinois? And she's like, oh yeah, that's how people are. I'm like, okay, good. I'm not crazy. At least not on that front. So yes, I do miss, I do miss Maine a lot, but I also love where I live now. So it all worked out in the end. What counts. Yeah. We were fortunate where we're just a few miles outside the city of Kingston on a major highway, I think, you know, it's actually a state route, right? So for us. 15:33 It's easy for people to get here. We're very fortunate that the event venue actually worked out. You know, it was an old barn. The property was vacant for over 10 years and for sale for 10 years on the market. When we initially looked at it, you know, because everything was moved and the operating this dairy operation and moved a couple of miles down the road to a new place, everything was overgrown. If you had taken a look at the barn or the house or the other barn or the road, 16:03 It was an absolute mess. And my first words out of my wife at the time, we pulled in the driveway, she jumped out with this huge smile on her face, all the energy in the world and said, what do you think, what do you think, really? What do you think? And I said, get back in the car. I said, I am not rebuilding my life at 50 years old. Come on, this is crazy. This house needs to be torn down. Let's go, get in the car. And we canceled the appointment with the realtor. And I said, no, this is, and it's a hundred and some acres. We can't, there's no way we can afford this. 16:33 You want it about 40 acres. Yeah, I'd like 30 or 40. I mean, like you said, I was born in the country and I like my privacy to some degree. And, you know, and I honestly, this is a running joke here. You know, I lived off a county road and I thought that was busy. We're on a state highway here. Holy cow, it never stops. There's traffic all the time, 24 hours a day going down this thing. So it is an eye-opener for me. But what's nice is it is relatively private in the scheme of things. At any point, any one of us, once we're fed up with each other, 17:01 can take a walk down the driveway and get lost in the woods. Or, you know, every so often we'll find Julie up in a tree just soaking up the sunshine. And we're on a rock, on a rock just laying there, just soaking it up. But we're very fortunate. Or if there's a wedding, she might be off crying somewhere. It's true. She cries at every wedding. Yeah. You know, and that's the other part of it too, is when we do the farm weddings, you know, we have no control over the weather, but we make the most accommodations. And that one, although you're seeing four of us here, 17:31 you know, during maple weekends or even the production of the maple season or the weddings, you know, we've got full family force and it's 12 or 13 people that help us. And they all, you know, we have a certain location on our farm that we kind of stand around in case anybody needs anything. And but, you know, we built hay wagons off of stuff junk we pulled off the woods and we built it. We went out and, you know, she's saying, hey, we can take you in the back on the hay wagons. And we don't pay that. Ryan drives the other. 18:00 And then so we make it work and it's very good. It's a very good time for everybody. And there's times of panic. There's certain times when there's changes being made less minute. And of course we try to focus on making it the best day for the bride and groom and their family. But occasionally, you know, things turn. And you know, we had a wedding cake fall down, start to melt. They delivered it early in the morning in this barn. And the heat, you know, it was a pretty warm day in September. And so Ryan and I became bakers. 18:29 Right? We had it, we figured out how to put these wooden dowels in it and stand it back up and essentially Ryan saved the day, you know? So he didn't get the first piece of cake that still went to the bride and groom. What are you going to do? Yeah, necessity is the mother of invention for sure. Okay, so what else do you guys do there though besides the wedding stuff? Do you have animals? 18:59 I'll speak for Lisa on this one, but you know, the only animal she ever had in her entire life growing up was a small squirrel, pet squirrel, right? Yeah. Dogs. I did. Wait, lookie. I had a pet squirrel. The look of them. See the looks of them. Dogs, right? Yeah, who does that? That's the whole story. Yeah, that's the whole story. Dogs, right? Yeah, that was it. That was it. Yeah. I had a mouse, a pet mouse at one point. I had pet mice too. Yeah, and they're super smart. Love mice. Dogs. Yeah. 19:29 But Ryan and I grew up with snakes in the house and bears. No, Ryan did not grow up with snakes in the house. No, I didn't. Ryan has the same feeling I do. There's a snake in the house, you've got to burn my house down. He doesn't like snakes. So for us, the country living was not a big change. But for Lisa, that was a big change when she opened the door to go out front one morning and there was a big bear walking through the front lawn. And at that point, I think when you called me up in a panic saying, 19:59 I have, we can't live here anymore. We got to move. Well, the first night the, uh, the power went out. And I, again, I was in the city and we did not have wells. So even if you didn't have power, you could run the water and flush the toilet. And suddenly on first night, I moved in with my kids, couldn't run the water, couldn't flush the toilet. And that whole background come, the reason I mentioned all that is because I pulled into driveway one day and now there's three sheep sitting in a barn. And, uh, I asked her where they come from. And she said, I rescued them from a meat bar. Yeah. And. 20:29 So she's named them. Ross, Chams, and Joey. My kids named them. So from the friends show and they have now essentially become pets. Shear them twice a year. They are more pets than anything else. And we did have about 35 chickens at one point, lost a couple to the predators and bees. We had quite a few hives. We had up to 11 hives at one point. Produced the honey, that was pretty good. 20:58 And we will do it again. We just, we need to, we need to regroup. Well, the location at the hives were really weren't, wasn't good. We live across from a large field that another farm is at. And it just, the way the wind kicks up, we felt that the hives weren't making it through the winter, but we've done honey. Um, we collect the wool from the sheep. So, although it's not a lot, we, uh, we do that and, uh, the chickens sold eggs for a little while and for a long time, uh, you know, people love that, right? You just have a good farm stand at the bottom. And, but in addition. 21:27 Probably the biggest agricultural product for us is maple because it's a year long, even though we produce it for those three or four short months, the work continues on every month, whether it's making more trails or producing stuff with the maple that we did produce, cakes, right? Just cookies, cakes, whatever else you do with them. I try to make suggestions on what she should because we have enough work for these. And mind you, this is all after we do our normal day jobs. We all actually work for the city of Kingston. 21:57 And so we do sometimes interact with one another at work during the day, and then we see each other here. So it's very interesting. Wow. That's a lot of togetherness right there. I think we love each other so much. And we all have very different jobs. Yeah. That's true. It makes for a good conversation. But sometimes the jobs intertwine. Sometimes. 22:27 Okay, so you guys are a four person team. And so when one of you has a new idea for the farmstead, how does that go? We like, I like to think that the A team doesn't have a hierarchy. It clearly does have a hierarchy. So we, the three of us tend to default with the ideas. So that can be. So usually if I have an idea, I'll like. 22:57 I usually talk to him first and he never likes any of my ideas ever, ever. So then I will usually try to get one of them on my side. And if I can get one, then there's a possibility. So there's been a lot of iterations of things that could happen here that we've shut down immediately. They shut me down all the time. Camping, growing Christmas trees, growing hemp. That was a thing for a little while. So one of the first things that Lisa wanted to do when we were talking about 23:26 cultural product was to grow hops. Hops, right? Hops. There's a small microbrewery type of environment around the Catskills. And she's like, we have a field, we can do this. And then once we started researching it... Well, no, we went to, we took a class. At Cornell Co-op, right? Yes, we drove like three hours for a class and we didn't get halfway through and I leaned over and said, we're not growing. 23:55 So, we're out of here. We had lunch break and we left. It was like, that's not happening. But it's funny because when people show up here- But you don't know until you, you know. I knew, I knew, because all of this involves work. In some cases, unnecessary work. But yeah, so when people show up, they're like, man, this is amazing. If you had, I go, please, please don't say another thing. Don't ask, don't, we've had suggestions about clamping sites and cabins and, you know. 24:24 what our property sits at the edge of the O&W rail trail that goes essentially part of the state line really. And so we have people coming off the rail trail through our fields into our property and enjoying the woods and stuff. And we recognize we're just stewards of the land. We own it as long as we're paying taxes on it. But when we came here, we cleaned it all up, took a bunch of trash and garbage from the old farmers that were here for years, took it out of here and cleaned it up. And... 24:53 Every so often we come across a tire or an old engine or transmission. And we try to hide it from Julie. But, but for the most part, I mean, just the location is really, really nice. We have decent neighbors. Um, you know, really the, we try to keep it to a minimum. I mean, the only noise we make occasionally is the music before 10 o'clock and, uh, that plays during the events and, uh, chainsaws and that's pretty much it, you know? So everything we do, uh, our meatball operation has included the use of them. 25:22 versus osmosis pump so we can reduce both the emissions that the wood burns from the wood burning and the amount of firewood we burn as well. So Minnesota is a maple state, right? They produce it? Yes. So yeah, you can understand. I mean, there's producers around us that use fossil fuel or gas to do it. And just because of the essentially unlimited fuel source through firewood on this property, I mean, there's more debt stand. And we work with a forester. 25:52 Lori Raskin and DHW and she does a fantastic job coming out every year and marking out the property and we also work with the DEC, New York State DEC, to maintain a forestry plan. We just got a certification as an American tree farm as well. So you know we're just trying to show the neighbors and everybody around here, anyone who shows up, that we are invested. We're not doing it really. I mean I say for our own pleasure, it is and it isn't, you know. 26:22 As much as I will say, I hate to do the amount of work that we've done. I'm amazed by what we've gotten completed only because of the friends and family we have that we've been able to be so blessed. And, but it has, this has now become like the central point of collection for, for all of at least farm and family events, right? Like this is it, right? So, and we're blessed that way. And for us, we just, we just had our first grandchild between us and it was just, he's 26:51 I can't wait to get them on a four wheeler and start riding through the woods. Yup. Um, make sure that mom is okay with that for you. Yeah. Yari. Well, she, you know, my daughter had her a four wheeler when she was young. She was fine. I'll give him a helmet this time. Okay. Ryan has a very little one as well. So we enjoy them. Yeah. Um, 27:20 my granddaughter, my first son, he's actually my stepson, but he's the first of three boys, is married now. He got married in September. And his wife has a daughter from a previous marriage. And when I met said daughter, she was like eight, I think. And we had had a huge load of firewood brought in, logs to be cut up. And they were really big around logs. 27:51 little girl wanted to climb on the logs and it was the first time we'd met that met her, met her mom and it was scaring the living hell out of me to have her get up on those logs and I basically told her to get down because I didn't want to break a leg and spend the last four days that they were here in a cast and come to find out my stepson was irritated with me for telling her to get down but he never told me. 28:20 And I was just like, I don't want her to break a leg. That would be a horrible memory from visiting the soon to be grandparents from Minnesota. I'm just, I'm just trying to protect this little girl. And my husband was like, from now on, when they visit, why don't you talk to the kid that is ours and find out what she's allowed to do. And then you guys can come to some consensus about what she's allowed to do. I was like, yeah, that's probably a good plan. 28:49 Yep. So that's the only reason I say make sure mom's okay with that. Yeah, I get that a lot. She was fine with it when I was, I was raised. We also had a little girl who was climbing logs and falls down a lot. Well, we were splitting wood and the logs would crawl up. I had to get them down. We were taking turns moving the books. She got them down. Yeah, she got them down. All right. 29:16 What I also didn't know is this little girl has been brought up around, um, dairy cows and steers and, you know, the whole bit. And I had no knowledge of this. Had I known, I might've not been nearly as afraid for her. So yeah, mom's, moms are, are one of two. We're either super, super worried or we're like, eh, if they don't break anything, they're probably fine. You're not bleeding. 29:46 Okay, so we got, we're almost at 30 minutes, but I have a question for you guys. I have two actually. What's your favorite thing about working at the farmstead? 30:01 Um, my favorite thing is really. 30:08 not really the working part. I just like being together and planning it. We do a lot of, we have coffee meetings and we plan out what is the plan, what's the next plan, what's going to happen next weekend. So I enjoy that. Okay. My favorite, the reason that I keep coming here is that it gets my mind off of the rest of my life. Although 30:33 Although all of us happen to work in the same place and live in the same community, we don't tend to talk shop. And whatever we're doing here, whether it's splitting wood or tapping trees or running a wedding or whatever it is, we need to be fully present and fully mindful and it is an escape from everything else that I do on a normal basis and that is what brings me a lot of pleasure. Yeah. I, I have the same. I. 31:02 I'm a task oriented person. I like having a list of things to do. I like to set out and do it. We have everything we need here. As a JDO mentioned, we, we don't sub anything out. All the work is done here. We have all the tools, we have all the heavy equipment. So you just show up and go to work and it just removes you from the world where the news is awful and sometimes the people are awful and you could just come here and forget about everything. Get lost in the woods. 31:31 And at the end of the day, feel accomplished and know that you've, you committed yourself to something better and, um, can relax and distress be part of nature. Yeah. I think that's a big, similar situation, right? Because we all have what I consider to be high stress jobs at the end of the day. We can be us, right? We can talk about things here that we normally wouldn't be able to talk about in our other capacities. It just doesn't happen. And, you know, essentially it's sometimes they 32:00 they mix and match, you know, people that are from Kingston or the other area, they recognize us from time to time and go, Hey, aren't you them? You know, we get that sometimes, but when they see us, you know, we're all cleaned up now, but I got to tell you, I asked my wife, can I be in my regular farm clothes? And she said, absolutely not. There's a Cameron Bob, who was just a microphone to be different. So part of it is that, and that's what I enjoy. I enjoy coming here and I say, come at home, but coming here and working and really looking forward to working with everybody here. 32:29 The plans are different. Certainly there's always, you know, we have four people with four different opinions. Mine usually is the most reserved. Hey, do we really have to build that big? Can we build it smaller? Really? Oh yeah. But at the same time, it's like, that's what I appreciate the most is that there's four different opinions and that's we can bounce off ideas and everybody has a reason why or why not we shouldn't do something or how we should do it. 32:56 And I think that's a big part of what we do. That's very important. I love that. Ryan used to say, I just love coming here because it's like one big sandbox. All right. If we have, I have all the machinery, the dozers, excavators, and we started with nothing and we were just fortunate to be able to, you know, even with the machine over here, right, and buy something and say, he's like, man, that's a nice machine. I go, yeah, except the clutch is bad on it. We're going to have to split it. That's why I got a good deal. And we'd spent a couple of nights over the course of, uh, you know, time to. 33:24 take it all apart and get the manual and wrench it back together and got it working, you know, and more so than not, that was always the case. So we're fortunate. So yeah, I think we're on agreement, right? It just gives us an idea. 33:37 Okay. So is there anything that's a least favorite thing about the farmstead? My least favorite thing is that I get zero cell phone service here, which means people text me all the way. And as I drive home, I get flooded with all this information and texts and phone calls. But at the same time, it's also fantastic because that means I am fully disconnected while I'm here. 34:04 Anybody else? I don't have a least favorite. I wouldn't keep coming back if I had anything I didn't like. Some days are better than others. Some days there's some trying ideas that get passed across the table. And some creative persuasion to push those ideas or pull from one side to the other. But it's all good. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. Probably one of the things I like the least 34:33 It's January or February and it's really, really cold and we have to go into the woods and I have hand warmers and gloves. Julie says all the time, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. And I keep trying and trying to tell myself, that's the truth. But that would probably be the only thing that I really don't look forward to is when it's. 35:02 ridiculously cold and windy and we still have to go in the woods. It doesn't matter. Yeah. To me, I think we set somewhat of an unrealistic goal sometimes. I know I'm guilty of it. They used to call me all kind of ambitious. We're going to get this set, we're going to do the roof, we're going to put the truss down, get the gutters in, we're going to get it all finished, and then we're going to get trenched. And then at the end of the day, we get maybe two-thirds of the way. Daylight's setting and I'm frustrated because we still... 35:27 need to get all this done thinking, okay, one day we got to be back to work and we only have another day to get it. So there's a level of frustration on it. The older I get, the more I realize my mind's thinking one thing, my body's not translating that anymore like it used to. So, but overall we recognize we are absolutely a hundred percent blessed with what we do. We've had some setbacks time to time. In addition to the maple production and the sheep and the bees and everything else, this house and these barns were essentially full rebuild. 35:57 The house didn't pass inspection. It should have been torn down. It's on a stone foundation and there was no heat. The electric had to be redone. We did everything. And unlike some of the other people that are fortunate enough to have the funds or whatever, we didn't and we just were able to afford the property and put it all together. So we're very thankful. And every time I look around, I see the amount of work that we did and go, 36:24 My wife will forget, Alisa will go, what are you looking at? I'm going, do you remember that that door wasn't there? She's like, oh my gosh, you're right. What do you want for dinner? I understand because when we moved here, there was a huge pole barn. There was a useless two car garage and it still stands and it's still useless, can't open the doors and it's not worth fixing. There's a small one car garage that we use as a woodshed, our house, and that was it. That's what was here. 36:54 And now there's an on property farm stand that we had put in for us, because we're not nearly as ingenious as you people, but we love it anyway. And we have a chicken coop and we have a heated greenhouse going up this spring. So I look around at this place now and I'm like, God damn, how did this happen? So I get it. 37:23 All right, guys, this was really fun and I don't want to keep you because, you know, I'm trying real hard to keep this podcast at 30 minutes, but I keep creeping over a little bit. So, appreciate your time. Thank you so much and have a great evening. Thank you. Thank you for having us. Yep. Bye.
Woodland Worm Company
May 16 2024
Woodland Worm Company
Today I'm talking with Jonathan at Woodland Worm Company. You can also follow on Facebook. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead. The podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking with Jonathan at Woodland Worm Company. Hi, Jonathan, how are you today? Great, how are you doing? I'm good. I've been looking forward to this interview because I have not talked to anyone about earthworms before. Awesome. So tell me about yourself and Woodland Worm Company. So I am... 00:29 I am the owner of Woodland Worm Co. We were formerly Wiggle Worm Farms, but we changed the name just recently actually, because it just kind of better suits where we wanna go and the direction we wanna take the business. So the Woodland Worm Co. is a relatively new name. I am a, I like to say I'm a jack of all trades, but master of none. 00:58 I have a really varied background, none of which is actually in worm farming. I'm an accountant, diesel mechanic, drummer, you name it, I can do it, I can fix basically anything. But I found myself in a place where I didn't have anything to be passionate about two years ago. 01:27 believe it or not, I stumbled across the Facebook post from a friend of mine that's Liz out in California. And he was just talking about random odd jobs or random weird family histories. And one of the folks, one of his friends, 01:49 put up a comment basically saying, yeah, my dad used to be a worm farmer. And I didn't know that was even a thing, to be honest with you. And so he, that guy's father wrote a book with his uncle back in the 70s. And I found the book amazingly twice online and I bought it. And it showed up in the mail one day while I was at work. And my wife said, 02:19 earthworms. And yeah, and I said yes, I did. And then a month later, I had worms. And here we are now. So two years later, I'm, I built the business. And we're really, really very in its infancy right now. So it's interesting, fun, exciting, and busy. I bet. So, so tell me. 02:47 Tell me how you begin raising earthworms. 02:53 So there's, when it comes to raising worms, there's different methods that you can do, but it all really comes down to a few, several key elements, right? The earthworms that I raise and most of the industry raise are composting worms. So they live within the first six inches of the soil. 03:21 right, they're horizontal movers, they don't really go up and down, they don't burrow up and down. They burrow horizontally and they eat the dead and decaying material that's on the surface of the ground. So if you know you really just need good food, which is usually for us, we feed compost. 03:47 um finished leaf compost and a grain mix or worm chow if you will and uh plenty of moisture and really you just give them a place where they can grow and be happy and not overpopulated and the worms they do their thing. It's really not complicated but it's easy to make it complicated. Okay and then 04:14 I guess my next question is, do you have bins that you have them in or do you have them outside in the ground or how does it work? So I tried several different breeds of worms before I actually started selling. My focus with the business is I want to build soil and make the soil great in your gardens. 04:43 so we can all eat better and eat healthier. So my focus is on producing the best worm castings there are. The way of which I raise, I use a breed called African nightcrawlers. And where I'm at in the country, we have really cold winters, so they don't survive outside. So I raise them, 05:12 temperature controlled environment in my basement and they are raised in three and a half gallon buckets and I stack them about, oh, I got 60 buckets per pallet. So yeah. Wow. Okay. And you're in Pennsylvania. That's why it's cold. Yeah. All right. And then tell me about why the castings are good. If anyone doesn't know, earthworm castings are basically earthworm poop. 05:41 exactly it. It's it castings I didn't come up with the name someone did somewhere along the line. It's it's a warm fertilizer. It's just it's a soil amendment. What's good about them is think of it kind of like a probiotic for your soil. Right castings are they are living. There's organisms inside. 06:10 in those castings and that fertilizer, what you put into the soil, what happens is those worms break down all the micronutrients that create all this life in their poop and all that life is also breaking down other, it's breaking everything down in the soil. 06:38 to a point where your plants can then absorb it through their roots. So the poop is really just a vehicle if you think of it that way, of which you can infuse a lot of good things for your soil environment. All different types of microorganisms are in there that will, they just, 07:07 benefits of it far outweigh the work. Okay, so how do you collect the casting? So do you just do you just scoop out the dirt that they've lived in? Or how does it work? So the process that I use it's if you the best way that I can put it is it's I create a manufacturing environment to produce the maximum amount of worm castings. 07:37 for the worms that I have in the space that I have. So what I use, I use a mechanical sifter that has two screens on it. It's a quarter inch screen first, and I'll take a bucket and dump that on. And whatever passes through that quarter inch screen is, I'm sorry, what's left on that quarter inch screen rather, are all the worms. 08:06 and uneaten food stuffs that are too big to pass through. And so then I remove that screen and then I have an eighth inch screen below that. And the only thing that passes through that eighth inch screen is the castings themselves. The cocoons that the worms have, they won't pass through. 08:33 maybe sometimes you get like little tiny baby worms will pass through or little types little tiny pieces of Compost will pass through but it's very minimal And okay, so basically you're mining for gold because because yours 08:51 Yeah, yes, actually, if you would search some bigger operations, these guys are using tronels just like in Gold Rush. I don't know if you're going to get any type of copyright thing, but if anybody's seen that show, it's kind of like that just on a small scale, really small scale. Okay. Your place must be a favorite with the local fishermen because you sell the worms as well, yes? I do. I sell fishing bait. 09:21 That's not as popular with the guys because right now where I am with the business, it's all about letting people know that I am actually here. That's the most difficult part I have found. The worms are easy and the worms are the fun part, but letting folks know that I exist in their neighborhood, that's really difficult, I have found. 09:48 Marketing is always the hardest part of starting a business. Always. Oh, it true words haven't been spoken because it's difficult to do and it's costly and it's an investment that for me, I had to be comfortable with making that investment for not a lot of immediate return. So the first year 10:17 was very slow, very difficult, and I was really just keeping the worms alive. This year, it's taken off a lot better than what I had planned to the point that I can't produce enough now. I'm selling out before I even have a harvest. And I harvest every two weeks. So I'm at the point where I have to add. 10:44 breed and I have to add more production units to keep up with the demand for castings. Who are you selling to? I mostly sell to home gardeners. They're my biggest customer. And then I have a few commercial gardeners and flower growers in the area that they'll buy much more quantities. They'll buy what I call bulk. 11:11 So 40 gallons or more at a shot. So I sell 40 gallon increments and also half yard and four yard super sacks. Okay. Well, it sounds like you got your marketing figured out that I still don't feel like I do. I don't think you ever do really. Um, I have a few folks right recently. I've had a lot of interest in, um, a lot of 11:40 marijuana growers have been taking an interest, which is something I wasn't expecting. So that's pretty neat. And yeah, it's been really fun so far. I am not up to date on my laws regarding marijuana right now. I know Minnesota just passed their law back last summer that we can have pot if we'd like it. We can grow it if we'd like it, but they're very small quantities allowed. 12:08 What's the law in Pennsylvania? I actually don't really know what the law is. In Pennsylvania, I don't believe you need to have a medical marijuana card. Okay. And you can grow, I believe the home grower can have one plant which can be consumed. Most of the folks that have reached out to me are from New York. So 12:37 I think the laws are much, are a lot easier than the commonwealth in New York. Okay. I was just curious because not all states allow it, but more states are coming on board. So yeah, it's actually becoming quite a popular thing now, which is pretty neat. You know, I think there's a lot of benefits to it and not to get political, but I do. I think there's a lot of health benefits that. 13:06 You know, it just makes people a lot more comfortable, especially if they're in a lot of pain. I personally know of a guy that's, he use, he medicates with marijuana and he has just a lot of physical and nerve issues and it helps him even just sleep, right? And it's like, wow, like you need this to just live. And so I think that there's a lot of great 13:34 benefits. I think there's a lot of potential there. I think there's a lot of trade and revenue that can be generated for a lot of other businesses. And there's just a lot of opportunity that I feel kind of like has to be explored in a way. Yeah, it's a window that's been closed for a very long time. Unfortunately, yes. Yep. Okay. So... 14:02 to get off that subject and on to the next. Not that it matters, it's not a big deal. I just was curious because you brought it up. Do you guys have the jumping worms in Pennsylvania that we have in Minnesota? 14:17 We do, to my knowledge. I have not seen any. Okay. In fact, I know very little about those jumping worms. I hear they are just terrible for the soil. And I really hear that they cause a lot of damage, but I'm not really up to par with that. 14:42 I hear the same thing. I have not seen one here yet. But I'm real, real aware when someone has, let's say, iris rhizomes they're trying to get rid of and they want to give them away. If I'm going to take them, I make sure that I shake all the dirt off the rhizomes before I put them in because the last thing I want to do is put jumping worms in my three-acre property because that would be really bad. Yeah, listen, if there are anything like the worms that I... 15:14 they will breed fast. The composters breed amazingly fast. And if you, I can see the, I can understand the fear really, if you put one in there, then it's gonna just be a steady slope, right? If you let them slip in, so super important. Yep, so anybody out there, somebody offers you roots of plants to put in. 15:41 and you have jumping worms in your state and it's been confirmed, be real careful. But listen, honestly, it's. 15:52 It's an opportunity then to create better soil, right? Like you can then amend the soil. Now I don't know if there's been any studies about this, but I'm sure there's ways to amend it. I just don't know what those ways are. Yeah, I just want to keep our dirt, our soil, the way it is right now. I don't want to mess with it because it's putting out really good produce every summer. Oh, it's fantastic. 16:18 I'd like to stay where we are at with that level. Thank you very much. Great. Okay. So, I swear I saw something about horses on your website. Yes. We have, they are pets. And another, one of the benefits of getting into worm farming is that your worms will eat your manure. Mm-hmm. 16:47 So I have, going back to an earlier question, I tried three different breeds of worms. I have red wigglers and I also have European night crawlers. Those two I keep outside in outside bins and I compost our horse manure. And that's what I feed those guys. And oh boy, do they love it. They love it. 17:17 I would imagine. So I don't want to, you don't have to tell me specifically the answer to this question, but do you have a lot of land or a little land or what? We have currently just under seven acres. 17:35 four of the seven are wooded. So there's really not much that I can do with that. The rest is used currently with composting our gardens, our chickens, sheep, and our horses. Nicole Sook Okay, so you are a homesteader too. You're not just a worm wrangler. You have critters. 18:04 completely build this into a completely sustainable environment. We want to produce food. We want to be able to feed all of our animals on the same property. Now we can't do that here, right? I don't have enough land to make hay and do all that. But what we are doing right now is 18:31 We're making the best of what we can and we're trying to do everything possible that we can to just stay in our little bubble. Yep. And we love it. You know, I truly enjoy it. When you see your vegetables popping up and they're going crazy, it's like, wow. Like, man, you can feed your whole family then. 19:00 of tomato sauce and whatever you want to make out of just tomatoes for an entire year. And there's, I just think there's something to that, you know? It's magic. It really is. We have tomato babies, siblings, that are about four inches tall on our kitchen table right now. And every morning the grow light gets turned on and I stand there and look at them and I'm like, you guys are going to be making tomatoes here in about three months. I'm so excited. 19:30 Yeah, they will pop, right? Yep. And we have baby basils coming and I've said a billion times on this podcast and I'm going to say it again, I love basil. I use it in a lot of food that I cook. And the little baby basils are cute. When they come up, they're just two little leaves and they're very dark green and I love them. I don't know why, but every time I see them, when we put the seeds in and they sprout, I just stand there and look at them and think, man, this is magic. 20:00 May 15th we start putting things into the actual garden and by June 1st everything is in and it's starting to do what it does and I stand there and look at that garden and it just it doesn't look like anything that it's gonna look like in two months and so I take the snapshot in my head of what it looks like June 1st 20:25 and then come August 1st, I'm like, you guys did so great. Yeah, it's really incredible. It really is. My wife and I, we were looking at our garden, especially the tomatoes, and we just saw them, they were the biggest tomato plants we ever had. And they were taller than we were, and now we're short people, so that's not much to say. But... 20:55 It was, it was just truly amazing. And I just haven't, I was in awe of how much, how much they were producing and how well they were growing and we even planted, we just put seeds right into the ground and they were, they did so well, so well, which is just an indication of your soil's health. Right? 21:24 If you have soil that is good, you will grow just the most beautiful, beautiful plants. They really will. It's amazing. Yeah. And not to take away from your business, because I think that worm castings is brilliant for fertilizer, but we use chicken manure and we use goat manure in our garden. And honestly, any manure that isn't... 21:51 I don't know, a dog or a cat or I guess any animal that eats meat, it's always great. And I'm not even sure that dog poop is a terrible fertilizer. I don't know why we don't use all manure as fertilizer. Maybe you do. I'm not really sure. I know typically. 22:20 You know, you're using horse manure or cow manure, but I believe that's usually the focus because of what they're eating, right? They're eating what we are harvesting from the ground already. And then you're just taking that and you're putting it back into the earth, right? You're taking the nutrients that are in that fertilizer and you're putting that back right into the thing that you're gonna grow more. 22:49 and more food for your animals. The ultimate recycling system, yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that's why a lot of folks, a lot of farmers, especially now, are going no-till, right? Like they don't like tilling up the earth because it just destroys everything. You zap the earth of the nutrients, you kill literally everything in there. And if you go no-till, you're putting a whole lot of fertilizer down. And I think 23:18 I think that there's something to that. I really do. And even folks that just do rotational grazing, right? And they're not making hay or they're not doing other crops. They're just rotating their animals through pasture land at the appropriate times. And that is, there's research out there that is just showing that that is such a great way of farming. 23:47 It's completely revolving and sustainable. Yeah, and there's so many different ways to farm. I mean, there's the hugelkultur thing. There's no till. There's what we do. We till it like twice in the fall after we pull everything out with our little tractor. And then we put the hay and the chicken droppings on top of it all winter. And it cools the manure down and then we just plant in the spring. 24:16 There's so many ways to do it. And I don't know. I don't know if there's a best way or if, if you're just trying your best, good on ya. You know, it's funny. I, I, I purchased my hay from a really good friend of mine. And I had told him that, you know, we have some property at a, at a, at a vacation home. And I have been working this land, trying to get it to. 24:45 to grow my own hay and do my own hay operation up there. And I had asked the guy and I said, how do you make really great hay? And you know what's funny? All he said was, I just try my best. And you know what, such a simple answer, but so much truth in that, right? That's all you can do is just try your best. And if it doesn't work, you know what you're doing? You make a change, you make an adjustment. 25:14 and you see what happens. I love that. I love that experimentation. I love that problem solving that comes with growing your own food because not everything is going to work and you're going to have ups and downs and you're gonna have mess ups. And I just like that. I like that process of learning. It excites me. Yeah. 25:41 I am a lifelong learner. I have perpetual curiosity. I can't stop myself. I can't help it. And so when we bought this place three and a half, almost four years ago, I'm going to start saying almost four years ago, we bought it in August of 2020. I was so excited because we knew enough to not be dangerous, but we didn't know enough to be bored. That's great. That's a great way of putting it. I like that. 26:10 And so it was really exciting because there was nothing here. It was a, a, a clean slate for us to start brand new. And this is our fourth spring here and so excited to get going on things. And we're in Minnesota, you're in Pennsylvania, you know, that you can't really get stuff in the ground outside until after danger of the last hard frost. So. 26:36 So we still have like a month and a half to go. And my husband's chomping to the bit because he's the gardener. Yeah. Yeah, I totally get it. It's that you never know when, unfortunately when that last frost is going to be. And I tell you what, the past two years we messed that up. Oops. You know, you just went too early and then you get a random cold snap. And you're like, oh no. And so totally get it. Totally get it. 27:06 Yeah, that's why we plant our stuff from seed because we stagger plant and that way if we lose some of them, we have more to put in. Right, right. It just saves us a lot of heartache and a lot of money because last I checked at the nurseries I think two or three springs ago, a tomato seedling was like $5 and a pack of seeds is like a buck and a half. So you do the math. You know how this goes. Yeah. 27:36 store and I saw tomato seedling for eight dollars. Oh my. Can you believe that? And they couldn't keep them on the shelf. Yeah, and that's because people don't, I think people don't realize they can start them from seed in their house. Yes. It's very easy to do as well. Yep. You know. Yeah, it really is. 28:00 So anyway, so what's the plan for Woodland Worm Company? Are you guys gonna stay at the place that you're at and just keep expanding there? Are you gonna eventually maybe look for a bigger place with more pasture land? Yeah, so the dream is to move up to the, where our property is, our vacation property is. We want to... 28:32 We want to have a fully, a farm that people could come and visit and be interactive. They can do all the things there, pick pumpkins, you know, apples, everything. We want them to be able to come enjoy themselves. We have dreams of having like a play place there that the kids can, their kids can go, they can grab a bite to eat or whatever, you know. 29:00 they can sit down have some lunch and just enjoy themselves. And that's something that we really enjoy going to places like that. And we want to offer that to other people. We want to invite folks to our home and just kind of be part of the family. And that's our vision. So we won't always 29:29 The next step is to build the business, the worm casting business to a point that is sustainable enough that we can move and handle that move. I don't know how quite yet, but we'll figure that out. Okay, so is teaching people about this stuff in your plan? Absolutely. Good. 29:59 I went to a worm farm down in Phoenix, Arizona, back in January, and it was for a worm business conference, believe it or not. They actually have those. The place that hosted us was called the Arizona Worm Farm. And if anybody has a second, I highly encourage to check them out if you ever visit Phoenix. 30:28 totally go check them out. They are an amazing, it's an amazing educational experience. They are the most open people about how they do things, why they do things, when they do things, and they really just love to share the information that they have, and they are just committed to the same thing. 30:58 values that I believe you and I have, right? They just want to have a self-sustaining place, and they want to grow great things, and they want to help the people in the city of Phoenix grow just wonderful plants in a place where you it's really difficult to grow, actually. Yes, yes it is. My son just moved to Nebraska from Phoenix back in December. 31:27 because he could not grow a hot pepper, let alone anything else on his little property that he had. He tried for like three years and he just was like, we need to be back in the Midwest. You know what? It's, I was shocked. This place is in the middle of a, their neighbors are, they do traditional farming techniques. I believe they farm cotton. 31:57 And so you'll have cotton farm on either side of this farm and the soil on those farms, it's just this dry, really light colored, just no health in that soil. And they were working those fields while I was even there. And then you look at the worm farm and what they've been doing with their own compost that they make and sell. 32:25 and put into their own ground. And it looks like you would be in a different part of the country. It's night and day different, yeah. Truly the most amazing thing, and it was jaw dropping for me. And I have to be honest, going there gave me the vision and it gave me the... 32:52 It let me know that it's possible. Like what I want to do is possible. And if someone in Phoenix can do it, you can do it anywhere in this country. I, I'm convinced of it. Yeah. And I think had he had he had that idea or had seen something about it, he might've tried it, but I also think that they really just wanted to move back to the Midwest, so it's all good. They're only like five, five, six hours away now, instead of. 33:21 a day's drive away. So it's great. Jonathan, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I'm going to wrap this up because I usually try to keep these to half an hour. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Yeah. I love what you're doing. Keep on keeping on. Thanks. All right. Have a great day. Thank you. You too. Bye.
The Minnesota Marshmallow
May 15 2024
The Minnesota Marshmallow
Today I'm talking with Amy at The Minnesota Marshmallow. You can follow her on Facebook as well. I was so inspired by Amy's description of the mint cookie marshmallows that I ordered some. Fantastic as a treat and even better in my coffee! 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking with Amy at the Minnesota Marshmallow. Good afternoon, Amy. How are you? Doing really good. How are you? I'm good. I'm dying to know the story about you and the Minnesota Marshmallow. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for interviewing me today. 00:24 Idea originally was something that I always had wanted, uh, growing up through high school. Um, the big dream was to have a restaurant and this was kind of my niche for the, the back and have this really authentic bonfire type setting where people would come up to like a little silver bullet trailer and get some marshmallows and some hot cocoa or, you know, and just kind of enjoy some, some family space and. 00:50 you know, providing that in kind of a different setting that just isn't out there yet. And, um, I joined the military right out of high school and I've just been chasing that dream and I wanted to retire. And meanwhile, we got hit with COVID and I was sitting with a friend outside of bonfire one night and I said, you know, I know I've said it a lot, but we should have like a juicy Lucy of marshmallows. Like all these toppings should be on the inside and all warm and gooey. And she's like, you literally can't. 01:18 talk about this anymore until you start making it." I was like, well, no time like the present, I guess. I hopped in the kitchen and watched some videos trying to figure out how do you even do that. Within four weeks, I had gotten carried away and started with just a vanilla and a strawberry. Then I started doing orange. Then I started doing hot fudge mamas. 01:47 Caramel ones and just the creativity was oozing at that point with excitement and I was bringing them up to the Air Force base and handing them out to friends and I'm like, I have so many marshmallows. I don't know what to do with these. So if you don't like them, you can just throw them away. But if you do like them, like let me know or if you have a suggestion and I should change something. And so I was just peddling marshmallows everywhere I went on base because I had just had so many at that time. 02:15 Um, next thing I knew, I was getting messages from friends and coworkers and they're like, Hey, make this one again. Can I get that for the weekend? And, um, another friend was like, you should just make this like a fun side hobby. And I was like, yeah, it has been really fun. So, um, I had just graduated college and decided like, I have a new, new thing where I can like pour my energy into. And so it just kind of focused on that through 2020 and, um, at 02:44 After I started the company in August of 2020, I had Mike and Jen's hot cocoa reach out and say like, we should sit down. We want to meet you. And I'm like, me? You want to meet me? I've only been doing this for like four weeks. And, um, that was really exciting and got to sit down with them and they, I'm kind of walking in their footsteps as far as like learning how to start a business and create it. And now here we are almost four years later and 70 flavors and just having a lot of fun with it. 03:14 That's fantastic. I do understand the, you want to talk to me question because like a month ago, a publicist for an author emailed me out of the blue and was like, we'd love to be a guest on your podcast, the author. And I was like, okay. And I actually went and researched because I didn't know if it was something that was not good, if it was like spam or a trick. 03:44 And it wasn't, it was not a trick. And I interviewed the author and she's a really neat lady. So it worked out great, but I understand that you want to talk to me. Why? Yes, absolutely. That was kind of like, Oh my gosh, like you want to have like dinner with me? And I was just like, that's really cool. I was like, okay. And, um, ever since then, um, it's Dean and Amanda, they've been so, I could not ask for better mentors. Um, Dean started his. 04:13 hot cocoa company from, you know, Cottage Food Law of Minnesota, and then was able to expand and grow, and now they're all throughout the United States and Mexico, and it's so amazing to have had them in my corner from the start, just to like, run questions by, or you hit an obstacle, and you're just like, what do I do? You know? So, I was very grateful for them, and having someone to like... 04:38 you know, teach you kind of like, or guide you saying like, oh, we hit that obstacle, try this or something. Yeah, I did my homework on you. I went and looked at your website and you were, or you still are in the Air Force, is that right? Yes, yeah. My husband and I have both been in for almost 15 years now and we're both pushing to stay until retirement. So we've got a little... 05:04 a toddler in our home now too. Our son Ryder is just amazing and we're learning on how to balance many careers. His career, my career, our business, he also does racing and so we've got a very jam-packed family life. It sounds like it. So are you originally from Minnesota? Yes, I'm originally from the cities. I went active duty Air Force. 05:29 three months after graduating high school and stayed active duty for eight years. And when I saw there was an opening here in Duluth, I decided to put all the chips in the center of the table and try something new and see what the guard was like. And I absolutely love it. And I'm very grateful for my military experience and my military family here. Fantastic. Okay. So is the Minnesota marshmallow business, is it a standalone business? 05:59 brick and mortar business or is it from your home? So I originally started with the Minnesota cottage food law, but I think we were like maybe six to eight months in when I had reached out to another local bakery and asked if I could rent their kitchen when they were closed. So I originally jumped into a small local bakery to use their commercial kitchen, which allowed me then to go wholesale and work with other companies. 06:26 From there, I now privately own a kitchen out in Proctor, Minnesota. And I have partnered with the Proctor Speedway and they have a massive large kitchen area to use which has been so wonderful for our expanding and Christmas time rush and everything because the racetrack here uses the kitchen from May to about October which... 06:52 They only use it one day a week, so it's allowed me a lot of flexibility and not having to work really late at night after other businesses are closed or share the kitchen during the daytime. So that's been so wonderful to have this opportunity. Okay. So, you don't actually have a store. You wholesale and ship? Is that how that works? Yeah. Yes. We go to tons of events throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. 07:18 Bayfield Apple Festival, we've got tons down here in the Duluth and the Bayfront Park, Warren's Cranberry Festival. We kind of have jumped around finding like what are our best spots over the last four years and so we do a lot of that. Our original trailer we used for those events along with weddings. We just sold that trailer and we bought a new trailer for weddings and catering and large events which... 07:47 is brand new and super shiny and we're super in love with it. We just got that about a month ago and we are in the works right now to create our other first and actual mobile food trailer and we're excited to launch that new idea coming forward. Nice. See, I love stories like yours because you had this dream when you were younger and then somebody said, put up or shut up basically to you. Exactly. And you were like, okay. 08:17 fine, I'll make them." And then you figure it out and you made them and then you did it at home and then you found a place where you could have a commercial kitchen and now you're doing this. And I feel like creative people are the ones who say, why not? And who if they meet, I don't know, a stumbling block, they say, how can I work around this? And not everyone is a creative. I'm... 08:44 It's fine. You don't have to be a creative, but creatives think differently. Yes, absolutely agree with that. And starting a business is not for the weak. So when they say the support small business, like, man, it's a, it's a fight, but it's worthwhile. And it's exciting. And if you look at failures as learning and you actually grasp for failure, 09:08 because that means that you're growing and you're getting better. Every time you find that you fail, it just is an opportunity instead of like looking at it negatively, then you are bound for success. Put it that way. Yeah, absolutely. I agree completely. So marshmallows are not my favorite treat. I'm not going to lie. I do like a s'more once a summer out by the fire. That's fine. And my son actually bought a huge box of peeps the other day. 09:39 I had Neet and a Peep in years and I was like, oh Peeps, they're like crunchy sugar and squishy in the middle. He was like, no, they're great. They're sitting on the table and two days later I said, can I try one? He's like, you said you hated them and I'm like, yeah, I know what I said, but let me try one, maybe they're different now. Right. I bit into it and they don't make them the same way. They're very, very soft in the middle. I remember them having more bounce. 10:09 to the bite. Yeah. There's really weird now and they were weird then. So, so marshmallow peeps not so much. Um, what I want to know is every time I see someone make marshmallows like on a cooking show or I saw yours and they're the same thing, they're square. They're not rounded on the edges. Is there a reason for that? Yeah. So when you're looking at 10:39 typically pour them into a pan or some type of mold. And I always tell my customers when we're out at shows or people are taste testing that sticky is the business. Expect to have sticky fingers. And a large challenge for a lot of marshmallow makers is the sticky factor. And when you're trying to pour them in different types of molds, like you would see a peep or something else, yeah, that's a lot of work. But for us to push out faster production, 11:09 When we put them in a pan, it really simplifies our process and allowing us as exact measurements as you can possibly get. I know a lot of other marshmallow companies have really fancy cutters and we've tried some of those different ideas. We hand cut ours still to this day. Once you pour them in a pan and you cut them like brownies, if you were to visualize that, that's how you come up with your square marshmallow. 11:38 What are the ingredients in a marshmallow? It's gelatin and sugar and what else? Yeah, so your base for a marshmallow is you're going to have gelatin and water. You'll start with that in your mixing bowl and then for what we call your hot sugar, that's going to be white sugar, the granulated sugar and typically caro syrup. I know some people are in favor or not in favor of caro syrup and there are other ingredients you can tailor to that. 12:06 But you'll use caro syrup and water and that is kind of your simple basis start and I call that like my blank canvas and you'll heat those up, mix them together and that's when you can start playing around with your flavors, colors, all that kind of stuff. Once you're finished mixing them, you pour them into a pan and you'll let them sit for about 10 hours and then after that 10 hours you'll, you can pull them out and start cutting them and packaging them. So 12:34 It's a lengthy process, very lengthy process. Yeah, and you're dealing with hot sugar, right? Yes, very hot. Yes, hot sugar scares me to death. I will work with it only under pressure, only if I've been begged to make something that requires me to work with it. Oh, yes. Yeah. It's once in a while you get a hot sugar burn when you miss the pot or you're grabbing it, but it's kind of part of what we expect here in the kitchen. 13:04 Yeah. And I'm sure that you saw worse injuries or pain in the air force than you probably have in your kitchen. Once in a while. Yeah. Okay. So I saw that you have thin mint marshmallows. How does that work? Oh my gosh. So that was kind of my springtime flavor. I love, love thin mints, love them so much. So I was like... 13:31 I have to integrate these into a marshmallow somehow. So I load up with the thin mints and we get them all chopped up and then I get kind of like a minty base for my marshmallow and scatter the cookie pieces throughout the marshmallow and let her set and cut. I really love that one in hot cocoa. If you're a minty person, you can even add that to your coffee. And my favorite way to eat that one is on the s'mores and you heat it up and it's really hard to find. 14:00 I used to love those honey graham chocolate graham crackers, but pairing that if you can find a chocolate graham cracker is like icing on the cake. It's so yummy. Yeah, I bet. I loved in mint cookies. I made some back years ago, like 10 years ago, and it was not Girl Scout cookie season. And I desperately wanted a thin mint cookie. I was like, how can I make this happen? I can cook. I know I can do this. And I picked up those chocolate wafer cookies, the really thin ones at the grocery store. 14:29 Oh yeah. And I melted some chocolate and I add some, I think it was coconut oil, I think, and some peppermint extract or spearmint. I don't remember what it was. And melted the chocolate all together with the coconut oil and the extract and dipped the cookies in it and put them on parchment paper and just let them sit. And my kitchen smelled like thin mint cookies. I was like, I think I got it. And my kids ate every... 14:57 last one of the 40 that I did. That's amazing. That sounds delicious. I got one cookie, one thin mint cookie out of the whole batch. I was like, you guys, you're monsters. Okay. Fine. Eat the cookies. Fine. Made them for me. It's always good problems to have instead of like, yeah, mom, this is good. And then you're left with like 39 out of your 40 cookies. And you're like, yeah, I'm sure it was really good then. Yeah. I had the neighbor girl come over. 15:27 And there was one left. I lied. The kids didn't eat the rest of them. There was one left. And I had to come over and I said, this is the last cookie out of 40. I have tried one. You're a Girl Scout. You sell Girl Scout cookies. Taste this and tell me if it tastes like a Girl Scout cookie, thin mint. And she bit into it and she was like, oh my God, you did it. I'm like, yep, sure did. That is so cool. He was probably, I don't know, 10 at the time. 15:53 And the look on her face was priceless. I just, I wish I had taken a picture of her biting into that cookie. Those are some of your like most honest feedback when you ask kids, like you might not like the answer they have to say. So if you get a good compliment from like a 10 year old, you're doing really good. Yeah. And if she had said, this is not great. I would have been like, then I will never make them again. Cause I trust you. Oh, that's funny. But yeah, there's nothing like a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie and 16:21 They don't make them like they used to. I'm 54, so I remember when I sold Girl Scout cookies when I was a Girl Scout. And the cookie, the cookie was thicker and the chocolate coating was thicker. They were a bigger cookie. Mm-hmm. Yeah. And now there's these little tiny cookies. I'm like, I can't afford to pay this much money for a little tiny cookie. Holy cow. I know. Yeah. So anyway, long story short, Thin Mint cookies are awesome. I bet your Thin Mint, your Thin Mint marshmallows are fantastic. 16:51 Yes, our mint lovers are in love with them. The thing I love about marshmallows is the mouthfeel because they're bouncy, but they're smooth at the same time. Yes. It's funny you mention that because through the past four years, I went from thinking like, I'm going to be the first person to create a flavored marshmallow. 17:16 At that time, I wasn't aware. Like there's lots of other little smaller companies kind of doing what we're doing just in their hometowns or something like that. And so I've tried, you know, some of theirs and that, you know, everyone kind of has, you know, like there, I like to say they're different spaghetti sauce and everyone's going to think their spaghetti sauce is the best spaghetti sauce. So everyone has a different unique texture or flavor that they, you know, roll with. And 17:42 One thing that I take a lot of pride in in my company, which is it makes it more hard for myself, is I keep a really short shelf life on mine. Like I said, it's a little bit more stressful because you're going to have to make more and rotate them on the shelves a lot faster with your wholesale accounts and stuff. But at the same time, I take a lot of pride in that really, really soft, fresh flavor, that fresh texture. 18:09 And I think it's like one of the things that I'm really proud that like helps separate me from some other companies and something I've always stood by there. Because you're right, that texture and that softness goes a long way. That's your secret sauce. That's how you keep your sauce different. What's the biggest batch that you've made of one flavor? Oh my gosh. So I just started using a whole bar mixer. 18:37 I still keep it really small. I like to make things difficult for myself. But we got this Hobart mixer and it was able to create four times the amount that I would in a normal smaller mixer batch. So we were able to create around 224 marshmallows in one batch. But as far as how many I've made in one day, I know that we've made, hold on, I have to do some math really quickly here. 19:08 me go back. My best day baking, which is like, oh, like 12 hours on your feet, constant moving with mixers. It's quite stressful. 42 batches times my 54 marshmallows. My record has been 2268 marshmallows in one day. Wow. 19:30 And did that count wrapping them and everything? Or is that just how many marshmallows? That's just the baking day. Then we get into packaging and stickering and we do all our stickers by hand and it's processed. So do you, do you have a day a week where you can just maybe take a few hours and, and rest? Depends on the type of year or time of year. Earlier in the year, I like to call it my diet season. Sales kind of. 19:56 You know, go a little bit slower after Christmas, which I am so grateful for because I love having a break after Christmas season. Um, but later in the year, um, last year, I think we were tracking from around October through Christmas. Um, it worked about 65 days straight to keep up with our demand. So it was pretty, pretty intense then. So we're typically in here for, I'd say. 20:24 Maybe on some of those, those days were eight to 10 hours a day, including weekends and events and traveling. So. 20:34 You have heard of hobby burnout, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I did quit my full-time job less than a year into starting the marshmallows. There was such a demand for them. And when I was working my job at the Air Force, I was working roughly like 7 a.m. to 4.30, and I would get off work and I would go home, and I'd have customers come to my home and pick them up. And... 21:03 I'd kind of cut off pickup times around like seven or eight o'clock. In the meantime, I would start baking my marshmallows and I was baking until about 11 PM and then getting up at about three or four o'clock in the morning to start cutting and packaging those before I would go to work the next day. I just kept that going like all week and I think there was just this high of excitement and it's working and I can't believe I'm doing it. 21:30 It just never somehow got tired. It was easier by the way, not having kids at that time. Yeah, it just, it was going well. And I just thought to myself, if I'm ever going to take, take a leap of faith, then it's something that I'm just going to have to try it right now. And you know what, if we crash and burn in three months or six months or a year, then like, you can't look back and say like, Oh, I regret never trying. So we just, I just tried and went for it. And here we are four years later. So. 21:59 Yeah, I just, I, I, back in my younger days, I would go and go and go and go and go too. Um, just, just a hint. Once you get past 45, that go, go, go gets up and goes. Oh my gosh. Yeah. Especially, uh, our son is now like about 20 months old and that's a game changer. My gosh. He keeps me so on my toes. I'm after like, he goes down to bed around eight o'clock. I'm just like. 22:25 I haven't the energy for anything. And I always tell people emails my Achilles heel, because I don't want to start reading emails at 8 PM anymore. And soon as we get back up in the morning and drop him off, it's right back to the kitchen and the mixer. So it's a balance for sure. I try really hard not to look at my phone after six o'clock at night, because if I do, somebody is going to email me. 22:50 And it's going to be what I think is important. And it's going to be something that gets my brain going. And I'm going to be up until 2 thinking about it. So I tried really hard to stop at 6 o'clock at night. And I messed up the other day and read an email at dinnertime at 5. And I can't say what the news was, but it was really exciting and really probably good for my podcast. And I didn't sleep. Like, 23:19 I went to bed about eight and I read, because I usually read for an hour before I go to sleep just to shut my brain off. I tried and I barely slept because I was so excited about this particular news. And my husband looked at me the next morning and he said, you didn't sleep, did you? You laid there all night and thought about this, didn't you? And I was like, yep, couldn't help it. He said, were you up a couple of times last night? I said, yeah, because tossing and turning would probably keep you awake. So I just went downstairs and he's like, oh my God, honey. 23:48 He said, you can't let this do this to you. I was like, no, this is great. This is great news. And he was like, yeah, but you need sleep. I was like, yeah, I'll sleep when I'm dead. It's okay. Oh yeah, totally get that. That's, you know, kind of going back to how you open with like the creativeness, once you kind of get that creative idea or that excitement, man, it's hard to shut it off. Mm-hmm, oh yeah. And I... 24:13 I wish I could say what the good news was, but I don't want to jinx it. I will be able to talk about it after this Thursday. So I want to share it, but it will ruin the surprise for everybody. So I'm just going to be quiet about it, but it just kept me up all night. I was that lit up about it. So I totally get it. I had another question about marshmallow stuff. Oh, so do you see yourself doing this for a long time? 24:43 like for years? Yeah, definitely. We have kind of talked like, what is our five-year plan? What's our 10-year plan? Like, what does this look like? And each year we're learning and growing more. And in the last six months, I have experienced kind of like having employees and that was so nice to be able to like have some help. And so that was kind of a stepping stone for us and kind of going in the right direction. 25:13 Um, yeah, there, there's definitely some long-term goals and with this new food truck, I'm hoping, um, we're not going to totally release exactly what we're doing in there yet, but we are hoping with the success, um, once we get that, um, here and get to get started with it and working in the trailer, we're hoping to smooth the wrinkles out for the next two years and then eventually, uh, maybe take that to, uh, the state fair here in Minnesota and put all our chips in the table and see how that goes. And. 25:42 from there, who knows what our possibilities are. But like I said, we're going to continue to keep growing and someday I think it would be super, super awesome to be like a household name down the road. But we've got a lot of learning to do between now and then. So we'll just keep doing what we can every day. That's a great plan. And I hope you get to be at the State Fair. I think that you would have so much fun with that. You will also be destroyed at the end of the day, but you're already destroyed at the end of the day. So why not? Yeah. Yep. 26:11 Awesome. So I've been to Duluth once and it's gorgeous and it sort of reminds me of the pictures and videos that I've seen of San Francisco because everything is built up the hill. Yes. Yeah, Duluth has been absolutely beautiful. Before I moved here, I think I had visited maybe two or three times in my childhood. So when I came out here, I was like, oh, I 26:38 Yeah, I wasn't really sure what to expect. And the funny part was, I don't know if when you visited, you got to go down to like Canal Park or at all. But I did. Yes. Yeah. My first time up here as an adult after I moved here, I got my dog, my German Shepherd and decided we're going to head down to the lake the first day we have to get down to the lake. And I had gotten in really early to Canal Park way down there at the end, which is actually where my husband and I got married this last year. 27:07 We, my dog and I are out playing in the water and there's like barely anybody out there and you know, silly outsider. I'm just like, I found the best kept secret and all of Duluth. This is gorgeous. I'm so happy I moved here. People just hadn't showed up yet, but fall here is one of my favorite times and there's so many trees and hiking trails and seeing all the colors change. Like you just can't beat it. Just love it. 27:34 Yeah, and it's a pretty big population for the city of Duluth, right? Yeah. I think we're upwards of like 80,000 for our quote unquote small town up here. Yeah. So you've got a built in audience for your marshmallows. So that's great. Yeah, definitely. We've got tons of wholesale accounts, like throughout the Duluth and upper Wisconsin areas here and people are very familiar with our brand, which it make it was 28:00 pretty shy. I don't know the first couple times I'd be somewhere and someone's like, wait, you make Minnesota marshmallows? And I'm like, yeah. And they're like, oh my gosh, my kid loves those. And it's just like this like super exciting slash shy, you know, kind of really awesome kind of experience or feeling when you're like, wow, people know me like, oh, that's kind of cool. It's super weird when that happens. Yes. My friend. 28:28 listens to my podcast, my friend who lives five miles from here. And she and her husband came over to visit. Hi, Tracy. If you're listening, hi, Tracy. I keep telling them, I'm going to say her name and I figured I should. But they came over for dinner and she was like, your pot, you're keeping me company on the way to work every day. And I was like, I am. And she said, yeah, she said, whenever you release a new podcast, I just listen to it on the drive to work. Oh, that's so cool. Yeah, we have, we've had some friends that 28:58 We've got accounts out in like Grand Rapids and International Falls and they'll run up there and they'll be out exploring and have no idea that we've got a storefront up there. And they'll be like, take a picture and send it to me. And they're like, oh my gosh, I can't believe it. Look what we just came across. And it's just a cool, exciting feeling. Yeah, it's bizarre, but it's great. It's one of those surreal moments where you know you did the thing, but you forget that other people will see it. 29:27 Yes, exactly. Absolutely. Yeah, it's crazy. We have a friend I think last summer too that was doing some house sitting or had visited someone up in I think like north of Two Harbors somewhere and they said, I couldn't believe it. We went in their fridge and they had Minnesota Marshmallows in there. I was like, that's awesome. I feel like we're like on that little tiptoe way to like household name at least maybe for our small town, maybe for us, but it was cool. 29:56 Yeah, and on that note, on your website, you ship your marshmallows, right? Sure do, absolutely. At first, we were kind of nervous because sometimes if someone's got a package that's sitting on their steps all day, I'm like, oh my gosh, what am I going to do? How am I going to make sure they don't melt? And we've done some packaging changes and everything like that, and we get them down there and it's, yeah, they've made the travels all good so far. So we're thankful for that. 30:26 I may have to look at your website and see if you have any thin mint marshmallows and order some. I might have to. There you go. Yeah, we're just about to launch out our spring menu, our spring and summer menu. For spring, we have our thin mint marshmallows, we call them mint marshmallows. We have our Uffta and Uffta is kind of like that Caramel Delight girl scout flavor. So we've got toasted 30:55 cookie pieces, the whole lot in there. We named that one Ufta. And we've also got Orange Dream, kind of like a dreamsicle, chocolate chip cookie. We just closed out our Easter flavor for Jelly Bean. I thought that one was so much fun because every time you take a bite and you get a new Jelly Bean, you'd get kind of a new fun flavor. But we'll have Pistachio. Our Campfire Chata is kind of one of our adult flavors. It's a rum chata with butterscotch caramel swirls. 31:23 Coming up we've got lemon blueberry donut drizzle. We've got a donut madness We've got strawberry or raspberry lemonade ones for those that have more of like that fruity sweet tooth And we've also got toasty mousse which is Hot fudge and peanut butter swirled together with chocolate chips on the top for our coffee fans we offer a boozy Bailey's and 31:45 Our number one seller is, we call it Bigfoot Bites, and that's got Oreos, peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies, and fudge all in one sweet treat. Good Lord. Yes. Yeah, yeah. How big is each marshmallow, like inches? Yeah, they're a little over an inch on each marshmallow, about an inch and a quarter, I think. So they're a bite. Yes. You'll definitely at least get a minimum of two bites, but I have seen people eat the whole thing in one, and it's pretty cute. 32:15 Yeah. Wow. You are amazing. I don't even know how you came up with all those different kinds, but I'm sitting here with my mouth watering and I don't even really have a sweet tooth. So if you're making my mouth water over marshmallows, it sounds really good. Thank you. Yeah, I like to blame that on my overactive sweet tooth. Yeah, I really like salt and sour. I really like chips and pickles. You should do a pickle marshmallow. 32:43 My daughter would lose her mind. She drinks pickle juice out of the jar. She loves pickles so much. So you should try making a pickle marshmallow. That would be interesting. That would be very interesting. There's sweet pickles. You could do a sweet pickle marshmallow. Yeah. You could call it like the relish the experience or the something relish. Yeah, exactly. I think that'd be really fun. I just gave you a new idea to drive you crazy. Sorry. There we go. 33:12 All right, Amy. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me and I wish you all the success in the world with your marshmallow making. Oh, thank you so much and I appreciate the interview. This was really fun. Thank you. You're welcome. Have a great day. You too. Thanks. All right. Bye. Bye-bye.
The Wegener Farm
May 14 2024
The Wegener Farm
Today I'm talking with Rob at The Wegener Farm. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead. The podcast comprises entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking with Rob at the Wegner Farm. Good morning, Rob, how are you? Good morning, Mary, I'm good. How are you doing? Good, how are things in Michigan? That's a beautiful day here in Michigan, finally. We had a little snow yesterday morning, which always sets you back mentally a bit here, but it's beautiful this morning, so. 00:29 We're loving it. Yeah, it's April. Spring is coming. It's going to get here sooner than we think. It's beautiful here today in Minnesota too. So tell me about what you guys do at the farm. Okay, so at the Waggoner Farm, we're an organic, certified organic regenerative farm. We focus really on, you know, you've heard it called probably dirt, farming the dirt. 00:57 uh... move away from the idea of uh... feeding plants and rather uh... think about feeding the food web in the in the soil itself so we've been very big since the beginning on treating treating the soil right and it'll grow the plants and uh... and they'll be great and uh... so far so good that we've been at this now this will be our fourth year uh... we started the first year on this property which was new to us 01:24 with only 10 CSA customers, just to see, and mostly, by the way, friends and family who were fairly low risk, in case it didn't work. And year two, we went to 50. Year three, we went to 120. And this year, we'll be 130 CSA members, as well as some wholesale relationships and possibly a couple of restaurants. Wow. That is, that's huge. 01:54 Um, yeah, anyone who's never run a CSA does not have any idea the work that goes into it. We did it for two years, three years, and we only had nine people at our highest number. And it's a lot of work and it's a lot of pressure because you want things to go right. Yeah, you've, uh, you're right about the pressure because basically, you know, the model. 02:22 is such that the people, you know, they've paid you and now you better deliver, you know, and deliver well or the model falls down. Sorry about the dogs. Okay. I have one too. She does the same thing. Yeah. But our CSA members are great. They're people that are like-minded about looking for quality food. 02:51 Excuse me, let me just close this. Yeah. 02:58 at looking for quality food and not being, let's say satisfied or comfortable, but with the way the food system works and the way commercial farming works. We have a lot of visitors to the farm who I think also realize that USDA organic labeling is nice, but really transparency into seeing how things work is really where it's at. 03:27 And we love to have people at the farm. We have some chickens that free range around the house. Kids love them. They're friendly, and they can feed them. And it really is an interesting, at CSA Pickup, a real interesting sense of community as people come to get their boxes every week. Yeah, we had baby bunnies two springs ago. And they were just big enough that the people who came to pick up their CSAs could hold them and pet them. 03:57 That was a big hit here. We don't do rabbits anymore. I've already talked about this a billion times, but our rabbits were stupid. They did not understand that they were supposed to make babies. So we weren't going to let them. Rabbits that didn't make babies, I didn't think that it was possible. They were broken. There's something wrong with these rabbits. So we decided that feeding them with no return was not a good investment. So we no longer have rabbits, and that's OK. You were saying feeding the dirt. So. 04:26 when you take care of the soil, the soil is fantastic. It grows fantastic food. So the soil is great. It feeds the plants. The plants are great. And then the plants feed us, which is great. Yeah, and I think this is what gets lost in the commercial food system, honestly, now. Two things, I think, make a world of difference. Actually, probably three. One is. 04:55 When you are not trying to feed plants directly with synthetically produced fertilizers, plants get what they should be in terms of all of the micro and macro nutrients that the food web creates. These vegetables are just different. They're better for you. They taste better. 05:22 We also use varieties that are not bred to be trucked from Mexico. And those varieties that are bred to be trucked from Mexico have been hybridized through the years to be tough. You know, and the result is that the flavor and the nutrition has been bred out of these plants and vegetables. And it's just unfortunate. And 05:51 I would say to anybody listening, if you're not already connected with a local farmer, get connected. What you will learn about how things are supposed to taste, and just blow your doors off. Yeah, absolutely. And I am right there with you because we used to wait and wait and wait in the summertime for the tomatoes to come in at the farmer's market. 06:17 We grew tomatoes, but our tomatoes were usually later coming in than the farmer's market tomatoes. So about the end of June, we would go over to the farmer's market every Saturday morning and be like, do you have tomatoes yet? Sometimes we got the first ripe tomato out of our little garden, but usually we bought them from the farmer's market because buying tomatoes at the store is something that I only want to do, and I really don't even want to do it, in January and February because they just... 06:45 don't taste like anything. It's the reason people don't like tomatoes, I'm convinced. Anybody who doesn't like tomatoes, if I ask them, have you ever had one from a farm, they would tell you, no, I get them from the supermarket. That's because those orange plasticky things in the supermarket are not really, they don't taste like tomatoes. No, and I would pick cherry tomatoes out of a salad if I got a salad at a restaurant because I knew they would be terrible. And I thought I hated cherry tomatoes now. 07:16 And then we started growing our own and I tried one and I was like, oh, I can finally have them in my salad again. Yay. Exactly. And you know, I thought I've known that about tomatoes since I was a little kid because my mom always grew a garden. My grandparents always grew gardens with tomatoes. What I didn't realize is it's also true of eggs. It's also true of basically anything that we produce. 07:45 intended to live the what they give you in terms of food is just a different it's just a different thing. Yeah. So did you always want to do what you're doing or was was it new? Were you working on it before? Oh, man. So, let's see the the genesis story of the Wagner farm. So by my family generations ago actually came here as German immigrants and they were farmers, potato farmers and 08:14 later on, row crop farmers. When I was 12, I was driving massive farm equipment, helping on my uncle's farm and my grandpa's farm, where I worked the summers. But it was never something that people aspired to be. It was the thing you thought of as what you could do if you couldn't do anything else. And I think that's really, really unfortunate. So I spent my life in corporate America, where I still am, by the way. I still work at... 08:43 farm career, which I'm approaching hopefully retirement age here before too long. But after years of that, in the year 2020, my 14-year-old daughter passed away from complications from a very, from a rare disease. In January, and then in March in 2020, the world shut down because of COVID. 09:09 And the grocery store shelves, you know, started to be empty. And it was really, really, if anyone can recall that time, it was really quite a shock to our, you know, to our thinking about food and health and both spiritual and physical. And at the same time, the business that I'm in also was, became more and more challenging to the point where I thought I just don't, I don't want to do this anymore. 09:36 You know, my basically my day job is helping people finance cars that they don't really need. And is that a legacy that I want to leave behind? And I stumbled across actually JM Fortier's book, The Market Gardener, and started to watch some YouTube videos. People like Connor Crickmore and the NeverSink Farm in New York. And a few other examples of farmers that were able to create. 10:06 actually a nice living and a nice community around this method of farming, which they basically got from Europe. These 30 inch beds and human scale without a lot of heavy equipment and without a lot of huge capital investment. I just thought that was the coolest thing. So I took some master courses and we started to build up the farm. We started the first shop for property. 10:33 We found the property here. We started to build the farm up. There was nothing here. Um, it was, it was an 18 acre lawn basically. So, um, yeah, so that's how we got started. And, and man, it was so much fun that first year I was, uh, we still lived in our, in our other house. So it was a 20 minute drive to the farm, um, every morning and evening to take care of things and I just loved it. 11:00 We moved now to the farmhouse which we renovated since. It's a significantly smaller house than we lived in before and made quite a lifestyle change to live out here on the farm. And it's just, it's really been quite fantastic. That is a beautiful story. And I'm sorry about your loss. That's sad, I'm sorry. So yeah, COVID again. 11:26 COVID keeps coming up because a lot of the people I've talked to made changes right around when COVID hit. And it really did change how a lot of people viewed their world, not necessarily the world, but their little part of the world. And I know that we were still living in our little house in Jordan, Minnesota in town when everything kind of got shut down. 11:56 We had always been kind of aware that it was smart to keep at least two weeks of food, you know, ready to have in case for some reason we had a massive ice storm and could not drive to the store. And so when things kind of got shut down, we were okay. I was definitely anxious about what 12:25 My husband actually worked as a, he was outsourced from his job to an account that was a bunch of hospitals. And so he couldn't work from home. So he was still going out into the world, into hospitals every day while all that was going on. Yeah. And he was so worried he was going to bring COVID home to me and the kid. And so he was constantly stressed. 12:55 And he said, honey, he said, I'm so glad that we have always lived as if there might be a problem around the corner that we're not foreseeing. He said, because if I had to worry about you running to the store to get stuff and being exposed, he said, I don't know how I would be functioning right now. And I didn't realize how stressed he was until like a month after. 13:21 whatever the date was that the government said, okay, everybody started masking up. Don't go, you don't have to, blah, blah, blah. And he was just getting quieter and quieter and quieter with every week that passed. And I finally said, what's up with you? And he said, I just, he said, I don't know what's going to happen. 13:41 And I said, oh, that's why you're being so quiet. And he said, yeah, he said, I'm trying really hard to not be panicked by this. He said, but this is a real thing. This is scary. He said, yeah, it really is. So for us, it basically cemented that we wanted to be more capable of growing our own stuff. And we had a small garden at the old house, but... 14:09 It wasn't enough to put away stuff for the winter, you know? So we ended up buying a place in August of 2020. And we were really lucky because we were on the beginning swing of the housing boom that happened. So if we'd waited even six months, we would not have been able to go. So yeah, COVID was weird. Well, it certainly changed things. 14:38 I don't really want to do it again anytime soon. It was... No, no, hopefully not in our lifetime, right? It's kind of a statistical inevitability. It will happen. So I think it's, I hope that people start to change a little bit the way they live as you mentioned, not thinking about being able to or needing to be able to run out to program or whatever for dinner tonight. 15:08 Instead, have enough to sustain for a while. It's good for all of us. Yeah. And don't get me wrong, I do appreciate a Subway sandwich now and then because Subway makes them differently than I would. And I'm not saying everyone has to cook every meal that they eat every day from scratch all the time, but it's really good to know how to do those things. Right. 15:38 All right. So what else do you guys do? So you grow produce, you have a CSA. Do you have anything except chickens? We do have chickens. Yeah, we have got, so we have 400 layers. Actually, I had to euthanize our entire flock last year because we got a contracted a disease. No, I'm not going to remember the name of it. It's a very long name. Not, not bird flu, not. And interestingly enough, the state of Michigan. 16:08 because of how contagious this particular disease was, we had to euthanize the flock, which was a bummer for sure. We have no idea how it got on the farm. So just a lesson for anyone who might be listening, I think the only way we can sort it is that we bought six hens from a local farmer that was not necessarily a certified hatchery. 16:36 you do take a risk. You know, so the only thing, this particular disease only affects chickens, pheasants, and peacocks. So it didn't come in on a wild bird or something like that. So we're pretty certain it must have come in on those chickens. And because some of these diseases that affect poultry can be sort of without any symptoms for a very long time. And then suddenly for whatever reason, they 17:06 manifest themselves. Anyway, long story, but we had to euthanize our flock and we just got 400 new hens this year from a place in Fort Wayne that we deal with. So shout out to it's Wayne Trace Farms, by the way, in Fort Wayne. Tracy's great. And she supplies us with all of our hens other than those that I mentioned that we bought that I'm sure was a source for the problem. 17:33 She's great and we, so now we have 400 hens that are just starting to lay, which is nice. It was a very quiet period on the farm when we didn't have chickens and it was really a bummer. Now we got them back, it feels right. And also my wife is, she's the crazy chicken lady, so she's turned into this because this is her connection to the farm. She loves to buy exotic breeds. 18:00 and raise them. So we're going to get our first batch of those exotic new exotic chicks now here next week. It's not insanity. It's passion. She calls herself the crazy chicken lady so I can call her that. Okay, good. Yeah, I have a hard time with the whole crazy chicken lady, crazy cat lady, crazy horse lady thing. 18:30 I love cats and I love dogs and if I had my way I would have kittens around all the time, I would have puppies around all the time because I love them. So I don't have kittens and puppies around all the time because that becomes expensive and takes up a ton of time. And kittens and puppies don't really give back anything except love. 18:56 And love's great, but I don't need to be loved by 25 pups and a thousand kittens. I'm good. So, so yes, I think that there are people who might go slightly overboard. I think it becomes overboard when you can no longer handle it and you're never, you're not taking care of the animals in the way that they deserve anymore. That's, that's where it becomes the crazy part. Yeah, for sure. So I, I just. 19:23 Every time somebody says crazy cat lady, I'm like, but are they crazy? Really? Well, I'll just give you an example. She's out wallpapering their coop right now. They have to have a pretty place to live. Yeah. I'm sure she thinks I'm the crazy vegetable guy, so maybe that's fair. Yeah. I don't call my husband the crazy gardening dude, but it's close. He loves it. 19:53 And right now he and the kid are out putting up the framing for the walls on our heated winter greenhouse that we're building right now. Oh, very nice. Yes, I'm very excited. We've been excited since we found out we were going to do it. And we have baby plants on our kitchen table right now. And as soon as that greenhouse is done, the baby plants are going outside early this year, which is great. Yeah, very good. 20:22 We're excited. Congratulations. Yeah, it's a lovely project and it's gonna allow us to extend our growing season this fall. So, don't have enough words and I don't actually have all, I don't think words have been invented yet for how excited we are about this project. It does change the game for sure. We started here in year one with a 30 by 72 hoop house, you know, we went with. 20:50 basically full automation. So there's climate control inside and the rest. We bought a speckin' one in year two, so that first one was 70 by 30, the second one's 120 by 30. Last year we added a heated propagation house, so that one's 26 by 36. And now actually I just came in from building our second caterpillar tunnel. 21:18 So we keep, you know, there's really, it makes a huge difference to be able to put things under cover even if they're not heated. The sun does a whole lot in terms of keeping things warm. As long as you can keep them from freezing, the sun will keep it warm there during the day. So that's, it makes all the difference in the world. Yeah, last spring, I'm sorry, last fall, our barn cat had kittens and 21:47 once they were big enough to be out wandering around, she would direct them into the small hoop house greenhouse that we had up because it was warm in there. And we'd go in there and they'd just be playing because it was so warm. It was really cute. Okay. So do you have any other animals or is it just the chickens in your gardens? We don't. We want to. But... 22:17 My wife and I both work full-time jobs, so there is a certain limitation when it comes to time. I was fortunate enough here, which this is something else I'm really proud of, that the first second year actually that we did this, I found an intern, a young lady who was a sustainability major at Grand Valley State University, one of the local Michigan colleges. And 22:44 She started year one on the farm and just kind of found a passion for farming. So she came back in our, in last year and ran the farm. She was a production manager, you know, 23 year old college graduate, um, starting farming. And, you know, just looking back at what it was like when I was a young, a young guy working on my, um, uncle's farm, you know, and basically being told this isn't what you want to do for a living. I think it's really. 23:11 fantastic to try and close that loop and show Riley that, yeah, you can actually make quite a nice living doing this and have a different lifestyle than just heading into the corporate jungle every day. So Riley's back again this year, again, managing production and learning a little bit more about the business side of things. So... 23:36 I'm pretty excited about that. I'm looking for Riley 2.0 because I'm sure Riley at some point is on her way to owning her own farm and I'd love to have another Riley at this point to try and help develop their passion. Riley will be ready to run her own farm pretty soon. She understands what needs to happen and how it all works. I'm pretty proud of that actually. 24:03 She's part of the group of kids that I refer to as the light and the hope of the future. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Our son is 22 and he still lives with us and he is, he's getting a very nice education in how to build buildings and how to grow food and how to take care of chickens. And we call him the intern who gets paid with room and board right now. There you go. Yeah, it's a paid internship. 24:32 Yep. And he loves it. I mean, he'll say that he doesn't. He'll say that he would really like to, I don't know, do something else eventually. But every morning when he gets up and he actually slept, because he's got some insomnia issues going on right now, he gets up and he's like, did dad check the wood stove before he left? And it's a yes or a no. And if it's a no, he's like, okay. And he goes up and 25:01 puts on his shoes and jacket and stuff and heads out and makes sure the wood stove is fed. And that's important too on the homestead. So he chips in all the time. And I'm so proud of him because I don't know that he really, really wanted to move here. He had a job at a comic book store that he really loved. It was within walking distance of where we lived. 25:31 He loved his job. And sometimes I feel bad that we left because it's half an hour away and he can't drive right now. Whole bunch of stuff about the kid that I'm not allowed to say. There's a reason he's not allowed to drive and it's beyond his control. So sometimes I'm afraid that he feels trapped, but. 25:56 He seems to have adjusted well and he really does like helping dad out on the quote unquote farm. So it's working out okay. So do you have other kids? While we had just the two and as I mentioned, my daughter passed away in 2020. I have Matthew who's now 15 who is actually out making sandbags as we speak. So he's maybe not so enthusiastic about it. 26:25 Which is, I am hoping that he grows into it still, I guess. And my hope was when we bought the farm that he would, you know, he was enthusiastic when we bought it. And I think he's, well, he's 15. He'd rather play video games than work. So. That sounds about right. Yeah. Makes him, I think, pretty normal. Even though we hope for more, you know? Yeah, but you never know who he's gonna become. I have, I have four kids. 26:55 and they all have turned out to be really, really good people. 27:02 There's nothing bad I can really say about them, so they're good people. I'm also their mommy, I'm going to say they're good people, but you know how that goes. Okay, so you mentioned video games and stuff here. One of the things that's most interesting to me about this wave of folks who decided to move out of the cities and... 27:30 start growing their own food and raising animals and stuff is that every time I talk with them, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos to learn what I didn't know. And it is so incredibly interesting to me that we are using this pretty, I don't have a word, intense is the wrong word, this technology that is so high. 28:00 tech to learn about old school things and then implement those old school things. Because it sounds like you've done the same thing. You've watched videos and stuff to learn how to do things. Yeah. And I guess I never thought about it that way, but it is interesting how the circle closes, right? And I think it's just I view these channels like YouTube as... 28:29 really just democratizing education. And there's a whole lot of people out there willing to contribute because they also have a passion for what they're doing. I think it goes farther. I mean, I think, for example, both JM Fortier who's in Conor Crickmore, who are both kind of pioneers in their own right about this sort of farm approach. 28:53 definitely have a passion and want to teach other people. You know, and JM is actually now working on a big research farm, you know, as to try and help find better ways to do some of this stuff. But you can also connect with these folks personally and in exchange. 29:15 they make a living doing it, right? So both JM and Connor have master classes, which by the way, I highly, highly recommend. Because if you're going to try and do this farming gig, the systems that you need to have in place to be efficient are absolutely the key. Because it's the whole thing is based on intensive use of space and 29:40 and lots and growing lots of stuff. You know, like for example, we grew 50,000 pounds of food last year on our little 1.3 acres. And this year, this year we'll grow another 30% more in the same space. So it is it is a little bit democratizing education, you don't have to go to university anymore to learn this, you can learn it directly from the practitioner, which I think is really great. Yeah, and not end up with them. 30:09 hundreds of thousand dollars student loans to pay back to. Right. Right. My basic, I love Elon Musk's approach to it. If this, he says, uh, if you can't learn it on YouTube, it's probably not worth knowing. So, yeah, my daughter has a two year degree in something, just the basic beginner degree, you know, and I had asked her a couple of years ago if she was going to go back to continue and 30:39 There she didn't even miss a beat. She was crying immediately and I was like what is wrong and she said mom She said I'm still paying my student loans from the two-year degree that I'm never actually going to use She said I'm never going to spend money to go back to a college class in my life that's that's how much it bothered her and I felt so bad for her and 31:07 I don't have the money to pay her student loans off. If I did, I'd do it. She did end up taking an online course to learn computer coding, and she loves it. And she's been doing like freelance stuff with that for the last few years. And that didn't cost her nearly as much money, and it was an accelerated course, and she loved it. So maybe, maybe the idea is that we don't have to spend. 31:36 hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education anymore. We just need to know where to learn the information from. Right, right. So. Right. Agreed. Yeah, it was a rough patch for her and she is incredibly bright. And I think that she just felt like she had wasted her time and her money on that degree because she thought she was supposed to get it. So yeah, it's really hard. 32:06 when the world tells you go to school, get straight A's, and then go to college and get straight A's and then try to find a job in the field you went to school for because it's not as easy as it sounds. For sure not. So anyway, I could talk about that for months. I have had long conversations with other friends who have kids who have been through the college path and we're pretty much all on the same page. 32:36 So anyway, Rob, I'm really, I don't know, I got a lot going on today, so I'm gonna keep this short. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I appreciate it. Thank you, Mary. Appreciate it, appreciate you too. Appreciate what you're doing. I'm trying to get you guys' information out to the world as much as I can. Thank you. All right, have a great day. Thank you. Bye.
The Old Farmers Almanac
May 13 2024
The Old Farmers Almanac
Today I'm talking with Carol at The Old Farmers Almanac about gardening by the phases of the moon, frost dates, and the history of the almanac. You can follow on Facebook, as well. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking with Carol at the Old Farmer's Almanac. Hi, Carol. How are you doing today? I'm good. How are you doing, Mary? I'm great. Thank you for being here. Tell me about yourself and about what the Old Farmer's Almanac is. 00:23 Well, the Almanac is ultimately really a calendar and a calendar of the heavens. And so, you know, old farmers or new farmers tend to need calendars because we like to know what's going on and what we need to be planning ahead for. But yeah, the greatest thing about the Almanac, I think, is that it's 232 going on 233 years old. So I'm the newest editor. I'm the 14th editor. I'm the second female editor. 00:51 of the almanac in all those years. So it's quite an honor and a responsibility. But I think we just see that there's such a resurgence and an interest in all of the things that the almanac is about, whether it's gardening and farming or astronomy or folklore or home remedies, those sorts of things. People are really paying more attention to those. So it's a great place to be. 01:18 Yankee Publishing is our home publisher and I worked here 20 years ago on a different publication for Yankee Magazine. So it's a bit of a homecoming for me. I've always been a fan of the Almanac. So it's great to be here. Very nice. So can you tell me where the Almanacs, actually before we even get there, there are two farmers' Almanacs. The old farmers' Almanac is the original? Yes. 01:45 So who puts out the other one? Not that I want to give them any press, but I don't know. We don't know a lot about them either, honestly. They are out of Maine. We are out of Dublin, New Hampshire. And the farmer, not the old farmers, the other one is, I think it started in the 80s or 90s. It's not that old. I think distribution-wise, they are pretty much in New England, whereas we are... 02:13 you know, all of North America. And I think they sell about, maybe their publication is about 300,000, you know, and we sell almost 3 million. So it's a little different, you know, I think, but again, like almanacs, when we started our almanac, there was many almanacs and really ours just kind of, well, we know that the weather was more accurate and we know that we were more entertaining. That's why we stuck around. So. 02:42 Honestly, there was always almanacs. So it's really kind of great that there are more than less, because some are regional, some are really specific to a certain aspect of almanacs typically. So good competition to have, I guess. So you guys are the old farmer's almanac, and you've been around for over 200 years, you said? Yes, 1792, first year. All right. So I have a little tiny story to share about your publication. 03:12 I think that the old farmer's almanac was probably one of the first things I read when I was six years old. I think. Cool. So, yeah, my dad bought it every year because he grew a garden and he needed to know when the safe time to plant was and when the full moon was going to be and all those things that are in there. You mentioned weather. 03:40 the coming weather is going to be. Are you at liberty to share that? Of course. And so yes, that's really what has been, I think, anybody who plants things in the ground, we're always pretty obsessed with the weather. What's it going to do? And so that's true for since, really, if you think back, people that are now homesteaders like yourself or farmers or if they aren't, it's only a couple of generations back that all of us were farmers. 04:10 The weather is of key importance. And as we have weirder weather too, we get a lot of more interest in it. And so from the beginning, it's been about data. It's been about this special formula. And so our founder, Robert B. Thomas, whose birthday is coming up, he really believed in and studied astronomy and planet science and pinned his algorithms and his data. 04:40 data at that time, of course, what he had to three sciences. And sunspot, sun science, sunspot activity is really the one that I think sets us apart in terms of our long range forecasting. We also use climate science and meteorology, but it's really that idea of layering the data that we have in those three science areas, one on top of each other and looking at patterns across... 05:08 that very large data set. And of course, in those days, we do have Robert B. Thomas' hand calculations. And these days we can crunch even more data, even more data is available. But to be more nuanced about it, for sun science, the sun is in its 25th cycle that it's been recorded and these cycles are 12, 13. 05:35 more, sometimes years old, years. And so this worth the very end of the 25th cycle, and it's quite a crazy cycle. It's been tons of sunspot activity, which does impact our weather. And so yeah, that's from the, from time beginning, that's how it's been done. And now we, we work with, you know, premier weather forecasters who use our same formula from the beginning. But of course, like I said, so much more data to go by. 06:04 At the same time, we are finding lots of aberrations. There was three La Niña years and now we're in El Niño. And because they don't typically come that many in a row, that's had some differences and not as predictable, I think. So we've had to do some art and science. Yeah, this winter in Minnesota, 06:32 was the strangest winter I have ever seen. Tell me what happened. Nothing. Nothing happened. Basically, last winter, we got piled with snow. Two winters ago. This winter, I think if we got a foot of snow, we were lucky. And it rained like crazy yesterday. Yesterday, the winds were almost tornado. 07:01 number wind gusts and it poured all day. It would have been two and a half feet of snow if it had been snow. It's just been the craziest, weirdest winter of my entire life. And I grew up in Maine. I've lived in Minnesota for over 25 years now. And there were some crazy winters in Maine, but this was not the winter we were expecting this 23, 24. 07:29 It's same here. We thought it was, we had, we probably predicted the right amount of precipitation. Um, I'm guessing in a lot of places this year, but not the right kind of precipitation. It was definitely less cold than we predicted. And so, um, many places where we predicted, you know, crazy white outs, it was really a wet out. The idea being, and you know, a lot of that is that, that the jet stream is when it's slow, it does, it does kind of crazy things. 07:59 And that's what we're seeing. It's been a slower, wavier jet stream for a while. And so that affects different, different teleconnections is the word. Yeah. And you can't win them all. It's a prediction. It's not set in stone. So I appreciate what you guys try to do. And when you get it dead on, that's awesome. Yeah. But what's the prediction for the summer? Do you know that off the top of your head? Because I haven't actually looked yet. 08:29 Um, for Minnesota. Sure. Um, and I kind of think of you, let me just look at my farmers. I'm like, well, I have it because I was on the phone with Canada and really you, you're kind of, it depends on where you are in Minnesota. Are you, I was trying to figure out if you're in Northern Minnesota? No, we are about an hour Southwest of the twin cities. So you're not quite in the prairies, I guess I would say. And it's, it's pretty flat and there's a lot of cornfields. So my, my idea of a prairie, it fits it pretty well. 08:59 So I'm going to, I think what you're describing is what we are seeing, especially even in Southern Canada, which is, you know, just really north of you and also where you are, is that it's a bit of an aberration. So that there's kind of what our weather forecasters have been talking to us about our winter and fall hangovers. So winter's hanging on a little bit more where you are and going a little bit later, whether that's rain or snow. And then you're getting a drier, warmer fall. 09:29 Okay. So that's what we're predicting for that area. And then, you know, like everywhere, probably a little bit warmer than average temperatures this summer. Great. I'm very excited about this. Last summer, we had rain from mid-May until I think the end of June. How did your garden grow? Our garden did okay. 09:57 Our potatoes did not do great because we had them in raised beds. And I don't know what you know about gardening, but when you have raised beds, sometimes they don't get watered as often as say the big old open garden does. And it was very, very dry from the end of June until September. So our potatoes did not do well, but the rest of the garden did pretty good. 10:27 I just was trying to figure out what we're looking at for this year because I have tomato babies on my kitchen table right now. I have basil babies on my kitchen table right now. And my husband is just dying to get things in the ground. And I told him, I said, it's only April 17th, hun. I said, we never plant anything until at least May 15th, so just relax. And you know, at almanac.com, you can just... 10:53 punch in your zip code and then it'll tell you by plant, you know, what is your frost date and your best moon by the moon planting date. Yeah. And what does the moon have to do with all of this? Because I figure that's a good question that most people won't know about. It's my favorite topic. What's the moon got to do with it? It's got everything to do with it though. We were just... 11:17 talking among the editors yesterday and how there was a new study that also shows that Mars affects our tides, but I can't tell you about that just yet. Okay. But the moon, so you live in the landlocked area, so you don't maybe see it as much, but if you're on the coast, a tide is going to be higher during the full moon. And so- 11:41 what moon gardening or gardening by the phases of the moon takes into account is saying the water that the moon moves, just like it moves the ocean, water is in the ground. We are, what are we, 60, 70 percent water? Plants are 90 percent water. And so it's this idea that there is a tide, you know, even the earth and the water underneath the earth. 12:10 is subject to being influenced by the moon's effect. And so how that operates is it's saying that when the moon is waxing, when the moon is growing in its light in the sky, that water is drawn up and out. And so that's a time to plant certain crops. You know, it's a time to plant things that you want to grow up and out. So, but we would say then during a waning phase, 12:39 as the light is retreating, that means the water is also being drawn back into the earth. So root crops would be the best thing to be planted at that time to just take advantage of that natural essentially tide that's in all water. So that's a very basic way of thinking about it. And then there are, in terms of astronomically... 13:07 you know, the zodiac has an astronomical as well as a, um, astrology component, but the astronomical one is also something that people tend to layer over, um, this idea of the moon phases and get even more intricate with their, with their planting. But that's the idea. And it's also, you know, applies to kind of the tasks of gardening is where, you know, those first two weeks of a new moon, um, it's a time to be planting and starting. And then as the new, as the full moon passes. 13:37 That's a time to be cleaning up and revisiting that cycle. So it's really just about that cycle. Does that kind of make sense? Yeah. So it's no different really than the whole planning for the seasons. You're planning for the moon cycle as well. Yes. Okay. Cool. So is the Old Farmer's Almanac still in print? Because I think I saw it for sale at Fleet Farm a couple years ago. 14:05 But I haven't actually noticed lately because I've been busy doing other things and my husband will look things up online instead of going and buying a copy because we're terrible people. So, is it still in print? Yes, we print almost three million copies a year. Yes, it's about 10 bucks, so it's still a great bargain. But it's great. You can find awesome information on almanac.com. And we have hundreds and hundreds and thousands of pages. And really for... 14:35 particular plants. If it's like, okay, I want to plant hydrangea. Okay, I want hot peppers. We have just wonderful grow guides for each and every vegetable and flower that we have up there. So great resource. We don't duplicate much online that we have in the issue. We don't give away our whole forecast, for instance, online. We have people buy that and there's reference sections that you could find in different places, but wouldn't be sort of 15:04 There's a whole set of features that doesn't go online. And I'm trying to think what other pieces of it. Oh, the farmer's calendars and the calendar itself, you know, so that piece isn't online. But lots of the growing resources are and a lot of sky-watching resources and planetary resources are online. Okay. The reason I asked is because there's so many print publications that have gone... 15:32 away from print, but you can find them online instead. And I love that you guys still have one you can actually hold in your hand and flip the pages with your fingers. Yeah, totally. People love it. And you know, it's, the newsstand has gone away, just to speak a little bit about the business. You know, it's like if you go to your grocery store, say, you know, there's very few magazines or there's not maybe even like a periodical section anymore. So we've done a lot of creative things. 15:59 and to be in different marketplaces. And it's really been a success that way so that people can find us in a lot of different spots. Yeah, I'm gonna go out on a little bit of a limb again. I try not to go too far out because I don't wanna make anybody really angry, but I was late to the e-reader. 16:21 I really did not want to read things on a tablet or on a computer screen. I loved books. I loved libraries. I loved bookstores. And ever since I finally caved and bought my first Nook e-reader, and I don't even know if Barnes & Noble is still doing that, but I don't spend a lot of time with an actual book or magazine or newspaper in my hand anymore because I just read it on my tablet. 16:51 I feel like a traitor because I really did love hard copy words. So I guess it's okay because it doesn't necessarily matter how you're getting the words into your brain to get the ideas flowing. But I kind of miss the smell of a good library and a good bookstore. That's funny. I used to work at a library before this job, so I get your drift. Yeah. 17:20 But we do offer an e-version for your Nook or your Kindle. So that's definitely doable for people. But yeah, lots of people really like the print. I think that we've been thinking about the newer audience and younger readers and thinking about it'd be kind of fun to do a little video. I think we'll do one in the fall about how to use the Almanac because it's got some really quirky stuff in it that you don't find online. That's just pretty neat. How you... 17:49 kind of walk through the days of the year and what symbols and stuff we have. So we've been thinking about that just to refresh, you know. That would be fun. Yeah. So, okay, so do you, are you familiar with the beginning history of the old farmer's almanac? Yes. I mean, pretty much so, you know, I can tell you what I know. How did it start? 18:17 Robert B. Thomas was our founder. In fact, I was just reading about him the other day. He's an interesting fellow. He was really self, well, the time, you know, in 1780s, 1770, I think he started the Almanac, well, he started in 1792, and I wanna say he was maybe 25. He was the editor for 40-something more years, which he lived a good long life for those times. And so his father, he wrote that his father, 18:46 really was their main educator and that he was very educated and that they were lucky in that they had a lot of books in their home. Back in those days, you might have the Bible and an almanac, maybe one of the earliest ones, but Benjamin Franklin was an almanac editor slash creator. So at the time, this was the next piece of information that people really needed after the 19:16 You know, as Robert B. Thomas was gaining his own education, he was fascinated by astronomy. And he kept seeing, if you read his writing, he'd see these almanacs and he's like, I can do better. You know, I can do better. And so he was really quite a go-getter. And so he did. He got his almanac off the ground. And as I said, I think really, when we look back, he committed himself to that science about the long range forecasting. 19:45 And he did have a lot of successes and a lot of right things that happened. But also he wanted his Almanac to be entertaining because, okay, you know, it's an early, it's an early homestead. And, you know, this book gives you something to look at every single day of the year. There's information, many pieces of it really. So, so he was really an innovator. 20:13 I think when it came to Almanacs, there were Almanacs, but he committed himself to his being really great and different. So those are the beginnings. It's fun. I don't think that we're really, we're not doing pictures, but we have the old Almanacs here in the office and it's just so interesting to me how some of the same things, like we've done green manure stories since the beginning. And how to grow. Of course, we started as a New England. 20:42 product and your main person from your origins, but the idea of growing wheat or hay in New England, how to do it, who had to feed their livestock. So yeah, I think it's kind of interesting to me when I even go back 200 years, 150 years, how relevant that information is still. It's amazing. Yeah, absolutely. It's... Okay. 21:08 Again, I'm going to say something that people are probably going to get yelled at about. If you're doing it the way that it was done 200 years ago, it's probably good. 21:20 Yeah, I don't know if you know, I think permaculture is a word we use these days. And to me, you know, having experience with biodynamic farming and organic farming and these different ideas, permaculture really describes to me what was happening here, you know, when people became and came to settle this country. So yeah, that idea of 21:46 having things locally available and sharing knowledge with your neighbors is really, it's really, it's something that hasn't grown old. No, it's where it's at, as my daughter would say jokingly because she thinks that's a very old fashioned phrase. Okay, so in the Old Farmer's Almanac, it's about the phases of the moon and how to... 22:14 use those to plant. It's about growing things. It's about weather. Are there any like stories in it at all? Totally. Totally. Yes? Okay. So this year we've got, well it's the year of the grain. And so we talk about how to grow grains. So you know there's that. We do farmer profiles all over North America. So we talk to farmers whether they're date farmers or dairy farmers or small 22:43 We really have a smattering across Canada and the US. So those are really interesting to see again, how farming at different levels is taking old ways and refreshing them. We always have a ton of food stories. So we've got a great pancake story in the 2024 issue. And fishing is another area where we have a big following. And so we have a cool story on just... 23:11 having a fun fishing outing. We always have our maps and our calendars. This year we had a great story on leap day because it was a leap year and the eclipse because of the eclipse. And then, you know, sometimes you'll just see, like I said, okay, green manure. Well, this, we always have tons of growing stories, but we do, we have like the perfect seed germination recipe because we all know if you don't get that right, you're really in trouble. You never do enough tomatoes. Like we don't, you know, we... 23:41 We have a great story on toast, how to make the best bread for toast. But I think tomatoes is almost something you'll find always in our issue, either that or the garden guide. So people always want homegrown tomatoes, so there's always tips there. And then we have recipe and essay contests. So we have reader recipes and essays, and those are really fun and usually delicious recipes. Cool. Yeah. The germination thing. My kid wanted to do. 24:11 the baby lettuces, because he likes to eat them when they're just a little tiny. And he got a flat bucket. I think it was probably supposed to be a cat litter box, but it's clean. So he threw some compost from our compost pile in there and he spread the lettuce seeds in and he got one lettuce plant out of like 40 seeds. And I think that it was probably a package of seeds from four or five years ago. And maybe it's just not good. 24:41 So I asked him the other day if he wanted to replant them and he was like, nah, he said, I was waiting until dad plants the garden. I was to get him out of the garden. I was like, okay, that's fine. And the kid is 22. It's not like he's five. It wasn't like this was a new concept to him. He was like, I'm going to try to grow some. I was like, you do that. That's fine. So yeah. It's the first step and it's the hardest sometimes. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. 25:11 my husband put in the tomato seeds and basil seeds. The basil seeds took like two and a half weeks to pop up. I was like, they're supposed to be up at 10 days. And he says, I don't know what's going on. And now they're basil. You know, I could kill the baby plants by pulling the two leaves off of every one, but I'm not gonna do that. But they look like basil plants, so. Did you do, do you have any grow lights? Or are you using like a just sunny window? 25:40 Oh no, we have a grow light. We have a long grow light that's hung from the kitchen light fixture above the table and everything's coming in great. Tomatoes are like five inches tall and they've only been in for three weeks. So, they're doing great. And boy, life really, really changed the game. Even the small one, like I've been seeing them for sale, you know, whatever, discounters and you know, for people that... 26:07 It's just such a jump on the season. It's just, and it's also, I feel like having that light on and around and seeing little baby things grow is just the perfect antidote to a late spring. Yeah, it saves us from our winter depression because by the end of February in Minnesota, we're like, oh my God, I need green plants. This is terrible help. So we just put them in and they grow. It's amazing. 26:31 Okay, so I have one more thing that I would like to share from our experience. And you can tell me what you think about it. When we bought this place back in 2020, we moved in August. So it was way too late to start a garden. And that does not mean that my husband did not start prepping for the following spring. He's the gardener. He loves it. But, uh, 26:56 It was really hard because there was nothing here. It was a blank slate. So that was great because we could make it we wanted it to be. But that first spring was rough because there were no flowers coming up because the person that owned it before wasn't a flower gardener and it killed me. Cause I had flowers at the old place like crazy and having nothing coming up in May was heartbreaking. So, so I guess. 27:25 As someone who's very steeped in all of this, if someone was looking for, I don't know, a bigger property, like say, going from a tenth of an acre to an acre, going from five acres to 10 or 20, when is a good time to make that jump during the year? Because I think we did it right because we moved in August, we knew the first year was going to be building it up. 27:55 And so August seemed like a good timeframe, not that we planned it that way. But do you have any suggestions? Oh gosh. And I mean, in this market, it's kind of like, can you pick when you do anything? Well, the planning part. Yeah. Well, yeah, that's such an interesting question. I guess because you don't know what's there. You know, I actually, the last place I've been, I'm moving to be closer to my job, which is great, but. 28:24 I also purchased in August and so I could see that some things were coming up or had been up earlier in the year, but it really wasn't until the following spring that I got a good sense of what was there and was able to plan. So the biggest plan I could really make was for a vegetable garden because there hadn't been one. So that from scratch gave me time, which was nice. There was an herb garden and an herb space there, so I was able to do that right away. 28:52 but I did take the time to really think about and plan my vegetable garden and get it set up well. So that was one, I think, advantage to having it from scratch. But yeah, it's so many factors, Mary. Like I think like if you're gonna add a greenhouse, like, you know, needing to plan and really wanting to know where does the shade fall all year long before I put up a structure? Yeah. You know, so I think there's a lot of factors that go into it. 29:20 I guess ideally my feeling would be January's when we all start to really want to plan. So it'd be nice to move in the late fall or winter, even though it's not a great place, time to move, but then have all that time to settle in and plan so that at least your house on the inside is okay so when you're ready to step out. 29:44 Yeah, yeah, that too. Our realtor is actually a family friend now. We love her. She told me back years ago that September is the most popular month for people to be moving into a new place because the school year is starting in September. Right. And I feel like it's not just the school year. I feel like it's the time where 30:12 where summer's pretty much over and you're getting into your fall routine and then the holiday routine and then January hits and you have time to breathe again. Yes. So, maybe we did it at exactly the right time because it worked out perfectly. We had all the time in the world to get everything moved in, to get things put away, to get through the holiday season. And then January hit and my husband said, so. 30:40 we now have room for a humongous garden. What are we going to do? I was like, I think you're going to garden. He said, yes, I understand that. And this is a relationship we have. He does not call me a smart ass when I say things like that. And when he asks me obvious questions, I don't say, thank you Captain Obvious. So, but we think it real loud. It's very funny. But he had time, and I had time to sit down. 31:04 and draw up the plan and figure out what we wanted to grow and what we needed to do to get those things started. One other thing that might be nice about that time of year too is if you do know or there aren't flowers, you can put in bulbs. So you have something when the spring wakes up. Yeah, we did not do that. We actually put in bulbs the following fall, I think. 31:32 No, maybe we did. Maybe we put in tulips that first fall because I knew it was going to destroy me come spring when there were no peonies. But yeah, right now we've got daffodils blooming and we've got tulips that should be blooming in a week and we have many, many peonies that will be coming in June. I'm very excited about my peonies because we had tons where we used to live and now we don't have tons, we have many. 32:02 Well, I bet with the lack of flowers when you first got there, it really makes a difference for the pollinators. I think I've been to lots of places that are food focused and I think, oh, just put in some butterfly bush or some echinacea or coneflower, get some pollinators. Yeah. We tried putting in echinacea and prairie fireweed or whatever it is that grows native to Minnesota and flots. 32:32 and some other things. And then the drought hit and because we put them where they weren't obvious, they didn't get watered. So we spent probably $120 on native plants and they all died. I was so sad. Those expensive lessons. Yeah, we're not going to do that again. Next time I'm going to be like, okay, so we're putting them where we remember where they are so we remember to water them. But 32:58 There is a man who lives a mile and a half away, maybe two miles away, who keeps honeybees. So we are never without honeybees, which is wonderful. It's good to know your neighbors and then you know what resources they're gonna share by accident. But yeah, it's, I don't know. The reason I asked about the when is the best time of year to make the jump is because 33:26 We had already been gardening at our old place. We had already been making things from scratch. We had already been freezing produce, and now we can produce, because we can, can produce. And we knew enough that it wasn't that hard to shift from a 10th of an acre lot in town to a three acre lot five miles outside of town. It was a natural progression for us. But... 33:52 I feel like there's probably people who are watching this homesteading movement that started back when COVID happened, who don't necessarily have the experience where it would be a natural progression for them to make the jump. So I was hoping that maybe by saying, is there a good time for that jump, that that would help them. 34:18 Well, that is a great time, as you know, as you described. And, but I also think, like I see, like you said, this, this movement, I see, I see a lot more people just adding raised beds in their yard for starters. Like when I drive around, I see that. And are we just, um, we just, uh, issued our third book in our handbook series, the container gardeners handbook and that, and container gardening is really. Just soaring because people can do that anywhere on a patio or on a balcony, you know, but there's this. 34:47 just really desire to be growing our own food and herbs and things like that. So, so, you know, yes, I think that it's wonderful for people to think now if they want to make that leap, you know, now's the time to plan that for the fall. But there's also opportunities, you know, all around the year for people that, that want to, you know, that don't have the means, more the desire to move that can still have things at their fingertips, you know, that we know that it's just not, it's beyond. 35:16 It's beyond growing your own food. We know that, you know, touching the earth is like an antidepressant and flowers and scents and tastes are as well. Yeah. Yep. Absolutely. You don't have to live. You don't have to live in a certain place to grow things. You can grow things on your kitchen window sill if you want to. Absolutely. So. All right. Well, um. 35:43 I tell me the old farmers almanac website address, please. Yes, it's simply almanac.com. Nice, simple, really simple. Good. All right. And are you guys on Facebook? Do you have a Facebook page or group or something? Yes, we're on Instagram and we're on Pinterest and Facebook as the old farmers almanac and did I say Instagram and YouTube also we have a wonderful grow veg is our partner in our garden planner. And there's 36:12 great videos, growing videos that are also on almanac.com. Fantastic. All right, Carol, thank you so much for talking with me today. I really wanted to talk to someone at your place about this, because my podcast is called A Tiny Homestead, and I knew about the almanac. And I was like, not everybody knows about the almanac. I need to get somebody from them to talk to me about it. Thanks for having me, Mary. You're welcome. Have a great day. You too. 36:41 Alright, bye.
Short Stack Ranch
May 10 2024
Short Stack Ranch
Today I'm talking with Therese at Short Stack Ranch. 00:00 This is Mary Lewis at A Tiny Homestead, the podcast comprised entirely of conversations with homesteaders, cottage food producers, and crafters. Today I'm talking with Therese at Shortstack Ranch. Good morning, Therese. How are you? Good morning. I'm doing very well. Thank you. Good. You're in California? I am. We are in Northern California, just a little bit north of Sacramento. Okay. Well, tell me about yourself in Shortstack Ranch. 00:26 So the short stack ranch, I retired from 25 years with the California Department of Corrections about two years ago, and it had always been my dream to have comfort care minis, you know? And I never really thought it would happen, but I've also been heavily involved since I was in college with Special Olympics. 00:50 And everything just kind of fell together. I was gifted two beautiful miniature horses by a wonderful woman, Sharon Mariam, who had had them both for 15 and 30 years, but she's been involved in the mini world for about 35 years. And I had asked her to mentor me and she is luckily was just trying to get out of the mini world because of age and other commitments and things like that. 01:18 So she mentored me, very special to me. So it just kind of grew. We ended up getting Kenny and Kevin, and then we got two goats that were supposedly pregnant, and they were supposed to be due any minute, and 58 days later, my one goat was not pregnant at all, and the other goat had four, which is... 01:46 incredibly unusual. You know, they only have two teats and really can only, you know, manage about two. Well, we ended up bottle feeding three of them, which is just like a newborn baby every three hours. Bottle feeding those guys. And then in that process, we got kind of every a whole bunch of stuff happened at once. Kevin suffered a pretty bad. 02:15 well, a very bad injury. He had fallen and he suffered a spinal cord injury to his neck. And we did not think that he would make it. He did not stand for almost 10 days. He was completely paralyzed from the neck down. And he was such a fighter. Limus Basin Medical Equine Facility was amazing because he was so little. He was under 200 pounds. We could 02:45 It took us about, he got out of the intensive care about 58 days later and was walking with a limp, but we worked on his physical therapy. And in the meantime, we ended up getting two donkeys from a kill pen that were very badly neglected, could barely walk, one had one eye. So that was Bailey and Baxter. 03:14 And then we had heard about a gentleman who had passed away and left five minis behind with nobody to take them. And over the course of the next two months, we ended up getting four of those. One had passed while it was still at the sanctuary. And so that was Sophia and Rose. And goodness gracious, I'm kind of spacing out. Chandler. 03:41 his, which we changed his name to Wyatt and Jesse. So we had those four. Yes. And so we now had this zoo basically. And we also have two great Danes that are very, very large, a silver lab that was rescued and a cat that came with the house that we rent. Very nice. That's the short back ranch 04:11 We sadly did end up losing Kevin. He just succumbed to his injuries. Just wasn't strong enough a couple months ago. And Wyatt, who was 32, also passed. But they both had wonderful end of life here with all of their buddies around. And we've had, you know, I have friends and family and just people that I know and my Special Olympic athletes come by and 04:41 Everybody loves on them. They're just incredible. We've taken some of them to memory care facilities. I'm learning how to do that. It's a process. Everything is every day is a learning process. A couple of them starred in a in a manger scene at one of the local churches and were part of a play. So it's been it's been crazy. 05:10 Not at all what I had thought would happen when I ventured into this. You know, we, we, it is a financial burden, that's for sure. But it is one that, you know, I look at my life and I'm like, Oh my gosh, this, it couldn't be any better. You know, it's just happy. I have, I have so many questions. 05:36 So is it, are you registered as a 501c3 nonprofit or how are you doing that? I am working on that. I'm not super good with that kind of stuff. I'm that likes hanging out with the horses and doesn't like paperwork, I'll admit it. But we are in the process of doing that. 05:59 It is, we kind of had to take a break. We had some pretty bad storms out here and it was about a month after we finished building everything, my poor husband built everything. We had a really bad storm of hurricane level winds and it took away all of our barns and all of our fencing. So we are literally in the process, if anybody's been following us on Facebook and Instagram of rebuilding. And it's, you know, everything happens for a reason. We've met so many wonderful people along the way. 06:29 We did have a friend of mine set up a GoFundMe for Kevin's expenses, because they were upwards of 20,000. Yeah. But, you know, God provides. We certainly feel that God provides. And it's just, you know, we're working on that. I'm trying to find the right way to go about it, you know? But there's been, right now, it's just get themselves and get their homes back. 06:56 to where they're back in stalls and all of that. And then that's gonna be my next adventure of getting that squared down. Cause it's all, this has happened literally, it's almost a year on May 26th is when I took Kenny and Kevin. And so we're not even in 365 days into this. So it's a lot has happened in that short period of time. 07:22 Yeah, I'm guessing that the name Shortstack Ranch is because all of your rescues are minis. Yes, my dog came up with that and did a logo for me. So we got that done. And yeah, so and it's funny because our Great Danes are actually larger than our horses and our donkeys. Oh, yeah, absolutely. Great Danes are moose dogs. They're humongous. 07:51 Danes, so they're even bigger. We have one that's close to 200 pounds. Wow. I can't even imagine. Our dog weighs 35 pounds. So they're, they're like seven times bigger than she is. That would be crazy. When we got the great Danes, we had a little Boston and they were all so close. I mean, it's every, all of our animals just. 08:19 just cuddle and are just wonderful together to see their interaction from all sizes. The Danes love the horses. Anytime they're out, that's where they're heading. And it's funny because they're runners. They like to run, so we don't let them out off leash. We have a pretty large, almost an acre fenced in for just the dogs. And they do happen to sneak away. We just go out to the barn and there they are. They want to be with their buddies. 08:49 Yeah, yeah, they think they can play with them, but I don't know how that would go because they play rough. Yeah. Yeah. So how big is a mini horse on average? On the average, so there's some standards from the AMH, which is the American Miniature Horse Registry, AMHR. And it's 27 inches, there's different, different ones. My smallest one was 27 inches. That was Wyatt. He was barely 150 pounds. 09:19 Up to 38 inches, I have one that would be Jesse that's on the tallest side. And then the rest are all within the 30 inch, 31 inch range. So they're short guys. They're short guys. They are. Okay. I got hooked on watching Katie Van Slyke on Facebook and her mini horse just had a baby like three days ago. 09:49 That's kind of how I started. I started following her and with Poppy and Petunia. Yes, yes. And it's like my guilty pleasure. I get up in the morning early and it's still dark out and the house is quiet. And I have my coffee and I flip on the local news and I'll pull up Katie and see what she's posted overnight. It's terrible. I feel like a stalker. 10:18 West Coast, it's later. So I get like in the middle of the night, I'll wake up and I look and I see has she posted, you know, and it's like, it's happened. And by the time I get up and I do the same thing, when I'm getting ready, I have my coffee and I just put the horses out. But I, that's the first place I go is who was born? What's up? But yes, her little guy with Karen, it is incredible how tiny they really are. And it's, it's 10:46 very hard to tell until you actually see them, you know, standing up. And Katie's a tall, she's a tall girl. So yeah. Yeah. I think that that that new baby squirt is about the same size as my dog. That's what I'm guessing. He's taller, but I'm assuming he's probably 35 pounds. Yeah. I mean, he barely, he comes up to her knees and the other. 11:15 up to her waist. So yeah. Yeah. Wyatt, if you look at the pictures at the short stack ranch, Wyatt, when we brought him home, he was, he's below my waist. I mean, his, literally his, his back is to my thigh. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It makes me want one, but then I think he probably, they probably eat a lot and feed is expensive. So I'm probably not ever going to have a mini horse. I just 11:45 they don't. They are very manageable. They don't eat a lot. No, they don't. They, you know, they eat one to two percent of their body weight in hay and then they get some supplements in grain. But, you know, Kenny is my chunky dunk. He's, I call him my king. He looks at food and he gets fat. 12:08 And the rest, the rest get kind of normal. They're, they're a little bit harder keepers, which means that they don't put on weight as fast. Kimmy gets a quarter cup of grain and a, and a quarter pound of hay morning and night. Wow. Okay. Nothing. Now the others get, um, about a quarter of a flake, but a flake, if you just, you want to, they need, they need a partner. Um, and, uh, 12:36 Yeah, it is. And the vet bills and the farrier bills are much lower because they're tiny. They do have some other specific needs, you know, as far as how they work and what they can eat and how you manage them. But they're there. You could easily do to. Yeah. Fine. And you can decide. 13:00 My husband would not be happy with me if I was like, I think we should get too many horses and we should get them as babies. He would be like, you are out of your mind. No. No, but that's how it starts. Maybe start with some baby goats. The miniature goats are pretty cute too. 13:23 Yeah, I don't know. I am so on the fence about any more critters. We have the dog, we have three barn cats, and we have like 18 or 19 chickens. And we have a 3.1 acre property. You have plenty of them. With house and big pole barn and the whole bit. And I'm not letting you off the hook. Yeah, I don't know. We... 13:48 We have a lot going on right now. So I think I'm going to wait until this winter to float any more new ideas to him, cause he's going to be like, no, no, no, no, no. And now my husband has literally almost every day for a year. I've been a farm boy. Yup. But it is, it is very, um, very fulfilling and heartwarming, but you know, but it is a commitment. Um, you know, you, you can't. 14:17 go anywhere past five o'clock, you can't go anywhere early in the morning. You know, I mean, you have to have some kind of a backup system. You know, we don't vacation. I mean, we have, you know, 14 animals. Where are we going to go that somebody's going to come and watch 14 animals? Yeah. If you have a high school near you, maybe a high school student who's interested in animal husbandry and ag might want to come. 14:43 We've actually talked about that. We have a couple people who say that, you know, we have a great friend that does it, but we like people to spend the night at the house. And then then that puts you into the 18 and over age. And it's funny because everybody has a dog or everybody, you know, think, well, you can't bring your dogs, but we do have options and we have we have gone away. It's just one of those things to where I will admit, I just want to get back home. I miss them so much. They are definitely I am still obsessed. 15:14 with them. I go out and I just sit out there with a glass of wine in my chair and I sit in the pasture and they snuggle and nuzzle and kiss and my donkeys literally sit on my lap. Yeah, their donkeys are like the most Velcro dogs you've ever seen. They're amazing. But yeah, it's certainly been a wonderful thing that I never thought I would do. 15:42 until I started watching Katie, because she is literally my inspiration. I was retiring and I started having a little bit more time because working for corrections, you don't have your phone with you a lot, things like that. And it was like, oh, well, and I started following her and I'm like, oh my gosh, I want this. And I was going to get the mini cows, but to find them in a rescue situation, because that was something that was very important 16:11 to rescue is fault. And then it's going to sound kind of funny, but I don't really like cow manure. No problem with horse and goat. It's just easy. I don't mind picking it up. I don't mind dealing with it. But cow patties are not my favorite thing. And so we ended up going with more horses and no cow. 16:41 Well, maybe the perfect mini cow who needs to be saved will find you. That could be, you know, I find that if you open the doors, things happen. And what's happened here with this whole crazy thing. Yeah. Well, I think it's wonderful that you're doing this. I don't know that I have. 17:07 the energy or the patience to do anything like that. So I'm glad there's people in the world like you who do. Well, thank you. Yeah, it is. 17:17 We I'm 60 and so it's kind of funny literally in my will I have set up for them because I don't want them to be in the situation to how I got them. You know, so the other thing about rescuing older like my youngest is 15 is their life expectancy is about 30 to 35. So it's a huge commitment. It's much bigger than getting a dog, you know, and the minis, they live longer than normal horses. 17:45 I should say not normal, but standard size horses. Yeah. And it is a big commitment. And that was one of the things that was very important to my husband and I is to ensure that they have a place to go and they are financially able to be taken care of as well as our family, if anything happens to us, because we don't want them just left on property like we found many of our. 18:13 Yeah, that kind of defeats the purpose of all the work that you've done. So I can understand why you want to make sure that they're taken care of. Yeah. So, yep. Okay. So what's the plan for short stack ranch long term? Long term is to get everything rebuilt. We are getting close. We just literally yesterday finished fencing the perimeter. 18:39 and got the grass mowed because you can't put them just straight out on the grass. It's too rich. So there today, they are going to go out for their first time for a couple hours on the grass and have some, you know, back to instead of the temporary pasture that I had for them, which was more of a pen, get that room to move, get everything rebuilt, and then start, you know, I've been working with them and Sharon comes out, she'll be out here later today. And we 19:09 are working with some of these rescues to see what their mannerisms are even more. 19:21 I only take two that I'm more comfortable with, but get the others a little bit more accustomed to different environments and possibly have them do different things such as driving, you know, which is pulling a cart and just getting it more set up to where people can come and visit and get their hearts warmed by just having them love on them. 19:50 and visit, not just necessarily the people you talked about before. That's what we would like. We don't want to make a business out of it. We're very, very blessed. We rent our property. Our landlord, when we were looking, his ad said, small dogs considered. 20:20 photo and just said, if this is a deal breaker, just let us know and we won't bother you anymore. And they said, well, come on out. And then a year later, like I said, they agreed to this. So we do want to keep things manageable, you know, as far as not just have this be, you know, like just a ton of people all the time. But people that need it, it's a very small town. Lincoln is a very small town, so I don't see it being anything crazy