Turning Jungle Into a Homestead

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Our fenced in garden and milk cows in the pasture at SIFAT Internado where we presently live.

Before moving to South America over a year and a half ago, we spent time at ECHO in Florida for training and hands-on experience, preparing for life in this new country. One bit of counsel from several missionaries and development workers was to spend the first year doing mostly nothing but learning to know the people and their ways. It is tempting to start with big plans and ideas, trying to do something great right away, often ending in failure and poor relationships. We tried to follow this advice and spent the first year visiting many people and learning how they do things, from agriculture to cooking, from building houses to making a living, and many other things.

We hoped to buy property for our new homestead within several months of arriving, but God had different plans. Nothing worked out, no matter how hard we tried to find a place suitable and in our budget. We temporarily gave up and determined to focus our attention on people and helping to maintain and improve the grounds here at SIFAT’s boarding house where we are still living.

One day last year we had a local national family over for lunch, and out of the blue the father mentioned a property his friend was trying to sell. His friend needed money for a debt, so he was asking for the actual land value rather than an inflated price, as many were doing. The title was free and clear, an impossible hurdle with many properties.

When we looked at the property it felt like home, similar to when we bought our central Florida property several years ago. A few trusted friends scouted out with us the 24 hectares (60 acres) and found lots of useable lumber, and a few creeks and springs. It was mostly thick jungle backing up to a huge national reserve and mountain range, sloping gradually down to the road, and about 20 minutes from town by motorcycle. Near the front were a few acres already cleared with established pasture. The location seemed perfect, and soon the purchase was made and we owned land!

A sampling of some of the huge trees on our property. Notice Silver Oak standing in front of them.

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This beautiful flower grows along the edge of the established pasture area.

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This brilliantly colored toucan eyed us suspiciously one day as we entered the pasture.

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This lovely creek meanders through the jungle about a third of the way back on our property.

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Many beautiful palms fill our little piece of jungle. Many produce nutrient dense fruit or nuts.

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One day we met this sloth near the front of our property.

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These red and blue macaws sometimes like to come “sing” in a huge tree towering over us while we work.

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We see mountains and beautiful scenery every time we drive to our property.

Looking back we are so glad we could not buy property right away because our perspective of where we wanted to live really changed within that first year. We would have made some big mistakes if we had jumped in and gotten started too soon.

Since the price of the land was about half of what we had budgeted, we used the remaining money to hire help in clearing the land. Someone introduced us to the Tabo family who was looking for work. Bartolome and Nancy have 10 grown children, mostly married with families. Their extended family lost everything in a fire resulting from a land war on the frontier over a year ago. They since moved to our town to start over again. Most of them are followers of Jesus like we are, and they are so grateful for any work we give them and have become good friends. About seven of the men came with machetes and by hand cleared all the underbrush on five hectares (12 acres) of thick jungle. That enabled us to go in and plan our new homestead.

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The underbrushing was done by hand with machetes. Notice the difference between the dense uncleared part and the part that was just cleared. All that remained were trees over 3″ in diameter.

After underbrushing, there were many trees to cut down to clear sites for the house, barn, greenhouse, and most of all, our chaco. A chaco is a small field cleared to grow crops, usually by hand. Our first chaco is about one acre in size, with plans to expand it in future years. Since there are good lumber trees on our property we decided to use them as much as possible rather than buying lumber. Juan and Sandro are two men from the Tabo family who have hand cut most of our lumber by hand with chainsaws.

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Some trees were cut because at 150-200′ tall they would threaten the safety of our future house.

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Lots of trees had to be cut to make our chaco.

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One felled tree being cut into lumber.

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Each section of a lumber tree is split in half.

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Then the section of log is methodically cut into useable lumber using only a chainsaw.

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This is the same tree all cut into boards and stacked to dry under sheets of metal that will eventually be used for the roof of our barn.

We spent many hours working hard to clear land and stack cut lumber before the rainy season started in December. In November we started planting fruit trees and other food crops in earnest to take advantage of the wet months to get them off to a good start.

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We stacked lumber…

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…and more lumber.

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Parts of our jungle were transformed into a lumber yard.

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It all had to be stacked with space around each piece so it could dry correctly, then kept under metal roofing or a canopy like this one that we brought from the States in our container. In this picture you can also see the first metal trusses of our greenhouse when it was being built.

In August and September we kept our promise to go back to the States to visit family and friends that we had not seen for a year. It was encouraging to connect with everyone again, and to make a little money to defray travel expenses. Returning to our little town here, we felt like we had come home; a confirmation we are where God wants us right now.

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Last August this area was cleared for our chaco.

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After visiting the States and returning a few months later, the debris had dried and there was a beautiful blanket of dead leaves and organic matter covering the chaco soil.

On our return we entered a new phase of life here. Our first year was filled with every social event possible, even making some of our own so we could connect with people. We established good friendships and got a decent handle on how things work and how to communicate with those around us. Now we have less time and energy for social life, which has been an adjustment. We have two cows to milk every day and our focus is on developing our new property and some streams of income.

There are some activities that we have kept priority. One is the bi-monthly hymn sings we host at our house, and another is an outreach night at the town plaza twice each month, where we gather with other Believers to pray, pass out Scripture booklets, and sing or play hymns, then often share a Gospel message. Our Sunday trips out to the little country church are less frequent, partly because during rainy season the road is worse and harder to travel, and partly because some local Believers asked to start holding house fellowship meetings a few times each month in our home. We still rub shoulders with lots of people on a daily basis, but spending time away from home or our property has lessened.

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A recent Sunday evening hymn sing in our living room.

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Live instrumental music is rare, so folks love when our children play for hymn sings.

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Gathering with friends from various denominations and cultures to sing hymns in the town plaza. Several people have decided to follow Jesus following our time of singing and sharing.

The past seven months have been full of hard work on our new homestead; building fence around the future pasture, digging swales and making our lane useable, and planting many fruit trees such as cacao (chocolate), citrus, papaya, mango, banana, plantain, starfruit, coffee, coconut, açaí, and other more exotic fruits. We set up the greenhouse that we shipped in our container, the same one we had on our Florida homestead. We stacked and covered lots of lumber that the men cut so it could dry properly, waiting for future construction. We made fodder beds and planted many of the same nutrient dense edible perennials we had in Florida, including chaya, moringa, katuk, mulberry, cranberry hibiscus, okra, and nacidero.

We want our new homestead to reflect the heart of God and His design, as a way to point others to Him and to honor Him as the Creator. Therefore we try to avoid destructive practices that destroy or tear down His creation, but as stewards we prefer methods that preserve and improve what He has entrusted to us. Contrary to popular practice, we have purposed to never use slash and burn methods to clear our chaco, or to till regularly or use chemicals unnecessarily.

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Setting up fodder beds last December.

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Those beds are now producing large amounts of chaya greens and other perennials.

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We put up the same hoop building greenhouse that we had in FL.

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The Lord protected our 20′ shipping container on the ocean, over steep mountain roads, and through delays in customs. There was almost no damage to its contents, which were basic essentials needed to set up a homestead, and of course, our pianos.

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It became an instant secure and stormproof storage shed on our new property.

Numerous well-meaning friends have told us emphatically that we must burn our chaco before planting, or it will be full of weeds and bugs, and plant growth will be stunted. It is common belief that burning increases crop yields and is the only way to effectively clear the land. While burning does kill bugs and weeds and is a relatively easy way to clear land, it also interrupts healthy microbes and balances in the soil, and actually encourages many weed seeds to germinate. It destroys the natural decaying ground cover that regulates soil moisture, temperature, and erosion. Burning often yields a good crop the first year, then less and less over the next few years, forcing campesinos (small-scale farmers) to cut down more trees to clear more land about every three years for a new chaco so they can start over again.

Thankfully development workers around the world have demonstrated that there are better alternatives to slash and burn. So we are quietly growing our chaco “sin fuego,” without fire. It means doing more hard work up front, but adding green mulches will encourage an increase in productivity each year with a gradual decrease in maintenance. The cleared jungle debris and logs were placed in huge piles to burn a little at a time, or to make into future hugelkulture beds (garden beds built with rotting wood).

The lovely blanket of dried decaying jungle leaves and debris in our chaco smothers weeds and keeps the soil moist and cool in the baking hot sun. This decaying matter protects the soil from erosion in heavy downpours, and is slowly building the soil. We can’t imagine how bare, hot, and dry our chaco soil would be with that natural blanket burned off.

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This is our new chaco soon after clearing the jungle last August. Notice the tall tree to the right.

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The same tall tree is in the right corner of this photo, taken eight months later, after the land was given time to rest, and our newly planted trees had five months of growth. No burning was done, leaving a nice blanket of leaves and organic matter as a covering.

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Again, see the same tree on a recent photo, eight months after planting our tiny young trees.

Thanks to teaching from ECHO and other permaculture proponents, we are inter-planting various green mulches and manures with our fruit trees, such as velvet beans, lab lab beans, cow peas, pigeon peas, jack beans, and perennial peanut. These are nitrogen fixing legumes that build the soil nutrients and deter weeds with their thick vines. They also provide food and fodder for our family and animals.

Interestingly enough, God has blessed our trees and perennial plants, which have grown very rapidly the past seven months. Although we spend time once a month or so pulling weeds that sneak up, weeds and bugs have not been a major problem yet. We recently visited a friend who cleared and planted a new chaco last year using the slash and burn method, about the same time we cleared and planted ours. We noticed his trees were smaller than ours, and his weeds much thicker and higher. Other burned chacos we have visited were chock full of weeds too. So far the only benefit we’ve seen to burning is the ease and speed of initial clearing of land. But in the long run, it doesn’t seem worth it.

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Banana trees, pigeon peas, yard-long beans, cowpeas, papaya, sweet potato, and yucca (cassava) are visible in this February photo of our unburned chaco.

One crop we spent lots of time planting in the beginning is yucca, known in many countries as cassava. It is a starchy tuber used as a basic staple here, in addition to rice and plantains (large green or yellow bananas). We planted many rows of starts between our banana and other fruit trees back in November. Sure enough, soon there were rows of little green yucca shoots coming up all over our chaco. In our busyness we failed to notice that gradually the little shoots were disappearing, till suddenly we realized too late that something had gone very wrong. Asking several local campesinos for advice, we were told that they may have been eaten by leaf cutter ants, which is a big problem here. There was also evidence that small deer were rooting around and cleaned out some of it. Since we are not yet living on our property, it is difficult to determine the culprit.

Leaf cutter ants have attacked some of our citrus trees and taken a special liking to cranberry hibiscus, carrying off whole bushes full of leaves overnight. To deter them we learned from our Tabo friends to cut the tops and bottoms off two liter bottles and slip the center plastic part around the base of each small tree or bush, making it more difficult for the ants to reach the leaves. We are experimenting with other methods as well, but as long as we don’t live nearby it could be a losing battle.

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Leaf cutter ants in action, carrying pieces of leaves back to their colony.

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One of the many citrus trees we planted in our chaco, with a plastic bottle around the base to deter leaf cutters and other pests.

We are tired of traveling back and forth from town to our property and not being present to protect our chaco. In April we started seriously building our little guest house to live in temporarily while building our bigger house and the rest of the homestead. This little cabin is at the edge of the jungle, near our chaco and a quick walk from the greenhouse and our future house and barn. It is a simple 15’ x 20’ two-room cabin with a tiny bathroom and a front porch. Each room has a loft, useful for storage and additional sleeping quarters. It will be a challenging adventure for our family of eight to live in this tiny house for a time, but we look forward to progressing more quickly on the rest of the homestead as soon as we can make this move.

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All lumber used, with the exception of the foundation posts and beams, were hand cut with a simple chainsaw from trees growing on our homestead.

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The foundation posts are cuchi which is termite proof, lasting over 100 years in the ground.

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Contrasting with lumber in the States, these 2x4s and 2x6s are cut to actual size.

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This shows the unfinished porch and front of the house, while working on the siding. We’ve been blessed by several groups of friends from the States and locally helping out from time to time.

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The back corner of the little house, with framing for the front porch just begun.

I do hope to be back sooner than last time to share progress with the construction of this little guest house and other homestead projects.

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Blessings,

Rose Petal

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homestead Blog Hop, Homemaking, Simple Homestead Blog Hop, and Simple Saturdays.

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Thriving With Less

Welcome to SIFAT! This walk-through gate in front of our house has a sign indicating fruit for sale (when we don’t eat it all).

When our family of eight moved to our off-grid homestead in central Florida in 2011 we sold lots of our things, scaling down and living more simply in a tiny house. Although we were attached to some of those things, it was mostly a relief to have less stuff. We enjoyed focusing energy on other things that allowed Silver Oak to be home more so we could work together as a family.

Last summer we sold our homestead and most of what was left, and moved to South America. Somehow it still took weeks to pack our “few” remaining possessions into a small 20’ container. Our suitcases carried things we needed for six months or so, as it often takes that long for a container to go through customs.

Since settling here in October of last year, our home has been the second floor of a former boarding school owned by SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) in a small town in the Amazon jungle. We are helping care for and improve the grounds here while waiting for God to open a property for a demonstration sustainable homestead. We enjoy learning to know the people, the language (Spanish), local small-scale agriculture, and the culture as we serve wherever God opens doors for our family.

The drive-through gate to the carport where we park our motocar and motos. You can almost see the staircase leading up to our front door on the second floor.

Farmer Boy at our front door. “Come on in!”

Our “house” has two large rooms, one of which serves as a big bedroom with a makeshift “curtain” across one end for our master bedroom, with a nice bathroom. The other room is a living and dining area and kitchen all in one. Two more small rooms on the same floor store SIFAT’s things and our luggage, and include a second bathroom for us, and space for our washing machine.

The large front room is ample for hosting hymn sings and enjoying guests for meals. We made a type of couch with a large slab of wood on bricks, with a worn mattress leaning against the wall. A few hammocks purchased in the city make a comfortable living room. Our coffee table is a trunk from the storage room. There was rough handmade furniture in the building, including bookcases and shelves, desks, and small tables and stands. We cleaned up what we needed and put them to use. There is also a nice dining room table with six chairs, and a large picnic type table with benches. Our electric piano came with us in a big case on the plane. We purchased a few more wooden chairs and plastic stools so everyone has a place to sit.

Inside the door turning to the left you see the dining area of the large front room.

We love the comfy hammocks in our living room area.

On lazy Sunday afternoons this is the place to “hang out.”

Our friends who lived here before us left a kitchen sink and set of shelves with a wooden countertop. We bought and added a gas stove and a tiny fridge, which has never worked, so we rotate frozen water bottles to keep it cool. We covered the counter tops with vinyl, and added curtains for cupboard “doors.” With the big picnic table serving as an island, and some wooden shelves forming a corner pantry, we have a nice sized and very functional homestead kitchen. We have enough basic eating utensils and dishes to serve our family and several guests if someone stops by, which is a common occurrence. If more are needed we borrow from friends who live in the other house on this property.

The kitchen area is on the other side of the front doors. The (lemon) fridge is on the left.

A closer look.

At the back end of the kitchen is the little “pantry” and utility closet. Then you see my desk where I wrote this blog post. 🙂

Next to my desk is the bedroom door. On the other side of the door is the computer/school desk.

Another perspective. Farmer Boy is doing his math (Teaching Textbooks).

In the far corner is our keyboard, under the stairs leading up to the three guest rooms and one more bathroom.

There are plenty of bunk beds available, formerly used for the boarding school. Some of the mattresses are old and lumpy, or hard. We are slowly purchasing new ones as they become available. The “curtain” which separates the “master bedroom” is made of blankets and sheets we found here, hung on paracord with large safety pins and clothespins. Since we are here temporarily, we are minimizing permanent or costly changes which may not apply to those coming after us.

Two of the bunkbeds next to the bedroom door.

The third set of bunkbeds on the other side of the room.

The far end with the curtain open to reveal the “master bedroom.”

The family closet is in our “room.” Suitcases under the beds hold more clothing.

Around the corner is the linen/medicine cabinet, more clothes storage, and the bathroom door.

The bathrooms are Latino style; a square room with a sink, toilet, showerhead, and drain in the floor. It took time to adjust to no shower lip or curtain. We added simple shower curtains hung from paracord lines, which minimize water splatters. A squeegee clears water off the floor. One bathroom drain is also used for our washing machine. Tank hot water heaters don’t exist in this place, so there are only single faucets…for cold water. But, there are inexpensive shower heads that heat water as it passes through. My friend calls them suicide showers; it seems electrocution is inevitable.  🙂  So far it hasn’t happened, although in this mild climate we seldom turn them on.

My washing machine, which is a huge luxury here.

It is hard to take pictures in a small space. This is the bathroom sink and shower.

And the toilet.

One of the “suicide showers.”

The walkway/balcony around the living area is also a place to hang laundry.

One adjustment has been living without glass windows. Few people here can afford them, so most windows are large openings with screen. Some don’t even have screen, but use mosquito netting over their beds at night to ward off bugs. Our big living room has three walls of screen windows running continuously from one end to another. The overhang and outer walkways around the outside stop rain, unless it blows really hard. Since the temperature never drops below 40 degrees F, and rarely exceeds the 90’s F, weather is seldom a problem, except some cold mornings when we wish for a wood stove. Dust is an issue if it doesn’t rain for a while; we keep things in bins or under cover to control it.

Living at the edge of town means we have electricity and public water…most of the time. Sometimes the power is off unexpectedly for hours, or water pressure drops so we can’t get water up in our part of the building. Then we moan and wish for our off grid homestead in Florida. We are working on setting up a few batteries and a water tank so we have reserve power and water for those times. There is cell phone service…most of the time. And sloooow internet. When tempted to fuss, we remember that we communicate with family and friends much more than we could have 20 years ago.

In case you think we are roughing it…I want to introduce you to a couple of our friends. Magalita is a fellow Believer who was born and raised here, and is married with four beautiful children. They recently moved back from church planting in another Latino country. They have outgrown their original tiny house, which is about the size of the storage shed we had in Florida. This simple structure has a small front room with a single bed, small table and chairs, and shelves for books and clothing. A few steps lead up to a loft with wall to wall mattresses where most of the family sleeps. Under the loft a few steps down lead to the kitchen. That is it! Laundry is done by hand in the separate shower room outside with water piped from a mountain stream. A small solar panel allows for a few lights at night. They live just fine with no refrigerator, no washing machine, no computers, and no warm showers.

Standing in front of their very tiny house.

Inside the front door of their tiny house.

Looking down into the kitchen.

The kitchen, with running water piped from a clean mountain stream.

While another friend washes dishes, Magalita’s baby sleeps in the makeshift hammock on the right.

Looking at family photos on the little table in the front room.

The outdoor shower room.

The outhouse.

We participated in a house raising with others from church to build a bigger house in front of the tiny one. Magalita’s husband cut down two huge trees on their property and with a chainsaw cut all the lumber for the new house. It had to cure for several months before using so he had to plan ahead. He built his own six foot ladder, and put the big beams in the ground before the house raising. It was a grand social event, and the house quickly took shape. It is very similar to the tiny one, with a loft for the children to sleep in, but a separate master bedroom downstairs. By comparison it is much bigger, but by US standards it is still a tiny house! Now the roof is on, the floor poured, and walls framed, so they have much more protected space than before. But wall boards will be added after Magalita’s husband finishes cutting more lumber. Magalita is excited about her new house, and I’ve never heard a word of discontentment from her.

The house raising for the new house.

The roof nearly finished.

Another friend, David, is bedridden and paralyzed because of a terrible accident 18 months ago when a tree fell on him. He has a one-room teensy tiny house, furnished with an old hospital bed and some shelves. His young wife and four children have another room with her in-laws several yards away. There is one sink on the whole place, next to the small outdoor shower. That is where laundry is washed, and hands, dishes, and fruits and vegetables. We visit often and never sense a hint of discontentment.

David’s tiny house.

At his front door.

He’s usually wearing a smile when we visit.

Their shower with the sink on the left, and kitchen on the right.

When we go home, we see how much we have. We know there is even more coming soon in our container. We have way more than we need to be content. And we enjoy the life God has called us to.

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A long awaited event!

Blessings,

A Week at ECHO

P.S. Before I got this posted our container arrived! It holds our greenhouse, solar panels, windmill, and other homestead equipment and material possessions. We’ve been looking forward to our grain mill, sewing machine, ice cream maker, glass jars and fermenting crocks, meat grinder, pianos, a fridge that works, and personal items. Everything looks almost the same as when it left Florida six months ago! Amazing! We thank the Lord for His protection and provision.

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Tropics and Mountains

The second story of this building is our "house."

We arrived at this little tropical town in the Amazon Basin jungle on October 20, exactly four years to the day after moving onto our Florida off-grid homestead in 2011. Little did we know then the Lord would be moving us so soon. Living off the grid in a tiny house, growing sugarcane and perennial vegetables, making soap and meals from seasonal produce, learning to thrive with less…all were preparing us for this season of life. So far the adjustment to this new country has been relatively smooth.

We are temporarily living in the second story of an old boarding school, owned by SIFAT, the faith-based organization we are partnering with to set up a demonstration sustainable homestead. We’re helping maintain the grounds and improve fencing and places for guests to stay. SIFAT owns another property of 50 hectares (125 acres) in the country where we hope to help demonstrate rotational grazing of cattle. We are looking to purchase land for our own homestead to be available for teaching sustainable agriculture techniques.

We live at the far end of this lane.

Our neighbor's house on the other side of the lane.

Grass grows fast in the rainy season, requiring hours of weed-eating each week.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy install new gates on the SIFAT property.

This river runs through the jungle on the SIFAT property.

The language difference is diminishing as we learn to communicate in Spanish and get around on our own, making necessary purchases and arrangements. A room below us is rented out for sewing classes, bringing interesting people to us. We trust a growing number of merchants and small shops in town to give us fair prices on groceries and other items. In our search for land we meet other campesinos (small farmers) with experience living off the land. The small country church we attend has preaching and singing in Spanish, attended by a mixture of nationals and Gringos (white folks like us) who have lived here many years.

These sewing class girls came back to practice painting and English with Blossom and Evensong.

Exchanging English and Spanish lessons with Rossmary, a teacher who lives at SIFAT.

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy help with a house raising; all lumber used was from the land cut free-hand with a chainsaw.

Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, we celebrated at the little country church with other Gringos. This building is also made with hand-cut lumber.

Playing volleyball after church and the fellowship meal on Sunday.

We’ve started plants to prepare for our homestead, as well to provide food for us now, or that will benefit the compound here. We planted a small herb garden, and are clearing an old garden space to plant annual vegetables. The chicks we purchased are growing and should start laying eggs in about two months.

Clearing an abandoned and overgrown garden plot created by a former ECHO intern at SIFAT.

Hoeing the beds in the same plot to prepare to plant veggies that will grow during the rainy season.

The young herb garden we planted around the front steps leading up to our house.

Finding good soil near the front gate to prepare pots for young moringa and mulberry trees.

A new hedge of chaya we planted from cuttings; soon to be animal fodder and nutrient dense spinach substitute for us.

Our flock of young fancy criollo chickens who will hopefully soon be providing us with eggs.

Pods from the cacao trees on this property.

Friends with dairy cows come into town every week and deliver raw milk, cheese, cream, and butter to our door. We feel pretty spoiled about that, but realize soon we will once again have our own dairy goats and possibly a cow. Eggs are delivered weekly by old colony Mennonite friends an hour away. We also enjoy mangos, limes, figs, bananas, coconuts and lots of star fruit growing here on this property. Blossom has been experimenting with making chocolate from cacao beans, as well as our own coconut oil.

Our grocery list is really simple, hopefully getting shorter and shorter as we grow our own. Here is the typical weekly list:

Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Cabbage
Plantains (big green bananas)
Yucca (cassava root)
Bananas (if we don’t have any)
Carrots
Onions
Garlic
Squash
Flour (till our grain mill arrives in our container)
Cornmeal
Popcorn
Lentils
Raw sugar
Salt
Occasionally we buy a whole chicken (including feet and head) from local farmers. It’s amazing the delicious meals coming from such a basic list. We buy rice in larger quantities and eat lots of it. Numerous friends grow their own, which we hope to do once we get land.

This beautiful farm is owned by friends we buy butter from.

These girls from the other end of our lane sold us cane juice from sugarcane grown on their land out in the country.

Their family lives in this house in town so they can go to school. Notice the cacao beans drying in the sun.

Transportation has been an adjustment, although not difficult. With our vehicle budget we purchased three motorcycles, and a family sized three-wheeled motocar. At first we borrowed a pick-up truck, and soon learned that the rough roads are very hard on vehicles, and it is slow going. The townspeople use mostly motorcycles (called motos), and for good reason. It’s common to see whole families on one moto, with three or four little children stuck in between and in front of their mama and daddy. Our motocar is useful for the farm, to sell produce in town, and offer rides to others going where we are. Distance travel is much more cost effective in a low cost taxi or bus. The hardest thing about motorcycles was teaching this middle-aged woman to ride, proving quite nerve racking at first. Now I’m actually enjoying it.

Our family vehicle, a red three wheeled motocar.

Silver Oak added a roof for rainy season.

We encountered a tree across the road one Sunday on our way home from church after a windy rain. This time we were prepared with an ax...

...because the first time it happened Silver Oak had to saw the tree with his Leatherman Wave.

Another time it happened with a huge tree way out in the country and we borrowed a chain saw from a nearby friend. A taxi load of guys helped remove the debris so we could all pass through.

With the motocar we helped deliver five huge bags of rice to town for our friend Ramon on our way home from church one evening. He grew it in his rice chaco (field).

Silver Oak and I went three hours to the next big town on his moto one day. We had to cross this river on a ferry.

Here's an example of a family of four on one moto.

And here's a family of five...the mother is holding a baby on her other arm. Could you call this "moto-pooling?" At any rate, the fuel emmissions rate per person is rather low around here.

The worst thing here is chiggers! They make awful itchy bites, in most perturbing places! We had them in Florida till we got guinea fowl who ate them up. Eight young guineas are ordered from a neighboring farmer as soon as they are old enough. We hope to rid ourselves of this malady soon! We’ve learned to manage with rubbing alcohol and ionic silver, greatly easing the bites when used daily. Mosquitoes are not as bad as in Florida, especially closer to the mountains. There are calm bug-eating tarantulas, not dangerous as we grew up believing. Cockroaches are the same as in Florida, but more sluggish. There is a huge creepy type of roach which I loathe, fairly easy to kill and not as common.

The weather is warm, but the nearby mountains usually bring coolness at night and even chilly air with rain, even in the middle of summer, which is the current season here. When we first arrived it was the end of dry season, and terribly hot and dusty for a few weeks. Since then it has been much more pleasant than Florida summers, for which we are thankful.

Mountains on our way to church.

Near the SIFAT land.

The winding road through the jungle.

Besides the new friends who’ve made us feel so welcome here, I love most the breathtaking scenery of the jungle and mountains, clear rocky rivers and streams, bright blue sky, huge butterflies, large colorful birds, and the vivid green meadows. So far it feels like home!

This rocky mountain stream runs through a friend's property.

Before snapping this picture a flock of bright red and blue macaws flew noisily from one far tall tree to another.

A winding country creek.

To receive future posts about life in the Southern Hemisphere click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

A Week at ECHO

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

PS. Enjoy the following scenes captured locally, as well as from a recent trip to the big city in the mountains.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Enjoying the creek in Ms. Fannie's yard.

Ms. Fannie's quaint little cottage.

Another friend's gate

Mountains and river

Traveling through the mountains at dusk

A steep mountain road with a river in the canyon far below

Mountains and blue, blue sky

Our Arrival in the Southern Hemisphere

Selling our outbuildings, including our lovely red shed

We have now been in South America for nearly two months! And you have been wondering if I forgot about the blog! Tearing apart a homestead, selling everything, and moving our family to another continent has been a momentous undertaking, not easily done without the help of God, family and friends.

We did indeed sell our homestead and most things on it, including most of the edible plants and trees. It was hard work, but we met interesting people and new friends in the process. We were so busy it was hard to find time to work through the sadness of dismantling all the work of the previous three and a half years, and leave. But seeing God’s hand at work, bringing about the sale of our property for an unlikely amount, gave us energy and anticipation for the future, knowing He was orchestrating it.

Our tiny house went back to Silver Oak's cousin, whom we had purchased it from. Removing it was a major undertaking.

Bye bye to the trailer which was our cozy home for three and a half years.

From the roof this overlooks the barren site where once stood our windmill, fruit trees and raised beds, bamboo trellis, and portable chicken coop.

This dismal sight is all that remained for the new owners when we left for the last time.

The new owners plan to build another lemur habitat on the property, similar to the ones they already have nearby. We visited these interesting creatures before leaving (the ones in the back, not the front...ha!).

After moving to town to live in my parents’ efficiency apartment temporarily, and closing on July 30, our focus turned to obtaining and preparing a 20’ shipping container. Our greenhouse did not sell for what we were hoping to get, so we decided to ship that along with our solar power system, windmill, and some other belongings which I mentioned in my last post. Preparing the container and the paperwork for it turned out to be a much larger job than anticipated. Every single item or package had to be accounted for. We worked late into the night, and all night at times to get it done.

Filling our container in my parents' front yard. We used around 30 tomato boxes and 100 banana boxes from local markets. They were free and very sturdy, perfect for holding lots of hand tools, books, and personal belongings. Of course many larger things went into the container that were not in boxes.

Silver Oak built shelves along both sides of the container to custom fit the boxes and some other items.

He had a good helper! Banana boxes went on this shelf, and our solar panels fit under it.

The entire greenhouse, including the cover, fit into this area with shelves for tomato boxes above it.

In the midst of preparing our container, my extended family celebrated my parents' 50th wedding anniversary!

After our container was sent to port in Jacksonville, we headed north for last visits with friends and family, and to attend Anabaptist Orchestra Camp in Indiana one last time before leaving. We arrived home with four days left to wrap everything up and finish packing for the big move to South America.

At a weekend gathering in Ohio with Silver Oak's family.

Every suitcase and package had to be packed according to weight, not exceeding 50 lbs, or there would be steep fines in addition to the extra baggage we knew we would already have to pay for. That made it difficult to pack in an organized manner.

We flew from Miami on Friday night, September 11, overloaded with way too much luggage and carry-ons. How on earth do you move a family with only two suitcases each? Impossible, at least for us. Others had joined us in praying that the customs officials would be merciful and not confiscate any of our belongings, as they have been known to do. The Lord mercifully answered our prayer and when we arrived early the next morning, the customs agents seemed to get a kick out of us, even calling us the “Ingalls Family” when we explained what we were coming to do. They didn’t confiscate or even fuss about any of our stuff, and we were out on the street loading everything into taxis before we knew it. What a blessing!

Getting organized at the Miami airport before checking in our 24 bags of luggage.

After flying through the night and arriving early the next morning, we wait with our carry-on bags to go through immigration and then customs after collecting our luggage.

The first month we stayed at a mission guest house in the city, working on our immigration paperwork. It had a beautiful enclosed yard and plenty of room for the children to safely play. We were comfortable and in a location where it was easy to get things we needed. We hadn’t planned to stay there as long, but as we were told to expect, things kept coming up that needed to be changed or done differently.

One of our rooms at the guest house

The playground area.

Buying produce at the nearby market

While waiting on immigration paperwork to be completed, we took several small trips to nearby towns, visiting Christian children’s homes, small organic farms, historic landmarks, sites of ancient civilizations, breathtakingly beautiful wonders of God’s creation, and new friends and contacts. While in the city we shopped for things to set up our new homestead that are harder to get in the country, and sent most of our luggage and new purchases ahead of us by bus or cargo truck. We spent much needed family time together, regrouping and working through some things following the intensely busy months preceding our move.

A lovely spot we stopped at while traveling to another town.

Another beautiful scene

Breathtaking waterfalls

Touring organic gardens at a Seventh Day Adventist Children's home

Milking time at another children's home run by German Mennonites

More organic gardens and permaculture by an older Dutch couple

Ruins of an ancient Incan village and temple

One day we went to a market that sells lots of plants, and purchased a garden…over 40 small herbs and edible plants that will give us a good start on our new homestead. We’ve also been collecting seeds and starts of other edible perennials and plants that we had worked with in Florida from ECHO, which we can’t wait to put in the ground.  When we first arrived here at the guest house, the children were so excited to find moringa and chaya, and we’ve enjoyed learning to know Jason’s family here at the mission guest house. Jason is a previous intern at ECHO, whom Silver Oak and I learned to know at last year’s annual ECHO conference. We keep being amazed how God has orchestrated contacts who have proven to be important links to our progress here. Even our forgetfulness or mistakes have brought about divine appointments which have been for good.

A moringa tree growing at the guesthouse.

The herbs and plants we bought to start our perennial garden

Some of the good solid hand tools we found for working the ground...they just need handles

One challenge so far has been the language barrier. I am grateful that as a child I dreamed of learning Spanish, motivating me to study it three years in high school, and then use it on a summer mission trip and several years working with Mexican migrants in Florida. It has been over twenty years since I have used it much and it is very rusty, but the longer we are here, the more comes back. The rest of the family is practicing and learning it as fast as they can, making new friends and learning a different culture.

Our kiddos enjoyed making new friends at another children's home run by American Mennonites

In spite of the language barrier, we’ve had opportunities to make simple explanations about our trust in Jesus with a few taxi drivers and others, as well as sing songs together in a beautiful old cathedral in a Jesuit Mission town, for hostal (hotel) owners, by breathtaking waterfalls, and at other places. People here are very friendly and often ask why we are here and if all of the children are ours, which gives us good opportunity to interact and connect with people. We’ve connected with a few English speaking German Mennonites from colonies and some that have come out of the old colonies, as well as JWs and Mormons. The three oldest girls played a few instrumental hymns for the children at the last children’s home, and for a few others, which seemed to bless them. Music is a powerful language that crosses cultural and language barriers.

The old Jesuit cathedral in which we sang together "Christ be our Light"

The girls practice their instruments at the guest house

Our immigration paperwork is now completed and we are waiting to receive our two-year visas.  I will try to update you on our progress as we work toward preparing for a new homestead. There have been some tough times when we felt discouraged, but we are always reminded how the Lord has orchestrated everything so far, and we know He will continue to provide and direct. Our job is to be faithful with what He has for us to do right now, and that brings great peace. We appreciate your prayers for safety, wisdom, and God’s anointing wherever we go. We miss family and friends, and we pray for you as well.

To receive future posts about life in the Southern Hemisphere click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

A Week at ECHO

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Working to make a special meal with our host, Sergio, at the guesthouse.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Selling, Selling, Selling

Sorting everything to sell...what a mess!

Things are a complete wreck as we sort, pack, and sell our belongings. In preparation for moving to South America we are selling our homestead and most of our earthly possessions. Lord willing, the closing will be July 30, and we still have a lot to get rid of. The buyer wants mostly just the land, so is giving us time to sell everything else before closing. At first we weren’t really thrilled about completely dismantling our homestead. In fact, when the neighboring lemur conservatory gave us an offer for just the land, our first reaction was, “No way!!” After working hard for three and a half years to build our homestead, it was unthinkable.

The Lord gradually changed our minds as we realized their offer was a very good one, paying us well for our three and a half years of work. We recognized the Lord’s provision, selling our unique property at a good price without realtor or advertising. That is exciting.

Taking things apart is not fun, but it does allow us to keep things we otherwise would have left behind. We hope to use the same solar power system in South America, which is an advantage as we are not alternative energy experts and using the familiar is less stressful. We also hope to dismantle and keep our windmill for pumping water.

We have lots and lots of things for sale, with folks coming every day in answer to Craigslist ads. All the sheds, chicken coops and small barn must go, and our tiny house is going back to Silver Oak’s cousin who sold it to us. The big hoop house we were using as a greenhouse or bio shelter needs a new owner. We’re selling fencing, lumber, masonry items, border rocks, vintage landscaping ornaments, plumbing, tools, farm equipment, and furniture. Our clothesline, the 4,000 gallon water tank, milking stanchions, lawn furniture, and rabbit hutches are all for sale, and though we’ve sold lots of things, there is much left.

The chicken coop and barn, looking sad and lonely with no chickens or goats left. It feels strange to have no farm animals for the first time in 20 years.

Cleaning things out of the bio shelter for the sale.

An empty rabbit hutch waiting to be sold.

We are saddest about selling our edible plants. The citrus trees, olive trees, star fruit, Florida apple and peach trees, banana trees, fig trees, Barbados cherry tree, a good sized neem tree, and the mango tree are sold or are waiting to be transplanted on another happy homestead. All of the edible shrubs such as cranberry hibiscus, katuk, chaya, moringa, Okinawa spinach, Malabar spinach, and garlic chives, which have been providing delicious nutrient-dense dinner salads for us every evening, are available for purchase. Our sugarcane, lemon grass and citronella grass, horsetail, elderberry, beauty berry, and lots of pineapple plants loaded with beautiful pineapples are for sale as well.

Mature pineapple plants and young spineless prickly pear cactus to sell

Wonderful delicious pineapples!

One of our mature edible moringa trees, with working pitcher pump in the background.

Edible leafy plants cranberry hibiscus (false roselle) and chaya (spinach tree)

Potted cranberry hibiscus and Nam Doc Mai mango

Beautiful clumping bamboo on the left, neem tree in the center, and the red shed must find new homes.

Our sugarcane patch...sugarcane is easy to transplant so this could be a good jump start for someone wanting to grow their own.

As we pull things out to sell, and take things apart, our homestead is feeling less and less like home, and more and more like a small nursery and building supply location. As much as we have sold, there always seems to be more left than before. We are constantly sorting and trying to discern if there is something we should keep and take with us, sell, throw, or give away.

Today's mess on the deck

The mess in the house, which is looking rather bare.

Landscape border rocks ready to sell

Now my pretty arbor is sold, and our front yard looks a bit rough

We are hoping to ship a small 20’ container of items to our new home in South America. It will be filled to the brim with useful items, saving us time and possibly money over searching for unique items in unfamiliar territory. Besides the windmill and solar power system, we hope to take an electric piano and our inversion table as a substitute chiropractor for those in our family who have back issues. We are packing up lots of glass jars for canning, fermenting, and storing food. Our Lifetime stainless steel cookware and cast iron skillets and dutch oven will go, as well as soap making supplies, and hand powered grain mill and meat grinder. As space permits I want to take a few family heirlooms if we can, and items special to the children.

But one hot item on the list is books. Lots of books! I’ve ordered many used ones through Abebooks, mostly biographies and stories about ancient civilizations, our Anabaptist heritage, missionaries and the history of the world, since that is our preferred way to learn history and other cultures. Reference and “how to” books are included, covering herbal medicine, permaculture, intensive gardening, homestead design, food preservation, appropriate technologies, ministering to the poor, and other relevant subjects. Some are bilingual and Spanish books.

 

Sitting around the living room at bedtime reading English/Spanish books purchased at a Goodwill bookstore

Sorting our stuff is exhausting, especially in this intense heat. I thought we had gotten rid of most of our household belongings before moving into our tiny house; and we had. But it still seems never-ending. I’m reminded again how burdensome earthly possessions can be, and how many unnecessary things we have. Though some things are difficult to part with, I am happy to be freeing myself of them.

Photo by Krystle K the Snapmom

If you are in central Florida we invite you to our big sale this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, July 16-18. Prices will lower on most items as the weekend progresses. It must all go!! We appreciate your prayers during this hectic time of change and decisions.

To receive future posts click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

A Week at ECHO

Note: My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post. 

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Farmer Boy poses by the red barn style shed we are selling. Photo by Krystle K the Snapmom.

A Week at ECHO

Evensong carefully hoes around the tiny moringa seedlings at ECHO

Finding solutions for sustainable living to benefit people around the world to bring glory to Christ; that is what ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is all about. Our whole family was privileged to spend a week of independent study at their global farm and training center in Fort Myers a few weeks ago, as preparation for our upcoming move to South America. We’d already learned so much from them that we have tried to implement here on our off grid homestead. The week spent there was such a boost!

We came to appreciate the wealth of information and resources in ECHO’s library.  One could spend weeks or months in that building alone! But much of our time there was spent hands-on.  The first afternoon we joined the interns for a workshop about making and using a biogas digester to produce methane gas from manure.  This process captures the methane gas produced by the breakdown of the manure, so it can be used as fuel rather than be released into the atmosphere.  We enjoyed chai tea made on a burner fueled by methane they had produced from cow manure. The residue will become fertilizer, so nothing is wasted. We are hoping to try this in South America as an alternative to propane.

The biogas digester is made of 55 gallon barrels; an inner-tube indicates the volume of gas.

Making tea on the methane-burning stove.

We helped with various work projects on the ECHO farm. Dr. Motis set up a test plot for moringa, experimenting with various companion plants to determine the best results. The tiny moringa seedlings were only a few inches high, and so were the weeds that had sprung up. We gently weeded the plot with hoes, careful to not trample or hoe the tender seedlings. It took us parts of two days, but it was satisfying to make a difference. We eagerly await the test results to apply on our new homestead in South America.

Weeding the moringa patch. Next time we visit we hope to see a small forest of moringa trees.

A tiny moringa seedling.

Sometimes we split up and helped the 10 interns with various jobs. Silver Oak helped repair some irrigation, some of us did more weeding or watering, others helped plant sweet potatoes and banana trees and harvest black sapote (a delicious tropical fruit tasting like chocolate pudding) and tropical lettuce seeds. There was always plenty to do, and we enjoyed learning to know the interns and staff we worked with. Most of them have already lived in a foreign country, or are planning to use their skills somewhere abroad in the near future.

Butterfly helps clean water bowls for the ducks by the duck and talapia pond

Farmer Boy and Silver Oak help remove dry vetiver grass mulch before leveling the beds in the lowlands area

Little Bird and Evensong help harvest black sapote on the "mountain."

Honey Bun removes seed heads from tropical lettuce for the seed bank.

Later, after a winnowing process, Farmer Boy and Blossom help sort the seeds for packaging.

One highlight was participating in the sugarcane harvest. It was interesting to see the variations in the process differing from how we have done ours. They have a different variety of cane, which drops most of its leaves before harvest, saving the step of stripping the canes. However, the bare canes were mildewed, so they were pressure washed and dried before squeezing the juice, which is a step we have never done. Their old-fashioned press is designed to be mule-powered, but in the absence of a mule it was powered by interns and volunteers.

Pressure washing and drying the canes.

The people-powered cane press

Evensong and Blossom help feed canes into the press.

Cooking the cane juice to make syrup

Another highlight that day was preparing lunch for the crew. We thought it would be fun to make a meal using things growing on the farm, so we gathered leafy greens and edible perennials, eggplant, squash, and a few edible weeds and flowers for the event. The interns had to slaughter a few ducks to lower the male population on their pond, so we added duck to the pot, which was delicious! On the menu was a tossed salad, veggie (and duck) topping over brown rice, sour dough bread, corn bread, cane syrup (for the breads), kefir kraut, and apple crisp for desert. We also made lemonade with freshly picked lemons, and ice tea made from lemongrass, spearmint, and ginger leaves, sweetened with raw sugar and cane syrup. We had a great time preparing and eating it, and learning to know the interns a bit better.

Picking malabar spinach for the special meal.

Slaughtering the ducks.

The whole family helped prepare various greens for the salad and rice topping.

Intern ladies go through the food line.

Farmer Boy displays his plate of food.

Ingredients from the farm.

After lunch the syrup was bottled.

The result of all the hard work. Yum!

It was a huge blessing to consult with staff about the work in South America. Tim and Brad gave tons of good advice about planning the infrastructure of a sustainable farm, and various ways to have mutually benefiting relationships with interns and others who help. Holly helped us determine how to best transport seeds, and the process we must go through. Craig instructed and answered many questions about cooking with rocket stoves and ovens, as well as solar dehydrators. There is so much to learn!

ECHO's example of a terraced hillside which we may need to implement in South America.

Posing with our new friends the last day.

Now we continue preparing to move, and wait to finalize a contract with a neighboring organization for the sale of our property. We appreciate your prayers for wisdom and timing.

To receive future posts click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

Off Grid Homestead For Sale!

Note:  My appreciation to Silver Oak for editing and critiquing this post.

Linked w/The Art of Homemaking, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Off Grid Homestead For Sale!

Photo by Krystle K the Snapmom

After months of silence on the blog, I’m back to share about some big changes coming soon!  You’ve been wondering what’s happening; thank you for your concern and for “missing” our posts.  Now for the big news!

Lord willing, we are moving to South America! We are partnering with a faith-based organization to start a small sustainable farm and training center as a means of reaching others for Jesus. This idea has been in the works off and on for several years; we just weren’t sure of the timing and details. Our understanding of God’s vision for us continues to sharpen with each step. It’s a long story, so I will shorten it as best I can.

For years we’ve talked (at times) about living in another country, as well as prayed for clarification of our family ministry. Several of our children joined us at older ages, so for some time our focus was on their needs and bonding as a family. As we sweated and labored to clear the driveway to our new homestead three and a half years ago, it occurred to us that God may be preparing us for something else. Though an interesting thought, it got lost in the busyness and hard work of developing our new off-grid home.

Over the years we became aware of a certain country in South America, at times Silver Oak and I independently of each other. A few years ago a specific town in that country was brought to our attention. Silver Oak really prayed about it, and the whole family fasted or prayed for direction. Everyone felt peace about the move, but we didn’t know when, or exactly what our focus would be.

Their jungle view for many hours

Last spring Silver Oak felt the Lord saying the next step should be a scouting trip. In June he and Evensong, who was 19, flew down and stayed with friends who showed them around. Evensong was the photographer and journalist, and became my “eyes.” They went cross-country by bus rather than small plane, to see more of the land, culture, and people. What a trip to remember! The rainy season had lasted longer than usual, making the narrow dirt road through the mountains exceptionally muddy. Two big trucks got stuck, stopping all traffic. For 13 hours they waited to move on a jungle mountain road with hairpin turns. They practiced Spanish, interacted with other passengers, used a jungle “bathroom,” and experienced the patience and friendliness of the gentle nationals, who never got upset. Fortunately they had toilet paper, wet wipes, books and snacks in their backpacks, and the temperature was pleasant.

Their bus from the big city to “Pueblo.” All the buses seem to be “bumperless,” perhaps to shorten them for the narrow hairpin turns?

Traffic jam on the muddy mountain road

Beautiful countryside as they approach their destination

Many rivers had to be crossed

Upon reaching the town I’ll call “Pueblo,” Silver Oak and Evensong spent several days exploring. They met nationals, Americans and Europeans who had lived there many years, visited shops, and attended a small Anabaptist country church consisting of nationals and former Americans. They hiked several properties available for sale, but none felt right.

Downtown

The town square…as the last photo also shows, motorcycles are the most common way to get around in this town. Traffic is all slow speed, so there are few accidents.

One of the town’s hardware stores

Fresh produce at the market

Bulk grains…and no GMOs!!!

Evensong received a bullet ant bite, acclaimed as the most painful insect bite in the world (the name given because it feels like a gunshot wound). She was very brave, and their hostess found Dragon Blood tree sap which made it more bearable. The next day she was fine, but there are no pictures taken of the rest of that day.

The country church they visited

Beautiful land for sale, but the location didn’t “click”

A country home they visited

Evensong milks one of their host’s dairy cows

Cattle are a cash commodity

They flew back to the city in this little plane, along with some back-packers

The scouting trip was encouraging and confirming, but there were pieces missing from the puzzle. Then we learned about a family who lived in South America years ago with their four children. In a bamboo house in the small homesteading settlement, the Corsons lived like the locals. Realizing the homesteaders needed more than spiritual sustenance, they began integrated development with the people of the village. Later in the US they established SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology), a training center for meeting basic human needs. And ECHO (the Ft Myers organization we have learned so much from) was instrumental in helping them start their training center!

SIFAT owns acreage near Pueblo awaiting development as a small-scale sustainable farm. They also have property with buildings nearer town for a vocational school. The farm will be an extension of that.

We visited SIFAT headquarters and met Mrs. Corson and her son last fall. We read her inspirational books about their family’s experiences ministering in South America and other places, and were impressed by the way they identified with the local people on their level, rather than as superiors. They dealt with adversaries in a Christ-like way, with powerful testimonies about God working through very tough times, sparing their lives and opening hardened soldiers to the Gospel because they chose to show God’s love rather than fight or kill (read about it here). Rather than going under a mission board, they had the blessing and prayer support of their home church, freeing them to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. They, like ECHO, have a holistic approach to sharing the Gospel, reaching out to people’s needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Here’s another great story you can’t miss.

We visited SIFAT’s simulated slum which they use to acclimate students to minister in a big city slum.

Students actually live in this slum a few days and nights for practice.

On SIFAT’s campus they also have a global village featuring houses from around the world. In the Liberia hut Blossom finds a mortar and pestle like one she remembers when she lived there before joining our family.

I’m checking out the deluxe adobe rocket stove and oven

Friends of ours moved down to Pueblo last year to start developing the vocational school and farm. They are waiting for us to join them. They learned about Pueblo through our scouting trip, and they in turn helped us to discover SIFAT! We felt like we had found a big missing piece of the puzzle!

Last May Silver Oak felt the Lord prompting him to aim to be ready to leave a year from then. The final hurdle now is selling our homestead! We would love to have another homesteading family buy it. A neighboring organization is conducting due diligence right now, interested in all or part of it. We wonder how the Lord will work this out, as we can’t go without selling.  If it doesn’t sell we will know we heard something wrong or the timing is not right.  Meanwhile we are preparing to move!

Here we are, ready to go!! Photo by Krystle K the Snapmom

My grandparents’ old cream separator

We invite you on a virtual tour of our homestead. Serious inquiries may contact us for more information through the contact form. Yes, we will continue this blog so you can follow our journey.  🙂  We appreciate your prayers for the many upcoming decisions.

To receive future posts click here, or sign up in the column on the right.

Blessings,

 Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Old Fashioned Sugarcane Harvest

Evensong samples a bit of cane freshly harvested from our own sugarcane patch!

It started as a thought several years ago, as we visited various historical museums in Florida and occasionally tasted the sweet syrup of sugarcane.  If it grows easily in Florida, and can be processed with fairly simple techniques, could we grow it on our little off grid homestead and make our own cane syrup?  Producing this nutrient rich sweetener would be one more step toward becoming sustainable, and something we could use to bless others.  Maybe, in time, it could become a stream of income to further accomplish Silver Oak’s goal of working fulltime with the family.  But how do you start something you know nothing about?  When an idea comes from the Lord, He works out details if we faithfully do our part.  “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Prov. 3:6

Here is the story as it has unfolded so far…

We watched cane juice being cooked down into syrup and asked lots of questions at the Sugarcane Festival at Crowley Museum. This is when Farmer Boy was six and Little Bird was seven (they are now eight and ten).

The old fashioned cane press at Crowley, usually powered by a horse or mule.

A horse is pulling the beam here, partially hidden behind the cracker cows.

Sometimes people can power the press instead of a horse, like some of our kiddos had the privilege of doing for a short time at a museum almost three years ago.

Then they sampled the sweet watery liquid that had just been pressed.

Here is a similar cane press we saw at the historic Dudley Farm near Gainesville.

This is Dudley’s huge old kettle to boil the cane juice down into syrup. A fire is built underneath to heat it. That is seriously off the grid.

Dudley’s processing shed where the syrup was bottled.

One year my Grandpa (98 yrs old) accompanied us to Crowley, and again we watched sugarcane processing. By the way, Grandpa went to be with the Lord this year only two weeks before his 100th birthday, and we miss running things past him about the old days.

Two years ago we were at Crowley Museum for their Sugarcane Harvest Festival and met the kindly gentleman in charge of the cane syrup demonstration.  Mr. H let us sample his cane syrup, which is sweet like maple syrup but with a bit of a molasses flavor. He seemed glad to see a family from a younger generation genuinely interested in the process. We gratefully listened to his explanations about growing and processing cane the old fashioned way, and purchased a bottle of his syrup.  We were amazed to discover that he and his wife live only about ten minutes from us!

After visiting the many other artisans and re-enactors at the event, we prepared to leave for home at the end of the day and again met Mr. H.  He had about a dozen potted sugarcane plants he hadn’t sold and didn’t want to take back home, and wondered if we would take them.  We were more than happy to take them off his hands. It felt like more than just a chance meeting.

These are the cane plants Mr. H gave us…the beginning of sugarcane at our homestead.

At Mr. H’s instruction we cut the mature canes out of each pot, and divided them into pieces to propagate more cane plants.

We cut between the joints, making each piece around 18″ long.

We filled more pots with sand and composted soil, and the younger kiddos pushed the canes into the soil. Each joint in the soil can grow roots, starting a new plant! How easy is that?

Mr. H’s generous gift of 12 potted plants was immediately multiplied. Those plants grew in the pots all winter and spring until May when we finally put them into the ground (a little late, but it still worked).

One rainy Saturday afternoon while the big girls were cleaning and cooking, Silver Oak and I separated each rooted cane and planted around 85 sugarcane plants in two long rows with a trench between for irrigation. In a matter of months, with a little effort, the plants had multiplied times seven!

We finally got all those baby sugarcane plants in the ground.

Farmer Boy enjoyed being the official sugarcane waterer because it meant he got to drive our little John Deere mower pulling the trailer with the tank of water out to irrigate the plants.

Sugarcane grows in warm weather and the sugar in the canes turns sweet in the cooler months.  If there is a hard freeze, the canes will freeze and their sugars will sour if not harvested and pressed immediately.  We harvested our small plot of cane in December of last year (2013) in time to join Mr. H for his first cane pressing of the year, which is a traditional social event for the old-time Floridians.  The cane was all pressed and cooked for hours in his huge boiler.  While we waited for the syrup to be ready, we ate lunch provided by sweet Mrs. H, and enjoyed learning to know more true Southerners at the event.

When the first hard freeze was predicted earlier than expected, Mr. H called for emergency assistance with the second half of his harvest.  Silver Oak and the older girls dropped everything and went to help.

Mr. H expected to lose part of his crop because of lack of time.  But everyone worked like mad and got all the cane cut before nightfall, saving the entire harvest!  The next day it had to be pressed and boiled down.  It was a privilege to be a part of this effort, working together in community.  We are getting free education in sugarcane production and gaining new friends, and they are getting help when needed.

Mr. H has a newer cane press that is geared to be engine-powered. His dad’s old hunting truck is parked nearby to power it.

Here’s another picture of the old gray “beast” that runs it.

Mr. H (right) chats with Evensong and Silver Oak while the cane juice is boiled down into syrup in his 60 gallon cast iron pot with a propane burner underneath.

Sixty gallons of freshly squeezed cane juice will yield 6-8 gallons of cane syrup. Near the end of the process it starts rising and falling, then for about ten minutes large bubbles rise to the surface and pop as it thickens. Then it is ready to be bottled and kept without refrigeration.

This is the extent of our first year’s harvest, with the old leaves and green tops still on the canes.

Mr. H demonstrates how to cut the dead leaves off before harvesting, which is quicker and easier, so we would know for next time.

Mr. H’s homemade tool he uses to “clean” the leaves off the standing cane.

Honey Bun feeds one of our canes into Mr. H’s smaller cane press, which is the kind used with horse power. This one is mounted on an old wagon and powered by a gas motor.

A closer look…cane syrup runs out into a large pot.

Farmer Boy feeds in a cane.

Our small first harvest (2013) resulted in less than two gallons of cane juice, which we decided to drink raw for its great health benefits rather than make it into a tiny amount of syrup.

Meanwhile, the big pot of syrup was finished and we watched them strain it through cheesecloth before bottling.

And then sampled the taffy left on the sides of the empty pot.

Farmer Boy displays the green tops that were cut off our first harvest before pressing.

We planted all the tops in pots just as we had the year before, but this time it was tops from plants we grew.

By mid-April this year (2014) they were ready to be taken out to plant in the field, expanding our sugarcane patch.

This time we planted them with lots of horse manure, and by October it was thick and towered way over our heads.

Mr. H’s first harvest this season was December 5, so after Silver Oak and some of the children helped with his harvest, they came home and harvested ours.

First, Silver Oak cleans the cane (whacks off dead leaves by sliding his machete downward along each stalk)…

…then Farmer Boy cuts off the stalk (cane) at the ground.

Evensong picks up the cut canes.

Blossom finishes cleaning the canes and chops off the green tops.

Little Bird brings more canes for the big girls to process.

The cleaned canes are loaded into the truck bed to haul to Mr. H’s the next day.

They’re bad to the bone!

Totally bad! But next time maybe he’ll make a lighter wooden cane cleaner like Mr. H’s, because when the long harvesting day was over his wrist was swollen from swinging that heavy machete so long and hard.

The next morning we hauled the nearly full bed of canes and two tanks of propane to Mr. H’s for the cane grinding. Cheyenne went along to visit the place of her birth, because we got her as a pup from Mr. H earlier this year.

The motor for the smaller cane press wouldn’t cooperate this time, so we got to use the big press after Mr. H’s cane was done.

This year we pressed about 16 gallons of juice from our cane, up from less than two gallons last year! It was enough to make our own little batch of cane syrup!

While Mr. H boiled his cane juice in his huge 60 gallon pot, we boiled ours in his smaller pot over a homemade propane burner.

The thing to do while it’s boiling for hours and hours is chew on some cane, as well as listen to Mr. H’s buddies tell wild stories of their growin’ up years. Of course there was another great pot-luck lunch, true Southern style.

Even Cheyenne chewed on cane.

Our syrup is almost ready!

Our syrup is strained through cheesecloth.

Back home Silver Oak proudly bottles the cooled syrup he has been dreaming of.

Almost eight quarts of syrup!

Blossom can’t help but pose proudly with the fruit of her labors.

From the farm to the table…on some of Blossom’s delicious whole grain sourdough bread!

On Monday it was back at it, cutting the green leaves off the tops for fodder for the goats.

Little Bird and Farmer Boy push the tops into potted soil to start more new plants…the multiplication process begins again!

Sixty pots of new plants will grow in the greenhouse till spring when we plant them out, once again expanding the size of our sugarcane patch. How big will next year’s harvest be?

The Lord gives seemingly insignificant gifts as part of our lives every day.  What have we been given that He desires to generously multiply and bless us with, if we are faithful to do our small part?  The sugarcane example is a picture of the nature and character of our loving Heavenly Father.  May we be alert and faithful to “small things” He want us to do right now that will reap an abundant future harvest, either here on earth or in eternity.

Oooooh…It’s fine!

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Blessings,

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

Homestead Kitchen Items I can’t Live Without

These unique corn-cutters take the juicy kernels right off the ear (hopefully non-GMO corn)

A friend of mine is moving to another country to homestead for the first time. She asked what kitchen utensils I would consider absolutely necessary to homestead successfully. So I came up with a list of things I would rather not be without. A homestead mindset learns to adapt to what is available, but with a choice I would definitely include items that make homesteading more efficient and doable.

I’m taking for granted the commonly used items like measuring spoons and cups, large stirring spoons, dippers, scrapers and spatulas, small to extra large mixing bowls, stainless steel and cast iron pots and pans, ovenware, teapot, and a good set of knives necessary in any kitchen used daily for food preparation. My list of “must haves” is colored by living off grid as sustainably as possible. Three years on this off grid homestead has influenced my preferences, which will likely keep changing as we become less and less dependent on commercial industries and food.

My absolute favorite off-grid homestead kitchen utensil is our GrainMaker grain mill (I get no benefits for promoting it, but believe it’s the best). An heirloom quality mill that will way outlive me (including its hardened alloy steel burrs), it meets my specifications of producing flour as finely ground as my old electric Whisper mill did, with speed and enough ease that our youngest children can use it. Installed on my kitchen counter, we use it regularly for wheat, brown rice, coffee, and other grains. It can also grind nuts (making peanut butter), beans, and corn, and dehydrated potatoes, garlic, onions, and tomatoes.  It took a few years of saving to purchase, but is well worth it!  Read more about it in an old post:  My Super Duper Hand Powered Grain Mill.

Back when Farmer Boy was still six years old he easily helped grind grain with this mill.

A gallon jar for fermenting kraut

Glass jars are a huge part of the modern homestead kitchen. We use one gallon and half gallon “pickle” jars to store our raw milk in the fridge or in a cupboard to sour, to make kefir, sauerkraut or other lacto fermented veggies, sprout grains, and store whey or freshly brewed herbal tea. One-gallon “cider” jars are perfect for our rotating storage of filtered drinking water. Wide and small mouth quart jars store fresh cream, buttermilk, rendered tallow, dehydrated herbs, homemade dressings, and of course canned goods. Smaller jars are for canning or storing salves and other concoctions. You simply cannot have too many jars with tight lids, in my opinion.

Quart canning jars for storing almost anything…here holding hot rendered tallow

Preparing to make butter with my Magic Mill DLX.

We use an electric blender and hand-held beater regularly, especially with my big mixer on the blink. I prefer my Magic Mill DLX Mixer for kneading bread, mixing batters, mashing potatoes, and churning butter, but after 17 years of vigorous use, it needs repairs. So, we’ve been kneading dough by hand, making butter in the blender, and using the small electric beater for mixing. A hand-powered beater mixes things that aren’t too thick, and my wish list includes a large hand-cranked butter churn and a hand cranked blender.

Water bath canners are easy to store and less expensive than pressure canners. We can applesauce and tomato products, but prefer to dehydrate or lacto-ferment fruits and veggies as much as possible. Canning kills live enzymes and nutrients, while lacto-fermenting greatly increases nutritional density. Nutrients are preserved in dehydrating, which leads to another valuable homesteading item: a dehydrator. I love my nine-tray Excalibur Dehydrator, but it’s not always best for an off grid homestead because it uses lots of battery power to run when the sun is not shining. I hope to some day make a solar dehydrator.

Our water bath canners (an old picture of Evensong a few years ago)

Dehydrating cooked pinto beans in the Excaliber

We have some hand-cranked or held graters, slicers, choppers and mills for food processing, mostly purchased at thrift stores or eBay. They are a must for processing larger quantities for canning, or for making meals for a larger family. We recently used a hand-cranked meat grinder for grinding sprouted grain to making a lacto-fermented bread.  When making applesauce we use Victorio strainer which is much like the one my grandmother used to separate the pulp and the sauce.  A mortar and pestle, garlic press, masher, veggie peeler, and bamboo cutting board are also vital.

Grinding sprouted wheat in a meat grinder

The Victorio strainer separates pulp and sauce of cooked apples to make applesauce

From the archives, Blossom and Honey Bun mash acorns in our Haitian mortar and pestle to make acorn burgers

Funnels are useful for pouring home brews into small-mouthed containers or spray bottles; strainers can be used for filtering soaked herbs, whey, broth, or cracklings from tallow; and colanders are essential for straining kefir grains and pasta. Cheesecloth or cotton fabric is useful for draining cheeses and squeezing juice from grated roots or veggies.

Straining liver cleanse tincture with a seive and funnel (Magic Mill DLX to the right)

Kefir strained with a colander

A few other important items are a wooden rolling pin for rolling out pie dough or pasta, and a scale for weighing dough, herbs, or homemade soap ingredients. I like wooden spoons for making mint tea, and a hand juicer for quickly juicing lemons or limes. In Florida, an electric citrus juicer is wonderful for making large quantities of fresh orange juice. We use our hand-crank popcorn popper almost daily for a GMO-free healthy salty addition to lunch.  Some use a candy thermometer for cheese and soap making, although I usually tend to “wing” it without one. A crock-pot and stick blender are useful in making soap, herbal remedies, and personal care products. We keep one little pan and lid exclusively for heating water and soaking soapnuts each day in place of laundry detergent.

A scale and crockpot, here used to make soap

Our hand-crank popcorn popper on our 16 brick rocket stove

One item that we use almost daily is a “basket cooker” made from a laundry basket and blankets, cutting way down on fuel consumption for cooking. I describe it in detail in an earlier post.

A laundry basket lined with blankets can save a lot of cooking fuel

Tuck a few thick blankets securely around the hot pot and let it “cook”

This Big Berkey has filtered our water continously for 15 years; the filter elements were changed twice. In recent years we’ve added a second Big Berkey to meet our family’s needs.

Finally, we would not be without our Big Berkeys.  These gravity fed water filters take no electricity, and if cleaned several times each year will filter relatively clean water many years without replacing the filtering elements. If there is a breakdown of clean water supply, these filters are able to make pond water (or worse) into fit drinking water. For our family two Big Berkeys keep up with our rotating water storage needs. We fill them several times a day with our well water, emptying them into the glass jugs mentioned earlier for daily use.

Please share other ideas on items that may be more durable, efficient or sustainable, or have multiple uses to replace other utensils in the off grid homesteading kitchen.

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Hubby wouldn’t be without his coffee press, truly off the grid and better flavored coffee

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt VI

Echinacea blooms in our herb garden

This series explains our family’s choices in lifestyle, including early impressions shaping our world view, a commitment to live debt-free, building family values, simple living and sustainable life skills, living close to the land, and family ministry. Last, but not least, we share our desires to prepare for the future and provide a safer place for our family.

Preparing for the Future

The first time we prepared for possible calamity was for Y2K. Not knowing if it would happen, we invested in things wise to have anyway, within our budget (which wasn’t much). Thankfully Y2K was uneventful, but the beans and rice, gas and toiletries we stored became huge blessings later in financially tough times. Our little generator was a lifesaver when a tropical storm knocked out power for several days the following year. It saved our frozen foods (including homegrown beef) and our sanity. We thanked the Lord for using a false alarm to prompt preparation for what He knew was coming.  “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.” Prov. 31:21 KJV

It occurred to us that wisdom prepares for disasters and unexpected twists in life; especially if God gives warnings, which He usually does.  God may send a prophet (Jer. 25:4) or a sign in the heavens (Gen. 1:14; Joel 2:28-30) or otherwise (Gen. 19, Heb. 11:7) to warn His people of judgment or calamity. Those tuned in to Him can hear (Jer. 6:10; John 10:27). He has recorded things in a Book showing patterns for recognizing future events by past happenings.

Redressing and mulching the raised rows for a winter planting.

Believers should be content with God’s daily provision, not fretting about tomorrow (Matt. 6:31; Heb. 13:5). The Lord provides grace and personal needs one day at a time. Anxiety renders us unproductive and powerless to face a crisis (II Tim. 1:7). Trust in God is practically applied in the simple yet profound principle of spending only what He has provided, rather than presuming on the future and making purchases with resources not yet in hand.

So, does the Lord want us unAWARE and unPREPARED for something coming? Jesus repeatedly warned to watch, be alert, and be ready for a variety of things in the FUTURE. Lack of appropriate preparation creates anxiety. Believers live for the future, not just the present. What we do (or don’t do) today has repercussions later in this life and in eternity. The wise and foolish virgins with their lamps are good examples (Matt. 25:1-13).

About half the beds are prepared.

As noted previously, we have various reasons for homesteading off the grid, regardless of the future. We do not regret following this God-given dream, and the adventures it has created. Nevertheless, we are also keenly aware of the times in which we live, and the responsibility to prepare our family.

These words of Jesus in Luke 12:54-56 speak to this: “When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” KJV

What are the signs of this time? With our eyes open wide to current events, history repeating itself, and prophecies in Scripture and by godly men, we ask the Lord if we should do something about signs we see. Learning to live more sustainably and helping others do the same has been one answer He has given our family. Working together, living with less, growing food, learning sustainable skills, acclimating to tighter spaces, independent of modern systems, and thriving on a limited budget are other practical ways we’ve felt led to prepare.

The new brick pitcher pump housing made by Silver Oak and Farmer Boy is the centerpiece of the herb garden...adding beauty, but fully functioning as an alternative water source

Safety

We would like to think our lovely little homestead in the boondocks, surrounded by friendly neighbors, is a perfectly safe haven, far from violence, pandemics, and evils of town or city…a place of peace and tranquility, broken only by exuberant noises of birds, frogs, chickens and goats, and enhanced by brilliant starry skies at night. And it is.

But without God’s protection we are still susceptible to dangers within and without. In a serious crisis we may be farther from the action, which will hopefully buy some time. If it is quickly resolved, we may not even be directly affected. However, we are not immune to crises.

We thankfully don’t face Smart Meter issues with their health problems and dangers, the lack of privacy, and the control given to others. We didn’t even have to opt-out.  🙂

Nevertheless, another danger in our country has been taking shape, slowly creeping in around us. Things have changed and are changing. Friends of ours were raided on their grass-fed dairy for selling raw milk as pet food…no matter that it is legal in Florida. A woman in Cape Coral, FL was fined for disconnecting her home from the city’s utilities.  The pervading attitude toward people with our lifestyle does not seem to be moving in a positive direction. Of all the reasons we’ve ended up living off the grid in a tiny house, the reason of “safety,” though still a good one, could prove to have an interesting twist.

Our home feels inviting and "safe" under the Lord's protection

A quiet place...

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psa 91:1 KJV Divine protection is our only true safety…in the “secret place.” And, if while under God’s protection something “bad” happens, we can trust “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28 KJV

Our greatest safety and preparedness is filling up regularly with God’s Word and walking in tune with His Spirit and responding when He says “jump” or “hold still.” What a daily challenge in this busy society. Our family has taken this more seriously the past year and a half, preparing spiritually and emotionally several hours each day in Bible reading, and also in praising the Lord and praying together. The impact is profound. I hope to share more about this soon.

We pray this series is a blessing and inspiration to you, not so much about living on or off the grid, analyzing house size, or being prepared or sustainable, but in evaluating values and priorities. In short, the goal is to live in the “secret place” of God’s will for us in all of these areas, resting in His protection and care, ready to go where He leads, do as He directs, and serve how He desires. Though it may look different for you than for us, that place, alone, is where we really learn to know Him, and He can make Himself known.

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Blessings,

Why We Live Off Grid in a Tiny House, Pt V

Note:  Credit must be given to Silver Oak for editing, critiquing, commenting on, and offering Scripture for what is written.  This is his vision (shared by me), and he blesses me for taking time to write it down, freeing him to answer the many projects calling his name “out there.”

Linked w/Natural Living Mama, Barn Hop, The Art of Homemaking, Growing Home, Backyard Farming Connection, Down Home Blog Hop, Homemaking, Wildcrafting Wednesday, HomeAcre Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, From the Farm Blog Hop, Little House in the Suburbs, Farmgirl Friday, and Simple Saturdays.