Sunday, February 13, 2011

Life on the Farm

We moved to our Indiana plot next door to my parents in October of 2010. I imagined I would keep an in-depth blog, but the experience has been far too overwhelming to document on a day-to-day basis.

When Grandpa Burrous (left, teaching me to plant corn) passed away last May, the occasion served as a catalyst to get up and move near family. I dreamed of living near my parents, but we would have had to build on the land behind them. That was out of our price range.

In a rapid turn of events just months after Grandpa's funeral, the man who lived in the house next door to Mom & Dad's became ill and moved to Florida. We decided to leave the sunny, beloved desert of the Southwest to farm here.

The winter has been unforgiving: we've had more snow and ice than I've seen in my ten or so years (taken together) of living in the Midwest and years of winter visits. It has given me a chance to read and learn from others, to plan for indoors and out.
I am charting out our native grasses and wildflowers for soil, water, and wildlife conservation, and making the house more sustainable one step at a time. I am impatient by nature, and this harshest of winters has forced me to be still and accept what is beyond my control.

I would like to chronicle the progress of the place and how it teaches me. Only some of this growth will be for others' consumption. I know that the decision to move here was both sudden and had been building for years. Only perspective will help me tell the story.

In the meantime, the tangible:

1) We replaced an old propane water heater with a heat pump hybrid, which will burn considerably less fossil fuel. However, that (and a leak--now fixed--in our propane tank, which fuels the furnace that has kept us warm this winter) only strengthens my sense of urgency over converting to cleaner sources of fuel. I would love to preserve my lifestyle, but I know that the lifestyle comes at the expense of the planet and, more importantly, other people. Sacrifices will, and should, be made. This first winter away from Arizona (after a decade of acclimating to the climate I knew best as a child), the staggering propane bills convinced me and my husband to keep the house at 68 to 69 degrees.

2) We spray-foamed the completely open crawl space--an expense that also saves gallons of propane a month (maybe as few as 2 or 3 gallons, but at $2 a gallon and the rate we're going through it anyway, that's something). We did other, smaller things that I hope will make a marginal difference: caulked around windows and doors, insulated the hot water pipes (I spent that day on my belly and back in the dark, silver-fish infested crawl space), used canisters of spray foam (I do worry about the chemicals) in holes to the house, etc.

3) We put on a metal roof. This will reflect sunlight and reduce cooling bills in the winter considerably. It also makes the house look more modern, matching our sensibility.

4) We will establish 7.5 acres of native grasses in May. This carries a large up-front cost, but the benefits will last for decades to come. After ten years in the Conservation Resource Program, we might consider taking some of the land out of grasses to farm organically.

The rest will come in stages. We will scale up our composting operation from my two worm bins and outdoor spots by the woods. We plan to get some egg-laying chickens this spring. Of course, I will be busy growing produce for our family--and that family now includes two households. I am deeply gratified to know that we can help my parents around their homestead.

There are political and socio-economic caveats to all of this, more than I will recite here. We recognize that this life change is neither righteous nor consistent, nor is it a choice we advocate for everyone. Nevertheless, we came with the hope that we could live better. Better for the earth. Better for family. Better for ourselves. We will continue to be global citizens--hopefully more conscientious and deliberate than before.

That is the plan (the hope, the dream...) Apologies for the sentimentality here! I promise not to take myself so seriously next time. Slipping on the ice and getting the car stuck in the field keeps us humble.

PS: I forgot these two!
5) We replaced the very old carpets with carpet made from plastic bottles.
6) Of course, we changed all the incandescent light bulbs to CFLs.