Why Build With Straw Bales?

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If you are a regular reader, you already know we are in the middle of building a straw bale insulated home.  I often meet people who assume I am therefore some sort of straw bale evangelist.  This always strikes me as odd because I can’t really understand why I would want to push my building choices on someone else.  As an adult, I feel perfectly able to consider the options and weigh which ones fit our desires and needs.  Therefore, I feel most adults are likewise capable of the same.

So, if you have to ask why you would build a straw bale home, please don’t build one!  If you think straw bale homes mean rodents, rotting straw, fire or other similar disasters, please insulate with something that you are comfortable with.  Rest assured that we don’t care and certainly won’t judge your choice harshly!  

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Putting Farm Animals to Work

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Farm animals have an important place on the homestead.  From the backyard homesteader to the full time farmer, producing your own eggs, milk and meat is a fulfilling accomplishment.  We give our farm animals fresh food and water and the best care possible.  But could our farm animals being doing more for us in return?  We need to look at “the pigness of the pig and the chickeness of the chicken” as Joel Salatin puts it.

 

Instead of working against each farm animal’s natural instincts, why not have those instincts work for you instead?

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Goat’s milk yogurt

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My family loves yogurt.  When our goat’s are in milk, I make 1 gallon of yogurt a week and I still can’t keep up with my kid’s appetites!  Who can resist a bowl of thick, creamy goat’s milk yogurt with a bit of fruit mixed in? 

 

Wait, thick and creamy goat’s milk yogurt? 

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Chores with a Toddler

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When our third child was born, I was determined to get back to my normal routine of caring for animals and gardening as soon as I could.  Being outside is my happy place.  I was able to get my chores and gardening done with my baby by babywearing.  I wore my baby every day for the first 2 years of her life.  When she was about 2 1/2 years old, I stopped wearing her on my back daily. My little adventurer wanted to explore and didn’t want to always be stuck on mama’s back. When I did put her on my back, she felt very heavy and would throw her weight around which would sometimes throw me off balance.  Sadly, I had to admit that my baby wearing days were over. 
This new phase of life definitely put a wrinkle in being active outside on the farm, but I was determined to continue to be outside, caring for the animals and tending the garden.  Plus, I really, REALLY want my little girl to love the farm.  She is so interested in everything that is going on around her, the animals, the vegetables and flowers, I don’t want to squash that. 

How can you get farm chores and gardening done with an active toddler?

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Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Bake

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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Whatever you have for breakfast should stick with you until lunch, especially when you’re out working on the farm.  Our go-to breakfast is soaked oatmeal.  Make it up the night before, turn the burner on low under the pan of oatmeal in the morning, head out to do morning chores and viola!  Breakfast is ready when we come back in.  We add in seasonally available fruit, nuts and raisins to mix it up a little.   We do vary a little with our breakfast options, homemade granola, eggs & bacon and on occasion, boxed cereal.  Most of the time when it comes to breakfast, oatmeal is on the menu.
One morning last winter, when it was chilly in the house and I was thinking of ways to help warm things up, I started thinking about baked oatmeal.  After looking around for some recipes and not finding what I was looking for, Travis decided to make up his own recipe.  He’s good like that.

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Eating Well in Rural America

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Eating real food with real ingredients is a priority for our family.  Before we moved to the Ozarks, we lived outside a large city where organic produce and meat was not hard to find. The prices were reasonable since there was a demand for organic food.
We moved to an area of the country where the organic food movement is just now trickling in.  It was definitely an eye opener to see how spoiled we were, with pretty much anything we wanted just a 10 minute drive away.   There are grocery stores that sell organic meat and produce about an hour away, which we do go to if we happen to need to go to the city for other reasons. However we prefer to stay on the farm and avoid unnecessary running around as much as possible.

So how do we eat well in rural America when organic food isn’t so readily available?    

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The House Design

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We have spent about 2 years on our farm now and have gotten to the point where we are ready to build a house.  It took about that long to get a feel for the best siting and to get various other prerequisite projects completed, such as a barn to store the straw bales.  This has given us some time to think about what we really want.  Here are some of the things we considered in our design:

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Getting Ready For Plaster

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We’re still working on our straw bale guest cabin.  As you probably know, things don’t always go according to plan or go as quickly as you’d like them to go.  The bales were stacked and ready for the welded wire in December.  Winter is very mild here in southern Missouri, and we thought we could put the lime plaster up before the weather got too cold.  But as the night time lows dipped around freezing, we realized that we were just going to have to wait for warmer weather.  There always other projects to do around here, so work on the guest cabin slowed to working on it on rainy days.  Several other projects took priority and have been completed.  Our focus has returned to the guest cabin as we’re nearly ready to get started on our actual house!   It’s time to get this cabin done!

 

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Surviving Summer

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The heat of summer is upon us!  It’s the time of year when many people retreat into their air conditioned homes to keep cool and comfortable.  But what would you do if you didn’t have air conditioning?
When we lived in Colorado, we did not have air conditioning.  Sure, it got hot during the day, but the nights were always cool and there was no humidity.  Our house was also positioned in a way that the afternoon sun didn’t shine into our house during the summer. We were quite comfortable and didn’t even think about needing air conditioning.
Fast forward to the beautiful Ozarks.  We are currently living in a trailer house until we finish building our house.  Trailer houses are poorly insulated and tend to act like an oven in the summer heat. And the humidity!  Everything melts in the humidity, people included.  We soon found ways to not only survive an Ozark summer, but to enjoy it without central air.

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Farming: A Career Change

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A conventional job is often described as comfortable, stable, or secure.  Whether or not that is actually accurate, it can certainly feel that way.  However, humans tend to be rather illogical about things and that perceived security may not be as secure as it feels.  Regardless, comfortable easily describes many jobs.  Routine and known things are somehow comfortable.  Branching out into the unknown can certainly be intimidating.  This is how I felt when I left the safe, familiar world of engineering and decided to buy a farm.  That coupled with my inexperience in the field of farming made it feel extra scary.  However, today I’m grateful that we pursued our dreams, even though we haven’t yet fully met all our goals.  
Here are some things to think about if you decide to consider a career change.  My experience is from engineering to farming/ranching/permaculture so that’s what I’ll share, but I suspect it could apply to more than just those specifics.  Keep in mind that I’m not giving advice, just sharing our experiences.  As my neighbor always says, free advice is worth just that anyway.  Most importantly, try to be honest with yourself throughout this decision making process or else this is a waste of time.  Be willing to consider downsides.  Don’t look at best-case income/etc unless you also consider worst case or more realistic outcomes.

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