Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Personality Types (INFJ + ESFP)

Our answers to the question for today illustrate two very different personalities. One sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night and enjoys remembering. The other wakes up and can’t sleep, planning the next project. One likes to look back and play the game of what might have been -- for an exercise, not because of a wish for something different. The other doesn’t waste time on the past. One dives right in. The other mulls things over and over and over. Guess who's who.
What do you wish you’d known before you started?
James: I wish I’d known about heritage fruit trees, no-till gardening, and the many frogs that supposedly “safe” Roundup has killed. I wish I’d known how to farm with animals to supplement my brawn (though I still don’t own a tractor). I wish I’d known enough to build more pest-proof garden fences. I wish I’d had the skills of a mechanical engineer, cabinetmaker, fine carpenter, solar contractor, and automotive mechanic.

Karen: There's not a lot I wish I had known because learning and starting from scratch is very rewarding.  I guess the only thing I wish I knew was just how rewarding it is and maybe we would have done this sooner.

Monday, January 14, 2013

No imposters and no guilt

If it’s raining, you’ll probably find me (James) inside working on my non-homesteading chores. On sunny days, you may find me inside, but I’ll probably be griping about not being outside. This suggests another of those questions Karen and I have answered.

What’s the hardest part about living this way?

James: Feeling like an imposter. Many have told us they envy our lifestyle. Sometimes it doesn’t feel so different, such as when we drive our gas-eater to a big box store because it’s easy and convenient to buy things at one place, even though our tax dollars subsidize that retailer by paying “entitlements” to many of its poorly paid employees who can’t afford the necessities of life, such as health care. My self-employment allows me to live anywhere; does that count toward self-sufficiency?

Okay, in a way that’s probably avoiding the question. One of the hardest parts for me is living too far from the kind of musical events I most enjoy. We’re lucky to live where music is everywhere. Go to a party and folks are likely to pull out their instruments and begin to play. Classical concerts, opera, plays, and musicals take more effort. We don’t live that far from a vibrant town (Lexington, Virginia), but after a day’s work it can be tough finding our way there. Sometimes I wish I could walk just a few blocks to find a seat in a concert hall.

Karen: I don't know what James will think of my answer to this question because I don't think he feels this way. I'd have to say the hardest part of living this lifestyle is giving up some creature comforts. I'm no different than anyone else when it comes to wanting a little luxury. Don't get me wrong, not having to work an office job 9 to 5 is a luxury to me. What I mean is sometimes I think it would be nice to turn a furnace up to 70-some degrees so we could walk around the house naked if we wanted to and not feel guilty about it. I also feel guilty about using the dryer instead of hanging clothes on the line but that guilt must not be bad enough because I still use the dryer more than the clothesline. When I dream of building a barn in our field with a large kitchen attached for cheese making or entertaining I have to ask myself, why do I think I need more than I already have. I think I have a bigger case of the "I wants" than James.

So I guess my answer is Guilt. Feeling guilty for not always being as "green" as I should be.

James continues: Today, after taking our son’s car to Lexington and running back in a light rain, I plopped myself down to work on 1400 pages of new mortgage regulations. The only other thing I did all day, besides eat, was look at “Café Music” by Paul Schoenfield. In March, I’ll be going to “music camp” (as Karen calls it) to study this piece with a trio (me on piano, with a violinist and cellist). That’s about the time kidding season begins, so I’m hopeful Pessa will drop her babies before I go and the others will wait until I get back. Not much is more fun than watching goats being born and bouncing a few hours later.

Does this sound like homesteading to you? Look, it’s a system, centered on a piece of land. Everything has to go together – the people, animals, plants, soil, air, water. We’ve got to try to keep everything happy, perhaps especially the people.

I used to get frustrated at certain environmentalists who criticized other environmentalists for driving a car instead of walking or biking. We’re never going to agree on everything. We shouldn’t pick on someone else for doing things differently, especially when we’re striving in the same direction. It’s okay to patronize farmers’ markets and local food groceries instead of hoeing. We need each other. There are no imposters here.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

In Memory of Banks, Stewey, Franklin and Otto

Yesterday a friend asked me how many pounds of meat we get from a goat. Today I had an answer. We picked up 125 pounds of Banks, Stewey, Franklin and Otto. I realize this may sound harsh, but they did have a happy new year, two days of it, and along with last year, much more happiness than is experienced by the adulterated meat many people buy at WalMart, Food Lion, or other grocery stores.

Let’s turn to another one of those homesteader questions and our he-said and she-said answers.

What has been the most painful or challenging part of learning how to be self-sufficient?

Karen: Dealing with sick animals and knowing when to get veterinary care or how much to invest in an animal is always tough. Emotions get in the way and sometimes it's hard to be realistic and remember that a goat or pig is not the same as my pet dog even though sometimes they feel like pets.

One of the most frustrating parts of raising animals for meat is dealing with family and friends who don't understand the concept of eating animals raised in a humane way vs. eating meat that comes from a grocery store and has been raised packed tight in a barn with no exercise, fresh air or compassion. If they loved animals the way they say they do they wouldn't continue to promote that way of raising food.  

James: The most daunting part of homesteading is developing a comprehensive view and understanding of the homestead – how everything can work together most effectively, efficiently, economically and environmentally. This takes smarts and concentration. We have barely begun to learn what Elk Cliff Farm has to teach us.

James adds: I guess I failed to address the “painful” aspect of that question, so here’s a little more, picking up on the emotions involved in parting with our livestock pets.

Our goats are dairy goats, not bred for meat production, so the per-goat processing fee is very high per-pound. In case you don’t know, many dairy farms have no use for male goats. These poor unfortunate creatures typically don’t even have one happy day.

Another friend, when I expressed concern about the possibility of global warming, said something like, “Heck, the human race is going to end sooner or later anyway when a giant asteroid hits the planet or our sun dies, so what’s it matter if it’s today or tomorrow?” My answer was, “Well, it matters because until then, life is all we have; let’s be happy and do what we can to make it last.” So it is with these male goats; let’s give them some time to enjoy between birth and death.

I understand all of this may be rationalizing for our dietary habits. You do it, we do it, too. Not only that, we do it with names because we didn’t want to make it easy on ourselves. We can share fond memories of Banks, Stewey, Franklin and Otto. When we started this Elk Cliff Farm venture, we had qualms about this. We still do. We hope we always do. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 and real food

A friend posted on Facebook an article about butter vs margarine.  Of course, butter came out on top, with the article comparing margarine to plastic, and rightly so.  The friend said she and her 20-something daughter have been talking about "real food" and how processed food is killing people.   We see more and more posts about food on Facebook than ever.  Maybe it's because we have lots of friends who are foodies.

The new year often prompts us to review the past year and wonder what the future holds.   This brings us to another question presented by Mother Earth News.

What has been the most rewarding part of self-sufficient living?

Karen:  Hands down, the most rewarding part is working and learning alongside James and being proud of how far we've come in raising our own food in a healthy and humane manner.  It wasn't until we moved to Virginia that I really gave much thought to what I put in my mouth, except maybe how many calories or grams of fat were in something.  It was more about fitting into my clothes, not if what I was eating may improve my quality of life. 

I think more people are moving in this direction and if they can't raise their own food because of time, location or finances, they are at least recognizing that the stuff that comes wrapped in plastic and cardboard in which every package looks exactly the same, is making people sick.  I haven't made any new year resolutions but I am going to make a prediction.  I predict there will be more people at the farmers' markets in 2013 and fewer people eating at McDonalds.

James:  When I was about eight, our family of seven was invited to dine with, as I recall, the even larger family of a biology student of my father.  I remember three things about the visit. Their mule kicked me, everything they served came from their farm, and there were many leftovers.

One of the greatest rewards of self-sufficient living comes when we sit down at the table with extended family and friends, knowing that most of what goes into our mouths comes from Elk Cliff Farm and that my great-grandparents would be able to identify everything on that table and could have prepared it. It's wonderful to know that this meal is not the product of a broken food supply.
We generally haven’t been a trendy couple, as a visit to our closets would confirm. Ironically, our retro-perspective landed us near the front of a movement. Although I don’t much care for faddish terms like “foodie,” I guess we’re foodies because we care what we eat and we devote a lot of time and attention to growing it and preparing it.

It’s strange that many folks who insist on washing their hands with anti-bacterial soap don’t give a thought to where the stuff they put in their mouths has been. Recent reading suggests that this is changing and more and more folks care where their food comes from. I have a feeling we’ll see huge changes in 2013.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our new mobile home

[Please keep in mind. We pick a topic and then write independently so we don't know what the other is writing.]

Karen:  She's a beauty, isn't she?  I mean the trailer, not the truck.  I'm sure that's what you thought I was talking about.  They're very similar, rust and all. 

Oh the possibilities this stock trailer offers.  We don't have a tractor (yet) or a log splitter or mulcher or......., but this trailer is something a "farmer" would have, isn't it?  Last year we had to borrow an inadequate horse trailer to take our hog to the butcher and breeder, AND we had to rely on a friend to arrange this loaner.  

Not only will we haul pigs, we'll haul donkeys to trails and use it as a moveable shelter for the goats so we can rotate pastures or use it as a portable milking room sometime.  The possibilities are endless. 

I'm super excited about this purchase (actually, it's a Christmas gift to me from James).  Rust and all, it's ours.  Maybe we should paint it and put our farm logo on it.  Oh, yeah, we don't have a farm logo.  Anyone have any ideas? 

JamesAll farmers have tractors, except for those who don’t. We don’t. Well, maybe we aren’t real farmers. I’m not going to argue that one, but I aspire to the title. A fine farmer is a Renaissance person, knowledgeable about meteorology, mechanical engineering, automotive mechanics, geology, chemistry, biology, botany, anatomy, veterinary medicine – the list is endless. Some day I’d like to feel comfortable posting this sign: “Elk Cliff Farm/Karen and James Pannabecker, Farmers.”

In the meantime, we and our homestead will gradually grow. Today we added a livestock trailer, bought from friends who, like us, are “moving up.” Why do we need a trailer?

“Need” is a loaded word. “Want” might be more accurate, at least until we hang that sign.

We wanted the trailer for two main reasons. First, we’d like a dependable vehicle of our own. A year ago we borrowed a trailer to deliver Velma the pig to an abattoir. Velma was too much for that trailer until we stopped en route to retrofit it. See

Second, we’d like to implement the rotational grazing promoted by the likes of Joel Salatin (Polyface Farms). To do this, we need a movable animal shelter. Our new trailer will protect our goats from wind, wet and sun as we rotate them through our 25-acre pasture.

Someday maybe we’ll add a tractor. Or not – perhaps our mammoth donkeys will train us to pull a plow instead.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Karen:  James and I decided to keep a blog together about our journey to a self-sustainable lifestyle.  Instead of having to agree on what we'll write, we thought it would be fun for each of us to give our own perspective on whatever the topic at hand may be.   As you'll figure out quite quickly, I focus more on the animals at Elk Cliff Farm and James is the gardener.

JamesWe hope to share with you our joys and disappointments developing Elk Cliff Farm into a sustainable homestead, where we provide as much as we can for our table and maybe eventually for other tables as well. Karen is the livestock manager, I focus on plants, and we both help each other. Some people think our roles are reversed from the usual, that Karen is the handyman and I’m the lady of the manor, but we don’t buy into stereotypes. We get things done as a team, trying to leverage what each of us does best.

Note: A recent article in Mother Earth News asked several homesteaders a few questions about their lifestyles. We're going to begin this blog by answering one of those questions. We prepared our answers independently, as we did the welcomes above. Here's today's question.

1. What motivated you to choose a self-sufficient, homesteading lifestyle? How did you get started?

Karen: It happened little-by-little, really. I'm not sure I chose it. I love raising animals and James loves gardening so one thing led to another. We got chickens for eggs but then of course we couldn't keep all the roosters so we began using some of them for meat. The dairy goats came next, then turkeys, pigs and rabbits, etc. The gardens continue to grow larger every year also.

JamesTwo signs pointed me toward self-sufficiency, a class in simpler living and two towers falling. Then I began to notice strange things, like rain gutters rushing water away from where it falls, and a four hundred dollar electric bill to warm or cool nearly five thousand square feet, much of which three people did not use. I noticed that we spent weekends in a rustic log cabin, away from our swimming pool and hot tub. I had to ask what was wrong with this picture.
We started by shedding the big house in the “country club” and moving to the rustic cabin. We fixed up a small neighboring cottage, which made more sense for winter living, and I began gardening again after fits and spurts over many years. The shaded garden in the woods left a lot to be desired. Two years later we bought a small homestead, Elk Cliff Farm, four miles down the road, which we drove past whenever we went anywhere. The farmhouse needed a lot of work (Karen’s job). I built a compost heap and started digging in bright sunshine.