September 9th, 2009
Voluntary Simplicity--Not So Simple for One Utah Family They share their experiences with square-foot gardens, rooster killing, and fighting industrial agriculture
by Rebecca Edwards
Voluntary Simplicity--Not So Simple for One Utah Family
They share their experiences with square-foot gardens, rooster killing, and fighting industrial agriculture.
Depending a warm, summer evening in Casey and Heather Sanders' Riverton backyard was exactly what a summer evening should be: children laughing, warm breezes, a great view of the 2300 square-foot garden and chickens and ducks roaming free throughout the yard--snacking on bugs and worms. Well, I could do without the "fowl-play," but everything else was idyllic.
A little over a year ago, the Sanders family embarked on a quest to become as self-sufficient as possible. This quest led to the accumulation of the afore-mentioned feathered friends and an ever-expanding garden that provided vegetables (thanks to canning, freezing, and cellar storage) for the family from last summer almost up until this spring's planting season began. But the Sanders' desire for self-sufficiency isn't just about providing a simpler life and rich experiences for their two sons, it's also about avoiding the evils of "industrialized agriculture."
Casey, an almost rabid researcher, has invested a significant amount of time into discovering exactly where the food at the local supermarket is coming from, what's in it, and what kind of corporate impact is behind it."
It's more political to me than anything else," Casey explained, "I'm into this to avoid industrial agriculture and the only way to do that is to do it yourself."
Doing it himself has turned into raising six chickens, one rooster (RIP), two ducks, and turning more and more of their backyard into a high-yield garden. Heather, a full-time mother, leaves most of the raging against the industrial agriculture machine to her husband.
"It's all him," she said. Heather is supportive and seems to trust Casey's judgment in these matters, but she makes it clear that since this is his passion he needs to take the lead in caring for the animals and garden
This year Casey, a computer programmer by day, made his first attempt at square-foot gardening. Square-foot gardening pioneer, Mel Bartholomew, (from Eden, Utah) describes the concept like this, "I've taken all the hard work out of gardening. No heavy digging, watering, weeding, thinning, or over-flowering harvest. What is left is a productive, well-kept, colorful garden that looks more like a landscaped area than a typical single-row garden."
The square-foot parts of Casey's garden are raised up and have a look similar to that of a raised flowerbed, but with more order. Each large square is divided into smaller, one-foot squares and only one or two seeds is required in each square to produce a healthy crop. Because they are raised up, Casey was able to start with healthy topsoil and fresh, organic manure which has not only produced lots of yummy results, but has almost eliminated weeding.
Walking through the single-row areas of Casey's garden and comparing that to the square-foot gardens, I can easily see the appeal. He is fighting the infestation of weed seeds remaining from the yard he has turned into traditional row garden and it looks like a tough battle. "It takes a few years for you to change the make-up of the soil and get rid of the weed seeds that were in the yard. With all the rain we've had, it's been really hard to control."
As we leave the garden area, we move over to what I have deemed the "killing tree." In addition to raising hens for eggs and tending garden, Casey (a former vegetarian) has also tried his hand at providing fresh chicken (or rooster) for the dinner table. I listened, with a combination of awe and disgust, as he described how he did it.
"We had a rooster and he was a pain. We ate him. I'd never done anything like that before," he said. "I searched on the Internet to figure out how to do it, and even looked on youtube. I kinda had a sick feeling in my stomach a little bit. It took me a couple of days to work up to it. So when I finally got up the nerve to do it, I broke it's little neck, hung him from the tree, and sliced it's throat to let him bleed out." he said.
Heather jumped in at this point, adding, "I was surprised. We thought the kids (4 and 6) were going to be really upset about it, but they ended up pulling up lawn chairs and watching the whole thing."
After the bloody parts were finished, it was time to deal with the feathers. "I got a bucket of almost boiling water, dunked it in that for about a minute, scalded it so the feathers would come out easier, and then just pulled all the feathers out. I needed needle-nosed pliers to pull out the wing feathers, those were really hard," he explained. But that wasn't all: after the feathers were taken care of, he had to gut the rooster and prepare it for cooking. I wondered how long such a process would take--not even an hour, according to Casey.
"What was weird for me," Heather said, "Was thinking that an hour ago, that was in the yard running around alive and now we're eating it."
So I had to know--how did it taste? It seems the rooster was met with mixed reviews by the family.
"I think Heather and Skyler (the 4-year-old) were kind of freaked out about the whole idea of it. They tried it and then ate something else for dinner," Casey said. "I thought it was alright. It was a little stringy because it was a rooster. There were lots of leftovers, but when we woke up the next morning Gage (the 6-year-old) was on the couch eating it."
The whole family does enjoy the eggs they get from their six hens, however. They bought the hens as chicks last fall, and they started laying eggs in February. Casey, who keeps a meticulous record of the hens' yield, reported that they had produced 521 eggs as of the day we sat down together. Calculating all his costs, he figured out that they are paying about $1.49 per dozen of free-range, organic eggs--nearly half what you'll pay in a supermarket.
Saving money, eating healthy, and exposing his sons to "where food comes from" are all secondary to what really drives Casey to move closer to self-sufficiency. After doing the research and talking with others who are of a like mind, he believes that the agricultural system in America--and throughout the world--is corrupt and unhealthy.
From the overuse of oil, to the effusion of corn, to chemical companies altering seeds and produce, Casey is determined to find a way to provide for his family without supporting the entities he feels are willing to compromise everything for a buck.
"It comes down to companies wanting to make as much money as possible," he says. "America basically runs on corn. It's artificially cheap, and because the government subsidizes it, there have been pushes to use corn in as many ways and products as possible. They are force-feeding cows corn and putting corn syrup into everything.
The Proliferation of Corn Syrup
To understand the proliferation of corn syrup, Heather and Casey said they tried to buy only corn syrup-free products on a recent trip to the grocery store. "It's hard to find anything without it," Heather said, "And if you do, it's expensive."
America reportedly produces about half of the world's supply of corn, and the starchy vegetable has been blamed for many evils including the existence of e-coli in beef and the country's obesity problem. Casey readily admits that much of his research occurs on the Internet, and allows for a margin of error; however, he is confident that the more you know about where your food comes from, and the more control you have over its production, the healthier it will be.
In addition to corn, Casey is also concerned about companies such as Monsanto, who genetically engineer seeds, manufacture Round-up, and have a reputation for going after small farmers and driving them out of business.
"They have gone after farmers who had their crops cross-pollinated from neighboring fields with the Monsanto seeds and demanded that they pay for use of their patented product. Those farmers had nothing to do with them or their seeds, and now they're being put out of business and even losing their homes because they just don't have the money to fight a company like that.
Monsanto's website sends a strong message that they are a company that is committed to applying innovation and technology to help farmers around the world grow yield sustainability while also reducing agriculture's impact on the environment. However, there are other websites dedicated to denouncing the company and sharing the stories of farmers who claim to have been mistreated by Monsanto.
I'm not ready to declare a winner in the battle of Monsanto vs. the little guy, but I was amazed at the number of resources available on both this subject and the corn conspiracy. I have to admit that I admire Casey's dedication to his ideals and his willingness to actually get out from behind the computer and dig in the dirt, raise animals, and create the type of life he wants for himself and his family.
Before I left, he wanted to share one last story with me. One of the boys was required to bring carrots to school one day. Since they had run out of garden carrots around December, Heather went to the store and bought a bunch of carrots for him to take to school. Apparently, the other kids had never seen carrots that were not shaved down into the cute, little baby carrots sold by the bag.
"I couldn't believe it. They ended up painting with the carrots that Gage brought because the teacher didn't know what else to do with them. The kids were all freaked out and wouldn't eat them," Casey said.
When we live in a world where kids don't know what a real carrot looks like, Casey's garden (and even his rooster killing) make a lot of sense.
Links to More Websites on Gardening and Industrial Agriculture
Listen to Mel Bartholomew: Every Saturday 9:00 to 10:00 am MT In Salt Lake City on KLO 1430 or online at www.kloradio.com
View more articles in our current issue:
Rage Against the Complicated Life: Voluntary Simplicity