Monday, September 19, 2011

Natural Beef, Home School, and a Day in The Life of a Farmer

View the updated version of this post over at Pocket Pause!

Today, I'm happy to share this guest post from Erika DuVal, a farmer, home schooler, and savvy mama living in Northern California with her husband and two girls, ages four and two. The DuVal's have a small farm where they raise alfalfa and grass hay, and Black Angus cattle. Erika was one of my best friends' older sisters, and we've recently reconnected via Facebook - that oddly useful and distracting social networking site. She's been very gracious in networking with us, sharing farming advice, and just welcoming us back to the Northwest in general. Thanks for the great post, Erika, and I hope my readers enjoy it too!


It was an honor and surprise to have Miranda ask me to write a guest post for An Austin Homestead. I have a blog of my own where I post pictures for my family to enjoy but have never written a guest post before. Agriculture has always been in my blood. I was born into a farming family, spent my younger years raising animals for 4-H and FFA, was trained at Oregon State University to be a high school agriculture teacher, and now get to live my dream of farming with my husband. We made the choice this year to home school our children and it has been the right decision for us and them so far.

Miranda asked me to share with you a little about how we have chosen to help our girls be savvier about the food we eat. We are by no means perfect and this is definitely a process for us. I grew up eating mostly meat purchased at the grocery store, since that’s what we could afford at the time, and not much beef at that. Our interest in homegrown beef basically started shortly after getting married, when my husband and I purchased our first little herd of cattle. I raised our first steer for butcher and we haven’t looked back. We love our homegrown beef, mostly because we think it tastes better and I know exactly where the animal has been and what it has eaten. While attending college I visited a very well run feedlot where cattle were fattened for slaughter and I was impressed with the operation. I’m not afraid to eat beef from the grocery store but since raising our own, that’s what I prefer. There have been many times when we have hired help on the farm for just a few hours at a time and they have preferred to be paid in beef rather than cash.

Our daughters have been to every butchering since they were born. Hannah attended her first one at a few weeks old, and Helena was under one year when she attended her first. A few weeks ago they had to miss their favorite cartoon show to watch a steer being butchered. They were a little upset when they got back in a realized it was over, but I strongly feel that the benefit of seeing where their food comes from far outweighed the drama from the missed cartoon. For those of you that wonder how it happens, a mobile butcher comes to our farm, harvests the animal and takes it back to his shop where he cuts and wraps it up for the freezer. This year I asked that all of the trimmed fat be saved so that I can experiment with it a bit. Maybe we’ll try making some soap. I Recently tried my hand a rendering pork fat for lard. It made for some delicious homemade flour tortillas. Next up is pie crust made with lard.

The girls also take an active role in the garden. We have a fairly large garden spot and each fall or spring my husband does whatever he thinks necessary to prepare it for the next growing season. My husband has been gardening since he was a little boy and usually does the planting but he was really busy this spring, so this year the girls and I did much of the planting. I don’t let the girls do too much with the smaller seeded crops but they were a big help planting things like corn, beans, peas and squash. Now that late summer and early fall are upon us harvesting has become a big hit. Tonight we harvested beans, corn, and tomatoes. The next step will be for me to figure out how to best utilize them.

Early in our marriage my husband used to grow some things just because they were fun to grow and not because he liked to eat them. I’m now trying to adhere to a rule that we only grow things that we will eat and then I try not to waste what we grow. Zucchini is the one exception. I cannot keep up with it. So far I have canned a small batch of raspberry jam and the rest of the produce has been put in the freezer.

As we raise our girls we always want the best for them. As a result we have chosen to homeschool them. I’m currently a licensed high school teacher and never would have thought I would be homeschooling my children. However, as we have looked at the local public school system and realized it can’t meet the needs of our children, and have found that the 45 minute drive and cost of tuition for the nearest private school is not within our means, homeschool seems to be the best choice for us at the moment. We have been educating our children since birth so this progression doesn’t seem all that foreign after all. Hannah is currently enrolled in a Classical Education program that meets once a week and so far she seems to be thriving there. The other days of the week we have a structured time of working on math, reading and writing. The rest of the day when life is happening around them they are acquiring many life skills and much knowledge.

I hope you enjoyed your brief look into our world as we work to do the best to raise and educate our family, even if it means traveling down a new road. The next learning curve for me will be the potential addition of chickens to our little farm. I’m used to larger animals so the addition of smaller creatures will be a change for me.

Thanks, Erika - I bet some of my readers can help her out with starting chickens! I'd also recommend my Chickens for Beginners series I wrote for Yard Farm Austin - i think i will re-post that over here in time for Spring.

This post also found at the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop.

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