Home from Funky Chicken Farm

18 04 2009

I returned from Funky Chicken farm with the long end of the stick. In return for a couple of trays of seedlings Suzanne gave me a dozen happy chicken eggs laid on Tuesday, many packets of seeds including a variety of heirloom tomatoes, a strawberry plant and a gallon of Atomic Grow™.

She described these farm fresh eggs as “creamy”, which is exactly what they are. After having them I can attest that they are the best eggs I have ever eaten! I still chuckle when I recall our initial discussion about the eggs. She said “Isn’t it amazing that something so good comes out of a chicken’s butt?” Amazing indeed!

Eggs

As we toured the garden I commented upon her gorgeous strawberry plants to which she replied by yanking out a good handful of runners and sticking them into a pot for me. Strawberries are the one thing AJ’s mom wished our garden had. See how easily some wishes come true?

Strawberry

The final goody Suzanne gave me was a gallon of Atomic Grow™. I have contacted them via email and hope to have a response in order to update this post. For now, I gather that this is an all natural, organic wonder soap, that when sprayed onto all types of plants causes them to do everything they do a whole lot better. The leaves turn greener overnight, the root systems become massive and strong, and insects are repelled. It appears to be a single application, environmentally friendly pesticide and fertilizer. I will take some before and after shots of my garden to document the results.

In addition to the physical objects I obtained in my trade with Suzanne, I gained an incredible introduction into the local permaculture movement as well as a wealth of new activities and ideas in which to participate.

During my visit I mentioned to Suzanne that I would love to go on a foraging expedition, but don’t have enough local plant knowledge to do this properly. She jumped on the idea and offered to suggest this to her good friend Vicki who is a member of the Conradina Chapter of  the Florida Native Plant Society.

As soon as I get my projects under control I want to get out and forage!

Suzanne also turned me onto Eco Growers of East Central Florida:

Eco-Growers of East Central Florida is an informal group of local growers that support and participate in sustainable, environmentally-friendly agriculture and offer an outlet to exchange resources, knowledge, current events, education, and more.

Our group was started to support growers (a grower can be anyone who has a few tomato plants or fruit trees, or maybe a flock of laying hens, or someone with a small working farm) and to help raise community awareness about local food.

Our goal is to promote local, sustainable agriculture in east central Florida and help make the community aware of the opportunities to buy locally grown or produced goods, as well as the environmental and social benefits of buying locally.

The members hold a “Local Flavors” potluck approximately once per month, and Suzanne hopes to hold one at her place soon. Where am I going to find time to do all of this fun stuff?

Since my visit Suzanne and I have also decided to get into the business of raising Ox Beetles. I will try to go into more detail about these delightful insects, and share a couple of photographs in a future post. For now I must get busy in the garden.

Once I finish this post I will compile all of the links and place them in my sidebar.

All in all I would have to rate this a five star day. I returned home both exhausted and exuberated.

The garden greeted me with some spring blooms and a surprise.

Green onion bloom

Green-Onion-Bloom

Chive bloom

Chive-Bloom

Cardinal Air Plant ready to bloom

Tillandsia-Fasciculata-Flow

Does this look familiar? This is the mystery fruit from “Saturday in Review – Spring is Springing”. Things didn’t turn out quite like I expected. This is a passion fruit from a variety of which I do not know the name. My internet research assured me that it would ripen and drop to the ground, from whence I could retrieve it and enjoy it’s sweet goodness; perhaps by infusing into a bottle of vodka. Instead, the thing dried up, split open and released a handful of seeds on wispy parachutes. Oh well…

Open-Passion-Fruit

I saved some of the seeds, although I have no use for them, with a plant for cuttings growing right into my yard. I read that they are difficult to grow from seed and take many years to bloom.

Passion-Flower-Seeds

Fortunately the plant I enjoy is mature and produces a constant supply of  blooms to the joy of butterflies and bees alike.

Passion-Flower

So, that’s my wrap-up of my visit to Funky Chicken Farm. If you live in the area or find yourself passing through, I highly recommend making an appointment and dropping in for a tour. You will find a warm welcome, lots of treasures and an experience to remember.

Thanks Suzanne & Andrew!

Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com





Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2

18 04 2009

Funky Chicken Farm owners Suzanne & Andrew Malone with some of their feathery friends. Suzanne-&-Andrew

On Wednesday, I was so privileged as to find myself sitting around a large table at Funky Chicken Farm with four fascinating and like-minded individuals: Suzanne and Andrew, Christi and Carol. Funky Chicken Farm is a joint endeavor by Suzanne and Andrew Malone. Andrew is the poultry specialist while Suzanne does the gardening, brewing, bees, worms, herbs, Crusty Man Balm and Tie-Dye shirts. They help each other with all projects, many of which are symbiotic. Don’t ask me what “Crusty Man Balm” is. We talked about so much that this one got overlooked. Hopefully, Suzanne will fill me in and I will describe it in a later post.

Had I known so much would be taking place I would have brought a notepad. Instead, I attempted to absorb as much of the rapid-fire conversation as my feeble mind could contain. I’ll try to break it down into digestible segments. Suzanne and Andrew are as compatible as any two people I’ve met. They both struck me as gregarious, intelligent, easygoing and passionate about their varied interests. These are not people I would expect to find with their noses buried in the TV while the world passes them by. They are busy; busy doing lots of interesting and beneficial things. These are my kind of people! The conversation started with The Growboxes which are featured here and here. The Growbox looks like a Rubbermaid storage bin, but there is much more to it. Suzanne explains it best:

A Growbox is a self watering container that is portable, and contains all the water, air, and nutrients for a plants optimum growth. Great for patios, apartments, and even those in wheelchairs as you can put them on a raised platform. No more bending over! You will participate in making your own Growbox to take home, you will learn the quickest way to make them, you will use power tools and you will get a farm tour of my garden of veggies in over 50 Growboxes. Includes discussion on what to grow, trellis systems, and how many seedlings to grow in each box with a printout. We’ll cover composting, worm culture, and the chicken tour.

The mechanics still remain somewhat of a mystery to me, but upon viewing her garden, there is no doubt as to their effectiveness. I mentioned that I used one of those containers to start plants, but it wasn’t as sophisticated as her setup. Everyone took interest in my mention of initially using my container for raising beetles. Somehow I found myself explaining how there is a community of people who raise beetles and other insects as a hobby; and that I paid the rent one summer by capturing and selling Ox beetles (Strategus antaeus) online. We discussed black lighting and the forum where I met my fellow insect enthusiasts (insectnet.com). Andrew and Carol both found it interesting enough to jot down the website. It’s so refreshing to find people with the same interests.

I asked about their worms and Suzanne offered me some “Worm Tea”, which I learned is a great liquid fertilizer extracted during the process of worm farming. Their offerings so outweighed mine that I felt compelled to reign in my enthusiasm for fear of being a mooch. Next time I will come bearing our wild caught Florida shrimp and trade for some of the things I didn’t get today.

Next I learned that Christi started and moderates a yahoo group called Brevard_CoSeed&CuttingsExchange. Although I am happy to financially support the preservation of heirloom varieties I love her philosophy that plants should not cost money. I didn’t realize that the meeting was also a cutting swap. Now I feel bad for not bringing some cuttings to offer. I have since joined that group and found that Christi is looking for jasmine, which I have aplenty.

Everyone raved about the Brevard Rare Fruit Council until I was thoroughly convinced that I must join. I suggest that anyone who lives in the area should check out the website and take advantage of the benefits offered by this group. I certainly intend to. The topic of edible weeds was raised. If you have read back into my previous postings you may know that I’m a big fan of foraging and would love to be involved in a foraging group. I listed a few wild edibles that I nurture and when prickly pear came up Suzanne mentioned that prickly pear makes great wine. This is when I learned of yet another interesting hobby of theirs. They belong to the SAAZ Homebrew Club.

The SAAZ Homebrew Club in Brevard County Florida is an AHA registered club. We sponsor a national competition every year in September. Social events include our Summer Party, Octoberfest, Pub Crawls and Christmas Party. We encourage and help new members in the art of homebrewing to further our mission of educating and promoting homebrewing and craft beers. We have members who make beer, wine and mead (honey wine) and are happy to share their knowledge. Our normal monthly meetings are at Charlie & Jakes (6300 Wickham RD, Melbourne FL) on the 3rd Sunday of the month at 2pm. Due to the number of special events during the year it’s a good idea to check the calendar, or contact the club president at Prez@saaz.org  if you are interested in attending.

See why this took multiple posts? Actually, any one of the many topics we spanned could justify a post of its own.

To my surprise Carol began extracting small plastic cups and bottles of brown liquid from her bag. I wondered to myself “Is there no end to how interesting these people are?” As she opened a bottle and began pouring out shots she described the cloudy liquid as “Kombucha”. I had never heard of this beverage, but it turns out to be an interesting and tasty form of fermented sweet tea. From the Wikipedia page:

Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a “kombucha colony”.

First Carol shared a spiced version rich with cinnamon, ginger and apple flavor. This was really good and reminded me of apple cider. Next she gave us a taste of the straight brew. The experience created an image in my mind of sitting around a campfire in New Guinea passing around native brew in a gourd, like you might see on The Discovery Channel. Of course, everyone sat in chairs and had their clothes on. Carol talked about the health benefits attributed to Kombucha and the conversation shifted to a variety of homeopathic  remedies for cancer and diabetes. The entire conversation was stimulating and educational.

Although I occasionally enjoy discussing politics and religion, it was a welcome relief to take part in such a gathering where these topics were never raised. It was as though a group of kindred nature lovers conspired to make the world a better place through acts of kindness, generosity and sustainability. When the shit hits the fan I want to be in this tribe.

After the Kombucha Suzanne offered to take us on a tour of the farm. Again, I wish I had taken notes because the vast number of plants she has was more than enough to overwhelm my memory. Suffice it to say that she has just about everything I do and ten times more. Suzanne showed us the Growboxes as Christi’s son investigated the ripening produce, causing his mother to repeatedly remind him “No picking.” He was a well-behaved child who did his best to maintain his composure in such an exciting place. Once or twice she had to retrieve him as he wandered off to look at chickens, but who could blame him? I had the same urges myself.

Some of Suzanne’s heirloom tomatoes.

Suzanne's-heirloom-tomatos

I forget what this one is.

Suzanne's-Garden

The Growboxes.

Grow-Boxes

A selection of herbs. Throughout the tour Suzanne plucked aromatic leaves and offered them up for our olfactory enjoyment.

More-Grow-Boxes

A robust bunch of celery from Victory Seed Company. Yikes, I think I planted mine in too small of a space!

Suzanne's-Celery

Once our tour of the garden was complete we continued towards the back of the property to view the portable chicken pens they had built from simple and inexpensive materials.The coop and pens can easily be moved to give the hens frequent access to fresh grass. There is a netting over the top to protect them from birds of prey.

It is obvious that Both Suzanne and Andrew are big fans of creative solutions too. I wish AJ could have been with me; I know he would have been impressed. Anyone interested in these chicken pens can contact Andrew at 321-505-4227.

These are some happy Funky Chickens!

Layers

Awww…what a cute little duckling.

Duckling

Check out my next post for a wrap-up of the day’s events.





Funky Chicken Farm – Part 1

18 04 2009

Tuesday I alluded to an excursion that I was to take on Wednesday. Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, it was all I had hoped for and more. So much more, in fact, that I need to break it into three posts.

On Monday I joined the Yahoo group Fruit Swap of Brevard, and offered a surplus tray of seedlings left over from the garden projects. Because it was  a fruit swap I expected to be offered coconuts, star fruit or citrus of some sort (all of which are wonderful) however, the response I got was a pleasant surprise.

Hi Roxanne,

I am interested!   I buy from Victory Seeds too.   I can trade you some honey or fresh eggs, Atomic Grow.
We are located at Funky Chicken Farm in W. Melb, off Minton, on Hield Rd.

My phone is 321-505-4066 as I will be away from the computer…

Suzanne

Right off the bat I knew this was a cool person and a fun place.

I Googled “Funky Chicken Farm” and was directed to their profile on Local Harvest. I’m familiar with Local Harvest because we are members with our shrimp business The Shrimp Pimp. Local Harvest describes their mission as:

The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Want to support this great web site? Shop in our catalog for things you can’t find locally!

I called Suzanne and scheduled an appointment to visit the farm on Wednesday. I figured that my meager tray of baby lettuce was maybe worth a dozen free range eggs or a container of honey. After all, it only cost me pennies to grow, aside from a little bit of watering. I took a little bit of cash because I knew I’d want to buy more. During our conversation I learned that Suzanne knows John Rogers (AKA “Bamboo John”). It seems that he is a sort of local gardening guru (which I already suspected).

With plants loaded in the trunk of the car I hurried to get my work done and then made a beeline to Funky Chicken Farm. It was easy to find with a great sign on the road.


Funky-Chicken-Farm-Sign


Funky Chicken Farm
3510 Hield Rd.
West Melbourne, Fla 32904
Suzanne at 321-505-4066 or at srichmond2@cfl.rr.com

I followed a winding, tree-lined road to a house surrounded by all kinds of stuff going on. I won’t even try to describe it; you’ll just have to go and see for yourself. Within moments of pulling in I was greeted by Suzanne with a jovial smile and a warm handshake. She was accompanied by a woman named Christi, whom she identified as “The moderator”. I didn’t get this at the time, but later I understood what she meant. Christi’s son was having a grand time exploring the place and had already done his share of “touching the chickens”. As soon as the introductions were made another car pulled up and I was introduced to Carol. Carol and Christi recognized each other from Freecycle.org. I believe that Carol knew Suzanne from The Brevard Rare Fruit Society. As I witnessed the threads of this community pull tighter, I decided that it was a community that I wanted to be stitched into.

I had arrived at lunch time and Suzanne invited all of us to join her and her husband, Andrew, on the back porch for lunch. We wove our way through chicken and duck pens, gardening things and all kinds of interesting looking projects to a large table on the back porch.  Along the way I dropped off my plant offerings in the garden, where they were received with enthusiasm by Suzanne. Before she went in to retrieve her food, Suzanne presented me with a bin of seeds in envelopes to pick through. She had already portioned out a variety of heirloom tomato seeds just for me. Everyone gathered around the table and I eagerly sorted through the packets picking out a few from some varieties I didn’t yet have. Just as in my excursion to John Rogers’ property I felt like a student trying to soak up as much information as I could.

These are the seeds I chose:

New-Seeds

Suzanne presented us with a beautiful appetizer made with her heirloom tomatoes. I passed, only because I was full from having just eaten; but the dish was beautiful as though prepared in a fine restaurant. Suzanne’s husband, Andrew, emerged and they ate as the conversation rolled.

Cont. in Funky Chicken Farm: Part 2





Living Lean

13 04 2009

I know I promised to stay away until Tuesday. I would like to apologize to all three of my readers for continuing to ramble on about nothing in particular:)

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have never been privy to wealth or luxury. Even when I made decent money I preferred to wear vintage clothing and stock my home with thrift store and garage sale finds. For a period in the early to mid 1990s this was an acceptable if not admirable approach. The trends of frugality predictably correlate with periods of economic distress. Although frugality waned during the recent time of economic “prosperity” I see a resurgence on the horizon.

Growing up poor endowed me with a wealth of skills and advantages, many of which I am only just beginning to appreciate. Once you realize that not having Adidas brand shoes or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans will not kill you, a certain feeling of liberation takes over. I won’t deny that I have suffered a lot of shame and embarrassment, especially when I didn’t have the money to repay others who had treated me with hospitality of gifts; but have recently come into a greater understanding of how we became a nation of conspicuous consumers.

I’m going to tell you right now that if you were planning to read the rest of this post and (I wish) other posts in my blog I’d suggest you stop and dedicate your time to reading this article, instead: The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan

Are you still here? OK, I hope you checked out that article because it describes my philosophy and understanding of consumerism better than I will ever do.

In my quest to “Question Everything” I have uncovered some nasty truths about the things we are being sold. Most of them we don’t need at all and many are actually poisoning us. The question I always ask is “How did we get by before X was invented?”. Granted, many modern discoveries have drastically improved our quality of life. Penicillin comes to mind. But for just about every product or food we think we must use there is a natural and healthy alternative. For the longest time I resisted even thinking about these things, because giving up what I was used to seemed like so much trouble. Funny how being broke helps change one’s perspective.

My Aunt Melanie & Uncle Pete were way ahead of the curve on this subject and have been giving things like natural cleaners and homemade, organic spice mixes for Christmas for many years. Although I am a bit slow on the uptake I am gradually coming around. I believe the key to this is to take small steps. Giving up everything can be a bit of a shock, and it is too easy to revert to the old habits.

To give you some examples I will share the changes I have made in my life, as well as the underlying motivators.

  • No more deodorant. This you might find most shocking, but bear with me. Deodorant is toxic. Check out this article for a brief and easy to understand explanation of what is in deodorant and how it is linked to cancer. Now, I’m guessing you are thinking “I can’t give up deodorant and antiperspirant, I sweat too much.” Well, I used to sweat too much too; and it seemed like no amount of deodorant could stem the tide. Remarkably, after a few weeks of eschewing antiperspirant I realized that I didn’t sweat much at all any more, and when I did it evaporated rapidly. This makes perfect sense. When you fight against your body’s natural activities, it will try that much harder to compensate. Once I stopped forcing my body to sweat it stopped sweating excessively on its own. Of course there is the risk of being stinky. In a society where smelling chemically fresh is of social importance I don’t recommend letting yourself go stinky; although I have known plenty of people who use deodorant and still get a bit of funk every now and then. I try to keep clean and splash my armpits with alcohol once in a while, but since I stopped using deodorant I don’t seem to have any complaints (and I do believe that AJ would say something).

  • No more toothpaste. The safety of fluoride is one of the greatest lies peddled to the masses. If you find yourself thinking our government is trustworthy then just ask why they allow aluminum manufacturers to dispose of their toxic waste in our drinking water and oral hygiene products. The FDA and the corporations involved are quite aware of how toxic this manufacturing byproduct is, yet they have managed to pass it off not only as safe, but as good for you! Don’t take my word for it, research it on your own. I don’t use toothpaste with fluoride. Right now I brush my teeth with a brush dipped in non-fluoride mouthwash and baking soda. Unfortunately, baking soda is also loaded with aluminum, and as soon as I can get some I plan to switch to aluminum free baking soda such as Bob’s Red Mill. One thing at a time.

  • Organic food as much as possible. I heard an anecdote about an organic produce salesman who made his point by holding up a tomato, spraying it with Raid, wiping it off and then asking “Would you buy this?”. The obvious answer is “no”, but the truth is we do it all the time. We like our produce colorful and blemish free, but that perfection comes with a toxic price tag. Ideally, I would never eat commercially grown produce again; however I am doing the best I can by growing as much as my garden will supply and choosing organic whenever I am able.

  • More natural cleaning, personal care and pest killing products. Most of what I used to use around the house has been replaced with baking soda, vinegar, alcohol, olive oil and boric acid. I still use Dawn dish soap, but dilute it heavily with water. I also cut my regular laundry detergent with Borax. Last year we had an intrusion of roaches and ants. Expensive bug killers seemed to have no effect. Then I bought an inexpensive container of boric acid powder, and within a few days of using it there were no roaches to be seen. The ants are a constant battle, but the boric acid has made a drastic improvement.

  • Cutting out most processed food and condiments. My rule of thumb in the kitchen is to ask myself “Can I make this myself from better ingredients?” or “Can I do without it?”. If I answer “Yes” to either question I try to eliminate the processed product with its chemicals, chance of contamination and heavy packaging from my shopping list.

  • Composting. This one is a work in progress. I envy the serious composters who really have a good composting system. Tomorrow promises to be a good day for my pathetic compost heap. I rescued a bag of leaves from a neighbor who raked today; and we should have enough leftover topsoil to give the heap a jump start. One of these days I also plan to pick up some free horse manure and add that in, too.

  • Barter and Free sharing. I belong to a group called freecycle.org. This is a great one for picking up all sorts of things you can use, as well as for passing along things you might otherwise send to the landfill. Today I joined a local community called Fruit Swap of Brevard. This looks like a promising opportunity to trade some of my surplus garden produce for things I am not able to grow here. And don’t forget craigslist.org. They have a barter and free sections where you can find all sorts of interesting things. I plan to look into a local bartering network to trade some things I have sitting around. But again, one thing at a time.

There are certainly more examples, such as how I can’t pass a dumpster or pile of discards without checking for interesting stuff, or how I do my damndest not to drink bottled water; but I think this is enough for one post. The best part about living lean is the challenge of finding creative solutions. I have always gotten a thrill out of getting something for free or making something from scratch. I challenge each of you to inventory your own life and see if there is something you can do to cut costs, waste and pollution. You might surprise yourself.

And P.S. If I start to stink, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you:)