A Brief Review of Homegrown & Handmade

by Deborah Niemann, my friend and neighbor

I’ve known Deborah since shortly after she moved to the area.  Her family moved here about 3 1/2 years after we did and we met because we were both homeschooling families.  Her 3 children are basically the same ages as my oldest 3.  Her youngest daughter is the same age as my oldest and they hit it off pretty well and have spent many hours scouring their 32 acres and the area around our acre and-a-half.  Theirs is much more interesting!

I knew she was a journalist and in the past I’ve read some of the articles she’s had published about homeschooling.  I’ve always enjoyed her writing – it’s very personal – like she’s sitting here talking to me.  She’s also had a website and blog for her farm for years, which I follow, as well as a facebook page, once that became the new thing to do.

Not too long ago she was approached  by a woman from New Society Publishers and asked if she’d be willing to write a book on sustainable living, and she decided to give it a go.  The result of that, Homegrown and Handmade was released this fall (2011).  I finally got over to her house and bought a copy 2 weeks ago and just finished reading it.  Just as I expected, reading it was just like having her here in my living room.  I bought it for that reason.  Though I’ve been doing the same sort of thing for a couple of years longer than she has, she’s far more knowledgeable in many areas than I am, and call her on occasion to ask her questions – mostly about goats.  I figured if I have her book here, I might not have to bother her with phone calls as often!

I’ve found the book to be a great introduction to the basics of sustainable family living.  And not just for people who have 30 acres.  She points out that everyone – even apartment dwellers can do little things to provide some of their own food, fiber, soap, and maybe eggs.  I loved the introduction, which reminded me of some of the reasons we started this journey 13 years ago, and gave me a few more to continue.  It sometimes gets hard to go out into the cold to milk goats and I wonder why I don’t just buy it in the store…  Then she reminded me about the antibiotics, rBGH, and who knows what else, is probably in the milk at the store.  Not to mention the easier digestibility of goat milk, the enzymes that are in the raw milk, and the security of knowing WHERE it came from.

There are five main parts to the book.  Part one:  The Sustainable Garden.  Part two:  The Backyard Orchard.  Part three:  The Backyard Poultry Flock.  Part four:  The Home Dairy.  Part five:  The Home Fiber Flock.  Each section gives chapters on planning, managing and using the products you can raise.  She has side notes telling about what they’ve learned from mistakes they’ve made over the years, as well as notes from other people and why they’ve chosen this lifestyle.   She’s included recipes for using the produce from the garden and orchard, goat milk, eggs, meat and instructions on making things with the fiber from sheep, llamas, etc.

A lot of things in here I already knew, but I learned quite a few new things too that I hope to incorporate around here.  I wish I’d read it a couple of months ago, because I would have liked to have set up a hoop house for a winter garden, but it’s a little late now.  There’s always next year.  But I’m thinking of getting a tomato plant started in a pot soon.  One of her “I wish I had known…” sidebars hit home.  She told the story of how her goats got into her newly-planted orchard and they ate all but one tree.  Ours wasn’t quite so dramatic, but we did lose one apple tree because it was planted too close to our buck’s pen and he ate it.  We only had 3, so it was very sad.

I was surprised at how quickly I was done reading the book with just little snippets of time during lunch or breakfast over the course of 2 weeks.  It’s a very easy, yet informative, read!  If you have any desire to do something, no matter how small, to start providing for yourself even a little bit – get this book.  You’ll come away with several ideas to help you get started on this journey.