In these cold and beautiful days of winter I spend most of my time gathering, moving, chopping or burning wood. When I’m not doing that I’m usually reading, cooking or playing ball with Talula. But I do have a few relatively new and unexpected activities that have spiced up life in the winter woods.

I’ve mentioned here before that a few months back I had wandered into Cowboy Coffee, a coffee shop and restaurant in town. This has turned out to be a great discovery for a number of reasons. I initially made a habit of going in once a week during my usual supply run for food, straw, and chainsaw blades. Not only do they have good coffee but also great brownies and pie. Even better, thanks to the free highspeed internet I could download any large files I needed. Of course I’ve felt for many years that coffee shops are perhaps the best place to meet and get to know the most interesting folks of any community. This has turned out to be the case.

Thanks to my visits I first discovered the a great little community newspaper, The Madison County Crier which then lead to meeting Karen and David which led to Thursday night craft nights at the coffee shop which meant meeting even more very nice local folk. Even better, thanks to Karen who publishes the above mentioned newspaper, I’m also getting a chance to do bit of writing and page layout, both of which I enjoy. Local newspapers are essential to community culture and democracy so I’m very happy to be involved with this. The Crier reminds me of our short-lived community newspaper effort in Memphis, Mid-South Voices which we published after the FCC shut down our beloved Free Radio Memphis.

Karen and David as well as all of the other very interesting and active folks I’m meeting at the Coffee Shop: Juli, Ruth, Roger, Kyle, Bill, Shannon, and Katie (to name a few) have all been incredibly kind. I left my active community life of Memphis nearly five years ago and have spent most of those years feeling somewhat confused and depressed. Really, that is another very long story, bits of which I’ve written about before. The real point is that when I moved to the lake to start this homestead I did not expect that I’d be getting involved outside of my own project but that has changed and I’m very happy about it.

As spring approaches I’m also making plans for the garden. Of course there is the usual seed buying frenzy but this year we’ll also be adding in chickens and, hopefully, a hive of bees so I’ve been doing a good bit of reading on bee keeping. I’m very confident about the chickens, less so about the bees but I’m fairly certain I can handle it. Given the serious problem of Colony Collapse Disorder which is affecting bees across North America I’m beginning to think keeping a hive or two of healthy bees might be more of a responsibility than an option.

Two other projects for spring and summer will be the processing of both cultivated and wild plants for our use as food and medicine. While I know the basic ideas and processes I don’t know the details.

I’ve spent a good bit of my past five years in Missouri learning about the native plants that grow here and have gotten fairly good and identification. The past summer I began an informal inventory of the native plants around our homestead with particular attention to medicinals. I’ll be putting together a much more detailed inventory this summer and will also begin to harvest, process and store those things which seem most useful. To that end I’ve ordered Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech. I’ll also be planting those essential medicinals that I have not yet discovered here, namely Purple Coneflower and Goldenseal.

In regards to food, the goal is to not just can, but dehydrate, smoke, and ferment. The simplest of them would be dehydrating, canning and fermenting. The more complex is smoking which is more about meat and specifically fish because that’s currently the only meat I eat. I’m most interested in fermenting and will likely focus on that first. I’ve ordered Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz.

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