Monday, February 22, 2010

planning underway

Now that the farm has been sold we are very busy planning and discussing what we are going to build. There appears to be two different camps that have opposing views of what we are doing with our lives...one is saying "hey, that is wonderful go for it!". The other camp is saying "are freaking crazy?". Well, we are choosing to look at it from the first point of view...a chance to have a 'do-over' in life, to build whatever the heck kind of farm that we want from a blank canvass of land here in central Alberta.

The most important thing for us to consider is the house of course. We have had our hearts set on a straw bale house for almost half a decade now. We also want that house to be off-grid. Over the past week we have been focusing on those two aspects more than any other. How do we build our house if we have no place to live? What kind of infrastructure will exist in the house now that we are off-grid? No more electric stove/oven for instance. Another aspect of our house that is extremely important to Mrs. Schneider is the term "Healthy House". What this means is that no aspect of construction can create off-gassing...no foams, no particle board, no anything that will make our air sick. We are focusing on all-natural materials for our house or at least as natural as practical for our environment. We won't be able to construct a compacted dirt floor or go with a clay plaster for instance due to code and environmental conditions.

One of the problems we are facing now is how to heat and cook within our new home. We can easily go with propane stove/oven and a propane boiler for the in-floor heating but the fumes from combustion aren't exactly healthy are they? What about a wood cook stove? Actually, Cindy is surprisingly on-board with this solution but we are still a little aprehensive about going back in time that far! The propane fired boiler is alright because we can simply put it in the mechanical room which is sealed off from the living space of the house and it will be vented directly outdoors. But getting back to cooking with wood...we would sure like to hear more from folks who have done this or are currently doing it. What are the drawbacks...obviously it is more effort to start a fire and gather wood etc. but is there anyone out there who wishes they could get rid of their wood cookstove and replace it with something more modern? Here is a good post by Shirley on the subject.

To heat our home, as I mentioned earlier, we will stick with a propane boiler and in-floor heating. This will be only one of three methods used to heat our new home. The other two will be a passive solar design along with a small free-standing wood stove in the living room. Of course, we will forgo that stove if we already have a wood cookstove in the kitchen. The passive solar design along with the woodstove will mean that the in-floor heating doesn't work very hard, if at all. This will be a convenience for us in times when we are away from the house for the day or even on a tropical holiday.

Electrical systems will of course be solar powered and we will look into the practicality of a wind turbine. We will have to adapt our livestyle to follow along with the weather. On cloudy days with no wind, we will be somewhat relegated to what we can achieve electrically. On sunny, windy days we can do what we want. This seems to be the way of off-grid families. Actually it isn't much different than farming is it? You can't perform many farming operations when its raining and what you can achieve is almost always directly related to the weather. We will probably have a small diesel generator somewhere in the yard that can be fired up in times when we absolutely need the power and the weather isn't cooperating.

Well, that's about it for our house discussion today. The one thing I forgot to mention is that we are planning to build rather small and as efficient as possible. We are still struggling somewhat with actual construction design, but I suspect that we are going to focus on a load-bearing straw bale wall and simple hip roof design. I'll post our plans in a few days when we are a little more committed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

farm is sold!

Last night we had a visit from our realtor and he had an offer for us to consider...actually it was 2 offers! After two years of listing our place for sale, umpteen different let downs from people that we thought were serious, countless interruptions from people wanting to walk through our house (usually at the last minute) our place is finally sold. It is actually sold too...unconditional offer...money we can live with...big deposit sitting with the lawyers and a possession date that is flexible up until June 25th.

Now the panic sets in. We need to secure some financing based on the offer we have to purchase land. Then we can start slowly moving equipment, tools, animals etc. At the same time, we also need to finance enough money to be able to get the drawings done, pay the moving company, secure a builder, order materials, etc. etc. There is so much to do, but we are excited because this is the start of our dream that we've been dreaming for about 5 years. A cute little strawbale home, off-grid(ish), no debt, grain land and closer to my family. Very exciting for us indeed.

Now I will ask for some help from everyone out there. I will be posting ideas that we have for this that and the other thing and we would sure appreciate hearing from anyone with suggestions for doing things based on experience. Heating with wood? Capturing rain water for household use? Off-grid living? We have been researching all of these things and many more for years...the one thing we haven't done enough of is hearing from other folks who have actually done all of this. What would they do differently all over again...things of that nature. Wish us luck and we'll have fun updating the process along the way.

Friday, February 05, 2010

2010 Kentucky Derby

Nothing to do with organic grain farming at all...just for fun.

One of the things that I really enjoy is following along with the 3 year olds who are in contention to run in the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown. My Aunt Nan got me into the world of horse racing as she owned a stable and bred thoroughbreds. I was lucky enough to live and work on her farm for a time. It is only Feb. 5th and already today I spent a little time nosing around at what is happening with this years crop of 3 year old colts and fillies who are eligible to participate in the Triple Crown.

Then I stumbled upon this guy! This is Uptowncharlybrown and he posts regularly on his very own BLOG.

Isn't he a cute little guy? Of course this is a picture of him from 2007 when he was a foal. So far he is undefeated in his first two starts and according to his BLOG, he has won his two races by a combined 15 lengths! Here is the video of his maiden race on Boxing Day 2009 pretty impressive.
Now, I am not saying that he is going to win the Triple Crown or even the Kentucky Derby. But I am saying that I am going to be keeping an eye on him. Does that win in Tampa Bay remind anyone of the race below? I'm not saying...I'm just saying.
Big Brown

new subscriber!

I see that our little blog has received another subscriber! He is Yvan Chartrand, the new owner of Treestone Bakery along with his partner Ritsuko!

Mrs. Schneider has already made a point of stopping by to introduce herself to Yvan, but I haven't had the chance yet. I will soon. I hope I am not putting Yvan on the spot, but I would invite him to post something about his beautiful little bakery and perhaps his extensive and extremely interesting background in the world of baking artisan breads.

If you live in the Edmonton Area, I would encourage you to stop by and give Treestone a try if you haven't already. They are located on 99th street, just north of Whyte Ave at 86th ave. The store is on the west side of 99th st. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

flour mill woes

We found out yesterday that in order to bring the mill into Canada from the U.S. it is going to cost us almost half the price of the mill just to get it here. I am constantly amazed at how nickel and dime processes add up so fast. The quote from the customs broker was over $500 and adding that to the shipping price, it equals a lot of money for something that in todays day and age should not be this difficult. So much for NAFTA and economy of travel and all those other things that modern civilization prides itself on. The other frustration is that there is apparently no Canadian manufacturer of small flour mills. Or at least not anyone who manufactures an affordable mill. The only place we found was in Saskatchewan. It was a stone mill that ground at 50lbs/hr and it cost over $16,000. The commercial mill we found out of the States was considerably less money for the same apparent quality and efficiency...without all the bells and whistles.

It just really bugs me to hand over money to people who apparently do very little. I am not privy to the processes that customs brokers go through, but I am willing to bet that they aren't extensive and yet here I am forced to hand over $500+ to them. It would be damn near the same cost for me to simply drive to Carolina to pick the thing up myself. If anyone has any suggestions for us on customs processes or another way to import a piece of equipment please let us know. I realize that $500 isn't a lot of money for some people...its just gets my Scottish blood boiling!

Monday, February 01, 2010

some news...

I am not sure how exciting this news will be for our readers, but it is definitely exciting for Cindy and I. We are pleased to announce that Gold Forest Farms has teamed up with my cousin Andrea and her husband Mike. Their farm, Hill Hidden Coulee also produces certified organic grains and we have decided to work together to produce, process and market locally grown grains. Between the two families, we will purchase the flour mill and begin production shortly. I've been saying that for awhile now, but we are in contact with the customs brokers and we will place the order for the mill within the next week. It should arrive within two weeks after the order is placed and then we can set it up and begin milling.

Mike and Andrea bring a lot of energy and experience with them. They have been farming organically for many years and have recently sold their organic cattle herd to be able to put the land into grain production. They are such wonderful people and we are so glad that they have accepted our offer of cooperation. I am certain that both families will benefit.

With Hill Hidden Coulee farm teaming up with Gold Forest Farms, Gold Forest Grains can now draw upon more than double the acreage for its raw grain production to be able to package and process grains reliably for our current and new customers. We have some exciting ideas for marketing that we will share when the time is right.