Education has been our big thrust lately.  This coming week will be pretty intense as we have a couple things coming up.  Last week was interesting, too, though.  I come from a family that values life long learning, and we have found that sustainable living and business enterprising provide unlimited learning potential.  Here’s the recent events and info:

1) On the home front, I learned a bit about herbs and essential oils last week.  I’ve been using thieves oil, a very citrussy blend, this winter.  I learned from the naturalpath we work with that that is an excellent winter oil.  We naturally crave what we need and the vitamin C plus natural anti-viral qualities of the cinnamon, cloves, lemon, and rosemary that comprise thieves oil meet our body’s winter demands for dealing with the decreased sunlight and indoor environments we endure.  I’ve been putting a pan of water on the woodstove for moisture and throwing in cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and lemon peels (dried, from the store).  She said that was an excellent, inexpensive way to help keep the whole family healthy and happy.  We also take cod liver pills and whatever variety of elderberry I can find and that helps tremendously, too.  I got oranges and have dried the peels to save to throw in my water concoction. The naturalpath also told me that in the fall, Italian herbs–oregano, garlic, etc.–are what we need.  In the spring, look to use the plants that pop up first, like those millions of dandelion plants.  I don’t remember the rest of the spring herbs, but borrowed a book on essential oils and plan to attend a class on essential oils this coming week, so I’ll find out.  Interesting note: I bought regular California-picked green-forced ripe oranges.  We all decided that the tree ripened oranges from Mark’s Dad in Florida were far superior–juicy, sweet, more satisfying.

2) Mark leaves early tomarrow morning for Washington state.  He’ll be spending 3 days near Seattle learning about Mangalitsa pigs.  When we raised hogs, we farrowed and fed them out to size outside as much as possible.  Pasture raising them was rewarding philosophically and quality-wise.  We had almost no health problems outside compared to the winter when we had to farrow and feed inside.  We were improving our genetics to work in an outdoor system, but started off with sows that were hybred for strictly indoor production and had a very hard time outside in a forage system.  These mangalitsa hogs are as heritage as heritage breeds get and as close to a domestic hog that can flourish on forage as is available.  There are downsides in that they don’t grow as quickly as the streamlined, cost conscious breeds commonly available and therefore are more expensive to grow.  The quality, however, is insurpassable–so we’re told by various sources.  Mark’s been reading as much as he can about them and is heading out to Washington for this inservice to see what it’s really all about and what’s involved and how to produce the world’s best pork.

3)  This weekend (Jan. 31) is the annual Small Farm Conference in Grayling.  It’s always an encouraging event as we get to learn some new techniques or ideas, talk with people from across the state who do what we do in some form, and generally get energized for the coming growing season.  This year is exciting because Joe (12) and Sam (10) will be coming with us.  Daniel Salatin, the son of Joel, will be presenting special youth sessions.  Joe and Sam have both made and sold things and will hopefully get some more entrepenurial impetus from the conference.

4) In the book department, I said goodby to the Barbara Kingsolver family when I finally finished her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It has taken me a full year as my sister loaned me the book last winter, but that was kind of fun as I seemed to pick it up and set it down right in time with the season she was writing about.  Actually, I’ll confess I listened to a good share of it on CD while processing chickens.  (We’ve “read” a lot of good books that way!)  It was inspiring to read their family’s experience and learning.  Living sustainably, whether you do it yourself or support those who strive for it, is within everyone’s reach.  Perhaps an upside to this economy thing will be to help our culture adjust to living within its biosphere means as well as its financial means.  Hmmm… lots of “food for thought” in this book.

It’s not always easy to take time for education, especially in the day to day demands of kids, running a business, and keeping house and barns in working order.  We’ve had to deal with frozen and burst pipes in the shop, crabby and irritable people (mostly among our own ranks), health problems(primarily the coccidia that likes to flourish in the chickens and goats this time of year), and so on.  I thought of that as Mark was telling me about what he’d read and at the same time 3 yr. old Rachel was on my lap quietly reading a book to herself out loud.  Again, when I was talking business with a lady yesterday and Rachel nonchalantly climbed onto my lap and proceeded to rearrange my face into interesting looks while keeping a straight face herself.  That game didn’t last long, but she got a huge laugh out of it.  However, life really is about the people you meet and the books you read.  We’ve found, especially recently, how true it is to seek out people and books that challenge you to think and learn, even if your season of life allows for incidental meetings and snippets of reading.  That’s my sermon for today.  As O’Reilly says (NOT my favorite commentator, just very quotable), “What say you?”