Monday, January 20, 2014

The People You Meet In Life

Now this may sound weird, but sometimes the success on my homestead hinges on some individual I've met in life that normally people just ignore. How so? 

Small time vendor = Farm handyman. I met my current farm handyman via a temporary vendor at a local farmers market. She was a rather insignificant table offering a few home grown plants. I had no interest in the plants, but I still took the time to greet her, get her name, find out where she came from, what her life's interests were. I struck up a pleasant conversation, eventually learning that her husband had building skills for hire. Through him I met my current farmhand.

Local artist = Dinner Club = Community network of help and resources. While trying my hand at selling coffee at the farmers market, I struck up a friendship with a local artist. This person eventually introduced me to a most interesting character who ran a local dinner club. The dinner club has become a steady feature in my life and became a pathway to extending my community network. I've gotten many referrals for helpers and supply sources.

Small store cashier = Chicken food, wood pallets, cardboard. I purposely picked the same cashier at out little supermarket. Before long we exchanged names, general life info (where we lived, how long we lived on the island, etc), our interests. When my projects came up in conversation, she got the store manager to offer me the excess pallets. Before long I was also picking cardboard whenever I needed it plus some of the market's waste to feed to the chickens. 

Helper at the coffee truck = housecleaner. Friendly conversation led to name exchanges and friendly banter. When I mentioned that I needed a housecleaner for my mom, Liz announced that she also cleaned houses on the side. Perfect match. How's that help my homestead project? Hey, I won't have to spend a day cleaning my mom's house! 

Clean up person at the dump = free mulch. No one pays attention to the broom pusher. But I always waved and exchanged pleasantries. We even exchanged garden seeds once which led to me being told about the mulch that was going to be dropped off at the on a first come, first serve basis. Plenty of times I got told about the next delivery due to come. So I often got to the pile before everyone else beat me to it. 

Waitress = Service providers. Do you know the names of all the waitresses at your restaurants? I do and it's really helpful. Do I need the services of a welder? A person to trim a tall tree? Get the lowdown on the water delivery trucks? Just ask the waitresses. Between them, someone usually knows who to go to, who to avoid. 

A local small farmer = my farming viewpoint/philosophy. Ever meet someone who caused an epiphany? Jerry Konanui is one who did that for me. Via his quiet, low key approach to spreading knowledge about taro, Jerry instilled the ideas into my blockhead mainland skull that eventually grew into the incentive and love for a homestead farm. 

I've found that lots of people who I've met become my customers. When they find out that I grow food, they are interested in buying or trading for some. 

Give it some thought. What about some of those low visibility people in your world? How do you score? What's the name of the post office worker? The auto mechanic who changed your oil? The cashier at the drugstore? The bank teller? The old man that always sits in the back pew at church? The old lady that walks her little dog past your house each morning? 

Illness ... A Setback For The Independent Farmer

Lotsa of people email me saying that they want to have their own farm homestead, that they want to be independent and support themselves. Well, this month has been an education on how fragile that dream can be. First if all, at this time I'm not totally dependent on the homestead for my survival. And that's a good thing because this month I've been dealing with illnesses having me partially hog tied. Nothing dire, nothing lethal, but effecting my ability to be productive none the less. But it's a good lesson on how an even minor illness can interfere with farm life. 

So, ya want the juicy gossip? First my mom came down with the flu. She's 91 and still living in her own home, so caring for her was time consuming. Right after she recovered, hubby and I came down with rip snorting colds. Not the wimpy kind, but the headache, fever, searing sore throat kind where your head either is so clogged up it feels like your sinuses are full of cement then switches to nasal Niagra Falls the next moment, and nights are spent choking and coughing. Just about the time I started feeling human again, mom came down with the cold. Gosh, I can't get a break.

Next I went off to Orlando for a veterinary convention. The long plane ride instantly tore down what was left of my fragile immune system. By the time I returned I was medically exhausted, tired beyond belief. Two days later I got knocked into bed with a high fever and chest racking bronchitis. I spent the next 4 days in bed. Poor hubby had to fend for himself and care for the critters. Just as I was feeling vaguely human again, he came down with it. 

The past four and one half weeks have been a bust on the homestead. I barely get the livestock cared for. There's no way the gardens get tended or the projects get worked on. Planting schedules are now well behind time meaning that there will be a month long gap in the harvesting. If I had to rely upon that harvest for survival, I'd be in trouble. I would have to rely on foraging and hunting. 

Seed potatoes sit waiting to be planted. Same with the onion seedlings and taro huli. Sweet potato slips were ready two weeks ago but luckily will hold ok. No seeds have been sown. No new pineapple tops started, no banana keiki planted. And on top of it, little harvested. Citrus, bananas, macnuts fall to the ground and sit there. Tomatoes rot on the vine. Beans and peas go to seed. Etc. 

This past month we've experienced just minor illnesses and see how disruptive it can be. Something major could shut the farm completely down. Something to think about if one plans to use a homestead farm as your sole source for surviving. 

Along the same lines of major illnesses....... I just learned that one of my friends recently experienced a serious farm accident. The tractor rolled and my friend ended up losing his right arm. Darn near killed him. But now their family have a major hurdle to deal with. NĂºmero Uno farm worker is in seriously bad shape. And in his case, recovery will always be compromised because of the loss of his dominant arm.

The loss of the ability to function, to work, is something new people getting into self sufficiency need to think about. What would you do? Would you just bail out or would you have a game plan to get you through it?  Would you be prepared financially and food wise? Saving money for a rainy day is difficult on a small homestead, but our stint of illnesses shows how important that strategy is. Plus having some food stored up is just as important. 

One thing I never see discussed on various Internet discussion forums is the need to have a community safety net in place in case of illness or injury. While I did not have to call upon my safety net of friends this past month, I have indeed established a network. These are people one could depend upon to help out when you need it, with the understanding that you'd be there to help them out if they needed too. I've seen this sort of community network work here, but it's something one needs to cultivate long in advance to it actually being needed. 

So one last parting comment........I hope that this string of ill health is over with! 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fukushima Fears

No worry, Brah. Fishermen no need one light to see one fish. Da all glow in da dark! 

Kidding aside, Tori brought up the concern about radioactivity from Fukushima. And while people here are watching and concerned, it seems to me that mainlanders are far more phobic about it. I can only attribute that to the sensationalistic trends in news reporting. Everything now seems to be the "storm of the century", the "horrific brutality", the "shock of the decade". Not that bad things don't happen, but they've been happening all along. It's not new. Not that the weather patterns aren't changing, but they have in the past and will change again in the future. And although the current reporters may be too young to have experienced it, I've lived through plenty of below zero cold spells, multi-foot deep snowstorms, ice storms, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and brutal heat waves. 

For some time now beachcombers in Hawaii have been retrieving bits of the tsunami debris. In my own yard sits a sun faded Japanese gas can, a silent memorial to the disaster and the thousands of ruined/lost lives. And although the topic is not in the daily town talk, everyone is aware of the situation here. 

There are a few official radiation monitors around the state that are recording atmospheric radiation. The readings use to be online, but I haven't been checking recently, so I'm not sure if the monitors are still online. When the catastrophe first occurred, people here stopped buying milk. I just shook my head because almost all our milk is imported from the mainland. But we do have one active dairy on my island. The State set up a monitoring system for that milk. And while occasional spikes in the radiation do occur, so far (as I've been told) the readings are all within the acceptable range and lower than some areas on the mainland. So it appears that our mainland milk might be "hotter"....thus far. 

Fish and shellfish are the big concern. As a result many fishermen now have radiation detectors, generally dosimeters of varying quality and accuracy. But every fisherman that I routinely converse with has not yet seen a spike in the radiation. So far, so good. But we all suspect that will change, so eat your fish now! On a side note, I make seasalt from our ocean water. Due to possible future radiation problems, I've been making extra salt, stockpiling it. Just in case. 
                    (Dosimeter. Several of my friends have this unit or fancier ones. )

Will it be dangerous to live here if we start seeing "hot fish"? For most of us, no. Just stop eating the fish. But how will that effect swimming? Living on the coast? I don't know. Will it affect our drinking water? No. We do not get drinking water from desalination. If one lives away from a beachfront property, will that be safe? Well, you'll be safe from the radiation but the lava might get you! Don't forget, on my island we have several live volcanoes. What about the food grown here? Seawater is not used for irrigation, so veggies will be fine. Land animals will be fine. But some farmed seafood might have issues, in addition to wild caught seafood. 
                                         ("Two Headed Fish" by Richard Svensson) 
It is  my understanding that the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California are presently more at risk than Hawaii. So Hawaiians are keeping an eye on what happens over there. 

Food for thought....are you aware that fish caught in the Marshall Islands are sold in the stores in the US? Have you checked recently where your dinner is coming from? 

The big problem with Fukushima is that the continuing contamination isn't going to stop anytime soon. Plus there is significant risk that it will get worse. I don't see the Fukushima problem going away in my lifetime. But my life is mostly spent. It's the children that are at major risk, not adults. Not a good idea to raise children around pollution, chemical and biological contamination, radiation. But many of the world's children already are! 

If I were a young woman raising a family, I would not fear being in Hawaii. I might steer their interests toward less radioactive pursuits (this is, if the fish truly become "hot"), but Hawaii is generally safe for kids. Well, other than the mold issues which result in asthma. But then, I'd keep my kids clear of mold too. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Chilly Mornings

With the "Polar Vortex" taking up the news headlines, I just want my friends to know that things can get "cold" too here in Hawaii. Yeah, my mainland friends are whining about temps in the single digits, but hey, it got down to 51 degrees last night! Sure it might go below zero outside in New York and Vermont, but I bet the inside of the house is a cozy upper 60s. When it's 51 outside my house, it's also 51 inside my house. Brrrr. 
(Snow atop Mauna Kea. You can see some of the observatories in this photo.)

Not that I'm whining. No way. I'm more than willing to put up with a bit of chill in order to live here. And by the way, isn't that what's a wood stove for? I'm in the habit of lighting a fire each morning, and often at night too.  I like it cozy inside my house.........not a cold 51! 
(Snow inside Mauna Loa's crater. Photo taken from the crater webcam.)

The coldest it has gotten at my farm in the past ten years is 46. Thankfully that was just one night. But some friends living higher up the mountain experience temperatures like that, and lower, on a regular basis. When staying overnight at one of those friends' houses I awoke in the morning to find frost on the metal roof! Egads, this is Hawaii. It's not suppose to be that cold! Needless to say, I didn't take a  morning shower that day. 
(Snow plowing the Mauna Kea access road.) 

I do indeed feel pity for my friends on the mainland. They are experiencing some brutal weather. But I moved away from there for many a reason, including escaping the freezing winters. I've had my fill of snow and ice. Oh, it's so pretty to look at and play in, but not the least bit enjoyable to work in. No, that part of my life is past. I no longer need to prove to myself that I'm tough enough to survive that. 
(Mauna Kea in the distance.)