Thursday, December 6, 2012

Angela England's Backyard Farming On an Acre

Angela England has long been an inspiration to me.  I got to know her online through mutual freelance writing endeavors.  

She is the true "Renaissance" woman, working with her husband to raise five children on a small plot of land in Oklahoma where they manage to raise diary and meat goats, keep enough chickens for eggs and free-range poultry, and foster an intensively productive garden for fresh fruits and vegetables--all while nurturing a writing and speaking career.  Oh, and she's a trained doula (someone who provides education and support to women going through childbirth) and a licensed massage therapist. 

 Along with her other freelance endeavors, Angela founded the awesome website in the spirit of guiding others in recapturing the lost arts of rural living.

Her most recent endeavor is Backyard Farming On an Acre (More or Less), a book filled with advice on eating healthy, saving money, and living sustainably in the space available.  The book has just been released this month by Alpha Books, a division of the Penguin group.

In her book Angela provides down-to-earth advice on acquiring land or using available space, garden planning, info on tools, soil, and maximizing harvest, including details on cultivating dozens of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and other popular crops.  She gives startup instructions on buying and raising chickens and other poultry for eggs or meat; goats and sheep for milk, meat, or fiber; and rabbits for fiber or meat, as well as the essentials of animal care. Don't have a clue as to how to preserve the food you plan to grow?  Angela's coverage on preserving is comprehensive. And if you are interested in beekeeping, she has a year-round guide for that.

Following is an interview with Angela that she so generously participated in via email.  Enjoy!

MCW:  What brought you to write the book Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less)?

Angela:  A friend referred her agent to my blog and I was approached about doing a similar title right before I had Vivian. While we decided not to pursue that title because of the impending delivery of my fifth baby, about a month after having Vivian I ended up signing the contract for Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) and now the book is being released two days before her first birthday.

I think this book is the culmination of my own continuining journey towards increasing my family's dependance on the status quo. We certainly aren't where we hope to be in the future, but we are striving towards that self-sufficient living model.

MCW:  Describe your one acre (more or less) farm. How long have you been working it?

We live on a quarter-acre within the city limits of our rural town. On that plot we were able to keep backyard chickens, a large garden, and for a time, milk goats. And of course - room enough for the kids to run amuck and chase the dogs around. Our set up is very similar to the first sample diagram I show in the book as a "what-if" possibility for people.

MCW:  What is the best part of small plot farming for you?

Without a doubt the best part is the unique sense of pride you get when you sit down to a meal and realize that every single thing came you and your own efforts. It happened recently when we sat down to a steak, baked potato, asparagus, and pecan pie dinner. Everything we had either raised, grown, or collected from wild-harvesting in our local area. Contrast that to the average American meal which includes foods sourced from 5 different countries.

MCW:  Did you grow up on a farm? What is your background?

My background is as far from small homesteading as you can possibly be. I grew up in Anaheim in Southern California, of Disneyland fame. Swimming pool, tire swing, manicured lawn, bay window. The whole nine yards. After my family moved to Oklahoma when I was a teenager, I met my husband. Through him and his family I learned more about the freedoms that come with country skills most people have long forgotten.

MCW:  Describe what you mean by "intentional and self-sufficient living" (which is the motto of your Untrained Housewife's Manifesto).

Intentional living to me is when you purposefully create the meaningful moments in your life. I think this is especially important when you have children, but for all can choose the things that you most enjoy. Sometimes it means breaking the easy habits - vegging in front of the TV and spending hours on Facebook in order to free up time to talk a walk with your family through the local park or wildlife reserve. Other times it takes that step of fear - putting on a swimsuit no matter how many babies your body has birthed in order to get your hair wet and splash your kids in the swimming pool. Choosing to make the moment more important than how we may or may not be judged by others gives us that intentional living I feel is so important.

The other aspect is the self-sufficiency. I think that true self-sufficiency is a misnomer, which I touch on in the Manifesto. Creating a truly fullfilling self-sufficient life is about decreasing our dependance on faceless corporations, while increasing our dependance on neighbors and community. Instead of buying milk from a big box, shipped hundreds of miles, and coming from who knows where, we drive to the local Amish dairy. We chat about the weather, and marvel at how quickly the kids are growing. We recognize each other and are recognized in return. And it doesn't matter much the price of grain in Timbucktoo because I'm just going to the other side of the county line to get milk at $2 per gallon from someone who's hand I can shake. That is a priceless feeling.

MCW:  In the book you write about everything from growing herb and vegetable gardens to raising chickens and goats to butchering and building skills. How did you learn so much about farming?

I learned a lot of doing a lot. By failing. By trying again. By listening and watching and spending time with others who are doing it. My father-in-law grew up with no electricity - in fact the homestead where my husband grew up didn't get electricity until 1980 and didn't add running water to the house until 1985. So the lifestyle there is very old-fashioned and I learned a lot just by being respectifully attentive and pitching in.

MCW:  Do you think urban and suburban dwellers will find things of interest in your book?

I hope that they will feel empowered to try! One the obstacles for a lot of people I've heard them express is the feeling that they have to do things "the right way". They can't get started yet because they don't have "all the stuff". One of the things I say in the book more than once is that I'm not a purist, I am a get-it-done-ist. If it can be built from the scraps of wood in the backyard, then that is what we use!

MCW:  You have five young kids. How do you find time to manage even an acre's worth of farming?

One of the best parts of living a hands-on, intentional lifestyle is that you are doing so as a family. No one is excluded! When Sidney is tilling the garden, and I am pulling weeds, the kids are having a contest to see who can find the most rocks and get them out of the garden. I cannot express how much they enjoy planting seeds, harvesting crops, and hearing what each vegetable is good for and types of nutrients found in each. I have time because it isn't something that is done apart from the kids, it is done side-by-side with the kids. Again, a priceless feeling.

MCW:  You also run the website Untrained Housewife. What is that all about?

Untrained Housewife is really a lot of what this book is about as well - helping people recapture the lost knowledge of past generations. We have amazing contributors who are DOING these things and share their wisdom for others to enjoy. It's all about empowering people to take whatever their next step is with greater confidence.

MCW:  What do you most want people to take away from your book?

One of the greatest goals of the book for me is to help people feel equipped for the next leg of their own personal journey. Whether that is planting their first ever herb garden, or starting a bee hive, or just eating fresh produce that is in season, this book will help them figure out that next step. In the introduction I call it a buffet of delicious choices - they can start with what tastes good to them first, and then branch out to new selections when they feel braver.

MCW:  Thank you, Angela!

Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) is available in paperback and ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other popular outlets. 

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