INTERVIEW WITH AN EXPERT: SUSTAINABLE LIVING WITH CECILIA GUNTHER
As part of the Writers’ Digest April Platform Building Challenge, I asked Cecilia of the Kitchens Gardenblog to be my first “Interview with an Expert”. She pursues a self-sustainable and uncomplicated life on her 7-acre farm with her husband. I think a lot of people are re-evaluating their priorities nowadays, and moving toward simple and down-to-earth lifestyles. I wanted to know if these life-changes are also possible for apartment and city-dwellers. Celi agreed to take time from her busy schedule, which recently included lambing, a calf ready for birth, new pigs, a peacock, a pregnant cow named Daisy … and, yes, I’m honoured that she took the time for this interview. So, good morning, Celi, and welcome to Misk Cooks.
Misky: I am a great fan of your blog, The Kitchens Garden. Please, tell us a bit about it, its purpose and aims, and the topics you write about?
Celi: Morning, Misky. The Kitchens Garden blog began like many blogs, to keep in touch with those close to our hearts, who are geographically not close to us, so I can share our lives with them. I wanted them to know that they can follow their dreams as long as they know what their dreams are. My dream has always been to be self-sufficient.
I feel very deeply that we should not harm the earth while we live in it. I do not want to leave behind a pile of waste bigger than my house when I die. I do not want big supermarket corporations bullying me into what I should buy and eat. Living simply is so much easier; I simply want to grow my own food, pure food. This is the purpose of the Kitchens Garden blog, to help people see that living a simple life in the countryside is accessible. In fact some countries have countryside dying for the lack of loving.
The Kitchens Garden covers the gardens from seed to the table, and readers can watch as the animals are born and grow in the fields and barn. They also see the troubles and failures of our struggle to feed ourselves. For example, I just discovered this afternoon that an entire hive of bees has gone, leaving only a few sluggish unhappy ones behind. A miserable blow for the bees. They have left dying brood and piles of honey. So the blog does not gloss over the harsh realities of growing your own food and trying to live without chemicals.
Misky: It’s interesting that your life adventures brought you to this simple way of life. You seem very intuitive about it but perhaps intuition is the mother of necessity?
Celi: Creating a sustainable environment on the farmy was a logical progression for me. Moving from London (where I worked) and NZ (where I grew up) to the US Midwest six years ago was a great shock. The variety and freshness of good food available to people here in the prairies is most unfortunate. I try very hard not to eat processed food. If I do not know what is in it, I prefer not to eat it. So my husband and I decided to grow our own food. Very quickly the Kitchens Garden documented the farm’s daily development, and the blog became a useful tool for decanting my intentions and informing others apart from my family that it can be done. It is also very useful as a calendar of events so I can track what I have done myself! Using my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, and the knowledge of the local old people, we are slowly turning these seven acres that we carved out of corn and bean land, into a working unit. We are living and eating in an old fashioned way, and out objective is that the farm will feed us and our animals.
Misky: Can a city-dweller also follow a sustainable lifestyle, or is this only for people living in the countryside? What sort of things can a city-dweller do with an aim toward living more simply and greener?
Celi: I think it is important for all of us to question our behaviour as consumers. Imagine every bag of rubbish you throw out as going in a pile in your own back yard. It is never taken away. What you bring onto your property stays there. I think that this thought immediately creates a mindset that helps us make good choices.
To me sustainable and green means cutting out waste. Eating good pure food, and living in harmony with your environment. It means not stretching your resources, environmentally, financially or emotionally. Try to work within your means. For me on the farmy, it means thinking about and creating systems that encourage that cycle of use and reuse.
Misky: In southeast England where I live, there’s a drought order in force. Our reservoirs are only 1/3 full because of three very dry winters. I read on your blog about collecting and using grey water for the garden. Have you any other suggestions on how a family might respect resources — tips on saving water, or even reducing electricity usage?
Celi: So simple, and just by using a few old fashioned ideas, you can save money and protect resources. I turn the tap off when I am brushing my teeth, and water the potted plants with a watering can from a rain water barrel. Put the plug in when you are washing your dishes. Other ways to cut down: Only use the tumble dryer when you must. Dry your clothes outside on the clothesline or inside on racks. If you do not have room for an outside clothesline, buy a couple of racks and put them in a sunny spot in your house or near radiators. Be sensible: Wash clothes only when they are dirty. You can wear jeans and hoodies more than once. Pay attention: Turn the lights out when you leave the room. Turn the TV (stereo, DVD player, etc.) OFF at the TV when you are not watching it, (standby power still uses power.) Turn your computer OFF every night. Only heat the rooms you use. Turn down the room temperature, and wear clothing appropriate to the season. If you are walking about your house in a T-shirt in the middle of winter, then you have your heating too high.
Misky: Would you please tell us about the animals and fowl on your farm and how they help you manage your self-sustainable lifestyle?
Celi: Our Mother Ship is Daisy the Cow. If all goes well I will start milking her in a month. Then the pigs and baby animals get her milk. We get a constant supply of good raw milk. I make yoghurt and crème fraîche, and soft and hard cheeses. The whey from these processes go to the pigs. Everyone on the farm including the fowls eat the yoghurt once a week. The chickens lay eggs that are fed to the cows and the pigs, the dogs and cats, and of course us. The pigs raised for pork (and for the neighbours) will eat anything, even good weeds, so there is no waste. The guineas and peacocks eat insects. The dogs have a dual purpose as guard dogs and helping with the stock, and the cats live in the barn very effectively keeping the rodent population under control. They also eat rabbits, which used to do terrible damage to the vegetable gardens. The gardens also supply food for us to cook and can for winter, plus the spoilt fruit and vegetables go to the animals. We have grapes for wine and honey for sweetening.
Misky: Inspired! But there must be ways for people to follow your example without selling up shop in the big city and moving to the prairie, which for some is a rather dramatic change.
Celi: Firstly, it is important to note that running an efficient and sustainable managed home takes a little extra time. You can begin self-sustainability by growing your own vegetables in your lawn, or your own herbs in a pot on the terrace, or your own sprouts in jars in your kitchen, or all three. Plant some flowers outdoors for the bees. If everyone did this just think of the amazing food we would all be eating. It’s Win-Win. Try using old clothes for rags, and try not to use paper towels. Avoid chemical cleansers; use vinegar in a spray bottle. Never let used dishcloths sit out overnight; they are terrible collectors of bacteria! Wash them in hot water and hang in the sun to sanitise. Never buy more food than you need. If you throw away food, rethink; your purchasing patterns are excessive. And do not buy bottled water. Filter your own. Bottled water is a rip off, lazy, way too expensive and not guaranteed pure at all. If you want to run a sustainably managed household and live an environmentally friendly lifestyle that counts, then you need to spend time on it, not money — in fact you will save yourself money.
Misky: I will add that I think your blog post Running an Efficient and Sustainable Home is well worth a read for anyone interested in more ideas.
Celi: This post,Sustainable in the City While Making Cream Cheese was written for my daughter who also wanted info on sustainable living.
Misky: When your farm in fully self-sustaining, do you foresee still having a regular shop at the supermarket, and if so, what items?
Celi: My goal is to feed the household, and for the farm to feed itself, summer through to winter. Then I will buy only sugar, flour, rice, minerals for the animals, and all the old fashioned staples. But this year we had terrible frosts that wiped out our apples, grapes and stone fruit. Can I go a year without an apple? It really is a difficult ask in the modern world. But we are trying very hard.
Misky: What is your favourite recipe using your own farm-fresh ingredients?
Celi: Salad greens. I call it Weed Salad. I wander about the gardens picking greens. Without a doubt this is my favourite. And then there are summer tomato sauces over noodles made with our own eggs, of course, roast lamb with rosemary, or a grass fed steak with fresh potatoes dripping in homemade butter and mint, caramelised beetroot with my own apple cider vinegar, fresh Greek yoghurt herb dressings, or leek and onion quiche. In the summer we can eat for weeks using only our own home-grown food. I call these Fresh Free Days! And they are marvellous. Instead of shopping I go to the garden and we have what is fresh!
Misky: Fresh Free Days, a wonderful catchphrase. I like the sound of home-grown food, plus a bit foraging. And it’s a perfect way for children to learn about nature, too. Sustainable living is so much more than a frugal outlook and recycling!
Celi: Sustainable means Sensible. That’s all. Thoughtfulness, too. None of it is hard. It has all been done before. Cook at home and sit down to dinner every night with your family. Get everyone living in the house involved in saving some money and running a more efficient sustainable home and lifestyle. Money saved is indeed money gained – PLUS the added bonus of a responsible lifestyle lived within your means.
Misky: I have so enjoyed this opportunity for a chat, Celi, learning more about you and your farm, and how each of us can make sustainable living work for us. You have certainly given me Fresh Free Day food for thought today, Celi.
Celi: We can all design our own ways of running a sustainable home and lifestyle. We are all different and we are all inventive, and it is fun to create ways of living cleverly and well. Yours will be different to mine. In that way we all get to work together on the problem of excess, helping each other to live in a loving way. And learn from each other.
Misky: Celi, thank you so very much for this opportunity to learn more about your life, values and pursuits. It’s been very enjoyable, and I hope that anyone not familiar with The Kitchens Gardenheads over there right away to enjoy your warmth, humour, and daily farmy updates. Thank you, again.
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