What an incredible day I had on Saturday at Magnolia Farms' Sustainable Homesteading Expo in Live Oak. Just a short, 15-minute drive from me here at 3 Rivers Farm in Lake City, I got the chance to explore the neighborhood and drive a direction through town I haven't yet ventured. The weather was perfect for a day filled with workshops and learning, clear blue skies, and not too hot as long as you sat in a shady spot.
|One heck of a turkey!|
On pulling up in the driveway and getting out of the car, I was first met by a beautiful peacock, followed quickly by a fantabulous turkey. He is something, isn't he? He struts around the property making the usual gobble-gobble sounds we've been told they make, but he also kept making this loud thumping sound, much like a drum beat, that I later was informed is a mating call to female turkeys.
|One of the several goat feeding stations on the property.|
Magnolia Farms is all about dairy goats. And I mean lots of goats. Over 80 of them and most of them Nubians. So it was fitting that the first workshop given by co-owner, Darlene McElwee, was about goats. She gave us an information-packed talk on the raising and care of goats and demonstrated both manual and machine milking, as well as offering herself up for assistance if any of us intending to raise them needed help in the future.
|Chevre (herbed and plain) made out of fresh goat milk.|
The second workshop continued along the same theme ... goats, that is. Goat's milk to be more specific. Darlene demonstrated how to make chevre cheese out of fresh raw goat milk. It looks fascinatingly easy with her simple directions, not to mention tastes delicious. In the picture above, I've got it on a cracker topped with homemade tomato preserves from Marie's Home Canning in White Springs. The lemon peel and hint of ginger in the preserves compliment the tanginess of the goat cheese perfectly, making this a snack that could easily become addicting. I can't wait to try my hand at cheese making myself.
Next was lunch and Darlene and Mike (Darlene's husband and co-owner of Magnolia Farms) walked us down to a beautiful field set up with picnic tables and a covered area where they had set up lunch buffet style. What a fabulous farm-to-table spread they put out. Pumpkin soup, bean soup, salad with loquat dressing, a wrap stuffed with mushrooms, onions, and zucchini that was scrumptious all by itself, but when dipped in the loquat dressing ... OMG! As if this wasn't enough to fill any one's belly, dessert was one heck of a kitchen sink dump cake made with locally grown blueberries and strawberries.
|Darlene McElwee, co-owner Magnolia Farms (foreground); Phenie Sawyer, owner Preferred Organics (background)|
And then on to the soap making workshop by Phenie Sawyer, the owner of Preferred Organics in Jacksonville. I had no idea how easy it was to make cold-processed goat milk soap. At least she made it look easy. The biggest thing to remember about soap making is making safety a priority. Make sure to wear goggles or glasses (we are dealing with lye here), long sleeves and gloves. And never pour the liquids into the lye; it should always be the lye into the liquids. If you follow these simple guidelines, making soap for your urban homestead will be easy as pie.
Next, there was a great discussion on organic gardening led by a woman who up until recently had a 200-acre organic production farm. She explained to the group that our National Organic Program's definition of organic in the world of farming is:
“Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”
The problem is, when dealing with the food brought into this country to feed us, the words "according to the rules and regulations of each specific country" should be added to that definition. What we consider organic here in the United States is not necessarily what China, Mexico, or Guatemala considers organic. So, when we buy something labeled organic in our grocery stores, we don't necessarily know what that means. To ensure that you know what you're feeding to your family, it's always better to buy from local farmers either at the farm directly, through a CSA, or at a farmer's market whether they are certified organic or not.
|Not a good picture of Ethel, but the shade was taking over.|
|Of course I came home with quite a sampling of the goodies.|
Although there were a couple other workshops throughout the day, the last workshop I attended was the canning workshop led by Ethel from Marie's Home Canning in White Springs, Florida. Her mother started the business in 1960 and supported their family after her father was injured in a construction accident. Ethel and her sisters have run the business since their mother retired, and though 2 sisters have since retired, Ethel continues the family tradition. She says her first "job" at 4 years of age was chief jar washer because her little hands could fit into the jars to get them clean. If you've not tried her goodies, you should. Her tomato preserves are to die for, and the pear relish I turned into a salad dressing last night was pretty darned tasty, too.
chevre. If you'd like more information about Magnolia Farms or just like to see some great pictures of it, they are also on Facebook.