St. Brigit the Lady Farmer (and Inspiration for our Sustainable Overalls!)

St. Brigit the Lady Farmer (and Inspiration for our Sustainable Overalls!)

This post was originally published on February 1st, The Feast of St. Brigit, 2017. Since then we have designed, developed, and put into production a lovely pair of sustainable hemp/organic cotton overalls aptly named “Brigit” in honor of the this legendary Lady Farmer.  

As Lady Farmers, we want to pay homage to our predecessors, the women figures from history, myth and legend who embodied a powerful connection to the earth. As archetypes these personifications of the feminine are capable and independent, deeply nurturing, infinitely creative and fierce champions of nature and her cycles.

So it is with Brigit (also spelled Brigid or Bridget).  It is said she was born on February 1st, the Celtic Festival of Imbolc celebrating the cross-quarter day between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Legend has it that her birth took place over a threshold. Fittingly, she became the patroness of transitions, literally from winter to spring, and symbolically in many aspects of nature, life and the human experience. She presides over the birth of the new lambs (the word Imbolc means “first milk”) and represents fire and light as the sun makes its return.  She is seen as the protector of the home and keeper of the fire. She tends the hearth, preserving the eternal flame. She is patroness of healing, cooking, the arts (particularly poetry and weaving), animal husbandry, midwifery–and beer making! She is thoroughly and completely a woman’s goddess, and given the wealth of evidence we feel confident in claiming her as patroness of Lady Farmer.

I am inspired by Brigit in so many ways here on our small patch of earth, as folklore tells us she presides over almost every one of our daily tasks. I think of her on these cold mornings as I get the kitchen fire going and go out to tend the animals. She inspires me in my cooking and gardening, my exploration of culinary and medicinal herbs and fermented foods, as a weaver of ideas and words in my writing and as a weaver of earth friendly materials into healthy and sustainable garments for Lady Farmer. In keeping with an ancient Celtic custom, on February 1st, I will place a square of cloth representing Brigit’s mantle outside my door to catch the morning dew of Imbolc. Thus the cloth becomes a token of her blessings and protection on our household throughout the next year.

Here is a prayer to St. Brigit, a women’s Goddess and Saint. When in chaos and darkness, may we take comfort in the return of the light, the promise of spring!

Saint Brigid Hearth Keeper Prayer

Brigid of the Mantle, encompass us,

Lady of the Lambs, protect us,

Keeper of the Hearth, kindle us.

Beneath your mantle, gather us,

And restore us to memory.

Mothers of our mother, Foremothers strong.

Guide our hands in yours,

Remind us how to kindle the hearth.

To keep it bright, to preserve the flame.

Your hands upon ours, Our hands within yours,

To kindle the light, Both day and night.

The Mantle of Brigid about us,

The Memory of Brigid within us,

The Protection of Brigid keeping us

From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness.

This day and night,

From dawn till dark, From dark till dawn.

(prayer Courtesy of SaintBrigids.org)

A Guide to Slow “Giving”

A Guide to Slow “Giving”

image via google

Holiday time! We love it, all the family and friends, food, gatherings, music, traditions–all the warm fuzzy stuff. And yes, we also love the gift giving. We love it so much that we’ve turned it into a juggernaut of excess and waste that affects us in so many ways–financially, environmentally, mentally and certainly spiritually. How much stuff is manufactured and purchased as an answer to an emptiness of heart that cannot be filled with material things?   

It’s a shame that rampant commercialism has to be part of our winter celebrations that are supposed to be about love, light and our religious traditions–but that’s old news. It  has to be that way because it’s what props up our economy for the entire year, so everybody please just keep your wallets open and your heads down and start buying. Right?

As always, there’s more to it than that. Our excuses for participating in this consumerist frenzy ignore the lasting damage that goes far deeper than statistics about the economy. For some perspective, here’s an excerpt from an article by political and environmental activist George Monbiot (The Guardian, Dec. 2012) regarding our current culture’s holiday shopping patterns.  

“There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush; a silver-plated ice cream tub holder;…a confection of plastic and electronics called Terry the Swearing Turtle…They seem amusing on the first day of Christmas, daft on the second, embarrassing on the third. By the twelfth they’re in landfill. For thirty seconds of dubious entertainment, or a hedonic stimulus that lasts no longer than a nicotine hit, we commission the use of materials whose impacts will ramify for generation…This is pathological consumption: a world-consuming epidemic of collective madness, rendered so normal by advertising and the media that we scarcely notice what has happened to us.”

Here’s the truth, pure and simple.  It doesn’t have to be this way. Here we offer a few guidelines to help you honor our beloved gift giving traditions with all of the love and generosity of the season, without compromising our pocketbooks, the environment or our sanity. * You can embrace these wholeheartedly if you’re ready, or merely keep these things in mind as you navigate your way through this cultural mire with awareness, remembering that the system will change when YOU, the consumers, demand it.

Click Here to access & download the .pdf Lady Farmer Guide to Slow Giving! 

 

 

 

 

Home Stretch!

Home Stretch!

There’s word of a frost tonight, the first of the season. It’s mid- October so this should be no surprise, but we’ve been in such a warm stretch it feels like it snuck up. I was out in the garden just before sunset and saw all the things that are still there– fresh herbs, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers and green tomatoes, lots and lots of beautiful zinnia and dahlia blooms, lovely fragrant tansy, lemon verbena and pineapple sage. Of course they won’t all disappear overnight but there is so much I still want to do before it’s all gone, like drying out the herbs for cooking and for tea, making fried green tomatoes and apple pie and using the flower blooms to dye something before the color fades.

I think, though, that this fall I will have to let some of that go. Sometimes other things are calling, and in the last few weeks it’s the exciting momentum Lady Farmer that has our attention! This season of our Kickstarter campaign has brought us not only a quickly funded goal (100% in 100 hours!) but the pure pleasure of seeing how our project has reached out and created meaningful connections and authentic community. Even through dark days of heartbreak in these recent weeks, some wrought by nature and others by human hands, the light that shines on our power of choice is hope itself. Each of us can choose a better way,  especially in our decisions about our food and clothing and how we live with respect for each other and for our planet–and that is where we will see change for the good.


A Daily Something’s Rebecca Gallop in our Demeter Tunic. Photo by Amber Breitenberg

In reaching our initial crowdfunding goal, we’ve raised the funds to manufacture the “Essential Collection,” our first line of sustainably sourced and produced “farm-to-closet” clothing. From our launch party in downtown DC to various events in Virginia and Maryland this month, people have affirmed that they want and will support a clothing choice outside of the toxic and inhumane system that dominates the industry today. That’s why we set a “stretch” goal for the remaining twenty-six days of our Kickstarter. If that goal is met by the close of the campaign on October 28th, we commit to stretching ourselves into even more information sharing and community building in at least two ways–we will develop  a Lady Farmer Podcast by summer of 2018 and will also announce plans for a Slow Living Conference for 2019.

A lot has happened this month and is STILL HAPPENING!  I guess no matter how much is accomplished, however, we must always leave a season with some things undone, because try as we might we will never get it all done. As frustrating as that sounds it’s actually a blessing. Those desires and ideas propel us through our days with vision and purpose. Call it the creative edge, the energy of expansion, that part of our human nature that’s always reaching for something better, all the time.

If you haven’t already, there’s still time to go to our Kickstarter page and be a part of this awesome community of changemakers. Hope you’ll join us in the stretch!

With love and gratitude,

Mary and Emma

Find our Kickstarter here! http://kck.st/2xIcaWq

Kefir – The Superfood You Need To Know About

Kefir – The Superfood You Need To Know About

Kefir! It’s the superfood you need to know about, a rich, creamy probiotic beverage with the consistency of drinkable yogurt but with many times more nutrients. If you haven’t discovered it yet, then read on. You’re in for a treat!

Kefir is an easy, affordable and delicious way of boosting your immune system. Besides being packed with nutrients, it’s a powerhouse of probiotics. These are the good organisms that are essential to our health, the ones that help us fight off dangerous infections. They proliferate everywhere inside our bodies and in the world around us. But with the widespread use of antibiotics, hand sanitizers and a multitude of other practices meant to keep us healthy by reducing harmful bacteria, we’ve actually been removing many of the body’s own best defenses and have created a widespread health problem. Because antibiotics and disinfectants work against both the good and the bad bacteria, the natural balance of our microscopic universe is disrupted and we become vulnerable to resistant strains, commonly known as “superbugs.”

We can help our systems restore this balance by including any  probiotic rich foods in our diet, but kefir is an A+ source, containing multiple strains of live cultures and substantial amounts of protein, calcium and magnesium as well.  Although it’s been around for a long time, thought to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains many centuries ago, kefir has recently attracted scientific interest for its potential as a beneficial probiotic food. A article from Frontiers in Microbiology  published earlier this year states…

Kefir is a complex fermented dairy product created through the symbiotic fermentation of milk by lactic acid bacteria and yeasts …As with other fermented dairy products, kefir has been associated with a range of health benefits such as cholesterol metabolism and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibition, antimicrobial activity, tumor suppression, increased speed of wound healing, and modulation of the immune system including the alleviation of allergy and asthma…One of the features that distinguish kefir from many other fermented dairy products is the requirement for the presence of a kefir grain in fermentation and the presence and importance of a large population of yeasts.

It is in the traditional method of making kefir, the use of the “grains” as a culture, that the diversity and abundance of probiotics can proliferate, which the article goes on to explain is not the same as the widely distributed commercial product.

Commercial, industrial-scale production rarely utilizes kefir grains for fermentation, but rather uses starter cultures of microbes that have been isolated from kefir or kefir grains in order to provide more consistent products (Assadi et al., 2000). While this industrially produced kefir may have health benefits of its own, research examining such benefits has either not been performed or is not published.

In other words, the scientific community is looking at the traditionally prepared version of kefir as opposed to what you’d buy in the store. Even the store-bought brands have more live cultures than yogurt, but the probiotics really increase when you make your kefir at home. It’s simple and quick. Anyone can do it!  Here’s the process;

1) Obtain your kefir grains. The best way is to get them fresh from someone who is making it, but there are also multiple online sources.

Grains should be stored (while not being used) in cow’s milk – in between uses or when you have extra. When you go to make a new batch, you’ll scoop the grains out of the milk as shown. You’ll also want to refresh this milk (about weekly) to keep the grains fed and happy* Grains!

2) Place a generous tablespoon of live kefir culture grains in ½ gallon of cow or goat milk.

3) Cover and place in a warm spot out of direct sunlight for at least 24 hours, or until it is the consistency of liquid yogurt.

We used a cloth here to cover our grains, which is usually ideal, but a regular lid will work well too. Fermentation times will differ based on a multitude of variables, such as temperature. Our kitchen can get pretty chilly in the winter, so we’ll use a warming plate to speed up the process. If you want to slow down the process, place in the refrigerator.

4) Strain the grains from the kefir using a plastic strainer. Place the grains in a jar of fresh milk and store in the refrigerator for future use.*

5) At this point you can flavor the kefir any number of ways. For starters, try  ½ cup of fruit, a tablespoon of vanilla or almond extract, sweeten with sugar, honey, maple syrup or stevia. Your imagination is the limit here. Experiment and have fun with it.

6) Use a hand blender to smooth it out, leave at room temperature for another 4-6 hours for its “second ferment” (this step is optional) then chill. I think the flavors are optimal when it’s cold.

7) Now drink and enjoy and know you are doing yourself and your health a huge favor!

This is Pumpkin Spice – Cinnamon, a seasonal favorite – just add a can of pumpkin, 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg), and sweeten to taste using sugar, stevia, or maple syrup

*The kefir grains must be “fed” by being immersed in cow’s milk at all times between uses. Change the milk out when it gets thick. Take care of your grains, they are living things that provide you with a great gift. Thank you!

– Mary

PS – We’ll continue posting about Kefir and other important probiotics you need to know about! Recipes, articles, and more…how to get through the winter healthy and happy! Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss anything, and to become a part of this incredible community. 

Slow Breakfast

Slow Breakfast

For my breakfast this morning, I had plain, whole milk yogurt sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and honey. It took a while to separate  the luscious seeds from their tight little clumps inside the fruit, and as I was doing so I thought about how the cows had grazed the hillsides to produce the grass-fed milk and how millions of tiny bacteria had spent their lives culturing it into yogurt. Then there was a tree that grew for years and years before growing these delicious walnuts, and there were the  bees that traveled so many miles and visited so many thousands of flowers to create this perfect little bit of sweetness for me, this morning, and I thought about food and the time it takes and how we often try so hard to get around that.

I grew up in a time when Carnation Instant Breakfast was the latest and greatest thing, along with TANG and Pop Tarts, products inspired by the space age.  We were awestruck by images of the Gemini astronauts floating around in zero gravity sucking their nutrients in the form of powders and pastes delivered through tubes going straight to their mouths. They had so much to do up there in those capsules, exploring the universe and so on, and there was no such thing as “sitting” down for a meal in a weightless environment. It made perfect sense that this was how they would eat.  Of course we wanted to be like the astronauts because we were busy too, and taking the time to actually sit down for breakfast before dashing out the door to school seemed so “way back when.”  

The food industry complied with our fascination for instant, minimal preparation sustenance by creating countless “open and eat” products convenient for a busy lifestyle. Most people (many moms included)  thought this was okay as long as we were getting the nutrients we needed, which we thought we were. After all, it said so on the box.

Years later I brought this assumption into my own family life as standard operating procedure, though thinking I was being discerning, I always read labels and looked for things that were high protein, low fat, and vitamin fortified. I trusted in modern science that nutrients created in a lab would do the job, and that as long as we followed the FDA Food Pyramid guidelines we were eating well. But creating a meal with the four food groups and having the family gather around the table to eat it every night was a pipe dream. Occasionally? Sure. Normal? Nope. After all there was dance, drama, tennis, music, scouts, softball, concerts, recitals…you name it.

Convenience was the name of the game when it came to meals. It was the same for most families of the time I think, and perhaps still is, but nevertheless I don’t like admitting it.

I think about these things and write about them as a way of bringing about change, for myself as well as for others who might be interested. The slow food movement is evidence of a growing awareness of how our food systems have failed us.  Remembering the Instant Breakfast days, I consciously allow myself the moments needed to prepare my slow breakfast, and then savor the milk, fruit and honey flavors that can only be created–and enjoyed–with time.

– Mary

Natural Dye – Black Walnut

Natural Dye – Black Walnut

We’re surrounded by Black Walnut trees around here, so many that it’s too easy to be annoyed by the annual arrival of the green, fist sized nuts that create such a hazard falling from the branches during September and October. Then the yard becomes an obstacle course of firm balls covering the ground for weeks until the squirrels finally carry them off. If we want to pick them up in advance of the squirrels (say, if we decide we’d like to reduce the risk of breaking an ankle on our way to the garden) we are amazed at not only the abundance of nuts, but the tenacity of the thick, dark stain they leave on everything they touch. If you don’t wear gloves, you are stuck with it on your hands for weeks.

Looking at it another way, however, the Black Walnut tree is an amazing resource, providing for the willing homesteader an impressive array of gifts–including not only a delicious and nutritious gourmet nut, an oil with numerous uses, beautiful hard wood, and a lovely dye for yarns and fabrics.

That’s why this year, as we begin our Lady Farmer exploration of sustainable and functional clothing, I needed only to look in my backyard for an excellent place to start in playing with natural fabric dyes.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I got a clean(ish) 5 gallon plastic tub and filled it with ripe black walnuts picked off the ground
  2. Filled it with water and let the nuts soak for a few days. I think two days would be the minimum.
  3. Poured the water through a strainer into a 5 gallon pot (I used my canning pot) and set it to simmer for 2 hours.
  4. I took two pieces of an organic hemp fabric blended with tencel, soaked them briefly in warm water (I read that this prepares the fabric to receive the dye and lessens the damage from the hot water soak)  and placed them in the vat.
  5. Took one of them out after about 3 hours and left the other one in overnight

This is just one example of the miracles of color that surround us every day, in every season. We look forward to helping you see them–and creating ways for you to wear them!

– Mary

Choices

 

There may not have ever been a time when our choices have been more important than they are right now, in 2016. We have more information than we’ve ever had about the health of our planet and our humanity, and are blessed with the greatest vehicle of change: the power of choice.

 

this image and cover thumbnail image from Han Starnes @hanstarnes

 

     

          It is no secret that we, as consumers, are manipulated on a daily basis into spending our money. In the amazing amount of choices we have surrounding us, from where to buy our morning coffee to how we’re going to catch up on current events to which lipstick to wear with which outfit to that party we have to go to later that night…we have the incredible ability to choose how we are going to solve each of the problems presented to us. In this case, these problems would be our need for caffeine, our need to remain informed, and our need to present in a social situation. The impact of the choices we make to solve these problems is usually much greater in scope than what we are led (or allowed) to believe.

           It is when we consider the impact of the choice in the same way we consider the desired outcome that we regain our power. In many ways, how we spend our money has come to reflect who we are as people.

           It can start with being more critical about labels – on food, body/beauty products, and apparel – and the general story we are told about what our problems are (some marketing is clever enough to make up our problems for us) and how to solve them. We’ll need a strong sense of what’s manipulation and what’s real – and how those things align with our own values, which we’ll have to be clear about those  too.

           In a blog entitled “Revising Fashion Marketing Terminology” by Sustainability in Style, blogger Katie Roberts addresses some of the issues with marketing terminology, labelling, and identifying our own value system so we may make better and more informed choices. She references an Alice in Wonderland quote which I love, and when used in this context speaks to the paradoxical frustration and hope in this paradigm shift.

 

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”   – the Queen

 

                                     Can’t we all relate?

                   My mom and I started this company because we were both frustrated with the lack of choices that aligned with our own values – values we are continuing to define and develop – as well as the overwhelming amount of information we felt that we were either a) constantly bombarded by or b) constantly having to search for and wade through internet “muck” to find. We look to use this platform as a place to honestly share clear and distilled information about how we can make choices for  impact as well as outcome, and how we can strive for the best of all scenarios in regard to the planet, the people, and the consumer. If this sounds good to you, please stick around! There’s much more to come.

 – Emma

*Check back in a couple of days for more about deceiving labels, and what kinds of things to be looking for as well as avoiding. (We’ll also talk about what we’re taking into consideration while designing our forthcoming clothing line!)

In the meantime, check out this article from Stylewise, on something she calls “Greenwashing”.

 

Five Girls

Creating clothing with integrity means learning as much as we can about the raw materials and when possible, getting up close and personal with the source. Enter the newest additions to our menagerie at Three Graces Farm–five sweet ewes with very special coats.

Our sheep are varying degrees of the Gotland variety, representing a breed that is growing in this country. Dating back to the Viking era and originating from an island off the coast of Sweden, they are bred for meat as well as wool. There’s hope they will become a viable presence in North America for both industries. Full blooded Gotlands are still rare in the US, but our girls are a calculated mix in a gene pool that is intended to promote the breed, the result of a formal genetic program that was established in the US in 2003.  

Gotlands are known for their silky, silver/ grey wool and for being relatively easy keepers for small farms. Medium sized with an agreeable temperament (we are told!) they don’t need much besides a grassy field and water. In return, they’ll share their lovely coats with us in the spring which we will use in creating a luscious and uniquely textured yarn. Lady Farmer sweaters on the horizon? 

We have hosted sheep for grazing in our fields before so we know something about having them around, but this is our own flock. It’s a small beginning, but enough to get us all acquainted and to learn what we can expect from each other. They’re all girls, so no lambs in the spring, but if all goes well we’ll see about next year!

– Mary

Here’s a close-up of Cocoa, named for her delicious chocolate color!

 

Slow Food Ponies

 

Here at Three Graces Farm, our goal is to eat real food, limiting the distance from source to plate as much as possible. Given that challenge for the human contingent of our little homestead, applying the same goals to the care and feeding of our various critters is another consideration. Yet it’s interesting how we acquired four ponies with a unique story, one that just happened to reflect our own “slow food” efforts.

Last winter, we heard about some Shetland ponies that needed a new home. They were retired therapy ponies, having worked for an organization that places these special pets in homes with members who can benefit from the healing connection that exists between humans and equines. Shetlands are particularly suited for this job, being small in size and particularly calm in temperament. When we met the mother and daughter pair, Sunshine and Lace, it didn’t take us a minute to decide they could come live with us. Merry Meadow and April soon followed, and as a result we have our very own therapy herd!

Right away we learned that our ponies are unique in another way, in that they were raised on a natural diet, without reliance on the standard commercial grain feeds that are conventional in equine care. They came to us with the regimen of free grass grazing (a highly debated approach)  supplemented several times a week by “salads” consisting of fresh, seasonal leafy greens, vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs.

Though not in line with common practice, we’ve continued this method of care not only because it’s what they are accustomed to, but because in many ways it parallels our own “slow food” efforts at Three Graces Farm.  Every day, we intentionally reach outside the norms of an industrialized food chain to limit our consumption of commercially processed foods, looking first to our own land and then to other local sources whenever possible. Likewise, our ponies eat mostly from the pasture and the garden, not from the factory.  Foregoing the scoop of commercial grain product and instead filling up their feed buckets with all this good stuff is a daily reminder of what we’re going for here. And why wouldn’t we extend the effort to our beloved animal companions?

These four girls are beyond irresistible! They’re like big friendly dogs who come up to for a rub and a hug. Whatever psychologists have to say  about the therapeutic aspects of having them around, I’d say that being able to throw your arms around a cute little pony’s neck and give it a squeeze is good enough for me. A look into those sweet eyes and a nose nuzzle isn’t so bad either.

We do our best to give these ponies a happy, healthy life. They have a nice barn for shelter, plenty of room to roam and graze and a diet that comes directly from the earth. Given their overall health and well being, our equine vet has affirmed this regimen with a hearty thumbs up.  We consider their gentle, loving nature, their temperament and their lifestyle to be an example for all of us humans.  It is surely no accident that these lovely creatures have come our way.

– Mary

 

Beat the System: Buy Second Hand

If you haven’t watched The True Cost , please go ahead and watch it right now. Quite honestly, the movie changed my life. It laid out the severely harrowing state of a fashion industry that so many of us are able to mindlessly partake in due to cultural conditioning and a simple lack of information.

Okay, so maybe you don’t have an hour to spare right this second, but you definitely have 2 minutes to spare to watch the trailer so that we can a) get on the same page and b) you can be moved to bump the movie up in your Netflix queue.

Harrowing, right?

Y’all. Something has to change here. And guess what? The only people that are going to make that happen in any sort of efficient and meaningful way is us – the consumers. Like the organic and local food that we’ve so willingly and trendily accepted as a necessary investment, so must we do with the clothes that we wear. The best part is – it’s way less of an investment and more of an attitude/awareness adjustment.

Let’s start by being more aware. Know good advertising when you see it, and try to stop letting yourself be convinced that you need more, more, more and new, new, new to be happy. Juxtapose those images with some of the images from the film, and try to consciously think back and down the supply chain, as much as you can, to ask yourself if you are really willing to buy whatever it is you’re tempted by. It’s upsetting to think that a chicken raised here may be sent all the way to China to be processed, then flown back to be stocked on your local grocery’s shelves, right? What a waste of fuel, time, and energy for that one chicken!

It’s the same with clothes. As with everything, there are “many shades of green”, and the ability to fix all of these problems in one fell swoop, choice, purchase, donation, etc, is overwhelming and in fact, impossible. But maybe start with only buying clothes that you know where they came from, or who made them. You’ll actually be surprised; these things aren’t easy to find out. Some good places to start are companies that boast “transparency”, such as Everlane, which is newer, but some great ones that have been around are Patagonia, and Eileen Fisher. Maybe you’ll want to stick with Made in USA, maybe you’ll have more energy around making sure all the textiles used are recycled or recyclable.

Whichever shade of green you choose, a great, easy, and effortless place to start is buying second hand. And never, ever throw clothes in the trash can.

Buying second hand at thrift stores, or hosting clothing swaps with your friends, or donating clothes to said stores or swaps, is – and to my relief, because I love it – probably one of the best things you can do right at this moment to start changing things.  It’s completely a win-win, because not only are you beating the (profit-driven, planet destroying, slavery perpetuating) system, but you are saving lots of money (in many cases, the money you are spending is going straight to charity), and its really very fun.

So go beat the system, and have some fun.