Deborah Niemann and her family grew about 6,000 pounds of their own food last year on their 32-acre farm in rural Illinois. But she started with a jar of alfalfa sprouts.
“That was the first successful thing I grew,” said Niemann. “It’s the easiest thing the in the world. You throw some seeds in a jar with water.”
Niemann was in Wichita this week supporting her book, “Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living,” a how-to book to producing your own food, from vegetable gardens to raising your own goats for milk and cheese. It’s timely in this world of food recalls and questions about the health of the packaged food we buy, not to mention people wanting to eat local.
“We hear about the 100-mile diet,” Niemann said, referring to buying foods grown within that radius of home. “We have what we call 100-yard ice cream. Everything that goes into it comes from within 100 yards of our kitchen.”
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Niemann and her family moved in 2002 from Chicago to what is now their “Antiquity Oaks” farm. The 6,000 pounds of food last year didn’t sprout up overnight.
“It took us nine years to get there, and all I really wanted was a couple of goats to make some cheese and a vegetable garden,” Niemann said the day after her signing at Watermark Books.
Now Niemann’s family grows about everything except flour and some other grains, sugar, coffee and chocolate. She even began making her own syrup from a grove of maple trees.
You don’t have to live on a farm or have lots of acres to begin growing self-reliance on food, either. In her book, Niemann talks about how people in cities, condos and in the suburbs can increase the food they produce for themselves and, in the process, create a healthier lifestyle.
When Niemann started that jar of sprouts in her kitchen 24 years ago, beginning a journey to find a healthier way of eating while pregnant with her first daughter. Niemann realized she had an awful diet of fast food and packages of edible material that contained ingredients she couldn’t pronounce.
“I grew up on canned ravioli and frozen pizza,” she said.
Niemann wanted her children to grow up healthier. She first started questioning what she was eating, when she looked at the ingredients on a box of blueberry muffin mix.
“They didn’t contain any blueberries,” she said. “I decided I was going to learn how to make them from scratch. I learned using the mix really doesn’t save you much time and making them from scratch means only adding three or four ingredients.”
It took several attempts before she succeeded in getting her backyard garden to grow.
“You need to start with one or two things you are really interested in,” Niemann said. “I hear people all the time say, ‘I don’t know how you do all that.’ Well you shouldn’t try to do all that. It’s taken me years to get here.”
National Recycling Day
Tuesday is America Recycles Day: a great time to think about more ways to reduce the amount of stuff we throw away.
Need to find a place that will take your old appliances, electronics, cells phones or plastics? Enter your zip code at KansasRecycles.org to find local resources.
Have more tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section.