Welcome to Big Oak Ridge where my husband, Kent, and I have been “practicing” sustainable living off and on for the past 25 years. The Ridge is 20 acres, a mix of woodpecker infested trees and tough clay soil laced with shale. The land lays wet in the spring and produces an amazing crop of floribunda roses and goldenrod without any help at all from us. We have the dubious distinction of being one of the few places in Venango County who will still have snow on a 60 degree day. We love it here and here we choose to stay.
We were young and our children were younger when we bought this land in 1986. Our goal was to produce as much of our own food and cut as many expenses as we could thus enabling me to stay home with our children. We’ve worn out a tractor, a $6000 tiller and five strong children as well as ourselves trying to tame this frontier. We’ve learned a few things and gained a bit of wisdom along the way.
The years rolled by, the children were all in high school and soon would be gone. I found a “real” job and no longer had to grow our food. The garden grew up in weeds and eventually was turned into lawn, the chicken coop was razed, the goats were sold and we settled into a “normal” DILK (double income lotsa kids) lifestyle. In 2002, we built a new house on the Ridge, married off two daughters and sent a third off to college. My job was outsourced and I “inherited” four children that my daughter had been babysitting. So I came back to the land, opened a registered day care and settled into raising successive crops of other people’s children.
When you are born with dirt under your nails, it’s hard to stay away from the soil for long. We started with landscaping around the new house, added a strip of vegetables and before we knew it, we were hooked again. The old books began to call from the shelves and the Internet offered a wealth of new ideas and the latest next best thing. Along with all the great ideas, the Internet also warned us of the precarious condition of our national food supply. Daily we heard about toxic chemicals and tainted foods and the unhealthy effects of eating what America was producing.
Our first garden strip turned into two and then four and like the story about how much money you would have if you doubled your penny everyday…before we knew it, we were back into gardening BIG TIME.
With in a couple of years; we added a new coop of chickens, revamped the barn and got more goats. This was suddenly beginning to look like a farm again.
After many years of trial and error, we have settled on a few things that work well and we’re experimenting with a few things we hope will work. The motto of Big Oak Ridge is experimental, sustainable and reproducible. In the experimental phase, we try something for one year and see how it goes. Sustainable means that it worked the first year and we are able to keep the experiment going. Reproducible is the ability to pass that knowledge on to other people. The goal of Big Oak Ridge is to pass on this knowledge to future generations.
In the mean time, we started researching the latest “new” ideas about organic farming, sustainable agriculture and symbiotic relationships between our animals. We realized that there really wasn’t anything new under the sun but many things we just hadn’t carried far enough in our quest for self-sufficiency.
The recent locavore craze has caused us to chuckle. We were locavores before it was considered fashionable. We ate what we produced out of necessity and not because we were trying to join a movement.
A few cases of toxic spinach, tainted cantaloupe and E coli only strengthened our desire to get back to the land. This summer we produced a bumper crop of fresh fruits and vegetables and two freezers of homegrown meat. Never since our children were little had our larder been so full.
We bantered back and forth about the whole locavore craze and how that could realistically happen in NWPA .We read Animal, Vegetable. Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and got inspired. Unlike Barbara and her family, we decided that spring was not the best time to start living “local”. With our larders full to overflowing, we decided to launch into locavorism on January 1st of 2012 . We have been to the store once to purchase milk and dishwasher detergent as of January 15. We have since located a source of raw milk and quite frankly, I’m not willing to live without my dishwasher. After all, as you will see in the future, living “local” requires making most everything you consume and that requires a lot of cookware.
Paula J. Cornmesser
Big Oak Ridge