Monday, September 22, 2014

Third annual conference a success!

Thanks to an amazing line-up of speakers and a group of enthusiastic attendees, our third annual conference went off without a hitch! Here are some of the comments from the evaluations ...
This conference rocked!
Bring questions -- the friendly speakers are happy to answer them.
Lots of great information on sustainable living
Great to learn about different aspects of homesteading
Lots of good info and networking opportunities
Great way to learn from people with life experience
Even if you don't live on a farm, there is something to learn.
When asked what their favorite session was, most people listed more than one, and some attendees even said, "all of them!" We also received lots of compliments about the lunch, which was catered by Chipotle this year.

Victoria Miller, author of Pure Poultry, talks about poultry

We want to give a big thanks to Premier1 Supplies for their generous sponsorship, which allowed us to bring in Victoria Miller, author of Pure Poultry, who spoke about living off-grid, canning, and of course, poultry.

Thanks to Modern Farmer magazine for providing all attendees with a free copy of their magazine.

Plans for the 2015 conference are already underway. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, be sure to let us know by commenting below.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Participate in second annual seed swap!

Last year's seed swap at the conference was so successful that we decided to do it again this year. How does it work?

If you have a few too many seeds of a particular variety, or if you just want to share one of your favorites, bring them with you to the conference. We will have a table set aside where you can leave them in the morning. As the day goes on, check back to see what seeds others have left. Feel free to take seeds that you want. You can bring seeds in their original packets, or if you'd like to spread the joy, you can put a few in envelopes that are clearly marked with the variety and the year they were harvested, as well as any notes you want to include on growing, harvesting, or other tips for success. You might also want to bring a few empty envelopes in case you only want to take a few seeds from a particular packet.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Buying, selling, and everything in between

Want to purchase your own farm property, but don’t know what to look for? Or perhaps you’re ready to begin selling produce, or expanding your homestead to include sheep and want to get the best information to be profitable? Donna Z. Lehrer is a former environmental specialist for the oil industry turned sustainable small farmer, with a wealth of knowledge to share. And, lucky us, she’s doing just that at this year’s conference! 

Donna will be presenting four sessions that take you from soil to market, covering sustainable gardening, sheep farming, and the issues you need to consider before purchasing a homestead property. Her tips will help you develop your farm’s unique identity, source heirloom seeds, design pastures, and evaluate land for sustainable farming potential.

Donna’s unique blend of professional expertise and years of hands-on experience will offer tools and resources to attendees at every stage in the homesteading process. In addition to her environment training, she is a Kane County Farm Bureau Board of Director and former member to the Illinois Governor’s Local Food and Farm Product Task Force. You can find more information about Donna and her homestead, Lamb of God farm, on her facebook page, and Esther’s Place, the project of Donna’s equally intrepid daughter Natasha.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Early bird registration deadline is today!

If you want to save $10 off the registration for the Third Annual Mid-America Homesteading Conference, click on over to the registration page right away because the deadline is midnight tonight.

What's so great about this year's conference? We have some awesome speakers lined up to talk about some exciting topics ...

  • Victoria Miller, author of Pure Poultry, will be talking about living off-grid, raising poultry, and water bath and pressure canning.
  • Ben Nelson will be talking about creating your own electric vehicles on a budget.
  • Wes King of Illinois Stewardship Alliance will give you the latest information on how to legally sell what you produce on your homestead.
  • Mike Boehle will demonstrate how to make cold-process goat milk soap, as well as mozzarella cheese. "But what if I don't have goats?" you ask. No problem! Mike will explain how you can use milk from the store.
And we will also be talking about beekeeping, raising sheep and goats, gardening, selling at a farmer's market, raising mushrooms, and more! To see all of the other educational sessions planned, click here to see the schedule for the day!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

More from Victoria Miller on living off-grid

We recently had a little chat with Victoria Miller, one of the speakers at this year's conference, about the realities of living off the grid.

What exactly does living off the grid mean for you? Do you have electricity?

Living "off the grid" means that we don't have electricity, at least not full-time, since we're not hooked up to the local power grid. We do have a generator, but we use it only when we're doing laundry; at the same time we plug in all our rechargeable things so they're charging while the generator is running. We are almost finished installing our solar electric system, at which point we'll be able to run the washing machine without using the generator.

Currently, just about everything in the house runs on propane: the hot water heater, a gas stove/oven, gas refrigerator/freezer, and gas lamps on the walls. We heat the house with two woodstoves about 8 months of the year. We have no TV, and the only Internet we have is dial-up; we never had high-speed Internet even when we were in Seattle, though, so it isn't a big deal.

Why do you live off-grid?

Well, my husband David's grandparents bought the property back in 1936. It's two miles up the hill from the Dungeness Fish Hatchery, and the hatchery is where the electrical service ends. We weren't actually looking deliberately to live off the grid, our property just happens to be off the grid. Still, even if we could afford to connect to the grid, we would choose not to. We like not having utility bills, and have found that life without full-time electricity is actually quite rewarding.

Do you prefer living off-grid, or do you miss having unlimited power at your disposal?

There are times when I wish I could just plug something in like everyone else, but that doesn't happen too often because I'm pretty used to things as they are. And once our solar system is fully functional, I WILL be plugging those things in. It's surprising, really, what you find you can do without quite easily, once you get used to the idea. And unlimited power always comes at a cost, both in power bills and increased dependence.

If you have ever dreamed of living off-grid, don't miss this opportunity to hear from someone who is doing it! Victoria Miller, author of Pure Poultry: Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks, will be presenting four sessions at this year's conference. She will talk about water bath canning, pressure canning, raising poultry, and living off the grid. Vicki became a canning whiz specifically because they live off the grid and don't have a big freezer for preserving the harvest.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Learn to make your own electric vehicles

Would you like to drive around for practically free? Yes, I'm serious, and yes, you can do it -- legally! Ben Nelson has built an electric bicycle, an electric motorcycle, and an electric cars. He has also provided hands-on assistance to hep several people convert their cars to electric.

But electricity costs money, you say? Yes, and Ben charges his electric vehicles using solar panels that are attached to his daughter's play set.

He is not a mechanic, just an "ordinary guy with no special skills, just trying to change the world one backyard invention at a time." He is a do-it-yourselfer who has built projects ranging from electric motorcycles to solar-powered PowerWheels, home blacksmithing to greywater recycling, using little more than a library card and a socket set. If he can do it, so can you!

Ben will be presenting three sessions at this year's conference -- one on creating an electric motorcycle, one on converting a car to electric, and one that covers his other backyard inventions and conversions, such as the five-gallon bucket swing, cardboard clubhouse, solar PowerWheels, soda bottle sprinkler, rocket grill, graywater system, and a 400-watt solar panel setup that he uses for charging his electric vehicles.

In his electric vehicle sessions you will learn vehicle design concepts, motors, batteries, speed control, budget, charging, legal issues, and more.

His YouTube channel has had more than 3.5 million views! You can learn more about him and purchase his instructional DVDs by visiting his website,

Friday, June 27, 2014

Premier1 fencing is key to rotational grazing

by Deborah Niemann

We are excited to announce that our first sponsor for the Mid-America Homesteading Conference is Premier1 Supplies, a company made famous for its innovative livestock fencing. You may have noticed that the conference had no corporate sponsors the first two years. That meant that all costs had to be covered by registration fees. It worked, and we put on some nice events, but in order to grow a little without increasing costs to participants, we knew we had to reach out and get corporate sponsors. But we wanted to get sponsors that made high quality products that were truly of interest to our attendees -- and that's why Premier1 was the first company that I asked to become a sponsor.

I've been using Premier's fencing for years. We originally bought three rolls of their ElectroNet to use for rotational grazing of our sheep and goats, and within no time we realized we needed more. Today we have ten full rolls of the ElectroNet and one half roll, and sometimes we find ourselves wishing we had a couple more rolls. I am also happy to say that those rolls that we bought seven or eight years ago are still working great. In fact, we can't tell which rolls of fencing are the oldest.

Pasture rotation is a very important key in keeping internal parasite from becoming a problem for our sheep and goats, and the portable electric fencing is the key to rotational grazing without the need to put up permanent fencing everywhere. It also allows us to use our hayfield for rotational grazing. Obviously if we put up permanent fences across the hayfield we would never be able to easily harvest hay again.

We also use the ElectroNet to move sheep from their remote pastures to the barn every year for shearing. Because we don't have a trained herding dog, we use the temporary fencing to create lanes across our yard or through the pastures to drive them wherever they need to go.

We also have two fence chargers from Premier -- one that is plugged into the wall in our barn and another charger that is solar powered that can be used for electrifying fences in remote areas of our farm that are not accessible by electricity. One of my best experiences with Premier happened when I called to order my first fence charger from them. After reading the catalog thoroughly -- and they have a LOT of different chargers to meet the needs of farmers, ranchers, and homesteaders in diverse situations -- I thought I knew which charger I needed. However, the salesperson at Premier asked me a few questions about what type of livestock we owned and where we lived, and he recommended a charger that cost $100 less than the one I thought we needed! That experience gave me the confidence to recommend them to everyone I talk to about fencing for sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, and cattle, whether I am talking to someone who is buying one of my goats or whether I am speaking at a conference.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Victoria Miller to talk about living off-grid, raising poultry, and canning

If you have ever dreamed of living off the grid, you won't want to miss Victoria Miller's sessions at this year's conference. Vicki and her husband have been living off the grid in Washington State for eight years now.

"We often have people say to us, 'I'd really like to live off the grid,'" Vicki recalls. "I suspect that a lot of those people are as ignorant as I was about just what it means to live off the grid. I would encourage anyone to connect with someone who lives or has lived off the grid, ask a lot of questions, spend some time on their property if possible, and really think about what it means. There is a lot to consider beyond just do you have any electricity or not."

But if you don't know anyone who lives off-grid, you can come to this year's conference and get to know Vicki. She will be presenting four sessions: water-bath canning, pressure canning, raising poultry, and living off-grid.

Both water bath and pressure canning play a big role in the Millers living off the grid.

"Since I bought my first pressure canner, canning has been a year-round activity for me," says Victoria. "Being able to safely preserve low-acid foods like meat and vegetables greatly expands your food-preservation skills." In her session on pressure canning, she will discuss equipment, safety, basic principles of pressure canning, and pros and cons of canning vs. freezing food.

"I first learned to can when I was in 9th grade," Vicki explains. "Our school required Home Economics for girls in 9th grade at the time, and one of the most useful things I learned in that class was how to can. All through high school I helped my mother can and preserve all kinds of foods, mostly grown in our home garden. I had never used a pressure canner, though, until we bought one about 10 years ago, a couple of years before we moved to the farm. So I had to learn that on my own, but the many years' experience with water-bath canning helped a lot. Since we have such limited freezer space here, canning is an absolute must for me."

The Millers also raise poultry on their homestead. "We had discussed raising animals as part of our plan to produce a fair amount of our food, and we started with chickens," says Vicki. "Our idea at the time was to raise enough to provide us with eggs and meat and maybe some extra for friends and family. What a slippery slope!"

In addition to producing enough chicken and duck eggs for themselves, now they also sell eggs. "We've been selling our organic duck and chicken eggs to a local restaurant for 6 years now. We had taken a sustainable agriculture class back in 2008, put on by the local County Extension office. At the same time we had become friends with the young couple who own the restaurant in town, and once they tasted our eggs, they asked if they could buy them from us. We found out that in Washington, you have to have an Egg Dealer's License to sell eggs wholesale. We had the license within a few weeks. In the spring, when our egg production is the highest, we sell our extra eggs at four retail stores in the area."

Based on her experience, Vicki wrote Pure Poultry: Living Well with Heritage Chickens, Turkeys and Ducks . And yes, that picture on the cover of her book is a bantam cochin hen raising turkey poults! Because they are off-grid, they don't use electric incubators or brooders, which means they get very creative in their poultry raising methods.

There will be copies of Pure Poultry available for purchase at the conference, and Vicki will also do a book signing. You can also purchase the book from Amazon by clicking on the picture:

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Oh, shiitake!

Love mushrooms? Wish you could grow your own? Join Jill Niewoehner at this year's conference for an exciting overview of growing shiitake mushrooms in logs in the urban landscape.

"With a little TLC, a little shade and a healthy dose of water you will have mushrooms in six to twelve months that will continue to fruit for years to come," says Jill. "Homegrown mushrooms are delicious and fun to grow!"

Jill and her husband, Daniel have been raising kids, chickens and veggies in their yard in Oak Park since 2006. You can visit her online at

Friday, May 16, 2014

Want to sell your homegrown veggies, meat, milk, or other products?

It is virtually impossible to produce exactly the amount of food that you need, whether you are talking about tomatoes, eggs, or meat. What can you do with the dozens of extra eggs or zucchini you have? Can you just sell the eggs and zucchini, or can you make zucchini bread and make a better profit? Even if you have only one sow, she will have eight or more piglets, and most families can't consume that much pork in a year -- and a sow could have two litters a year! What can you do with the other piglets or pork? And what if you have more manure or compost than you need for your garden?

Wes King, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance and co-author of Guide to Illinois Laws Governing Direct Farm Marketing: For Farmers and Other Food Entrepreneurs will give you the scoop on what you can sell and where you can sell it, as well as the legal requirements. Beyond executive management functions, the focus of his work is developing and monitoring sustainable agriculture and local food related legislation in Springfield and at the Federal Level. In addition, Wes is working on organizing and building the capacity of grassroots stakeholders to influence food and farm related policy decisions.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mark your calendars!

The Third Annual Mid-America Homesteading Conference will be held Saturday, August 30, at Joliet Junior College. This is again Labor Day weekend. We are currently working on getting speakers and putting together the schedule. Stay tuned for more details soon!