Pigs in Zen

Usually I have something poetic to say about harvest , but unfortunately, this year’s crop isn’t very inspiring. Due to uncommonly late rains our pickings are a little dismal. We planted very late and so weren’t in danger of our grain sprouting on the plant as many were, but because of the extended season we got a late wave of pests.
From this huge pile of sorghum you can hear the munching of a million tiny mandibles. When we shake a tassel bunches of small worms fall from it. They will continue to consume our profits until the sorghum fully dries and can be ground.
We did better with our corn, though because we weren’t able to weed sufficiently about a third of it is on the ground consumed by morning glory vines, irretrievable, because the late rain caused sprouting.
Fortunately, we grow only to feed ourselves and animals because the market value of grain is very low this year. Farmers who can afford to will keep their crop for fattening animals to make up for the loss, which should benefit us because people will be in the market for piglets.
Felipe’s pig project, on the other hand, is very productive. To date we have 48 piglets and three more sows to birth in the six weeks.
He has a delightful new procedure I’m excited to tell you about. For several days before one of his mama’s(his choice of words)is to birth he lets her run free. Exercise is good for birthing ease. Then she makes a nice nest for herself and has her babies in the open, which cuts down on piglets lost to crushing because they have so much room and no walls to get caught against.
Not to mention, they all seem very happy with the freedom. How can I tell when pig is happy? They play. Even the mama runs around, grunting and jumping like a piglet. It’s especially entertaining to watch Empire , all 250 pounds of her, cavorting with her clan.

Empire at Large
Felipe has also taken to letting pigs out if they are under the weather, he believes they find the natural remedies they need in seeds, grasses and leaves, and he’s found loose piglets are less incline to scours likely due to more diversity in their diet. We’ve had no illness requiring medication since he started the practice.
Alas, we can’t let them all roam free together, though we have enough room. Packs of pigs roam beyond their fences, and fences strong enough to curtail pigs are expensive. But for several weeks a year everyone but Don Juan, who molests the neighbor’s sows, gets a good romp.

© 2013 Abby Smith, Writer

The Radical Plate

“Every minute that you entertain yourself without paying some corporation to entertain you, you’re acting radically. If you grow even one plateful of your own food rather than buy it from the food corporations, you’re acting radically.” Wendell Barry

In Sustain…able I shared some of our less successful ventures with you, but this post is about victories, such as the day we began our harvest.

I cringed at the sight of Iowa’s decimated crops when I was there in July. Though I know the fields are rife with poison and genetic mutants I can’t help but root for the plants. I’m dazzled by the utter vitality the rises from the plains like heat waves off hot asphalt. But I am thrilled to report we have had an awesome season.
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Sustain… Able

One of the more naive things I have done in my life was move to a temperant climate thinking it would somehow magically propagate self-sustainability. I ignorantly thought (though I had a read a couple of books and raised a couple of gardens) you get some land, a couple a chickens, throw some seeds in the ground, plant some fruit trees, and in a few years you have  a self-seeding food forest, orchards, eggs, and meat. Maybe it won’t provide for every meal, but it should be pretty solid foundation.


Perhaps if we had invested the 50,000 dollars we arrived in Mexico with in: a greenhouse, good animal facilities, and traveling Mexico to find access to decent seeds and organic gardening products, we would have food now–but we’d be living in a tent.

What we have learned is self-sustainability is not romantic. It requires strong fences and safe facilities for your animals, like say, a chicken house for example. Seems like a no brainer, right? But when Felipe was growing up his family let their chickens run, they hand weeded all their crops, they provided the majority of their own food without the use of fancy row covers and organic pest deterrent. Why can’t we?

Well–there were ten of them. Felipe’s parents, brothers and sisters worked from pre-dawn into the darkness most every day. Something not even superman Felipe is willing to do, for which I am thankful.

A year ago, five years into our Mexican life, we reassessed our position here. Our stipend was to run out at the end of 2012, and we still had very little consistent food production, no consistent cash flow outside of the dwindling 500 peso a week payment, and no funds to improve our farms production.

We decided on a route that was uncharacteristic for us, we diversified. Meaning, we decided to pursue individual projects to make money with the long term goal of investing in a real self-sustainable farm, unlike the play farm we have now, built of sticks, mud, and garbage strung together with barbed wire–and those are the high tech parts.

So I made a commitment to write like a person that plans to make a living at it (Felipe was relieved, I am a much better writer than gardener), and he started raising pigs. He has also, miraculously, has had a job for nine months now!  I don’t know if you heard this or not but it’s kinda hard to find work down here. If I could type in a whisper I would, for fear that saying he has a job aloud will somehow create bad juju and this most amazing state of affairs will cease.

To date, we have a prolific native lime tree we grew from seed, nopales,  native sorrel and basil, a fabulous multi-purpose passion flower ( it provides shade both and fruit)sundry herbs and foraged produce and when we’re lucky a native tomato plant will pop up. We also grow enough corn and sorghum for ourselves and our animals.

In terms of animals, this week we’re getting about 6 eggs when the dogs or skunks don’t beat us to them, we have 3 drakes that can be eaten if we can bring ourselves to do it, and 5 roosters that will be ready soon, if we could ever catch them. And we will have a Christmas pig this year, which will mean a store of lard and maybe some smoked meats if we can get a smoker assembled.

So for now our version of sustainable is this; the ability to sustain the effort, to work toward the dream of a self sustainable life. Not Simple, Not Easy, but the feeling we get when something works—like picking limes, or harvesting eggs, is Very, Very Good.

Jacking the Light

This is the first in a week-long series of excerpts from my work in progress.

When we built our home we were advised to bypass the electric company for the initial installation of electricity. We were told it was so problematic to deal with them that we would wait months for service. The best course of action was to hire an electrician to install our electricity, and wait for the company to find our illegal hookup. They then cut your line, come to negotiate a payment plan and reconnect you. I didn’t like the idea of stealing service, but since we had been doing business in Mexico for five months we knew that dealing with any company was difficult, and we did not want to wait months for light.

Felipe bought 1200 meters of electric cable Continue reading