Jilly D.

Jill, Jill, from Garbage Hill

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on June 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Sam down the laneChopping firewood keeps Sam happy in the summer because he knows “If you want to be warm in winter you gotta get hot in the summer.” Hoeing and weeding, swimming and picking, freezing and canning fill all my daylight hours during the longest days in the year.

The peas are just one example of how everything in June seems to come together at once. When it is time to pick peas, it is time. There is no waiting until it is more convenient. The time is prime.

Peas are for us to eat. I freeze them for the long winter. The pea pods go to the goats, deer, elk and buffalo as treats. The pea vines get pulled eventually and also go to the big four-leggeds. There is no wasting the precious bounty of all the land offers for our efforts.

Swimming like it's summer

Swimming like it’s summer

When you throw something away, where is “away”? There is no place called “away.” If there were such a place, I’m living there. We live as far away from the rest of civilization as possible. It’s a bit like a Fourth World: Third World conditions inside the First World. We share many of the daily practices found in the Third World but live marginally amongst an embarrassment of riches.

My father teased me relentlessly as a growing girl and he made up a song, “Jill, Jill, from Garbage Hill; Never washes, Never will.” Let’s just say I have never been afraid of getting dirty.

The hill we live on here between the two Finger Lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, for many years served as a dumping ground. Garbage bags full of cat litter thrown in the ditch. Broken baby seats tossed into the hedgerow. Dilapidated television sets or sofas strewn about the countryside. When I first moved to the hill in 1992 I walked along the unpaved roads with my dog and picked up cans and bottles every day for years.  I turned others’ trash into cash with New York States’ deposit program. Since then the garbage has been cleared by local landowners. Everyone has become more responsible about dumping and littering. The majority of people here pay a fee by the garbage bag of non-recyclables hauled away.

cabin where sam and jill liveWhen I moved to the farm I dealt with garbage as a farmer. There is no away. There is no waste. I fed the meat, poultry and egg scraps to the dogs and cats. What others would compost, I fed directly to the chickens, goats, pigs, deer, elk or bison. The weeds from the garden were yummy treats to them.

Coffee grounds and other inedible but organic matter is easily buried in the garden as fertilizer for the squash plants. Egg shells crushed and sprinkled among the strawberries and baby lettuce greens keep away slugs and provide nutrients to the soil.

Newspapers are used to start fires. This is one of the two best uses for newspapers; the other is to spread them under the cat litter box. I say this seriously as a former journalism professor. Over the years I have learned to make a variety of crafts from recycled paper products; especially the glossy junk mail and weekend paper color inserts.

Magazines and catalogs go the local library, where there is a Community Exchange. I pick up many publications I would never subscribe to and leave my magazines behind. Teachers and parents pick up the old ones for arts and craft projects.

In rural Schuyler County there is no recycling pick-up program. We try to reuse all of our glass that is “waste.”  Many jars have mouths that can be used for canning or making jams and jellies. To prevent rodent or insect infestations I store all my kitchen staples in glass jars: sugar, flour, cornstarch, brown sugar, rice, beans, popcorn, barley, cornmeal, rolled oats. Glass jars and bottles are good pencil holders and can keep screws, nails, pins, hooks, coins and tacks organized.

sams picture with jar of pensPlastics I avoid altogether. If someone gives me leftovers in plastic I return it with something cooked or baked in my kitchen inside it. I do use some plastics because so many things are sold in plastic. Many kinds of plastics are not acceptable for recycling. When burned they create a dioxin cloud. I take whatever I can to the recycling center down at the Town Barns; open on some Saturday mornings, weather permitting.

Even old clothes are recycled in a variety of ways. Sam still has some clothes he wore in high school. I did make a quilt from scraps of our denim jeans too far gone to wear or repair. Old sheets become great summer wraps for drying off after a dip in the pond and they dry much quicker than towels. Textiles from natural fibers are durable and need never be thrown “away.”

If the clothes are still in good condition but simply unused, they are recycled at the consignment store in the Village. More than 30 years ago a group of parents opened the Gemm Shop with proceeds benefitting the school’s music program. Today, the Gemm Shop is my fashion headquarters. I stopped buying retail clothes years ago. Clothes that Sam and I don’t wear are sent to the Gemm Shop on consignment. Once a season I get a small check and the reminder to review and update our wardrobes.

Some old clothes are so tattered they just become rags. We wear our clothes out: buffalo dung, sweat, food stains, dirt, grass stains, oil and gasoline spills, paw prints and dog hair, dust and wood smoke take their toll on fibers. Old sweatshirts and t-shirts are great for cleaning and orphan socks were invented for dusting fine wood furniture. Old blankets and towels make for good bedding for kid goats or fawns brought in the house to be warmed and bottle fed.

Most of the “garbage” we produce on the farm can be incinerated once or twice a week in the burn barrel where we get a hot and quick fire going; all flame and no smoke. We avoid creating waste but I know there is more of it in the past decade than what Sam’s extended family produced in 50 years.

956725-R1-20-21AThere are some things not worth keeping anymore. Where do they go? For more than half a century the Warren family maintained a “dump” way down back on the property. What amazes me is that for 50 years of waste there isn’t really much there.  Old mattresses rotted away were pulled out a few years ago when the springs proved useful in raking the pond bottom to eliminate an invasion of the Potomac pond weed. No chemicals were needed to stop the spread of this invasive weed and the tool was recycled from the dump.

When the price of steel got so high in early 2008, Sam raided the old dump for recyclable materials. He spent a couple weeks cutting up metal and loading up a trailer to take to Teeter’s Scrap. Fifty years’ worth of old car fenders, a washer, hot water tank, rusted truck bed, bike parts, and other junk sold for a handsome price.

Instead of the local school paying someone to haul away the old windows they replaced, Sam agreed to take them. The glass made it possible for Sam to build a sunroom on the southwest side of the house. He also closed in one wall of the summer pavilion with more of these windows.

Sam will pound the nails out of a board. He reuses the board, straightens the nails and reuses them. Sam saves the twine from every bale of hay. He can’t use it again for baling, but it has many other purposes. If a machine breaks there is no discussion of buying a new one; only of how to fix the old one. If Sam can’t fix it, it wasn’t worth owning in the first place. It’ll sit in a hedgerow for a while and salvaged for parts.

Even the ash left after the fire has gone cold is garbage that can be turned into gold. Wood ash is an excellent addition to garden soil but in winter it is essential. Unlike salt which melts snow into ice, wood ash when sprinkled onto cold snow or icy surfaces provides the grip you need to walk safely or get that vehicle some traction.

Just don’t burn boards with screws in them. Nails can be dangerous missiles in a stove when the flames engulf the surrounding wood. More important, the ash from the fire still contains these shards of metal and you should NOT spread them in the driveway unless you can afford new tires.

Manure is black gold for the garden. You can’t buy better fertilizer. Buffalo dung, Elk and European Deer produce nutrient rich manure that is better for soil enrichment than any product commercially available. In early spring, the pens and paddocks are cleaned out and spread on the fields before plowing and harrowing. I now say my Ph.D. stands for ‘piled high and deep.’

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  1. Renewal from what’s been left behind… a necessary way of moving forward, materially and otherwise.

    No matter what you write about your prose is delicious–like a well seasoned and perfectly paced meal.

  2. What a great post!

    I found this quite witty:

    Newspapers are used to start fires. This is one of the two best uses for newspapers; the other is to spread them under the cat litter box. I say this seriously as a former journalism professor.

  3. Wow, did this city girl just learn a lot about renewables that goes way beyond the recycle icon I find on my purchased products. Thank you for the education!

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