Metro City Council voted to allow Nashvillians to keep backyard chickens countywide on January 21, 2014. Backyard chickens lay omega-rich eggs and are a useful teaching tool; they're also profitable. Since 2012, Nashville has earned over $6000 in permit fees from city chickens. Chickens, however, are just one piece of this cultural phenomenon. The resurgence of homesteading has emerged from a need to learn where food comes from while preserving the history of that which sustains us. To learn more on how to keep backyard chickens, a fine resource is: www.ucannashville.org.
Nick and Nicole Mattingly of Double N Urban Farm are East Nashville homesteaders, and chickens are just the beginning. In addition to getting back to the basics of living and survival, their Urban CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm has been feeding eight East Nashville households this growing season. "Last year is when it clicked for me," recalls Nicole. "We were already producing 80% of our own food and now we are setting deep roots." Nick is the other half of Double N Farms. He spent a lot of time on his family's farm as a kid, but never thought of it as a viable option in the sea of Tudors, bungalows, and ranches known as Inglewood. After seven years of managing a nearby Walgreens, he decided to follow Nicole's lead and commit to farming. "It's what we chose to do and so that's what we do," he declares.
"Living a sustainable and simpler life [led them] to shed the baggage of a materialistic world," says Nicole. She sews all of her own clothes and preserves all of their food. This year they have started a worm farm, which produces a nutrient rich fertilizer to compliment the chicken manure. "I'm the veterinarian and she's the botanist. Our homestead was Nicole's vision," says Nick, with Nicole interjecting, "But he's definitely the carpenter." Double N Urban Farm is broken into two parcels of land totaling 1.5 acres. Heated by a wood-burning stove and cooled by the fresh breeze, the Mattingly's ranch-style home is stocked to the rafters with everything they need. Their kitchen cabinets have been removed to make room for extra shelving where canned goods reside. The bed in their guest room was covered with seedlings lit by grow lights hung from the ceiling this past spring. The guest bathtub was home to three baby chicks. Nick and Nicole have also installed a solar-powered shower outside.
Nicole's parents live about a mile away, and her family has roots in East Nashville going back three generations. "I didn't have normal kid friends," explains Nicole. "Granny was my inspiration." With a green bumper sticker that reads "No Farms, No Food," the Double N Farms truck can be spotted from time to time hauling goods to their CSA farm located on the opposite side of Gallatin Road and up a piece from the other. It is here that the Mattinglys have built an empire of raised beds, trellises, and corn patches. On occasion, they will have other CSA members come help turn compost or perhaps help water the crops from the huge rain barrel strategically placed on the one-acre property. They practice the no-till method, so as not to disturb the earth's balance, using tools such as shovels and broad forks. Nicole remembers, "Our family thought we were crazy at first and claimed that we did things the hard way. Now everyone is incredibly supportive. Our friends and family have been our rocks throughout this journey."
—The Mattingly's top resource picks are: "The Urban Homestead" by Kelly Coyne; "The Feast Nearby" by Robin Mather; "Mini Farming" by Brett L. Markham; and the Internet.
Krysta Kaczmarzyk is one of Double N Urban Farm's anchoring patrons and a CSA member. "Friendship notwithstanding, I knew that Nick and Nicole were going to grow in a respectable, honorable and beneficial way," says Kaczmarzyk. "It's really close [to home]. I can literally walk in five minutes to pick up my weekly CSA. It's a great way to unwind after dealing with daily stuff. I feel like I am making a difference. You put yourself into what you're eating, but not literally." Several years ago, Kaczmarzyk realized how much she loved fermenting and found she was good at it. "I wanted to work for myself and supply the community with something good and of value," she says, chronicling how she started Cumberland Valley Kombucha. So what the heck is Kombucha? "It is a probiotic-rich tonic that supplies energy via B vitamins with negligible amounts of sugar and caffeine.
—Kaczmarzyk's top resource pick is "The Art of Fermentation" by Sandor Katz and the Internet.
Jhesi Boyer started her blog, The Backyard Pickler, as a method of consolidating her chicken pictures, but also found it was an opportunity to get to know other people like her. It wasn't too long before Boyer came to love gardening as well. She uses raised garden beds with stakes and chicken wire to keep the chickens out. "There's always a chink in the armor," says Boyer, pointing to a small gap in the wire. She started canning in 2007 after she had a bowl of tomatoes rot in the fridge. "I thought 'this is dumb,'" and so she went out and bought a Presto 23 quart pressure cooker. "When you email the Extension Office they will drop what they're doing to answer," says Boyer. She even gets her pressure cooker's gauge tested at the UT Agricultural Extension Office. Boyer's kitchen walls are lined with stainless steel racks stacked to the ceiling with canned soups, jams, and even pear wine. She got the pears for $5 a bucket from her favorite random way to find food: Craigslist. Just off to the left of her kitchen sits a large, flat- screen Panasonic television that she bartered mowing an East Nashville attorney's lawn last summer. "My goal is to be the city Laura Ingalls. Laura was lonely out there, but at least she could have goats," she jokes. Davidson County does not allow such livestock.
As Boyer shares her citrus-infused scobie candy (scobie is the "mother" of Kombucha and it's quite delicious candied. Think Gummy Bears with nutritional value), she reminisces about growing up a dairy farmer's daughter: "We were expected to go to college, and now all I want to do is can." Pouring a fresh, French-pressed pot of coffee she continues, "Even when I was a little kid, making the connection from a cute calf to a hamburger caused me to go vegetarian for a while. It will affect your choices in what you eat when you think about how illogical the current food system is. It was a gradual need as opposed to an aha moment. People who are actively thinking about this lifestyle are typically going against the way they were raised." Her love for her family helps her "remember that the rest of my family doesn't think in the manner I do. They value the convenience in foods to allow them to do other things. My brother loves his diet soda. He's very smart and self-aware but ignores the facts. It's too sensitive a subject to talk about. There's no point in it, so I search for balance." Before Boyer shares a half dozen eggs from her hens, a jar of her prized Sweet Lime Pickles, and some apple preserves for the road, she offers this sentiment: 'Whether you are in an apartment, or you have 40 acres, homesteading is simply an effort to use everything available to sustain you."
—Jhesi Boyer's top resource picks: The "Foxfire" books by Eliot Wigginton; "Country Wisdom and Know-How: Everything You Need to Know to Live Off The Land" by the editors of Storey Books, published by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; the Ball "Blue Book Guide to Preserving" published by Jarden Home Brands; and the Internet.
Kim Harris has lived in East Nashville for nearly 20 years. Prior to moving across the river she lived on Music Row. "I could walk everywhere. My first garden was in the Vanderbilt area, complete with a clothesline. I didn't want to sit and wait in the laundry mat." remembers Harris, who was in her late 20s at the time. "The clothes shrunk every time I put them in the dryer. These days, if I'm gaining weight I know it is not due to hanging my clothes on the line."
Harris lives on about an acre of Inglewood land with her cats and six chickens named Eudora Welty, Zelda Fitzgerald, Aileen Wuornos, Belle Gunness, Lizzie Borden and Flannery O'Conner. "When I come home from work there's no arguing. It's just me, the chickens, and my cats," she laughs. When asked if she has ever had to cull the flock, she quickly responds, "No, I could never … they're my pets." While she doesn't really like the taste of chicken, Harris will occasionally eat steak. Primarily a vegetarian, this homesteader loves growing herbs and vegetables; rosemary, basil, thyme, and savory make up her favorite flavor profile. "I'm just practical. I've never bought an herb in my life. I never liked tomatoes until I had a Tennessee tomato." As Harris continues with the tour of her homestead, she recalls, "My Dad was from a farm and he always had something growing." Along the path are fruit trees, grape vines, herbs, and her extensive collection of heirloom tomatoes. As Lizzie and Flannery were fussing over a piece of salmon skin, the other ladies were clucking and cooing along in the bamboo thicket. Kim's coop is more of a small house for the hens, all named after female authors or serial killers. "That's just how my crazy mind works," says Harris, explaining the reason for her chickens' namesakes.
—Kim Harris' top resource picks: East C.A.N. backyard chickens and the Internet.
Alabama-based fashion designer, Natalie Chanin spoke at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium last fall in Oxford, Miss. She spoke of "eggs, needles, capable hands and using those hands to make a difference, because I think that capable hands making a difference can change our region, the world and the universe all together." She goes on to say, "it's really popular today to talk about sustainability, but sustainability has always been nothing more than food, clothing, and shelter."
Among East Nashville Homesteaders is a certain sense of community and the willingness to share one another's resources. They come from all walks of life with varying degrees of commitment to the homestead lifestyle. The common thread throughout is the desire to be self-sustaining. While backyard chickens and high fashion may be worlds apart, it really does come down to food, clothing, and shelter.
From the Backyard Pickler's Blog
Here's a great way to preserve all those tomatoes:
Cherry Tomato Pickles (makes about 6 pints)
About 8 cups of mixed cherry tomatoes, rinsed
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small sprig of fresh rosemary per jar
4-5 leaves fresh basil (optional)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1.5 teaspoons of canning salt (iodine free)
3 cups of water
Mix the vinegars, salt, and water on the stovetop and bring to a boil for a minute. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sterilize and heat your jars in whatever method you prefer. I like to run them through the dishwasher on the high heat cycle with the rings, while keeping the lids in some slightly warm (NOT boiling) water in a small pan on the stovetop. That will keep their seal a bit gummy until you use them.
Divide the minced garlic up evenly between your jars, and add a sprig of rosemary to each (and basil if you're using it). Raw pack the tomatoes straight into the warm jars, pouring the warm vinegar mixture over the top. Make sure to leave about ½ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, tighten just to finger tight so air can escape. Place the jars on a metal rack in a large saucepan, making sure at least one inch of water covers the tops of the submerged jars. Bring to a rolling boil then set the timer for 10 minutes. Remove immediately from the water and let stand on a wire rack to cool. When your jars are cooled and sealed, remove the rings and wipe the jar down with a towel. Storing them without the rings means that if any bacteria survived the high heat, the gas they produce will loosen the seal, alerting you that they aren't safe to eat. As long as your seal is strong, these will be shelf stable.
Kim Harris can't get enough of tomatoes these days. One of her favorite ways to enjoy them is making tomato pie. She first rolls out a basic biscuit dough and brushes it with olive oil. Then goes on the thinly sliced tomatoes and whatever fresh herbs she has in the garden. She sprinkles a pinch of salt and pepper before the fresh mozzarella goes on for the final layer. The pie bakes on a baking sheet in a 400° preheated oven until bubbly.
This time of year, aphids are a tomato's worse nightmare. Nick and Nicole Mattingly have a great natural remedy. Stir together 1 quart of cold water, 1 tsp of dish liquid, a pinch of cayenne, and a pinch of garlic. Put this concoction in a sprayer and spray on the bottom side of the leaves to rid them of aphids.