"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~Jeremiah 29:11
When I was a grade-schooler (I can't remember which grade) I made a drawing of a big, red barn with some animals around it and wrote something like, "When I grow up I want to be a farmer and have animals." God has a funny way of knowing my heart and guiding my path. Hobby farming is entertaining and I didn't want to make it "work." Of course, work is a matter of perception when you enjoy what you're doing.
Hannah and I started Pate Homestead (without a the name, of course) with a rough landscape on our 5-acre corner of Muskegon County, Michigan. A labor of love ensued as we worked on the house, the barn and the land. Soon the barn was sided and talk began about bringing our horses over from The Farm. Fence posts were anchored and wire strung up. Charlie and Albatross become the newest residents of Pate Homestead along with Ella (not yet 1), Maggie & Chance (the dogs).
It wasn't long before box garden beds were constructed and vegetables flourished in our endless supply of organic, horse.....compost. Why stop there! The Homestead welcomed rabbits and chickens and eventually ducks. The garden went from one bed to two beds to a dedicated spot too large for a box bed. Berry bushes grew (then withered and died) and apples & cherries began to blossom on the trees.
I had the crazy idea of tapping maple trees for fun. The family would enjoy a few bottles of homemade syrup. We have one, yes one, mature maple on the Homestead. We tapped it without much success. We found another one on a neighboring parcel. Tapped that one too without much success. It was looking bleak until we visited The Farm were sugar maples flourish. The first year (2016) was brutal as it became apparent that I didn't have the right tools for the job. Boiling down gallons of sap on disposable, aluminum pans over a campfire results in time-consuming, smokey syrup. I resolved to make improvements for 2017. I read everything I could online and watched endless YouTube videos on the process.
I more than doubled the amount of syrup in 2017 on a new barrel stove. So much so, that I found great joy in sharing it with family, friends and coworkers. Folks raved about the flavor and expressed their amusement that Hannah and I embarked on this unique pastime. The sale of syrup led us to consider selling the eggs from the chickens. Syrup and chicken eggs are seasonal endeavors and I looked for something to bridge to gap into another winter/spring of syrup.
Hannah was thrilled that I took up yet another hobby, canning. I love fresh fruit jam. The summer of 2017 found me monopolizing the kitchen with canning pots, funnels, jars and lids. We made a bunch of different types; raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, strawberry/rhubarb, blueberry and Christmas jam (cranberry/strawberry). The kids absolutely love it and request that every slice of toast and PBJ sandwich get slathered with "daddy's jam."
HO! HO! HO!
As the holidays approached I looked for creative gift ideas for Hannah and others. I landed on Pinterest page that outlined how to build wooden reindeer. It looked easy enough to cut and assemble especially with the template I discovered online. I mocked one up and showed it to a few coworkers who quickly convinced me that I needed to build more and sell them. What started as a gift idea for about three people quickly escalated into building about a dozen reindeer in time for Christmas. I have order for 20 more for 2018!!!
Discussions around what to get me as gifts for my birthday and holidays have become entertaining, even to me. I used to be the DVD and gadget guy. Now I'm looking forward to stainless stock pot, a case or two of canning jars and syrup bottles, and seeds for my every-expanding gardening interests. Oh, HE knows the plans HE has for me and I can't wait to discover them for myself.