Tag Archives: simple living

Failing at your own business–Sharecropping

For the past few years, we have been sharecropping on a neighbor’s hectare (acre). It involves working 2-3 hours daily from the summer planting season in June until the fall harvest in November. (See Forcibly Green)

My husband waits to plant until the middle of June just to ensure the rains would remain steady because we have no way to irrigate the field. It’s a crucial decision in the life of a sharecropper. Plant too early and the corn sprouts wither. Plant too late and frost kills off the crop before harvest. We’ve had mixed results. Some years, there have been bumper crops. Others, the plants are puny and low producing.

barbechando

The first step is barbechando the area to be planted.

The first step is readying the field called barbechando. Fiona was an essential component there, pulling the plow up and over the old corn rows. She does 5-10 rows per day. When the soil is suitably mixed, she starts at the beginning again making rows. Nearly straight is just as good as totally straight. The plants don’t seem to know the difference and grow anyway.

plowing with fiona

Making the rows.

We plant in the tres hermanas (See Planting with the tres hermanas) style. Corn, beans, and squash are planted and tended together. Once the corn has sprouted about knee-high, Fiona takes another swing through the rows. Any maiz coyote (non-ear producing corn) is pulled out, and the regular corn plants in their rows are thinned out, although not aggressively.  Some sections need to be replanted.  Mice and birds really like organic seed corn.

thinning

Thinning out and replanting.

The rainy season ensures that the non-edible plants grow faster than the edible ones. To keep the edible plants from being choked to death, it’s necessary to arrancar (pull out from the roots) the invaders. As soon as the weeding is done through once, it’s time to start back at the beginning again.

working in the field

A nice morning for working in the field.

If the corn starts to yellow, we throw abono (fertilizer) around the roots. This is usually a one-day project, sometimes two if we get a late start on the first day.

As the crops ripen, we enjoy the steady stream of bounty. My husband makes a delicious squash, tomato and onion dish. Corn is boiled in its leaves or roasted over the open flame. Beans can be cooked fresh from the vine or spread out to dry for later.

corn

A day in the fields removing the dried corn ears from the stalks.

Let the planter beware! The drive-by harvesters flock to La Yacata about this time. Unlike crows, mice, and squirrels, the drive-by harvester is not put off by scarecrows or lines of plastic bottles swaying in the wind. We send out extra patrols, dando la vuelta to check the borders of our crops several times a day until all the fresh produce is in.

toros

These drying stacks are called toros.

Once the corn has dried, we cut and stack it in toros (stacks). This is when the sharecropper pays his dues. We had a la tercia (a third) contract For every 3 stacks the field produces, one stack goes to the owner of the hectare. The owner and the sharecropper walk through the stacks together while the owner indicates which stacks he will accept as payment.

bringing it home

Bringing it home.

Once the crop is divided, it’s in the best interest of the sharecropper to remove his stacks as soon as possible, either by having the molinero (shredder) come or just restacking them in another area for further drying. Remember, the concept of ownership is more open here in Mexico. We’ve had entire stacks of drying corn stolen in the night. We could file a police report I suppose, but when have the cops here ever looked out for anyone’s interests but their own?

fiona

Fiona saddled up for an afternoon ride.

This year, my husband decided not to plant. He was so determined not to plant that he sold Fiona. I opposed the sale. Fiona is a good worker. She earns her keep. She is placid and gentle when not working, unlike Joey I also prefer her lady-like steps to Beauty‘s mountainous stride when riding. But he was not to be gainsaid. (See Reducing the herds) and away she went.

moliendo rastrojo

Moliendo rastrojo. Milling the corn stalks for animal fodder.

Even without planting ourselves, we should be able to get enough rastrojo (dry corn stalks without the corn) from neighbors. A 7 x 20 lot size sells for less than $100 pesos. Entire hectares can be purchased after the harvest. We’ve done this before. My husband makes the deal, and when the owner says it’s ready to be picked up, he goes with the truck and brings it back to stack next to our house. When we have enough, he calls in the molinero, and we bag it up for winter feed. Instead of a June-November work season, our gathering work takes about a week in late November.

I am not about to give up on fresh, organic goodness even though we aren’t sharecropping. So this year, I’ve been trying my hand at container gardening. (See Failing at Container Gardening).

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Declaring Solvency

thoreau-grasshopped

Oh, you say, but you live in México and everyone knows things are so much cheaper there. But the truth is, they aren’t. For example, a loaf of bread costs $24 pesos, a liter of milk $11 pesos, and a stick of butter up to $8 pesos, a bag of sugar $16, an ice cream cone costs $15 pesos etc and the average wage is less than $50 per hour.

Oh, but you don’t have very many expenses then, you might say. But that isn’t true either.

We have accumulated a little bit of debt. Last year, my moto fell to pieces and we had to buy a new one on credit, which wasn’t easy to obtain. However, making prompt and weekly payments of $315 pesos, my moto will be paid for in 14 weeks! Yippee!!

We have regular expenses such as tortillas (now $14 pesos per kilo), gas for the vehicles which every month is more expensive, clothing and shoes for a growing pre-teen and during the dry season, feed for the animals. Then there are the occasional expenses such as my current quest to become a Mexican resident (See Getting Legal–Trip 1 and Trip 2). And finally, there are emergency expenses like last week when my husband accidentally sliced open his arm with the machete while cutting grass for the horses and had to get stitches.

Since employment is iffy at best (See The Working Man) for my husband and I, becoming self-sufficient has been essential to our survival.

We have been able to eliminate some expenses entirely.

We have no running water, so we bring our water from nearby springs in water storage containers instead of supporting the Pepsi and Coke companies that sell water in garafones (water jugs) here. (See Water Woes) We do not have electricity, so we don’t have that bill to worry about. We use a power converter from our truck battery to run or charge the occasional electric appliances we use, like the blender for salsa, or the laptop and DVD player. Not having a refrigerator also means only buying what can be consumed in a day, so no prepared frozen foods for us.  (See Simple Living)

We have been able to reduce some of our daily expenses to next to nothing.

live simply corn.jpg

Our mini-orchard provides us with limones (limes), duraznos (peaches), guayabas, naranjas (oranges), chayotes, chillimoyas, and moras (blackberries) in season. La Yacata provides us with nopales (cactus), pitayas, (See Picking Pitayas) and tunas (See Picking Tunas) in season. Our goats provide us with meat and milk (See Separating the Sheep and the Goats) and our poultry (See Why did the chicken cross the road) with eggs and meat. We plant maiz, calabaza and frijol (corn, squash and beans)–the three sisters–for both us and our animals. We have also recently decided that our weekly loaf of Bimbo bread was a luxury item, so now we make our own, cutting our expenses from $24 pesos for one processed loaf to $15 pesos for 2 loaves of home-baked organic goodness.

donkey riders

It would be some advantage to live a primitive and frontier life, though in the midst of an outward civilization, if only to learn what are the gross necessaries of life and what methods have been taken to obtain them–Henry David Thoreau

Our wardrobes have been reduced to a few serviceable sets of clothing that are replaced when needed. Our cleaning supplies have been reduced to soap and water, a broom, a mop, a rag, and bucket. Our entertainment expenses consist of board games, horse or donkey rides (See Donkey Races in La Yacata), long walks, bike rides, visiting friends and relatives, reading, gardening and the occasional incidental adventure or two, all of which cost next to nothing.

When we moved to México, we decided to make a fresh start and live within our means. It has been an ongoing process and one that hasn’t been easy. It has required a rethinking of our lives, not just how we spent our money, and reclassifying many things that we thought were essentials as luxuries. (See Forcibly Green-Obligatory Organic) Our diet, our spending habits, and our family has changed dramatically in the 7 years we have been here. I can’t say that it’s been a bad thing becoming solvent.

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Forcibly Green–Obligatory Organic

Welcome to the April edition of the Simply Living Blog CarnivalGoing Green cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. This month, we write about going green and environmentally friendly living. Please check out the links to posts by our other participants at the end of this post.

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rastrojo

After the corn is harvested, it is laid out to dry completely then milled to make feed for our animals.

It’s easy in a modern world, to discount the effect one person has on the environment. The trash truck comes and hauls away the trash. The sewer flushes away excrement. The wind blows away car exhaust. The immediate surroundings remain clean. Now suppose all those conveniences are taken away. There is no trash truck, no sewer, no filter to clean the water, no running water for that matter. Would a person reexamine how he or she lives and make an effort to be more mindful in green living? Well, it depends on the person I guess.

Once upon a time, in a previous life, I thought I was more or less living “green.” I would go to the grocery store, pick up organic produce, buy organic canned and packaged food, use a filter for my water tap, use organic clothing when it was on sale, separate recycling and drop it off at the local bins, piddle with plants, use cloth bags and pat myself on the back for being concerned with the environment. Silly girl!

Now I live in an alternative life, where there is no choice but to be green.

When I go to the fruteria (fruit and vegetable store), I have only one option–local in-season produce or nothing at all. While not necessarily by choice, I am reducing greenhouse gasses since the food travels a relatively short distance to reach the market. I also do not contribute to pollution and waste caused by packaging and processing. All the fruits and vegetables are in their natural, ripened state, ready for purchase by the kilo, not can. I use a canvas bag for shopping whenever possible, not because it reduces the plastic bag waste residue (although I’m all for that) but because I am charged 50 centavos more for the bag, and these days every peso counts.

Corn and beans are a staple in the diet here, both for animals and people. Corn tortillas are a part of every meal. The Mexican government controls the corn prices. Of course, that means that inflation is unchecked. Since we arrived, the price of a kilo of tortillas has gone from 6 pesos to 13. Bodega Aurrera (a branch of Wal-mart) is mysteriously allowed to sell tortillas at a price below the federal mandate and offers a kilo for 8 to 10 pesos, but their tortillas have the consistency of cardboard.

With the prices of seed corn rising every season, it is now cheaper for the tortillerias (tortilla makers) to buy corn flour imported from the U.S. where Monsanto rules. As of 2005, Monsanto has garnered permission to sell their GMO seeds in México, overriding farmers’ protests. It really is only a matter of time before economics destroy the legacy of corn in the land where it was first cultivated.

farming

My husband with Red preparing the field for planting.

So in order to maintain ourselves, we’ve had to expand our own cultivation. The growing season for this part of México is from June until November when the rainy season starts. So in June, we plant corn, beans, and squash on lotes prestados (borrowed lots) with a sort of sharecropping deal in the traditional way. The beans grow up and are supported by the corn stalks, and the squash plants fill in the ground between the stalks. We grow organically because every bit of the plant is used as food for ourselves (squash flower tacos are super awesome) or our animals (rastrojo is ground dried corn stalk and feeds our goats and horses through the dry season).

A liter of milk now costs 11 pesos, and a kilo of eggs (about 8 or 9 eggs) costs 30 pesos. There was a recent outbreak of avian flu among the commercially raised Mexican chicken population. Beef and pork products are “eat at your own risk.”  It’s only common sense that for our own health and pocketbook, we look for alternatives. We drink raw organic goat’s milk and are provided with organic eggs and meat from our own mini-ranch.

The Mexican government has a full-scale advertising campaign aimed at the conservation of water. Mexicans are advised to turn off the shower while they soap up. Bathtubs are a luxury nearly unheard of. Washing cars or watering lawns are simply not done. Millions of Mexicans still live without running water. Our own community of La Yacata is one of those areas. So water conservation is not merely of a matter of turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. We take it seriously.

backyard

Our cherimoya tree in the back yard is watered by a pipe that brings wash water from the second floor to the tree roots.

El agua es bendito. (Water is Holy). We reuse nearly all of our gray water to water the fruit trees and plants in the backyard. We have orange, lime, lemon, cherimoya, mora (blackberry), peach, and granada (pomegranate), chayote and guayaba. Our animals do not have standing troughs but are given portioned servings of water. We do these things, not necessarily because they are good for the planet, although that is a great reason, but because the cost and effort of replenishing our water supply are extreme.

garafon

Filling our drinking water container from the natural springs in a nearby community.

At the same time, the government is encouraging water conservation, it reiterates that the water from the tap is not drinkable and everyone has to use bottled watered (sold by the Pepsi and Coke companies). A garafon (container) of water costs between 17 and 21 pesos. Sometimes, that’s out of our budget. So we go to presas (springs) in nearby communities and fill our garafon (container) from there. Until you have survived your first bout of churro (diarrhea) from drinking dirty water, you will never understand the importance of keeping the water supply clean.

How clean is your water? 

bottle recycle

Plastic can be sold to recycling centers here in Mexico however it pays so little per kilo that you have to gather a lot to make it worthwhile.

The trash tractor does not come to La Yacata for daily pickup. So what do we do with the garbage? Organic trash is given to our animals, no waste there. Anything metal can be resold for a few pesos as fierro viejo (old metal) to places that reuse and resell it. We have even gone hunting for scrap metal to resell when times are tough. Plastic trash is a problem, though. Although there are now places that will buy plastic to recycle, it pays so very little that only the most desperate junta botellas (collect bottles). We try not buy plastic in the first place, to reuse bottles when we can, or we are forced to burn them. Yes, this causes air pollution, but we haven’t come up with a viable solution to this yet.

Our neighbor, who has only lived there about a year, has contaminated his immediate environment (and ours) with his plastic trash. This is a problem for us, for it is always possible that one of our curious goats may ingest a plastic bag which will kill it. The trash heaps also attract coyotes and wild dogs and rats. I guess he’s just not too concerned with green living.

side car

Moto-cart. Just the thing for transporting!

The Mexican government also regulates the prices for petroleum and gas prices have steadily been increasing. We have a truck, however, more often than not, we do not have enough pesos on hand to fill the tank, so it just sits there. Our everyday transportation consists of motos (motorcycles), my husband and I each have one. Using a moto cuts down on emissions, which is great, and provides other benefits like more money in the pocket and easy parking. I love my moto.

It seems to me that in general, people do not get excited until a dump is opened in their neighborhood or a factory that contaminates the water supply is built down the road. Then the “not in my backyard” motto unites the community into looking for different options with active protests. I admit to having been one of those people in my previous life. I did the least bothersome and let someone else worry about the rest. However, it’s been made clear to me that my “backyard” is larger than I imagined. In La Yacata, living green is an economic necessity. The price for contaminating the environment is too steep for us to pay. How about you?

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disclosure
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Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating eco-friendly living solutions into their everyday lives. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Daily Lives!

  • Green Renovating: A Lot, A Little, Not So Much Laura at Authentic Parenting ponders about the many things that have an impact on eco-friendly renovating
  • Growing Native in My Flower Beds – Destany at They Are All of Me takes the guilt out of her flower habit by switching from high maintenance flowers to native plants which not only lessens her gardening load, but also benefits the local wild life.
  • Baby Steps – Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares how her family became more sustainable, one step at a time.
  • A Greener Holiday – Sara from Family Organic discusses the overwhelming amount of “stuff” that comes with every holiday and talks about how to simplify instead.
  • Forcibly Green–Obligatory Organic – Survivor at Surviving Mexico talks about her family’s evolution from passive to active green and sustainable living.
  • Giving It Away – Juliet Kemp of Twisting Vines writes about the role of Freecycle, the giant karmic lending library, in her simple and green living.
  • Simply Sustainable – Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses her family’s attempts to live in harmony with the earth by living simply and more sustainably.
  • How Does Your Yarden Grow – Alisha at Cinnamon&Sassafras writes about an ongoing permaculture project, converting her grass lawn into a mower-free paradise.
  • Green? – Is it about ticking the boxes? sustainablemum shares her thoughts on what being green means in her life.
  • Using Cloth Products To Reduce Household Waste – Angela from Earth Mama’s World shares how her family replaced many disposable household products with cloth to reduce their household waste.
  • Going Green in Baby Steps – Joella of Fine and Fair shares some small, easy steps to gradually reduce your environmental impact.
  • Are You Ready To Play Outside?! – Alex from AN Portraits writes about gardening, and playing in the dirt, and how it’s O.K. to get dirty, play in the dirt, play with worms, for both adults and kids.
  • Lavender and Tea Tree Oil Laundry Booster – At Natural Parents Network, Megan from The Boho Mama shares an all-natural way to freshen laundry.

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Redefining Simplicity–Living within our needs


Welcome to the February edition of the Simply Living Blog Carnival – New Beginnings cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. This month’s topic, our writers consider where they are with their New Year’s Resolutions or new ventures of 2013. Please check out the links to posts by our other participants at the end of this post.

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beauty-life

Today, while using the washboard and brush to scrub the towels, I thought of how our lives have changed since moving to México. Not only our lives, but our needs had become pared down from our middle-income suburban past.

Immigration reform deprived my family of a life in the U.S. and so 6 years ago, we came to México to start a new life. Many of the things we painstakingly packed and brought were essentially useless and we have divested ourselves of most of the excess baggage along the way. Don’t think it has been easy. Possessions have a way of feeling important even if they are not used. The washer and dryer set just took up space in a house that had no running water or electricity, but I was loathed to part with it for quite some time.

Living without electricity has also eliminated a refrigerator. We buy fresh food daily and only what we will eat in a day. Anything in excess of our daily bread goes to waste. We enjoy fresh organic goat’s milk and eggs, sometimes in quantities that we have difficulty in finishing in a day, but hey, who’s complaining?

We have a stove, however, there are days when we can’t afford the gas to cook with, so we gather up sticks and build an impromptu stacked brick oven outside. Flame-cooked beans have a flavor all their own.

We’ve divested ourselves of the TV, lamps, electric piano, blender, toaster, radio and crock pot. We use a rechargeable flashlight, cell phone, portable DVD player, laptop, and solar lights. When these items could no longer be recharged we replaced them or not depending on if we felt the cost worth it. For instance, we use candles now, no flashlights or solar lights. They work just as well and are more easily obtainable.

My wardrobe has also changed. In the life we lived prior to this one, I had a full closet, multiple pairs of shoes for every outfit and occasion, and coats and jackets that truthfully saw the light of day two or 3 times a year. I used to have beautiful silk dresses and angora sweaters, but they just aren’t practical wear for minding the goats. Now I have 2 pairs of pants, a handful of shirts and sweaters, one jacket, one pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals, and one pair of boots. Don’t think that sometimes I don’t look back longingly, like Lot’s wife, but my needs have changed, and I have to change along with them.

We have also changed our spending habits. Not having electricity or running water means we have been unable to establish credit. And without credit, no credit cards or buying on credit. So for us, it’s cash on the barrel, or it doesn’t get bought. This has meant that materials for our house are carefully budgeted items, not something we can run to Home Depot and buy now to pay later. We are moving towards a finished house, but haven’t arrived there yet.

We have found that we need less to be content than we thought we did. Our preconceived priorities have been altered. Yes, we still need food, shelter, water, and clothing, but not what we thought we needed.

I have had one heck of an education, moving from a first-world country to a third-world country on what a person needs to be happy. Safe in our middle-income suburban life, I might have said that the conglomerate of things we had amassed was essential to living. And I would have been mistaken.

I have found that difficult though some days may be, there is a sense of freedom in our new life, a sense of purpose in what we do every day, that has nothing to do with what we own. As if all the extra frivolousness has been stripped away, leaving only the basics and a sense of gratitude.

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disclosure
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Thank you for visiting the Simply Living Blog Carnival cohosted by Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children, Laura at Authentic Parenting, Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, and Joella at Fine and Fair. Read about how others are incorporating simple living into their lives via new beginnings. We hope you will join us next month, as the Simply Living Blog Carnival focuses on Clearing the Clutter!
  • Using Special Time to Simply Connect – Amber at Heart Wanderings begins to focus on simply connecting with each of her children for a few minutes of Special Time each day. A deeper connection and sense of joy, softening of emotional outbursts, and less sibling rivalry have resulted from this practice.
  • Redefining Simplicity – Living within our needs – Survivor from Surviving Mexico talks about how moving from a first-world country to a third world country has changed her family’s perception of simplicity. Adapting to this new life has not been easy, but can be done with an attitude of gratitude.
  • Changes – Sustainable mom writes about how she is bringing back a beat to a rhythm that has been falling apart.
  • Listening to my Kids – Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs is seeking peace and freedom after over-scheduling her daughters.
  • Thankful to Begin Again – Mercedes @ Project Procastinot learns a lesson from her twins.
  • Changes for a New Year – Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children is concentrating on making small changes this year in an effort to make better habits.
  • Parenting Two: A Fresh Start – Joella at Fine and Fair embraces the transition as her family grows as a new beginning by being gentle with herself and realistic with her expectations.
  • Finding Balance – At Authentic Parenting, Laura looks at where she’s gotten fighting depression and aspiring to a more harmonious life.

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Filed under Carnival posts, La Yacata Revolution, Water issues