Jennifer: Today I have a very special guest. I have Melanie Lynn from Road to Farm. It's a blog and a YouTube channel. Let me just go ahead and read her bio because, as you guys know, I love just to read the bio so I don't miss anything or leave anything out because I have the most wonderful guests and I do not want to short change them at all.
Melanie Lynn is a wife and a stay-at-home mom. She's a homeschooling mother of five children, so she is busy. She is the creative force behind the Road to the Farm YouTube channel that showcases her family's journey to becoming self-reliant and an off-grid family. The Road to Farm family is currently homesteading on one point five acres in a small rural town in eastern Idaho. Her YouTube channel, you must go there, not this second, but you must go there right when you're finished watching this show. That is Road to the Farm. You go to YouTube and search for that. Hello, Melanie.
Jennifer: How are you doing this morning?
Melanie: I am doing great.
Jennifer: You guys, when I first talked to Melanie I was ... We're doing this interview via Skype. I saw her sitting there looking beautiful this morning. I noticed behind her she has a wood-burning stove. Could you just tell us a little bit about that? I'm so curious. I was already asking her questions before we started and I was getting ahead of myself, so I'm going to ask her the questions again. That is, is that a wood-burning stove? That's the first one. The second one is, can you cook on that or do you use it just for heat?
Melanie: Yes, it is a wood-burning stove. The surface on the top doesn't get very hot, so we don't cook on top of it. We like to keep a kettle there and keep our tea warm or our coffee hot. This is really fun. It's got an oven box back here. I can cook beans and roasts. I have actually done, I did brownies in there one time. It takes a little more finesse to get the temperature just right on that. The things that aren't temperature-sensitive, like roasting a squash and things like that, work really good in there.
Jennifer: That is so awesome. I love that.
Melanie: We really love it this time of year.
Jennifer: We don't have a wood-burning stove and I want one so much. I'm just so interested whenever I see one. I'm getting ahead of myself again. For those who don't know you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your website and your mission?
Melanie: Our main activity is over on YouTube. We have a channel there, like you said, called Road to the Farm. My mission behind that and the reason I started it was I really just wanted to showcase homesteading lifestyle and just how fulfilling it really can be. My mission behind that is to inspire people. I have a lot of videos that are just fun that just watch some of the daily activities that we get up to, some of the fun things that we do. Then I do have some how-to videos as well for when you feel inspired and want to take on some of these projects. We've got canning videos and some gardening videos and stuff like that.
Jennifer: It's a great channel. I just love it. Can you tell us a little about your story? Because there is a thirty-minute video on your channel, and I think it's on your website too, and it is one of the most touching videos I have ever watched. It's just you and the wall in back of you and the camera. You are just reaching out to everybody and explaining your story. If you have not seen this video, you must. If you don't watch any other videos for the rest of the year, you need to watch this one video because it's just so touching. Don't go there right now. Wait just a second. After the show you can go to all of these places. If you have not seen it, you must go right after the show. Could you please tell us a little bit about what that video is about and why you made it?
Melanie: That was actually one of the hardest videos that I've ever made, I guess just because it's very emotional for me and really it's hard for me to be that vulnerable. I've really felt strongly that there were other women out there who would connect with me on that level and needed to know that they weren't the only ones out there in the world that had gone through something like this. What I talk about is my health journey more than anything and just that I started out as a fairly healthy person and didn't realize what was going on. I had a gluten allergy that went undiagnosed until I was in my thirties. My health really deteriorated and I got to the point where I was unable to care for my kiddos and just hit rock bottom, and what I've done to claw my way back and the things that the kiddos have done to help. That's a real nutshell version of it. All in all, we've come a long way. Now we're homesteading and it feels like a huge victory to me.
Jennifer: Like I said, the video is just, it's awesome. I think that even if you don't have health issues ... Obviously you were explaining how that happened to you and the effects of it on all of that. Even if you don't have health issues, just watching that, you can relate to it as a mother because of the way that you were talking about your kids and how they were helping you and what they were doing for you and how it was just gut-wrenching. Anyway, I just wanted to compliment you on that because it's, like I said, it's just one of the best videos I've ever seen on YouTube, and also to encourage our viewers now to go watch it when the show is over. Can you tell us a little bit about the things that you grow on your homestead?
Melanie: We have a couple of fruit trees. For anybody who doesn't follow us and doesn't know, we're actually on a rental property. This is not something that we've set up all on our own. We've made an enormous amount of improvements out in the back, because when we got here the house was more of the priority and then the back forty, as some people call it, was kind of bare. It came with a couple of apple trees. Then we planted a really big garden. We've got about twelve hundred square feet back there. It's really big in comparison to a city garden. It's really small in comparison to what I really want. We're working on it. Then we've got berry patches that we put in. We grow a lot of squashes. They grow really well up here and they store really good, so we have a lot of those. Green beans were the big harvest this year, too.
Jennifer: Could you tell us about your ... Because I think Bill's putting up a picture or he just did put up a picture of the pumpkins and the squash. Could you tell us about that harvest? Because this is just beautiful. It's beautiful.
Melanie: That was so much fun. The last couple years I've put in a couple plants here and there. They tend to take up a lot of room so I didn't want to dedicate that much of my garden to something that sprawls that big. This year what I did is I planted them at the end of my berry rows and different places where they had room to just sprawl and be who they are without taking up garden space. I put them on the edge of the garden to bleed out. It's just a big variety of ... Actually my neighbor handed me a handful of seeds and I couldn't even tell you what they all are. I know there's some hubbards and there's some banana squashes and things like that. I couldn't even tell you exactly all the varieties.
Jennifer: I love that. Do you raise livestock on your property?
Melanie: The only livestock that we have, and I kind of joke around and say, "Well, I don't even know if they're really livestock," is our chickens. I guess in the truest sense of the word they are, but I always think of cows and pigs and stuff like that as livestock. We just have chickens and a turkey.
Jennifer: What are some things that you have learned having just chickens? Because we say, "just chickens," because it seems like everybody starts with chickens, but they are livestock.
Melanie: We've had chickens for, oh gosh, about ten years. The chickens weren't new to us. At one time when we were on our own property we did have a milk goat and we had some other goats as well. We just didn't feel like that was appropriate here where we're renting to be adding those kind of animals. What have I learned from chickens? Oh gosh. You think you know what you're doing. Even after ten years, it's like, "No, I got this." They throw you a curve ball. Every year there is something to deal with. The main thing is just really respecting the animal and caring for them and they'll just give back to you in such an amazing way as long as you treat them really well. That's the main thing.
Jennifer: Melanie, I love your story and I love your YouTube channel. I keep saying it is, like I said, one of my favorites because you do a little bit of everything. It's like you live this lifestyle. You dabble in just a little bit of everything. That is preserving and whole food cooking and making your own medicine and keeping a budget and all of those kinds of things. I just wanted to go through some of those different topics and I wanted to pick your brain as to what your top tips were for these sort of things. Somebody who might just be starting out for canning or somebody who might be starting out gardening. Let's just take them one at a time. Canning and preserving. What would be your top five tips for somebody who is just starting out doing those things?
Melanie: I think the most important thing, and I'll say this with every question that you ask me pertaining to homesteading, first of all, just keep it simple. Start with something small. Start easy, something that you can tackle simply. I put pictures up on Instagram of the hundred and eleven jars of peaches that we put up this summer. When I started canning, I started with I think it was two jars in my can room that actually had food in them. I think that's so important, to give yourself permission, especially once you get into this homestead community. It can be really overwhelming to look at people that are further down the line. It's like, "Oh my gosh. They're Wonder Woman. They can do this and that and here and there and they're getting everything done." Nobody gets everything done. That's the real truth of the matter. Pick what's important to you. Make sure that you can something that you like to eat. That's the other thing that is, I think, really important.
Jennifer: I love that, to give yourself permission to start small and build up. That is so true. Do the best you can with what you have at the moment. I love that. Rhonda is saying that she, she says, "I love my crazy chickens, even when they're not laying well. They are just fun to watch." Yes, they are fun to watch. I love watching chickens.
Melanie: I'm pretty sure they're therapy.
Jennifer: That's a good way of looking at it. That is. What about gardening, and organic gardening specifically? What would you tell somebody who was just starting out and they wanted to either transition to an organic garden or they want to just start an organic garden? What would you tell them?
Melanie: I think that soil fertility is really key. I wanted to test that and play with that this year and see how important it was, because last year I said, "Okay, well, everything that I've read says that soil fertility is key, so I really want to know." Last year what I did, for each of our rows I really amended those rows like crazy and I got the soil pH just how I wanted it. I really worked hard on the soil. We had a beautiful garden. This year I wanted to add to the garden but I didn't have time to put in all of the work that we put in the year before, and so I didn't do anything to it. I said, "I just want to dig up the ground and I want to see what happens."
We have pretty compacted clay soil here. It's very rich but it suffocates everything. I planted a bunch of stuff in there. It was really interesting, because for the first four feet of that garden we had wood chips and leaf mulch and stuff like that that had been sitting on that area. That all got tilled under. That first four feet of the garden absolutely thrived. That's where we had our squashes all planted and the kids' pumpkins that they grew this year. We had sunflowers and different things. It was the first four feet of each of these rows that really thrived. Then the other eight feet of those rows was a disaster.
The seedlings came up, some of them a month later if they even came up at all. Then I've got carrots with big, tall tops in the first four feet, and the other it's like they're that big and there's no carrot that's produced. That is really, really important. I think, as much as I was heartbroken about all the garden that didn't succeed this year, it was really exciting to see just how important it was. It was so practical and something so easy to say, "Well, this part was fertile and this part wasn't."
Jennifer: Are you talking about just piling on the leaves and all of that kind of thing and just letting it sit and tilling it under? Is that the kind of amendments, or do you have other things that you add to the soil?
Melanie: We put all of our compost or compost-type scraps in with the chickens. Then when it's time to plant the garden we go and pull out all of the compost from the bottom layer of the chicken yard. We take that and put that back into our garden. Just because life is busy and with the chronic illness, I can't do a lot of heavy lifting. It's very hard for me to just constantly be turning a compost pile, so I let my chickens do that for me. We pulled a bunch of the compost out and mixed that in with it.
I do think that one of the easiest ways to get compost into your ground is to keep your garden mulched because it just is a constant feeding. Then if you're going to plant or to prepare for next year, I think putting that leaf mulch down it really breaks down. You can till it under or you can just leave it on top. With us with so compacted soil we did need to get it down into the ground for it to aerate and give our plants room to breathe.
I heard that the County Extension Office will do a soil test for you. We haven't actually had that done. We just had a little pH meter that we were checking things with.
Jennifer: That was one of the other questions that she was asking, if you paid somebody to do it or if you just did it yourself. You're saying you just did it yourself and that sufficed for you guys to go ahead and amend it.
Melanie: Our soil is fairly neutral, as far as the pH goes. We're a little bit alkaline, so I added in peat moss to bring the alkalinity down a little bit. I know that if you're out in Oregon and places where the soil is really acidic then adding peat moss can be really detrimental. For us that is the perfect thing because it gives air to the soil. Like you said, it depends on where you're at and what your soil is like. Then there's a fun little experiment where you can put it in a jar and you can do sediment tests and different things like that. We did a couple of those. You can find them on Pinterest.
Jennifer: The next topic that I want to pick your brain about is cooking and cooking with whole food. This is something that's kind of your specialty. Teach us. Tell us what the top tips are for somebody who's just starting out maybe getting off of some processed food and what are some things that would help them do that?
Melanie: Don't bring it in the house, first of all. I am so weak. If it's in my house I'm terrible, so don't bring it home. The biggest thing is it takes a little bit more time and a little more planning. I do a lot of things, because I'm terrible at planning. I'm horrible. I don't remember things when I need to remember them. I don't remember to get things out of the freezer when I should. I like to have things ready ahead of time. I can beans. I can meat. That way when everybody is hungry and Mom forgot to do all of the things that she needed to do we don't starve. Because if you have the things that take a long time prepared ahead of time, whether you put them in the freezer or ... Even for me if I can put it in a crock pot that's something I can think about the day before and just have ready. That's the biggest thing for me, is not waiting until it's time to cook dinner to figure out what you're going to do. I'm terrible at it.
Jennifer: Making your own convenience food is basically what you're talking about. Do you do a lot of batch cooking?
Melanie: I used to do a whole bunch of it. I don't do as much of it anymore because a lot of what we eat is really simple. It might just be some meat here and a little bit of potatoes and a veg plate, or something like that. It doesn't make sense to put that away as a meal. I do, when I harvest my carrots, then I'll can the carrots and I'll blanch and freeze them so that all it takes is a minute to warm them up. The same thing with green beans and peas and different things like that. They're all put away in a form that they're readily available, because if you wait until you're hungry to cook you're going to cook cheap crap.
Jennifer: We're just going to move on to the next subject, because I could sit here and talk to you all day about all of the stuff that I want to try and get up. I want to get a little bit of each thing because, like I said, you do all of this so it's great. Talk about and tell us about your experience with medicinal herbs and how you're using those on your homestead and in your home.
Melanie: We're using herbs on and off over the last few years. Oils is what I got started with because somehow that seemed a little easier for me, so I started there. I think that our focus has really been food, food and oils for the last couple years. This getting into loose herbs and stuff like that is something that I'm a little newer to but I'm super excited about. We've harvested some of our local herbs. We went and harvested mullein. It grows by the road just wild, so we've got that put away for this winter. To make sure that we don't have ear infections I'm going to do an oil infusion with that one and some garlic. Then chamomile, of course. Time to calm down. It's a big part of what we do because I don't believe in the stuff from the drug store and pharmaceuticals unless it's an emergency where that's just really necessary.
Jennifer: I couldn't agree more. That's my new frontier as well. I've been working on it for a couple of years, but it's the newest thing that I've tackled. It's just so interesting to hear other people talk about it as well. I agree with you about the drug store. Most of the over-the-counter medication today can be substituted. You can have an herbal substitute and it will do just as well if not better in many cases.
Melanie: Then it's just hurting your whole system. That's the thing that I love about herbs is while it might take out a virus or something like that ... We use colloidal silver which we can knock out all kinds of horrible things with. You can even use that against Staph. You don't have the terrible side effects that you have with antibiotic and then you don't build up antibiotic resistance. While you gain all of the benefits of the short-term for that, it also usually will support your body in many other ways and strengthen your body as a whole. That's the thing I just love about it.
Jennifer: Kathy is saying, "I am so scared to pick wild herbs. I'm afraid to not identify them correctly and getting something harmful to us." What advice would you give Kathy?
Melanie: We started with ones that are really easy to identify, like the mullein. It grows six feet tall and is unmistakable. Another one that's really easy to identify would be dandelions. There's dandelions almost in every single county across the country. They're unmistakable. Start with a couple things that are really easy to identify. Then as you use that and become more comfortable and as you learn you'll be able to recognize the nuances within them, or just start growing them in your own backyard so that you are purchasing the seeds and know what you have.
Jennifer: That's great. It may take a little while but you will be able to recognize after a while. The example that I have is when my children would want to come out and help me in the garden, because I would have them pick weeds. I was really scared for them to pick weeds for a long time because they couldn't identify the plant and the weed. Then eventually they learned, as we all do. It just takes a lot of practice to go out there and know what you have. Like you said, if you label everything really well then that's an asset. Then, also, if you do a little bit of both, if you grow a little bit and then maybe order some that's dried already so you know what they look like in different states, I think that might be helpful too.
Melanie: It's really amazing. I'll just tell you a quick story about my kiddos. Like you said, we were out in the garden. We were preparing. We had had deep mulch on our garden and we had to pick out all the roots of these plants that would grow back. I was shocked at how much they were able to pick up. They could pull out a root and say it goes to this plant, even though the plant wasn't on there. They could identify based on the roots. It's just a matter of training your eye.
Jennifer: That's amazing. Wow.
Melanie: It's so much fun. I think we really underestimate our kids. They're just incredible, what they're capable of learning.
Jennifer: I totally agree. I really do. Let's move on to budgeting. Talk about meal planning and budgeting for different things. What are some of your tips for doing that?
Melanie: The thing that has helped me more than anything is buying in bulk. That's something that I put away. I watch really carefully. There's always cycles on when things are in season and when they're good prices. We shop at Azure and we shop at Costco. That's helped us an enormous amount. When I go to those places like Azure they put out their sale catalog. Look in the sale catalogs for when something's on sale and buy extra during that time. Everything will get into a rhythm. You're buying more of your rice flour during this period and then you buy more of this product during that period. That way you can buy when it's the cheapest and you can store up and you're not having to go find an item at a specialty store at an expensive price. I think that has saved us more than anything.
Jennifer: Just building up a food storage, that is key. I agree with that, as well.
Melanie: Then it gives you the opportunity to shop from your pantry instead of going to the grocery store. When I go down there there's not a bunch of extra things that are going to entice me and cost me a bunch of money at the cash register.
Jennifer: Right, or the doctor, because you have whole foods and all that kind of thing. That's a great tip. I agree. That's where you should start, because at that point then you're doing it slowly and you're building up. It makes you excited, too, when you get a big ... It excites me, anyway, when I get a big bag of rice or whatever that I'm getting. I don't know. I'm weird that way. It's just exciting.
Melanie: It's such a comforting thing to know whatever happens we have this amount of food that's put away. It doesn't matter if our salary got cut and we had to live off of our food storage. We're set.
Jennifer: It's comforting. You're right. It's like a security. Let's move on to homeschooling because you homeschool five kiddos. How do you do that and please tell us what your tips are for homeschooling?
Melanie: Like you said, I've got five. The first four are boys. You probably know this as much as anybody else does, boys, they move around a lot.
Jennifer: Yes they do.
Melanie: I don't know how your boys are. I think a lot of boys aren't really ready for school when most people start them in school traditionally. We start our boys really late. By worldly standards, really, really, really late. We just let them learn all kinds of stuff on their own because, like I said, there's so much that they can absorb when they're interested. We really let them follow their interests and capitalize on that when they're interested. If they're excited about math and numbers, then we just go and focus on that for a little while. When they're excited about a book, then I say, "Go read it." We're pretty relaxed.
I think that's the beauty of homeschool, is that you can follow the lead of your children. If they're struggling with something, don't feel like they have to be at grade level with that at that time, because I feel like there's such an ebb and flow. They catch up. It amazes me how that happens. They can make up a couple years in a matter of a couple months.
Jennifer: I agree. I totally agree. Also going with the flow of your child, as you were saying. Then also your family, because sometimes you're trying to accomplish something at a certain time and you may not have a whole lot of time to sit down and do old-fashioned schoolwork. Then there are other times when you are more relaxed and you might have a binge reading session or something and read for hours on end. I think it's that flexibility that's really great.
Melanie: For us from July through October is off limits. We don't do any traditional school during that time because we are so busy with the garden and putting up the harvest and getting things. I really need the kids during that time. I have to have our full focus on getting things ready for winter and getting the wood chopped and everything put away before the snow comes. Then we're snowed in for ... well, not really snowed in. There's not a lot that they can do outside and there's not a lot that we have going on, so we can capitalize on school during that time when the house needs to be quiet and we need to keep them occupied before they start climbing the walls and driving us crazy.
Jennifer: Melanie here says that, "We homeschool our four kiddos," so we're in good company here. We're a bunch of homeschooling moms here. Let's move on, because I still have more to talk to you about and we're running out of time. I love talking about this stuff so much with you, Melly. Why is your website called, or your channel, both I guess, called Road to the Farm?
Melanie: Because we wanted to show our journey. What we'd really like to be is on our own property where we have enough room to grow what we need. That includes some beef cows and we want chickens and some pigs and some turkeys and some sheep. We also would like to have about a one-acre garden. We are not at all there. Like I said, we're in a rental right now. We are definitely making the most of what we have. We just wanted to show our journey to get there instead of waiting until we're there and saying, "Look. This is what you do." There's so much to learn along the way, and we just wanted to share that.
Jennifer: It's just a way of saying that this is our journey towards getting what we want, a farm and being able to have a self-reliant lifestyle. That's great. Rhonda is saying, "We're homeschoolers too." Yes, homeschoolers. Yay. Can you tell us a little bit more about this YouTube channel that I keep talking about, because you have a great following over there. Like I said, it's one of my favorite channels. I love that. You have told us a little bit about the videos that you produce, but just a little bit more about the channel and the frequency in which you upload videos and that kind of thing.
Melanie: This summer has been a really big summer. This is the first year we've had a bigger garden and we've actually preserved more than we have in other years. My YouTube channel is a super big part of our family and what we do, but it had to take the backseat because getting the food into storage for winter is my number one priority. This summer we've uploaded about once a week. I would love to be uploading about three times a week. That would just make me smile from ear to ear, but it hasn't happened. What our channel is about, though, is just like I said it's about our journey and the things that we learn. We've talked about everything. We've talked about wood-burning stoves. We've talked about cooking in them. I have canning videos. I think that this winter, since the lighting is really good in my kitchen, there's going to be a whole lot of canning videos.
Jennifer: That's great.
Melanie: Because I love making them. That's one thing that I just really love. My audience seems to respond really well to that. Anything that is going to involve homesteading is going to be on our channel, so sewing or chickens or kids. I don't know. It's all there.
Jennifer: All kinds of good stuff. Let's see. Pamela is saying, "That's so helpful to know you are a work in progress." I think she is so right, because oftentimes you're, like you alluded to before, people present themselves and they're completely done and finished and they're living this lifestyle and they make it look so easy. It's not. It's really not.
Melanie: It's very intimidating.
Jennifer: Shelly is saying, "To many people buy the farm and do not know what to do when they get it. Glad you are learning on the way." That's exactly what Melanie was saying, so that's great. Could you tell us a little bit, because I know you have an Etsy shop, and can you tell us a little bit about the things that you sell there?
Melanie: Our Etsy shop is really special to me because my kids are the ones that stock the shop more than anything. They're the ones that make the potholders. We've got these cute little fabric pincushions, which I should be holding here but maybe you can throw up a picture.
My kiddos are the makers of those. It's one of the things that we do. Our Etsy shop is a big priority in the winter when we have time to be crafting and making and sewing and stuff like that. I do teach my boys how to do all of those things. I think it's really important for them to know how to use a sewing machine. They've learned how to knit and crochet to a certain extent. That's a work in progress too. Then I just released a muffin recipe that includes a gluten-free flour blend. That is my baby. We went without baked goods for quite a long time. I tried several different things. The ones from the grocery store that you buy are full of all kinds of junk and gums and thickeners and they're just awful. They're not good for you. I came up with a flour blend that is actually working and I just am over the moon about it.
Jennifer: Wonderful. You have a special to share with people who are watching today?
Melanie: Yes. I'm so excited. For everybody who listened in and watches this broadcast, you're going to be able to pick up twenty percent off of our store. That's going to give you a dollar off of the muffin recipe and just the gluten-free flour blend, if you're gluten-free, is going to be worth the price of the recipes. You also get three muffin recipes to go with that. If you aren't gluten-free, then you can substitute regular flour and it works great.
Jennifer: Then also we created a simple link for that if you are listening on iTunes. You can just go to SelfReliantSchool.com/RTF and it will take you right to those things on Etsy so you don't have to go and search for a link there. That link should be up either in a second or Bill ... Bill had it up and so we'll put it up again in just a second. I'll also put it in the show notes for you guys. Tell us where people can find out more about you, your website, you have a Facebook page. I know you're really active on Instagram. Just tell us where people can connect with you.
Melanie: I love pictures. Pictures are my favorite thing in the whole world. I'm on Instagram. We are just Road to the Farm everywhere. Thankfully we were able to grab that. We're Road to the Farm on Facebook, Road to the Farm on Instagram, Road to the Farm on Etsy, Road to the Farm on YouTube.
Jennifer: That's great. People just have to search for "Road to the Farm" and you should come up.
Jennifer: That's great. Thank you so much for coming on, Melanie. It's just such a delight to talk to you.
Melanie: You just tickled me to bits. I can't thank you enough for this. It's been so fun talking to you and getting to know you a little bit.
Jennifer: Thanks again. I just want to go over a few things. Again, I want to make sure that link gets up. If you're joining us in the middle of the show, we have been talking to Melanie Lynn from Road to the Farm. She has a special for everybody who is listening. If you go to SelfReliantSchool.com/RTF you will go right to her Etsy store. If you put in the coupon code SLR20 then that will give you a discount on the things that she has for sale there. I just got her book last night and I was looking through it and I am so excited about making some of those muffin recipes. That's one that I would recommend.