Posted by: littlehouseonthebigisland | August 14, 2014

Frugality Reality

I have always enjoyed using things up, recycling, finding a bargain.  Back in the day, this was actually considered cool.  But then I moved from small towns and rural areas to Chicago, and later Los Angeles, before landing here, on Magic Mountain Farm.  And through it all, I went on a cathartic journey, making peace with saving and using every scrap, v. being stingy, poor, or miserly.

You see, farmers do the same thing.  They repair old equipment, drive old vehicles, and use everything up, just like other successful business entrepreneurs.

Take chickens.  The ones we buy for food.  First we eat the meat.  Then we boil the carcass for soup.  Scraps become treats for our dog and cats.  The bones, we freeze.  When we make a fire, we burn them, adding to the plant ash, making fertilizer.  Or take the chickens on the farm.  We eat their eggs.  We give them feed, compost, and pulled and cut greens, such as grasses and clovers.  What they don’t eat, decays along with their poop to make incredibly fertile soil.  Eventually we move their pen to fresh ground.  What is left, of uneaten seeds, spontaneously sprouts into a garden.  When egg chickens, or our pets die, we bury and cover them with rocks (so wild animals don’t dig them up).  After a while we plant a tree over their remains, which in turn, feed new life.

Macadamia nuts have many uses.  First there are the nuts themselves.  They are good to eat in so many ways.  Then there is the ‘packaging’ the nuts come in; a husk, like soft tree bark, which inside has a shell.  The husks are removed first.  They make an incredible, ground-nourishing ‘peat moss’.  The shell inside the husk is very hard.  Cracked, they are like gravel.  We use them on pathways, to fill and smooth land, and to cover husks, to hold moisture.  This combination does amazing things for plants.  We grow pineapples with mac husks and shells, that are almost as tall as me, and produce ten-pound fruit.


Native Ohia trees on our farm.

An endless supply of wood is another bounty we put to good use.  Some years when we prune coffee and clear forest we chip it all.  There are mountains of chips, in fact, that when shoveled, let out piping hot steam.  Like the macadamia nut husks and shells, they make for good ground and path cover.  They protect the base of trees in times of drought, holding in moisture, making it difficult for weeds to grow, or pulling them out when they do, very easy. Also wood is milled to be used for building projects, or burned to cook food and make fertilizer.

Even during times of drought, we recycle our gray water from the sink and the washing machine, keeping the front lawn and certain trees from expiring.

We conserve in other ways as well.  When my husband and I married we combined two households.  It meant packing a big shipping container when I moved here from the mainland.  Pack rat that I am, I used odds and ends of rags, old linens and newspaper to protect things in recycled boxes and crates scavenged from shops and restaurants in L.A.  The doubles of everything have been slowly absorbed as some appliances broke down, and friends have come to live with us.  Speaking of recycling, the other night, when the topic of thrift shops came up at dinner, I explained to our help that even much of what we buy now, when we can find it, comes from resale items from trucks to clothes and furniture.

When we shop, my dear Juli and I know every place to check for clearance items and discounts.  It allows us to have more expendable income, to buy nice things that are not on sale, to get farm machinery we need that is not cheap, to charge less rent, to sell our harvests at more reasonable prices.

No, we do not have much in the way of fancy handbags, or flashy new cars.  They might be fun, to be sure.  But as my husband likes to say, although we work like dogs, we eat like kings.  And we are healthy and fit.  No need for a gym membership here.  No need travel to see the ocean, we have panoramic views and amazing sunsets everyday, not to mention the finest filtered rain water and organic nuts, coffee, and produce, even if none of these things boasts a designer label.

Best of all though, is embracing and living in culture and community that supports this value system.  For some years I was lost, caught up in the lure of acquiring fancy baubles and the status they claimed to offer.  Now I am grounded in connecting with Mother Nature, with this farm, and the planet we all live on, being a part of the solution instead of the problem.  And not surprisingly, most of the time, I am happy.  More even, than at almost any other time in my life.


  1. Before you offered us sanctuary, we talked about the benefits and beautiful change that come with a growing green lifetime. I think of you and Lola singing on the little bridge over the creek as a touchstone. When ever I tried to picture a way of life that heals as you work for it, that moment comes into the mind and heart. We are grateful and simple. Everything you write about makes beautiful unfolding universal sense. I’m sure you know how rare that is. Keep up the posts. We are breathing slower and deeper just from the meditation of the understanding. Perfect. Love to all.

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