By Elisa Huot
Former educator, toddler parent, and Paso Robles resident
Inspired by a farm stay in Italy, Sofia Howard and her husband moved from their urban cul-de-sac in Orange County to tend to the land on a 22-acre almond orchard in the west hills of Paso Robles wine country in 2019. Howard Ranch is now home to the couple and their two children, who, as a family, are living out their dream of running a modern-day homestead. Homesteading entails living off the land and one’s own resources. It requires a deep respect and understanding of biodiversity and permaculture. As Sofia adopted a learn-as-you-go approach, watching videos on YouTube and reading books, her kids were immersed in this experiential education as well.
First was the chicken coop, then the garden, then goats for milking, then cows and sheep. The couple planted fruit trees and began to harvest honey. They went off the grid, installing full solar. While they still make the occasional run to Costco or Tractor Supply Co., most of what they are using comes from the animals and the land. Living in accordance with the seasons and the weather takes grit, something that her little ones are learning through helping with chores like feeding the animals, planting seeds, and collecting eggs. Wool from the sheep becomes yarn, animal waste becomes fertilizer, and milk from the goats becomes fresh mozzarella.
Being able to explore, tinker, and let their imaginations run wild with activities like the mud kitchen has helped to keep boredom at bay for these kiddos. The variety of life cycles and daily tasks informs the curriculum for their homeschool, or farm school. Community sharing provides connectedness through the teaching of new skills and the trading of resources. Their first cow, Lisa, was a gift from the neighbors.
Part of a self-sufficient lifestyle is the cultivation of herbal medicine. Sofia completed an herbalist course and uses an app to identify the many plants on their property as well as how best to draw out the medicinal qualities. Pomegranate fire cider stimulates immunity and garlic honey ferment is an excellent natural remedy for colds or the flu. Elderberry syrup is rich in antioxidants and lowers inflammation. The elderberries are popular with the birds, but they excrete the seeds in their guano which naturally leads to the planting of new elderberry trees, that biodiversity in action. Life on a homestead of course comes with challenges. Being responsible for the land means little to no vacations, and practicing animal husbandry covers a wide range of meeting the needs of the current animals while planning for new ones. Patience is a much-needed virtue when waiting for eggs to be laid or meat to age.
Homesteading is a state of mind and can be practiced in an apartment or a small backyard, otherwise known as urban homesteading, by producing a significant part of the food. Acquiring food from local farms or the farmers market, starting a garden, or buying local, humanely raised meat are all a part of living in a more environmentally conscious manner. Experiment with using bones and vegetable scraps to make stocks for soup or try crafting with nature (think pine cone ornaments, leaf garlands, and botanically dyed linens). Letting your little ones be a part of the process (washing and storing fruits and veggies, cutting with safety knives, cooking or gathering supplies for crafts) teaches them essential life skills along with appreciation for the abundance that this planet affords us.
Book a farm stay at Howard Ranch on Airbnb or Hipcamp for a true homesteading adventure. For some tips on homesteading, Sofia recommends “Backyard Homestead.”
Pomegranate Fire Cider Recipe
- 64 oz raw Apple cider vinegar
- 10 oz raw local honey
- 2 chopped medium onions
- 2 chopped large cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of coarsely chopped ginger root
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped turmeric
- 1 1/2 cup of coarsely chopped horseradish root
- 1-2 plump pomegranates or juice
- 2 sliced jalapeños
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries
Combine all ingredients in a jar and cover it with a nonreactive lid or line the inside of the lid with parchment paper. Store in a cool dark cabinet for 4-6 weeks stirring/shaking the jar daily. Once the cider has been infused, strain and discard the pulp. Store the fire cider in the fridge for a longer shelf life. Take 1-2 oz as needed.
There are many recipes for fire ciders. It’s best to use what you can source locally and organic. Fire cider helps to clear out sinuses and stimulate the immune system through the powerful blend of immune-supportive ingredients. Take it to weld off colds or other respiratory infections by thinning mucus and assisting with excretion.
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