Category Archives: Kate

City Chick Chick

By Kate

I spend a lot of time with a crown of bright blue plumage on my head.

pittsburgh samba group pittsburgh dance center

Dancing with the Pittsburgh Samba group has given me the opportunity to wear these feathers performing at the Carnegie Music Hall, the spectacular Point State Park Fountain, and the rollercoasters at Kennywood. Let’s face it. I’m a girl who has always wanted to wear a two and a half foot high feather crown in public as often as possible, and every time I put that costume on I am grateful I live in Pittsburgh. Not only is Pittsburgh stunningly beautiful, it’s full of interesting people from all over the world who are teaching samba, learning aerial silks, composing music, designing robots, and raising chickens.

Oh, chickens. I may wear golden heels and a feather crown, but at heart I am still a barefoot country girl. Last weekend a big truck pulled up in my driveway to deliver a little chicken coop and three chickens to my backyard.

city chickens coop design pittsburgh

Due to a recent change in Pittsburgh’s Urban Agriculture Code, residents on a 2000 square foot lot are allowed to keep up to 3 chickens. This change in ordinance has allowed me to feel truly at home here in the heart of the city, minutes from downtown. We moved into this house in part because of the generous (for a city!) backyard, which allows me to grow giant sunflowers…

sunflowers in the city

and tiny strawberries, a variety that bears from spring through fall to the delight of my three year old.

strawberry picking

It is important to me that my children run barefoot, hunt for berries, experience both the wildness and inherent in the natural world. There is a fence in my backyard, but there is a lush profusion of blossoming spearmint growing against it.

spearmint and bee, city chickens urban agriculture

There are bees pollinating on a daily basis. There is room, in this small space, for these small kids, to live like farm kids.

urban agriculture chicken coop

Especially now that there are chickens to take care of.

chicken coop urban agriculture

We are all happy about that.

urban farming

More about the blue feathers, you say? See my posts on dancing here:

Fine Feathers at Carnegie Hall

Finding Balance

Sparkling Stones

by Kate

I lost the diamond from my engagement ring. There was a loose prong and, I think, a long stranded sweater involved. Returning from a dinner party I brushed my ring finger and gasped to discover only the sharp spikes of the setting, the stone long gone. It was an interesting moment of soul searching, there in the car in the early darkness of late winter. I knew that the diamond was gone, and that another would not be forthcoming. I couldn’t imagine wanting one. We have so many dreams for our young family- a bicycle carriage, a bigger home, an old piano to put in it. I’ve never dreamed of diamonds.

I didn’t miss the diamond that night. What I missed was the wild exhilaration of the young pizza delivery driver who worked at a little Italian hole in the wall in Pittsburgh and courted a girl far away in the mountains of North Carolina.

By chance, we were passing by the pizza shop in question when I discovered the gaping hole in my engagement ring, the ring that he had purchased on that spot after putting out the word that he was looking for a diamond. A legless obese man who passed most of his time in the shop scratched his head a bit and mentioned that he had a divorced daughter who had a no need for her beautiful ring, but did need some cash. Soon, the deal was done. On a high ridge overlooking the Ohio river, that young delivery driver asked for my hand. When I accepted, he put the ring on it.

The moments of our courtship and engagement were enchanted, and I am grateful for every second, but what I realized that night was that losing the ring didn’t mean losing any of those memories. I still have them all, along with the thin gold band that my husband put on my finger four years ago today, when I became his wife.

vintage gown mariachi wedding suit

The engagement ring was beautiful. The diamond was shaped like a teardrop, which sadly suited the storms of tears that I am prone to on a regular basis. The setting was high and the ring was pointed and oh, it was sharp. So was I. I was a headstrong, highstrung newlywed with a sharp tongue and a chip on my shoulder. I hope and believe that in the past four years, I have become softer, smoother, gentler, and stronger- just like my plain gold wedding band. Wearing it alone reminds me of what I want to be as a wife.

Deep life lessons aside, just this week I made a fantastic discovery. Shopping with my sister Clare in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, we came upon a case of faux engagement rings for the fantastic price of five dollars a piece. Suddenly it hit me. Losing my engagement stone gave me free rein to wear any size and style of engagement ring I wanted. I walked out of that shop looking like a MUCH more affluent woman.

engagement ring

I love simplicity, and I love costume jewelry. I love pretending I am a high society lady at the entirely UNpretentious public pool up the street.

black one piece white hat summer 13

Most of all I love my husband, who is still wild, and still exhilarating. Thanks for the ring- but much more than that, thanks for the marriage.

Wedding Work

by Kate

Tomorrow is my wedding anniversary. It was a beautiful wedding, but today I’m not thinking about that. What I am remembering, with longing, is the week spent with women who had flown in from all over the world to stay in a tiny 100 year old Norwegian cabin in the valley below our farm.

norskedalen cabin

A cabin full of wine and laughter was the least I could provide for those girls, who had been swept into a full scale Wisconsin ridgetop wedding. In case you’ve never been involved with one of these, let me tell you a couple things. They’re large- we had at least 250 people at our mass and the reception in the pole shed turned ballroom- and they involve lots (and lots, and lots) of work.

butcher buckets

For instance, we grew the food for the wedding. The morning of the wedding, I was in the field picking lettuce early in the morning and headed off to top strawberries before donning my bridal gown…

strawberry picking wedding morning

But before all that, we raised the chickens. Then, just after my bridesmaids arrived, we butchered them. So romantic!

bridesmaids butchering chickens

After photographing the King brothers at work butchering chickens last week, I have been thinking a lot about our bridal butchering party. Granted, it was quite a bit more chaotic than the serene process at Freedom Farms. Our knives were dull, our crew was inexperienced, and I may have been a bit out of practice myself. Still, this is still my favorite photo of my engagement ring.

chicken buchering diamond ring

The chickens were plucked and cleaned and cooled and eventually cooked and served, but in the meantime there were flowers to pick. This meant a month of picking and wrapping peonies, storing them in newspaper to save them for late June. It also meant a trip deep into Amish country…

amish country drive

where an abandoned kitchen garden ran riot, with hundreds of roses and a profusion of other blooms that needed to be gathered.

flower picking wedding

I have rarely felt as free and deeply happy as I did that morning, gathering flowers with great friends.

amish farm windmill

Back at the pole shed, there were lights and banners to hang, and ladders to climb.

pole shed wedding

It took some power washing, the remover of a rotochopper, and about 10 people working 12 hours a day…

pole shed wedding preparation

but by the night before the wedding, the pole shed looked fantastic. I think that if I could time travel, that is where I would return, with a cold beer in hand, to spend another evening with Julia, Maqui, Susannah, Lisa, Adrienne, Emily, my siblings, and the rest of the hardworking crew who made our homegrown ridgetop wedding so beautiful. It wouldn’t have happened without all of them, and I am more grateful than words can say.

mariachi pole shed

For pictures of the wedding, see this post:

Taking the Leap

Country Girl in the City, Part One

by Kate

I was born and bred on a farm. I climbed a grain bin barefoot on my wedding day.

farmgirl bride

And then I moved into the heart of a great grey city of steel and iron and statues and stone.

urbanpittsburgh

But I am still a barefoot country girl, although I also have a pretty fabulous collection of sky high heels. I think that many people assume that simple sustainable living is a country thing. I know I did. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years, and I want to share some of them with you. These are some of the things that I do that remind me of home and have helped me to create a beautiful and sustainable life here.

I hang my clothes on the line.

laundry hanging on line

I’ve got a bed of strawberries under the laundry line too. I grow garlic, enough to last all year.

bed of garlic urban farming

I use cloth diapers as much as I can. These cheerful ones were a gift from a blog reader. (Thanks again, by the way. I love them.)

cloth diapers

I bake bread, and cookies, and cake, and I teach my children to bake too.

baking

These are some of the things that make me feel at home. Bake bread, grow garlic, hang clothes. Keep a compost pile. It turns out that some of the things that made country living enjoyable for me weren’t contingent on living in the country. I plan to keep sharing these things in an occasional series. Kick your shoes off, and join me on my country girl in the city adventures!

Sunlight and Forsythia

by Kate

In this grey stone city, the forsythia has burst forth into belated flame.

forsythia

It’s difficult to trust the thaw after such a slow and frozen spring, but if the peach blossoms can open to the new warmth so can I.

branch and blossom, garden, pittsburgh

Goodbye, socks. Hello, swing.

baby swing arsenal park

Hello, sun. So good to see you again.

sunglasses 2013

Thank goodness we can leave the huge heaps of coats and sweaters at home when we head out into the city.

exploring the city pittsburgh

The sunlight opens wide the great world outside our tiny home. I can’t wait to explore it.

red doors heinz chapel pittsburgh

 

 

Fame, Farming, and Family- An Interview with Pete King

by Kate

Last weekend the Sweet Ridge Sisters got a chance to talk to local farmer Pete King from Freedom Farms.

Pete King GAC Country Freedom Farms

Pete and his siblings star in Farm Kings, a nationally broadcast reality show about farming. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on the GAC channel. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their rippling torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community. You can find more information about Freedom Farms including retail locations and the new 2013 CSA Program here.

Kate: What is it like to be a famous farmer?

Pete: Well, the farming is still the same! There’s a lot more recognition when you leave the farm, which can slow you down. The schedule can get busy and there’s lots of extra stress- but it’s entertaining.

K: What are your cash crops?

P: Corn, definitely corn. Tomatoes, and peppers. This year we’re trying something new and flash freezing our corn and vacuum packaging it. We just bought a fancy new machine so we’ll see how that goes.

K: What varieties of tomatoes do you grow?

P: Mountain Fresh, Mountain Glory, and we just started doing heirlooms with a Cherokee Purple. You’ve really got to get those sold!

K: There are 10 kids farming together in your family. What are the challenges of family farming?

P: There are different ideas about how to do things, and it is easy to butt heads- but having a family is useful on the farm. There are lots of extra hands, and we need them all to harvest the crops. My 12 year old brother has Downs Syndrome, and he’s right out in the field with us. It’s just what we do, As far back as we remember we’ve been working. I like creating. Farming is creating.

K: What is the future of farming?

P: Everybody getting their hands in it. Everybody learning how things are grown and farming is done. These days, people take their food for granted and think it came out of the back room of the grocery store. The future of farming is everybody getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

K: What is your least favorite crop?

P: (laughs) Tomatoes. Don’t like picking or eating tomatoes.

K: How about throwing them at your siblings?

P: Throwing them at my brothers is ok, yeah. But keep ’em in the field!

Thanks so much to Pete King for taking the time to do a great interview. Any readers in the Pittsburgh area should make sure to stop by the Freedom Farms Market or Bakery in Butler or the Cafe and Carry-Out in New Kensington. Locations and contact information are available here, Freedom Farms will also be selling at several farmer’s markets in the city this summer.

For the full story of our encounter with Pete King: Cabbages and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

For more of our own Sweet Ridge Farm stories, click here.

For more of Kate’s urban adventures in Pittsburgh, click here.

Castles and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

By Kate

At midnight, my sister Mary will board a train.

arched door wrought iron gate pittsburgh cathedral of learning

Like Cinderella she will vanish from this city of stone castles, though she’s not likely to leave a glass slipper behind. No, I’m sure the galoshes she liberated from my closet will be firmly laced up on her feet, headed back to the muddy fields of Wisconsin in the spring.

heinz chapel red coat red door

I promised Mary spring in Pittsburgh, a respite from the long shivering wait for warmth to thaw the frozen Wisconsin soil and the pipes in her renovated barn apartment. Snow fell to herald her arrival and snow is falling on the city this morning of her departure. Still, Mary has brought so much warmth and brightness into this cold grey city during her visit this past week.

cold spring bright style

She carried spring with her and gave it to me.

babywearing spring sling

Heading out into the city with two small children in the cold is so much easier with a sister to share the journey.

jogging stroller indy bookshop pittsburgh urban

As you can see, we wore bright colors and dramatic prints to combat the cold.

urban pittsburgh garfield mural

We explored the city, ate Indian and Vietnamese food, perused the spring 2013 offerings at Anthropologie, and attended a Brazilian carnival. I’m pretty sure Mary had plenty of urban living, and is ready to return to her free spirited rural life on Wisconsin soil. However, we did have one city adventure perfect for a farmgirl in the big city. On Saturday, we visited the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum. We loved this installation of pink ribbons cascading from the high domed ceiling….

pink ribbon installation children's museum pittsburgh

…but as an added bonus, we found farmers on display as well.  A number of local farmers had set up shop near the restaurant of the museum, offering CSA shares for the upcoming season. The event was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, which is a great resource for farmers and consumers in Pittsburgh and all across the state. If you are living in or near Pittsburgh and still looking for a CSA, you can still contact the participating farmers from the CSA Fair here.

I have an urban garden complete with strawberry patch in my backyard and I wasn’t in the market for a CSA this year, but Mary quickly realized that the fair had something else to offer- a chance to meet a bona fide King of the farming world.

pete king GAC country farm king freedom farms

As you may remember, Mary is the Queen of Brussels Sprouts, so meeting Peter King was a real highlight of her urban Pittsburgh trip.

Pete King is one of the (many) famous King brothers from Freedom Farms. I was unaware of this fact, and I’m pretty sure that the most of the people milling about the Children’s Museum were too. I’m not sure how many Pittsburghers watch the Great American Country network on cable, so they may be unaware of the bronzed shirtless young men gleaming like sun gods under a deep blue sky. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on GAC. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community.

We had the opportunity to do a brief interview Peter King about fame, family, and farming. I’ll post the interview tomorrow. In the meantime, you can learn more about Freedom Farms on their website here.

For more stories about our farming adventures at Sweet Ridge Farm, check out these links:

My Garden, My Canvas

The Queen of Brussel Sprouts

The King and Queen of Brussels

The Red Vegetable from Hell